1700 - 1800 AD

from a perspective of women in the Church



before Christ
0-100 AD

Major shifts took place in the religious, social and political value systems of Europe and North America.

Though traditional Christian values and beliefs maintained a hold on the minds of many, the thinkers and reformers of the Enlightenment introduced radically new ideas. Freedom, equality and democratic openness became new norms.

The heroes of the age were the philospher Voltaire (1694-1778) and the political thinker Montesquieu (1689-1755). The latter proposed guidelines for fair government, including the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers. The American war of independence (1775-1783) and the French Revolution (1789-1799) signalled the beginning of adopting such principles in practice.

The Church came under heavy pressure everywhere. Because of their influence on educating the elite, the Jesuits were considered a dangerous reactionary force. Between 1759 and 1761 Portugal arrested all the Jesuits in its territories and shipped them to the papal states. In 1761-3 the Jesuit colleges in France were closed. In 1767 Jesuits were expelled from Spain and its colonies. For a few years Rome resisted mounting pressure to abolish the Society of Jesus altogether, but eventually Clement XIV succumbed in 1773. It is only after the Napoleonic wars that Pius VII reinstated the order in 1814.

Women were still on the sidelines of the political and social upheavals. Rising levels of education would change this in time. The German authors Dorothea Christiane Leporin and Elfriede Walesca Tielsch published books in which they argued that the inferior status of women was due to the fact that women were denied equal chances of education.

from painting by Joshua Reynolds

The theme of Mary’s priestly dignity
1700 - 1800

"Is it not the double task of a bishop both to offer and to consume the victim, to sacrifice and to distribute communion? Well, have Mary and Simeon not been given today this same double taskduring the presentation? . . . Is she not the Virgin priestess who offers her son to the eternal Father? Yes, my brothers, it is in our name that Simeon and Mary are associated to the royal priesthood and vested with its sovereign sacrificial power.” Those wordsof SébastienDutreuil are echoed in sacred art of the time. The image at the left at Tre Fontane presents Mary as the Abbot of the monastery. She wears the robe of a Cistercian monk, but she also carries the paraphernalia of a bishop. The Episcopal sedilia, the crozier, the ring and even the keys of the Kingdom.

‘Mary is the Virgin priestess’
‘Mary possessed the highest degree of the priesthood, equivalently’
‘Mary offered her Son to him in the Temple, sacrificing his precious life to divine justice. Hence St. Epiphanius calls her a priest.’
d. 1796
‘Mary, priestess and mediatrix’
publ. 1780
‘Mary, the priestess of the new covenant’
publ. 1790
‘Mary is the priest and the altar’

The Women's Quarrel 1700 - 1800

Attacks on women continued in books, booklets and pamphlets.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), the influential philosopher of the Enlightenment, was a champion of 'natural man' and 'natural woman'. But while defending the equality of all men, he ascribed to husbands absolute authority over their wives. "Woman is by nature the sex that has to obey". Artists concurred. Nicolas Bertin (1736) portrays Eve in paradise as dependent on Adam. Men claimed 'a natural right' to women's submission to them.



Women's Emancipation 1700 - 1800

More and more women began to assert the the need to redress women's inequal status in society and the family. One of the them was Etta Palm d'Aelders, a Dutch feminist.

During the French Revolution Etta, who lived in Paris at the time, joined the Confédération des Amis de la Vérité, which was the first club to admit women. She gave a famous address in 1790: Discourse on the Injustice of the Laws in Favour of Men at the Expense of Women. Later she founded the female branch of the club called the Amies de la Vérité.

One of her followers, Olympe de Gouges, published a brochure entitled 'Declaration of the Rights of Women and of the Female Citizen'. The challenge was rejected by most men. On the 3rd of November 1793 Olympe was tried and publicly executed at the guillotine.

Montagu is chiefly remembered for her Turkish Embassy Letters. She also introduced the practice of inoculation into England


In 1702 she published The Daily Courant, the first regular daily newspaper to be published in the UK


Held professorships in Anatomy, Philosophy and Experimental Physics during her lifetime


She wrote Analytical Institutions a highly regarded textbook dealing with differential and integral calculus


First qualified female medical doctor in Germany


America’s first woman newspaper editor


First women admitted to the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture


They assembled a fighting force to successfully drive off Burmese attackers


Campaigned for women’s rights in France and The Netherlands


Best known for her book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman


One of the first black slaves in United States history to win freedom in court


Best-known actress of the 18th century


The star rating indicates the importance
for the advance of women


This website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

See our Documented Appeal to Pope Francis to Request the Re-instatement of the Ordained Diaconate for Women.

Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research

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