Monday, September 13, 2010

Early Christian Women

I am working on the research for my final main chapter of my book, Sex and the Serpent: Why the Gender Conflicts of the Early Church Still Matter. I ran across a very intriguing passage written by Tertullian that appears to reflect the social realities of Christian women in the late second century. I'm not sure what to completely make of it yet. At first glance, it appears that Christian women were not abiding by the traditional Roman societal roles. And this is confirmed by the accusations against them by the Romans, of lewdness and promiscuity. But then later on in the same text, Tertullian says that the Christian married couple do these things together. In other words, the marriage seems to allow the woman to operate in public because she is escorted by her husband. Is Tertullian using Christian marriage to curtail these accusations?

In Tertullian's treatise to his wife, he exhorts her to remain a widow if he dies first. Part of the treatise deals with the problem of remarriage to a pagan. Tertullian insists that it is impossible for her to serve two lords who have different values and standards of conduct: God and a pagan husband. Here is what he says about the pagan husband:
“Who (aka, what pagan) would allow his wife to run around the streets to the houses of strangers and even to the poorest hovels in order to visit the faithful? Who would willingly let his wife be taken from his side for nightly meetings, if it be necessary? Who, then, would tolerate without some anxiety her spending the entire night at the paschal solemnities? Who would have no suspicions about letting her attend the Lord's supper, when it has such a bad reputation? Who would endure her creeping into prison to kiss the chains of the martyrs? Or even to greet any of the brothers with a kiss? Or to wash the feet of the saints. To desire this? Even to think about it? If a Christian traveling on a journey should arrive, what hospitality will he find in the house of a stranger? If anyone needs assistance, the granary and pantry are closed” (4)...What a bond is this: two believers who share one hope, one desire, one discipline, the same service! The two are brother and sister, fellow servants...side by side, in the church of God and at the banquet of God, side by side in difficulties, in times of persecution, and in times of consolation...They freely visit the sick and sustain the needy. They give alms without anxiety, attend the sacrifice without scruple, perform their daily duties unobstructed..." (8).


Bob MacDonald said...

What implications! The role of women today is so severely curtailed in some societies. Your research is so valuable for the freeing of so many from their unreasonable chains. My barber, a Lebanese Christian, told me that she could not live with her husband because his brothers said - no man should follow a woman. The reference was to her moving from one city to another in Canada - moves that would have been good for them both. I was struck by the resistance of the in-laws to the profession of barber. Too much touching other bodies. And these were all 'Christian' and not in control of themselves - so controlling others instead!

TGP said...

Very interesting! Where is the quote from?

Dad said...

Your manuscript sounds facinating. Anxious to hear when it will go to press. Eugene Seaich's "A Great Mystery: The Secret of the Jerusalem Temple" (Gorgias Press) might be an interesting source, if you are not already familiar with it relative to connecting some of the gnostic derivations of the sacred embrace (cherubim) to the Jerusalem temple.