Academic journal article Magistra

Handmaids of the Lord: Holy Women in Late Antiquity & the Early Middle Ages

Academic journal article Magistra

Handmaids of the Lord: Holy Women in Late Antiquity & the Early Middle Ages

Article excerpt

Joan M. Petersen, tans. (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1996), Cistercian Studies Series 143, 441 Pp, cloth/paper, $49.95/$24.95, ISBN 0-87907-543-0/0-87907-743-3.

I was delighted to see this newest publication in the Cistercian Studies Series. This volume brings together the "voices" of several leading women in the early Christian monastic movement. Published soon after her death, this is the culmination of Petersen's studies of women in Christian antiquity.

Petersen begins with an introduction to the historical context of early feminine monasticism. Women's monasticism developed parallel to, and yet independent of, men's monasticism. Petersen situates the more prominent leaders of women's monasticism within the overall development of the monastic movement. Each chapter is introduced with a discussion of the text as situated within its contemporary social setting, along with a textual and literary analysis of each vita .

Macrina (327-380 CE), an early monastic founder in Asia Minor, is known today through the vita written by her brother, Gregory of Nyssa. Another brother, Basil the Great, is considered the father of Eastern Orthodox monasticism. Macrina had a significant but seemingly shadowy impact on the development of monasticism in the early Church of the East. I enjoyed Petersen's refreshingly new translation.

Petersen then focuses on the circle of monastic women associated with Jerome: Marcella, Lea, Asella, Principia, Paula the Elder, Eustochium, Demetrias, Paula the Younger and Pacatula. These women represent the active development of monasticism in its varied forms in both the cities and the desert. …

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