I haven’t gotten as far as I’d like on my St. Albert translations, but I have gotten a bit further. I’ve finished translating the 2nd chapter of On the Strong Woman and will have it up soon. From my old project of translating the Eucharistic sermon series that may or may not be by St. Albert the Great, I’ve put up 8 sermons.
I hope to put up more stuff soon, if the weather will quit bouncing the air pressure up and down and hurting my poor sinuses!
It’s really interesting to see the overall positive outlook that On the Strong Woman demonstrates toward women. Women are continually painted as being capable, powerful, and important, and not just because the Strong Woman is a type of the Church or the faithful Soul. The good married woman in a healthy relationship is a good example to everyone. (Even the bad unfaithful woman is not a hopeless case, but still meant to be loved and called back by her husband. It’s the Israel as runaway bride scenario.)
The other thing that’s interesting is the issue of submission (which for whatever reason is still very hot on the Internet, so I hear a lot about it there even if not in any church I’ve ever attended). The old story about why Eve was made from Adam’s rib, not his head or foot, gets hauled out here. (With a very touching addition about the rib, which I liked.) St. Albert, the medieval monk whom our culture expects to be a woman-hating oppressor, opines only that a woman owes her husband “reverentialis subjectio” — which is to be a respectful subject of her husband as her lord — while at the same time the man and woman must both show each other “companionship” or “friendship”, depending on how you translate the word.
This is not something that any medieval person would take as being terribly oppressive or submissive. You’re talking something analogous to the position of a lord and his best old friend who works for him while hanging out with him, not of a lord and a slave. Each owes each other courtesy and respect. Which one got put in charge of which is a matter of social position and perhaps the choices made by Providence, but not of intrinsic worth. Being a companion also puts the wife on a level of being obliged to counsel her husband even if he doesn’t want to hear, albeit with respect or deference; and of the husband being obliged to listen and not be a big jerk.
Should either respect or companionship be abandoned by the woman, the husband will lose his love and trust for the woman. So a woman must behave as though she is worthy of respect from her husband (and not as dust beneath his feet), even as she is to show respect to him as her husband. It’s a nice little medieval bit of give and take.
You might even argue that the marital “debt”, which we also get mentioned in the second chapter, becomes from this point of view a sort of feudal obligation that husband and wife owe each other. [Insert joke about owing a certain number of days of service here.]
(It also leads to some pretty funny quoting of verses about THE Lord as verses about the husband as the wife’s lord. Well, I found it funny, and St. A doesn’t seem to be above choosing his Scriptural quotes for fun as well as profit.)
Interestingly, there are other Scholastic writers (revealed by a search engine scan for the word “subjectio”, not by any erudition of mine) who seemed to feel that wives owed not only a reverential submission, but also were supposed to give “subjectio servitutis”, the subjection of servitude. Because it was All Eve’s Fault. (This comes up in Alexander of Hales’ Summa Halensis, apparently. He must have been more twit than wit.) Albert seems to sees a woman’s respect for her husband as a consequence of Adam being Eve’s “mother” (or clone-matrix, or what have you) at the Creation, and that it was lived out in Eden perfectly until the Fall. Alexander admits that marital respect came before the Fall, but seems to feel that the duty was intensified and entwined with obligatory slavish obedience as a punishment after the Fall. That’s a pretty fundamental theological difference. (And I don’t think I want to hang out at Alex’s parents’ house, either.)
So this is not to say that the Middle Ages, even the high Middle Ages, was a time that was super-good for women in all times and places and in all ways. Real, bitter misogyny is fairly easy to find in the literature, and all too often justifies itself by a religious veneer. (And then there are twits.) But so far this book is evenhanded and reasonable, neither dismissive of the married state nor of anyone involved in it.
I’m surprised, really, that nobody in the Seventies attributed this work to some learned laywoman.
Hey! Let’s start a rumor! If people think it’s by Heloise, everybody will read it! (OK, it is a bit early….)