To overcome patriarchal logic, recover the memory of women from the origins of Christianity
by Fr. Antonio Gerardo Fidalgo, CSsR
(from the Alphonsian Academy blog)
Starting from a Course I gave on: “Reading Spiritual Texts of the Early Church”, allow me to share one of the keys taken because it seems to me that it is an element to which, in theological work, more and better attention needs to be paid. Our history, and in it many of its decisions, continue to be governed by patriarchal logic, both on the part of men and of some women. We all need to free ourselves from such logic, which only leads to systems of domination, violence and hierarchical supremacy, which only dehumanise us.
In selecting the texts for the Course, we considered it appropriate to make the female voice present, assuming the various difficulties this entails. It is not easy because although there are sources, access to them is not easy, and it is a recent preoccupation of ecclesial reflection and is still insufficient. The few significant testimonies lead to the conclusion that the presence of women was significant. Even if the sources are not as many as for men, this is mainly due to socio-cultural conditioning and not only or exclusively for theological reasons. The mere fact of being able to quote them, to make room for them, is already a sign of the times, not only for a better reading of the Christian tradition but, above all, for a better integral Christian experience in our times.
It must be assumed that most feminist theologians have done well not only to denounce but to investigate, to overcome a long history marked by a hierarchical kyriocentric patriarchy, which has taken over the sacred, spirituality and leadership in the Church under the pretext of a ‘more Christ-like corporality’, and denied women the recognition of having their place in the structural configuration of the Church. Women occupy a prominent position as followers of Jesus’ ministry, in the Gospels and the book of the Acts of the Apostles, in the very witness of the Pauline communities and the journey of the early Church. Therefore, we are not only talking about the Church fathers but also the Church mothers.
Many of these women became known as Desert Mothers, founders of monastic orders in the deserts of Egypt, Syria, Persia and Asia Minor (e.g. Sarra, Theodora and Syncletica). Known as Ammas (mothers), they were the female counterpart of the better-known Abbas (fathers).
A somewhat symptomatic example, among others, could be the case of St Jerome (Stridon in Istria, c. 347-Bethlehem, 420) and St Paula of Rome (Rome, 347-Bethlehem, 404). It is generally known that St Jerome translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, producing the so-called Vulgate translation; however, few know that the idea for that translation came from a woman named Paula, who not only inspired the work but also revised and edited it for publication. Another example would be the acknowledged friendship between the deaconess Olympia (361-408) and Chrysostom (340/350-407); this father’s letters to that woman reveal not only the great humanity of both but also what a particular era of the Church was like, with its lights and shadows, and what these two people were able to generate by supporting each other. They developed a story that, although silenced in different ways, can continue to speak and teach about how many obstacles (often mere prejudices) can be overcome and overturned.
(The original text is in Italian, with the footnotes & bibliographical resources)