Mothers of the Church

Some suggested reading on “Matrology” – the Mothers of the Church.
Lives of Roman Christian Women
“Lives of Roman Christian Women” translated and edited with an introduction and notes by Carolinne White [London; New York : Penguin, 2010]

A volume focusing on the lives of Greek and Roman women in the early Christian period, as documented in Greek and Latin autobiographical and biographical accounts and in letters from the period 203–420 AD.
Contents: The martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas — The life of Macrina / by Gregory of Nyssa — The life of Melania the Elder / by Palladius — The life of Marcella / by Jerome (Letter 127 to Principia) — The life of Paula the Elder / by Jerome (Letter 108 to Eustochium) — On choosing a life of virginity / by Jerome (Letter 22 to Eustochium) — On the education of Little Paula / by Jerome (letter 107 to Laeta) — On visiting Jerusalem / by Paula the Elder and Eustochium to Marcella (Jerome, Letter 46) — The life of Melania the Younger / by Gerontius — The life of Melania the Younger / by Palladius.
Desert Banquet
“Desert Banquet : A Year of Wisdom from the Desert Mothers and Fathers” David G. R. Keller [Collegeville, Minn. : Liturgical Press, c2011]

Contents: January : withdrawing from the world — February : the cell — March : praxis: caring for one’s soul — April : beginning and sustaining an ascetic life — May : the mystery of human transformation — June : the art of monastic life — July : patience — August : persistence in prayer and work — September : humility — October : facing the reality of sin, lack of progress, and hardships — November : human transformation in Christ : following the path from image to likeness — December : the legacy of the desert fathers and mothers
Women in Early Christianity
“Women in Early Christianity: Translations from Greek Texts” Patricia Cox Miller [The Catholic University of America Press, 2005]

“From the fictional Thecla in the second century to the very real Olympias in the early fifth century, the history of women in early Christianity was as complex and rich as the religion itself. This comprehensive sourcebook brings together translations of a variety of ancient Christian texts that elucidate how women were perceived and portrayed in the Greek literature written in the second to the sixth centuries. The texts included in the volume have been generously excerpted, providing the modern reader with an in-depth view of the historical reality of early Christian women’s lives as well as a nuanced perspective on the many ways in which women were understood in theological and ecclesiastical frameworks.
Few documents written by early Christian women have been preserved; contemporary readers therefore do not have much direct access to these women’s own perspectives on their lives and roles as Christians. Nevertheless, there are many kinds of texts that can be used both to reconstruct the history of actual women in early Christianity and to analyze the ancient ideologies and rhetoric that affected how they were perceived. This volume offers many different kinds of texts in order to present as complete a view as possible of early Christian women: documentary sources such as church orders and proceedings, popular narrative sources such as the novelistic apocryphal acts, biographies and lives of saints, and theological treatises on virginity and marriage.
What emerges from these texts is a colorful portrayal of the many faces of ancient Christian women in their roles as teachers, prophets, martyrs, widows, deaconesses, ascetics, virgins, wives, and mothers. Whether celebrated as saints or denigrated as harlots, early Christian women were magnets of theological and social thought.”
“Handmaids of the Lord: Contemporary Descriptions of Feminine Asceticism in the First Six Christian Centuries” translated and edited by Joan M. Petersen [Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1996]

Contents: Feminine monasticism in the first six Christian centuries : an historical introduction — Macrina : a domestic monastery in Cappadocia — The life of Saint Macrina / by Gregory of Nyssa — Letters of Saint Jerome to ascetic women in the Roman Empire — Marcella, Lea, Asella, and Principia — Paula the Elder — Demetrias –Paula the Younger and Pacatula — Melania the Elder / by Palladius — Melania the Younger / by Palladius — The life of the holy Melania / by Gerontius — The life of Saint Radegunde / by Venantius Fortunatus [and] the nun Baudonivia — The death and funeral of Radegunde / by Gregory of Tours.
“Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women” Kate Cooper [New York: The Overlook Press, 2013]

“In this inspiring new history of the early Christian movement, award-winning historian Kate Cooper reveals a vivid picture of the triumphs and hardships of the first mothers of the infant church. As far as recorded history is concerned, women in the ancient world lived almost invisibly in a man’s world. Piecing together their story from the few contemporary accounts that have survived requires painstaking detective work, but it can render both the past and the present in a new light. Following the lives of influential women across the first centuries of the church, “Band of Angels” tells the remarkable story of how a new way of understanding relationships took root in the ancient world. As Cooper demonstrates, women from all walks of life played an invaluable role in Christianity’s growth to become a world religion. Peasants, empresses, and independent businesswomen contributed what they could to an emotional revolution unlike anything the ancient world had ever seen.
By sharing the ideas that had inspired them, ancient women changed their own lives. But they did something more. Their story is a testament to what invisible people can achieve, and to how the power of ideas can change the world, one household at a time.”
Contents: Looking for Chloe — The gospel of love — The Galilean women — “The god of Thecla” — A martyr in the family — The emperors’ mother — “The life of angels” — A world apart — The desert mothers — The queen of heaven.

Looks at the lives of the influential woman who played important roles during the first century of Christianity, including peasants, empresses, and even independent business owners, who were often ignored by recorded history.
Forgotten desert mothers
“The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives, and Stories of Early Christian Women” Laura Swan [New York: Paulist Press, 2001]

“In “The Forgotten Desert Mothers”, Laura Swan introduces readers to the sayings, lives, stories and spirituality of women in the early Christian desert and monastic movement, from the third century on. In doing so, she finally sets the record straight that women played an important and influential role in early Christianity, indeed a role that has been long overshadowed by men. She begins with an exploration of the historical context and spirituality of the desert ascetics. Then she weaves together the sayings of the major desert ammas, or mothers, along with commentary that invites readers to reflect on their own spiritual journey as they share their wisdom. The book then journeys between desert, monastery and city to reveal the stories of ascetics and solitaries whose stories are rarely heard, organized in the author’s own alphabetical collection.
“The Forgotten Desert Mothers” demonstrates, like no other work, that women have long had a history of leadership in Christianity. This engaging, eye-opening and insightful work targets all faith seekers looking to reclaim the history and spirituality of the women who came before them, as well as to understand their own inner journey. It will be a welcome addition to courses on early church history, women’s studies and religious studies.”

Contents: Ch. 1. The World of the Desert Mothers — Ch. 2. Desert Spirituality — Ch. 3. The Sayings of the Desert Mothers — Ch. 4. Bright Stars in the Desert Sky: Lesser Known Desert Mothers — Ch. 5. Deaconesses of the Early Church — Ch. 6. Mentors of the Monastic Way: Communities and Their Leaders — Epilogue: The Gift of the Desert — Timeline of the Forgotten Desert Mothers — App. The Ordination Rite of Deacons — Ordo: A Calendar of Feasts of Holy Women.
Desert Mothers cover
“The Desert Mothers: Spiritual Practices From the Women of the Wilderness” Mary C. Earle [Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse Pub., c2007]
“The term “desert mothers” refers to a bold group of Christian women in the fourth century who lived in the wilderness areas of Egypt and the Holy Land where they gave themselves over to a life of prayer and service. The mothers, or ammas as they were called, carefully nourished the love of God through the regular practice of silence, solitude, and stillness. At the same time, they shared their spiritual journey with others. Episcopal writer, spiritual director, and retreat leader Mary C. Earle presents a rounded and revealing portrait of these women and the relevance of their practices and wisdom to our present times.
The author begins by noting that the desert mothers saw the sin of forgetting as the source of all our troubles. When we forget that God is the creator of all life and everything that happens to us, we lose a sense of our own sacredness and that of creation as well. Earle looks at the most important spiritual practices of the ammas including not judging, seeing the daily world as a spiritual teacher, learning the art of discernment, making the most of spiritual guidance, being humble, showing up daily, and living a dedicated life.
The desert mothers model a rich spiritual life for us with their appreciation of quiet and solitude, their call to balance and moderation, and their emphasis on the importance of virtues in everyday life. Earle concludes: “In short, praying with the desert mothers calls us to be open to conversion, so that deep transformation that can only be accomplished by the activity of the living God moving and dwelling within us, working silently, surely, secretly to make us new. They remind us to trust in a Presence that was there long before we were born and will continue long after we are dead and gone. They pull us out of our illusory concerns and teach us to shift our gaze, to deepen our breath, to stop our moving.””
Contents: Introduction: where are the Mothers? — Desert spirituality — The little world of ourselves — “Go to your cell” — Learning the art of discernment — Spiritual guidance: lovers of souls — The practice of humility — Showing up daily, or Becoming an ascetic — Living a dedicated life: the ongoing practice of listening and choosing — Becoming fully human — The desert is for all of us.
Mothers of the Church
“Mothers of the Church: The Witness of Early Christian Women” Mike Aquina and Christopher Bailey [Our Sunday Visitor, 2012]
“Mike Aquilina and Christopher Bailey, in a follow-up to the best-selling “The Fathers of the Church”, have penned an inspiring companion volume on the Mothers of the Church that, like no other book, explores their impact on history and the Faith.

“Mothers of the Church: The Witness of Early Christian Women” will reinforce Catholics understanding of the part played by women in the early Church. Drawing upon a wide spectrum of sources, it illustrates the many kinds of women that left their mark on sacred history by responding to God s call. Whether they were martyrs, abbesses, mothers, desert solitaries, or managers of large family businesses, these women s stories will encourage you and deepen your faith. Each chapter features a concise biography that is supplemented by quotes from the Fathers writings concerning the woman in question, poetry concerning her, and other ancient testimonials. The authors’ authoritative yet accessible writing style deftly explores the important impact of early Christian women.

The Mothers of the Church include: Holy Women of the New Testament; St. Blandina; St. Perpetua and St. Felicity; St. Helena; St. Thecla; St. Agnes of Rome; St. Macrina; Proba the Widow; St. Marcella; St. Paula; St. Eustochium; St. Monica; and Egeria the Tourist”
Witness of early Christian Women
“Witness of Early Christian Women: Mothers of the Church” Mike Aquilina [Our Sunday Visitor, 2014]
“The Witness of Early Christian Women: Mothers of the Church demonstrates the radical nature of Christianity’s understanding of women and their roles, especially in a pagan society that viewed them as little more than property. The variety of women here is striking: poor widows, consecrated virgins, heroic martyrs, but also businesswomen, the wealthy, and an indomitable traveler on a world tour. Each chapter features a concise biography accompanied by writings from the early Church about the woman in question.”
Matrology 2
“Matrology: A Bibliography of Writings by Christian Women from the First to the Fifteenth Centuries” Andrew Kadel [New York: Continuum, 1995]

“A first-of-its-kind bibliography, “Matrology” features profiles of more than 150 women writers from late antiquity to the early Middle Ages, listing the most authoritative original-language editions and more original- and other-language editions of their writings. Also includes a bibliography of major secondary works relevant to ancient and medieval women.
“Harlots of the Desert: A Study of Repentance in Early Monastic Sources” Benedicta Ward [Cistercian Publications, 2006]
“With outstanding insight into the original character of Christianity and desert spirituality, Benedicta Ward has presented key documents and commentary on the role of women and their influence on eremiticism and monasticism in the evolving spirituality of the early Christian centuries.
Chapter 1 develops the motif of repentance, completed by the conclusion and ongoing commentary on the included translations. The remaining chapters describe these five women, with primary sources:
1. St. Mary Magdalene: the Biblical Model of Repentance
2. St. Mary of Egypt: the Liturgical Icon of Repentance
3. Pelagia: Beauty Riding By
4. Thais: How to Receive a Gift
5. Maria the Niece of Abraham: an Image of Salvation
The theme of repentance underlies the conversion motive in early Christianity because so few of the growing number of adherents were born and raised in the religion. But the repentance theme is further crystallized by the example of others. Thus Augustine of Hippo and his companions were converted not by dogma or doctrine but by listening to someone reading the “Life of St. Antony”, the desert father of Egypt, by St. Athanasius.
Other accounts of desert hermits show the heartfelt battle with powerful emotions and behaviors, not cerebral adherence to abstractions. In each account, the conversion that brings the individual to renounce all for the desert is accompanied by “a correspondingly strong desire for mercy,” writes the author. The stories do not play down the depth of sin: lust, fornication, murder, seduction. But the humility and desire for divine mercy overcomes pride and the despair of forgiveness. And the accounts of the “desert harlots” exemplify the outstanding virtues in a model way that elevates these narratives to archetypes.”
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