Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza

Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza is a Romanian-born German, Roman Catholic feminist theologian, who is currently the Krister Stendahl Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School.


She was born Elisabeth Schüssler on 17 April 1938 in Cenad, in the Banat region of the Kingdom of Romania, where she belonged to the Banat Swabian German-speaking Catholic population of an ethnically mixed community. As the Russian army advanced through Romania in late 1944, her parents fled with her to southern Germany. They subsequently moved to Frankfurt. where she attended local schools. She then received her Theologicum from the University of Würzburg in 1963, her thesis published in German as Der vergessene Partner in 1964. She subsequently earned the degree of Doctor of Theology from the University of Münster. In 1967 she married Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, an American theologian who was studying in Germany. In 1970, they both secured teaching appointments at the Catholic University of Notre Dame, where they had their daughter, Christina. She then taught at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In 1984 Schüssler Fiorenza was one of 97 theologians and religious persons who signed A Catholic Statement on Pluralism and Abortion, calling for religious pluralism and discussion within the Catholic Church regarding the church's position on abortion. In 1995 Schüssler Fiorenza received an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Theology at Uppsala University.
Schüssler Fiorenza identifies as Catholic and her work is generally in the context of Christianity, although much of her work has broader applicability.


Schüssler Fiorenza subsequently became a co-founder of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. She was then appointed as the first Krister Stendahl Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School. Her husband, Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, is Professor of Roman Catholic Studies at the same institution.
Schüssler Fiorenza is a co-editor of Concilium. She was the first woman elected as president of the Society of Biblical Literature and she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001.
In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins is one of Schüssler Fiorenza's earliest and best-known books. This work, which argued for the retrieval of the overlooked contributions of women in the early Christian church, set a high standard for historical rigor in feminist theology. Additionally, she has published widely in journals and anthologies.
Schüssler Fiorenza has been credited for coining the word kyriarchy in her book But She Said: Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation.

''In Memory of Her'' and Paul the Apostle

In the reconstruction of early Christianity in In Memory of Her, Schüssler Fiorenza discusses Saint Paul at great length. She explores his epistles as well as the narrative of his ministry in the Acts of the Apostles. Some see the relationship between Paul the Apostle and women as misogynistic, pointing to controversial passages about women's subordination, their necessary silence in church, and more. Schüssler Fiorenza rejects this notion and delves deeper into the stories to find the true Paul and his relationship with women.
She discusses the many encounters Paul has with women throughout the canon and in apocryphal works, noting that throughout, Paul saw the women as equals both as people and in ministry. Particular attention is spent on the Acts of Paul and Thecla, a story that, despite having Paul's name in the title, is primarily about the holiness and ministry of his extraordinary female companion.
To home in on the source of this reconstruction of gender equality, Schüssler Fiorenza turns to one of Paul's core theological verses, : "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." Schüssler Fiorenza sees this statement as "a key expression… of the theological self-understanding of the Christian missionary movement which had far-reaching historical impact." It also combatted the Gnostic understanding that "becoming a disciple means for a woman becoming ‘male,’ ‘like man,’ and relinquishing her sexual powers of procreation, because the male principle stands for the heavenly, angelic, divine realm, whereas the female principle represents either human weakness or evil." In Paul's Christian communities, women did not have to become like men to be holier; they simply had to follow Christ. From Schüssler Fiorenza's perspective, this declaration in Galatians is a confirmation of the legitimacy of, among other marginalized populations, women in ministry.
She also discusses the household codes found in and, as well as what can be pieced together from Ephesians. She asserts that the households and the "church" housed in them would have originally been spaces of gender equality but as Christianity grew and faced increased pressures to conform to the Greco-Roman culture, sexism would have started to creep in. Coequal roles in ministry, like the early office of bishop, were considered to be "socially volatile ." This, combined with a desire to take church power out of the hands of wealthy women, led to the introduction of patriarchy to the Pauline church.
While the oft-quoted misogynistic restrictions and verses were a part of Paul's epistles in some form, Schüssler Fiorenza insists that they existed to help ease tensions between the fledgling church and the surrounding culture, as well as ward off the perception of being a cult. However, post-Pauline and pseudo-Pauline communities “ out these restrictions in order to change the equality in Christ between women and men… into a relationship of subordination.”

Published works