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Searching for Christian Heroines from History? Look to the Early Church

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How women were instrumental to the rise of Christianity.

I, Amy, am often asked why I became a historical theologian of early Christianity—what it was that gripped my imagination and pricked my desire to contribute to the 2,000-year-old conversation by Christians speaking about God. For me it was sitting in an undergraduate class and hearing about the controversial second-century prophetesses Priscilla and Maximilla. All of a sudden my charismatic tradition, which before had seemed to me to be a novel force for mobilizing the church, had a history beyond the New Testament.

Almost 15 years later and on the cusp of doctoral work, I was approached by Sarah, a 20-year-old pastor’s daughter, after a service at my small urban church in Aurora, Illinois. She asked, “What is my role now in the church as a single, young adult woman? Where do I fit?” I knew Sarah well, and her earnest question confirmed that part of my journey as a theologian was to answer her question and to tell some stories about women in early Christianity and how they were instrumental in constructing the church and its teachings.

In graduate school in the 1980s, I, Lynn, read Julian of Norwich’s Showings; I was pregnant with my first child. The juxtaposition is important, for Julian’s vision includes a rich reflection on Christ as our Mother. This 14th century anchorite gave me my first glimpse of women’s influence and authority in the life of the church. I wanted to investigate more and plunged into the church fathers’ work. If reading Julian’s Showings was like a walk in a gentle summer rain, then Tertullian’s hateful comment, “Woman is the devil’s gateway,” stung like hail in a thunderstorm. I decided to abandon the exploration for a time, …

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Source: Christianity Today Magazine

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