Gender, Image of God, and the Bishop's Body: Augustine on Women in Christ and the Church

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Theology


Department of Religious Studies


Advisor: Jana Bennett


Sexism is a reality in the Catholic Church. The Church's teaching on women, though true, needs to be explicated more carefully to avoid a sense of woman's incompleteness in both humanity (through misunderstood "complementarity") and imaging the Trinitarian God (if she only images God as "mother" in a family).Augustine can help bring balance to the lacuna. Review of feminist theologians on Augustine find two major concerns: inequality between women and men in imaging God, and a question of his development in appreciating women in the Church (Chapter One). His letters track such a growth, but from a mix of positive and negative statements to increasingly positive assessments of women (Chapter Two). Augustine finds women to be equal with men in being the image of God, in their minds, but female and male bodies do not equally represent God's image. The representation corresponds to contemplative and "temporal management" aspects of mind in every human. Only the contemplative aspect is "image of God"; the temporal management aspect is not unless joined with the contemplative. Augustine wants to stress, however, that women are God's image, and in this life all of us are and are not yet God's image. The inequality in representation is problematic, but the inequality is resolved in the Incarnation of Christ, the divine Word "married" to humanity Inequality is resolved for women and men completely in the resurrection of women's and men's bodies to the fullness of redeemed equality. This is what it means according to Augustine to grow up fully into the Image of God, Christ (Eph. 4:15) (Chapter Three). Christ, the union of divinity and humanity gives himself to the women and men of the Church through the bishop's body so that the bishop in his embodiment is devoted to the temporal management of the Church. The bishop finds himself in such embodied solidarity with women in the Church that they are better understood as incorporated into each other so closely that they are one body with each other in and with Christ (Chapter Four). Augustine is a source in Catholic Tradition that counters sexism (even while sexism appears in his works). Woman is image of the Trinity in her own right before she can be rightly considered part of a secondary image of the Trinity. Family is an image of the Trinity only because each person is a complete image of the Trinity first. Complementarity must be integral because of male and female equality in God's image. From Augustinian balance brought to expressions of Church teaching, we move to dialogue founded on confession of sexist words and acts, repentance and forgiveness. Dialogue requires hard persistent work together and further confession and forgiveness. One way forward is with Cardinal Ouellet's vision of the necessity to include women in priestly formation in seminaries (Chapter Five).


Theology, Religious History, Religion, Gender, Augustine, Sexism, Catholic Church, embodiment, feminism, women, gender, equality, image of God, clergy, theology, patristic theology, feminist theology, early Christian, sermons, letters, Paulinus of Nola, episcopacy, Genesis, Resurrection

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