Monday, July 13, 2009

The Church Fathers on 1 Timothy 5:3-13

I’m here to supply more information from Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek’s book, called “Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History.”
1 Timothy 5:3-13—

“Honor widows who are really widows. If any widow has children or grandchildren let them first learn to honor those of their own house and to repay the services of their parents, for this is pleasing before God. But the true widow who has been left alone has hoped in God and remains in prayer and supplication night and day. But the one who continues in self-indulgence, has died while still alive. Commend these things so that they might turn out to be above reproach. But if anyone does not provide for one’s own and especially a member of one’s household, that one has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years old, has been married only once, is seen to have done good works, has raised children, provided hospitality, washed the feet of the saints, helped those in distress, and pursued every good work. But refuse younger widows, for whenever they may feel the impulse that alienates them from Christ, they want to marry. They incur judgment because they set aside their first faith. But at the same time, they also learn to be idle, running around to houses, not only idle but even gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say.”

Madigan and Osiek:

“It seems that two different practices about widows are spoken of here. First, widows who truly have no means of family support should be maintained by the Church. Second, there are qualifications for being accepted into this group that imply further services: a successful career as wife and mother and proven ability to provide hospitality. Probably this is an early reference to what later develops in many places as an ‘order of widows,’ which served as the service organization of the early church, especially for works of charity to needy women and hospitality to visitors. Given average life expectancy in antiquity, sixty was an advanced age. The sharp words about widows as wandering gossips reflect the informal female communication network that functions in most traditional cultures, which men typically disdain because they are excluded from it. It will be a repeated stereotype in later literature” (21, 22).

I. Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on 1 Timothy 5:9

“Above all, the Apostle believed he had designated the age which those to be received into the order of widows (in ordinem viduarum) ought to have attained. Some people, however, not considering his reasons for wanting to indicate this age, have wondered whether it was fitting that deaconesses (diaconissas) be ordained (ordinari) before this age” (Theodore, 22).

Madigan and Osiek:

“One is frustrated by this being translation from the Greek. Nonetheless, from what we know about widows and deaconesses from other texts, we can draw certain conclusions. First of all, Theodore (unlike for Epiphanius of Salamis), widows seem to be part of an ‘order’ and thus PART OF THE CLERGY. The same might be said of deaconesses. Indeed, they are ordained so far as Theodore sees it; this in fact corresponds to what was happening in the Eastern church from the fourth century on” (22).

II. Pelagius, Commentary on 1 Timothy 5:9

“He wanted such deaconesses to be chosen so that they might be examples of living for all.”

Madigan and Osiek:

“Here Pelagius identifies widows and deaconesses and sees their role as an exemplary one in the community” (22).

It is now at this time that I will supply the conclusion to our study of commentary on passages regarding women:

“Generally, wherever female deacons are already known and accepted, the biblical texts are read to support the practice that is already done. John Chrysostom, Theodoret, and Theodore know and accept women deacons. The possible exception here is Origen, for it has been argued that, other than this passage, there is a total lack of evidence for women deacons in Egypt, and so he could not have been writing about the church of Alexandria. There is much more possibility that he knew the rise of the female diaconate in Caesarea, however or other places in his extensive travels. Be that as it may, he is the strongest to claim ‘apostolic authority’ for the institution. Pelagius knows of it, but only in the East, and seems neutral to it. But he conflates widows with deacons in 1 Timothy. Ambrosiaster, never known as someone favorable to women, prefers to put Romans 16 in a general framework of ministry, and resists the reading of women deacons in 1 Tim. 3:11. But the biblical texts are only the first step” (22, 23).

In my next post, I will start to tackle Women Deacons in the West. For those of us who inhabit Western Civilization, the upcoming work will be of monumental significance.

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