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Woman in Christian Tradition by George H.Tavard. Contents page

Woman in Christian Tradition

by George H.Tavard, University of Notre Dame Press, 1973.
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions


Forward ix
Abbreviations xi
I The Two Traditions 3
II Return to the Beginning 27
III Seeking the Kingdom 48
IV Out of Utopia 72
V Liberation Through the Ecclesia 97
VI Catholic Models 125
VII Orthodox Models 151
VIII Protestant Reflections 171
IX Toward an Anthropology 187
X Controverted Questions 211
Conclusion 226
Notes 231
Index 253


Woman needs no introduction, but a book on woman does.

This is a book of theology. It does not indulge in explanations of feminine psychology, or investigations of woman’s changing social status, or assessments of either her superiority or her inferiority.

Twice I conducted semester-long seminars on the theology of womanhood, with female students, at Mount Mercy (now Carlow) College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. These seminars were chiefly biblical; but they also included the study of a great deal of contemporary literature.

In 1965 I published an article on “Woman in the Church: a Theological Problem?” (The Ecumenist, November-December, pp. 7-10). The present volume is the outcome of the reflections formulated in that essay. As I have explained in a more recent article (“The Depths of the Tradition,” Continuum, Autumn 1969, pp. 427437), we need a theological anthropology. Yet I do not think that such an anthropology can be adequately grounded in the phenomenological approach that has been tried by Karl Rahner or Johannes Metz. For theology should be based on theology, not on phenomenology, any more than on Aristotle’s philosophy. To the extent that contemporary religious thought turns to man and his world, it should strive to maintain full continuity with, and respect for, the questions and answers of past theology. Only fidelity to the past will allow us to propose bold solutions for the future, because it guarantees our listening to the everliving Christ.

Most volumes I have read on womanhood (and few have escaped my attention) focus on present questions, problems, movements, interpretations while prescinding from an examination in depth of the traditional theological material. Many (for instance, the writings of Sydney Callahan, Dorothy Dohen, Mary Daly) are valuable for the current scene but, to my mind, weak in regard to the historical background of the question of womanhood. Among other authors, Elsie Thomas Culver provides a good survey of history but at the expense of close attention to specific streams of thought. Among more professionally theological authors, there are important studies of related topics (e.g., Helmut Thielicke’s investigation of the “Ethics of Sex,” or D. S. Bailey’s researches on the “”), but hardly any detailed historical evaluation of a theology of womanhood.

My approach to the Bible will not be dominated by any specific hermeneutical school. My concern will not be to give a thorough account of the literal sense of the text: Nor will I (as one of my readers has erroneously thought) use the “theory of sensus plenior.” My interpretation of the Old Testament is largely indebted to the studies, unfortunately little known in America, of Louis Ligier: Peche d’Adam, Peche du Monde, vol. I (Paris, 1960). For the New Testament material, my interpretation is, in some instances, my own, as in the matter of the logia on divorce. My general purpose has been to discern what elements may provide hints for a renewed theology. Since I always kept in mind the patristic chapters that were to follow, this may have occasionally inspired a “spiritual” interpretation which others may not follow. So be it. One cannot satisfy the requirements of all.

After two chapters on the Old and the New Testament, the first part of this book includes an investigation of the Fathers of the Church, of both East and West, which reaches its climax in the study of Ambrose and Augustine.

Western Christian thinking about woman was given its shape chiefly by Augustine. The technical differences that distinguish Scholasticism and later theology from Augustine himself do not affect the essential structures of Augustinian thought on our topic. For this reason, the second part of the book concentrates on the recent tradition and studies models offered to women by the Christian Churches in the nineteen and twentieth centuries. This will lead me to draw the outlines of a theological anthropology and to examine contemporary questions, focused on woman and women’s liberation.

Methodist Theological School Delaware, Ohio

George H. Tavard


The following abbreviations have been used:

D.T.C. D.-S. ..... Dictionnaire de Theologie Catholique (Paris). Denzinger-Schonmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum (Freiburg, 1965).

C.O.D. ....Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta (Freiburg, 1962)..

C.S.E.L. .....Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum (Vienna).

P.G. ..... Migne, Patrologia graeca.

P.L. ..... Migne, Patrologia latino.

RSV ..... Revised standard version of the Bible.

S.Chr. .....Sources Chretiennes (Paris).

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