Women Preachers and Prophets through Two Millennia of Christanity

Article excerpt

Women Preachers and Prophets through Two Millennia of Christianity.

Edited by Beverly Mayne Kienzle and Pamela J. Walker. (Berkeley: University of California Press. 1998. Pp. xxii, 362. $17.95 paperback.)

In their preface to Women Preachers and Prophets the editors, Beverly Kienzle and Pamela Walker, describe the book as an exploration of "the diverse voices of Christian women who claimed the authority to preach and prophesy and ... their relationship to broader Christian communities from the second century to the twentieth" (p. xv). The rationale is to illustrate how a narrow definition of the preaching office, and of who has the right to exercise it, has been used throughout Christian history to undermine certain types of religious discourse. "The voice of women, saddled with accusations of theological and biological inferiority," write Kienzle and Walker, "have been especially constrained and delegitimized" (p. xiv). Women Preachers and Prophets is an effort to show that, despite centuries of prohibition, Christian women have indeed preached, either by claiming authority for themselves as prophets inspired directly of God or as preachers by another name who express themselves in song, in letters, and as teachers in more private settings.

This project is pursued through seventeen separate essays, the first ten of which treat the period stretching from the days of early Christianity to the Reformation. Particularly well placed here is Katherine Ludwig Jansen's essay on "Maria Magdalena: Apostola apostolrum," which serves to connect the essays on the early Church to those that deal with preaching in the medieval period. Jansen argues that the contradictory medieval reactions to the reports of the Magdalene's preaching, which tended to see Mary as the exception who proved the rule, makes her paradigmatic of the ambiguous response women could expect: even if hailed as persuasive catechists and evangelizers, women would have to weather doubts about the propriety of their actual engaging in such activities.Anne Breton's essay"The Voice of Good Women" picks up the thread by underscoring a point of divergence between the Cathars and the orthodox Church that has received less attention than it deserves, namely, that women apparently wielded much greater pastoral authority within the Cathar community than they could amongst Catholics. "Prophecy and Song" by Carolyn Muessig, although a bit undeveloped, has another interesting observation to share: that medieval women who would never aspire to formal preaching oftimes turned to singing as a medium by which to communicate religious instruction, and particularly those things they claimed as prophetic insights. …