A survey of the status of women in christianity during the first four centuries : with special reference to the non-orthodox movements
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Did the women of the First Four Christian Centuries have any influence upon the roles they were permitted to follow in the Early Church, or use the institution to increase their worldly consequence? The sources indicate that many used their new "spiritual" status of virgin or widow to free themselves from the normal social function expected of them as women. This thesis seeks to explore these and other methods of "self-realization" which Catholic authors, hereseologists and polemicists claimed were open to Christian women; namely active participation in the variety of non-orthodox Christian movements which sprang up in the Patristic Period, and in the "acceptable routes" of the Catholic ministry, chastity and continence. A preoccupation with the problems of femininity may be found in both orthodox and heretical writers. This emphasis takes - several forms: investigations into the role of Eve in the original Creation myth and an apportioning of blame to the chief characters of the Fall drama; a cosmological theorising which equates femininity with the created world order and masculinity with the realm of the spiritual; and delineations of the limits established to the participation of women in such fields as the ministry of the Church. It will emerge from this discussion that many Church leaders had a somewhat ambivalent attitude to womankind. Women would find themselves spurned for their bodily femaleness yet encouraged to abandon their spiritual weakness (which was of necessity- linked to their physical state) and to reach for eternal heights. Once these heights were achieved a woman was spiritually equal- to a man, yet her physical characteristics continued to limit the roles she could play in the institution of the Church. In order to understand these differing attitudes to women, which could be held simultaneously by Church leaders, this work investigates the influence of such factors as social pressure, varying cultural influences, and theological study upon the formulation of the doctrines of womanhood and their position in society. What was the stance of the non-orthodox movements on these aspects of belief and practice? Their foes derided those movements which appeared to place undue emphasis upon the teachings or ministry of women, yet further investigation of those sects most often named as "guilty parties" indicates that the majority had as traditional a view of women as did their orthodox opponents.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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