To start out this study of women in the early church, I thought I’d begin with an appetizer. For a few days, we’re gonna look at some preliminary issues regarding the subject of women in the early church. Don’t worry though: by the end of next week, I’m gonna start publishing information here at the site regarding the evidence of women and their positions in the church. For those of you who wanna read the book from which I’m gonna post, it’s called “Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History” by Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek. I highly recommend it for all those who want to arm themselves against the complementarian establishment. There are other good books that I will recommend in the days ahead.
There are several assumptions that Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek report were disproven through their archaeological research, but I will focus on the two major assumptions. The others will be discovered as I progress through their findings.
“In sifting through the evidence, we have found several frequent assumptions proven false. The first is that THERE WERE NEVER WOMEN OFFICEHOLDERS IN THE WEST. While the preponderance of evidence for female deacons is clearly in the East, the West is not without its references, often conciliar prohibitions, which must be presumed to have been enacted TO CONTROL OR SUPPRESS ACTUAL PRACTICE…one of the intriguing factors is that THE EVIDENCE FOR WOMEN PRESBYTERS IS GREATER IN THE WEST THAN IN THE EAST” (“Ordained Women in the Early Church,” page 3).
So Western civilization has its share of ordained women, eh? It’s true. Madigan and Osiek’s work, over the next several weeks (maybe months), is gonna show us that women served in leadership positions even in the West during the first centuries of the early church. Complementarians would like the world to believe that women have never served in such offices; but this duo tells us something totally different from what we may have known all these years.
Not only have women served in leadership, but they even served as DEACONS and PRESBYTERS! Complementarians flip out in today’s world about women serving as deacons; but they would have a heart attack and end up in a coma if they knew that women actually served in the office of presbyter. I’ve read this book, so let me give you a juicy piece of information in advance: as presbyters, there were women in some churches who were actually performing duties AT THE ALTAR, operating as ordained clergymen! Church councils, however, would go on and become their enemy, as they would constantly threaten churches to stop letting women serve at the altar. However, in defiant rebellion of ecclesiastical councils, churches would continue letting women serve at the altar in their church services. Despite the somewhat complementarian world of the early centuries AD, there were some men in places of leadership who didn’t feel intimidated by serving alongside of women. There were even some church fathers who didn’t feel intimidated by them, as well!!
What is the second assumption corrected by Madigan and Osiek’s work?
“A second false assumption is that ALL WOMEN OFFICEHOLDERS WERE CELIBATE, either virgin or widowed. Again, the majority of the canonical, literary, and epigraphical evidence does suggest this, and many of these women were buried in solitary graves (Athanasia at Delphi and Tetradia in Thessaly were determined to keep the graves solitary by threatening eschatological punishment to anyone else!), or some with other ascetics (Posidonia, Theodosia). Many others were buried in family groupings say nothing about the marital status of the female officeholder. But there are exceptions and ambiguities. It seems that in some times and places, this was not such a hard and fast rule. Many had surviving children, but may have been ordained as widows” (3).
There were exceptions to the rule that women were either single or widowed. There were those who were married when they died, such as “the presbyter Leta in Calabria…it was her husband who commemorated her” (3).
In my next post, I will provide some information on the titles of women who served as either deacons or presbyters in the early church. Stay tuned…