The period begins with the seismic event of the Reformation – or series of reformations – which challenged, with particular consequences for the lives of women, the meaning of the celibate priesthood, and of sacramental marriage. Both Church ministry and marriage had then to be reconfigured, with paradoxical results for women. A new era had dawned, however, and the issue of women’s leadership was to haunt male leaders of church and state for centuries.The enormous expansion of European perspective occasioned by the ‘discovery of the New World’ excited both the human greed and Christian zeal of many Europeans. Subsequent ‘missionary conquests’ present us with conflicting stories of Christian heroism and utter brutality on many fronts. Women play a subordinate role in such events, in the conventional perspective, but by the nineteenth century, Protestant women were making often hair-raising journeys to these mission territories, sometimes accompanying their husbands, but often travelling alone.The educational innovations for women and girls provided by generations of women religious, not to mention the extraordinary assortment of other ministries, also need to be highlighted and placed in proper context.The twentieth century expands the perspective in every direction, but the closing chapters focus particularly on the expansion in the consciousness of western Christian women provided by their sisters in Asia, Africa, Central and Latin America. Besides this new breadth of vision, there is a new depth challenge to Christianity by the fact of Christian feminism.
Mary T. Malone is a former Professor of Theology at Toronto School of Theology; and was previously Professor of Religious Studies at St Jerome’s University and the University of Waterloo. She is the author of several books, including: Woman Christian: A New Vision, Who is My Mother? Rediscovering the Mother of Jesus and Step by Step: A Handbook for RCIA.