Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns Through Two Millennia

Front Cover
Harvard University Press, 1996 - Religion - 751 pages

Spanning two thousand years of Christian religious women's quest for spiritual and vocational fulfillment, Sisters in Arms is the first definitive history of Catholic nuns in the Western world. Unfolding century by century, this epic drama encompasses every period from the dawn of Christianity to the present.

History has until recently minimized the role of nuns over the centuries. In this volume, their rich lives, their work, and their importance to the Church are finally acknowledged. Jo Ann Kay McNamara introduces us to women scholars, mystics, artists, political activists, healers, and teachers--individuals whose religious vocation enabled them to pursue goals beyond traditional gender roles. They range from Thecla, the legendary companion of Paul, who baptized herself in preparation for facing the lions in the Roman arena, to Hildegard of Bingen, whose visions unlocked her extraordinary talents for music, medicine, and moral teaching in the twelfth century. They also include Sister Mary Theresa Kane, who stood before the pope--and an American television audience-in 1979 and urged him to consider the ordination of women.

By entering the convent, McNamara shows, nuns gained a community that allowed them to evolve spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally; but the convent was never a perfect refuge. Women's struggles continued against the male church hierarchy, the broader lay community, and the larger cultural and historical forces of change.

The history of nuns is an important part of the larger story of western women whose gender provoked resistance to their claims to autonomy and power. As we enter the third millennium, this groundbreaking work pays fitting tribute to the sisters who have labored with prayer and service for two thousand years, who have struggled to achieve greater recognition and authority, and who have forged opportunities for all women while holding true to the teachings of the Gospel.


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SISTERS IN ARMS: Catholic Nuns through Two Millennia

User Review  - Kirkus

An opinionated but reliable survey of the complex history of Roman Catholic nuns. McNamara (History/Hunter Coll.) knows how to make complex issues clear for a general audience. Throughout her ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - stevenschroeder - LibraryThing

To narrate two millennia of history in a single volume that is both comprehensive and accessible is no easy task, but McNamara's Sisters in Arms succeeds admirably. Though it is not a book for casual ... Read full review


The Apostolic Life
Cult and Countercult
The Discipline of the Desert
The Power of Prayer
The Frontier Outpost
The Bonds ofCastimony
Family Ties
The World the Flesh and the Devil
Defenders of the Faith
Marthas Par t
The Mystical Regiment
The Sweetness of Life
Culture Wars
The Feminine Apostolate
Toward a Third Millennium

The Imitation of Christ
Regular Lives j?5

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About the author (1996)

JoAnn McNamara is Professor of History Emerita at Hunter College, City University of New York. Gordon Whatley is Professor of English at Queen??'s College, City University of New York. John E. Halborg is a parochial vicar at St. Thomas More Church in New York City.

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