And so, even though I keep Vintage Novels on topic with, well, vintage novels, I decided I would write and ask for a review copy of church historian Richard Hannula's latest release, Radiant: Fifty Remarkable Women in Church History.
The content, form, and style of this book is not likely to cause riots in the streets. Hannula provides mini-biographies of the promised fifty remarkable women, from the well-known (St Monica, Jeanne d'Albret, Corrie ten Boom) to the obscure (an unnamed Armenian woman, a Mrs Smith of Coventry, the aforesaid Lady Anne Hamilton), all evenly distributed throughout church history from late antiquity to modern times. The briefness of the chapters, the simpleness of the writing style, and the vividness of the storytelling makes this ideal as bedtime reading for children, or quick and easy devotional reading for a grown-up.
The real power in this book comes from the stories of the women themselves and the amazing power of God in their lives to sustain them through difficult times. And this is what will have an incredibly impact on the world. At the same time I was reading Radiant I've been working through George Grant's wonderful The Micah Mandate, specifically the chapters on mercy, and the overwhelming emphasis of these good church women on mercy ministry - food, education, political protection - was a real challenge to think about the wider meaning of the Christian mission.
Beyond that, it was a real pleasure to meet these women. Hannula provided some details I didn't previously know about women like Saint Margaret of Scotland or Katherine Luther, who seems to have been a terrific character!
Luther would occasionally fall prey to bouts of discouragement and gloomy moods. Once, when a depression lasted longer than usual, he left home to visit friends for a few days, hoping that a change of scene might help. It didn't, and he wrote Katherine that he was coming home. When he arrived, he found her sitting in a chair dressed from head to toe in black with a dark veil covering her face. She was sighing and holding a wet handkerchief to her eyes. Luther rushed to her side and asked, "Katherine, what is the matter?"Other favourites from this book included the adorable Elizabeth of Hungary, the brave and clever Catherine Parr, the grand tragic story of Margaret Nisbet, and of course Lady Anne Hamilton, "the lioness of the Covenant." None of these women had easy lives, but despite illness, persecution, danger, or depression, they were granted victory in Christ.
"Only think, my dear doctor," she said, "the Lord in heaven is dead! This is the cause of my grief."
There were other things I enjoyed about this book. For example, Christianity is not an individualistic or egalitarian faith, and so the lives of many of these great women happened intertwined with the lives of the great Christian men they married, befriended, or assisted in some way. Jonathan Edwards's wife Sarah, Adoniram Judson's wife Sarah Boardman Judson, Samuel Rutherford's correspondent Lady Jane Gordon, and the wonderful Sabina Wurmbrand who told her husband that she would rather he were dead than a coward, are all honoured for their role complementing and supporting their remarkable Christian men.
I also enjoyed the overview this book provided of church history through the ages. Many of the details were already quite well-known to me, of course, but it would be a great introduction for younger readers. I was also pleased by Hannula's balanced attitude toward women who espoused causes evangelical Protestants today might not always agree with--he provided gentle criticism from a Reformed point of view while honouring these women's very real faith and perseverance.
Radiant also provided an introduction for me to a number of women whose biographies we have, but I had never been prompted to pick them up and read them. Reading this book, and skimming through the bibliography at the back, populated my to-read list with a whole lot more reading which I can't wait to get into, much of it in the public domain.
Warmest thanks to Canon Press for supplying me with a free review copy of Radiant!
Find Radiant: Fifty Remarkable Women in Church History on Amazon, The Book Depository, or the Canon Press site.