Two Weeks of Worthy Women: Anne Hutchinson

Liam suggested we look at Anne Hutchinson. I was unsuccessful in talking him into writing her up for us. So I’ll take a stab at it. As a figure of prominence in American history there is literally a ton of material on her. You could write a book. Doubtless, several people have.

So let’s set the stage for her …

Anne Marbury was born toward the end of the Elizabethan Age in England. Daughter of an Anglican deacon, she had more than a casual interest in theology. In her adult years, she found herself increasingly drawn to Puritanism. At age 43, she, her husband Will Hutchinson, and their family sailed to Boston.

Mrs Hutchinson did not find the Massachusetts Bay Colony as much of a utopia as its governor John Winthrop, and his followers were hoping to establish. She began a women’s discussion group in her home. The discussions resonated with women as well as men. So Anne was viewed as a threat not only to the Puritan faith, but also the good order of the colony. And while small women’s groups were permitted by the authorities, the size of Anne’s following was a concern.

As I understand it, Mrs Hutchinson’s theological view was that a person’s good works were not necessarily connected to the state of the person’s soul. Opponents accused her of “antinomianism,” or the charge that religious laws need not be followed if a believer had faith, and therefore was counted among the elect.

It might have been that the less-religious of Boston might have found Anne’s theology more appealing in that they could continue to conduct themselves as effective businessmen and need not focus overly much on the most stringent practices of the faith.

Mrs Hutchinson was brought to civil trial in the Fall of 1637. Matters were not going well for the prosecution when the accused made this statement:

You have no power over my body, neither can you do me any harm—for I am in the hands of the eternal Jehovah, my Saviour, I am at his appointment, the bounds of my habitation are cast in heaven, no further do I esteem of any mortal man than creatures in his hand, I fear none but the great Jehovah, which hath foretold me of these things, and I do verily believe that he will deliver me out of our hands. Therefore take heed how you proceed against me—for I know that, for this you go about to do to me, God will ruin you and your posterity and this whole state.

That was enough to turn what had been a frustrating legal proceeding into a win for the establishment.

Placed under arrest for the winter, Mrs Hutchinson was isolated from family and friends. A church trial commenced the following March, and if the Puritans needed any evidence, Mrs Hutchinson miscarried a severely malformed fetus. Her opponents were jubilant. They ordered her into exile. Her supporters had already read the tea leaves on this one, and they settled in present-day Rhode Island.

In response to a church delegation from Boston making one final attempt to “convert” her, she responded:

(T)he Church at Boston? I know no such church, neither will I own it. Call it the whore and strumpet of Boston, but no Church of Christ!

Mrs Hutchinson and her family did not stay long in the attempted community in Rhode Island. She eventually settled in New Netherland, in present-day Bronx. Natives had been on good terms with Hutchinson and her followers for years, but the Dutch were perceived as cruel and barbaric by the Natives there. Sometime in 1647, Hutchinson was slaughtered by marauders.

When word of her death reached Massachusetts, her opponents gloated. Colonial Governor John Winthrop:

Thus it had pleased the Lord to have compassion of his poor churches here, and to discover this great imposter, an instrument of Satan so fitted and trained to his service for interrupting the passage [of his] kingdom in this part of the world, and poisoning the churches here.

Aside from veneration of religious freedom advocates in the 19th century, and feminists in the 20th, what can we say of this final worthy woman in this series? Her tenacity and outspokenness in a male-dominated society vexed civil and religious authorities. If one is to entertain any thought of this “Jezebel” getting her just rewards, one would also have to comment on the utter failure of the Puritans to achieve their shining “city on a hill.” Their victims are seen as martyrs. Thanks to the witch trials, the Puritans themselves are considered caricatures and dupes.

The story of Anne Hutchinson may inform our present-day Catholic infighting along some of these lines and more. I’m more a believer in natural consequences than divine retribution.

Women religious, for example, are more highly regarded today than bishops not because they are persecuted women, or because they serve the poor more effectively. My sense is that they cultivate true relationships, and that their overall faith witness is more inspiring.

In their own circles, bishops are admired too. But they also suffer setbacks for public blunders that might easily be avoided. And that certainly extends to secular leaders, even those with wide followings.

One problem I see is the eagerness to pin the label “unworthy” on so many people. Those doing the pinning harm not only their objects, some of whom are quite innocent. They also harm themselves. And their goal, that of unity and harmony, is more often frustrated by the disruption they sow.

My own sense of the worthy women of whom I’ve read is that they can inspire a deeper single-mindedness where my faith is concerned. And to a person, they were more concerned about lifting up the lowly than they were devoted to taking down their rivals. And that seems to be a good lesson no matter what circle we inhabit. Happy Fourth to all.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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10 Responses to Two Weeks of Worthy Women: Anne Hutchinson

  1. CaseyAnn says:

    And she would have called you (and me) a heretic and member of the greatest whore. What a woman.

    The Catholic Church has always taught religious tolerance (for example, the Jews in Europe, aside from unpremeditated pogroms, as before the First Crusade–by laymen),not religious freedom, an American heresy. Rights are part of the natural law, which itself is part of the divine law, meaning actual rights come from God. God does not grant the right to be wrong. Hence, “religious freedom” is a lie.

    As for feminism, society is supposed to be male-dominated. That’s called patriarchy, and would it shock you if I pointed out that the Church God established is patriarchal? Let’s sincerely believe in Her.

    • Todd says:

      Thanks for the comment. It may be that the Church has often taught tolerance (but not always) but our actions don’t always match up to our words. And there is nothing in the Christian faith that suggests patriarchy is of God. Patriarchy is a human construct. No more. No less. Any good Catholic can hold, prove and promote that view. It impacts faith and morals not one bit.

      • CaseyAnn says:

        Then the Old and New Testaments are “human constructs,” I assume? Patriarchy is quite evident in them, and I will pause my studies to pick out “Scriptural evidence” if you are not convinced.

      • Todd says:

        The trappings of patriarchy are as evident as those of polygamy, genocide, slavery, and other human inventions. Just because something is frequently found in the Bible, it does not constitute a divine endorsement. Most Bibles I read are in the English language. That is a tool of communication, not a divine endorsement of language.

      • CaseyAnn says:

        Unfortunately, the comparison of direct exhortations inspired by the Holy Spirit to the physical words being translated into various languages over times is fallacious. As for polygamy, etc., these were never prescribed by God, and Christ told the Pharisees that marriage had not been practiced as God intended it, even under Moses’s rule, but that what they did was only allowed.

        I beg you to reconsider your conviction that “there is nothing in the Christian faith that suggests patriarchy is of God,” which is very much a product of modernity and has no basis in the Tradition of our Faith. No Catholic may sincerely believe that the Church had things wrong up until Vatican II’s non-dogmatic pronouncements and all the confusion that followed it. I will give you an example from a recent Holy Father, actually: Pius XI’s Casti Connubii. At paragraph 74 through 77 he condemns the modern notion that a wife is equal to her husband; and there is nothing “oppressive” in this, only the beauty of truth. Even Mary, the greatest of God’s creatures, was subordinate to Joseph while on earth. Even Christ was subject to His parents. After all, obedience is a virtue; hence, feminism is a manifestation of the worst sin–pride.

        Another article that you should read is at Catholic Culture here. The argument’s conclusion is unavoidable, and the author uses references from throughout the Bible; to deny them would be faithlessness, as authority is of utmost importance since it goes back to God.

      • Todd says:

        Sorry. I see no logic in a selective reading of Biblical passages in this way. Some New Testament communities as described are hardly patriarchal. Saint Paul himself gives witness that in Christ there is no longer a separation in gender roles, slave and free, or between the disparate cultures. It has nothing to do with modernism.

        Feminism as an aspect of culture may be applied to certain injustices among human beings. As such, it may well be a virtue. Like patriarchy, it can also be subverted for ungodly goals.

        Fr Rengers’ case isn’t a lock as you think. It doesn’t seem to apply in Mrs Hutchinson’s case as the men who were persecuting her were not her husbands. I can’t imagine the injustice and confusion if men started demanding obedience of other men’s wives.

      • CaseyAnn says:

        Do you truly not see how evidently Catholicism is patriarchal? Our Father, Who art in Heaven?

        In a true patriarchal society, women would adhere lovingly to their sphere, as God intended. Do you imagine the Blessed Mother as feeling “confined” to her home? Both naturally and supernaturally, she fulfilled herself as a woman. Other men than her husbands with whom a woman would be in most contact is her family members, including her father, and Church leaders — who, praise God, will never be women. It is appropriate for a woman to be submissive in such situations, though primarily to her father and husband.

        I see that you use standard liberal arguments, perverting St Paul’s passage. St. Thomas Aquinas explains it here: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. As if to say: Truly have I said, that as many of you as have been baptized in Christ Jesus have put on Christ, because there is nothing in man that would exclude anyone from the sacrament of the faith of Christ and of baptism.” In no way is he saying, “gender roles no longer exist.” That is ludicrous.

        There was no “selective reading” of Scripture in any of those articles, which I assume you didn’t read at all, lest you be enlightened; there was simply an organic, overarching reading of the Testaments. Is it illogical to read through a book for a specific theme? Whether or not you think so, I thank God that logic stems from Truth Himself and thus cannot change.

      • Todd says:

        The role of a Father, even divine, is not an endorsement of patriarchy. I am father to a daughter, but I am not really a patriarch. The sphere of a woman extends as far as, but not past, her individual abilities and gifts as given by God, and the grace she is open to receive. That may be a traditional role. And it might be different. My daughter, because of her heart condition, will never be able to bring a child to full term. She may or may not be called to be a mother. And if not, God will open opportunities beyond a traditional family.

        I read the first few paragraphs and the final third of Fr Wenger’s article. I wasn’t impressed, and I didn’t agree.

        I don’t think you captured the gist of my response. You used quotation marks around something that not only did Paul not write, but I didn’t either. The freedom Christ offers is also a freedom from the various enslavements of the world, human-made chains and differences. The extremes of patriarchy are not of God. No Christian is obliged to adhere to what is essentially a pagan pre-Jewish tradition just because the Israelites embraced it to a degree.

        And nowhere in the Bible does it suggest that a woman is subject to a man other than her husband.

        I think we agree to disagree, and remain confident each of us is well within the bosom of the Church.

  2. CaseyAnn says:

    (An additional disturbance: that this is categorized in “Saints”!)

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