Reviews - What do customers think about Women & Christianity: From the Reformation Ot the 21st Century (Women and Christianity)?
Recovering voices... Jan 23, 2005
This text by Mary Malone is the third volume in a series on women in Christianity; the first volume covers the first thousand years of Christendom, and the second from the year 1000 to the Reformation. This volume covers the period from the Reformation to the present, and as Malone states in her introduction, 'the increasing visibility of women on the ecclesial and cultural scenes...adds a new complexity' to the task of the book. There are women in Catholic and Protestant circles who are household names and those who are relatively unknown, yet important for various historical reasons. Sometimes, as Malone notes, the better-known figures are not necessarily easier to analyse, given the various traditions and ideas that have grown up around their personae, rather than their actual personal histories.
Like many historians of late, Malone sees the period commonly referred to as 'the Reformation' rather as a series of reformations. She notes the irony that this period created for the role of women, both redefining their relationship to men and the general cultural, but also providing direct biblical justification (in many interpretations) for keeping women in subordinate and out of leadership positions, particularly in the churches. This kind of paradox is seen more clearly in nations where women were in leadership positions - the role of Elizabeth I as ruler in England created a tension in the way to view women's roles; the irony continued to the late twentieth century, where the female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the reigning monarch, the second Queen Elizabeth, were responsible for appointing the bishops in the Church of England, who by church law could only be male.
First, Malone looks at issue of continuity and change. Beginning with Christine de Pizan, who was the first professional female author in France, through leaders such as Isabella of Spain and Catherine of Aragon (King Henry VIII's ill-fated first wife), Malone looks at historical issues of interpretation and substance. She addresses general topics of history (who, what, when, where, etc.) but also looks with a feminist eye at particular issues, such as the issue of persecution of women as witches being in fact a cipher for anti-woman sentiment at large, often with a bias against the poorer classes of people generally.
Women and the Reformation addresses the way history is often portrayed - a two-tiered narrative, one Catholic and one Protestant, both focussed upon the leaders, key events, and primary issues, most of which ignored the presence and contribution of women along the way. Malone notes that Luther was not the first reformer voice (highlighting Wycliff and Hus much earlier), and showed that in some movements such as the Lollards, women assumed key roles, and sometimes were put to death for their involvement. Malone highlights women such as Ursula Jost, who went from Catholic to Lutheran to Anabaptist in a matter of a few years, and was publicly acknowledged as a leader, having had mystical visions that were heard by her community. Malone also highlights Sister Jeanne, a woman who remained faithful to the Catholic cause, who wrote during a time of monastic/convent dissolution and widespread abandonment of Catholic clergy practices by the new Protestant clerical class.
Malone devotes a chapter to Teresa of Avila and Catholic Reform; Teresa is a mystic whose popularity crosses denominational and jurisdiction lines today. Going from this to the creation of new women's communities and roles in society, she includes an emphasis in institutions of education and health care. Founded by women such as Mary Ward, Angela Merci, Louise de Marillc and Jane de Chantal, many of these communities continue a presence into the modern world, being seeds that formed ideas for later women such as Ann Seton (America's first 'homegrown' saint) and Mother Theresa to follow.
Malone then looks at Protestant women, including missionaries that went around the world. These include Elizabeth Hooten, the first female Quaker preacher; Jane Lead, a Protestant prophetic mystic; and Anne Hutchinson, who was persecuted by her Massachusetts colony community, ostensibly for theological differences, but primarily for being a woman who dared to speak and preach. She was eventually excommunicated by her community.
Malone's look at the Marian Age refers to the growing popularity of Marian devotions in Catholic circles (including the doctrine of Immaculate Conception, becoming official Catholic doctrine in the mid-1800s). It also looks at a time when, by and large, the role of women in church and society was fairly uniform across Catholic, Protestant and secular society. Feminine qualities were paradoxically held to be more Christ-like and more mature/refined/civilised on the one hand, and yet somehow deficient and incapable of leadership and spiritual fullness on the other.
Malone discusses the modern situation in the final three chapters. The growing educational levels and opportunities afforded to women led to the advent of organised and consistent feminist philosophies and ethics of life. This went beyond the church into secular arenas, sometimes more fully expressed there. Malone looks at both the successes and failures of Vatican II to address issues in the modern world, highlight the lack of discussion on issues that directly affect women in many of the deliberations. With regard to Protestant institutions, various denominations have wrestled with women's issues according to differing timelines, and appealing to different theological sources, have arrived at different standards. Drawing on feminist theological issues, Malone goes beyond these to explore topics in women's spirituality more generally, and global liberation theologies that will continue to influence Christian directions into the future.
The book has a useful and comprehensive bibliography, but the index is incomplete - it lists people and places, but not ideas, key words or events, which would be more helpful.
Very readable, very interesting, Malone's work is worthwhile to anyone with an interest in the development of Christianity. Malone sees the current feminist movement as both a challenge and opportunity for Christianity, and this three-volume series helps support both ideas.