Sister is a word often associated with a Catholic nun, although Protestant women leading a life of institutionalized prayer are also called sisters. Wikpedia suggests that the term “nun” indicates a more contemplative path, while the term “sister” refers to a more active vocation. But this is debatable because, as Wikipedia also notes, the terms are often used interchangeably.¹
The word was commonly found in Hebrew (ahoth) and Greek (adelphe), where its meaning ranges from a family member, an extended relative or a wife, to a friendship or tribal tie.
Catholic nuns have existed from about 300 CE. The Catholic Church does not allow women to become priests, this apparently justified on the basis of the maleness of the twelve apostles.
This theological argument has been upheld as evidence of sexism within the ranks of the all-male Catholic hierarchy. This sexism is said to be reinforced and legitimized by cherry picking Bible verses that support a chauvinist stance while ignoring those which would refute it.
The Christian designation “brother“ is a rough parallel to “sister” for men. Two examples of “Mothers” (as linguistic but not organizational counterparts to priestly “Fathers”) are the late Mother Teresa and The Virgin Mary (called The Blessed Mother by Catholics).
Christian sisters are often (but not always) lampooned and unjustly stereotyped in the movies. One only has to wonder what would happen if a similar mockery of Hindu or Moslem religious women occurred in the media.² And why, we must ask, do Christians, for the most part, take it in stride? Could it be because Christians are the most secure in their faith? Or have many lost their faith and are just apathetic?
² For a list of other religious, professional and humanitarian uses of the word “sister,” see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sister_%28disambiguation%29
On the Web
- “Religion: The Protestant Sisters” » http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,827957,00.html