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THE WOMAN IN THE CHRISTIAN SOURCES (280-313). A REFLEXION

sociology

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THE WOMAN IN THE CHRISTIAN SOURCES (280-313). A REFLEXION

THE WOMAN IN THE CHRISTIAN SOURCES (280-313). A REFLEXION



Abstract:  The object epoch of our research, from 280-313, corresponds to a very passionate period of transformation of society and State with a change of mentalities which was progressive but very radical. We haven’t pretended to analyze the great protagonists of this transformation, at least not the way they are reflected in the sources. On the contrary, we have tried to get closer to a part of population and christian society, to analyze how it was considered, and what its role in the diffusion and propagation of Christianity: christian women. We analize the sources, Arnobius of Sicca, Lactantius, Eusebius of Caesarea, Methodius of Olympo, the Acs of Martyrs, The Elvira’s Council, the letters of Egypt. And we have some conclusions.

Key words : Christian sources, woman, Church, Christianity

1. An epoch of transformation and change.

The object epoch of our research, from 280-313, corresponds to a very passionate period of transformation of society and State with a change of mentalities which was progressive but very radical. In this sense one has to interprete the selection of a chronological frame, which does not correspond only to political avatars. This is the reason why we close the year 280 and not 284, because there is a series of transformations which exceed from the field of politics. It’s a conventional date, as it is the final one 313. We could have chosen others, significant as well, as 311, with the edict of tolerance of Galerius, or 314, the summons –and posterior celebration- on the part of Constantinus from Arelate Council. But we think that from all the possibilities the best and the clearest one, which guaranteed a better cohesion of this period, was 313, which indicates the moment of inflexion, not only the tolerance, but perhaps the situation of privilege of Church within the Empire [1].

What seems obvious is that on the part of emperors and Christians as well, from 313 on, there is a different attitude from the one there was a few years before. This is evident in numerous writings and is a sympton of evolution of society and Roman State, as well as the very Christians. There hasn’t been any intention of analizing the growth and the expansion of Christianity in this period; but to verify what happens to the tolerance of a fact, but not the law the denominated “little peace of Church”, with which we assist to an unstoppable process, materialized, among other edict of tolerance of Galerius of 311, and two years later with the edict of Nicomedia of 313 with complete liberty [2]. The change of the society has been notorius. The importance of the Christianity within it too, managing to get over one of the most difficult tasks in its short history. We haven’t pretended to analyze the great protagonists of this transformation, at least not the way they are reflected in the sources. On the contrary, we have tried to get closer to a part of population and christian society, to analyze how it was considered, and what its role in the diffusion and propagation of Christianity: christian women.

Their importance and role had to be decisive in this unstoppable expansion of Christianity. In this sense we have numerous references to their behaviour and attitude in the Acts of Martyrs and in different works of christian writers, above all Eusebius of Caesarea. There are numerous studies of christian literary sources in these years, although its subjects are usually very limited. The same happens to the studies which refere to christian women. With the further difficulty of lack of synthesis works which are based on exhausting, detailed exams of sources which deal whith them. In fact, there are particular studies, or studies of determinate aspects which affect marriage, bethrothal, sexuality, or the role of women in the Church. This is explained throug the complexity of topic and strong connexion with other fields of investigation, Anthropology, Filology, Laws, Theology, which make an approximation to christian women of this period very diverse. The studies from Ancient History where a fertile line of investigation is placed standing out the presence of women at work and in economy, their social and religious importance, their political action –active, although not public-, as peculiarities and particular evaluation on a local or regional level within the diverse people of whom Roman Empire consists.

The same happened to the study of christian women, with a total revision of sources, and a detailed study of very concrete aspects. Because of that, this article contributes to cover an existing gap. Synthesis we think represents a great interest to enable putting in context different allusions –normally dispersed- which help a better understanding of the way this radical transformation of society and expansion of Christianity was carried out. It also seems an illuminating approximation in the comprehension of how women were considered in general –the Christian ones particularly- by the very Christians at the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth century, vision which isn’t exempt from alterations and changes, when a slow but gradual evolution seems to be present in a very particular way from 313. We consider this aspects of great transcendence, not only to explain the situation of women some decades or centuries later, but also to be able to value more adequately a series of attitudes and historical circumstances of the Church and the State which left their mark in a very considerable part of population [3].

2. A view of the sources.

The diachronic research, the analysis of sources is ever the most important. In this sense we have to point out that all the sources we considered from the very beginning weren’t worth as a historical entity from which we could take out some reliable dates. They only could serve us as an inventory to carry out a labour of a catalogue and to attain diverse maps where the appearance of christian women in this period is registred. In this concept there was the majority of writings about the Acts of Martyrs and Passions which we consider worth analyzing, not in this moment, but at the time they were written, some decades or centuries later. Their mental horizon is very different from the one we considered and because of that the historical value of the biggest part of narrations is insignificant.

The same happens to the work of Prudentius which we read with attention and don’t have it in account. This doesn’t mean that we deny historicism of Encratis and her companions, Eulalia or Agnes. We simply think that they serve more for studying how Christians of middle to end of the fourth century considered the tortures or great persecution, above all a group of women, normally young ones, many of them consecrated virgins who behave themselves fearlessly and courageuosly –adjacent in the fear and provocation in some cases- in confession of their faith. These books were written in a period of a relative peace of the Great Church; their characters propose as examples to other Christians, precisely in a very passionate moment for the growing influence of Christians in the society, but which do not levy from them an excessive effort or a firm attitude as their predecessors had.

Because we find a process of idealisation of what happened in great persecution, recreating and imagining some things which could not always happen. We observe this in Eusebius, in the selection he makes in his Ecclesiastic History of the most brilliant and heroic behaviours, without making references to apostasies or to some less edifying behaviours [4]. Apart from that the very Eusebius introduces some changes from one work to the other. We can observe it clearly in Martyrs of Palestine where a heroic behaviour of normal woman as servants, wives, widows does not appear; great protagonists are consecrated virgins pertaining to ordo uirginum, clearly in a minority of society and within the Church. Order of the virgins who appear in a very coherent form of a long narration in this very work in which Eusebius introduces some lexical and ideological innovations [5].

This change of idealizing attitude which we pointed out in some christian writings, made us take into account the chronology of each work, its addressee and intention with which they were written. This way the allusions of Symposion of Methodius are much better explained, the book fundamentally written for christian virgins, to whom it recomends some things while other authors as Lactantius, who writes for a larger audience and makes them more extensive to all cristians. So, the prayer, the study, the acts of compassion or the search for holiness. We find something similar in the work of Arnobius of Sicca which has, as the main intention to point out the error of pagans, choosing a guide of a systematic critic and also the humilliations of men’s pride [6].

All the contrary to Lactantius, who from his first work de opificio Dei considers a man as a center of creation, created for him. In this idea he coincides with other writers who aren’t Christian, who he has no objection to cite, when he already addresses the pagans above all, he thinks they will believe in Cicero or Varro more than in the Bible, which he knows much better that it might seem at first sight [7].

Besides, we tried to have in account that in some writers as Eusebius and Lactantius, a big evolution in some aspects of one work or another is given. Lactantius’ attitude very radically in The Divine Institutions to the attitude of de mortibus persecutorum in many aspects, above all, due to mutation of the situation of religious intolerance to another of liberty or to a clear favour of Christianity. Because of that we limited ourselves to the works, to the authors, letters and councils which we consider from this epoch and which speak about this short period and have been written shortly after, being of a relative solvency and historical veracity. This is the case of two works of Eusebius of Caesarea which we study, Ecclesiastical History and the Martyrs of Palestine, and the work de mortibus persecutorum of Lactantius. This implies the denial of other works of these writers as The Evangelic Preparation or The Evangelic Demonstration of Eusebius, the same as Vita Constantini. We haven’t studied other Lactantius’ works as The Epitome, to correspond clearly to another mental horizon more centred on the exhibition of christian doctrine which isn’t its defense.

This selection of sources, after we have studied them throughly, has been realized with some other sources which are not literary. So, from private correspondence from which we consulted hundreds of letters, although we only comment a bit more than a dozen in which a figure of the mother of a family appears in a very fundamental form.

The same happens with the Acts of the Martyrs, reduced to the minimum expression, The Acts of Agape, Quionia and Irene, possibly a sewing of different writings an The Acts of Fileas, bishop of Thmuis, who keeps loyal to God in spite of opposition of everybody, of the closest people as well.

On the other hand, a general view of women which is offered by Council of Elvira, which we study with attention for its intrinsic importance and being the first canons preserved in a Synod or in a Council is extremely interesting. It is vital to complete some of the characteristics of women of this epoch, as the liberty and wilfulness at work, personal married couples, their iniciative to marry or remarry or the possibility to choose –and maintain- in the election of a state of life as the life of consecrated virgins. But also, from a wider point of view, being able to compare, in some occasions, their relations with men in topics as marriage, adultery, separation, widowhood, relations before marriage, second marriages or ecclesiastic celibacy. So, it is clear that we have to think deeply about this Council which might be a canon collection, which would resolve numerous problems and contradictions which haven´t found a convincing solution until the date.

With this view, christian sources, although not abundant and with a serious inconvenient of its variety and dispersion, are completed and mutually considered, permitting a realization of a synthesis labour. A historical speech which must take into account, necessarily, anthropological conception of sources, which makes many of the allusions to women and female clear, in this period, which in another way could lead us to conclusion about some topics, as extended as lacking in fundament. As we have the occasion to prove the great importance of anthropology in works of christian writers, as Methodius, Eusebius or Lactantius which is fundamental for understanding the posture about female and women in general, and christian women particularly. Besides, we have made some fortunate comparisons with writers that are not Christian, as the case of Porphyrius, who uses a similar anthropology, with similar expressions, although these similiarities, which happen with a relative frequency, are a simple appearance [8]. What proves once more, a necessity of realyzing a detailed, source conscious analysis, which serves to delimit which things could be of the same period, which expressions or concepts were valid for both, pagans and Christians, although everybody reads a different thing, what were christian innovations, or what is the product of an ordinary life and is adequate for the theory or the other way round: how, starting from some anthropological determinate estimates, a prototype of a woman with some determined characteristics and not others is being forged, etc.

This importance of anthropology corresponds to a parallel effort when it comes to studying used terminology, which in some occasions has a precise reflexion of itself, which is clearly seen in Eusebius of Caesarea where its inner evolution is followed not only through appearance of some new topics, or conceding them a new relief, but in use of a different vocabulary, more genuine and characteristic for another type of mentality, as in a long writing of The Martyrs of Palestine, in the adjectives which describe consecrated virgins (7,1).

A similar importance is observed in the Council of Elvira, debtor of anterior Latin literary sourcesm as it is the case of Tertullianus, Minucius Felix and Cyprianus of Cartago and some obvious similarities with his contemporary Lactantius, besides tackling some cases we found in a repeated form in some other writers as Irenaeus, Hippolytus Romanus or Clemens Alexandrinus, above all. Refering to the vocabulary which alludes to women and everything that referes to them, an intelligent selection, but not arbitrary at all is observed, the same as with the topics of canons which vary from one group to another and which we think must have a logical and rational explanation, being one of the reasons that led us to consider very carefully the possibility of facing a canon collection being very difficult to explain differences and problems which are implanted in this council with its 81 canons [9]. Anyway, in the study of terminology we haven’t pretend to realize an exhaustive, complete analysis. The conclusions we have come to, being thought provoking, and as we think, quite solid, are always partial and limited, never extrapolable to other authors and works, another time or place.

We should keep in mind that many allusions to christian women of this period are indirect, the majority of them, in fact. Others, on the contrary, make references to general topics or to other cases. Direct allusions are not very frequent, although they are of a great interest. This way we contemplate different mentions of women in the work of Eusebius of Caesarea which describes in details great persecution in Egypt and Palestine. There, not only numerous cases of tortures and confessions of faith of women and consecrated virgins are presented, but also outrages to which they were submited. In some of those characteristics he coincides with his contemporary Lactantius in recreating libido, which appears in a very lively form in the case of Valeria, the daughter of Diocletianus and the wife of Galerius and Prisca, her mother [10]. Some other times we don’t come across historical tales, but theoretic elaborations, as the ones of Metodius in the Symposion, dedicated, above all to consecrated virgins. There, we have a long exhibition of what they think about virgins, which includes diverse allusions to marriage and widowhood. To this we have to add private correspondence which shows us common women in their everyday activities. Vision they offer us complements both, theoric approach of some christian writers and a dramatic and nervous attitude in the narration of events of great persecution which Lactantius and Eusebius reflect, to whom they are inappropriate.

The analysis of sources, main and necessary, is completed by synchronic study: the “young girls, maids and virgins”, “the married” and “the widows”.

3. Some conclusions.

Thorough, systematic study of christian sources, literary or non literary, which makes referece to christian women has led us to a series of conclusions, many of them of a partial character. Because or that, it’s important to carry out a global balance, graduing ad weighing the dates.

Until this moment, Christianity had been illicit, chased religion. On Christian part it had been insisted on things which shouldn’t be or be done more than ones that should. And when positive affirmations were made, they seem too theoric. With the tolerance of fact from 306 in the West, the legal one from 311 and a possible privilege from 313, it starts to be necessary to adapt theory to practice, having in mind that we don’t try to refuse a society, habits, moral and laws, but basically to make them christian. In summary, for writers and bishops it’s necessary to reelaborate many approaches, adapts normal life of christian life whenever possible, and offer, for this, new models of behaviour to serve as a guide and reference for faithful and catechumens.

3.1. Women and female things from an anthropology which is common for both pagans and christians.

The first element which stands out is the affirmation of how christian writers, men of their time, with a cultural knowledge, an anthropology and literary likes, are very similar to their contemporaries, since it couldn’t be in other way. In the second place, they have lived a historical process intensively, which was very important not only for Christianity, but also for society and Roman State. Historical changes which have left an indelible mark on their personalities and their writings, and for that in some occasions they have become real protagonists of history, with possibility of direct influence on those who make legislative and political decisions.



That is the case of Lactantius, Crispus’ teacher, son of Costantinus, of Osius of Corduba councillor of Constantinus, or Eusebius of Caesarea. Parallel to this we find adhesion to principal ideals of Romanitas also in diverse councils, out of which the Council of Elvira, Roma and Arelate are a palpable proof. In the third place and related with evolution and change of christian writers it’s confirmed how these events affect capitally the perspective they have about numerous aspects, modifying some criterions which affect women and femenine matters a lot, as well as their place in society, Church, the search of new prototypes to which they can aspire, once classical pagan models are overcome.

Inheritors of a way of life, customs, education and anthropology which is being transformed, christian writers will use the same way, always having in account receivers of their writings. So, the focus of many topics is radically diferent in the Symposion of Methodius, adressed to Christians –better said to christian virgins- from Divine Institutions of Lactantius, addressed equally to educated public, pagans or Christians. Starting from these, it’s necessary to study each and all of the allusions in their context, in the concrete work, in the author and, the end, in modern writers. With it we can value and discern precisely quite a lot of allusions which could cause some difficulties. In this sense, anthropological study of each author is shown as something indispensable for accurate knowledge of their thoughts and reliable discernment of many expressions in relation with women and femenine matters which could be ambiguos.

So, we prove the existance of a received cultural inheritance which considers femenine matters negatively, with presence in numerous Greek classical authors and also in the work of Philo of Alexandria, which had a powerful onfluence in Origenes and his disciples. Filonian idea that acts are masculine or femenine if they are directed or not towards virtue is well known. This explains a bit better allusions to those women who have masculine behaviour –self-control-, and men who have a femenine way of behaviour –dominating concupiscence, fear and irrational things-. They also establish intellect/senses paradigm, assimilating it to Adam/Eve [11]. But this is never refered to a moral or anthropological aspect, which would have supposed a pejorative vision of women. Because of this christian writers of this period make clear differences between femenine matters, which have a high pejorative dose, and women who are always considered positively.

3.2. Ontic and baptismal equality. Liberty and responsability.

As before persecution which begins in February 303, and during the same, approaches were more theoric after 311 or 313, the vision changes radically. People start to think seriously about education, teaching, which would definitely have Christian patrons, about a city which would have collective behaviour and a different juridical order. Spread of Christianity is not interrumped only by persecution, but it gets bigger. In peace time, the growth, materialized through temple building, with much bigger capacity or through the growth of number of catechumens and Christians, obliges to give some priorities in practical aspect, not only to writers -some of them are bishops, as Eusebius-, but to the very bishops who rule, among other things, incorporation of Church and look for exemplary behaviour of all Christians and catechumens, refusing all those pagan and Jewish adherences which could preserve new converts.

However, we can speak about a series of ideas which characterize christian women in this period with indipendance of evolution of christian writers' thoughts. In the first place we have an affirmation of ontical, creatural equality, of women and men, which Methodius explains thoroughly, not only for the body, but for the soul which has to be shaped 'with traces and lines of Christ' [12]. This creatural equality demonstrates us men's dignity, all men's dignity, reaffirmed through incarnation of Christ. Men are, in expression of Eusebius, the creatures that God loves most. This creatural equality is complemented by equality of virtues that everybody has and must grow. All Christians have an obligation to be saints developing these virtues, as Methodius and Lactantius affirm [13]. Nobody is freed. So, there isn't moral inequality which some people saw in Elvira's Council and which we could prove is not seen neither in number of canons nor in a treat received by men or women.

To creatural and equality of virtues we have to sum up baptismal equality. Baptism incorporates with full right, women in economy of salvation of Christianity. Church in expression of Methodius, engenders new children through baptism, whom it has to educate similar to Christ 'the way that in each one, man or woman, for the faith or supernatural knowledge Christ is born' [14]. This equality within the Church makes rights and obligations common, and also that the attitude of opposition in faith confession or torture is the same.

Besides this, ontological, creatural, baptismal and equality of virtues, wilfulness and liberty of acting is continuously reiterated [15]. Liberty and wilfulness which characterize women in Christian writers when it comes to explaining responsibility of sin, personal or voluntary responsibility, or the election of determined way of life. They have full right to choose, developing in the case of incorporation to ordo uirginum, second marriage of a widow, etc. They also have a continuous discernment acting and thinking very strictly, trying to adapt actions, thoughts and words to God's love as it is reiterate continuously in metodian Symposion. It's the same liberty we find reflected in displacement of women, the way it is detached from the study of epistolography and some allusions of Eusebius, above all the ones which refere to virgins.

3.3. Specific characteristics: oration, study, charity works, proselytism.

We can wonder if there is anything that characterize Christian women in a special way. In the beginning, there is. Christian writers point out the necessity of praying and being well-educated, at least in Holy Scriptures. Their intelligence and free will is presumed; women are all orators of Metodian Symposion who realize ardous, difficult exegesis and have recourse to numerous comparisons and allegories [16]. This means a clear intention of dignifying of  women. Besides oration and study they have to do all kinds of works benefying others, charity works which Lactantius mentions meticulously making them extensive to everyone and which Methodius comments only for virgins [17]. In this, we speak about a precise adaptation of message for subject receiver, different in each case: Christian virgins on one side, heterogeneous public, cult pagans above all, on the other. This is something decisive, and that's why we have taken it into account.

Both in oration, study and charity works and in diverse allusions of Lactantius or Methodius that Christians have to speak about God, a labour of diffusion of Christianity of these women is inferred, always realized privately. Only in case of virgins, they seem to have more notable role in this work -the same as works of charity, as it appears in Eusebius-, for their better availability. However, the protagonism of virgins will always be limited and, as it seems, it will also be given within private sphere.

Thank to private correspondance we know some of their problems, not original at all, about everyday life. Chores and worries of those women are not different in the biggest part of things from the rest of women of this epoch. Everything hints that they lived in full and nearly absolute normality among their relatives, friends and neighbours. In this sense it's necessary to suggest the possibility that many of the names that are cited in these letters -generally in initial or final greetings- are not Christian; it shouldn't surprise us since it could hardly be different. Besides, we have to know that tolerance was habitual in Roman Empire, specially in Egypt, with some strong, common syncretics. There is a solitary example of Oxyrrhynchus where Christians and other people live together without great problems, knowing about existence of two churches, a synagogue and about twenty temples at the end of the third century [18].

3.4. Ritual opting out and general adaptation in the frame of Romanitas.

If anything distinguishes Christian women it is the difference between Christians and the rest of population. That's what Galerius' mother reproaches them for: they abstain from sacrifices. But also from spectacle and other kind of acts with idolatrous connotations or that they commit an outrage against moral and customs very gravely. But in some occasions they could attend some of these acts, although they did it passively as if they were strange or different from the rest of society. This is yhe esclusiveness that is censored; this negative persistence to participate in some concrete acts of loyalty to Empire or emperor.

Except from this very determined opting out, in the rest of things a total adaptation of values is observed, rules and customs of Romanitas which is clearly appreciated not only in writers but also in the Council or canon collection of Elvira. A clear example is the example of marriage, in spite of social or religious limits that parents are faced with then it comes to marrying their daughters. We won't question the rights of parents any more, neither indicate any peculiar case of second marriage. It would be the usual one in the epoch and in laws, as it had happened in previous centuries. Only from now on, we can consider a possibility of change in some aspects, with institutions, ceremonies and genuinely christian maners.

If in some things christian influence on the society and legislation in noticed, it's possible that in some others they incorporate and make their own elements which until then had practically been unknown by the Church. This is, for example, the case of bethrothal, ruled by Constantine and accepted without any discussion by bishops and christian writers.

3.5. Women within the Church.

In this epoch, virgins have a special importance in Christian communities and in Church in general, receiving a specific sanction in the Council of Elvira –c. XIII-. But from having a singular relevance, for their better availability, after the persecution they become new heroines of Christianity. We proved this in Eusebius of Caesaea in his Ecclesiasticic History, where in books VIII-X only servants and married women appear. On the contrary, in The Martyrs of Palestine, a work which followed the persecution, the only ones that are mentioned, and in a nominal way are Christian virgins, the great protagonists of his work, as they will be in numerous historical, noveled or legendary acts of martyrs.

Until now virgins lived with their parents, brothers or sisters, trying to harmonize their work, household and social and economical condition with their state of consecrated virgins. That could be quite difficult -although not impossible-, in many occasions. There were some objective difficulties for their regular formation, to maintain unmarried if their parents disagreed and also for their cohesion as ordo, known and distinguished. To this dispersion of virgins, differences of a minimum infrastructure of the Church is added -human and material means- and the precarious of the state of Christianity, in these years still illegal and persecuted religion. But this changes from 313, with immense possibilities of spread of Christianity and a real necessity of women's presence in assisting and catechistical labours among them.

In this sense, absence of mentions powerfully attracts attention of deaconesses and 'widows', the 'authentic widows' in this period. In private correspondence also, where one can find numerous allusions to clergy at the end of the third century, no allusion to virgins or deaconesses is found. There are only allusions to ordo uirginum from 280 until 313. It's difficult to interprete this silence, above all, because it shouldn't be something merely casual, if we think of Eusebius. He, as bishop of Caesarea of Palestine, should have known them, or at least, he should have cited them in some of his numerous documents he transmits from anterior authors in his Ecclesiastic History. But, as he has a special interest in pointing out the role and importance of virgins -above all in posterior works-, he completely avoids allusions, direct or indirect, of deaconesses or 'widows' in this work. This qualified, and because of that very significant silence should oblige a reapproach to 'deaconesses' being able to doubt about their remote origin, guaranteed by very scarce sources and difficult chronological establishing.

The silence about deaconesses and virgins should correspond to the role of women within the Church. Their labour was surely fundamental for the spread of Christianity, although the sources do not deepen the topic very much. We can see definite protagonism of mothers of the family as teachers and agglutinants of the family, where they have a special importance. In the family, they have a christianising task, they take charge of particular education of their children, as Antiochy mother of Eusebius' narration [19]. The field of influence would not limit on children, but would spread onto the rest of relatives. This seems evident in some passages of Ecclesiastic History of Eusebius, but  above all in private correspondance. To this we have to add a consideration which, for less obvious should't be omitted: the immense majority of Christian women in this period -as always- were married and mothers of the family. Christianity didn't change their lives at all, in the sense of changing state or occupations, if they were honest. Their lives did change in some things -indissolubility of marriage, conjugal fidelity, modesty in dressing, speaking, acting, etc.-, although not exclusive, adding an apostolic, proselytising dimension to their ordinary chores. As their children's teachers, the same as other mothers, could collaborate in many cases to reach new vocations for the Church, without any necessity of realizing activities which were different from mothers’.

3.6. Christ as a teacher and model.

Christ continues to be a teacher and educator for men in this epoch as well, he is a model which is to be followed by all Christians, almost with exclusiveness [20]. In the very second place the Virgin appears, generally mentioned in allusions to her Son. There are hardly any women to imitate, with the exception of a few, normally martyrs, as a slave Blandina, the matrom Perpetua or the virgin Potamiena of Alexandria. There are some, a few decades later, at the beginning of the fourth century, with increasing importance of Virgin Mary as a model for all: consecrated virgins, married women and widows.

In the middle of the fourth century figures of Adam and Eve appear with importance. Adam appeared with relative frecuency in Methodius being Christ the new Adam, who redeems from original sin. But there is almost an absolute silence about Eve who, however, wasn't unknown among Christians of that period -thank to mentions of the Holy Scriptures and anterior writers, particularly Tertullianus-, as we see on the paintings in some churches of the third century, or in the cementary of Nola from 305 [21]. Lactantius'  veiled allusions in Divine Institutions have as a purpose to explain sin or death, but they don't point at eve as the only guilty party, and being a woman is not stigmatised either. It's a conscious omission, since the audience to which it is dedicated could misunderstand this biblical narration. But some years later, any reading of the same topics will necessarily be different.

3.7. Virgins as new models from 313.

Experienced historical events certainly obliged to think deeply, being able to contribute with greater emphasis certain things, as it will be growing pre-eminence of consecrated virgins and celibacy. About some functional inequalities as accentuation of authority of men in conjugal society, or some characteristics as modesty, which all women have to possess, which is given in the example of Valeria, the daughter of Diocletian and the wife of Galerius. This is Lactantius’optic in the narration offered in de mortibus persecutorum, fully coherent with his thought, showing widow Valeria’s modesty and frtress in the face of tyrants harassing her, with such a behaviour which is to be followed by any woman, pagan or christian –independently from her anterior behaviour, which could not be an good example for lactantius-. But he offers a model of a woman, married or widow, as the maximum exponent of virtuous behaviour, the same as matron Perpetua appeared at the beginning of the third century, in some writings, which later had a great influence.

On the contrary, in his contemporary Euseboid, and his Ecclesiastic History, book VI, the torture of virgin Potamiena of Alexandria is told, with quite a lot of elements which seem to be incorporated by very Eusebius. He, however, doesn’t mention virgins in books VIII-X, during the great persecution and at the beginning of a new epoch for Christians. It will be in this posterior work The Martyrs of Palestine, posterior to 313, where virgins reappear, now with almost indisputable and unique leading role, as Valentina or Ennata who show a brave, daring, intrepid frame of mind and who are given as prototypes. And so, as both Eusebius and Lactantius try to harmonize Christianity with the ideals of Romanitas, perceiving a geat difference between the focu of women and marriage which appear in Divine Institutions or in the Epitome, each one gives a different model to follow. Lactantius presents us married women or widows, while Eusebius does the same with consecrated virgins. If previously there semms to be a certain balance among diverse kinds of life, although estimate and respect of some are superior to others, all being good, from now on this balance disappears progressively and almost with exclusiveness, Eusebius’ model of consecrated virgins triumphs, used consciously as an element of rapid and urgent christianization of society. A considerable growth after tolerance of number of loyals and catechumns, goes beyond possibilities and foresights of some shepherds, and obliges to procede thoroughly and effectively to an adequate chatecismo, to a study of necessity to modeify tradicional education and to a substitution of classical models which are to be imitated. Eusebius of Caesarea chooses consecrated virgins and presents them as models to be folloed, for their greater availability, commitment and brave attitude in the persecution. Their election will be shared by numerois writings about martyrs and by the biggest part of christian writers from the fourth century. In some of them, possibly, Eusebius could have influence. This election wouldn’t have had a special importance if some other elements hadn’t come together at the same time, and which will develop un the fourth century and transform slowly but progressively the conception of women and femenine matters in general, christian women and their mission in the family, society, institutions, and the Church particularly.




3.8. From mulier fortis to mulier uirilis.

Veterotestamentary model of mulier fortis had been overcome increasingly during these first three centuries or Christianity filling it with nex contets, notonly in theory but in everyday practice as well, as we can observe in numerois decriptions of literary sources and Egyotian epistolography. The role of women in the family and society had gaines a considerable importane, much bigger than they traditionally were given. We could speak with aproprietateness about a model of actualized and vitalized mulier fortis thank todecisive contribution of baptismal, moral and virtues of equality. In these years precisely, although in a very particular way,at the end of the third century is when the maximum richness in demonstration of lay ascetism of women, as maids, mothers of the family or consecrated virgins is reached.

However, it’s necessary to underline the existence of some indications which point at some writers, as well as acts of martyrs, to a growing conversion of conception of mulier fortis into mulier uirilis, in this sense it is necessary to point out how Eusebius’ anthropology, which accuses the influence of Origenes and Philo of Alexandria, based on soul as principal, essential element of a human being –and not on flesh- could be one of the reasons. Certainly, Eusebius distinguished femenine matters from women without passing negative categories of femenine things to moral plan, which could affect women in exxential way. Some posterior writers won’t do it, or they will do it less, for very different reasons.

Appearance of ascetism in its monastic demonstration could influence minds of ones and the others unstoppably and irresistibly in the same years, in the margin of ordinary life of yhe society, which underlined spiritual and masculine traces. Its success supposed truncation of one or the richest demonstrations of primitive ascetism, ascetism of consecrated virgins who lived with their relativres or together in the margin of any type of “vote”, private or public. It also contributed to forget or the regulation of some characteristics typical for women, which means a progressive loss of their identity. Because of ironies of history, women who in the first three centuries were getting bigger, growing importance in all aspects, theoric as well, bit by bit –will face starting from tolerance of Christianity and with serious perspective of getting christian culture and society-, with theoric elaboration of an ideal of a woman which could be defined as mulier uirilis, for many of their characteristics, losing progressively and gradually aspects of her feminity, gaining some masculine traces.

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[1] Cfr. M. Ibarra Benlloch, 1990. The historical context and the christian sources are studied here in deep for these years.

[2] Cfr. Lact., mort XXXIV,1.4; XLV,1; Eus., hist. eccl. IX,9,12. Cfr. M. Sordi, 1965, 401, 406.

[3] Very interesting,  M. Amelotti, 1961; Ch. Munier, 1979.

[4] Eus., hist. eccl., VIII,2,3; VIII,7,1.

[5] Cfr. v.gr. Eus., m.pal., VII,1.

[6] Cfr. H. Le Bonniec, 1982, 11 ss.

[7] Cfr. M. Perrin, 1974, 25.

[8] Cfr. J.M. Demarolle, 1970.

[9] Cfr. M. Meigne, 1975, 361-387.

[10] Cfr. Lact., mort. XXXV,3; XXXIX,1. Eus., hist. eccl. VIII,9,1-3; VIII,12,2-4; VIII,12,5; VIII,14,12-16; IX,9,9; m. pal. III,1,3; VII,1; VIII,5-6; IX,3-8.

[11] Cfr. Phil, de cher. 41; 57. Orig., hom. in gen. 1,15; hom. in ex. 2,1. Met., sym. III,1,53; III,5,61-63. Cfr. A. Orbe, 1963, 324, 330.

[12] Met., sym. VIII,8,190-191. Eus., praep. ev. VII,18,3.6.

[13] Met., sym. I,4,24. Lact., inst. VI,10,1-8; I,20,25.

[14] Met., sym. III,8,71; VIII,8,190-191.

[15] Cfr. P. Oxy. 1773; P. Bol. 12.

[16] Cfr. Met., sym. V,4,119; act. Agapes V,1; Eus., m. pal. VIII,4.

[17] Eus., hist. eccl. VIII,12,5; Met., sym. VI,4,143; Lact., inst. VI,10,8 ss.

[18] P. Oxy. 43. Cfr. A. Martin, 1979, 3-26.

[19] Eus., hist. eccl. VIII,12,3.

[20] Tert., pat. III,3; Clem. Al., strom. V,1,3; VI,15,122. Met., sym. X,3,292.

[21] Met., sym. III,1,52; III,4,61; I,4,24. Cfr. D. Korol, 1987, pp. 38-64.








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