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Women and Men in the Early Church: The Full Views of St. John Chrysostom Paperback – June, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-1878997555 ISBN-10: 1878997556

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Editorial Reviews

From the Author

(From the Preface:) The theology and role of women in Christianity is a topic of great interest and importance in our time. In pursuing this matter, growing numbers of people are gaining interest in the Church of the first several centuries after Christ, sensing that perhaps here insights may be found which can be helpful today. Thus, many are beginning to investigate the practices of the Early Church concerning women, and to read the writings of the theologians of that era on these issues. It is unfortunate, therefore, that some contemporary theologians and historians are labeling the Church Fathers, without much differentiation, as "misogynistic." One telling example of how widespread this view is occurs in a popular college textbook on the history of Western civilization: "The church fathers, by definition, were all males. Since many of them became aware of their physical desires when in the presence of women, misogyny entered Christian thought. . . . Christianity became a male-centered, misogyn- istic, and sex-negative religion." Such a sweeping generalization, and such an extreme charge -- that of "hating women" -- indicates that the Church Fathers as a whole are being seriously misrepresented by those scholars who condemn them, as this book will demonstrate. While some commentators use the term "misogynism" in reference to the Church Fathers, not meaning actually "hatred of women" but rather some lesser degree of denigration of women, it appears that the mainstream of feminist scholarship indeed claims that these Fathers "hated women." Here is one example, by Mary Ann Rossi, in a leading journal of feminist scholarship: "Those in favor of the ordination of women point to the disparagement and hatred of women throughout the history of the church." The views on women among the Church Fathers actually vary considerably. One simply cannot with any accuracy group all of these authors together as if they all held the same attitudes and beliefs. The writings of each one must be considered as a whole, and must be understood within their theological and historical contexts. In addition, while some of the Church Fathers do demonstrate a pejorative attitude towards human sexuality in some respects, even for those who seem to be the most negative, the charge of "hating women" is far too severe (though possibly this could be said of certain groups condemned as heretics by the early Church). This book will examine and assess the views on women held by one of the greatest of these early Church Fathers, St. John Chrysostom (c. A.D. 347-407), famous priest and preacher in Antioch, and later Archbishop of Constantinople. Is his basically a derogatory view of women, in spite of his many positive-sounding statements, as Elizabeth Clark, Peter Brown, and other leading contemporary scholars assert? Or is his fundamentally an affirming, uplifting view of women, despite some instances of negative-sounding rhetoric, as writers from within the Eastern Orthodox tradition, and many scholars from other Christian traditions, have consistently held? Further, . . . is it possible that he has insights which can be embraced as meaningful and relevant by us today, . . . as we grapple with what it means to be created male and female, and how to live together with greater mutual understanding and respect? To learn more about the views which the Early Church held on women, Chrysostom is a key figure to study, both because he wrote extensively on many issues concerning women, and because he is one of the most highly regarded and beloved Church Fathers in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition. He has long enjoyed great esteem in the Western Church as well. . . . St. Dimitri of Rostov (17th century; Russia) begins his Life of Chrysostom . . . "Saint John Chrysostom, beacon of the world, universal teacher, pillar and foundation of the Church, and preacher of repentance." The renowned patrologist J. Quasten states, "Among the Greek Fathers none has left so extensive a literary legacy as Chrysostom," and, "None of the Eastern writers has won the admiration and love of posterity to such a degree as he." And since many Christians look to the Holy Tradition to find guidance in contemporary life, it is important to see what St. John Chrysostom, as one of the most influential representatives of this Tradition, actually said and did concerning women, in order to ascertain for oneself whether he indeed can be a life-enriching voice today. This book begins with a biographical sketch of St. John Chrysostom's life, and then compares the thinking of major Western and Eastern Church Fathers before and during Chrysostom's time on issues relating to human sexuality. The rest of the book is devoted to discussing Chrysostom's theology of sexuality and marriage, his attitudes towards women in general, his theological understanding of the ontological relationship between man and woman in general, and his views on how this relationship is to be worked out in daily life, especially in the realms of the family, the society at large, and the Church. These aspects of his thought will be studied in the light of several factors which help to show how his position is considerably more favorable towards women than is sometimes supposed. These factors are: 1), the distinctly more positive view of the leading Eastern Fathers than that of the major Western Fathers on sexual issues; 2), Chrysostom's general theological/spiritual ethos; 3), a marked change after his ordination to the priesthood in his descriptions of marriage; 4), his characteristic use of rhetorical exaggeration; 5), his profound admiration for the noteworthy spiritual women of Old and New Testament times; and 6), his close association with and high esteem for spiritual women of his day, especially the deaconess St. Olympias and her group of female monastics connected to the Great Church in Constantinople. . . . (Footnotes omitted from the preceding)

From the Back Cover

"Dr. David Ford's articulate and lucid prose, as well as his broad familiarity with the writings of St. John Chrysostom -- the most influential Biblical commentator in Eastern Christianity -- make his book a most welcome and valuable contribution to Christian understanding of human nature, accessible to lay reader and specialist alike. It should be required reading for all who are interested in the deeper aspects of Patristic thought on questions of human sexuality, man-woman relationships, and the roles of men and women in family, Church, and society." -- V. Rev. Dr. Alexander Golubov, Assoc. Professor of Spirituality and Academic Dean, St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary, S. Canaan, Pa. "It is necessary to read the writings of the Church Fathers, especially their popular sermons, with accuracy and empathy within the Church's total life and witness rooted in the Bible. David Ford does just this in his exhaustive study of St. John Chrysostom's teachings about women and men, gender and sexuality, marriage and monasticism, and spiritual life and service in the Christian Church. He examines the saint's thought on these complicated and controverted issues with care and compassion. His work is a rare gift for which faithful Christians will surely return admiration and gratitude." -- V. Rev. Dr. Thomas Hopko, Professor of Systematic Theology and Dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, N.Y. In this book, through his "careful textual analysis of the writings of John Chrysostom, . . . David Ford has opened a broad window of access to these questions that has not been looked through before. Look through this window, I plead with you. Let the wisdom found there illumine present dilemmas of sexuality, family, and marriage. I pray that this book may become a means of grace to women and men seeking to embody the praise of God in their sexual and spiritual lives." -- from the Foreword by Dr. Thomas C. Oden, distinguished author and Professor of Theology at Drew Graduate School and Seminary, Madison, N.J.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 265 pages
  • Publisher: St Tikhons Seminary Pr (June 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1878997556
  • ISBN-13: 978-1878997555
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,234,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Stratiotes Doxha Theon VINE VOICE on April 6, 2009
Format: Paperback
Being an avid reader of many of St. John Chrysostom's works, I was surprised when I heard some of the accusations against him as anti-women. Of all the early church fathers, he would be the one I least expected to be singled out for such criticism. It is not unusual for modern readers to judge ancient writers outside the context of their times and therefore draw anachronistic and false conclusions. Such is what I expected from the anti-Chrysostom crowd and such is what I found when looking more deeply into the accusations. In this scholarly work, Professor Ford dissects some of those accusations, not with overly apologetic condescending language but with facts and letting the great St. and teacher speak for himself through extensive excerpts. Professor Ford easily exposes the shallow scholarship coming from the politically-correct "scholars" and unveils something quite different from what those less-astute teachers convey in their works.

Here also lies the very roots from which sprang the "Theology of the Body," that `theological time bomb' given to the Church by Pope John Paul II. Readers will want to explore that work further and a solid introduction can be found in any of the works by Christopher West such as Theology Of The Body For Beginners. Professor Ford does not directly identify that teaching as the logical conclusion of St. John Chrysostom but it is difficult to miss. It is unfortunate that the connection is not made so that readers would be led to plumb even greater depths in this topic building on what they learn from the ancient Doctor of the Church and how it reverberates still in our time.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Corin L. Baker on February 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
Many believe that Christianity is the truth, however few agree as to what Christianity is. (If people agreed, there would not be countless denominations.) C.S. Lewis addressed whether Christianity was true as related to other religions. (Mere Christianity) Michael Gallatin addressed searching for the truth in a land with a plethora of denominations--clearing the quagmire in Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells.

After reaching a point of wanting to learn the depth of early Christian teachings--devoid of misinterpretations dictated by Western History (after all, you cannot understand your present until you understand your history), one turns to Ford as one shining a light on the past, albeit only on the area of Christian gender understanding.

This should be required reading for anyone who wishes to hold ANY discusion of gender in a Christian light. In allowing Chrysostom to speak for himself, Ford lets us clearly appreciate why the man is considered a Saint and still stands today as one of the most respected apologists (i.e. "explainers") of Christianity.

In contrast to the true faith, the judgmental and unloving error espoused today as "the Christian understanding" becomes plain. Chrysostom, a TRUE Christian, sets the record straight by striking a chord you will know in your soul is true. He did so 1600 years ago and, through Ford, brings his message to the English speaking world today.

There should be a warning about this book, however. It is quite exhaustive, and could be perhaps exhausting for the average reader. It delves into far more issues than the average person ever considered or perhaps even wanted to consider. As such, realize you may need to use the Table of Contents and/or index to help narrow the search for the specific topic of interest. But when you find what you are searching for, you won't be disappointed.

Good luck on your search for Truth as only there will you find God.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By D. Jack Elliot on March 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
Required reading for anyone interested in Church teaching on sexuality and gender. Rather than the usual re-interpretation of Holy Tradition according to an agenda of feminist liberation or sexual revolution, in Ford's book the Church speaks for herself. Contemporary secular interpretation of the Fathers, even in its passionate concern for avoiding sexism, is hopelessly biased. Just as with Scripture, Patristic teaching must be approached according to its original contexts: ecclesiastical (not sociological), Middle Eastern (not Western or European), of Antiquity (not of the Information or Industrial Age), and according to a respective context linguistically (as opposed to "chronocentrically," as the feminists and popular-culture apologists tend to see things). The only "agenda" of the Church is the sanctification and salvation of her faithful; Ford demonstrates, simply by addressing these indigenous, authentic contexts for St. John Chrysostom's writing, that her teaching on sexuality and gender are correctly understood only from this perspective.
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