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Re: [Covenanted Reformation] Re: Women and Writing

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  • Gary Gearon
    Sure thing! ... From: To: Sent: Saturday, January 25, 2003 3:03 PM Subject: [Covenanted
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 25, 2003
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      Sure thing!
      ----- Original Message -----
      From: <susan_wilkinson@...>
      To: <covenantedreformationclub@yahoogroups.com>
      Sent: Saturday, January 25, 2003 3:03 PM
      Subject: [Covenanted Reformation] Re: Women and Writing


      Interesting stuff, Gary. If you run across anything else, I'd like to
      see it.

      Susan

      --- In covenantedreformationclub@yahoogroups.com, "Gary Gearon"
      <GGearon@p...> wrote:
      > (Women's) Service of Mind and Pen
      >
      > Although the opportunity to exercise their literary and intellectual
      abilities could vary considerably given historical circumstances,
      Christian women nonetheless have bequeathed to the church a
      respectable literary and intellectual legacy. From the beginning,
      Christian women have been interested in the study of the Scripture and
      Christian theology. Already in the second century we hear of a young
      woman named Charito who was martyred with Justin Martyr, most probably
      because she was associated with Justin's school in Rome (Martyrdom of
      Justin 4). We know also that the lectures of Origen were well attended
      by women, the most famous being Mammaea, the mother of Emperor
      Alexander Severus, who had a military escort bring Origen to Antioch
      so she could test his understanding of the divine things (Eusebius,
      Hist. eccl. 6.21.3ff.). Yet, it was the great Roman matrons of the
      fourth century whose combination of the ascetic life and the study of
      the Scriptures and the Church Fathers became, through the influence of
      Jerome, the ideal image of women dedicated to the religious life. Two
      of these highborn ladies, Marcella and Paula, founded circles of
      ascetic women in their homes whose central purpose was the intensive
      study of the Bible. Jerome became their mentor and introduced them to
      the study of the Old Testament in Hebrew. Paula learned Hebrew so well
      that she could chant the Psalms without a trace of Latin accent.
      Marcella is called by Jerome his "task-mistress" because she
      incessantly demanded of him complete explanations of Hebrew words and
      phrases.{25} "With her probing mind Marcella wished to have all the
      obscurities, especially the linguistic ones, of the text cleared up;
      and although their meetings were frequent, she often insisted on his
      setting down his solutions on paper."{26} Paula and Jerome eventually
      established monastic communities for women and for men in Bethlehem.
      >
      > Another Roman ascetic matron who conjoined learning and monastic
      life was Melania the Elder. She, along with Rufinus of Aquileia,
      formed monasteries in Jerusalem. Palladius speaks of Melania's deep
      learning:
      >
      > Being very learned and loving literature, she turned night into day
      perusing every writing of the ancient commentators, including the
      three million (lines) of Origen and the two hundred and fifty thousand
      of Gregory, Stephen, Pierius, Basil and other standard writers. Nor
      did she read them once only and casually, but she laboriously went
      through each book seven or eight times. (Lausiac History 55)
      > A similar circle of studious women gathered in Constantinople around
      Theodosia, the sister of Amphilocius of Iconium. Olympias, deaconess
      and friend of John Chrysostom, was educated in this circle.
      >
      > In this context we should mention also Macrina, whose strength as a
      woman ascetic and a theological mind is glorified by her brother,
      Gregory of Nyssa, in his Life of Macrina. Gregory's On the Soul and
      the Resurrection is presented as a Socratic dialogue between Gregory
      and Macrina in which Macrina is depicted as the protagonist and
      teacher.
      >
      > The tradition of learned monastic women continued into the medieval
      period. Lioba (eighth century), sister of St. Boniface, "had been
      trained from infancy in the rudiments of grammar and the study of the
      other liberal arts." "So great was her zeal for reading that she
      discontinued it only for prayer or for the refreshment of her body
      with food or sleep: the Scriptures were never out of her hands." "She
      read with attention all the books of the Old and New Testaments and
      learned by heart all the commandments of God. To these she added by
      way of completion the writings of the Church Fathers, the decrees of
      the Councils and the whole of ecclesiastical law."{27} Princes and
      bishops, we are told, "often discussed spiritual matters and
      ecclesiastical discipline with her" because of her knowledge of the
      Scripture and her prudent counsel.{28} The Venerable Bede (eighth
      century) reports that Abbess Hilda of Whitby required those under her
      direction "to make a thorough study of the Scriptures" and that she
      did this to such good effect "that many were found fitted for Holy
      Orders and the service of God's altar."{29} Indeed, five bishops
      trained at Whitby under Hilda's direction.
      >
      > The love of reading the Scriptures and the Church Fathers led
      convents also to the copying of manuscripts. In c. 735, St. Boniface
      wrote to Abbess Eadburga requesting that she have a copy of the
      epistles of Peter made in letters of gold. "For many times by your
      useful gifts of books and vestments you have consoled and relieved me
      in my distress."{30} Among other things, these words of Boniface
      reveal how logistically important and supportive English convents were
      to the Anglo-Saxon missionaries on the Continent.
      >
      > Although the volume of theological and spiritual literature composed
      by Christian women is less than that written by Christian men,
      throughout the history of the church there have been capable women who
      have been productive with the pen. We have mentioned already women
      like Marcella and Olympias, who engaged in correspondence with Jerome
      and John Chrysostom. Their letters, unfortunately, no longer exist.
      However, a not inconsiderable body of writing by Christian women is
      extant.
      >
      > Perhaps the earliest writing we have from a Christian woman is the
      account of Vibia Perpetua of her sufferings and visions as a Christian
      martyr. Martyred under Septimius Severus (c. 202 A.D.), Perpetua's
      personal account was included by an unknown redactor in the Martyrdom
      of Perpetua and Felicitas, which became a model for later Acts of the
      martyrs, especially in North Africa.{31} One of the most fascinating
      documents of the early church is the travel diary of Egeria (late
      fourth century). Egeria, a noble woman from southern France, spent
      several years as a pilgrim in the East, traveling to Egypt, Palestine,
      Syria, and Asia Minor. Taking notes along the way, she later wrote
      them up as her Travels. It is clear from her narrative that Egeria was
      steeped in the classics of the church, and "her language often echoes
      that of the Bible or of formal prayer."{32} Her account contains some
      of the most helpful and informative detail we possess of early
      monasticism and liturgy.
      >
      > A rather unique contribution to Christian literature is the
      Virgilian cento by Proba. Born a pagan in fourth-century Rome, Proba
      was educated in the classical writers of Latin literature, especially
      in Virgil, whom she especially loved. In the fourth century it was
      fashionable to write cento poetry. A cento is a poem produced by
      piecing together lines from the works of another poet, resulting in a
      new poem with a new theme. After becoming a Christian, Proba wrote a
      cento, borrowing from the works of Virgil, in which she intended to
      present the whole of the Biblical history.{33} About one-half of the
      694 lines relates the beginning of the Old Testament (creation, fall,
      flood, the exodus), but then Proba moves to the gospel story of Jesus.
      Although Jerome harshly criticized it, and the Gelasian Decretal "On
      Books to be Received and not to be Received" (496 A.D.) placed it
      among the apocryphal writings, Proba's Cento became a popular school
      text in the Middle Ages.{34} Its frequent use is attested by the
      number of manuscripts containing it and the catalogues of monastic
      libraries.
      >
      > Eudoxia is another Christian woman who produced a respectable
      literary output. The daughter of a pagan philosopher, Eudoxia was
      instructed "in every kind of learning" (Socrates, Hist. eccl. 7.21).
      She was later baptized a Christian and became the wife of Emperor
      Theodosius II (408-450). The greater part of her writing has been
      lost.{35} However, much of a cento drawn from the works of Homer is
      extant, as is the so-called Martyrdom of St. Cyprian. The Martyrdom
      tells of a certain Antiochian magician named Cyprian who fails in his
      effort to tempt a young Christian virgin and is rather himself led to
      become a Christian. The story ends with the martyr death of Cyprian
      and of the young maiden under the Emperor Diocletian.{36}
      >
      > The tradition of literary Christian women continued into the Middle
      Ages. Abbess Hildegarde of Bingen (1098-1179) was an extremely
      influential visionary and prophetess whose correspondence included
      "four popes, two emperors, several kings and queens, dukes, counts,
      abbesses, the masters of the University of Paris, and prelates
      including Saint Bernard and Thomas à Becket."{37} Commanded by a
      heavenly voice to write down her visions, Hildegarde wrote two major
      works, Know the Ways of the Lord (Scivias) and Book of Divine Works.
      Both works belong to the medieval genre that "combined science,
      theology, and philosophy in a description of the universe, internal
      (the human body) and external (the earth and the heavens)."{38} Her
      works evince a familiarity with Augustine and Boethius as well as with
      contemporary scientific writers. Portions of her Scivias were read by
      Pope Eugenius III and St. Bernard and elicited from the pope a letter
      of praise and approval.{39} In addition to her two major works and her
      extensive correspondence, Hildegarde wrote lives of St. Disibod and
      St. Rupert, hymns, books on medicine and natural history, fifty
      allegorical homilies, and a morality play.
      >
      > In Spain, the Catholic Reformation had a major female voice in St.
      Teresa of Avila (1515-1582). As a young woman she entered the
      Carmelite convent at Avila. There, later in life, she began to
      experience visions and ecstasies, and these in turn led her to propose
      a reform of the Carmelite order according to its original, more
      austere rule. Although there was powerful opposition to Teresa,
      support from Pope Paul IV and from King Philip II enabled her to
      establish many convents for her "discalced" (barefoot) Carmelite nuns.
      Of her most important writings, two are autobiographical. The Life
      describes her visions and discusses the centrality of prayer, and
      Foundations describe the establishment of her convents. Teresa wrote
      her most important mystical writings for her nuns. The Way of
      Perfection teaches the virtues of the religious (monastic) life and
      uses the Lord's Prayer as the vehicle for teaching prayer. The
      Interior Castle presents mature Teresian thought on the spiritual
      life. Growth in prayer enables a person to enter into deeper intimacy
      with God, who dwells in the soul or "interior castle" of the person.
      Some thirty-one poems and 458 letters of Teresa are extant.
      >
      > Not all significant writing by women, however, issued from the
      religious orders. Marguerite Porete (c. 1300) was an important leader
      in the Beguine movement. The Beguines were pious laywomen who
      practiced poverty, chastity, and charity but belonged to no monastic
      order and took no vows. Their independence from church authority
      sometimes brought them into suspicion of heresy, and this was the fate
      of Marguerite as well. Nevertheless, her book, The Mirror of Simple
      Souls, enjoyed considerable popularity in France, Italy, and
      England.{40} Another such woman was Mme. Jeanne Guyon, who-with
      Fenelon-was a spiritual leader in the Quietist movement in late
      seventeenth-century France. Her literary production amounted to some
      forty books, including a multi-volume commentary on the Bible.


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