A while ago I posted a couple of times on the relative absence of women in the biblical commentary industry. However I was able to muster a reasonable number of biblical commentaries written by women from the academically superb (Margaret Thrall on Second Corinthians, 2 volumes, International Critical Commentary), to the theologically and pastorally alert (Beverly Gaventa on Acts, Abingdon Biblical Ccommentary, and Kathleen O'Connor on Lamentations), to the devotionally evocative and spiritually penetrating (Joan Chittister on Ruth).
When it comes to asking which women have featured prominently in the development of the Christian Spiritual tradition I suspected a similar sense of absence, of cultural and traditional marginalisation. Yes - and no. The roll call of women whose lives and writings have influenced the ongoing Christian Spiritual Tradition has some impressive entries but is certainly not represented across all the traditions.
Macrina, sister of Gregory of Nyssa has until recently been on the margins. I still remember the great historian Jaroslav Pelikan in his Gifford Lectures in Aberdeen, quietly dismantling centuries of prejudiced silence about this mother of the church, pointing out that to talk of the Church Fathers was to use vocabulary betraying either ignorance or chauvinism! Quite so - the Cappadocian "Fathers" owed a considerable intellectual debt to this woman - just as Appollos did to Priscilla.
Julian of Norwich - whatever we think of medieval mysticism, the cross centred, passionate theology so richly and profoundly explored in The Revelations of Divine Love, ranks with the finest atonement theology in the entire Christian tradition. Julian's theology is a medieval precursor of Moltmann's Crucified God (to my knowledge Moltmann has never significantly engaged with her work), and at times her writing soars to heights even Moltmann's rhetoric fails to reach.
From previous centuries also include Hildegard of Bingen,(the original 'feisty female' monastic), Teresa of Avila, (where is her reformation protestant equivalent?), Madame Guyon (French Quietist whose longing for God got her into trouble). The nineteenth century I might include Dora Greenwell, (whose theology P T Forsyth admired and learned from), Frances Havergal (poet, hymnwriter, hillwalker and milliner!).In the 20th century there are a few more women who were able to break through the glass ceiling - yes Evelyn Underhill, Amy Carmichael(doing some serious social stuff long before Mother Teresa), Florence Allshorn (community pioneer), Olive Wyon (translator of Emil Brunner!), Simone Weil (eccentric French philosopher, razor sharp mind, patron saint of those who struggle), Dorothy Sayers (translator of Dante, playwright and no mean theologian herself), Dorothy Day,( social activist, spirituality with the sleeeves rolled up), Mother Teresa; and in the past 25 years, Kathleen Norris, (poet and Benedictine oblate), Elaine Storkey ( evangelical feminist - yes it is possible), Joan Chittister (Benedictine, spiritual theologian)...but I'm struggling to make this a long impressive list. And be honest, how many of them have you read - how many have their works still in print - who has even heard of Olive Wyon, Florence Allshorn, Dora Greenwell??
And here's the Christian Blog equivalent of the pub quiz question with a bit of trivial pursuit obscurity thrown in -
name three women who have significantly impacted the development of the Scottish spiritual tradition, which is my current research area?
I will await your suggestions for other inclusions in the wider traditions; and ANY suggestion for women of obvious influence in the Scottish spiritual tradition. It isn't that they are not there - but who ever thought them important enough to write the biography, publish the writing, study the legacy, include them as essential players in the standard histories?