Archive for February, 2019

Probably some of the least remembered women in history come from the Patristic Age of the Church (2nd through 5th centuries). This is partly because so many records have been lost. But there is a wealth of information available now and more being discovered every year. Please look at the January 22, 2019 post on my introduction to “Women in the Patristic Age” and note a few of the many engaging books you can obtain now on this important and interesting topic. These books not only include the biographies of the women themselves, but many previously unpublished manuscripts that these women authored.

Some of these women were born poor, others renounced great wealth to follow in the steps of Christ. Martyrs, Mothers, Theologians, Writers, Queens, Empresses, Pilgrims, and Monastery founders are among them. The world would not be the same without the influence of these women. They showed great piety, fortitude, and courage.

We began this series on Patristic women in our last post, February 5, 2019 “Thecla – 1st Century Disciple and Missionary”. Thecla was a disciple of Christ and Paul and her life was to influence many men and women for the next few centuries.

This week we continue with the stories of women who gave their lives as martyrs rather than deny their Lord Jesus. There were many men and women who suffered persecution and death, but 2 whose stories have come down to us thanks to the preservation of early manuscripts are Blandina (martyred 177 AD) and Perpetua (martyred 203 AD – along with her servant Felicitas).


Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12)
At the end of the second century there were intense persecutions against Christians. The angry mobs grew to learn that they could expect the women to be as fierce in their determination to maintain their Christian testimony as the men. That is why we have as many accounts of women being thrown into the arena to face wild animals as men.
There were also political and social reasons for the arrest and torture of Christians. An unbeliever who wanted to cease a Christian’s property for example, could have the Christian arrested as an enemy of the state. Blandina lived during just such a time. The early church martyrs were purposefully tortured and killed in order to make a statement by the Roman government that worship of anyone else other than Caesar would not be tolerated.
We have heard many stories about the Christians being thrown to wild beasts in order to entertain the Roman populace. Often, Christians who were Roman citizens would have the easier execution of beheading. But the slaves who were Christians suffered horrible torture and gory death in the amphitheaters to amuse the Roman crowds.
Blandina (martyred in 177 AD) was a slave woman who had been taken into custody with her master who was a Christian. She was not in very good health and not expected to survive torture, but she seemed to get stronger and stronger the more the executioners beat and abused her. She would simply repeat, “I am a Christian,” over and over. This infuriated her torturers and they whipped her until they were tired out. Finally, they decided to take her to the amphitheater where other Christians were being beaten and burned. She was hung on a stake and put out for the wild beasts, but they did not touch her. And so,
“. . at length she was put in a net, and thrown to the wild bull; and when she had been sufficiently gored and wounded with the horns of the beast, and heeded nothing of all that chanced to her, for the great hope and consolation she had in Christ and heavenly things, was thus slain, insomuch that there was never woman put to death, that suffered so much as this woman did. Neither yet was their furious cruelty thus assuaged against the Christians.” The heathens invented crueler and more wicked things to do to the believers. The persecutors did not bury their bodies, but burned them and threw the ashes into the river thinking that they would be forgotten. “And this they did as if they had been able to have pulled God out of His seat, and to have hindered the regeneration of the saints, and taken from them the hope of the resurrection.” (John Foxe’s, The Acts and Monuments of the Church, page 42)
Others who watched her courageous death were blessed by her testimony and their own faith was bolstered. Even another woman, Biblias, who had renounced her faith, renewed her commitment to Christ and is listed among the roll of the martyrs.

Eusebius, writing several centuries later tells us of the results. Blandina, “by her continuous prayer gave great zeal to the combatants, while they looked on during the contest, and with their outward eyes saw in the form of their sister him who was crucified for them, to persuade those who believe on him that all who suffer for the glory of Christ have forever fellowship with the living God. And so she too was sacrificed, and the heathen themselves confessed that never before among them had a woman suffered so much and so long.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History)

And so, Blandina’s acts of courage affected many more people than herself. Our chief mainstay for the courage we have is faith in God and His promises. Her concern was Christ and Christ only. God used her martyrdom, and those of many other saints, to encourage and build His church.

Perpetua and Felicitas

Another martyr whose testimony bolstered the faith of many was Perpetua. Perpetua and her slave, Felicitas were martyred on March 7, 203 AD. Perpetua was born in 181 and was only 22 when she faced a wild cow in the Roman arena. She had a small son that she was still nursing. Felicity was 8 months pregnant when they were arrested. There were 5 Christians arrested together. Felicitas was concerned that she would be set aside until her baby was born. The Romans did not kill pregnant women. She wanted to face martyrdom with the others. She prayed to God about it, and several days before their execution her baby daughter was born. A Christian woman adopted the baby.

Their story has been well documented. Perpetua’s account of the story is considered to be the earliest of the writings of Christian women. The anniversary of their deaths is included in the Roman Church calendar. St. Augustine preached sermons about her. The early church believed the historical fact of her martyrdom and Christians have esteemed her very highly for centuries.

Perpetua’s mother and brothers were Christians as well. Her father however, was a pagan. He kept on trying to persuade her to deny her faith. First he ordered her, then he pleaded with her. She remained firm.

Perpetua’s prison diary had been preserved. Here is an excerpt from it:

The day of their victory dawned, and with joyful countenances they marched from the prison to the arena as though on their way to heaven. If there was any trembling it was from joy, not fear. Perpetua followed with a quick step as a true spouse of Christ, the darling of God, her brightly flashing eyes quelling the gaze of the crowd. Felicitas too, joyful because she had safely survived childbirth and was now able to participate in the contest with the wild animals, passed from one shedding of blood to another; from midwife to gladiator, about to be purified after child-birth by a second baptism. . . . For the young women the devil had readied a mad cow, an animal not usually used at these games, but selected so that the women’s sex would be matched with that of the animal. After being stripped and enmeshed in nets, the women were led into the arena. How horrified the people were as they saw that one was a young girl and the other, her breasts dripping with milk, had just recently given birth to a child. Consequently both were recalled and dressed in loosely fitting gowns. Perpetua was tossed first and fell on her back. She sat up, and being more concerned with her sense of modesty than with her pain, covered her thighs with her gown which had been torn down one side. Then finding her hair-clip, which had fallen out, she pinned back her loose hair, thinking it not proper for a martyr to suffer with disheveled hair; it might seem that she was mourning in her hour of triumph. Then she stood up. Noticing that Felicitas was badly bruised, she went to her, reaching out her hands and helping her to her feet. . . . And when the crowd demanded that the prisoners be brought out into the open so that they might feast their eyes on death by the sword, they voluntarily arose and moved where the crowd wanted them. Before doing so they kissed each other so that their martyrdom would be completely perfected by the rite of the kiss of peace. The others, without making any movement or sound, were killed by the sword. . . . but Perpetua, in order to feel some of the pain, groaning as she was struck between the ribs, took the gladiator’s trembling hand and guided it to her throat. Perhaps it was that so great a woman, feared as she was by the unclean spirit, could not have been slain had she herself not willed it.

The martyrs were buried at Carthage. Today a magnificent basilica is erected over their tomb.

The early martyrs still inspire Christians today. It is hard for us to fully realize what they were up against. We have not suffered as they did. One thing to remember is that they believed they were suffering for Christ and went to their deaths joyfully. Yet because they earned the martyr’s crown Christian’s today are encouraged to hold to the faith.



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But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. …. Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. … Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. … but this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; … But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint up on you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord. …. so then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better. (I Corinthians 7:8-40)

We cannot begin our series on women in the Patristic Era without talking about Thecla. Thecla is remembered as one of the female companions of the apostle Paul. While there is some debate swirling around Thecla, most historians agree that Thecla was a real person. In an apocryphal book called Acts of Paul and Thecla, which appeared around 180 A.D., the story is told of how Thecla was converted after hearing Paul preach and went on to be his disciple. She wanted nothing more after that but to learn about Christ and take the gospel to the lost.

Thecla was living in Iconium at the time. She was engaged to be married, but she broke the engagement off and took a vow to remain a virgin after hearing Paul preach. It is understood from reading the Acts of Paul and Theclathat Paul was perhaps preaching about marriage, and more specifically about the married state in the end times. Paul believed with all the other Christians that Jesus could come back any time. Reading the verses quoted above, we see that Paul was not necessarily speaking against marriage, only encouraging those who weren’t married to stay that way since “the time has been shortened” (verse 29).

Thecla was also moved by Paul’s words that those who remained virgins were committed to Christ first and may be “holy both in body and spirit” but those who were married had to be concerned about their husbands first. This concept is important to remember in order to understand why Thecla disobeyed her mother and broke her engagement to Thamyris, a prominent man from an important and powerful family. Thecla actually angered her mother, Theocleia when she turned down a marriage that would have given her a comfortable and influential life. Neither her mother nor her fiancé could understand why Thecla would live such a life of many sacrifices for the sake of an unknown god. Thecla wasn’t concerned; she set out to be Paul’s disciple.

According to the Acts of Paul and Thecla, Thecla traveled with Paul in Galatia assisting him in the preaching of the gospel. When Paul and Thecla went to preach in Antioch of Pisidia she met a new obstacle. Alexander, a local official fell in love with her. When Thecla rebuffed him, he responded in anger. He managed to get her punished by having her thrown in a Roman arena to face the beasts. Amazingly, the beasts did not harm her while she merely stood and prayed.

In the meantime, Thecla had befriended a woman named Tryphaena who rescued her after her ordeal with the beasts. Tryphaena was a relative of the emperor, so when she asked for Thecla’s release, the governor was unwilling to refuse her. Alexander capitulated and dropped his charges. Thecla went home with Tryphaena and converted her to Christ. Thecla remained with Tryphaena for eight days preaching until most of Tryphaena’s household was converted.

The story ends with Thecla going back to Iconium to visit the house of Onesiphorus where she first heard Paul preach. In addition to that, she made a reconciliation with her mother. Thecla then continued to travel, preaching and teaching until she died in Seleucia.

How much of Thecla’s story is legendary? Certainly she must have been a real person. Just because we have lost so many early writings and manuscripts does not mean that she did not live. Too many people honored her in the early church for her to have been a figment of somebody’s imagination. Her miraculous escape from the beasts in the Roman arena is questioned by some, but let us not forget that Paul miraculously escaped death while on the island of Malta when he was bitten by a poisonous viper (Acts 28:1-6). God did perform miracles for His servants. We will just have to wait until we get to Heaven to hear the whole story.

What is undoubtedly factual though is that by the end of the 2nd century it was noticed that some women were following Thecla’s example. One early church father, Tertullian, commented on it. Though the Acts of Paul and Theclawould not be included in the canon of Bible as we have it today, it was widely read by Christians in the 2nd through 4th centuries. For the first several centuries traveling prophets and preachers, men and women, could expect the hospitality of Christians as they entered cities just as Paul and Thecla did while traveling.

Thecla would also become an example for future generations of men and women who would take vows of chastity. Thecla’s story must not be overlooked because we will see in the coming weeks as we look at the lives of other women in the Patristic era, that men and women honored Thecla by reading the Acts of Paul and Theclaand taking it seriously and making pilgrimages to her shrine.

We don’t have so many itinerant preachers in our day. Most missionaries find a place to live. It is difficult for some to imagine the lives of those who gave up marriage and “normal” lives just to take the gospel to the lost. But even now, there are thousands of single women and men who still follow in Paul’s and Thecla’s footsteps to serve Christ. As we explore the stories of women in the Patristic Age, we will encounter many who dedicated their lives serve Christ and others.



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