Bonnie A. BIRK, Christine de Pizan and Biblical Wisdom: A Feminist-Theological Point of View. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2005, pp. 202. $23.00pb. ISBN 0-87462-699-4.
Reviewed by Johann M. VENTO, Georgian Court University, Lakewood, NJ 08701

In this ground-breaking study, Bonnie A. Birk offers us the first book-length feminist-theological examination of Christine de Pizan’s use of the image of biblical Wisdom. Birk’s analysis makes it clear that the strategic move of imaging God in female form, through the figure of Wisdom, provides a key theological foundation for Christine’s defense of women and of her own authority as a legitimate commentator on social, political, and theological issues.

Birk begins her work with a review of the biography of Christine de Pizan (1364-1430) and of her remarkable career as a writer. Here Birk provides an overview of the issues Christine confronts in her writing, especially in her defense of women against both the sentimentality of the courtly love tradition and the more overt misogyny expressed in various other literary forms. We learn here of Christine’s egalitarian theological anthropology, and of her need for an image of God that could support it.

Chapter two provides excellent surveys of the issue of female God-language in contemporary feminist theology, the image of Wisdom in the biblical texts, and the widespread use of Wisdom by other major medieval writers. This material sets the stage for Birk’s contention that Christine’s use of the figure of Wisdom in the service of an explicitly feminist argumentation is unique.

Chapters three, four, and five offer detailed analyses of Christine’s use of biblical Wisdom in her major works, L’Epistre Othéa la Deese (The Letter of Othéa the Goddess), L’Advision Cristine (Christine’s Vision) , and Le Livre de la Cité des dames (The Book of the City of Ladies), respectively. Birk skillfully guides the reader through Christine’s shifting uses of Wisdom or Wisdom’s traits to evoke classical goddesses, mythical women, Wisdom herself as a servant of God, and finally, in its most overt form in The Book of the City of Ladies, the explicit use of Wisdom as an image of God’s own Self in Trinitarian form.

In Chapter six, Birk summarizes the feminist-theological implications of Christine’s use of biblical Wisdom. Christine does not use the figure of Wisdom as one among many proofs of the value of women. Rather, she uses goddess figures based on Wisdom as authoritative spokespersons for her defense of women. This technique allows Christine freely to evoke female images of deity without making deliberate argument about the value of such images. Their use in her work serves as both a theological foundation and literary framing device for her theological anthropology. Thus Christine makes the connection, common in contemporary feminist theology, between the ability to image God in both male and female forms and the assertion that males and females share equally in the image of God.

Birk’s work makes an original contribution to scholarship on the theology of Christine and on the history of the use of biblical Wisdom in feminist theological work. In addition, this book will be used fruitfully in courses on feminist theology, women and religion, medieval theology and philosophy, and in biblical courses dealing with the figure of wisdom.

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