Marriage, Virginity, and Rhetoric for Gregory of Nyssa

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting upon Women and Gender in Early Christianity.

Gregory of Nyssa

Gregory of Nyssa

This post reflects on Morwenna Ludlow’s “Useful and Beautiful: A Reading of Gregory of Nyssa’s On Virginity and a Proposal for Understanding Early Christian Literature”,[1] which argues that Gregory defends both marriage and virginity through employment of artful and poetic expressions of Greco-Roman rhetoric. This article contains three major realms of investigation: Gregory’s references to the ills of marriage, his use of choruses, and his allusions to water. Through this examination, Ludlow suggests that Gregory’s work displays the qualities of both art and theology arguing for marriage and virginity in terms of the common good. Continue reading

Montantism and the Authority of (Female) Confessor-Martyrs

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting upon Women and Gender in Early Christianity.

Holy SpiritIn “The Role of Martyrdom and Persecution in Developing the Priestly Authority of Women in Early Christianity: A Case Study in Montanism,”[1] Frederick Klawiter contends that from its beginnings Montanism enabled women to rise to ministerial status through their roles as confessor-martyrs. After offering a broad overview of the New Prophecy and its divisive influence in second century Asia Minor, Klawiter considers why the movement came to be viewed as heretical, suggesting that New Prophecy placed too great an emphasis on martyrdom. This Klawiter connects with the rise of martyr-minsters in Rome (ca. 190 CE), whose integrity before God elevated them to the rank of presbyter. It was this elevated status that Montanists extended to confessors even after their release, as with Alexander and Themiso, who called themselves martyrs even after their release from captivity. Continue reading

Gnosticism, Women, and Elaine Pagels

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting upon Women and Gender in Early Christianity.

GnosticsFor today’s reflection, I outline and reflect on Elaine Pagels’ “What Became of God as Mother? Conflicting Images of God in Early Christianity.”[1] In so doing I argue that while Pagels’ approach to the question of the divine feminine remains an important aspect of early Christian thinking, her characterization of the category “gnostic” remains unhelpful for framing the study of these documents. Continue reading

The Acts of Paul and Pastoral Epistles

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting upon Women and Gender in Early Christianity.

Catacomb image of Paul and (possibly) Thecla

Catacomb image of Paul and (possibly) Thecla

In his article “I Permit No Woman to Teach Except for Thecla: The Curious Case of the Pastoral Epistles and the Acts of Paul Reconsidered” (Novum Testamentum 54 (2012): 176-203), Matthijs den Dulk offers a reanalysis of the relationship between the Acts of Paul (hereafter APl) and Pastoral Epistles (hereafter PE), arguing that a) the APl rely upon the PE (contra MacDonald); 2) the author of the APl viewed the image of Paul from 2 Timothy as useful; and 3) the author of the APl rejected the authority of 1 Timothy and its attendant conception of Paul. Building from existing studies of the relationship between the PE and APl, den Dulk advocates an analysis of the interplay of these texts on an individual rather than collective level. Through structural, linguistic, and feminist analysis, den Dulk then argues that the APl agrees with 2 Timothy on a number of substantial points and perspectives. Continue reading

Pheobe the Deacon

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting upon Women and Gender in Early Christianity.

Pheobe the διάκονος: Reflections on a Program for Assessing Deaconesses in EC

Saint Pheobe

Saint Pheobe

In the article “Deacons, Deaconesses, and Denominational Discussions,”[1] Clarence Agan III tackles the often controversial topic of NT women’s service is diaconal roles, employing Paul’s reference to Pheobe as a διάκονος as a test case. Agan begins this article with some important caveats, namely that a) discussions of women in the early Church must take a holistic approach rather than specifically-targeted rhetorical tactics, b) specific lexical factors surrounding διάκονος must be thoroughly investigated in their particular contexts, and c) a theological reading of prescriptions in the early Church should form only part (though an integral part) of contemporary denominational and theological reflections on women, gender, and church office. Using this approach, Agan argues that Pheobe’s title of διάκονος in Romans 16:1 should be understood as an indicatory of her emissary or representative status. Continue reading

A Feminist Introduction to Paul

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting upon Women and Gender in Early Christianity.

Feminist Introduction to Paul (Polaski)In her A Feminist Introduction to Paul (St. Louis: Chalice, 2005. 159 pp.), Sandra Hack Polaski outlines some of the major feminist concerns with the Apostle Paul and his writings. Methodologically, Polaski advocates a “transformative” reading of Paul which builds upon the insights of conformist, rejectionist, and resistant readings of Paul, imaginatively asks new questions of those sources, and creatively seeks to offer new interpretations of his texts.After outlining her approach and contextualizing Paul’s world, Polaski examines several problematic passages from the Corinthian correspondences. Continue reading

Women in the Greco-Roman Context

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting upon Women and Gender in Early Christianity.

Ross S. Kraemer

Ross S. Kraemer

One particular problem for establishing an adequate understanding of the Greco-Roman world constitutes the paucity of source materials and then, of course, the difficulties of interpreting that source material. This is especially true with regard to source material specifically pertaining to women, which is less plentiful even than general evidence. Cultic practices, however, offer one avenue into better understanding the social space of women in the Greco-Roman context, or at least so argues Ross S. Kraemer in her article “Ecstasy and Possession: The Attraction of Women to the Cult of Dionysus” (The Harvard Theological Review 72, 1/2 [1979]: 55-80.). In the summary and response below, I reflect on Ross Kraemer’s argument concerning the “social space” afforded women by the Dionysiac cult. Continue reading

Reflections on Method, Women, and Early Christianity

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be running a series of reflections stemming from a doctoral seminar on Women and Gender in Early Christianity, taught at Saint Louis University by Carolyn Osiek. These posts will proceed in (more or less) chronological order, beginning with today’s reflections on methodology.

Randi R. Warne

Randi R. Warne

Introducing a “special edition” of Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, Randi R. Warne (“Introduction: Gender and the Study of Religion.” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 13 (2001): 141-152.) advocates gender studies as a necessary category for scholarly investigation of religion. Engaging the “one sex/flesh” model of androcentric approaches to religion—which presume the normativity of maleness and view “woman” as the “other” and deficient—Warne outlines the limits of an exclusive religious focus on men and “man.” Continue reading

Spirituality in American: Signs of the Times

American ChristianityIn “Spirituality in American: Signs of the Times,” Bill Leonard outlines the recent rise in American spirituality, especially the rise in eclectic forms of spiritual practice. Tracing the development of American religious pluralism and re-formation of the American religious terrain, Leonard details the postmodern practice of employing multiple forms of spiritual tradition within an individual’s personal spiritual formation, and notes the application of four very different spheres of spiritual thought: Roman Catholic Spiritual Traditions, Charismatic-Evangelical Influences, Global Spirituality, and Undomesticated Spirituality. Continue reading

Maurice Wiles and the Definition of Theology

OxfordThere are many questions in life with the potential for multidisciplinary and eternal significance. Among these are such questions as “Is there a god?”, “Do right and wrong exist?”, and “What happens when we die?” [1] Theologian Maurice Wiles adds to this list yet another question in his book titled What is Theology? To begin this work, Reverend Wiles defines theology as “reasoned discourse about God.”[2] If the term theology is broken down into its semantic parts, “theos” means “God” and “logos” means “word” or “reason.”[3] Therefore the definition of the Oxford English Dictionary is fitting: “the study and nature of God; religious beliefs and theory when systematically developed.” Continue reading