Paul’s injunction that women remain silent in the Church (1 Cor 14: 34-36) could be said to have led to the absence of Women’s Wisdom from the official teaching of the Church over its 2000 year history. Of the 36 Doctors of the Church, only 4 are women, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Thérèse of Lisieux and Hildegard of Bingen, all of whom have only been recognised in the last 50 years. This unit will concentration on the contribution of these women to our theological understanding of God and also explore other important female voices that have been overlooked through the centuries.

Unit code: CH9217Y

Unit status: Approved (New unit)

Points: 24.0

Unit level: Postgraduate Elective

Unit discipline: Church History

Proposing College: Yarra Theological Union

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Learning outcomes


Articulate the particular challenges facing women in church history, particularly in terms of recognition of their wisdom and capacity for leadership.


Demonstrate an understanding of the context from which these challenges arose.


Analyse critically the writings, and depiction in art, of the four Women Doctors of the Church.


Engage with arguments for and against the addition of other female voices to the rank of Doctor of the Church.


Formulate a sustained argument in response to the unit readings on the contribution of women to theology and church life in the contemporary world.

Unit sequence

The Unit is an elective within the disciplines of Church History & Spirituality. Pre-requisite: CH1001Y – Survey of Early and Medieval Church History or equivalent.


The unit will consist of Lectures, Tutorials and discussion forums all delivered in a Seminar style so that students can interact with the ideas presented, engage with other students and their reflections and ideas and develop skills in critique, debate and practical application.

Indicative Bibliography

  • Catherine of Siena. The Dialogue. Translated by Suzanne Noffke. The Classics of Western Sprituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1980.
  • Hildegard of Bingen. The Book of Divine Works. Translated by Nathaniel M. Campbell. Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2018.
  • Hildegard of Bingen. Scivias. Translated by Columba Hart and Jane Bishop. The Classics of Western Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1990.
  • Malone, Mary T. Four Women Doctors of the Church. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2017.
  • Muir, Elizabeth. A Women's History of the Christian Church: Two Thousand Years of Female Leadership. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019.
  • Newman, Barbara. Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard's Theology of the Feminine. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989.
  • Radford Reuther, Rosemary. Women and Redemption: A Theological History. 2nd Ed. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2012.
  • Teresa of Avila, Saint. The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila. Translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez. Vols. 1 and 2. Washington: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1976-80.
  • Thérèse of Lisieux, Saint. Story of A Soul: The autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux. 3rd ed. Washington, Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1996.
  • Tyler, Peter and Edward Howells, eds. Teresa of Avila: Mystical Theology and Spirituality in the Carmelite Tradition. London: Routledge, 2018.


Type Description Word count Weight (%)
Oral Presentation 1000 20.0

Short Essay

2000 30.0

Major Essay

4000 50.0

Unit approved for the University of Divinity by Maggie Kappelhoff on 22 Sep, 2020

Unit record last updated: 2020-09-22 18:41:41 +1000