When Father’s Ruled

In their article, “The republic of God or the republic of children? Childhood and child-rearing after the Reformation”, authors Jeroen Dekker and Leendert Gorenendijk write,

A common feature of much writing about the history of the family was the notion that Protestantism had played a significant or even decisive role in the establishing of the main traits of the modern family. Protestantism exalted the household above the parish. Aries had already pointed to the fact that in French Protestant circles family piety took the place of public worship. Labelled as the “spiritualisation of the household”, this idea (which was considered as a Protestant invention) was further elaborated by Christopher Hill (1964) and subsequently adopted by Lawrence Stone. Protestantism, patriarchal though it was, strengthened the bond between man and wife and between parents and children. The most fervent defendants of the view that the ruling fathers of Reformation Europe were highly responsible for the `humanising’ of relations within the home was published in 1983 by Steven Ozment.

The role of the church diminished in the family is one I noticed in reading Ozment’s book, “When Father’s Ruled”. For though during the reformation period there was “shared responsibility” (page 51) between the husband and the wife, the husband alone was the “master of his house” (page 51). Though great “social pressure” was put on the husband not to abuse such a position, there was no external religious institution to enforce good behavior.


Thus the father, derived his authority from God (153) to rule over his children. I find this a disturbing model. For, if the hiearchy of a household is God  → Father → Wife → Children, then the father is closest to God. As the closest to God and the master of his house, his word is final. Therefore, if he says “God told me to do this” – who is to argue with him? Without an external religious authority, the Father is given complete control over not only his own actions, but how God is represented in his family. For it is the husband, who is closest to God, who is telling the family what God wants them to do.



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