Of the new life opened to women in Christianity, Renan truly says: "The women were naturally drawn toward a community in which the weak were surrounded by so many guarantees." Their position in the society was then humble and precarious; the widow in particular, despite several protective laws, was the most often abandoned to misery, and the least respected. Many of the doctors advocated the not giving of any religious education to women. The Talmud placed in the same category with the pests of the world the gossiping and inquisitive widow, who passed her life in chattering with her neighbors, and the virgin who wasted her time in praying. The new religion created for these disinherited unfortunates an honorable and sure asylum. Some women held most important places in the Church, and their houses served as places of meeting. As for those women who had no houses, they were formed into a species of order, or feminine presbyterial body, which also comprised virgins, who played so capital a role in the collection of alms. Institutions which are regarded as the later fruit of Christianity -- congregations of women, nuns, and sisters of charity -- were its first creations, the basis of its official strength, the most perfect expression of its spirit.
The Christian Church is described, as it existed in the earliest germ, in the fourteenth verse of the first chapter of Acts: "These (the eleven Apostles) all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren." The women referred to were those faithful ones who followed Jesus from Galilee and ministered to him of their substance; those who went early to the tomb on Easter morning, to perform the last offices of affection, and found the sepulchre empty: Mary Magdalene, Salome the mother of John and James, Joanna, and "the other Mary." But these are no more mentioned by name in the New Testament; nor is even the mother of Jesus again referred to, except in that impersonal manner in which Saint Paul speaks of Christ as "born of a woman." A large and prominent place was held by women in the life of Jesus, but those same women are not accorded a corresponding importance in the history of the founding of the Church. It is a new set of names that we encounter in Apostolic history; converts from heathendom, and those who labored with the Apostle to the Gentiles. The records allow the women of the Gospels to fall into obscurity; but they will never pass out of human memory as a galaxy which surrounded the Bright and Morning Star.
As yet the Church had not developed an organization, except that the Twelve -- the place of Judas having been filled -- were recognized as leaders by virtue of their having been chosen by Christ. The rest, women equally with men, were simply believers. Even the Apostles had no plan, no foresight of future development. Officers were created only as conditions arose which required them. At first the Church was simply a communistic family, bound together in holy love by a common enthusiasm. The ordinary conventions of society were for the time suspended; men and women lived together in the free communion of a great family. Their time was almost wholly spent in prayer and the work of conversion; the ordinary avocations of life were almost entirely discontinued. The community was supported out of a common stock, which was daily replenished by the proceeds of the sale of the possessions of converts. No one called his own anything that he had; they held all in common. Their number was too great for a common table, but they met in large parties at each other's houses, none suffering disparagement on account of condition or sex. Each evening meal was a commemoration of the Last Supper of Christ with his disciples. This briefly enduring prototype of a perfect human society contained in itself the prophecy of all that Christianity would do for woman through all the slow development of the ages. In the community of the Jerusalem Christians she was neither a slave nor a subordinate. The burden of the daily provision, which still falls so heavily on the vast majority of women, was here rendered extremely light, for all helped each and each helped all. Equal fellowship also in the great spiritual possession caused all the marks of woman's inferiority to vanish, and the sexes freely mingled in a pure and noble companionship.
But this perfect type of society was not destined long to endure. It appeared only for a brief season, barely sufficient to intimate what human life might be, if governed by the Spirit of Jesus; and then a woman was accessory to a deed which showed that the ideal was as yet far too high for a practical and prudent world. Sapphira and Ananias had sold their possession and had laid a part of the price at the Apostles' feet, under the pretence that they were devoting their all. "Tell me," said Saint Peter, "did ye sell the land for so much?" "Yes," answered Sapphira, faithful to the conspiracy she had entered into with her husband, "that was the amount." "Ye have agreed together to lie unto God," said the Apostle. "The feet of them who have buried thy husband are at the door; they shall carry thee out also." And she immediately "gave up the ghost." And the young men carried her out and buried her by her husband. The description of the burying seems to indicate that it was done as quietly as possible, probably so as not to attract the attention of the people. But great fear of the power of the Apostles seized those who heard the rumor of these happenings. It is not a pleasant story, and it jars on a conscience in which the memory of the Gospel teaching is fresh and vivid. Yet the Church was not so strong in itself but that it needed to resort to drastic measures in order to protect itself from covetous hypocrisy within, more to be feared than violent persecution from without. As to the pathological cause of the death of Sapphira and her husband, no explanation is given. In the market place of a town in Wiltshire, England, there is a remarkable stone monument, which was erected by the corporation to commemorate a "judgment" which took place on the spot many years ago. According to the lengthy inscription engraved upon the column, three women had agreed to purchase a certain quantity of flour, each contributing her share of the price. A dispute arose, owing to one having declared that she had paid her part, though the amount could not be accounted for. Being accused of trying to cheat, she exclaimed that she wished she might fall dead if she were not telling the truth. She immediately fell to the ground and expired, whereupon the money was found upon her person. Those who caused the inscription to be written for the warning of future marketers believed it to be a "judgment." Doubtless it was the effect of excitement upon a pathological condition of the heart. The comparison between this case and that of Sapphira and Ananias is weakened only by the strange fact that husband and wife should, on the same day, meet death in this remarkable manner. It is perhaps worthy of notice that Herodias and Sapphira are the only women mentioned by name in the New Testament against whom anything discreditable is charged.
As the number of believers increased in Jerusalem, trouble was encountered in regard to the daily provision. The communistic plan of living was by no means rigidly insisted upon, as is shown by the fact that Peter admits that Ananias was not obliged to make an offering of the whole or even of a part of the price of his possession. Converts were added too rapidly, and their organization was too loose for the perfecting of any economical system. We see, however, the congregation making careful provision for the indigent by a daily distribution.
There were in Jerusalem many Hellenistic Jews; that is, those who were reared in foreign countries or were born of parents so reared. The Palestinian Jew affected a distinct superiority over these. This seems to have been allowed to result in a slight showing of ill will between the native and foreign-born Jews who accepted Christ. The latter found cause to complain that their widows were neglected in the daily distribution; this seems to indicate that the widows were supported out of the revenues of the Church, a fact which quickly resulted in their being considered in the service of the Church. We find the widows early mentioned in a sort of corporate capacity. In the account of the raising of Dorcas, who was probably herself of this condition of life, it is said that Peter called "the saints and the widows." From this narrative we are led to infer that the manufacture of garments for the poor was recognized as the contribution of these women to the corporate activity of the Church. It was the inception of a distinctly female order in the Christian ministry.
In order that there should be no cause for complaint on the ground mentioned above, the Apostles instructed the whole body of believers to select from their number seven men, to whom should be intrusted the charitable work of the Church. These men were not deacons, in the sense in which this term has come to be applied, nor are they thus termed anywhere in the Acts of the Apostles. The office remained, but the duties changed; after the breaking up of the Christian community in Jerusalem by persecution, these "deacons" devoted themselves to the more attractive work of preaching, and from this time the ministry of good works fell naturally into the hands of the women.
Very early in the history of the Church there came into existence an order of female deacons, or deaconesses. It is more particularly in the Gentile congregations planted by Paul that we find this institution. In his Epistle to the Romans, among many other matters of a personal interest, we find the Apostle saying: "I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, who is a deaconess of the church that is at Cenchreas;" and he requests them to receive her worthily of the saints and to assist her in whatsoever matter she may have in hand, for that she "hath been a succorer of many, and of mine own self." It is extremely probable that Phoebe was the bearer of this letter to the Romans. She may have been travelling to the city on affairs of her own, or it may be that Paul is referring to some commission from the Church which had been imparted to her by word of mouth.
He also sends greeting to Tryphaena and Tryphosa, who, with Persis, were probably deaconesses serving the church at Rome. Euodias and Syntyche, who are mentioned in the Epistle to the Philippians, were, there is every reason to believe, in this same order of the ministry. The Apostle testifies to the earnest cooperation in his work for which he is indebted to these two women; but from his exhortation that they "be of the same mind," we may infer that there was some disagreement among them. Absolute harmony was not always maintained, even among the saints of the early Church. Saintliness has never yet been able entirely to eradicate from human nature all that is unseemly; and it is more than likely that if it were only possible for us to gain an intimate and personal knowledge of the conditions which prevailed in the Apostolic Church, we should not be greatly discouraged by a comparison of those days with our own times. The glamour of extraordinary holiness which succeeding centuries have thrown over that age was not perceptible to Paul. The lapse of time is of itself sufficient to idealize, and even to apotheosize, remarkable personages who in reality were not without their weaknesses.
What were the precise duties of these female servants we do not know. In the uncrystallized organism of early Christianity it is likely that their field of activity was not closely defined. From the Apostle's rule we know that they did not take part in the public ministrations. "Let the women," says he, "keep silence in the churches." In his idea of Christianity, the family is the unit, with the man as the responsible head. "If they would learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church." And yet, in what he says in the eleventh chapter of his first Epistle to the Church at Corinth, he seems to admit that the women have the right both to pray and prophesy in the congregation. But it may be the Apostle is judging the question not as per se, but in accordance with the prevailing ideas of his time. He who was "all things to all men," in order to win them, concluded that it was the duty of women to keep silent rather than to arouse prejudice by trampling on custom and thus endangering the success of the Gospel. The women of the Corinthian Church seem to have abandoned the traditions of their time and people in this respect and were in the habit of praying and prophesying in the congregation, and, moreover, without the customary veil. In regard to this last-mentioned departure, Paul is emphatic: "Every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonoreth her head. Judge ye among yourselves, is it seemly that a woman pray unto God unveiled?" On this subject Dr. McGiffert comments as follows: "The practice, which was so out of accord with the custom of the age, was evidently a result of the desire to put into practice Paul's principle that in Christ all differences of rank, station, sex, and age are done away. But Paul, in spite of his principle, opposed the practice. His opposition in the present case was doubtless due in part to traditional prejudice, in part to fear that so radical a departure from the common custom might bring disrepute upon the Church, and even promote disorder and licentiousness. But he found a basis for his opposition in the fact that by creation the woman was made subject to the man. Paul's use of such an argument from the natural order of things, when it was a fundamental principle with him that in the spiritual realm the natural is displaced and destroyed, must have sounded strange to the Corinthians; and Paul himself evidently felt the weakness of the argument and its inconsistency with his general principles, for he closed with an appeal to the custom of the churches: 'We have no such custom, neither have the churches of God,' therefore you have no right to adopt it. This was the most he could say. Evidently he was on uncertain ground."
Those same restrictive traditions, which prevented the deaconesses from taking part in public instruction or ministering in the congregation, rendered their service imperatively necessary in many of the private activities of the Christian Church. They instructed female catechumens in the first principles of the new religion; they prepared them for baptism, and by their attendance disarmed inimical criticism when this sacrament was administered to women. To their hands was committed the ministry of mercy. They relieved the sick, instructed the orphans, consoled their sisters when in trouble, encouraged those who were condemned to martyrdom, and were the official embodiment of that characteristic fraternalism in the early Church which induced even their heathen enemies to exclaim: "How these Christians love."
It was not essential that a woman appointed to the office of a deaconess should be free to devote her whole time to the service of the Church. The two slave girls whom Pliny examined by torture upon the rack, and of whom he wrote to the Emperor Trajan, were very probably deaconesses. The order was composed of virgins who were tried and trained by a life of chastity and devotion and finally set apart to the office at the mature age of forty; or -- and this was more commonly the case -- of devout and sober-minded widows. In all probability Paul is referring to this order in that which he says of widows in his first letter to Timothy. There he writes: "Let none be enrolled as a widow under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, well reported of for good works; if she hath brought up children, if she hath used hospitality to strangers, if she hath washed the saints' feet, if she hath relieved the afflicted, if she hath diligently followed every good work. But younger widows refuse: for when they have waxed wanton against Christ, they desire to marry; having condemnation, because they have rejected their first faith. And withal they learn also to be idle, going about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not. I desire therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, rule the household, give none occasion to the adversary for reviling."
It is very remarkable that we seem to be left to infer from the above that the Apostle's indictment as to idling, tattling, gadding, and meddling is not to be charged against widows of over threescore.
Some students have held that the passage quoted above refers, not to deaconesses, but to a sort of female presbyters, like those who in the age succeeding that of the Apostles had a certain oversight over the widows and orphans of the congregations. On the other hand, Neander, the ecclesiastical historian, considers that the widows referred to were simply those who depended upon the Church for support and were consequently expected to manifest their worthiness by an example of special devoutness. But it is hardly believable that the Christian conscience would have refused such assistance to widows under sixty years of age or to those who had married the second time and had been again widowed. The probabilities are in favor of the view that all indigent and unfortunate Christian females were tenderly cared for by the charity which abounded in the Apostolic Church; but from those widows who had arrived at the age of sixty, and had shown themselves to be fitted for such an office by especial devotion to good works and by their approved trustworthiness, certain ones were enrolled for the service of the Church in the order of deaconesses.
Thus one of the earliest effects of Christianity was to introduce into its own society, in every city, an order of women who were looked up to with respect and veneration and intrusted with power and authority such as no women had previously enjoyed, except in the almost unique instances of the vestals at Rome and the prophetesses among the ancient Germans. This could not fail to raise the whole sex in general respect, as well as in its own estimation.
As we have already noticed, the order of deaconesses did not consist exclusively of widows; it was, however, confined to those females who were free from all matrimonial obligations.
In the early Church, celibacy was held in exceeding high regard. Other qualifications being equal, virginity greatly increased a woman's reputation for sanctity. It is true that it is not until post-apostolic times that we find this condition of life exalted to the contradiction both of the laws of nature and the dictates of reason; but the foundation for the belief that the virgin life is superior to the married state was unquestionably laid by Paul himself. While he readily admits that marriage is honorable, he, at the same time, enthusiastically recommends celibacy to those who are able to persevere in continence. To the Corinthians he wrote: "He that giveth (a daughter) in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better." Whence arose this idea of the moral superiority of virginity? Surely not from Judaism; for among the Jews an unmarried woman was regarded as being to the greatest degree unblessed. Nor did it come from paganism; for though there were vestal devotees of the deities, the materialism which governed Greek and Roman religion entirely precluded any belief in a moral inferiority as resulting from the rightful intercourse of the sexes. In the rebound from the materialism of paganism, Christianity swung the thought of its adherents to the opposite extreme. The body was considered as hopelessly corrupt until regenerated by the resurrection. It is a dead weight, retarding the development and the triumph of the spirit; its natural functions are tainted with evil and should be ignored and mortified so far as necessity will permit. The contemplation of the terrible licentiousness which characterized paganism gave a great bias to the views of the early Christians on this subject. The asceticism of celibacy seemed to them an easier way to escape the contamination of the world than that which led through the honorable path of married life.
In the seventh chapter of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians he is wholly on the side of celibacy, though he was far too reasonable a man not to recognize the possibility of purity in marriage. "I say to the unmarried and to widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they have not continency, let them marry." It is very probable that the Apostle was a widower; for very few Jews of his time lived without marrying to the age which we may reasonably suppose he had attained before his conversion. He also says: "Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord; but I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful." We are to understand this mercy of which he speaks, not as referring to any deliverance from past marital encumbrances, but to the gift of faithfulness. Then he says that in view of the present distress from persecution, while it is good to be married, it is at least not less good to be single. "But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Yet such shall have tribulation in the flesh, and I would spare you." The tribulation he speaks of refers to the double portion of the "present distress" to which the married would be subject. His principal argument in favor of the unwedded state is that those who remain in it are enabled to devote themselves more completely to the service of God.
But there was no sign in the Apostolic Church of that morbid enthusiasm for virginity which fills the pages of the post-Nicene writers. We know that Peter was married; and there is evidence that he took his wife with him on his missionary journeys. "Have we not," says Paul, "power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?" Tradition also informs us that Peter had a daughter whose name was Petronilla. The Apostle Philip had three daughters. Eusebius quotes from a letter written by Polycrates, who was bishop of the church at Ephesus, to Victor, Bishop of Rome, in which he says: "Philip, one of the twelve Apostles, sleeps in Hierapolis, and his two aged virgin daughters. Another of his daughters, who lived in the Holy Spirit, rests at Ephesus." Eusebius also in the same passage speaks, on the authority of Proculus, of "four prophesying daughters of Philip;" but it is most likely that he here confounds the deacon Philip with the apostle of the same name. From Acts we learn that the former had four daughters who prophesied and labored with their father at Caesarea in Palestine.
Paul, in his Epistles, gives the names of about eighty friends and disciples; about twenty more are referred to in the Acts of the Apostles. Quite a large proportion of these are women, to whom the Apostle sends kindly greeting. His mention of them is always in the terms of respectful regard, and never merely complimentary or carefully polite. To many of these women he was deeply indebted for the care with which they had ministered to his comfort as he journeyed to and fro on his missionary tours; the names of some of them were treasured in his memory as those of zealous and valued fellow laborers in the cause of the Gospel. In both these relations, and also, perhaps, in that of his dearest female friend, stood Priscilla, the wife of Aquila. She is the most frequently mentioned of all the women of the Apostolic Church, but always in conjunction with her husband. These people were Jews whose home was at Rome, but owing to the edict by which Claudius banished from the city all of their nationality they were living in Corinth when Paul first met them. In the Acts of the Apostles we learn that he was drawn to them because they were tent-makers like himself. "He abode with them and they wrought.... And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath." In this picture is seen the whole simple machinery of apostolic missions. Paul's first inquiry in Corinth is for a man of his own trade. He hears of Priscilla and Aquila, and at once finds with them a welcome both to lodging and also employment. Their work was such as could be readily carried on in the room which served for a lodging, and required but little in the way of implements, so that they could freely and easily move from one city to another. The work probably consisted in the making of tent cloth. This material was of goats' hair, which was plaited into strips, these being joined together. We see the three sitting together, and, with hands busy at the monotonous toil, which was not exacting in the matter of attention, reasoning of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. It was probably thus that the conversion of this husband and wife was brought about. Then on the Sabbath they would repair to the Jewish synagogue, where Paul would in public expound the new and strange doctrine. We can imagine how Priscilla would prepare for that week-end preaching. There would be no Jewess within her circle of acquaintances but would receive notice, with the admonition not to fail to be present. It is the inception of the "woman's auxiliary" in missionary work; but how simple was this first propaganda!
There was no board of managers either to hamper or advise; the workers were responsible only to the spirit that moved within them. There were no collections, nor any hindrance for lack of funds. Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla labored with their own hands, and they were free and enabled to go everywhere preaching the Gospel. The result of their work was that in Corinth, the city devoted to a lustful worship and exemplifying the worst corruptions of paganism, there was to be seen a band of men and women whose lives were glorified and purified by devotion to the teachings of Jesus.
It is noteworthy that the name of Priscilla is placed in the book of Acts, and also elsewhere, before that of her husband. Possibly this may indicate that she was of a higher rank or a nobler family; but we prefer to think that it is a tribute and a testimony to her zeal and greater prominence in the Church. It is not unlikely that Aquila was known as the husband of the successful female missionary Priscilla.
When the Apostle left Corinth these two fellow workers accompanied him as far as Ephesus. There he left them, with affectionate promises to return. Priscilla and Aquila settled in Ephesus for a time, and an opportunity was afforded them to perform a service for the Church, the effect of which it is impossible for us now to estimate. Apollos was a great name in the Apostolic Church. He came to have a large following among the Corinthian Christians; and he was probably the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. This man, who is described as "eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures," was by Priscilla and her husband brought to a full knowledge of the Gospel.
When Paul was writing his first letter to the Corinthians he included greetings from Priscilla and Aquila, and also "from the church that is in their house," indicating that the home of this couple was the meeting place of the Christians of Ephesus. He again mentions them in his letter to the Romans: "Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus, who for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles." It is impossible to ascertain what was the instance here referred to of their devotion to him; perhaps it relates to the experience of the Apostle when he "fought with beasts at Ephesus."
There dwelt in the Macedonian city of Philippi a woman named Lydia, who had come there from Thyatira. She was engaged in the business of selling purple, whether the color itself or garments so dyed cannot be determined; but as women of that time were often employed in the manufacture of drugs and chemicals, it is likely that she prepared that dye which was so popular in the ancient Roman world. She had become a convert to Judaism. There seem to have been few Jews in Philippi, for it is evident that they had no synagogue, but were in the habit of meeting in the open air, on the banks of the river Strymon. Lydia, like many of the women of her time, was an earnest seeker after religious truth. When Paul came to Philippi, on the first Sabbath he went to the place of prayer, "and spake unto the women which resorted thither." This is a remarkable expression, inasmuch as it seems to indicate that only women were present, an extremely unusual congregation in the ancient world. But Paul, unlike the Jewish rabbis, did not deem a gathering of women unworthy of his most solicitous efforts. Lydia justified his exertions, for she became a convert to Christianity and was baptized with her whole household. She was a person of considerable means. The selling of purple was a very remunerative business. In gratitude for the new light which she had received, and desirous to learn more of the Gospel, Lydia importuned the Apostle and his friends to take up their abode in her house, which, at least for the time, became the gathering place of the church in Philippi.
There is no possibility of overestimating the debt that Christianity owes to the fostering care of the early female converts. Its story has never been written from the standpoint of the women; if it could be so written, it would be seen that the labors of love which were accomplished by the feminine nature were no less fruitful than those which are recorded of the more public masculine activities.
While Paul was in Philippi, he encountered another woman, of a station and occupation very different from that of Lydia. She was a slave girl, who was in all probability what is known nowadays as a clairvoyant. The people believed that she was inspired by the Pythian Apollo. The narrative in the Acts of the Apostles says that she "was possessed of a spirit of divination," and that "she brought her masters much gain by soothsaying." There seems to have been a company or syndicate which, by means of the mysterious powers of this girl, traded upon the superstitions of the people. But Christianity was in opposition to this form of spiritualism. The girl, we are told, followed Paul and his friends and gave loud testimony to their divine mission. Very likely she heard the Apostle's preaching, and received an impression that resulted, owing to the peculiar condition of her mind, in an acute perception of the true character of the missionaries. Paul, however, had no desire to be introduced by any such medium as this. He exorcised the evil spirit which, according to Jewish notions, possessed the damsel; that is, by the influence of suggestion probably, he freed the girl from the thraldom of the abnormal condition of mind which had hitherto made her doubly a slave.
While we are engaged with the subject of Paul's female converts and acquaintances, it ought not to seem out of place if we give a little notice to that remarkable piece of literature which was popular in the early Church, and is known as the Acts of Paul and Thecla. It is certain that the main facts set forth in this legend were credited by such prominent ancient writers and theologians as Cyprian, Eusebius, Augustin, Gregory Nazianzin, Chrysostom, and Severus Sulpitius. Chrysostom especially gives a very clear indication of his belief in the story of Paul and Thecla. Basil of Seleucia wrote the history of Thecla in verse. Baronius, Archbishop Wake, and also the learned Grabe consider the facts as being authentic history. On the other hand, Tertullian says that it was forged by a presbyter of Asia, who confessed that he invented the account out of respect for Paul. And again, it is held that The Acts of Paul and Thecla, as we have it, is not the original book of the early Christians.
At any rate, even though it be nothing more than an imaginative creation, inasmuch as an account of Thecla and her companionship with Paul was extant early as the second century, as is proved by its being mentioned by Tertullian, it is surely worthy of attention for it shows, at a time so contiguous, how the age of the Apostles was pictured.
The scene is laid in the beginning at Iconium, whither Paul had fled from Antioch in Pisidia, as is related in the thirteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. There he is received by Onesiphorus and Lectra his wife. In their house the Apostle preaches. At a window in a nearby house sits the young maiden Thecla. She hears Paul's words, and is so captivated by his discourse that nothing can tear her away. As her mother says, she is there continuously, "like a spider's web fastened to the window." At this rather long range the Gospel teaching takes effect in her heart, and she becomes a convert to Christianity. Her mother and Thamyris, her lover, endeavor by various means to divert her mind from these things; but it is all in vain. Thamyris, chagrined because the maiden no longer loves him, procures the arrest and imprisonment of Paul. Thecla, by bribing the jailers with her ear-rings and silver looking-glass, procures admittance to the prison, where she is still more firmly established in the faith.
On being found by her relatives, and refusing to marry Thamyris, she is ordered to be burned at the stake; but in a miraculous manner the fire is extinguished and Thecla is preserved. In the meantime, Paul, being banished from the city, takes refuge with Onesiphorus and his family, in a cave. There Thecla finds him, and begs to be allowed to accompany him in his travels. They go on to Antioch, where Alexander, a magistrate, falls in love with Thecla's beauty, and because she resists his advances she is condemned to be thrown to the wild beasts.
While she is waiting for the day on which her sentence is to be executed, Thecla implores the governor that she may be preserved from the unchaste designs of Alexander. To this end the governor gives her into the charge of Trifina, a noble matron of the city. The maiden gains not only the affection of Trifina, but also the sympathy of all the women who learn of her unfortunate fate. When the time comes for her to be thrown to the beasts, they refuse to attack her; and even though she is tied to wild bulls, she is miraculously saved. Alarmed by this wonder, the magistrate releases her, and she is adopted by Trifina.
"So Thecla went with Trifina, and was entertained there a few days, teaching her the word of the Lord, whereby many young women were converted; and there was great joy in the family of Trifina. But Thecla longed to see Paul, and enquired and sent everywhere to find him; and when at length she was informed that he was at Myra, in Lycia, she took with her many young men and women; and putting on a girdle, and dressing herself in the habit of a man, she went to him to Myra, and there found Paul preaching the word of God.
"Then Paul took her, and led her to the house of Hermes; and Thecla related to Paul all that had befallen her in Antioch, insomuch that Paul exceedingly wondered, and all who heard were confirmed in the faith, and prayed for Trifina's happiness. Then Thecla arose, and said to Paul, 'I am going to Iconium.' Paul replied to her, 'Go, and teach the word of the Lord.' But Trifina had sent large sums of money to Paul, and also clothing by the hands of Thecla, for the relief of the poor."
After this no further mention is made of the Apostle. Thecla returns to Iconium, where she endeavors to convert her mother, but with no success. Taking up her abode in the cave where she first talked with Paul, she lives a virgin life and attains to a great age, doing many marvellous works and acquiring a great fame for sanctity.
This is a brief summary of the story which, whether it be fact or fancy, was devoutly believed by many of the earliest Fathers of the Church.
The Apostle to the Gentiles wrote: "Not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called." The Gospel of the Galilean Carpenter found an eager reception chiefly among the humble; the names of Lydia and Priscilla are those of workingwomen. Some of the names of women that Paul mentions in his Epistles are those of bondservants. His acquaintances in the houses of the great were among the menials. But Christianity ennobled those to whom it came. We know nothing of Chloe of Corinth, of Claudia of Rome, of Euodias, of Syntyche, of Persis, of Phoebe, or of Damaris, except that they were among the first workers, the charter members of the Church; their names are engraved ineffaceably upon the foundations of the Faith. In an especial manner these women were working for the uplifting of their sex. They were pioneers who first ventured in that movement which inevitably brings enlargement of life for all womankind.
Yet Christianity was not wholly without its witnesses among the women of the higher ranks of society. If Acte, Nero's freedwoman, really were a Christian, -- and it is strange that such a tradition should have arisen without a foundation in fact, -- she could not have been without an influence upon the noble ladies with whom she was thrown into contact. Pomponia Graecina was brought to trial for embracing a foreign religion. This, in after ages, was believed to be Christianity; and it is certainly possible that Sienkievicz's splendid portrayal of her as a Christian matron is not wholly beside the mark.
A little later, in the time of Domitian, we know that Christianity invaded the imperial household. Domatilla, the niece of the emperor and the wife of the noble Flavius Clemens, was an avowed Christian, and for the sake of her faith was banished to the island of Pandataria, which had been made the prison of women of far different character.