On October 31, 2017, we celebrated the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation.
In honor of that mighty pouring out of God’s Spirit, Canon Press published a rather unusually titled book, Popes and Feminists. It is an important and surprising book, and one that we hope gets a wide readership in our confused and unmoored culture. It looks fundamentally at this question: Can what the Reformation taught pre-modern-era women about vocation help out modern women in their own struggles with vocation?
Elise Crapuchettes is a conscientious scholar and a meticulous academic—you’ll see that reflected in all her research—but even so, Popes and Feminists was written for the every-woman and the every-man. We are the people who need to read this book. Our culture, affected by the three “waves” of feminism, loves to preach that men and women should both pursue their own corporate careers, occasionally making equal “professional” sacrifices for the sake of their families. Coerced by this secular emphasis on the workplace, many Christians have begun to wonder if the mom who stays at home to raise the next generation is a relic of a different time, and if, thanks to dishwashers and iPads and smart homes, being a mom should perhaps become a part-time occupation or a hobby.
It is this kind of workforce-enthralled feminism that Elise Crapuchettes is critiquing in Popes and Feminists. The central argument of her book is that sixteenth-century Catholicism and twenty-first century feminism, though obviously different in many ways and products of different forces, both have a fundamentally myopic understanding of vocation. This leads to intentional marginalization of any task not considered “sacred” by the elites of that age (whether in the 1500s or the 2000s). Before the Reformation, the Church taught that the only spiritual calling was to be a nun, totally devoted to God and good works. Serving God through marriage, industry, childrearing, hospitality, mercy ministry, or in any other areas was second-class work, the average woman was told. This was connected to some terrible abuses the Reformers confronted, like priest-subsidized brothels. Today, we are being fed that same misunderstanding of vocation—except the different strands of feminism in our day all demand that women to find their central satisfaction and identity solely in the cubicle. To go with that new “sacred” calling, we’ve also got a new set of abuses—abortion and the disintegration of the family being at the top of the list.
When Elise first encountered the Reformers and their rediscovery of what the Bible says about faith and men and women, she finally began to resolve this tension in her own mind—and to see how much gratitude we should have for the theological and societal advances of the Reformation. When she read the biographies of the lesser-known women of the Reformation, she found compelling stories of Christ’s grace and inspirational vocations. Rather than being pigeon-holed in one job, the women of the Reformation were incredibly busy, hosting large throngs of guests and refugees inside their small homes. Many of them were very well-educated, and some of them even used their political clout to promote the reformation.
Popes and Feminists is the story of these women. It’s the product of Elise’s life experience and interests. It’s a celebration of the Reformation after half a millennium. We expect Popes and Feminists will challenge our prevailing cultural narratives and inspire others to look more deeply into these issues, to the glory of God and the proclamation of the Gospel.