Iris Petty

Scholar: Iris Petty

Iris Petty

Major: English Literature and History

Faculty Mentors: Dr. Edward Schoolman

Abstract: Female Sanctity and the Augustinian Rule for Nuns

Late antiquity in the Roman Empire was characterized by burgeoning intellectual freedom and social reorganization. These phenomena were especially apparent with the advent of organized religious brotherhoods. Men who chose the ascetic lifestyle in the early fifth century CE had numerous resources available to them, as well as their own Rules by which to live. But what of their holy sisters? Those women who wished to live a communal ascetic life relied on all-male rules such as that of Saint Basil to guide their conduct. It was not until 423 CE that Saint Augustine of Hippo penned the first widely utilized-and specifically female - Rule for Nuns.

Augustine's Rule reflects his unique views of women in late antiquity and provides a glimpse into gender equality within the early Christian church. Albeit the early church was reordering social conceptions, women still lacked status therein. Augustine himself was the exception among his contemporaries - and not the norm - when it came to early Christian notions of female sanctity. He not only admired nuns but believed they could achieve equality with monks by embracing the ascetic lifestyle. Furthermore, Saint Augustine utilized his own precedent for scriptural interpretation detailed in On Christian Doctrine to argue that a nun's unique relationship with Jesus allowed her to be a spiritual mother to the community - setting her above and apart from her male counterparts. By examining the gender ideas and theological revolutions of Saint Augustine, a more balanced portrait of the early church begins to emerge, shedding light on the complex conceptions of both its institutions and founders.

Earned Baccalaureate Degree: spring 2012

Earned Master's Degree:  spring 2014, History, Western Michigan University