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“he is bothyn modyr, broþyr, & syster vn-to me”

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Women and the Bible in Late Medieval and Early Modern English Sermons

image of Church History and Religious Culture

Examining recent claims that the early modern Bible served as an empowering force for women, this article draws evidence from English sermons designed for quotidinal lay instruction—such as the late medieval sermons of Festial, the sixteenth-century Tudor Homilies, and the seventeenth-century sermons of William Gouge and Benjamin Keach. As didactic religious texts written and delivered by men but also heard and read by women, sermons reveal how preachers rhetorically shaped the contours of women’s agency. Late medieval sermons include women specifically in scripture and authorize women through biblical role models as actively participating within the church. Conversely, early modern sermons were less likely to add women into scripture and more likely to use scripture to limit women by their domestic identities. Thus, through their approaches to biblical texts, medieval preachers present women as more visible and active agents whereas early modern preachers present women as less visible and more limited in their roles—thereby presenting a more complex story of how the Bible affected women across the Reformation.

Affiliations: 1: Baylor University, Waco, TX


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