Posts Tagged ‘Shepherd of Hermas’

Women and the Churches: Part IV

Friday, June 25th, 2010 by Dale M. Coulter

If one examines the evidence from the second century, women continue to play prominent roles within Christian communities. At the close of the second century, a change begins to occur slowly in various Christian communities. The movement to consolidate a solid leadership structure in order to deal with the threat of heresy was the beginning of the end for women as office holders. By the end of the third century, they had been effectively removed from offices of bishop and presbyter although in Syria female orders of deacons continued. This was primarily because baptism involved the removal of clothes and women were needed to baptize women.

At the same time, a new opportunity emerged through the rise of monasticism at the end of the third century. Monastic orders allowed women to continue to have leadership roles outside of the structure of offices. From the fourth century through the Protestant Reformation, virtually all of the significant female voices come from women who belonged to a monastic order. It is significant that women never ceased to prophesy, have visions, or perform miracles in the name of Christ. There is a vast array of literature from medieval women, in particular, who wrote down their visions as a way of providing charismatic leadership for their fellow Christians.

My contention is that the role of women and the charismatic dimension of Christianity go together. Even though women were excluded from church offices like presbyter (priest/elder) and bishop by the end of the third century, they continued to function in the charismatic and thus remained teachers and leaders. If the history of Christianity guides the interpretation of scripture at all, then it suggests that the Spirit’s continued calling of women through the charismatic gifts may be God’s way of trying to say something about his daughters. They are the “handmaids of the living God,” whom God has gifted to occupy all offices. Read the rest of this entry »