Woman seen as a ‘problem’ and as ‘solution’ in the theological anthropoloqy of the Early Fathers: Considering the Consequences

by Dr.Marie-Henry Keane O.P. formerly Prof. in Systematic Theology Dept. of Univ. of South Africa, Pretoria.
paper presented to Catholic Theological Society of South Africa, October 1987.

1.1 Introduction

The task of feminist theologians today is to correct certain abuses in the church which affect them deeply. They react against their exclusion from church office and against the reduction of their ministry within the church to subordinate and marginal positions. They are no longer willing to conform to the feminine stereotypes of patriarchal culture. They feel, in fact, that the sexism of Christian tradition requires the critiquing of virtually all areas of that tradition: its ecclesiastical structures; certain doctrinal presuppositions; its use of sexist language, particularly in the liturgy and in official church documents; its systematic distortion of the image of woman:and its failure to reflect seriously the woman’s experience. Not only the ‘male view’ but ‘the white western male opinion’, has become the yardstick for measuring what is appropriate or excellent in ecclesiastical circles. Rebecca Chopp deplores, therefore, “the strategy of theology which isolates and privileges the experience of Western white males as absolute for all human experience”. (1) She goes on: “We shall not take lightly the assumptions about ourselves-in-relation-to-God that undergird our spiritual cultures, as evidenced in our journals, prayers, art and music”.(2) We shall speak for ourselves about ourselves.

To do justice theologically to the “woman’s experience”; to explore some of the very real injustices perpetrated against her; and to create a more inclusive model of church and of society for the future, we need to approach the so-called “woman problem” from many perspectives, not least among the from the historic perspective. It has been suggested, for example, that many of the problems experienced by women in the church today have developed over the centuries. They were not there in the beginning. Certain feminists believed that by unearthing the history of the early church, for example, they might be able to do justice to their own story and to their significance in shaping church history. Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s studies have led her to a different conclusion. She wrote:"An androcentric reconstruction of the early Christian history...is not valuefree and objective, but consciously or not, legitimates the present hierarchical - male structures of the contemporary church".(3) In other words the Early Church Fathers had already canonised the androcentric approach. What is more the influence of their teaching is still being felt today. from the historic perspective. It has been suggested, for example, that many of the problems experienced by women in the church today have developed over the centuries. They were not there in the beginning. Certain feminists believed that by unearthing the history of the early church, for example, they might be able to do justice to their own story and to their significance in shaping church history. Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s studies have led her to a different conclusion. She wrote:"An androcentric reconstruction of the early Christian history...is not valuefree and objective, but consciously or not, legitimates the present hierarchical - male structures of the contemporary church".(3) In other words the Early Church Fathers had already canonised the androcentric approach. What is more the influence of their teaching is still being felt today.

What I propose to do in this paper is to examine, in some detail, the theological anthropology of the Early Fathers with special reference to woman. I shall focus on woman seen as ‘problem’, and as ‘solution’. I shall quote extensively from the patristics,for then it will be possible to gauge the extent to which the Fathers “condemned themselves out of their own mouths". They frequently condemned and belittled woman, but, even when they commended her, and showed her honour, they often did so for the wrong reasons. We may feel that the church has come a long way since the Fathers yet attitudes towards woman have not changed basically. The time has come to do something about that.

1.2 Woman as the cause of sin

The Early Church Fathers regarded woman as a problem because, they said, it was through her that sin entered the world. “Woman”, wrote Tertullian, “You are the Devil’s doorway. You have led astray one whom the Devil would not dare attack directly. It was your fault that the Son of God had to die, you shall always go in mourning and rags".(4) Woman, he said, was morally weak and ‘a troublemaker’. He made her a scapegoat to bear the guilt of all sin for he put on her shoulders the sins of human kind, denying thereby that men and women alike were accomplices in sin. They used her to exonerate mankind of blame. As the German proverb puts it: “Adam muss eine Eva habben, die er zeiht, was er gathan”. (Adam must have his Eva so that he may blame her for what he (himself) has done.) The Fathers condemn Eve for the role she played in the downfall of humankind and make every woman an heiress to the blame. They abuse the integrity of women by comparing them not only to the least of persons but to the most hideous of beasts. John Chrysostom wrote: “Among all the savage beasts none is found to be so harmful as woman”.(5) John Damascene was even more vindictive: “Woman”, he wrote, “is a sick she-ass...a hideous tapeworm...the advance post of hell”.(6) She deserved therefore, not only to be cursed by God but by the Fathers. (Let me add in parenthesis that Rabbinical teaching manifested an equally unsympathetic attitude towards women. In the Apocalypse of Moses, for example, words of condemnation were put into Eve’s own mouth: She accused herself: “My Lord Adam, rise up and give me half of thy trouble and I will endure it, for it is on my account that this hath happened to thee, on my account thou art beset with toils and troubles”.(7) Eve, and consequently all women, were to bear prime responsiblity for the world’s sin. Jerome went a step further; he attributed to woman responsiblity for all heresy. He wrote: “With the help of the prostitute Helena, Simon Magnus founded his sect. Crowds of women accompanied Nicholas of Antiochia the seducer of all impurity: Marcion sent a woman before him in order to prepare the minds of men so that they might run into his nets. Apelles had his Philumena as an associate in the false teachings. Montanus, the mouthpiece of an impure spirit, used two wealthy women of noble origin Prisca and Maximilla in order to first bribe many communities and then to corrupt them...Arius, intent to lead the world, astray started by misguiding the sister of the emperor," (8) Jerome offered an extensive list of the women who were behind every heresy. In the light of the evidence available to us, however, we cannot take him seriously. The worst that can be said is that certain women were either accomplices or associates of male heretics.

1.3 The position of woman

Feminist theologians have tried to account for the anti-woman feelings frequently demonstrated by the Fathers. Certainly they did not take their cue from Jesus for New Testament sources do not attribute to him a single negative statement about women.(9) More than that,he makes it clear that relationships within the Christian community were free from dominance (Mt 23:7-12). Jesus did not subscribe to the social norms of the Graeco-Roman world which distinguished between people on the grounds of race, class, religion or sex. He made it possible, not only for the ethné and slaves but also for women, to participate in the missionary leadership of the church. Schüssler-Fiorenza wrote: “In this movement women were not marginal figures but exercised leadership as missionaries, founders of Christian communities, apostles, prophets and leaders of churches".(10) That phase was very short lived, however. The Fathers resisted the tendency to accept the leadership of women. Origen, for example, while he acknowledged the ministry of Phoebe reduced her to “Paul’s assistant”.(1l) Chrysostom accepted that women ministered in leadership in the church at the beginning but he himself believed that only when “the angelic condition” would be restored could women be permitted to work in the service of the Gospel, to prophecy and be called disciples or apostles.(12) The Early Fathers, paid less attention to the authentic Christian message with respect to woman than to the “spirit of the age”. Already the process of the canonisation of patriarcy had begun and many Fathers were buying into it!

1.4 Woman and the image of God?

Among the several misconceptions subscribed to by the Fathers was the belief that woman was not made in the image of God. That prerogative belonged to men! At best the woman merely reflected the imago Dei in a secondary sense. Diodore of Tarsus, for instance, wrote in his commentary on Genesis that woman was not made in God’s image, she was not man’s equal but was placed under his domination. “Woman”, said Augustine, “was merely man’s helpmate, a function which pertains to her alone. She is not the image of God but as far as man is concerned, he is by himself the image of God.” (13)Augustine did, however, later grudgingly concede that “the woman together with her husband is the image of God”, so that “the whole substance is one image” (14) What is particularly significant is the long term effects of Augustine’s teaching concerning the imago Dei. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) was certainly affected by it. He subscribed to the Aristotelian view that woman did not have a rational soul, and supported Augustine in holding that woman was not made in the image of God. The female soul, he said , was inferior to the male soul; Physically, he said, woman was a “misbegotten male.” "She was made only to assist with procreation". (15) Because of her rational and physical inferiority, therefore, she was bound to be subject to men. “Such is the subjection”, he wrote, “in which woman is by nature subordinate to man, because the power of rational discernment is by nature stronger in man’’ (16). To return to the Early Fathers: According to G H Tavard ”Diodorus or Chrysostom do not include woman in the natural image of God, since this image is one of power and dominion of which woman has been deprived by God and society". (17) Yet “an unbiased exegesis of Genesis 1.26f and 5.lf provides no grounds for holding that the male participates in the image of God in a different way from the female” (18), G W H Lampe wrote more recently “Genesis 1, ... with its reminder that male and female together constitute that humanity which has been created in the image of God, is a standing witness against the belief that an inferiority of the woman to the man belongs to the intention of the Creator.” (19)

It should be clear that while many of the Fathers regarded woman as a problem because of Eve’s sin, others believed that even before the fall she was a second class citizen. She was not made in God’s image. The Fathers went a step further still. They legislated on the kind of roles women should play. Those roles would be in keeping with her inferiority vis-à-vis the male of the species. John Chrysostom in his homily on the Kind of Women who ought to be taken as wives (20) wrote: “To woman is assigned the presidency of the household, to man all the business of the state; the market place, the administration of justice, government, the military ... Indeed this is the work of God’s love and wisdom that he who is skilled at the greater things is downright inept and useless at the performance of less important ones, so that the woman’s service is necessary ... If the more important, more beneficial concerns were turned over to the woman she would go quite mad ... God maintained the order of each sex by dividing the business of human life into two parts and assigned the more necessary and beneficial aspects to the man and the less important inferior matters to the woman".(21) What is to be noted here is not only the arrogance of the Fathers in appropriating superiority on the basis of gender alone but also the ease with which they give divine authority to their teaching and their views concerning the inferiority of women. In the order of nature and grace she is ‘destined’, they said, to live under male domination.

1.5 Woman’s “naive mind” and her capacity to ensnare

Pope Gregory I, known as “the great”, showed himself to be somewhat less than great in throwing in his lot with those who had no faith in woman’s intelligence, He wrote: “Woman is slow in understanding and her unstable and naive mind renders her by way of natural weakness to the necessity of a strong hand in her husband. Her ‘use’ is two fold; animal sex and motherhood.” (22) John Chrysostom becomes condescending when he suggests that God made woman inferior and put her under the sway of man out of ‘kindness’. He did so to protect her from herself lest she should get into further trouble. God softens the blow further, he said, by seeing to it that she liked her inferior position. He quoted Gen 3:16 “Your inclination shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you" in support of his theory . (23) Woman, said Chrysostom, had exerted her authority and exerted it badly as a result she has now to be ‘silenced’.

One explanation frequently offered for the anti-woman attitude of the Fathers is their fear of women. In 306 the discipline of celibacy had been introduced for church men. This would clearly pose a problem for the clergy and they would have to deal with it. Women were, however, often identified with “the problem”. They were to be feared because of the power they could exert over men sexually. In their tirades against lust and passion the Fathers less frequently referred to their own weakness or guilt while emphasising the woman’s power to ensnare and to seduce. Lust, according to Augustine, was a side effect of ‘Eve’s’ sin. Without her sin children would be begotten without the malady of lust, and purely at the command of the will. Those (sexual) bodily parts, he said, “could be moved by the same command of the will as the other members are". (24) Without the sin of Eve the husband, “without the alluring sting of passion, with tranquil mind and no destruction of bodily wholeness, would have poured himself out in the marital embrace”. (25) Augustine saw lust or passion even within marriage as something to be tolerated as “an evil resulting from the ancient sin”. (26 )Augustine’s own history had something to do with these attitudes towards sexuality and towards the woman. What is significant in the long term is that he should succeed in passing on his own guilt and his own sexual hangups to other church men. They too would, see woman as ‘shameful’ since she inspired lust. She was the ‘seductive stimulus’ and the ‘temptress’.

In the light of what has been said it is understandable that Augustine should use female imagery to describe lust: “I say”, he wrote, “that this fleshly lust is, so to speak, the daughter of sin, and when it consents to filthy acts it is the mother of many sins.” (27) Woman would be punished, therefore, for being a woman! Marriage (the sexual act) and the submission which was due to a husband would serve as reminders, said Augustine, of the paradise that she had lost. (28)

1.6 A Woman ouqht not to teach

Since the woman had a poor track record, since she was the cause of original sin, of all heresy, of lust, and was of poor intellect she should not teach. “Let them not teach” said Chrysostom “but let them join in the rank of learners”. (29) They already talked too much! Teaching he believed would make them proud. “Thus they should show their submissiveness by their silence, as the sex is in a certain way loquacious” (30) And again, “Let her not teach ... for the female sex is weak and vain”. They could lead men away, he said, since they were given to heresy. In saying that he had in mind that various Gnostic sects had allowed women teachers. The Montanists, for example, had women prophetesses among them and they had done a good deal of damage. Jerome echoes Chrysostom’s views in his Epistle 133. He strongly condemned women’s proclivity for teaching heresy: “Wretched woman, burdened with sins carried about by every wind of doctrine, always learning and never reaching knowledge of the truth”. (31) Next she would try to over reach herself and want to become a priest! From the treatise of John Chrysostom On the Priesthood (32) that indeed would seem to be the case. Chrysostom reproved such women severely: “When there is a need for someone to be set over the church and to be entrusted with the care of many souls, let the whole female sex step aside from the greatness of the matter” ... He went on “the divine law has shut women out from the ministerial office but they use force to get inside.”(33) Even then women were serious contenders for the priesthood but they met with great opposition. Chrysostom even mooted that they be denied freedom of speech because certain women had found fault with church authorities.

Some groups of women were regarded as more problematic than others. Young widows, for example, were particularly suspect even when they were placed in the order of widows (34). Chrysostom believed that everything should be done to prevent them from “making trouble” by marrying a second time. Third marriages were regarded as a sign of incontinence and fourth marriages “open fornication and unambiguous licentiousness”. Chrysostom prescribed instead that a young widow should occupy herself with prayer. She should, moreover, refrain from responding to questions of faith which might be put to her “lest by uttering something unlearned she might inflict blasphemy on the word”. (35) If Jesus had wanted women to teach the word, said Chrysostom, he would have said so. He would surely have chosen one of the Marys or Martha first.

Even though it has been recorded the Acts of Thecla and Paul that Thecla had baptised,this practice was seen by the Fathers as a highly dangerous thing to do. It would give women “ideas” about themselves. According to Apostolic Constitutions of the 4th century it was both ‘illegal’ and ‘impious’ for women to baptise. We read: “It is not right to set aside the order of creation and leave what is chief to descend to the lowest part of the body” (36) Woman’s inferior status barred her from teaching and from ministering in any official capacity.

1.6 Women of siqnificance

Enough has been written above to show that woman’s position in the church was determined very early. Clearly she was ‘a problem’ and on that account was to be neither seen nor heard within the ranks of the official church. In retrospect it is obvious that the deliberate silencing of many women in the early church can only leave woman today guessing about what they might have been and might have done had they been allowed space and opportunity to function fully and freely alongside the Fathers. There were, of course, a number of women who were not rendered voiceless, who took their places, not on the periphery of church life, or among the marginalised, but at the centre. They achieved that distinction in spite of the system. Women like Thecla of Thamyris; Drusiana a heroine of the Apocryphal Acts; Perpetua, martyred in North Africa in 203 the same year that Felicitas and her seven sons died for their faith in Rome; Marcellina the famous sister of Ambrose; Marcella the Christian ascetic whose palace in Rome became a centre of Christian influence; Melania who founded a monastery in Jerusalem after the death of her husband and Jerome’s friend Paula who established a monastery at Bethlehem. The fact that it is necessary to explain who these women were is in itself a token of the fact that in spite of their significance they are relatively unknown today.

Before looking at woman as ‘solution’ I would like to relate some of the things that have been said thus far to our contemporary situation. I would like to focus in particular on woman as silent, as invisible and as a minor for things have not, in my opinion, changed substantially within the official church since the time of the Early Fathers.

Concerning the ‘silence’ of woman Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza wrote: “Women are not only the ‘silent majority’we are the ‘silenced majority’ in the Roman Catholic Church ...” She goes on: “as recently as last May (‘85) during the visit of Pope John Paul II in the Netherlands Professor Catherina Halkes, the leading Roman Catholic feminist in Europe was forbidden to address the Pontiff,"(37) for although women still make up the majority of churchgoers ‘Mother’ church remains governed by ‘the Fathers’; men make the laws and do the talking! In theory the church advocates freedom for all but in practice it treats all women as minors.

‘In Christ’ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female but in practice the church keeps women silent and invisible when ‘she’ excludes them from Church office on the basis of their sex. Women are baptised in the (male) Body of Christ; they receive the Eucharist (even though women were not ? present at the last supper) but when it comes to the ordained ministry they are excluded by the leadership of (most)Christian denominations. In fact they are now even less privileged than in the early church when women could meaningfully minister as deaconesses.

The church keeps women invisible and silent when it meets for episcopal synods and attempts to justify this practice theologically. The church speaks for women, about women but without woman.

The church condemns racial oppression yet, by its devotion to institutionalised patriarchy it oppresses black and white women alike. Women who seek to serve, are not necessarily seeking power after the patriarchal model,yet they are hampered by ecclesiastical legislation. The modern fathers are,it seems as adept as their forefathers at using “divine decree" to support their patriarchal agenda. This situation can no longer be tolerated.

1.7 Woman the magnificent

It would be doing an injustice to the Early Fathers were one to focus merely on their view of woman as ‘problem’. They also saw her as a ‘solution’. In this connection Elizabeth A,Clark a patristic scholar and a feminist wrote: “The most fitting word with which to describe the Church Fathers’ attitude towards women is ambivalence. Women were God’s creation ... and the curse of the world.(38) Having heard denunciations and derogatory statements levelled by the Fathers at women one also needs to hear what Elizabeth Clark calls their ‘’extravagant accolades”. women were not only ‘sick she-asses’ and ‘hideous tape worms’ they were also regarded as models and mentors. They were honoured as paragons of Christian virtue and ‘exemplars of Christian devotion’ and there were some extraordinary learned women. Of Melania the Elder, for example we read in Palladius Lansiac history: “She was very learned and a lover of literature. She turned night into day going through every writing of the ancient commentators, three million lines of Origen, and two hundred and fifty thousand lines of Gregory, Stephen, Pierius, Basil and other excellent men. And she did not merely glance through them casually, but laboured over them, she read each work seven or eight times over.” (39) That’s the rub! The Fathers who thought very little of the intellectual capacity of women changed their minds when they found women like Melania, Proba, Paula, Fabiola and others studying the works of the Fathers and being ready to be taught by them. In his Epistle 108 Jerome comments on his friend Paula’s eagerness to learn from him. He taught her what he himself had learned from “illustrous men of the church”. Women students had little or no alternatives, they had to study ‘the Fathers’ because there were not significant ‘Mother’ sources. It has taken centuries to address that problem. Feminist theologians, among them Rosemary Radford-Ruether, Elizabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza and Mary Daly are steadily resurrecting woman’s ‘forgotten’ past from many sources, are reflecting deeply on it and attempting to correct the injustices against women which originated in the past but which persist in the present. They are reflecting on woman’s experience past and present and helping women to free themselves from their dependence on “the Fathers”.

1.8 Woman ‘the virgin’

The Fathers clearly saw ‘woman’ as a problem in terms of her sexuality. She was to blame, as I mentioned earlier, for all sins of the flesh. She could become part of the solution, however, when she could be persuaded to espouse perpetual virginity. “Women who renounced the sexual life”, wrote Elizabeth Clark" were elevated above their natural abject condition." (40) Since sexual functioning made women “unsavory” the Fathers championed the cause of asceticism and virginity not primarily because it was a virtuous thing to do but also because it gave them an opportunity to manipulate women. Jerome, for example, wrote to Eustochium (letter 22) daughter of his aristocratic friend Paula when he heard that she was considering a life of perpetual virginity: “I praise weddings ... because they produce virgins for me, I gather roses from thorns, gold from the earth, a pearl from the shell.” (41) a woman who was perpetually vowed to a life of virginity was less to be feared than one who was not. There is, therefore, a double agenda - zeal to encourage women to live ascetic lives and a desire to manipulate them. Certain widows of means and virtue were selected by the Fathers to establish monasteries of nuns. These were sister monasteries to those established for the brethren and were modelled on the male paradigm. One such monastery was established by Jerome at Bethlehem. He schooled the widow Paula a woman of good standing and of wealth to head the monastery. He provided the rule. He was informed of what went on within the monastery and he prescribed for the nuns through the influence he had over Paula. In his Epistle 108 for example he described how Paula reacted in a particular situation but one suspects that her response was more Jerome’s than her own. We read: “Often when the younger sisters had fleshly lusts she (Paula) crushed them with double fasts. She preferred that they suffer in the stomach than in the mind”. (42)

1.9 Becoming male!

When they were confronted with feminine virtue the Fathers were obliged to acknowledge that even though woman was, in their view, the cause of all evil she could also be holy. They had to find a way of dealing with the sanctity of women. They did that by changing them to men! Kari Vogt in an article entitled Becoming Male: One aspect of an Early Christian Anthropology , (43) drew attention to the fact that this form of “sex change”, this transition from being female to male (found in Hellenistic as well as in Christian writing), referred to the process of moral development and perfection. Clement of Alexandria, for example, believed that when a woman “frees herself from the craving of the flesh (she) achieves perfection in this life as the man does". (44) Only then does she become the perfect “manly” woman. The model of perfection was, of course, the male believer (telios aner). The woman could, however, rise above her ‘inherent’ moral weakness and through virtue attain to the status of a man. By the same token a man might become a “woman” were he to become morally degenerate (45). Clement of Alexandria’s interpretation of the phrase “putting on Christ” is interesting. Women and men who identified with Christ through baptism and holy living were seen to be putting on the man Jesus. Again the male metaphor was deemed the model of excellence. The truth that in Christ there is neither male nor female was forgotten!

In Origen’ s anthropology male superiority and female inferiority were seen to be simultaneously present in women and men. In his discussion on Genesis 1:27, for example, Origen taught that the “interior man” consisted of the spirit or spiritus (which was male) and the soul or anima (which was female.)(46) The female part (anima) tended he said, to turn from the spirit (spiritus) towards the senses and was prone to being unfaithful. In contrast the male part (spiritus) was qualitatively ‘higher’ and more ‘moral’ than its counterpart. The feminine in general represented ‘the flesh and carnal affections’ and, on occasions, ‘weakness, laziness, and dependençe’. But here too the woman could be male if her spirit ruled and female only her ‘soul’ (anima) controlled her life.

In his Homiliae in Exodum Origen demonstrated his male bias yet again. The fact’ he said that Pharaoh should kill the infant boys and allow the girls to live was nothing less than a satanic attack on the rational sense and intelligent spirit of the male.(47) Moreover in his commentary on Exodus 23:17 Origin attributes to God himself the same bias, for God too, he believed, favoured the male! Origin wrote: “What is seen by the Creator’s gaze is male not female. For God does not deign to look at what is feminine or material!(48). It is clear from the context that the designation male and female refers to a moral condition rather than to sexual gender per se. Nevertheless, in offering a ‘solution’ to the notion of woman as a ‘problem’ by transforming her into a man, the fundamental anti-female attitude persisted since it equated the ‘feminine’ with the carnal and the weak. The ultimate aim was, of course, to transform the man or the woman into a 'vir perfectus’. When he says in his Homily on the Canticle of Canticles “I fear many of us are girls”(49) he was referring to those who could not keep the pace or maintain the standard to those who were morally weak.

Given then that able women like Paula, Thecla, Perpetua, Melania and others lived their lives in the shadow of the Fathers, that they had access to learning only by studying the Fathers under the tutelage of the Fathers; that religious women who entered monasteries in relatively large numbers had to submit to a rule of life compiled by Augustine and not by one of their own members; given that their virtue could only be acknowledged by their “becoming male” one can understand why they can be regarded as women who were held in thrall. The ‘solutions’ which were being offered by the Fathers may have satisfied them but they did little for women themselves. Women carried the curse not of Cain but of Eve and in spite of the saying work of Jesus for all humankind they bore the marks of inferiority and of injustice stamped on them by patriarchy Women are at last growing in awareness of the extent to which they were discriminated against, not only in early Christian times, but throughout the entire history of the church. They experience renewed pain as the reality of their longstanding opression impinges on their consciousness. That experience has had positive results as well as negative effects. A sizeable number of feminist theologians are empathising with other victims of discrimination. They are being challenged not only to address their own particular problems but are joining forces against such evils as racism, classism and ageism. The theology of Early Christian times (and indeed traditional Christian theology thereafter) reflected on the experience of only one half of the community. It was written and interpreted by men alone. It was expressed in the language and the mental categories of men. Its anthropology took little note of the needs or the questions of women. Feminist theologians take seriously their experience as women and consequently find it altogether unacceptable to “become male” at a moral, intellectual or any other level. The male dominated Christian church may adopt a more subtle approach to women but when women dare to challenge the church’s position on women they are again regarded as problematic’. There are, however, solutions which could satisfy women and men alike. In getting in touch with theìr own reality women are not necessarily doing so inspite of men but often with them. Christian anthropology in the future, in contrast to certain anthropologies of the past, must stress, I believe, equality, reciprocity and mutuality. Men and women together with their strengths and weaknesses will compliment each other and enrich the church’s life.

In conclusion: I referred earlier to the ambivalance of the Fathers attitude to women. They were a ‘problem’ but also ‘a solution’. They were condemned and they were commended. We saw the extent to which Jerome, for example, focused on woman as problem, as sinner and as heretic yet his long association with Paula who laboured with him in promoting monastic life and in striving for virtue tempered his prejudice against women. When she died at the age of fifty six in 404 AD Jerome composed a poem for her tombstone. It read: “Farewell, Paula, and with your prayers assist the ripe old age of your friend. Your faith and works unite you with Christ, in whose presence you will more easily receive what you ask. I have raised a monument more lasting than bronze which no longer passage of time can destroy. I cut an epitaph on your sepulchre, which I append to this work, so that wherever my letter may go, the reader may know that you were buried in Bethlehem, and lauded there."(50)

“Attempts of feminist theologians to resurrect women’s history piecemeal or in part, should have, I believe, a significant effect on Christian anthropologies of the future. Men and women share a common history and, having learned from the past, could approach the future with a better sense of what is due to each other.


1. Chopp, Rebecca, Feminism’s Theological Pragmatics: Social Naturalism of Women’s Experience in Journal of Theology, vol 67, no 2, April 1987. p 243.

2. Ibid, p 240

3. Schüssler-Fiorenza, Elizabeth, You are not to be called Father: Earlv Christian History in a Feminist Perspective ,in Cross Currents, vol XXIX, no 3, 1979. p 302.

4. Tertullian. On the dress of women, in Patrologia Graeca, 70:59

5.John Chrysostum, Discourse 2 on Genesis P.G. 54:589.

7. Apocalypse of Moses, IX. 2.

8. Jerome, P.G. 1.48

9. Schüssler-Fiorenza, Elizabeth, Op cit., cf. p 316.

10. Ibid.

11. Origin, Commentary on Romans: 10:17. P.G. 14, 1278A-C. See also Women of Spirit, Female Leadership in the Jewish and Christian Traditions, Rosemary Radford-Ruether, cf p 56.

12. Clark, E.A. Sexual Politics in the Writings of John Chrysostom in, Anglican Theologica Review, vol LIX,1977. cf pp 3-20.

13. Augustine, De Trinitatae. 12:17.

14. Ibid.

15. Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica.

16. Ibid.

17. Tavard,G.H. Woman in Christian Tradition, Notre Dame, 1973. pp 48ff.

18. Hayter, Mary. The new Eve in Christ: The use and abuse of the Bible in the debate about women in the church. S.P.C.K. 1987. p 88.

19. Lampe, G.W.H. Church Tradition and the Ordination of Women, in, Explorations in Theology, no 8, London, 1981. p 124.

20. John Chrysostom. In P.G. 51. 230.

21. Ibid.

22. Gregory the Great, in P.G. 59, 268.

23. John Chrysostom, Discourse 4 on Genesis, P.G. 54. 594.

24. Augustine. On marriage and concupiscense. Text CSEL 42:2:215.

25. Ibid

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid.

28. Clark, Elizabeth, Women in the Early Church, Glazier Delaware, 1983. cf p 76.

29. John Chrysostom, Homily 9 on 1 Timothy. P.G. 62:544.

30. Ibid.

31. Jerome, Text CIEL. 56:247.

32 John Chrysostom. On the Priesthood, P.G. 48. 633.

33. Ibid.

34. Apostolic Constitutions. 4th century text. F.X. Funk (ed). Paderborn 1905. 111.9.

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid.

37. Schüssler-Fiorenza, Elizabeth, Breakinq the Silence - becominq visible in women invisible in church and theology, Concilium, T and T Clark, London, December 1985, p 3.

38. Clark, Elizabeth, Op cit. p 17.

39. Palladius’ Lansiac History, Butler (ed), Hildersheim, 1967. p 148.

40. Ibid.

41. Jerome, Letter 22 to Eustochium.

42. Jerome, Epistle 108. Text CSET 55:334.

43. See _Concilium 182/6/1985.

44.Clement of Alexandria.Stomates, IV, 100.6. P.G. 93:21.

Ibid IV, 60.1.

45. P.G. 12.158, SC 7. p 84.

46. Vogt. Op. cit. cf. p 76.

47. Origin. Homily on Exodus, P.G. 12.305C.

48. Origin. Homily on the Canticle of Canticles P.G. 12.40.

49. The rules of St Augustine and of St Benedict remain to the present time the “standard” rules for many religious women.

50. Quoted by Clark. Op. cit. p 212.