Monday, June 23, 2008

The Feminine Triumph in Early Christianity & The Feminist Failure of Late

Things had been relatively easy for Christians under Philip the Arab but when Decius became the Roman emperor in the middle of the third century, severe persecution ensued. Eusebius relates a string of graphic tortures and hardships endured by the saints living in Alexandria.

And with them there were four women. Ammonarium, a holy virgin, the judge tortured relentlessly and excessively, because she declared from the first that she would utter none of those things which he commanded; and having kept her promise truly, she was dragged away. The others were Mercuria, a very remarkable old woman, and Dionysia, the mother of many children, who did not love her own children above the Lord. As the governor was ashamed of torturing thus ineffectually, and being always defeated by women, they were put to death by the sword, without the trial of tortures. - Eus. Ch. Hist 6.41.18
And again, our enemy is put to shame when the "weaker sex" is the very one to defeat him. Eve was Satan's doorway into corrupting the human race but the new Eve was the doorway from whence would come his defeat. The old Adam sinned and effected Satan's plan but the new Adam effected God's forgiveness. But what is interesting to me here is the feminine victory.

I have mentioned before that it was by no accident that Tolkein had the humble hobbits defeating the colossal evil of Sauron and the princess defeating the witch-king who was said to be immortal. Tolkein isn't just being unrealistic and sentimental, he is enacting a profound truth.

It wasn't enough for God to ride in on the clouds in full glory and strike Satan down with lightning bolts (though he could have). He found greater pleasure in sending a peasant girl to give birth in a little hick-town no one had ever heard of.

Similarly in the case above recorded by Eusebius, it wasn't enough that the governor merely fail to convert the great Christian heroes, theologians and bishops (all men) - he had to be put to shame by the testimony of four peasant women. That is real power. We know it's powerful because it always moves us when we see it: the meek toppling the "strong". He (or rather she) who was weak in the world's eyes was in reality much stronger than the princes of evil who were aided by supernatural strength. We love to see humility defeating pride. Yes, it gives us the "warm fuzzies" but it gives us the "warm fuzzies" for a reason.

Now the sad irony is that feminism has taken the great triumph of the feminine and rejected it. Feminism saw victory not in the meek hobbits of middle earth nor in the four peasant martyrs who weren't bishops, priests or even theologians and least of all did it (not she) see victory in the perfectly humble virgin Mary. Feminism saw victory in the greed & the rage of men in middle Earth (this was the key to independence). Feminism saw victory in the sword that forged the Roman roads rather than the love that baptized the empire. Worst of all, feminism saw victory in rejecting the historic Mary for a prouder, more independent one. And if the woman is to have any victory at all, says feminism, she must do everything that man does (whether good or bad). You will notice, though personifying feminism, I dare not call it "her" for in doing so I would insult the feminine gender. Feminism isn't feminine just as chauvinism isn't masculine. Respectively, these neither belong to nor benefit the genders with which they are commonly associated. They bring as much harm to one as to the other.

Men have as much to learn from the "feminine victory" as women do. This reminds us, in case feminism would come to spread its lies, that the case of Christianity isn't a proud and conquering masculine hero (Jesus) with a quiet, reverent & obedient servant (Mary). Mary was humble and reverent and obedient and so was Christ. The Son of Man Himself came not to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many (in the most humiliating way).

Let us look then to the heroes and heroines of our faith. Let us not remove the masculinity nor the femininity from Christianity and let us not pervert either with chauvinism, feminism, egalitarianism or any other modern error. All errors promise to help those to whom the evil is directed against. Gnosticism promised to enlighten Christians but instead, it rendered their reason useless. Egalitarianism promised to make everyone kings but instead made everyone slaves. Chauvinism promised to keep women in their place as loving helpmates but instead it bread bitterness and rightfully so. Feminism promised to give women a share in man's victory but instead it robbed them of their strongest weapon which has commonly proved them victors in more stunning fashion than their male counterparts.


R. E. Aguirre. said...

What a great observation Tim, contrasting the humble women of the early Church and how in submission and death - they shut the mouths of kings.

In today's day and age I can hardly imagine most Christian women (and men) making such a stand and turn the world upside down. Surely instead of dying for our faith, we would instead march, protest, scream, with one hand raised in defiance and the other hand grasping our double shot express cappuccino.

R.E. Aguirre

ab umbra ad veritatem.

Kim said...

I read this yesterday and went to post a comment and Blogger ate it.

I was thinking of how I've heard many mostly reformed men and women saying the church (little c) has become effeminate. Are they equating effeminate with meek and humble? What say ye, Tim-Meister?

Tim A. Troutman said...

Ah yes, I've had blogger eat many a comment of my own. It usually picks the longest ones. I am now in the habit of copying my text right before I hit publish.

Anyway, I have said the same thing myself before but I'm rethinking a lot of things these days.

I don't think people are calling the church "effeminate" in a good way. I mean, they don't intend it as a compliment.

I think they are saying this less of philosophy and more of praxis. Let me give you a graphic example and one that might not ring clear with you. When I hear contemporary music, I get the exact same feeling in my stomach as when I've mistakenly wondered down the feminine product aisle at the grocery store. You probably don't identify with this but I think other guys can testify that it's... not comfortable.

But if I listen to say, an all women's choir singing some heavenly Church music I don't feel that at all. In fact, I feel more uncomfortable (in the above way) when I hear men singing contemporary worship music than I do if I were to listen to a group of nuns sing Salve Regina.

I don't really know if any of that is making sense. It's kind of late here so let me think of this some more and maybe post again tomorrow!

Living A Liturgy said...

Thanks for commenting on my blog. I really enjoyed your blog post. I've actually been wanting to start a study on women in the early church, but am unsure of where to start! My fancy for this subject was caught when I happened across a blog of a women who is neither of arab decent, orthodox nor Catholic but wears a hair wrap, not because she views herself as inferior to men, but because "her hair is the glory of woman", as Paul teaches. I've never been a girly girl, always leaning slightly more towards tom-boy in appearance or attitude. But I think the Lord is trying to teach me something. So I have set out to study these things. Do you have any resources you might suggest on women in the early church?

I think I understand what is meant when people say the church is effeminate. It is a slight, though one I've only heard of various evangelical churches I've been to (as that is mostly by background). Coming from a more reformed family the view of masculinity is one of leadership, boldness, and basically, control. The woman is submissive, obedient, and does not speak out (I do not permit a woman to speak, says Paul - about a different context). So I think when people say the church is effeminate they mean that the church is not leading, is not keeping order, and is allowing wrong things to happen (though I'd say that just sounds like Adam).

I commiserate 100% with you on Contemporary Christian Music. There are very few artists that I think are very good these days - I'm a lover of Michael Card and Keith Green despite my being so young, though nothing beats the solemnity and glory of Gregorian Chant! Most of it just seems so wishy-washy, same old emotion-evicting, sappy, pseudo-spiritual stuff (you can tell I've thought about this often enough!) that doesn't draw one to GOD but draws one to ONESELF so that they FEEL spiritual. Anyway... Back to women...

There is a reason that the church is personified as a woman, I think. She is to be humble because there is more strength in humility that 1000 swords - as you have already told. She is to be beautiful - perfected and pure like a bride. She is to give birth and propagate and bring forth and expand the Kingdom. She is to nurse and feed that kingdom. She is to protect it as only a mother knows how. She is the glory of Christ. And, wow, I just had a crazy thought: Eve was a Marian figure, but Mary is a prefigurement of the Church. Wow, God is truly amazing. A 3 fold truth personified all-throughout scripture.

Okay, that was beastly long!

Tim A. Troutman said...

Living a Liturgy,

I'm afraid I don't have any good recommendations that focus specifically on the women of the early Church. Eusebius has several accounts of heroic acts by women scattered throughout his Church History but it's certainly not focused on women.

In the expanded edition of "Fathers of the Church" by Mike Aquilina, there is a chapter called "Mothers of the Church" which would probably be helpful.

I know there are plenty of books out there on this subject but I'm afraid that many of them would probably come from a women's-lib perspective and thus be highly anachronistic.

Pelikan's "Mary Throughout the Centuries" for example is an excellent study of Marian devotion through history but unfortunately Pelikan lets his modern perspective cloud his vision on a couple occasions and reads medieval women as something like 1960s feminists on a couple occasions. (But, in all fairness those anachronisms are few and far between and I would still recommend the book).

I think there is much to be discovered and studied in the lives of the early female saints and as you study, please post so we can study along with you!

I love your name btw.