Date of Award

Spring 1989

Document Type

Restricted Thesis

Terms of Use

© 1989 Laura Lomas. All rights reserved. Access to this work is restricted to users within the Swarthmore College network and may only be used for non-commercial, educational, and research purposes. Sharing with users outside of the Swarthmore College network is expressly prohibited. For all other uses, including reproduction and distribution, please contact the copyright holder.

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Religion Department, English Literature Department


This thesis analyzes the practice of women's asceticism in the late fourth century as it was defined in the prescriptive texts of Sts. Ambrose and Chrysostom. Several feminist scholars have affirmed that women's asceticism provided a liberating alternative for women. They base their conclusion on the ascetic woman's greater equality with men. Michel Foucault's theory of the subject suggests that the individual constructs herself in accord with an ethical ideal, but this self-construction occurs according to various bodies of knowledge. The texts on virginity function as discourse. That is, they are tools used to reshape behavior; and they are products of power, which reveal how and where power operates. To examine the relationships of power visible within the discourse on virginity, I examine the repudiations of male and female celibate cohabitation, which reveal the characteristics of an individual that resist power and where domination had to occur. Secondly, I read texts which prescribe holy virginity and reveal the strategic definitions and metaphors which effect a greater control over the individual woman. Using primarily a textual analysis which is an attempt to simulate the reading experience of the fourth century virgin, I draw a different conclusion than some feminist scholars. Although the virgin gained certain freedoms through the practice of virginity, the liberation of the virgin also insidiously increased ecclesiastical control over her mind and body for the church's political purposes.


Please note that this scan is missing page ii.