Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

As always in patriarchal systems, Calvinism was fanatically against intellectual freedom. Calvin himself said that he submitted his mind “bound and fettered” in obedience to God, and he expected a similar subservience from others. Not only Servetus and Cruet, but many others who dared to query the official teaching were condemned and imprisoned or killed; and since Church and State were one, to hold the wrong opinion was not only heresy but treason. Inevitably, Calvinists depressed the status of women. What seemed to them especially outrageous was that women should, in some places, be heads of state. It was unfortunate that Knox’s First Blast of tax Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women should have coincided with the accession of Elizabeth. The letters to Somerset in which he tries to retrieve the position make amusing reading: but it was too late, and the second Blast was never sounded. The Calvinists excluded, of course, all adoration of the Virgin Mary, and it is symptomatic of the new movement that in some places Protestants broke or mutilated statues of the Virgin — actions which in Paris evoked day-long processions of expiation on the part of the orthodox.

As a matter of fact, Calvinism went so far in the direction of a patriarchy that it abandoned the mediaeval Church’s view that virginity was a good, stressed the desirability of having a large family, and seemed on the verge of restoring polygamy. This loss of interest in the idea of virginity, coupled with a rejection of the idea of meditation and the erection of work into a virtue led to the abandonment of the life of the cloister, which still further depressed the status of the unmarried woman. Calvin, to be sure, never licensed polygamy, but Luther agreed to the bigamous marriage of Philip of Hesse; and on a few occasions when the number of women available greatly exceeded the number of men, Protestant bodies actually legalized polygamy. Thus the Frankish Diet legalized bigamy to restore the ravages of the Thirty Years War. (239)

Stevenson, in his portrait of Knox, draws attention to the somewhat Biblical character of his domestic arrangements. Knox, who was twice married, was also the cause of scandal with at least two other women. Having given rise to some talk by the closeness of his association with a Mrs. Bowes (a married woman, living with her husband) Knox suddenly married her daughter, and retired to Geneva with both ladies, despite the protests of Mr. Bowes. The little group was soon joined by a Mrs. Locke, for whom Knox professed a respectful affection, and by her daughter and maid, to the extreme annoyance of Mr. Locke. Stevenson draws a delightful picture of Knox proceeding to worship on the Sabbath, accompanied at a respectful distance by the five Women, like some Biblical patriarch with his wives and concubines. This was not, as a matter of fact, the full extent of Knox’s interests, for he also maintained a warm friendship with a Mrs. Adamson. It was quite characteristic that, having caused two wives to leave the sides of their husbands, he should write bitterly attacking a Mrs. Barron for having left her own husband.

One of the several interesting features of Calvinism, which differentiate it from the doctrines of the Middle Ages, and bring it nearer to the doctrines of the early Christian fathers, was a tendency to generalise feelings of guilt to cover every conceivable form of pleasure. Where mediaeval writers tended to dwell specifically upon sex and to pursue the subject into all its aspects, the Calvinists did not dwell on the perversions, but devoted their ingenuity to the minutest regulation of daily life.