Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Religious Studies

First Advisor

Mueller, Joseph G.

Second Advisor

Dempsey, Deirdre A.

Third Advisor

Orlov, Andrei A.


Recent accounts of the history of Christian theology tend to neglect materialconcerning widows in antiquity and their contribution to Christian discipleship. In thisdissertation I would like to offer a corrective along the lines of studying the contributionof widows in Jewish and Christian antiquity to the Catholic tradition. In particular, Icontend that the Jewish roots of the widows’ contribution to Christian theology is alsooverlooked. The idea of the widow as an “altar of God,” which emerges in early Churchliterature, requires an understanding of the history of widows and the altar in Jewish andChristian antiquity.What can be gleaned from mentions of widows, especially the enrolled widows,in the early Church? Firstly, enrolled widows in the early Church had historicalprecedents in the Old Testament that are sometimes overlooked by scholars, particularlyin the omission of the Old Testament widow Judith. Secondly, the altar in Jewish andearly Christian antiquity is significant; the altar has many functions and nuances ofmeaning, which are essential to understand the motif of the widow as the altar of God.Thirdly, these widows in the early Church offer a challenging Christian ethos, whichderives from their good works and from a rootedness in ascetic practices that comprise awhole way of life for Christian discipleship.By and large, extant material on the order of widows dwindles after the fourthcentury A.D. The history of widows in Jewish and Christian antiquity can inform recentendeavors in the Church to revitalize the ancient vocation of widowhood, and that ofbelonging to an order of widows. This dissertation proposes to trace the trajectory of thecontribution of widows in antiquity to Catholic theology. Moreover, by exploring whatthe early Church meant when it referred to the widow as the “altar of God,” especially inlight of the altar’s many functions, I hope to shed light on an ancient and little studiedpractice in the Church. I will then show how this study of ancient Christian widows caninform two recent endeavors in the United States to renew the order of widows

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