Department of Religious Studies

"'We Interpret Spiritual Truths to People Possessed of the Spirit' (1 Cor. 2:13): Studying the Bible with the Fathers of the Church"

Wed, November 3, 2010 | BUR 436A

7:30 PM

A talk by Felice Lifshitz (Florida International)

Felice Lifshitz is Professor of History at Florida International University where she specializes in Medieval History, the History of Christianity, and Gender Studies. She is the author of The Norman Conquest of Pious Neustria: Historiographic Discourse and Saintly Relics (684Р1090); The Name of the Saint: The Martyrology of Jerome and Access to the Sacred in Francia, 627Р827; and the highly influential article “Beyond Positivism and Genre: Hagiographical Texts as Historical Narrative.” Her talk examines the ways women’s religious communities in the early middle ages created and transmitted patristic Biblical commentaries. She argues that the female scribes and exegetes in these monasteries found in these commentaries ideas that could support the spiritual life of women, and thus suggests that we consider issues of gender in discussing medieval Biblical exegesis.

Snacks will be served


In a radical departure from all previous practice, Christian or Jewish, St. Jerome dedicated twelve of his surviving twenty-three biblical commentaries to women. His intervention established a new cultural pattern that persisted for centuries, as women devoted themselves to scriptural study, often guided by patristic writings. Some of the best known scholarship on patristic texts has found a pattern of misogyny, as in the following quote: “The paradigm of patristic thought on women was that women were not holy; they were creatures of error, of superstition, of carnal disposition – the Devil’s gateway. This being so, anyone holy enough to be an exemplar of the faith could not be a woman.” Yet, such a view of women is absent from the commentaries of Augustine and Gregory the Great that were copied and utilized for study of the Psalms and the Gospels during the eighth century in the women’s monasteries of Karlburg and Kitzingen (both in the Main River Valley). For instance, the negatively charged “Eve” was very little in evidence, particularly in comparison with the many women who did serve as exemplars of the faith for Augustine and Gregory. The two patristic biblical commentaries analyzed in this presentation figured among the most popular, and the most copied, patristic works of the Middle Ages. Therefore, they function not only as evidence for the particular values of women in the Anglo-Saxon cultural province, but also as evidence for values that must have been widespread across Latin Europe throughout the Middle Ages. I analyze the women’s patristic manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon cultural province in Francia to reveal something of the role that gender played in the patristic transmission process. Both Augustine of Hippo and Gregory of Rome treated biblical characters and other saints as embodiments of particular virtues, normally with the additional sense that they could be exemplary role models for others. The two bishops were largely either indifferent to (and thus universalizingly egalitarian) or positive about female embodiments of Christian virtue. Both disprove the contention that, in misogynistic patristic ideology, women could only be the “devil’s gateway,” and not exemplars of faith. It is easy to see why the scribes of Karlburg and Kitzingen contributed to the popularity of both of these patristic texts in medieval Europe.

Sponsored by: Department of Religious Studies

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