The Undebated Debate: Gender and the Image of God in Medieval Theology

  • E. Ann Matter
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

This essay examines the strange lack of debate about women’s role in the classical theological treatises of the Middle Ages. The reason for this may well be the predominant influence of Augustine of Hippo, who set up a condition in which women are equal to men (and therefore in the image of God) according to our humanity but NOT according to our female embodiment. The consequences of this paradoxical formulation can be seen in women’s spiritual writings from medieval Europe.

Keywords

Dust Europe Gall Dition Alan 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    See especially Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (Philadelphia, Pa.: Fortress Press, 1978).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For Tertullian, see On the Veiling of Virgins, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., in Ante-Nicene Fathers 4 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1982; repr. of 1885 Edinburgh edition). See also Francine Cardman, Women, Ministry, and Church Order in Early Christianity, in Women and Christian Origins, ed. Ross Shepard Kraemer and Mary Rose DAngelo (New York: Oxford, 1999), pp. 300–29. Sprenger and Kramers Malleus Maleficarum has been translated into English by Montague Summers (London: The Pushkin Press, 1948) and widely anthologized. My citations are from Witchcraft in Europe: 1100–1700: A Documentary History, ed. Alan C. Kors and Edward Peters (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972), pp. 105–89.Google Scholar
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    For a discussion of these divergent readings of Augustine, see E. Ann Matter, “Women,” in Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, ed. Allan D. Fitzgerald (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), pp. 887–92; E. Ann Matter, “Christ, God and Woman in the Thought of St. Augustine,” Augustine and His Critics: Essays in Honor of Gerald Bonner, ed. Robert Dodaro and George Lawless (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), pp. 164–175; and Kim Power, Veiled Desire: Augustine on Women (New York: Continuum, 1996).Google Scholar
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    For the fullest discussion of the monastic world, in which women did sometimes assert authority over men, see Penelope D. Johnson, Equal in Monastic Profession: Religious Women in Medieval France (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991). This authority stopped at the sacramental level, however, where the question of acting in the place of Christ became an issue.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See, for example, John Coakley, “Friars as Confidants of Holy Women in Medieval Dominican Hagiography,” in Images of Sainthood in Medieval Europe, ed. Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Timea Szell (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1991), pp. 222–46.Google Scholar
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    A dated but still useful overview of the monastic spirituality of the Middle Ages is Jean Leclercq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture, trans. Catharine Misrahi (New York: Fordham University Press, rev. 1974).Google Scholar
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    Sabina Flanagan, Hildegard of Bingen, 1098–1179: A Visionary Life (London and New York: Routledge, 1989), pp. 1–2; Vita Sanctae Hildegardis, ed. M. Klaes, Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis 126 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1993); The Life of the Holy Hildegard, trans. J. McGrath (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1980).Google Scholar
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    Catherine Mooney “Disentangling Voices: Medieval Women Writers and Their Male Interpreters,” lecture at Harvard University, April 1992; Barbara Newman, “Hildegard and Her Hagiographers: The Remaking of Female Sainthood,” in Gendered Voices: Medieval Saints and Their Interpreters, ed. Catherine M. Mooney (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), pp. 16–34.Google Scholar
  14. 23.
    E. Ann Matter, The Voice of My Beloved: The Song of Songs in Western Medieval Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990). For an excellent medieval example, see Walter Daniel, Vita Ailredi Abbatis Rievall (The Life of Aelred of Rievaulx), ed. Maurice Powicke (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 24.
    See Karen Scott, “Urban Spaces, Women’s Networks, and the Lay Apostolate in the Siena of Catherine Benincasa,” in Creative Women in Medieval and Early Modern Italy: A Religious and Artistic Renaissance, ed. E. Ann Matter and John Coakley (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), pp. 105–19.Google Scholar
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    Karen Scott, “Catherine of Siena’” Apostola, Church History 61 (1992): 34–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, trans. Suzanne Noffke (New York: Paulist Press, 1980). See Noffke’s introduction for a discussion of how Catherine may have composed her works.Google Scholar
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    The literature on this theme is vast, but see most recently Ellen Ross, The Grief of God (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  19. 33.
    Maiju Lehmijoki-Gardner, Worldly Saints: Social Interaction of Dominican Penitent Women in Italy, 1200–1500 (Helsinki: Suomen Historiallinen Seura, 1999), for Dominican Penitent women in general. Lehmijoki-Gardner is preparing a volume of translations of writings by Dominican Penitents for the Paulist Press series Classics of Western Spirituality.Google Scholar
  20. 36.
    Las Huelgas was founded in 1187 by Alfonso VIII of Castile and his wife Leonora. The jurisdiction of the abbess was confirmed by Pope Urban VIII and not suspended (in spite of Innocent III’s letter) until 1873, when Pius IX voided all exempt monastic jurisdictions in Spain. See J. M. Escriviá, La abadesa de Las Huelgas (Madrid: Editorial Luz, 1944).Google Scholar
  21. 37.
    The great care with which Peter Abelard discussed the proximity of the role of the abbess to the ancient order of deaconesses is discussed by Mary Martin McLaughlin, “Abelard and the Dignity of Women: Twelfth-Century ‘Feminism’ in Theory and Practice,” in Pierre Abélard, Pierre le Vénérable (Cluny: Abbaye de Cluny, 1972), pp. 288–334. On women deacons, see Ida Raming, The Exclusion of Women from the Priesthood: Divine Law or Sex Discrimination? trans. N. R. Adams (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1976), and, more recently, Mary Rose D’Angelo, “Diakonia,” in Dictionary of Feminist Theologies, ed. Letty M. Russell and Shannon Clarkson (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox, 1996), pp. 66–67; J. G. Davies, “Deacons, Deaconesses and the Minor Orders in the Patristic Period,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 14 (1963): 1–2; and Cardman, “Women, Ministry, and Church Order in Early Christianity.”Google Scholar
  22. 38.
    Gregory IX, Decretals Corpus iuris Canonici, lib. 5, tit. 38, De Poenitentia ch. 10, “Nova,” ed. J. Friedberg (Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1928) 2: 886–87.Google Scholar
  23. 40.
    “Dicas quod abbatissa habet iurisdictionem talem qualem, non ita plenam, sicut vir habet, Bernard of Parma,” Glossa in Decretal, lib. 1, tit. 33, cap. 12, “Dilecta”, no. C, “Iurisdictione,” ed. A. Nardi (Lyons: Huegeton et Barbier, 1671) 2:431.Google Scholar
  24. 41.
    Ibid., 432.Google Scholar
  25. 42.
    Joan A. Range, “Legal Exclusion of Women from Church Office,” The Jurist 34 (1974): 119. It is startling to note that part of Innocent III’s letter was quoted in the 1977 Vatican document Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood; see Women Priests: A Catholic Commentary on the Vatican Declaration, ed. Leonard Swidler and Arlene Swidler (New York: Paulist Press, 1977), p. 40, and the commentary on the passage by E. Ann Matter, “Innocent III and the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven,” pp. 145–51.Google Scholar

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© Thelma S. Fenster and Clare A. Lees 2002

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  • E. Ann Matter

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