December 12, 2011

Women In Ministry IV: Post-Apostolic Church Culture & Tradition

As an additional point I would like to mention the practices and traditions of the early church as some of the early church (church fathers) practiced what had been passed on to them and were contemporaries of some of the Apostles of Christ or immediate disciples of the disciples of Christ thereof. Even though they had no apostolic authority or right to rewrite scripture they would’ve at least adhered to the tradition of their forerunners. If they had been willing to go to their death for their belief in a man rising from the dead it is unlikely that they would have changed early church practices from an established or emerging pattern. With this presupposition in mind I will mention a few non-Scriptural but historical accounts and a few quotes from early church fathers.

Right from the beginning we see a tendency towards woman not being in the leadership of the early church after the 1st century. Regardless of how contemporary theologians decide to interpret Scripture, the writings of the early church fathers speak plainly enough. From the outset the historical accounts of the early church fathers does not match the idealized modern interpretations of selected Gospel and Pauline passages such as 1 Corinthians 14. But then again, they are historical accounts, not Scripture. Regardless, there is little disambiguation necessary in some of their statements. They definitively lean towards Complementarianism…but I will proceed with caution.

Although we see an early surge of egalitarianism and equity in burgeoning Christianity of the 1st century it is clear this changes quickly. Regardless of the view of the 1st century church we see a definitive change in the dynamics of the Church in the 2nd century AD towards shunning women from the ministry. This means people either changed their minds quickly or we today are interpreting the Scriptures differently than our forefathers in the faith (which I cannot determine with certainty). In particular we see prominent men in the early church resisting women in the form of Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and Cyprian to name a few. Some Tertullian quotes/writings are as follows:
“But the woman of pertness, who has usurped the power to teach, will of course not give birth for herself likewise to a right of baptizing! ... For how credible would it seem, that he who has not permitted a woman even to learn with over-boldness, should give a female power of teaching and of baptizing! He says, "Let them be silent and consult their husbands at home." Tertullian (c. 198). (Bercot 693)
“Paul instructs women to be silent in the church [ref: 1 Cor. 14:34-35], not speaking for the mere sake of learning. In doing so, he goes to the Law for his authority that women should be under obedience. However, when he veils the woman who prophesies, he demonstrates that even they have the right of prophesying. Tertullian (c. 207) (Bercot 693)
It is not permitted to a woman to speak in the church, nor to teach, baptize, offer, or to claim to herself a lot in any manly function, not to mention the priestly office. Tertullian (c. 207) (Bercot 693)
Tertullian also wrote that there were four orders of female church officers, all of whom were mentioned in the Bible. These appear to be female deacons, virgins, widows, and eldresses. Some of these women were considered clerics and given ecclesial authority, and seated with the other clergy (Testament of the Lord I.23) (Kroeger 1183)
The issue with citing Tertullian though is that he was either strictly obedient to the literal statements of Paul in the Letters to the Corinthians and Timothy or he very well may have been misogynistic based on some of his statements. Tertullian had actually concluded that women were weak, degraded, depraved, and an obstacle to the spiritual development of men (MacHaffie 27-29). He concluded this based on Eve's offense (Kroeger 1183). Outside of Tertullian we have a modicum of other comments but surprisingly, they basically concur with him. They are listed below. I will list writings of the earliest church fathers (Clement, Polycarp, etc.) and historical figures as strict as possible but some of their comments are not always documented verbatim or are subject to interpretation and need to be seen in their original contexts for clarity. I will then mention the later church fathers and their exact quotes as I was able to find them that can stand on their own.

Clement of Rome (96 AD) in the letter to the Corinthians known as 1 Clement, wrote that he commends the Corinthians…
“And to the women you gave instruction that they should do all things with a blameless and seemly and pure conscience, yielding a dutiful affection to their husbands. And you taught them to remain in the rule of obedience and to manage their households with seemliness, in all circumspection.” Clement of Rome (96AD)
It is likely Clements words "dutiful affection" and "rule of obedience" seem to clash with the teaching that "women manage their households." The word "dutiful" could be translated less harshly as "proper" or "fitting," but the Greek word often does convey the idea of duty. Conversely, in the same epistle there is admiration for the women who suffered martyrdom. In this way women were similar to their male counterparts following the apostles but their positions are not clear here nor are they spelled out. Regardless of their office or position, Clement clearly had admiration for his sisters (Tucker et al 92). In addition to Clement we see Polycarp (69 – 155) also encouraged wives to a committed marital life. He actually goes on to say that husbands should
"[Teach] your wives (to walk) in the faith given to them, and in love and purity tenderly loving their own husbands in all truth, and loving all (others) equally in all chastity."
Ignatius (35-108), in a letter written in Rome states that when urging the appointment of someone for a special mission, Ignatius specifies that it be a man.

We then have the infamous case of Pliny the Younger (61 AD-112 AD) who was a magistrate of Rome in Bithynia writing to Trajan in 111AD. Pliny states that he thought it necessary to “interrogate” (torture) two Christian woman whom he refers to as “deaconesses”. Within the same letter he also refers to them as “ancillae” which means "slaves” and appears to note an inferior office. The problem is the context…inferior to what, men or Pliny himself? As this point in the church it should be noted that these “titles” or “offices” had not yet solidified into the terms and ideas as we understand them today (Tucker et al 92).

Around 178 AD Irenaeus became bishop of Lyons. He is known for his work against heresies, in which he attacked Gnosticism and the Montantists. While dealing with the Gnostics, Irenaeus compared Eve and Mary to draw focus to the physical reality of the Incarnation. Where Mary was obedient, Eve was disobedient. She and Adam did not understand about the procreation of children-in a manner similar to the comparison between Adam and Christ in Romans 5. Irenaeus said that Eve by her disobedience was the "cause of death both for herself and the whole human race”. In this manner Irenaeus thought along the same lines as later church fathers like Tertullian (Tucker et al 96).

I now jump ahead to exact quotes that can be understood out of their original contexts as I was able to glean them from my sources.
Paul did not hesitate to mention his "companion" in one of his epistles...He says in his epistle, "Do I not have the right to take along a sister-wife, as do the other apostles?" However, the other apostles, in harmony with their particular ministry, devoted themselves to preaching without any distraction. Their spouses went with them, not as wives, but as sisters, in order to minister to housewives. Clement of Alexandria (c.195) (Bercot 693, Tucker 96)
A woman should be silent in the church. In the first Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: "Let women be silent in the church. But if any wish to learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home." Also to Timothy: "Let a woman learn with silence, in all subjection. But I do not permit a woman to teach, nor to be set over the man, but to be in silence." Cyprian (c. 250), (Bercot 693)
We do not permit our women "to teach in the church." Rather, they are only permitted to pray and hear those who teach. For Jesus Himself, our Master and Lord, when He sent out the twelve to make disciples of the people and of the nations, nowhere sent out women to preach even though there was no lack of women available. For there were with Him the mother of our Lord and His sisters; Mary Magdalene; Mary the mother of James; Martha and Mary, the sisters Lazarus; Salome; and certain others ...“for the head of the wife is the man," and it is not reason able that the rest of the body should govern the head.” Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390) (Bercot 693)
As to women baptizing, we let you know that there is no small peril to those who undertake it. Therefore, we do not advise you to do it. For it is dangerous, or rather wicked and impious…For if in the foregoing constitutions women have not been permitted to teach, how will anyone allow them ... to perform the office of a priest? For such is not one of institutions of Christ, but is one of the ignorant practices of the Gentile atheism. For the ordain women priests for the female deities After all, if baptism were to be administered by women, certainly our Lord would have been baptized by His own mother and not by John. Or when He sent [the apostles] to baptize, he would have also sent along women for this purpose. Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390) (Bercot 693)
As the years passed the denial of granting women leadership positions within the Church increased but I believe I have shown the intensifying historical pattern. If the early church were truly following the lead of their immediate predecessors, it appears there is a gender bias in favor of male leadership in the Church. Since it is highly unlikely that men willing to die for their beliefs would’ve conceded and yielded on such a minor cultural consideration, it is unlikely the early church fathers changed in accordance with cultural norms. In other words, the early church fathers were staying obedient to what had come before them in terms of tradition and protocol for leadership (most likely) but this cannot be proven conclusively.

Although we see exceptions to the post-apostolic male dominance they are just that: exceptions. The majority of written data and documentation speaks of male, not female leadership in the early church. So now I depart my historical research and move on to my Biblical polemic…

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