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St. Jerome — Feminist?
CatholicExchange.com ^ | 09-30-06 | Br. Ezra Sullivan, O.P

Posted on 09/30/2006 5:50:46 PM PDT by Salvation

by Br. Ezra Sullivan, O.P

Other Articles by Br. Ezra Sullivan, O.P
St. Jerome — Feminist?
09/30/06


Some saints seem made for controversy. It is not that they enjoyed arguing. Rather, their holy daring was foolishness to some and a stumbling block to others. And if they were intellectuals, the saints defended their folly of the Cross. One could say that Saint Jerome is the patron saint of controversialists.

In This Article...
The Monk and His Lady Friends
Take That, You Guys
Those Brainy Female Saints

The Monk and His Lady Friends

His two most famous sayings are both negative: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” and, “The enemies of the Church should be also my enemies.” Perhaps a saint with a gentler temperament — one not hardened by the hot Syrian sun, all-night prayer vigils, and superhuman fasts — perhaps such a saint would have been more positive sounding. But not Jerome, whose feast day is today. He was a controversialist through and through.

In the Catholic Church, some controversies are primarily about theological ideas, such as the divinity and humanity of Christ, or the relation between good works and merit. Other controversies are more about personalities, as when a cleric or someone representing the Church causes scandal. As one might expect, Saint Jerome was the subject of both kinds of controversy and often at the same time.

One particular dispute that Jerome caused is what some have called “The Ancient Christian Feminist Controversy,” or, “Jerome’s Defense of the Feminine Mind.” The wrangle began when a number of monks noticed that their more famous and intelligent contemporary was spending much of his time writing to his lady friends. As if this breach in the monastic habit were not enough, Jerome even had the gall to teach them — and what is more, he taught them about Holy Scripture! This infamous trinity of vices caused many of them to write condemnatory letters to Jerome in Bethlehem as well as to spit every time his name was mentioned.

Take That, You Guys

The monks’ grounds for disapproval were based on two things: both, in modern terminology, were a question of a woman’s abilities and a woman’s rights. A woman, they said, has no right to be taught anything by a man, especially a monk. Further, a woman has no need to be taught, especially something as holy as Scripture, because she cannot learn. Knowing how false and destructive these two claims could be, Jerome took up his pen like a sword and responded to his opponents as only a proto-feminist could.

Jerome’s defense of the feminine mind was founded upon experience, authority, and a censure of men. First of all, he appealed to his experience in teaching women. He had great success teaching Paula, her daughter Eustochium, as well as Blesilla and Marcella. They had mastered Greek and Hebrew so well they could recite the Psalter in either language. As for authority, Jerome pointed out many different passages of Holy Scripture in which women take up learned roles, including prophetesses such as Huldah (2 Kings 22), leaders such as Deborah (Judges 4-5), and teachers such as Priscilla (Acts 18:26).

Finally, Jerome said that these women were more assiduous for study than most men in his day: “Did men occupy themselves with the sacred Scriptures and demand as many questions as women do,” he would teach them. But then, as is often the case now, the men were not as interested in religion. Therefore, since these women so ardently thirsted for the Truth, it was their right to learn and his duty to teach.

Those Brainy Female Saints

What was the result of Jerome’s radical insistence on the dignity of women, on their essential ability and right to learn Holy Scripture? The final product is what we might call eternal feminine sanctity, that is to say, they became saints. Recognizing that some of these women reached the very heights of holiness, Jerome set down their life stories for posterity (and perhaps also as a proof of his victory in the controversy). For example, in one place he describes the virtues of St. Paula, whose funeral was attended by bishops, presbyters, deacons, and crowds of supportive monks, all of whom witnessed to her sanctity.

In another place, Jerome writes to Principia about the life of St. Marcella, in which he shows her tender affection for his spiritual daughters:

I am so anxious myself to do justice to her merits that it grieves me that you should spur me on and fancy that your entreaties are needed when I do not yield even to you in love of her. In putting upon record her signal virtues I shall receive far more benefit myself than I can possibly confer upon others.
In all, Jerome did more than any other single Church Father to promote the dignity of and reverence for women in his day. He wrote to them more than any other; he wrote about them more than any other; he taught them, defended their rights, and encouraged their abilities. Even more than that, holy women greatly influenced Jerome: due to their insistence, Jerome wrote commentaries on the letters of St. Paul and many other biblical books, and after the holy women died, he implored their help so that he might one day reach the heaven they already enjoyed.

© Copyright 2006 Catholic Exchange

Br. Ezra Sullivan, O.P., a graduate of St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, is a Dominican student brother of the Province of St. Joseph (Eastern Province, USA) is currently studying for the priesthood at the
Dominican House of Studies. Check out www.vocations.blog.com .


TOPICS: Activism; Apologetics; Catholic; Charismatic Christian; Current Events; Eastern Religions; Ecumenism; Evangelical Christian; General Discusssion; History; Islam; Judaism; Mainline Protestant; Ministry/Outreach; Moral Issues; Orthodox Christian; Other Christian; Other non-Christian; Prayer; Religion & Culture; Religion & Politics; Religion & Science; Skeptics/Seekers; Theology; Worship
KEYWORDS: controversialist; stjerome; women
An interesting interpretation of St. Jerome. Any discussion?

Is the writer a modernist? (just something to ponder.)

St. Jerome's feast day is today, BTW.

1 posted on 09/30/2006 5:50:48 PM PDT by Salvation
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To: All
Saint Jerome - Doctor Of Biblical Studies

Saint Jerome: Doctor Of Biblical Studies

St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church

St. Jerome — Feminist?

2 posted on 09/30/2006 5:52:48 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: nickcarraway; sandyeggo; Lady In Blue; NYer; american colleen; ELS; Pyro7480; livius; ...
Catholic Discussion Ping!

Please notify me via FReepmail if you would like to be added to or taken off the Catholic Discussion Ping List.

3 posted on 09/30/2006 5:53:37 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Salvation

Men can't be feminists.


4 posted on 09/30/2006 6:58:23 PM PDT by cyborg (No I don't miss the single life at all.)
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To: cyborg
"Men can't be feminists."

Pshaw. Do you know how many men nowadays call themselves feminists?

That said, I would rather call St. Jerome something else. Feminist is a dirty word to me.

5 posted on 09/30/2006 7:14:06 PM PDT by sageb1 (This is the Final Crusade. There are only 2 sides. Pick one.)
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To: Salvation

I wouldn't say that St. Jerome was a 'feminist' simply that he acted as Christ did; treated women as equals in the sight of God to men.


6 posted on 09/30/2006 7:26:53 PM PDT by SuziQ
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To: SuziQ

I think it would be better to call him a good Catholic.

One of the funniest things I ever read was his tirade to on woman about the guy she wanted to marry. He sounded like a dad gone over the edge.


7 posted on 09/30/2006 8:06:03 PM PDT by mockingbyrd (Good heavens! What women these Christians have-----Libanus)
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To: sageb1

I read Christina Hoff-Somers book and I call myself a feminist to stir up conversation. I still feel weird calling myself a feminist. It sounds like feminazi *LOL*


8 posted on 09/30/2006 8:37:30 PM PDT by cyborg (No I don't miss the single life at all.)
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To: Salvation

No.

No no no no no.

It never ceases to amaze me how far some people will go to project modern mindsets and systems of thoughts on people who lived among entirely different world views.

Why can't people accept that the man simply lived in the imitation of Christ?


9 posted on 09/30/2006 8:42:44 PM PDT by MWS (Back - And Better Than Ever.)
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To: cyborg

I am a dedicated anti-feminist (as feminism is defined in today's world). When I look at what the second-wavers have done to society, I want to wretch.


10 posted on 09/30/2006 8:49:28 PM PDT by sageb1 (This is the Final Crusade. There are only 2 sides. Pick one.)
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To: Salvation

There's a great quote of St. Jerome's I once used in a letter to the editor. It was taken from a letter to a Roman matron who had written to him about the difficulty of helping her young son learn to read. St. Jerome suggested she have some small blocks made and the letters put on those blocks so the child could, "make play a road to learning." I would say he was a very wise and kind man.


11 posted on 09/30/2006 9:10:16 PM PDT by Diva
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To: sageb1

What would you say then? I thought he was more like an instructor.


12 posted on 09/30/2006 9:31:46 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: cyborg

Can men be feministic?


13 posted on 09/30/2006 9:32:10 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: MWS

**Why can't people accept that the man simply lived in the imitation of Christ?**

Excellent question.


14 posted on 09/30/2006 9:34:04 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Diva

Sounds like a great quote. Almost Montessori like.


15 posted on 09/30/2006 9:35:08 PM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Salvation
Is the writer a modernist?

A little self-profile of Br. Ezra Sullivan, O.P. - I presume it is the same young man:

Self Profile

From the article's content, I think he just wrote a headline and introduced the subject in a manner that might intrigue a current day reader unfamiliar with that aspect of Jerome's life. There's no hint of "since Jerome did x, we should go a step further and do y".

16 posted on 10/01/2006 7:17:51 AM PDT by siunevada (If we learn nothing from history, what's the point of having one? - Peggy Hill)
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To: siunevada

Thanks for that -- a former Baptist who converted. No modernist there in my judgment.


17 posted on 10/01/2006 7:22:46 AM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: 2ndMostConservativeBrdMember; afraidfortherepublic; Alas; al_c; american colleen; annalex; ...


18 posted on 10/01/2006 10:15:09 PM PDT by Coleus (Only half the patients who go into an abortion clinic come out alive.)
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To: Salvation

What a wonderful man. He did seem to be ahead of his time.


19 posted on 10/02/2006 6:12:34 AM PDT by trisham (Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have? Bupkis.)
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To: trisham; Salvation
In my parish we have a monthly study group named in honor of St. Monica. Last month we studied "Women in the Early Church." We read passages from St. Jerome's letters to Marcella and Principia.

We also studied the martydom of those holy women celebrated in the Canon of the Mass: Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia and Anastasia. Fascinating stuff!

That's why I get burned up when I hear that the Church is anti-woman!

20 posted on 10/02/2006 7:12:05 AM PDT by LisaFab
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To: LisaFab
Agreed. Here is but a portion of a letter written by Pope John Paul II in 1995:

"I know of course that simply saying thank you is not enough. Unfortunately, we are heirs to a history which has conditioned us to a remarkable extent. In every time and place, this conditioning has been an obstacle to the progress of women. Women's dignity has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude. This has prevented women from truly being themselves and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity. Certainly it is no easy task to assign the blame for this, considering the many kinds of cultural conditioning which down the centuries have shaped ways of thinking and acting. And if objective blame, especially in particular historical contexts, has belonged to not just a few members of the Church, for this I am truly sorry. May this regret be transformed, on the part of the whole Church, into a renewed commitment of fidelity to the Gospel vision. When it comes to setting women free from every kind of exploitation and domination, the Gospel contains an ever relevant message which goes back to the attitude of Jesus Christ himself. Transcending the established norms of his own culture, Jesus treated women with openness, respect, acceptance and tenderness. In this way he honoured the dignity which women have always possessed according to God's plan and in his love. As we look to Christ at the end of this Second Millennium, it is natural to ask ourselves: how much of his message has been heard and acted upon?

Yes, it is time to examine the past with courage, to assign responsibility where it is due in a review of the long history of humanity. Women have contributed to that history as much as men and, more often than not, they did so in much more difficult conditions. I think particularly of those women who loved culture and art, and devoted their lives to them in spite of the fact that they were frequently at a disadvantage from the start, excluded from equal educational opportunities, underestimated, ignored and not given credit for their intellectual contributions. Sadly, very little of women's achievements in history can be registered by the science of history. But even though time may have buried the documentary evidence of those achievements, their beneficent influence can be felt as a force which has shaped the lives of successive generations, right up to our own. To this great, immense feminine "tradition" humanity owes a debt which can never be repaid."

For the letter in its entirety: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_29061995_women_en.html

21 posted on 10/02/2006 7:25:10 AM PDT by trisham (Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have? Bupkis.)
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To: cyborg

I've known men who were better feminists than I was. Whenever I forgot, they always reminded me. : )


22 posted on 10/02/2006 3:46:04 PM PDT by firebrand
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To: trisham

Regrettable. Thanks.


23 posted on 10/03/2006 1:22:38 PM PDT by LisaFab
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