2cornucopias

Women in the Early Days of the Church

In 07 Observation on 2011/09/19 at 10:51 AM

The female presence in the sphere of the primitive Church was not in any way secondary… It is to St Paul that we are indebted for an ample documentation on the dignity and ecclesial role of women. He begins with the fundamental principle according to which for the baptized: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3: 28), that is, all are united in the same basic dignity, although each with specific functions (cf. I Cor 12:27f.). The Apostle accepts as normal the fact that a woman can “prophesy” in the Christian community (I Cor 11:5), that is, speak openly under the influence of the Spirit, as long as it is for the edification of the community and done in a dignified manner…

We have already come across the figure of Prisca or Priscilla, Aquila’s wife, who surprisingly is mentioned before her husband in two cases (cf. Acts 18: 18; Rom 16: 3): In any case, both are explicitly described by Paul as his “collaborators” (Rom 16: 3)…  It should also be noted that Paul’s short Letter to Philemon is actually also addressed to a woman called “Apphia” (cf. Phlm 2)… and it must be said that she must have held an important position in the community at Colossae. In any case, she is the only woman mentioned by Paul among those to whom he addressed a Letter. Elsewhere, the Apostle mentions a certain “Phoebe”, described as “a deaconess of the Church at Cenchreae”… (Rm 16,1-2). Although at that time the title had not yet acquired a specific ministerial value of a hierarchical kind, it expresses a true and proper exercise of responsibility on the part of this woman for this Christian community…  In the same epistolary context the Apostle outlines with delicate touches the names of other women: a certain Mary, then Tryphaena, Tryphosa and “the beloved” Persis, as well as Julia (Rom 16: 6, 12a, 12b, 15)… Furthermore, in the Church at Philippi two women were to distinguish themselves, Euodia and Syntyche (cf. Phil 4: 2). Paul’s entreaty to mutual agreement suggests that these two women played an important role in that community. In short, without the generous contribution of many women, the history of Christianity would have developed very differently.

Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience of 14/02/07 (trans. © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

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