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The Catholic Historical Review 87.4 (2001) 706-707

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Book Review

Women & Christianity : The First Thousand Years

Women & Christianity, Volume One: The First Thousand Years. By Mary T. Malone. (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books. 2001. First published in 2000 in Ireland by the Columba Press. Pp. 276. $20.00 paperback.)

Malone's indictment of the patriarchal, kyriarchal church and its historiographical conventions, which have conspired both institutionally and discursively to marginalize and silence Christian women, is a powerful and accessible example of feminist consciousness-raising. Now retired after what must have been a successful teaching career, a still unjaded Malone conveys both feminist joy at discovering the historical centrality of women to Christian beginnings, and feminist outrage at the androcentric church's progressive ejection of women from ministerial service. Malone offers no scholarly breakthroughs, and sometimes gives short shrift to recent scholarship, particularly in chapters 8-10 ("Into the Dark Ages (Sixth to Tenth Centuries)"), but she does report (with engaging clarity) the most significant insights of Rosemary Radford Ruether, Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Elizabeth Clark, Peter Brown, and others. Unfortunately, much in the "Dark Age" chapters could be skewered. Examples of Malone's misinformation are her claims that Hugeberc, "Abbess of Hildesheim's" [recte nun of Heidenheim] Latin biography of St. Willibald, the Hodoeporicon, "is one of the first travelogues in the German language" (p. 206), and that "Benedict of Aniane, the great tenth-century abbot" (p. 217) [recte ninth-century] "legislated canonesses out of existence" (p. 235) when in fact Benedict legislated canonesses into existence with the Institutio sanctimonialium Aquisgranensis (816), companion piece of the Institutio canonicorum. Malone's acceptance of the historical reality of Pope Joan (pp. 231-135) is highly debatable. Malone's own expertise lies in the earlier period, and she seems to be out of her depth once the "Patristic Age" (subject of her unpublished doctoral dissertation) is left behind. The fact that the later chapters are rife with errors means the book must be used with caution, but should not diminish the potential impact of this synthetic treatment on current public conversations over women and the ministry; after all, if a successful historical warrant is to be found for breaking the male monopoly on the Catholic priesthood, it will certainly not come from eighth-century Francia but rather from non-sexist re-readings/re-visionings of the words and deeds of Jesus, and of the biblical and "apochryphal" portraits of female disciples and apostles, all topics which Malone treats thoroughly, responsibly, and very, very well. This volume will be a Godsend for lay [End Page 706] Christian women who are dissatisfied with their churches, but do not know how to mine Scripture for validation or ammunition on their own, let alone how to practice a "hermeneutics of suspicion" on purportedly authoritative patriarchal-kyriarchal exegesis and historiography. Those women are the target audience of Malone's book, as the following quotation demonstrates: "It might be interesting to check back to the pictures of [Pentecost] that we all drew in preparation for our confirmation. It is highly likely that, apart from Mary, the mother of Jesus, there is not a woman in sight . . . . the lives of contemporary women need to be touched again and again by the stories of [Mary Magdalene, Martha, Mary of Bethany, et al.], so that the news of the coming of Jesus may indeed be experienced as good" (pp. 56-57).


Felice Lifshitz
Florida International University



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