Even within the Western Christian world, countless stories remain untold about this thousand-year period of the faith—many about women of depth, of faith, and of service. Women were treated surprisingly well during various periods of Church history. Numerous women were canonized as saints by the Catholic Church, and three women were given the title of Doctor of the Church: Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux. At times, these women and others served as the closest advisors of popes and kings.
An invaluable study on this topic is found in Women in Church History by Joanne Turpin. Turpin explains, “They proved something valuable: that at a very low point for the institutional church, Christianity could yet soar in spirituality. In one of those marvelous paradoxes of church history, the fourteenth century witnessed an unparalleled flowering of the mystic life among individual Christians.”
This theme repeats itself over and over throughout Church history – during some of the darkest hours of the institutional church, its greatest revolutionaries rose up to change the world. During the time of the Christian crusades that were being fought to reclaim the Holy Land’s sacred sites from Islamic rule, St. Francis of Assisi traveled fearlessly behind enemy lines, knowing he would probably be martyred, and met with the Muslim sultan. St. Francis attempted to convert him to Christianity and thus help the world avoid a holy war. The sultan was impacted by his words, but refused to listen or to accept a challenge from St. Francis to have a face-off in an Elijah-like challenge and call down fire from heaven.
During the Great Schism, as two seats claimed papal authority, courageous revolutionaries arose to minister reconciliation and peace within the Church and to take the Gospel revolution to the furthest ends of the earth. And, during the Protestant Reformation, great Catholic revolutionaries arose to call the Church to be one, all to no avail.