Diana Lynn Severance takes the moral high ground in Feminine Threads, asserting that her work ‘aims to equip the reader to refute the distortions of women in Christian history which are often being made in academia.’
This book is rich in primary sources and that’s a great strength. Its focus, especially in the second half, is pretty western-centric but even so, I appreciated the opportunity to ‘meet’ women from Church History about whom I hadn’t previously known. The Germanic queens of the early Middle Ages were a highlight and so were the women missionaries of the 18-20th centuries.
However, Feminine Threads really only masquerades as history. It’s actually a polemic written against feminist readings of history. In the preface, Severance outlines the failure of feminist historical methodology. While I largely agree with her critique of that methodology, I was appalled at how blithely she made very similar mistakes. Read more
One of Kirsi Stjerna’s conclusions in Women and the Reformation is that “more than any other factor, gender determined a woman’s ability and avenues to respond to the Reformation.” However, their responses were not uniform and she stresses that it would be a mistake to see women as responding en masse in a certain way. The different circumstances that women found themselves in determined their opportunities as well. Read more
While the apostle Peter may have taken his wife along with him in his ministry, for the better part of church history, the church considered celibacy to be the acceptable state for a priest. The reality was quite different – many priests in the medieval world had women on the side and just paid a tax to the Pope every time they had an illegitimate child. The Protestant Reformation(s) changed that. The Protestants believed that marriage was OK for a priests and developed a new model of the ideal Christian life: the vicarage family, that is, Dad the pastor, Mum the pastor’s wife and their pious children. It was controversial, and at first, ‘pastor’s wives’ were seen as more flagrant versions of the priests’ concubines so they and their husbands had to defend their position and lifestyle. Rather than arguing that the ideal woman was a celibate nun in a convent, Martin Luther held up his own wife, Katie von Bora, as the ideal woman. She was not only the first ministry wife, she was the pioneer and model of it. I thought I’d use some of the reading I’ve been doing on Katie to ventriloquize an interview with her, In Tandem style.
I’ve temporarily shifted my focus in my summer project from feminist theology to feminist readings of church history. Most of the time, that’s not trying to reinterpret events so much as to fill out the picture and show where and how women were involved or what changes in church history did or didn’t affect women. Read more