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Euphrosyne – Byzantine Empress – Part 2

Countless numbers of women served in God’s kingdom throughout church history. Even in the earliest centuries, women evangelized, prayed, taught, preached, went on pilgrimages, reigned over kingdoms, founded monasteries, and took care of the poor. These women contributed greatly to the Kingdom of God, not so they could be remembered, but so they could serve the Lord Jesus by serving others.

For the first few months of our series on women in the Medieval Era we have covered mostly stories about women who lived in the West because we have much more information about them. We do have some historical writings from Byzantium, so in the last several weeks we have taken a trip towards the East to look at the lives of three Byzantine empresses – Irene, Euphrosyne, and Theodora (9th century). The stories of these three empresses would make a good movie!

 

Note on Icons:

The use of icons has a long history and I can only summarize a bit here. Some early church leaders felt that the pictures of saints helped the common folk to learn the story of the gospel. Indeed, Pope Gregory the Great said that religious images were the “Bible of the illiterate”.  Other theologians were against using images in worship. They felt that going all the way back to the Old Testament, images had been forbidden by God. After all, they reasoned, God had given us a written word for a purpose. These objectors to the use of images were also worried that the images would be too easily worshipped in place of God.

Some Byzantine emperors wished to do away with icons (Iconoclasts). Other emperors were sensitive to the people and did not wish to change their worship service and so they allowed icons (Iconophiles). In our stories of three Byzantine empresses (Irene, Euphrosyne, and Theodora) we will see how this played out in the 8thand 9th centuries.

 

Euphrosyne – (793? – 836?)

Let’s review a bit. Irene became the sole ruler of Byzantium as Empress mother/Regent of Byzantium when her husband Leo IV died. She proved that she would be a strong, effective, and popular ruler. Irene is still remembered as a devout empress who loved her people.

In 787 Irene found a bride for her only son, Constantine VI, Mary of Amnia. Mary bore two daughters, Irene (named after her paternal grandmother) and Euphrosyne. The girls would have been born between 789 and 794 but no records exist of actual dates. When Euphrosyne was born Constantine decided he was tired of waiting for a male heir and divorced Mary. Constantine succeeded in trumping up charges of treason against Mary and had her convicted and exiled.

The empress mother Irene and the citizens of Constantinople objected to this sinful divorce. Nevertheless, Constantine forced Mary and their two daughters to leave Constantinople in January 795 to go to a monastery. Only much later would the wrong be righted when Mary was exonerated, and Euphrosyne would return to Constantinople.

Irene and Constantine fought for control of the throne with Irene gaining control. Part of the reason the populace welcomed Irene was because of Constantine’s divorce. Constantine who was exiled in 797. Irene reigned for five more years. In October 802 there was a military supported coup d’etat. Irene was forcibly removed from the throne. The finance minister, Nikephoros assumed the throne, and it seemed to be the end of the dynasty that had begun with Justinian in the sixth century.

Meanwhile, Euphrosyne was growing up in a monastery on Prinkipo. Her mother was forced to join the religious community. Mary and young Irene and Euphrosyne were virtually prisoners there. The girls were taught to read and write by other nuns or tutors. Eventually, Euphrosyne likely took the vows to be a nun. A modern view of Prinkipo shows an island with beautiful trees and sandy shores and many places for young girls to have fun while growing up even though for all they knew they were confined there permanently.

During their stay in the monastery the girls were probably aware of the conflict over icons. Euphrosyne would no doubt have been taught that she was a true daughter of Constantine and therefore a royal princess. Of coursed at this time of her life she could not foresee any other future than taking vows as a nun and spending the rest of her life in the monastery.

After the coup d’etat of 802, when her grandmother Irene as forced off of the throne, Nikephoros I reigned from 802 to 811. He did not succeed in any great accomplishments. He was killed by Bulgars after a battle with them in 811. The throne was fought over, and Michael I became emperor, but reigned only 2 years. Three junior military officers plotted to oust him. Each one wanted to be emperor, but Leo the Armenian prevailed, becoming Leo V. He reigned from 813 – 820.

Leo realized that he was not “royalty”. He also realized that the land was divided over the issue of icons. He believed that his best support to maintain his power for ruling would come from the iconoclasts (those who are against icons). During Irene’s reign, the use of icons in worship had come back. Irene had overturned the laws establishing iconoclasm. Now, Leo reversed this and made a new law in favor of iconoclasm.

Not surprisingly, Leo’s rule was challenged by Michael of Amorion. Leo had Michael imprisoned and would have executed him, but empress Theodosia persuaded him against it. It seems it was a holy day, the Feast of the Nativity. This gave Michael’s co-conspirators a chance to carry out an assassination attempt against Leo. They disguised themselves as members of the chapel choir and struck Leo down while he was singing the Christmas liturgy. The conspirators rushed to free Michael and changing his prison garb for royal purple had him crowned Michael II.

Michael began his reign in 820. He knew that he was not royalty. One wonders if he was worried about plots against him since he was now the fourth emperor in a row who attained the throne through military might rather than legal hereditary descent. Anyway, he decided to fix the problem by marrying someone who was royalty. Enter – Euphrosyne.

Michael was about forty years old in 820, and Euphrosyne between twenty-six and thirty. Though she was raised as an iconophile, Michael overlooked it in order to gain this royal bride for himself. Since Euphrosyne’s vows as a nun were supposed to be permanent, he also had to get a special dispensation for her to leave the convent. We don’t have records of Euphrosyne’s feelings in these matters, but she must have been happy to be restored to her rightful place in court. She and Michael married in 820.

Mary returned to the palace with her daughter. She was fully exonerated.

We have very few records of Euphrosyne’s activities during her reign with Michael from 820 – 829. We can assume that she would have fulfilled all of the duties of an empress, diplomatic meetings, caring for the poor, and trying to get an heir. She had no children but got along well with her stepson, Theophilos who would eventually become the emperor.

Euphrosyne founded a monastery near the city of Constantinople. It would become a family shrine. When her mother Mary died Euphrosyne had her buried there. Later Euphrosyne would bring the remains of her father Constantine, and her sister Irene and have them buried there. This was really important to Euphrosyne. She had no children, so her shrine commemorated the last few generations of the Syrian dynasty.

Michael II died in 829 and Theophilos ascended to the throne. Euphrosyne arranged a marriage for him with Theodora who will be the subject of our next post. Eventually Euphrosyne retired out of the Great Palace. She went to live in another palace. Here she began her somewhat covert activities in restoring the iconophile position in the land. Theophilos had adopted the iconoclastic laws of his father. But his and Theodora’s children, Euphrosyne’s step-grandchildren, would visit her in her palace. There she taught them as well as Theodora about icons. Theophilos had no idea that Euphrosyne was undermining Theophilos’ policy of iconoclasm. It would be after his death that Theodora would restore Icons to worship in the Church. That will be discussed in the next post.

There is no record of the date of Euphrosyne’s death. The nuns at the monastery probably performed the burial rituals. A marble tomb was built for her and she was laid to rest near her father, mother, and sister Irene.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Euphrosyne – Byzantine Empress – Part 1

Countless numbers of women served in God’s kingdom throughout history. Even in the earliest centuries, women evangelized, prayed, taught, preached, went on pilgrimages, reigned over kingdoms, founded monasteries, and took care of the poor. These women contributed greatly to the Kingdom of God, not so they could be remembered, but so they could serve the Lord Jesus by serving others.

Our stories over the last few months have mainly been about women in the western part of the world because more of their writings have survived the ravages of time. We do have some historical writings from Byzantium, so in the last several weeks we have taken a trip towards the East to look at the lives of three Byzantine empresses – Irene, Euphrosyne, and Theodora (9th century). We needed two posts to cover the amazing life if Irene! The stories of these three empresses would make a good movie! Before we talk about the second of the three, Euphrosyne, let’s review a bit about icons. Icons are still very popular in some Eastern Orthodox churches. It is an important part of their history and understanding the issues helps to understand the changes in leadership in the Byzantine empire.

Note on Icons:

The use of icons has a long history. Some early church leaders in the Western and Eastern churches felt that the pictures of saints helped the common folk to learn the story of the gospel. Indeed, Pope Gregory the Great said that religious images were the “Bible of the illiterate”. Other theologians were against using images in worship. They believed that in the Old Testament images had been forbidden by God. After all, they reasoned, God had given us a written word and it should be sufficient. These objectors to the use of images were also worried that the images would be too easily worshipped in place of God. These two views remain with us today.

 

The picture on the left is of a very famous icon from the Byzantine era. Icons of Christ are the most revered. This icon was at the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia was built in the sixth century by Justinian[1] as an Orthodox cathedral. It remained a Christian cathedral until 1453 when Constantinople was captured by the Ottomans. Constantinople was renamed Istanbul and the church was converted to a Muslim mosque. Today it is a museum that you can visit. (See picture on the right.)

 

Euphrosyne – (793? – 836?)

Let’s review a bit. We learned from our last two posts that Irene became the sole ruler as Empress mother/Regent of Byzantium when her husband Leo IV died. She proved that she would be a strong, effective, and popular ruler as she protected her son’s throne, accumulated support, won military battles, lowered taxes, and spent time and money caring for the poor. Irene is still remembered as a devout empress who loved her people.

In 787 Irene found a bride for her only son, Constantine VI, Mary of Amnia. Mary bore two daughters, Irene (named after her paternal grandmother) and Euphrosyne. The girls would have been born between 789 and 794 but no records exist of actual dates. When Euphrosyne was born Constantine decided he was tired of waiting for a male heir and divorced Mary. He could only put her away on charges of treason, so he spread the lie that Mary was trying to poison him. Many, including the Patriarch found the accusation untrue and shameful. Nevertheless, Constantine succeeded in getting Mary convicted and exiled.

The empress mother Irene objected to this. The patriarch tried to talk Constantine out of it. Divorce was not allowed in the Orthodox religion. Actually, even the citizens of Constantinople felt that Constantine VI was sinning and most refused to recognize the divorce. Nevertheless, Constantine forced Mary and their two daughters to leave Constantinople in January 795 to go to a monastery. Only much later would the wrong be righted when Mary was exonerated, and Euphrosyne would return to Constantinople.

After this Irene and Constantine fought for control of the throne. The people and the leaders favored Irene. Constantine had not been an effective ruler. He lost battles, raised taxes, alienated top government officials, and the people were still angry about his divorce. Irene prevailed over Constantine and had him exiled in 797. Irene reigned for five more years. In October 802 there was a military supported coup d’etat. Irene was forcibly removed from the throne. The finance minister, Nikephoros assumed the throne. He was not a member of the royal family and it seemed to be the end of the Syrian dynasty.

Meanwhile, the exiled Euphrosyne was growing up in a monastery on a large island in the Princes Isles, Prinkipo. Her mother was forced to join the religious community. Mary and young Irene and Euphrosyne were virtually prisoners there. As royalty their housing was probably better than most. Prinkipo is a beautiful island with forests and rocks and beaches where the girls probably enjoyed playing. Mary and the girls no doubt had a nice apartment and maybe even some servants. The girls were taught to read and write by other nuns or tutors. Eventually, Euphrosyne likely took the vows to be a nun. At this stage in her life she probably thought she would be in a monastery until she died.

During their stay in the monastery, Mary kept in touch with what was going on in court through letters. The girls were probably aware of the conflict over icons. Euphrosyne would no doubt have been taught that she was a true daughter of Constantine and therefore a royal princess. Of coursed at this time of her life she could not foresee any other future than taking vows as a nun and spending the rest of her life in the monastery. When her sister Irene died, Euphrosyne became the only living descendant of Leo III, the last of the legitimate ruling dynasty. This fact will later play a significant part in her life.

After the coup d’etat of 802, when Euphrosyne’s grandmother Irene was forced off of the throne, Nikephoros I assumed control and he reigned from 802 to 811. Nikephoros would be the first of the next four emperors who succeeded to the throne by military might or rebel takeovers. The story of the changes in government over the next eighteen years reads like a good movie plot. While the men were fighting over the throne, Mary and her daughters, Irene and Euphrosyne were living peaceful lives away from the intrigues and bloodshed. We will pick up the story of the Byzantine empire in Part 2 next time with the takeover by Nikephoros in 802. Euphrosyne would be in seclusion for eighteen years during all the drama at court. It will have a happy ending for her.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] You can read about Justinian and Theodora, posted on this blog – September 10, 2019, “Christianity Women in the Medieval Era – Part 4”

Empress Irene of Byzantium, Part 2

 

We have been looking at the stories of some of the countless number of women who served in God’s kingdom in early church history. Women evangelized, prayed, taught, preached, went on pilgrimages, reigned over kingdoms, founded monasteries, and took care of the poor. These women contributed greatly to the Kingdom of God, not so they could be remembered, but so they could serve the Lord Jesus by serving others.

Our focus has been on the stories of women who lived mostly in western Europe, because we have far more information from that part of the world. We do have some historical writings from Byzantium, so last week we took a trip towards the East to begin a look at the lives of three Byzantine empresses – Irene, Euphrosyne, and Theodora (9th century).

 

Note on Icons:

Many people in Western Protestant churches are not familiar with icons. The use of icons has a long history and I can only summarize a bit here. Some early church leaders felt that the pictures of saints helped the common folk to learn the story of the gospel. Indeed, Pope Gregory the Great said that religious images were the “Bible of the illiterate”.  Other theologians were against using images in worship. They felt that going all the way back to the Old Testament, images had been forbidden by God. After all, they reasoned, God had given us a written word for a purpose. These objectors to the use of images were also worried that the images would be too easily worshipped in place of God.

Both of these groups make good points. I will not try and take a side on this issue. I only mention the two views of the dispute because whether or not to have icons in worship played a large role in the rulership of Byzantium. Some emperors wished to do away with icons (Iconoclasts). Other emperors were sensitive to the people and did not wish to change their worship service and so they allowed icons (Iconophiles). In the stories of our three empresses we will see how this played out in the 8th and 9th centuries.

 

Empress Irene of Byzantium – (754 – 803), continued…

In part 1 of our story we saw that Irene became the Empress mother/Regent of Byzantium when her husband Leo IV died. She proved that she would be a strong, effective, and popular ruler as she protected her son’s throne, accumulated support, won military battles, and built homes for the poor.

The achievement that Irene is most remembered for however is the restoration of the icons. Whatever her own personal policy may have been, Irene had seen how this issue divided the church. She had also witnessed the cruelty of the iconoclasts as they sought to impose their views on the people. Her husband had tortured many iconophiles. Irene wanted a reconciliation between the two parties.

In an effort to reunite the church, Irene summoned two church councils. The first one did not go well. At the second one held in Nicaea in 787, the veneration of icons was restored to the church. Also, a rift that had occurred between the eastern and western churches was healed. New relations began with the Pope in Rome. Irene and Constantine VI were proclaimed the new “Constantine and Helena” and were given the status of saints in the church.

For the next few years of her reign, Irene was a pious ruler and she dedicated herself to helping the poor. As Constantinople began to grow, Irene found ways to give relief to the poor. Indeed, people began to move into the city just for the help they could receive. Irene and her Patriarch housed homeless people and provided them with clothing and food. She enjoyed distributing money to them on feast days.

People thought that when Constantine reached his majority that he would automatically take over as emperor. Irene did not have much confidence in him and she kept ruling. In 787, she found a bride for him, Mary of Amnia and the royal pair had two daughters, Irene (named after her grandmother) and Euphrosyne (who will figure in the next post).

In 790, Constantine was tired of waiting for his rightful position as emperor and gathered supporters and was proclaimed emperor. He banished Irene from court. He did not rule well. Constantine made many mistakes including the same one his father had made of not rewarding the people who helped him. After pressuring her son to restore her to power, Irene came back to court in 792. She and Constantine formed a joint rulership. Many high placed people were happy to see Irene back.

Among other mistakes, Constantine divorced Mary. This gave fuel to his mother’s fire when she came back to court. Neither the church nor the people approved of Constantine’s actions. Constantine married another woman and they had a son, but the child died. Constantine also lost several military campaigns. He raised taxes to pay for the losses. His popularity was steadily going downhill.

In 797, Constantine and Irene faced a struggle for power. Irene succeeded in having him arrested. In order to prevent her son from trying to regain total control she had him blinded and banished. (Blinding was considered a merciful option to execution.) In the meantime, the uncles sensed another opportunity to try for power, but Irene had the younger four blinded and banished. (Constantine had already had his eldest uncle blinded earlier.)

Now that Irene had put down all opposition, she was the sole ruler of Byzantium. She announced that Constantine was unable to rule due to the loss of his sight and she immediately went about proclaiming herself as the sole ruler by having new coins made. The new coins show only Irene as empress on both sides. This was the standard practice for letting everyone in the kingdom and surrounding countries (through trade) know that Irene was the ruler.

Irene received very little protest. She placed her own staff in the Great Palace. She won the support of the church when she restored those clergy who had been persecuted for opposing the “adulterous” second marriage of Constantine. She won the support of the people by lowering taxes and resuming her charitable works.

Irene became the first female to reign as emperor in her own right. She reigned for five more years. Her only mistake was in not naming her heir before she died. This made the throne vulnerable. Not surprisingly there was a military supported coup d’etat in October 802. Irene was forcibly removed from the throne.

The finance minister, Nikephoros headed the revolution and had himself proclaimed emperor. Nikephoros promised Irene a quiet life in the palace but had her moved to the island of Prinkipo. Later he discovered that her treasure was there, so he moved her further away to the island of Lesbos. She was surrounded by guards and allowed no visitors. She died there about eight months later. She was around fifty years old.

Irene had accomplished much during her reign. Her building program aided the church in social services to the poor. She helped to reunite a church that was split over areas of theology. In spite of the way that she displaced her son, Constantine, Irene was a more effective ruler. She had a more intelligent foreign policy. She extended Byzantine influence further beyond the borders that existed when she ascended to the throne. Though as a woman she faced challenges and threats against her power, she proved that she was well able to handle all aspects of government. In the end, she reigned longer than her husband, Leo IV (775-780). She left a more lasting impression than either he or the three previous male rulers had.

Very importantly, Irene had set a precedent. In the years to come Byzantium would be ruled by two more amazing empresses – Euphrosyne and Theodora. These three women changed history.

 

Empress Irene of Byzantium, Part 1

We have been reviewing the stories of many of the countless number of women who served Christ throughout church history. Women evangelized, prayed, taught, preached, went on pilgrimages, reigned over kingdoms, founded monasteries, and took care of the poor. These women contributed greatly to the Kingdom of God, not so they could be remembered, but so they could serve the Lord Jesus by serving others.

For the past few months we have told the stories of women in the Middle Ages including Genovefa, Brigid of Ireland, the first Empress Theodora (6th century), Gertrude, Anstrude, Frideswide and Lioba. The focus of our stories has been mainly on the faithful women who lived mostly in Western Europe because we have far more information from that part of the world. We do have some historical writings from Byzantium, so for the next several posts, let’s take a journey towards the East and look at the lives of three Byzantine empresses – Irene, Euphrosyne, and Theodora (9th century).

 

Note on Icons:

Many people in Western Protestant churches are not familiar with icons. The use of icons has a long history and I can only summarize a bit here. Some early church leaders felt that the pictures of saints helped the common folk to learn the story of the gospel. Indeed, Pope Gregory the Great (6th century) said that religious images were the “Bible of the illiterate”.

Other theologians were against using images in worship. They felt that going all the way back to the Old Testament, images had been forbidden by God. After all, God had given us a written word for a reason. Those who objected to the use of images believed that the images would be too easily worshipped in place of God.

Both of these groups make good points. I will not try and take a side on this issue. I only mention the two views of the dispute because whether or not to have icons in worship played a large role in the rulership of Byzantium. Some emperors wished to do away with icons (Iconoclasts). Other emperors were sensitive to the people and did not wish to change their worship service and so allowed them to use icons (Iconophiles). In the stories of our three empresses we will see how this played out in the 8th and 9th centuries.

 

Empress Irene of Byzantium – (754 – 803)

Byzantium had many famous empresses starting with Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, (246 – 330) through Zoe (11th century). We have already related the story of the 6th century Empress Theodora who was married to Justinian. Her story is particularly interesting as she was a lowly circus entertainer who captured Justinian’s eye and married him. This fascinating woman nevertheless became one of the most powerful empresses in the Middle Ages. Wise, compassionate, and just, Theodora has been remembered as a righteous Christian ruler.[1]  Theodora was also the model for the three empresses in our current posts.

Irene was brought from Athens, Greece in 769 AD to be the consort of the future emperor Leo IV. Her family may have been prominent in Athens and perhaps that is why she was chosen to become the future empress in Constantinople. Constantine V was reigning at the time and he arranged for this marriage to his son, Leo. It was not unusual for emperors to cement alliances with other nations in this way.

Irene left Greece to become the bride of Leo IV. There is no record of the date of her birth, but she was probably around fifteen years old. Leo was nearly twenty. Though the marriage was arranged, both the bride and groom gave their consent.

How exciting it must have been for Irene as she sailed to Constantinople knowing that she was to be the consort of the future emperor. Her first days in her new home would have been filled with instructions for all of the things an empress was expected to do. Irene had months of training for her upcoming coronation and marriage to Leo. She had to learn the customs of Byzantium. She was an intelligent and quick learner. This would be very helpful to her later when she would have to rule after her husband’s death as the Regent for their young son..

At the coronation Irene was presented to the court and all of important officials and their wives. The ceremony continued with a ritual where Irene honored the cross of Christ. Leo, Irene and the court asked God for his blessing. Her position was now official. She would be the one who would ensure the continuance of the dynasty with Leo through her children.

Her firstborn son, Constantine VI was born on January 14, 771. When Constantine V died in 775, Leo ascended the throne as emperor and Irene became the empress. Her position was secure and this would be important when she became the empress mother.

Leo had been influenced against icons by his father, Constantine V. This position was called “iconoclasm”. Leo was lenient to “iconophiles” (those who used icons) at the beginning of his reign but later became harsher. Irene’s original position is not clear, but later she sided with the iconophiles. In the early part of his reign Leo allowed monasteries to worship in their own way. He changed his mind when he found icons in the palace. He punished the men who brought them in harshly and began to persecute the iconophiles. Some were exiled; others were imprisoned.

As it turned out, Leo died suddenly (and somewhat mysteriously) in 780 and Irene became the regent for Constantine VI, now nine years old. Irene proved her courage and wisdom as she defended her son’s throne from many would-be usurpers who thought this was their chance to rise to power. Leo’s brothers, Constantine VI’s uncles, thought they saw their chance to get the throne. They assumed that Irene was just a weak woman and they could get rid of her and put one of themselves in power. But Irene proved to be a strong Regent with a will of her own and she exiled all of the uncles. They were forced to become clerics and for the time being at least Constantine VI’s throne was secure.

Irene surrounded herself with supporters that she could trust. She was careful to reward those who dutifully obeyed her wishes and she consolidated her power. She brought back from exile the iconophiles that her husband had persecuted.  Irene also took charge of the military and is credited with protecting Constantinople from enemy threats several times. Those who thought this young woman would be weak and easily disposed of were proven wrong. Irene showed that she knew how to rule and rule effectively. To show that she was in charge, she had new coins struck. They show Irene and Constantine VI as co-rulers.

Irene thus began her Regency for the throne of Byzantium. She would accomplish much over the next twenty-two years. In Part 2, we will see how Irene set the precedent for female rulers in Byzantium. She and her two successors – Euphrosyne and Theodora would change history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] For more information on Empress Theodora see the post on September 10, 2019 on this site. The mosaic pictured above is in the church of San Vitale at Ravenna, (completed in 547) and shows Empress Theodora wearing the official robes of rulership and holding a chalice, a symbol of her rulership.

Christian Women in the Medieval Era – Dhuoda

We have been looking at the stories of some of the thousands of women served in God’s kingdom during Medieval times. Women prayed, taught, preached, went on pilgrimages, reigned over kingdoms, founded monasteries, and took care of the poor. Like their female forebears in the Patristic Era these women contributed greatly to the Kingdom of God, not so they could be remembered, but so they could serve the Lord Jesus by serving others.[1]

Women participated in all ministries in the first few centuries of the church. Things really changed for women in the 6th and 7th centuries when women began to be barred from the freedom of ministry that they exercised in the Patristic Era and Early Medieval Era. By the 9th century it was a settled fact that women would be barred from the institutionalized church ministries. That did not stop women from finding ways to serve the Savior. In the cloisters, women found ways to support themselves while actively working among the poor in their communities.

Throughout history, even with restrictions placed against them, women have and always will find ways to serve their Savior. Our story this week is about a dedicated servant of Christ whose writings have blessed thousands.

Dhuoda – 9th Century Lay Theologian

I admonish you continually to mull over the words of the holy gospels and the writings of the fathers concerning these (things)…. By thinking, speaking and acting rightly, you may believe in the everlasting God, who remains one in trinity and triune in unity. Dhuoda – “Liber Manualis”, 843 AD

This remarkably astute advice was given to a son by a mother who lived in the 9thcentury. It is so wonderful to be able to connect with someone who lived and wrote nearly 1200 years ago. Dhuoda studied the same Scriptures that we study. She read the church fathers that we have read. She came to the same doctrinal understanding of the faith that we consider “orthodox”. Reading Dhuoda’s story is an encouragement to our faith because we have confidence in the timeless true faith.

We only know of Dhuoda’s life through her writings.She married Bernard, son of William of Gellone, at Aachen on June 29, 824. William was a cousin to Charlemagne. Bernard and Dhuoda lived in southern France where Bernard was an advisor at the French court. Dhuoda accompanied Bernard on his travels until the birth of their first son, William, in 826. Then she went to live in a castle at Uzes for the rest of her life.

To put Dhuoda’s life into perspective let us review the 8th and 9th centuries in Europe. Charlemagne (c.742-814) ruled much of Western Europe from 768 to 814. In 771, Charlemagne became king of the Franks (a Germanic people group who extended through most of Western Europe). He wanted to unite all Germanic peoples into one kingdom and convert his subjects to Christianity. He spent most of his reign engaged in warfare in order to bring this about. In 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor of the Romans. Charlemagne founded the Carolingian Renaissance, a cultural and intellectual revival in Europe.

When Charlemagne died in 814, his empire encompassed much of Western Europe, and he had also ensured the survival of Christianity in the West. It was into this largely Christian society that Dhuoda was born around 803 AD.

After Charlemagne died his son Louis (778-840) reigned in his stead. It was rumored that the self-seeking Bernard had an affair with Louis’s second wife, Judith. In any event, Bernard was an advisor at court when Louis died in 1840. Louis’s three sons then started a bloody civil war for the throne. At first Bernard backed Pepin II but then changed sides and backed Charles the Bold. In order to prove to Charles that he would not change sides again, Bernard presented his first-born son, William, to Charles as a hostage.

Bernard was a very selfish, cruel, lecherous man. He tortured and maimed his enemies. He shut Dhuoda up in a castle in Uzes when he took their firstborn son from her. When Dhuoda’s second son was born, Bernard snatched him away even before he was baptized. In her writing, Dhuoda tells us that she never found out what her second son’s name was. (It was usual to name the child at Baptism.) Bernard’s enemies were just as treacherous. They killed everyone else in Bernard’s family. Perhaps it was just as well for Dhuoda that she was shut away in a castle.

In spite of the fact that Bernard had given his son as hostage, Charles lured him to court in 844 and had him beheaded. Apparently, Bernard was still engaged in intrigues. He was always only thinking of himself. His son William proved to be too much like his father and unwisely sought to gain back his family’s territories.

Meanwhile at the castle in Uzes, Dhuoda decided to write to her son. She had heard that things were dangerous at court. She was perhaps also told that William was not living the Christian life that he should.  She thought that writing to him would help to get her son to live rightly.

The city of Uzes where Dhuoda was living had seen many changes over the centuries. It began as a Christian community very early in the 2ndcentury. There were monasteries there and a large cathedral. It was a very peaceful city until 843 with the Treaty of Verdun. After that Uzes became a major battlefield in the dynastic wars which Dhuoda’s husband and family were involved in.

This was the year, 843, when Dhuoda’s book, Liber Manualis, was completed. Dhuoda intended this book to
be a manual for the personal growth and edification of her son William. The book was written against the backdrop of all of the wars and fighting and intrigues going on around her. Her main purpose was to write words of wisdom for her son. She wanted him to survive, not as a selfish person, but as a man of God.

Dhuoda stressed three allegiances in her book, first to God, then to William’s earthly father, and then to the king, Charles the Bold.

Unfortunately, Dhuoda’s wise counsel was lost on William. As we now know Bernard was put to death for treason in 844 the following year after Dhuoda’s book was written. William forsook his mother’s counsel and supported Pepin II in spite of owing his allegiance to Charles. William tried to regain his territorial rights against Charles. He was beaten in battle and slain in 850. It remains unclear what happened to Dhuoda’s second son, possibly also named Bernard. In any event Bernard’s family fortunes were now lost.

Though Dhuoda’s well written instruction manual went unheeded by her son, it remains for us a beautiful example of Medieval writing by a woman was is considered a lay theologian in her own right.

Dhuoda wrote during a time when few women were writing. Only the wealthy could afford the kind of education that Dhuoda had. Yet, thanks to Charlemagne’s efforts at advancing Christianity and the culture, more people were reading the classics. We can tell from Dhuoda’s writings that she had read the Scriptures many times. She was also familiar with the major works of the Church fathers. She learned Christian principles that she wanted to pass on to her son. (An excellent source of more information is: Marie Anne, Mayeski. Dhuoda: Ninth Century Mother and Theologian, Scranton, PA: The University of Scranton, 1996).

One example comes from her teaching on the Beatitudes. She tells her son that being “poor in spirit” does not mean only being poor financially. “Someone may shine with gold, gems and the royal purple, but will go forth to the shadows naked and poor, carrying nothing unless he has lived well, piously, chastely, and worthily.” She admonished William to be generous to the poor. She reminded William that his position came from God and he needed to be a good steward.

Too bad William didn’t pay more attention.

Dhuoda wrote in Latin. She was a gifted writer who presented her thoughts in unique ways. She used poetry and prose and even played word games, such as an acrostic she made of her own name.

Dhuoda was a lay theologian. She wrote commentaries on many parts of the Bible. Her translations are orthodox. Some of her theology takes a fresh approach to interpreting Scripture. For example, following Augustine, the main commentaries on the beatitudes in her day compared the beatitudes with the gifts of the Spirit. Dhuoda understood that the gifts of the Spirit enable believers to live the holy life expressed in the beatitudes. Dhuoda used these as concrete examples in her writing to her son.

But, while Augustine reduced the number of beatitudes in order to complete the numerical parallel with the gifts, and he reversed the order of the gifts of the Spirit in order to make them fit his pattern, Dhuoda described both the gifts and the beatitudes as sets of military skills needed to live a mature Christian life. This is not surprising given that she is encouraging her son to live rightly in the world of the intrigues of the court and political revolution.

Dhuoda advised William “to ascend the fifteen steps through the seven formative gifts and the eight beatitudes; ascend them in order and thoughtfully, a step at a time, but vigorously, my son.” Historians believe that Dhuoda was uncertain of her son’s Christian commitment. In her writing we see that she assumes he is a Christian, but very immature. Her book was written to help him know how to grow up to a complete man in Christ. Any young person today could do well to heed her advice.

The date of Dhuoda’s death is unknown. Though we do not have more details of her life, we can be thankful that she left us her writings. Her advice to her son on moral behavior is timeless. Dhuoda is a shining example of a woman who loved God above all and spent her time studying about Him to get to know Him better and to pass on that knowledge to others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] See posts on this blog site from January 22, 2019 through June 4, 2019 for “Women in the Patristic Era”.

 

Thousands of women served in God’s kingdom during Medieval times. Women prayed, taught, preached, went on pilgrimages, reigned over kingdoms, founded monasteries, and took care of the poor. Like their female forebears in the Patristic Era these women contributed greatly to the Kingdom of God, not so they could be remembered, but so they could serve the Lord Jesus by serving others.[1]

Women participated in all ministries in the first few centuries of the church. Things really changed for women in the 6th and 7th centuries when women began to be barred from the freedom of ministry that they exercised in the Patristic Era and Early Medieval Era. The main reason was that ideas about women changed. For a number of worldly or unbiblical reasons women’s status was continually lowered until men saw them as impure, sinful, and unable to function in church service. It has taken until the twentieth century for people to realize that women are capable of doing anything intellectual or spiritual that men can do. In fact, women often do better.

Thankfully, the poor treatment of women in the Middle Ages did not entirely stop them from finding ways to follow Christ. One of the chief ways that women were able to serve was in the cloister.  In the monasteries, women would be able to pray, teach, preach, serve communion, study, support themselves and take care of the poor.

Throughout history, even with restrictions placed against them, women have and always will find ways to serve their Savior. Our story this week is about a dedicated servant of Christ whose godly influence changed the lives of thousands. Lioba found a way to honor the traditions of the church while working to further the kingdom of God.

 

Lioba (710-780)

An aged nun at Wimborne Abbey recognized that the young nun Lioba, whose name means “beloved” would become significant in Christ’s church. Lioba had had a dream and sought an explanation. The aged nun explained, “the person whose holiness and wisdom make her a worthy recipient, because by her teaching and good example she will confer benefits on many people.” She added, that many would “profit by her words and example, and the effect of them will be felt in other lands afar off whither she will go.”[2] The prophecy would come true; Lioba’s ministry would extend all through Germany.

Lioba was born in Wessex, England in 710 AD. As a young girl she was sent to Wimborne Abbey in Dorset to study under the abbess, Mother Tetta. Lioba was a gifted student and earned a reputation as an intelligent and pious scholar. Lioba read and memorized Scripture and applied herself to learning how to minister to others. Early on she showed an ability for organization and leadership that would serve her well later in her life.

In the meantime, the well-known St. Boniface was going throughout all of Saxony, Thuringia, and Hesse (part of modern Germany) spreading the gospel and making many converts. He desired to have places for new believers to worship and study. Because of correspondence with his cousin, Lioba, who was related to him on her mother’s side, he knew that there were many educated nuns in English convents. Lioba and Boniface corresponded for about twenty years. (You can read an example of one of her letters to him at the end of this post.)

Boniface wrote to Mother Tetta and asked if some nuns could come and assist in the work. He was pleased to take the opportunity to use Lioba’s giftedness to spread monasteries all over Germany. This was not only because he and Lioba were related, but because Lioba’s reputation as a wise and devout Christian was known far and wide and Boniface knew that she would win the respect of nuns and monks. His faith in her was rewarded by her many years of selfless devotion.

Mother Tetta sent Boniface some thirty nuns including Lioba. When they arrived at Mainz, on the Rhine, Boniface set them up in a dwelling at Bischofsheim. Lioba became the abbess there and the nuns quickly turned it into a model monastery. Soon the new abbey was filled with people desiring to have a religious vocation. Lioba was a good teacher. The new Christians were taught the “right way”. They quickly absorbed the teaching because Lioba not only spoke the Word of God to them, but she modeled it daily. Though she could be strict about obedience to God’s commands, Lioba was also cheerful, hospitable, and full of charitable works.

Many other monasteries were set up around Germany. Lioba modeled them after the Benedictine rule of life. St. Benedict’s Rule was to ensure that nuns and monks lived a holy life while in the monastery. The three main rules are familiar to us – poverty, chastity, and obedience. Lioba modeled them religiously. The abbots of other monasteries were so impressed with her that they often asked for her advice and guidance.

Lioba was even found at court ministering to royalty. She was uncomfortable there but had formed a friendship with Queen Hiltigard and King Charles. They had heard of her wisdom and the depth of her faith and sought her support. She would go cheerfully when they invited her but would not stay long. She always cared for the work that God gave her in the monasteries and among the poor and would soon return to her life of prayer and service. She had no desire for wealth or earthly possessions.

Sometimes Lioba went to the monastery at Fulda to say her prayers. This was an unusual privilege because it was a male-only monastery. Women were not allowed to enter. Permission was given to her because Boniface had spoken highly of her to the elders and because he had ordered them to bury Lioba there when she died. Boniface loved her for her great wisdom and kindness. Lioba outlived Boniface by twenty-four years. Boniface had gone to Friesland where he was eventually martyred. Lioba was about seventy years old when she died around 780 AD.

In her final years, Lioba spent her time in prayer and visiting the other monasteries imparting her wisdom and exhorting them to follow Christ’s example of love and care for the poor. When she died her body was tenderly and respectfully carried by the monks of Fulda in a procession to their monastery. They were not willing however to open St. Boniface’s tomb to bury Lioba there. Instead they buried her on the north side of the altar which the martyr St. Boniface had built.

Here is an example of one of Lioba’s letters to St. Boniface written in 723. Imagine this young woman, approximately thirteen years of age demonstrating her profound wisdom, spirituality, and grace. (Could any teenager today write this way!)

The letter was written as an accompaniment to a gift. Note the humility as Lioba also sends a small poem that she wrote for Boniface.

To my revered master Boniface, bearing the insignia of the highest office, most dear to me in Christ and bound to me by ties of kinship, I, Lioba, least of the servants of those who bear the easy yoke of Christ, wish enduring health and prosperity. I beg you graciously to bear in mind your ancient friendship for my father, Dynne, formed long ago in the West country. It is now eight years since he was called away from this world, and I ask your prayers for his soul. I recall to your memory also my mother, Aebbe, who, as you know, is bound to you by ties of blood. She lives a life of suffering, bowed down by grievous illness. I am the only daughter of my parents and, unworthy though I be, I wish that I might regard you as a brother; for there is no other man in my kinship in whom I have such confidence as in you. I have ventured to send you this little gift, not as if it deserved even a kindly glance from you but that you may have a reminder of my insignificance and not let me be forgotten on account of our wide separation. May the bond of our true affection be knit ever more closely for all time. I eagerly pray, my dear brother, that I may be protected by the shield of your prayers from the poisoned darts of the hidden enemy. I beg you also to be so kind as to correct the unskilled style of this letter and to send me, by way of example, a few kind words which I greatly long to hear. I have composed the following verses according to the rules of poetic art, not trusting to my own presumption, but trying only to exercise my little talents and needing your assistance. I have studied this art under the guidance of Eadburga, who still carries on without ceasing her investigation of the divine law.

Farewell, and may you live long and happily, making intercession for me.
The omnipotent Ruler who alone created everything,
He who shines in splendor forever in His Father’s kingdom,
The perpetual fire by which the glory of Christ reigns,
May preserve you forever in perennial right.

Lioba joined her friend Boniface in heaven around 779 or 780 AD. The two are forever in the presence of Christ along with the other saints of the Medieval era.

[1] See posts on this blog site from January 22, 2019 through June 4, 2019 for “Women in the Patristic Era”.

[2] Amy Oden, editor. In Her Words: Women’s Writings in the History of Christian Thought (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994). P. 90-91.

The subject of this blog is courageous women. As I sat down to write my thoughts for the coming year, I made a personal resolution to be more like the women I write about.

It just so happens that my family and I watched a movie about Irena Sendler last night. Irena is one of the many women who have inspired me over the years. Irena put her life on the line to rescue over 2500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto during WWII. I cannot really imagine what it would be like to put my life on the line in order to rescue helpless victims. Would God give me the courage to do it? My prayer is that He would. He certainly gave Irena incredible courage.

To celebrate the New Year I am thanking God for our gift of freedom of worship and life here in our country. I pray that He will continue to bless our country.

I hope you have a blessed New Year. Consider watching the movie about Irena Sendler for encouragement in your faith and life.

MOVIE: The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler

Anna Paquin; Marcia Gay Harden; Goran Visnjic (Actors), John Kent Harrison (Director), 2009.
Other movies have been made about Irena Sendler. I heard that there is even a new one coming out later this year. I am sure I will watch it!!

YouTube:
Here is an interesting site you can go to right now:

► 2:08► 2:08 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXP5Gvxqgsg

 

In the meantime – “spoiler alert” – Here is a short account of her life. The movie follows it pretty well.

Irena Sendler – A Woman of Courage and Faith

Though she rescued more than 2500 children and babies from the Warsaw ghetto during WWII, Irena Sendler remained a humble woman taking no credit for her heroic work up until her death, at the age of 98 in May 2008. She said that she wished she had done even more.

Irena Sendler was one of the most courageous women who has ever lived. She not only put her life on the line to rescue Jewish children right under the noses of the Nazis, but she also had to do it in an atmosphere of ambivalence or even hatred from her fellow German countrymen. Many who called themselves Christians in Germany were too afraid to help the Jews. In my last blog posting I asked whether or not doing nothing about the human trafficking problem in our day is considered a sin of omission. Many in Germany during WWII were certainly also guilty of this sin by ignoring the plight of the Jews.

I really admire the way that Irena Sendler went about defying the Nazis. She did not start riots or create anarchy in any way. She merely went about quietly saving the lives of babies and children. We do not have to cause trouble in order to reject wicked laws; it is enough to at least rescue and care for the victims. This kind of love and courage was exemplified in Irena’s life.

Irena Sendler was born in 1910 in Otwock, a town located about fifteen miles southeast of Warsaw. Her father was a doctor and many of his patients were poor Jews.

When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 they murdered many thousands. At that time Irena was a Polish social worker. She was able to help many Jews by giving them fictitious Christian names. Others were protected when Irena reported that their homes were afflicted with highly infectious diseases such as typhus or tuberculosis. The Nazis avoided them.

This worked for a while, but in 1942 the Nazis herded hundreds of thousands of Jews into a 16-block area that came to be known as the Warsaw ghetto. The area was sealed off and the Jews were just awaiting death. Eventually their numbers would dwindle to only about 55,000 and then the Nazis would send those remaining to the death camps.

Irena was shocked and sickened. She joined a Polish underground movement and began her efforts to rescue Jewish children.

Irena managed to be able to enter the ghetto legally by getting a pass as a worker for Warsaw’s Epidemic Control Department. She took in as much food, medicine, and clothing as she could, but 5000 people a month were dying. She tried to convince some mothers to let her smuggle their children out.

Irena talked some friends, many only teenagers, into helping her take aid into the ghetto and children out of the ghetto. They hid the children on trams and garbage wagons. Some children left the ghetto in body bags or gunnysacks. At least one child left in an ambulance. Some children lay under the floorboards of a wagon that had a large dog on top whose barking could cover their cries. They led some children out in underground passageways and through the city sewers. They obtained forged Catholic birth certificates so that the children could live safely in the homes that volunteered to take them.

The children were taught prayers and how to behave in a church. In this way they were able to prevent the arrest and execution of those who were brave enough to adopt the children by fooling the Nazis into thinking they were Christians. Lest you think Irena was only proselytizing, she fully intended to unite as many children as she could after the war with their parents. She put the names of the more than 2500 children that she rescued into jars. She then buried the jars in the neighbor’s yard under an apple tree.

The Nazis eventually caught on to what she was doing. She was arrested on October 20, 1943, and imprisoned and tortured. The Nazis broke both of her feet and her legs crippling her for life. Under this torture she never revealed a single name of a co-conspirator or any other people who were helping. By this time there were many children living in convents, but Irena never gave away anyone who was helping the children. The punishment for helping Jews was instant death.

At one point, Irena was sentenced to death, but she was saved at the last minute when the Polish underground was able to bribe a Gestapo agent to set her free.

After the war Irena dug up the jars and tried to search for the children’s parents. Unfortunately, most of the Jewish adults had died in the death camps. The children had only known Irena by her code name, Jolanta, and it was difficult for them to try and find out what happened to their parents. However, there were many happy stories. Years later a man who saw Irena’s picture in the paper called her. He said, “I remember your face. It was you who took me out of the ghetto.”

Irena was a candidate to receive the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, but the honor was not awarded to her. Instead it was given to Al (“I invented the computer”) Gore. The International Federation of Social Workers expressed their disappointment, “However IFSW is deeply saddened that the life work of Nobel nominee Irena Sendler, social worker, did not receive formal recognition. Irena Sendler and her helpers took personal risks day after day to prevent the destruction of individual lives — the lives of the children of the Warsaw ghetto. This work was done very quietly, without many words and at the risk of their lives. “

Truly Irena deserved the award more than the actual recipient. Perhaps in the years ahead this wrong will be righted.

Poland honored her at a special ceremony in their upper house of Parliament. It was very fitting that Elzbieta Ficowska, who was six months old when she was saved by Irena read out a letter on Irena’s behalf: “Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory,” Irena Sendler said in the letter, “Over a half-century has passed since the hell of the Holocaust, but its spectre still hangs over the world and doesn’t allow us to forget.”

The world should be grateful for courageous women like Irena Sendler.

I hope you all have a blessed New Year!