The Fourth Estate: A History of Women in the Middle Ages

By Shulamith Shahar; Chaya Galai | Go to book overview

3

Nuns

A Christian woman could not officiate in church. She could not take the sacrament of the priestly order (ordinatio) and she was denied the right to preach. As St Paul said:

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. (I Corinthians 14:34-6)

But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. (I Timothy 2:12-16)

By barring women from religious office, Christianity was continuing the path of Judaism; in biblical times the Hebrew woman took no part in religious service, she could belong neither to the cohanim (priests) nor the Levites, and she was allotted a special place in the Temple. But whereas the Old Testament offers no direct reason for depriving women of the privilege of religious officiation, the New Testament did provide justification: the secondary role of woman in Creation and her role in Original Sin. The same arguments served St Paul both to deny the right of woman to officiate and to justify her subjugation to man; and this despite the

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The Fourth Estate: A History of Women in the Middle Ages
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Illustrations viii
  • Preface xi
  • Foreword xvii
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Public and Legal Rights 11
  • 3 - Nuns 22
  • 4 - Married Women 65
  • 5 - Women in the Nobility 126
  • 6 - Townswomen 174
  • 7 - Women in the Peasantry 220
  • 8 - Witches and the Heretical Movements 251
  • Notes 281
  • Index 344
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