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Women Are Underrated!

by Brian Flewelling on May 06, 2024

This Mother’s Day, I wanted to celebrate moms and women everywhere. We love you. You are AWESOME! Keep being who God has called you to be.

God designed women with the breath and wonder of the Almighty Creator. They carry his sacred image, co-labor together with men in “imaging” the Creator to his creation and in trumpeting the good news of Messiah Jesus to the ends of the earth. Here are three stories of some remarkable women from history whose lives are inspiring, yes, even heroic.

DOCTOR: Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)

Listen to these opening lines from Leanne Dzubinski’s book, Women in the Mission of the Church,

Hildegard of Bingen (1098—1179) is one of the most gifted humans to have ever lived. She was a theologian, scientist, composer, playwright, preacher, philosopher, counselor to popes and emperors, abbess, natural healer, and Christian mystic.[1]

Hildegard was sent by her parents to live in a convent at the age of 8. She became the abbess at 38. Convents like hers were houses of prayer where they nurtured worship to God in a corrupt age. They were safehouses from danger and guest houses for travelers. They were known for their charitable work, including care for the sick, both in the infirmary and outside in the community. They cared for the abandoned people, including widowed women and orphaned children who had no other options. Hildegard gave leadership and oversight to all these functions.

At the age of 43, she began to experience prophetic visions. In her book, Know the Ways of God, she relays these 26 visions and their theological reflections. This attracted the attention of church leadership, and her works were scrutinized by the Pope himself. She was one of the first women ever to be given formal recognition as a Doctor of Theology by a Pope. Irvin & Sunquist observe how remarkable this was in an age when men considered women “physically, spiritually, and morally inferior.”[2] Hildegard excelled even in a repressive climate.

The honorary title of “Doctor of the Church” was only part of her success. From her experience working in the infirmary, she authored two medical books. In one of these, she combined medical observations with theological observations in reflecting on how human sin affects human health. As a spiritual guide for her community, she composed 70 songs to help her nuns “hear the music of heaven in all things” and even wrote the first known morality play called Ordo Virtutum (Play of Virtues). Hildegard was extraordinary among her times and deserves the respect and attention of later generations.  

PATRON / SCHOLAR: Paula, the Aristocrat (347-404)

This unsung hero of the fourth century used her wealth, intellect, and leadership to build God’s kingdom and help shape Western Christianity.

Saint Jerome writes that Paula led a luxurious life and held great status, even marrying a Roman Senator. She dressed in silks and had been carried about the city by her eunuch slaves.[3] After her husband died when she was 32, she renounced the world and devoted herself to using her inherited money to help the poor and further the cause of the Church.

She was influenced by Marcella, another wealthy widow who had become a semi-monastic and patron of the church. They devoted themselves to prayer and penance. Marcella was apparently so well educated in Biblical texts that when the monk and scholar Jerome departed from Rome, “Marcella became the point person to resolve disputes over Scripture.”[4]

Paula and her daughter Eustochium, having been introduced to Jerome through Marcella, migrated with Jerome to the Holy Land. There she became one of Jerome's closest confidantes and devoted followers, even playing a pivotal role in influencing his spiritual direction and temperament. With Paula’s lavish financial investments, they built a monastery for men and a convent for women, which she herself led. They fasted. Memorized the entire Psalter. Took on the work of charity and lived an ascetic lifestyle.

Bible Translation

It was at her suggestion that Jerome took up the project of translating the Biblical texts from Greek and Hebrew into Latin. This Latin translation, called the Vulgate, would be used by Western Christianity for over a millennium. The Vulgate would also play a prominent role when it was further translated into English in 1611 under the direction of King James.

It was Paula’s wealth that subsidized this enormous project. She and her daughter also dedicated themselves to copying the text so that manuscripts could be circulated far and wide.[5] Because of her own academic learning—Paula was fluent in Greek and Hebrew—it is uncertain whether she played a role in helping Jerome with the actual translation and editing. Certain scholars have attributed her quiet hand to that as well.[6]

What we see in Paula’s life was a radical devotion to follow Jesus at the cost of all prestige, wealth, and luxury. She influenced the spirituality of St. Jerome. She gave leadership to her convent. She devoted herself to a lifestyle of fasting, prayer, and charitable works. She personally financed and aided the most significant Bible translation project in the history of the church. What a leader.

MOTHER: Nonna (305-374)

Our first two ladies were leaders in the church and monastic in lifestyle. You certainly don’t have to be dedicated to an ascetic lifestyle to further God’s cause and love your family. This final biography comes from a mother in the 4th century who is still celebrated every year in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Nonna was a Christian married to a Roman pagan. Mixed marriages were not unusual in those days due to conversion or family arrangements. In a later eulogy, her son remembers that the first thing his mother, Nonna, did every morning was pray. “What time or place for prayer escaped her? This was the first thought of her day.”[7] She was remembered for her virtuous life of fasting, prayer, and singing hymns from the Psalms. It was remarked of her, “Who was a better champion of widows and orphans?”[8]

It was her piety that led to the conversion of her husband to Christianity. Again, her son later observed, “She who was given by God to my father became not only a helper…but also a leader, personally guiding him by deed and word to what was most excellent.”[9] Three years later, this husband became bishop of the town of Nazianzus (modern-day Turkey), and faithful Nonna was ordained a deaconess. Her daughter would later become a deaconess as well. Caesarius, a son of hers, was trained in medicine and eventually became a doctor who served the Roman Emperor himself.

But the child she was most remembered for was Gregory. Gregory became a monk, a priest, a famed theologian, and finally, bishop of Constantinople. He is known to history as Gregory of Nazianzus, and he praised his mother,

“She recognized only one true nobility, that of piety, and the knowledge of our origin and final destiny. The wealth she considered secure and inviolate was to strip one’s self of wealth for God and the poor, and especially for kinfolk whose fortunes had declined.”[10]

Dzubinski sums up the importance of her life, “Nonna was a model Christian, a leader in her family and in her community. By prayer and example, she led her husband to Christian faith and raised three children who became saints. And when her son, daughter, and husband died in close succession, she became the caregiver to her daughter’s orphaned children.”[11] What an example we have in this faithful mother.


Throughout history, we see women playing extraordinary roles in shaping the course of events and influencing people. Sometimes, they did this quietly, behind the scenes. At other times, their impact was very public despite oppressive expectations put on them. It is my hope that women and mothers everywhere are encouraged to keep growing into all that God has called them to be. Your exceptional talents are needed in the world. Your virtue and character are transforming your family and friends. And your faith in Jesus and leadership in the community is making a difference. We love you. Keep showing up every day, and keep being extraordinary!


[1] Dzubinski, Women in the Mission of the Church, 90.
[2] Irvin & Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement, 523.
[3] Jerome, Letter 108, https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3001108.htm.
[4] Cohick and Hughes, Christian Women, 195, 202.
[5] https://www.vaticannews.va/en/saints/01/26/st--paula--roman-matron-.html
[6] Ellen Battelle Dietrick, and John Augustine Zahm
[7] Gregory of Nazianzus, “Funeral Oration for His Father,” 125.
[8] Ibid, 125-127.
[9] Ibid, 124.
[10] Ibid, 125-127.
[11] Dzubinski, Women in the Mission of the Church, 90.

Tags: bible, kingdom, women, faithful, church leadership, leaders, orthodox, virtue, translation, scholarship, paula, impactful, hildegard, nonna, gregory of nazianzus

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