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.