What About the Church Mothers?!?
Some twenty years ago, in another lifetime, I studied History. And I liked it. So much so that upon graduation from Cal Poly, I set my eyes on grad school. In particular, I loved learning the stories of the past in order to help interpret the present and plan for the future.
And one thing that any historian knows is that those stories of the past come from storytellers. And, almost always, those storytellers are only telling one half of the story. In fact, paraphrasing one of my old professors:
“History is told by the winners, not the losers.”
Sad to say, when it comes to church history it’s the same reality, and the “winners” of course are male.
I have a dear friend who is just starting seminary. Yesterday I got an email from her with a subject line that read “Dissonance in Theological Education.” Here’s a quote that sums up her experience in her seminary class thusfar:
“I feel dissonance…because all of the theologians I know of from the period of Christianity’s development are men…are there any founding ‘mothers’ of the faith? Sorry for this, it’s just that from the first page of my text I don’t feel, as a woman, invited into the historical conversation, especially since the agreed upon name for the first 100 years of Christianity is ‘the Patristic Period.'”
Friends, this stuff matters.
In her book When Women Were Priests, Claremont Graduate School Professor Karen Jo Torjeson argues that the vital role of women in the development of the first church has been purposefully obscured for centuries. Again, the winners were men. Still, sounding a note of hope, she writes:
“The last thirty years of American scholarship have produced an amazing range of evidence for women’s roles as deacons, priests, presbyters, and even bishops in Christian churches from the first through the thirteenth century.”
So this morning let’s set the record straight. Without question God worked through the Fathers of the Church. Thank the Lord for Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Loyola, Gregory and, yes, Tertullian. More recently, let’s thank him for Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, Lewis and Tozer.
And yet God also worked through the Church’s Mothers. And so let’s also thank the Lord for early saints like Lydia from Philippi, Junia from Romans 16, Paula who worked with Jerome and Teresa of Avila. More recently, let’s thank God for the lives, teaching and witness of Catherine Booth, Mary Slessor and Frances Willard.
Jesus is in the business of making so-called losers into winners. And so when it comes to sharing the history of the church with the next generations, let’s be like Jesus. Let’s balance the ledger. Let’s remove male privilege from the history books.
What about you? Which “Mothers of the Church” are you thankful for?