BUNYAN, John (1628-1688). A Case of Conscience Resolved. Viz. Whether, where a church of Christ is situate, it is the duty of the women of that congregation, ordinarily, and by appointment, to separate themselves from their brethren, and so to assemble together, to perform some parts of divine worship, as prayer, &c. without their Men? London: for Benjamin Alsop, 1683.
4° (177x 133mm). Collation: A-E4. (Inner margins neatly strengthened throughout; paper-fault tear to lower outer corner of C2, just touching text; incorrect imposition of quire C; occasional light staining.) 19th-century blue straight-grained morocco, spine titled in gilt, gilt turn-ins, edges gilt. Provenance: Cardiff Castle bookplate.
FIRST EDITION OF ONE OF THE RAREST OF BUNYAN'S WORKS. Wing records only one copy, that in the Bodleian, which was bought at the Fuller-Russel sale in 1885. According to Offor, the treatise was never reprinted. The pamphlet is tactfully addressed to the "Godly Women concerned in the following Treatise", who, nevertheless, were to be put firmly in what Bunyan saw as their proper place by the tract that followed. Bunyan claimed to accept the spiritual equality of women with men, but then argued that they should have no role in the conducting of religious services: "I do not believe they [women] should minister to God in prayer before the whole church, for then I should be a Ranter or a Quaker." He claims that "it must be supposed that they have received no such gifts that they should use this power . . . Nor do I believe they should do it in their own womanish asssembly", using as evidence the passage from I Corinthians 9:7: "They are not the image and glory of God, as the men are." He further declares that the holding of separate meetings from which men are excluded is a "usurping of authority." Bunyan's tract is a refutation of the arguments of "Mr. K", whose identity remains unknown.
According to Christopher Hill (A Turbulent, Seditious, and Factious People: John Bunyan and his Church, Oxford: 1988, pp. 298-9), "Bunyan's is a remarkably explicit assertion of male ascendancy, which had been challenged in New England and during the revolutionary decades in England. In the conservative atmosphere of the later seventeenth century such challenges were slowly overcome: Bunyan was swimming with the tide. Even Quaker women . . . found that women's meetings came to be left with social and charitable functions, but with none of the 'power' that Bunyan had feared." Wing B-5490 (Bodleian copy only); Harrison 29 (also the Bodleian copy only).