The Effects of Catholicism on the Education of Women in Renaissance Italy

The Effects of Catholicism on the Education of Women in Renaissance Italy

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The Effects of Catholicism on the Education of Women in Renaissance Italy

According to Paul Grendler, the conservative, clerical pedagogical theorist Silvio Antoniano (1540-1603) reflected on women’s educational status in Renaissance Italy in one of his written works, claiming that “…a girl (should not) learn ‘pleading and writing poetry’; the vain sex must not reach too high…A girl should attend to sewing, cooking, and other female activities, leaving to men what was theirs”. Apparently, this was the common-held view concerning women’s education during that time. Although women were actually encouraged to literacy, their subservient social role as wives and mothers could not allow them to learn as much as men did (Grendler, 1989).
     Women could not have possibly been employed or held a public office. Any attainable employment did not involve independent thought; matters concerning the ruling and well-being of society were left to men (Grendler, 1995). Therefore, they were encouraged to receive the kind of education that would prove useful for their primarily domestic role. It was not enough, therefore, for them to learn how to read and write; they had to hammer their knowledge into a matrix of virtue and piety. The development and praise of literacy, the advances in printing and consequently the widespread introduction of books to the public and finally the Counter-Reformation, were factors that influenced the development of female education (Grendler, 1989). What I would like to argue in my paper is that Catholicism acted as a medium for the development of the literacy of women in Renaissance Italy.
     Within the Catholic church arose the need to draw people back to conservative Catholic traditions. This was, on a certain level, a response to the Protestant Reformation and to less conservative Humanist ideals that were spreading throughout Italy. After the Council of Trent, a lot of emphasis was placed on the development of Christian virtues within individuals. What better way to achieve this than indoctrination? The knowledge of religious texts and rituals as well as the adoption of monastic virtues began to be seen as imperative. Women were granted educational privileges, primarily so that they could read religious texts. Convent education for young girls became popular amidst upper and middle class families (Strocchia, 1999). The Schools of ...

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...) could have was provided by the Schols of the Christian Doctrine.
     Thus, we see that Catholicism provided women of Renaissance Italy great opportunities for learning. Even if such an education could take them only up to a point, since they had to learn within a religious, moral framework, it is still remarkable in that it provided early foundation for the development of female education in Europe.

Robert Black, “The Curriculum of Italian Elementary and Grammar Schools, 1350-1500” in The Shapes of Knowledge from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, edited by Donald R. Kelley and Richard H. Popkin, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Netherlands, 1991
Paul F. Gehl, “A Moral Art: Grammar, Society and Culture in Trecento Florence”, Cornell University Press, New York, 1993
Paul F. Grendler, “Books and Schools in the Italian Renaissance”, Ashgate Publishing Limited, Great Britain, 1995
Paul F. Grendler, “Schooling in Renaissance Italy”, John Hopkins University Press, U.S.A., 1989
Sharon T. Strocchia, “Learning the Virtues: Convent Schools and Female Culture in Renaissance Florence” in Women’s Education in Early Modern Europe (1500-1800), New York and London, 1999

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