Volume 2016, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 2218-7480
  • EISSN:


Within the overall theme of women and the feminine in world religions this essay focuses on the role of women in Christianity, with particular emphasis on Roman Catholicism. The juxtaposition of “saint” and “sinner” in its title illustrates the complexity and equivocity of Christianity’s attitude towards women. Like most other religions, Christianity has a longstanding and ingrained ambivalence if not overt hostility toward women and the feminine. This ambiguity is enshrined in the dominance of two symbols of femininity in Christian history: Eve the primordial sinner and Mary the paradigmatic saint. Christianity inherits the Hebrew myth of Eve as one who is “created second and sinned first” (Gen 2:22; 3:6) and develops it into an anthropology in which woman is doubly subjected to man, in two respects, by nature (“created second”) and by punishment (“sinned first”). By contrast, Mary is exalted as the Mother of God, in whom the twin ideals of womanhood---virginity and motherhood---are perfectly realized. Consequently, one possible way to expound the Christian vision of womanhood and the feminine would be to examine the theology of womanhood underlying these two iconic figures. The disadvantage of this approach, however, is that it boxes itself within the patriarchal and hierarchical ideology which, though permeating the Christian tradition, would blind us to the monumental achievements of flesh-and-blood women, as individuals as well as collectives, to both church and society. A more helpful course is to look at Christian women as they live, move and have their being in history, and despite the enormous odds that would have crippled less hardy souls, have shaped the history of Christianity. Thus, in this article the author begins with a brief narrative of outstanding Christian women and the arenas in which they have made lasting contributions. Next he considers some key feminist theologies that have sought to break the stranglehold of patriarchy and androcentrism and to reconceive the church as a community of equal discipleship. Lastly, he examines women’s ordination, still a neuralgic issue for some Christian churches, as an example of where women’s struggle for equality is still ongoing.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): Women, Christianity, Theology
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