4 Stars Out Of 5
A Beautiful Tapestry
June 28, 2011
This book, as the title suggests, deals with women in the course of the history of Church, beginning with the women in the early New Testament and concluding with the present. The author does a thorough job showing the reader that Christian women provide a significant portion of the fabric of the church, whether those threads were ultimately good or bad. The lives of women had a very definite impact on the Church even if those events were not always as well-known or publicized as others.
The book is presented in chronological fashion, laid out in chapters according to various time periods, and each time period focuses on a particular theme. For example, the Victorian Era dealt with the topic of how women worked in their homes; the chapter about Puritan times focused on the growing principle of spiritual equality between women and men, and how the women contributed to that.
There was so much I loved about this book; it is hard to zero in on just one or two things. I loved the fact that Severance did an excellent job of establishing the historical context in which the women lived. Context is important. Historical change is always a function of many intersecting factors. The way the women influenced the Church hinged upon on what was happening in the larger context, so understanding that context is crucial. For example, during the Middle Ages, the scholasticism of the time and the rise of the universities changed how much women could participate in the study and teaching of the Scriptures. The attitudes prevalent at the time deemed that women were not intelligent enough for university education. Denied this avenue, women turned to the monasteries, many which were seedbeds of mysticism as opposed to places to learn the Scriptures better. Likewise, the context of the women's movement in the sixties and seventies had a profound impact on how Christian women interpreted their faith and lived it out; we can still see these effects today. The impact of feminism on the church is an aspect of history that is yet ongoing.
I particularly enjoyed reading about women who were familiar to me, but whom I was unaware had Christian leanings. One story I found interesting was Severances account of Anne Boleyn. I really enjoy the history of the United Kingdom, and I enjoy especially reading about the Tudors, so the information about Boleyn was really interesting. While Boleyn is often portrayed as manipulative and cunning, Severance shows a different, unknown side, and that was Boleyn's commitment to evangelical belief:
Anne knew how to use her influence to shape the thinking of the King as well as secure positions for those with an evangelical bent. Anne patronized Protestant publishers and writers and protected merchants involved in the importation of English bibles and evangelical works. She tried to convince Henry, whose theology was still very much Catholic though he had broken with the Pope, that William Tyndale, the scholar forced to translate the Bible into English while in exile, was his friend. Anne was behind Henry's appointment of several evangelical bishops and deans.
Another woman she discussed was Florence Nightengale, and her faith. I had not read about Nightengale in a context of the Church before.
Not all of the women had the most positive influences, and Severance is forthright about that. The Quaker women, for example, strayed from biblical foundations and looked outside of what we might consider orthodoxy. There were women who came later and were involved in the idea of a "second blessing" and really strayed from biblical guidelines. Some of the women were rather notorious, but Severance includes them because for better or worse, it does demonstrate that women have not been silent throughout history. This is where Severance perhaps strays from more feminist leaning historians, who interpret everything as some kind of slight or bias against women. Unlike feminist historians, Severance does not approach history by going in with a ready-made conclusion that she wants to proof-text; she evaluates the historical data and then looks for the conclusions. She is quite honest about her desire to work in a different way than feminist historians have done of late, and I appreciated that very much.
Although some people find it an incidental detail, I love the fact that Severance uses footnotes as opposed to endnotes. I like to know where the author gets her information from, and I am less likely to look up an end note than to glance to the bottom of the page at a footnote. Furthermore, she had an excellent bibliography which is also great for someone looking to do more research on various topics.
I highly recommend this book for any Christian; male or female, history lover or not. When women make up such a large proportion of the Church, it is obvious that they will have contributed to it in some way. Here's a chance to see the numerous ways they have done so.