Religion in Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies
Religion plays a huge role in many of the works of the Middle Ages. This is certainly true in Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies. De Pizan knew that in order to get through to men, using God and the Bible was the best way. Through her reading of Adam and Eve, her use of the Virgin Mary, her placement of the three women, and her belief that God loves all humans equally, de Pizan shows how Christianity has influenced gender roles in her time and how men have been wrongly interpreting the Bible. De Pizan shows in her writings that women were made as equal and not as inferior beings. Although there are other interpretations, de Pizan uses religion to prove to women of her own time that women are not evil and to appeal to many readers because women’s role in society was so massive.
When talking about Christianity and gender roles, one is inclined to say that, historically, men are construed as superior to women. The story of Adam and Eve is sometimes seen as God saying that women must be slaves to men. Many see the way Eve was created as clear evidence of this. De Pizan uses the creation story to show that God wants women to be at men’s side, as equals: “there Adam slept, and God formed the body of woman from one of his ribs, signifying that she should stand at his side as a companion and never lie at his feet like a slave, and also that he should love her as his own flesh” (FYP Handbook 73). De Pizan argues that since Eve came from Adam’s rib that they are a part of each other; one is not whole without the other. Adam must rely on Eve as she would him. This idea can be applied to all men and women and de Pizan emphasizes that throughout her writings: “I don’t know if you have already noted this: she was created in the image of God. How can any mouth dare to slander the vessel which bears such a moral imprint” (FYP Handbook 73). De Pizan is sharing the notion that if one speaks ill of women, then one is denouncing God and his creations. If women were created in God’s image, then they must be perfect creations. De Pizan’s point is simple but true, as she discusses the idea of humans being created in God’s image: “but some men are foolish enough to think when they hear that God made man in His image, that this refers to the material body…God created the soul and placed wholly similar souls, equally good and noble in the feminine and in the masculine bodies” (FYP Handbook 73). De Pizan’s interpretation of this idea is that God does not have a human body at the time of creation so how could He create a body in his image? He created a soul in his image; these souls have no gender. De Pizan thus uses the creation story as proof that men and women are equal even though men used it to prove the opposite.
De Pizan incorporates a multitude of women from many different times and cultures. De Pizan lets these women have a value that defies the notion that women are inferior and sustains her stance on Christianity’s pro-female writings. It seems almost perfectly appropriate that the queen of the City of Ladies is the Virgin Mary. This is one woman that everyone could agree was good. It would be hard for a Christian to deny this. De Pizan claims that Christian writings are against misogyny, in the way the Virgin Mary and female saints are admired, “may all the devout sex of women humbly beseech you that it please you well to reside among them with grace and mercy, as their defender…the fountain of virtues which flows from you and be so satisfied that every sin and vice be abominable to them” (FYP Handbook 82). If Mary has all these virtues then she must be good, which goes against the idea that women are evil. In this manner, De Pizan employs the Bible and the most revered woman to show that there are women who possess goodness. She knows that men can’t deny this, as Mary is to be worshipped.
De Pizan also uses three women as the holy trinity to tie in religion. This trinity of ladies demonstrates what is human, what connects humans to God and what is purely divine. These three women are reason, rectitude and justice. They are the embodiment of their namesake. These are virtues that people would consider beautiful, good and of God and the ladies urge de Pizan to create the city on the foundation of these morals, “stronger and more durable than any marble with cement could be” (FYP Handbook 67). De Pizan describes Lady Reason as a flawless administrator, “you have me an administrator so that you may do your work flawlessly” (FYP Handbook 68). De Pizan uses the word flawless so the readers will assume the woman is Godly. Then, Lady Rectitude introduces herself as living in Heaven: “‘I am called Rectitude and reside more in Heaven than on Earth…and messenger of His goodness” (FYP Handbook 68). Rectitude shows that virtues that females can possess are tied directly to God. De Pizan uses this tool to further her argument. These women come straight from the divine and are still good women; this is something that the reader could understand. Then Lady Justice is introduced as the daughter of God, “the most singular daughter of God, and my nature proceeds purely from his person” (FYP Handbook 68). Lady Justice represents God in the city. She is Him and of Him. This trinity of women is there to help de Pisan and show the readers that females are no different than males. Men can inhabit these traits, so why can’t women?
Throughout the book, de Pizan shares her belief that God loves women and men equally. While she believes this she also believes that everyone was designed for a certain role. Men often criticized women for their differences from men but de Pizan suggests that God accepts these differences, “he did not despise the tears of Mary Magdalene, but accepted them and forgave her sins, and through the merits of those tears she is in glory in Heaven” (FYP Handbook 75). If Mary Magdalene was rewarded by God for her tears, then they can’t be bad. De Pizan knows how to get inside the reader’s head. Christine de Pizan thus sets forward the belief that God loves men and women impartially. Still, she thinks that there is a reason that God made men and women as opposed to just one gender. Each sex has its own job: “God has similarly ordained man and woman to serve Him in different offices” (FYP Handbook 77). For the year 1405, this was a unique view. While everyone has different jobs, this arrangement doesn’t make anyone’s soul less important than anyone else’s.
As religion plays such a large role in the Middle Ages, it is important to bring forward when discussing Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies. The roles of women and religion were important at this time. Through de Pizan’s writing, it is shown that women are not evil but are in fact another beautiful part of God’s creation. Through her interpretation of the creation story, her discussion of the Virgin Mary’s role in society, the placement of the three women, and the disclosure of her own beliefs, de Pizan shows, that through God’s love, women are equal to men. Throughout the story, it is seen that women are just as good as men can be. Although human bodies are different, their souls are equal in the eyes of God and so they should be to humans; the soul was created in God’s image, not the body. The Virgin Mary is a woman and holds all the values that Christians strive to hold. The three women hold ties to God and everyone is designed for a specific job. Everyone is important, man or woman.
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Religion plays a huge role in many of the works of the Middle Ages. This is certainly true in Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies. De […]