Patterns of Polemic: Medieval Women and Christian Doctrinal Reform
Published Online in, “My Life As A Cat” (2009)
The Christianity of medieval England and continental Europe was a fragmented one. The proliferation of monastic communities allowed for individualized interpretations of Christian practice to flourish, during the same period that Christian communities and institutions came to serve secular as well as supernatural roles. Reactions against encroaching secular influence on the supernatural mission of Christian communities and institutions created tension within the church, as well as the opportunity for new interpretations of the Christian mission and practice to take hold. Heresies that challenged Christian doctrinal hierarchy demanded immediate attention from church authorities who wished to preserve stability and their own status. Christian authorities who engaged in efforts to reform the church and its institutions in the face of these tensions were presented with simultaneous tasks of overcoming and suppressing popular heresies that threatened to take hold, establishing a rule both inside and outside the monasteries that navigated a course between institutional sameness and individual ecclesiastical zeal, and preserving gender and class hierarchies both within the church and society at large.