Gender and The Christian Traditions

Dyan Elliott

in The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe

Published in print August 2013 | ISBN: 9780199582174
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191749919 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Gender and The Christian Traditions

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Gender and Sexuality


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Classical and medieval thinkers had much to say about gendered topics, including proper social roles and relationships for men and women, differing physical and psychological make-ups, and behaviors that might cause blurring between characteristics understood to belong to each sex. The theological arguments and pastoral direction of the Middle Ages relied heavily on precedents drawn from early Christianity, making an understanding of the apostolic and patristic periods essential when examining gender issues. This essay, therefore, addresses debates from both early Christianity and the central Middle Ages, concentrating primarily on discussions about the merits of virginity versus celibacy, but also treating discourse on "virile" women and the effects of the rediscovery of Aristotelian thought on ideas about procreation and the female body. Since these discussions often took place as their authors addressed contemporary crises, they offer an opportunity to examine Christian society's shifting, and often competing, values, especially those pertaining women.

Keywords: virginity; marriage; virile women; cult of Mary; Aristotelian thought; the female body; church fathers

Article.  8253 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Gender and Sexuality

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