I’ll point you to two things today. First, Dr. Deirdre Good has an interesting piece up at the Cafe today on women prophets in the first Christian century. It’s a good piece in what it says. I fear that it leaves a few things unstated but implicit. That is, it mentions little bits on women prophets from the NT, then notes that the Church Fathers spoke about some of these unfavorably but gnostic texts were more favorable. This leads one to believe that the Church Fathers and the Early Church in general were oppressive patriarchs and the gnostics were proto-feminists. The texts don’t bear this out…
[Correction: Dr. Good did not mention the gnostics; I had gnostics on the brain this morning from the article on Elaine Pagels mentioned below and did not read the article carefully enough before opening my big mouth… Rather, she mentions Philo (a Jewish author), the Montanists (a group claiming their prophets to be the incarnation of the Holy Ghost deemed heretical by emerging catholic orthodoxy), and the Protoevangelium of James, a popular Christian work later supressed for its denial of Joseph’s virginity.
Pagels, however, does suggest that the gnostic practice of calling God Mother as well as Father translated into social categories and adduces her evidence in chapter 3 of the Gnostic Gospels.]
Yes, the Early Church was born in a patriarchal culture and yes, the Church Fathers didn’t like the Montanists. This doesn’t mean the gnostics weren’t every bit as patriarchial–and sometimes moreso. And that’s what you find when you read gnostic texts. The idea that materiality is evil, a prison for the divine spark of the soul, leaves little place for women who are, as it were, the very source of the infection itself for in procreation they are little demiurges—prison-makers if you will—and each child they bear is another soul entrapped…
Also missing from Dr. Good’s discussion is the way that the NT orders of Widows and Virgins were continued within the Early Church up to the rise of monasticism where they joined their brothers and we had female monastics.
So I added a little addenda that points people to Jerome’s letters to show a vibrant community of women religious within the mainstream church supported rather than oppressed by the Church Fathers.
Add to this a nice article by Bruce Chilton that The Swain points us to on the mistakes of Elaine Pagels and the incorrect picture that many current Christians (especially Episcopalians) have about the gnosts as proto-liberal Christians.