The Table

For the second time the “Collaboration of Men and Women in Ministry,” a working group of the Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) promoters in Rome, hosted Italian theologian Marinella Perroni for a Saturday lecture. Mostly women religious and handfuls of non-religious attended the discussion, “Women and the New Testament: The Apostolic preaching in the first communities,” which considered the apostolic traditions and its redactions, and ultimately the heritage of a tradition of “woman as enemy.”

Marinella Perroni

Marinella Perroni

The hope of the Collaboration group for this particular event was to provide a mini Bible study on women in the Acts of the Apostles. In general, the group strives to forge better relationships with the Spanish speaking promoters and men, and more broadly make the case that “collaboration in ministry” is a justice issue (which incidentally many struggle to conclude).

I found Marinella’s schema for the talk very helpful (although may be familiar to some), and will provide it here with a little commentary to follow.

The Acts of the Apostles: a small compendium of porto-christian female historiography:

  • Numerous allusions of a general character in many different narrative contexts (1:14; 5:14; 6:1; 8:3 – 12; 9:2; 13:50; 17:4-12; 22:4)
  • The Community of widows of Joppe and the story of Tabitha (9:36-42)
  • The conversion of the merchant of Purple in Philippi (9:36-42)
  • The conversion of Damaris of Athens (17:34)
  • The Rome of some women in the communities of their respective cities (Maria in Jerusalem 12:12-15; Priscilla in Ephesus 18:2, 18:26; the four daughters of Philip in Caesarea 21:8-9).

The Dual Personalities of Paul:

  • Ecclesiology without discrimination: Gal 3:26-28
  • A shared missionary responsibility: Rom 16
  • The behavior of women in the liturgical assembly: 1 Cor 11: 1-16; or 1 Cor 14, 34-35?
  • Who comes from whom: 1 Cor 11: 7-12
  • Mutual submission: Eph: 5:21-24

Post-Pauline Churches:

1Tim 2,8-15: “In every place, then, I want the men to lift their hands up reverently in prayer, with no anger or argument. Similarly, women are to wear suitable clothes and to be dressed quietly and modestly, without braided hair or gold and jewelry or expensive clothes; their adornment is to do the good works that are proper for women who claim to be religious. During instruction, a woman should be quiet and respectful. I give no permission for a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. A woman ought to be quiet, because Adam was formed first and Eve afterwards, and it was not Adam who was led astray but the woman who was led astray and fell into sin. Nevertheless, she will be saved by child-bearing, provided she lives a sensible life and is constant in faith and love and holiness.

Marinella suggested that some feminist interpretations of Paul are unfair in light of some of his earlier writings, especially as it seems clear that he believed women to be missionary apostles. In Romans 16, Marinella pointed out that the women were given titles based on their work (whereas men were given terms of endearment), including deaconess, missionary, benefactor, leaders of domestic churches, and even his own protectors (in situations where the women were more well known than Paul).  In 1974, the Italian translation changed what should read “deaconess” in reference to Phoebe to “servicer.”

As a side note, in English I think it is generally considered pejorative to use “deaconess” or “priestess” but in a language with gendered nouns and adjectives, I think it is actually (in Italian for instance, when the word doesn’t exist and adjectives need to agree) an important distinction.


In Cor 11: 1- 16 Marinella suggested that the requirement for women to cover their heads could have been a way for Paul to highlight that women as well as men can prophesize. She also suggested that Cor 14: 34-35 was also possibly an administrative measure, as the Corinthians were known to be charismatic with many cults (who talked a lot?). I’m not sure I can accept that all women should be silent because some group (women) were talking too much, but if we look to Paul as a manager (who also believes in ecclesiology without discrimination) then contextually it may make more sense (and still be wrong!).

The blaming of women and the selective traditions that guide many of our structures today keep women as untrustworthy objects rather than the protagonists of faith that they were in the early Church. Marinella described that the institutionalization of our church is built on the fear of power in the hands of women. Even today, she suggested, we as a society we are still shocked (and mistrustful) when a woman is in a position of power.

A deeper reading of Paul’s later misogyny was new and shocking for even some of the organizers of the events, who shared that it was not part of their formation. While many of this may be familiar to readers, it was wonderful to see so many following Marinella line for line with their Bibles. As you can well understand, after reading quotes from Tertullian, it was truly one of those laugh or cry realities, so common in our Roman Catholic Church.

In a short question and answer time, she was asked about the terms “feminine genius,” “complementarity,” and whether or not the current “trend” from the hierarchy to speak about including women is a true desire or simply a strategy.  Marinella spoke of distain for the trend to speak of the singular “woman” in popular Vatican-speak today, as well as the incredulousness of “the peripheries” as a place to take a field trip to.  For another blog!

She did however, end her presentation with her dream for the day that a woman walks out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s as pope and we no longer need the word “periphery.”