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The Rise and Fall of Women in the Early Church. Paul and Junia Romans 16.7. Women in Early NT Period. Jesus’ affirmative attitude toward women promoted their full acceptance in the early Christian community. Met w/ men, prayed w/ men, served w/ men as missionaries

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women in early nt period
Women in Early NT Period
  • Jesus’ affirmative attitude toward women promoted their full acceptance in the early Christian community.
  • Met w/ men, prayed w/ men, served w/ men as missionaries
  • Taught and prophecied as “co-workers in the Lord”

The Resurrection by Burne-Jones

tabitha dorcas
Tabitha (Dorcas)

Acts 9:36-42

  • Called “disciple” (f)
  • Seamstress ministry to widows
  • Only person raised from dead by disciple of Jesus (in NT)
  • Parallel for Peter’s healing of Aeneas (Acts 9)

This icon is part of a mosaic in San Vitale, at Ravenna, early 6th century.

rhoda and the house church of mary
Rhoda and the House-Church of Mary

Acts 12.1-13

House-church at home of Mary, mother of John Mark

(How does this story recall that of Jesus’s empty tomb)

other house churches
Other House-Churches
  • I Corinthians. 1:11
  • Acts 16:40
  • Colossians 4:15
  • Romans 16:3,5

(Men are not listed as being heads of house-churches except Philemon and Aquila, and both are mentioned along with their wives.)

women as deacons
Women as Deacons
  • Ordained lay-person who served Lord’s Supper and aided disciples.
  • Phoebe, a Deacon in Ephesus (Romans 16:1,2)
  • Pliny the Younger (2nd centuryCE) mentions women called deacons and ministers in Christian communities
  • No “deaconess” in Greek

2003 Suzanne Schleck

lydia a seller of purple
Lydia, a Seller of Purple
  • Acts 16:11-15,40
  • Home in Philippi in Macedonia
  • (Europe)
  • Converted by Paul on missionary
  • journey
  • No husband
  • Not a widow
  • Successful merchant: luxury fabric
  • Home subsequently house-church
  • where she likely served as presbyter
  • 1st European convert paralleling conversion of Cornelius, 1st Gentile convert

Original Quilt by Maria Elkins

priscilla prisca
Priscilla/Prisca

Acts 18:1,2,18,26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19

  • Wife of Aquila. Always listed together, more often w/ her name first
  • Fled Italy when Emperor Claudius expelled Jews
  • Tent-makers (like Paul)
  • Traveling companions of Paul, “co-workers,” to Ephesus and Syria
paul on women
Paul on Women

Galatians 3:28

1 Corinthians 7:3,4

1 Corinthians 11:11,12

Saint Paul writing his Epistles. Valentin de Boulogne 1600

slide11
But . . .former Pharisee: strict adherent of Jewish repression of women
  • Favors the single life (Second Coming)

1 Cor. 11:5-7

1 Cor. 14:33-45

The Apostle Paul by Rembrandt, 1634

epistles from pauline school
Epistles from Pauline School

(Pseudonymous authorship common

during ancient times)

  • Colossians 3:11
  • Colossians 3:18
  • Ephesians 5:22-24
  • 1 Timothy 2:11-15
women s status among gnostics and montanists
Women’s Status Among Gnostics and Montanists

Alternate Christian sects in early Christian Movement later branded heretical:

  • Gnostic Gospels (1947 Nag Hammadi Library) describe God in male & female terms, and utilize female and male priests.
  • Montanists elevate a female prophet (Priscilla) along with 2 males (Montanus & Maximilla), and utilize female and male priests and bishops.
evidence for ordination of women in early church
Evidence for Ordination of Womenin Early Church

Pope Gelasius I (492-96): epistle to bishops of Italy condemning practice of female priesthood:

“We have heard to our annoyance that divine affairs have come to such a low state that women are encouraged to officiate at the sacred altars, and to take part in all matters imputed to the offices of the male sex, to which they do not belong.”

tombstones mother of the synagogue or presbitera f
Tombstones: “Mother of the synagogue” or “Presbitera” (f.)

“Sacred to her good memory Leta the Presbyter lived 40 years, 8 months, 9 days, for whom her husband set up this tomb. She preceded him in peace on the day before the Ides of May.”

fractio panis
Fractio panis

3rd century fresco “Fractio Panis” – the breaking of bread - in the Greek Chapel in the Catacomb of Saint Priscilla. The figure seated to the right is breaking the bread. Formerly assumed to be male, Dorothy Irvin in a 1980 article argued that the celebrantat this Eucharist is female.

suppression of women in the church
Suppression of Women in the Church
  • Acc. Elaine Pagels, question of women in Christianity was “explosively controversial.”
  • Some misogyny may have been a backlash against Gnostics’ high regard for Mary Magdalene and women in general.
  • Rigid patriarchal system, scorned by Jesus, reasserted itself.
  • Greek dualism prevailed: good over evil, spirit over flesh, man over woman.

Greek Icon of 3 Church Fathers

Greece, 14th Century

misogyny among early church leaders
Misogyny Among Early Church Leaders
  • What is seen with the eyes of the creator is masculine, and not feminine, for God does not stoop to look upon what is feminine and of the flesh. Origen 185-254.
  • You are the devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law. Tertullian 160-225.
  • The one who is not entirely pure in soul and body must be stopped from entering the Holy of Holies. Dionysius the Great. 190-264.
  • Should you reflect about what is contained in beautiful eyes . . . You will see that bodily beauty is only a white-washed tomb, for inside it is full of filth. Chrysostom 347-407.
  • Flesh stands for woman, because she was made out of a rib. Augustine of Hippo. 354-430
exclusion of women from church office
Exclusion of Women from Church Office
  • Hippolytus[A.D. 215]

"When a widow is to be appointed, she is not to be ordained, . . . Hands are not imposed on her, because she does not offer the oblation and she does not conduct the liturgy. Ordination is for the clergy because of the liturgy; but a widow is appointed for prayer, and prayer is the duty of all" (The Apostolic Tradition)

  • The Didascalia[A.D. 225]

"For it is not to teach that you women . . . are appointed. . . . For he, God the Lord, Jesus Christ our Teacher, sent us, the twelve [apostles], out to teach the [chosen] people and the pagans. But there were female disciples among us: Mary of Magdala, Mary the daughter of Jacob, and the other Mary; he did not, however, send them out with us to teach the people. For, if it had been necessary that women should teach, then our Teacher would have directed them to instruct along with us"

  • Council of Nicaea I[A.D. 325]

"Similarly, in regard to the deaconesses, as with all who are enrolled in the register, the same procedure is to be observed. We have made mention of the deaconesses, who have been enrolled in this position, although, not having been in any way ordained, they are certainly to be numbered among the laity."

  • Council of Laodicea[A.D. 360]

"[T]he so-called ‘presbyteresses’ or ‘presidentesses’ are not to be ordained in the Church“

  • Etc. with Council of Nimes, Orange, etc. up to Pope Paul VI in 1975
slide20
Preferring to recall one detail of Jesus’s ministry, the “Apostolic Tradition,” church fathers did not consider the inclusiveness of his overall response to women.

Thus Jesus’s revolutionary treatment of women was obliterated by the prevailing misogyny of Greco-Roman culture.

“Saint Mary Magdalene approaching

the Sepulchre"

Gian Girolamo Savoldo, ca. 1530

bibliography
Bibliography
  • Catholic Answers

http://www.catholic.com/library/Women_and_the_Priesthood.asp

  • Irvin, Dorothy. “The ministry of women in the early church : the archaeological evidence.” Duke Divinity School Review. 45. 2 (1980), 76-86.

Schüssler-Fiorenza, Elizabeth. In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins. 2nd Ed. London: SCM Press, 1995

  • Nunnally-Cox, Janice. Foremothers: Women of the Bible. 1981.
  • Rossi, Mary Ann. “Priesthood, Precedent and Prejudice: On Recovering the Women Priests of Early Christianity.” Journal of Feminist Studies 7 (1991) no 1, pp. 73 - 94.

http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/otran_1.asp

Graphics:

  • The Apostle Paul, Rembrandt. Web Gallery of Art
  • Fractio panis. 3rd Century Fresco. www.womenpriests.org/theology/casey_02.htm
bib cont
Bib., cont.
  • Lydia, Seller of Purple. Quilt by Maria Elkins. www.mariaelkins.com
  • Phoebe, Deacon. Icon by Suzanne Schleck, 2003. www.walstedicons.com/schleck.htm
  • Priscilla and Aquila. Anon. Drawing. www.keyway.ca
  • Roman House Church

http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/corinthians/house.stm#church

  • Saint Paul Writing his Epistles by Valentin de Boulogne, 1600.from http://www.rice.edu/projects/code/presentat/kelberpres.html
  • St Tabitha the Widow Raised From the Dead By the Apostle PeterAnon. Drawing atwww.comeandseeicons.com