Original Research

Feminists and their perspectives on the church fathers' beliefs regarding women: An inquiry

Hannelie Wood
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 38, No 1 | a1692 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v38i1.1692 | © 2017 Hannelie Wood | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 18 August 2016 | Published: 22 February 2017

About the author(s)

Hannelie Wood, Department of Philosophy, Practical and Systematic Theology, University of South Africa, South Africa


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Abstract

The church fathers and their views on women were influenced substantially and significantly by philosophical voices, such as that of Aristotle and Plato, amongst others. A brief account on Aristotle’s and Plato’s ideas about women, from feminist perspectives, will be touched upon. The article furthermore explores feminist voices, regarding the church fathers’ thinking about women, and how these views contributed to women’s subordination and domination. The research will focus on the many varied views on women held by Latin church fathers, such as Tertullian (c. 155–255), Cyprian (c. 200–258 AD), Jerome (c. 347–419), Ambrose (c. 339–397) and Augustine (354–430), and the Greek church fathers, such as Clement of Alexander (c. 150–215), Origen (c. 185–254) and Chrysostom (c. 347–407), from the perspective of feminists. It will be contended that an insensitive and too early denunciation of the early church fathers as misogynists often occurs in women’s history without taking into consideration the church fathers’ philosophical and social contexts and, hence, the opinions that formed their views. One such theory that helped to shape the church fathers’ views about women is the classic medical theory, and this therefore merits a brief discussion. Another important point one has to take into account is the church fathers’ perceptions of the carnal (sexual) and the spiritual world that shaped their views about women.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: History teaches us what people before us did, what their intentions were and where they failed or went wrong. If historical viewpoints about women reflect women’s subordination and oppression, they force women to discover their roots and their past. The church fathers, however, inherited a long tradition of debates, beliefs, and arguments regarding women’s moral, intellectual, and natural capacities. Therefore, generalised, simplified, and unsympathetic views about the ancient philosophers and the church fathers’ views on women often leads to the ineffective understanding of these men and their context.


Keywords

Plato; Aristotle; Church fathers; feminism

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