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Posts Tagged ‘Patristic Era’

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 These books not only include the biographies of the women themselves, but many previously unpublished manuscripts that these women authored.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).

Blandina

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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For the last few months, we have been looking at the stories of women in the Bible from both the Old and New Testaments. We were working in chronological order – Eve (Genesis) to Junias (Romans). In the first century, Paul’s female companions helped to spread the gospel in response to Christ’s command in the Great Commission to carry the good news to the ends of the earth. They did this in spite of the persecution that had already begun against Christians during the first century and continued for several more centuries.

 

Let’s continue now with women in history as we turn to the second century. Let’s face it. History is really boring. All those names and dates and places we can’t find on a map. And what do all those ancient people have to do with me anyway?

 

For starters, pretty much all of the historical women who are featured on this blog, mylordkatie.wordpress.com, are in Heaven enjoying the presence of the Lord. We will get to speak to them and find out more about their lives when we get there. The stories of their lives give us a better view of the world and history and we are able to see how and why God called these women into His kingdom. At the time these women were living they probably never thought that someday people would be studying about them in history books. They just worshipped and served God with their lives as faithfully as they could.

 

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. These documents not only include the biographies of the women themselves, but many previously unpublished manuscripts that these women authored are coming to light.

 

Unfortunately, the women’s stories have sometimes been overlooked deliberately by Church historians because they do not think that the women’s stories are important. Thankfully, that problem is being remedied. At the end of this introductory post, I will list several books that you can read to find out more about the many hundreds of women who served Christ during the Patristic era. You will see evidence that God has always called and gifted women to serve Him in remarkable ways.

 

The Patristic Age covers roughly from the second through fifth centuries. Over the next few weeks stories of women like Thecla, Blandina, Perpetua, Pulcheria, Paula, Melania and Melania the Younger (both grandmother and granddaughter!), Monica, Egeria, Amma Sarah and many, many more will be told.

 

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.

 

It’s time to recount the inspiring stories of these women.

 

Further Reading:

 

– The following four books contain the stories of women throughout the centuries. Dr. Curtis’s book is organized by category – Leaders, Homemakers, Martyrs, Intellectuals, Queens, Handicapped, “Firsts”, and Mothers. The other 3 books tell the stories in chronological order.

 

Curtis, A. Kenneth and Graves, Daniel, editors. Great Women in Christian History: 37 Women Who Changed Their World (Camp Hill, PA: Wing Spread Publishers, 2004).

 

Deen, Edith. Great Women of the Christian Faith: Inspiring Biographies of Outstanding Women through Nineteen Centuries of Christianity(Chappaqua, NY: 1959).

 

Kavanagh, Julia.Women of Christianity, Exemplary for Acts of Piety and Charity(New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1869). (My copy is a facsimile.)

 

Tucker, Ruth A. and Liefeld, Walter. Daughters of the Church: Women and Ministry from New Testament Times to the Present(Grand Rapids, MI: 1987).

 

–  The next three books contain much information about the history of the Patristic era. What was it like to live in the 2nd through 5th centuries? For example, life for Christians changed a great deal after Constantine declared Christianity a legal religion in the early 4th century. Persecution ended and many Christians were able to travel, participate in government, and receive education. This included women who had many freedoms that they did not have before.

 

Cohick, Lynn H. and Hughes, Amy Brown. Christian Women in the Patristic World: Their Influence, Authority, and Legacy in the Second through Fifth Centuries (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017).

 

Cooper, Kate. Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women(New York, NY: The Overlook Press, 2013).

 

Oden, Amy, editor. Women’s Writings in the History of Christian Thought(Nashville, TN: Abington Press, 1994).

 

 

 

 

 

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