Mary MALONE. Women and Christianity, Vol. III: From the Reformation to the 21st Century. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2003. pp. 334. $24.00. pb. ISBN 1-57075-475-6. Reviewed by Jill RAITT. University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65201


The third volume of Mary Malones’ Women and Christianity makes me want to look at the first two volumes. Not only has Malone a gift for vibrant prose, she also has a gift for summarizing without distorting major movements. The women she discusses are set in the larger contexts of the Renaissance, the Reformations of the sixteenth century, the Enlightenment, and the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For example, the first chapter, “Continuity and Change,” sets Isabella d’Este in the corruption of the renaissance papal courts, among them the notorious Borgia family headed by Pope Alexander VI and his daughter Lucretia, who married Isabella d’Este’s brother. Malone chose to study Isabella because of the extensive records available that tell us not only what she wore, but how she became “known as one of the most shrewd manipulators in her family’s interests.” Most surprising is that Isabella became independent of her unfaithful, often absent husband. As a patron and subject of the greatest of renaissance artists, her portrait was painted by Leonardo da Vinci and Titian.  She was a woman who not only learned to live in a man’s world, as she is reported to have said, but did so in style, called the “Queen of Rome” and even “Queen of the World”.

            Some twenty years younger than Isabella d’Este, Isabella of Castile was woman equal to the ruling men of Spain. She and her husband, Ferdinand of Aragon, together drove the Moors from the Alhambra in January 1492. Later that year, Isabella sent Christopher Columbus sailing west to find a shorter route to the Indies and instead landed on an island of the American continent. Ferdinand and Isabella’s daughter, Catherine of Aragon, married to Henry VIII of England, was mother of an English Queen, Mary Tudor, half-sister of Elizabeth I of England, who in my view, is the greatest of all the English sovereigns. But Elizabeth doesn’t figure in Malone’s book except in a discussion of Mary Ward, and I find that strange.

            But to return to the role of the Isabellas, their power began the “querelle des femmes” ongoing discussion about the role of women. Women began to challenge the patristic and medieval characterization of women; women began to exegete biblical texts to disprove their negative interpretation.

            Although the querelle continued into the sixteenth century, the Protestant Reformation set women firmly in the home, devoted to husband and children. The Council of Trent and the papal curia’s regulations following Trent, demanded that women who took religious vows must be cloistered. Women were to remain within walls in both Protestant and Catholic worlds. But, of course, they could not be so contained.

            Some of the women discussed in Malone’s book may be a good indication of the futility of taming women of spirit and determination. Teresa of Avila, Anabaptist preachers, Sor Juana de la Cruz, Angela Merici, Jane de Chantal, Mary Ward, Louise de Marillac. After the cataclysm of the French Revolution and the reign of “reason” portrayed as a goddess and set on the altar of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the Catholic church understood that the education of women was critical to upbringing of children as Christian and allowed some leeway in the founding of orders of women educators. Even so, nuns who professed solemn vows had to remain cloistered.

            Interested? the book continues with the same quality. The nineteenth and twentieth century are covered by chapters 8: The Feminist Challenge, 9: Seeking a Spirituality for Women, and 10: Towards a Global Ethic. Here you will find the success of the Anglican/Protestant Episcopal Church to ordain women priests and the failure of the Catholic Church to even discuss such a change. Malone discusses the work of women theologians.

            The book is not flawless; there are omissions (Gary Macy’s well-documented Hidden History of Women’s Ordination is not included in an otherwise comprehensive bibliography on the subject of women’s ordination, nor does Malone give credit to the bi-lateral dialogues that began in 1968 and several incorrect bits of history (such as that Charles V’s daughter Juana was a Jesuit only temporarily. Juana, under the pseudonym Matteo Sanches, S.J., lived out her life as a Jesuit Scholastic with temporary vows; she was never allowed perpetual vows). But such errors detract only a little from the comprehensive sweep and analysis of the history of Christian women from the renaissance through the twentieth century.

            The book has a bibliography (pp. 302-310), notes (pp. 311-326, and an Index (pp. 327-334).