The Woman's Place

I. Counsel to women
II. Examples of godly women
III. The woman’s role in the church
IV. The woman’s role in heretic and pagan religions

I. Counsel to women (Top)

The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becomes holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Titus 2:3-5

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. 1 Corinthians 11:5-6

Let us instruct our young men in the lesson of the fear of God. Let us guide our women toward that which is good: let them show forth their lovely disposition of purity; let them prove their sincere affection of gentleness; let them make manifest the moderation of their tongue through their silence; let them show their love, not in factious preferences, but without partiality towards all them that fear God, in holiness. Clement of Rome (A.D. 96) ch.21

Let us teach ourselves first to walk in the commandment of the Lord; and then our wives also, to walk in the faith that has been given unto them and in love and purity, cherishing their own husbands in all truth and loving all men equally in all chastity, and to train their children in the training of the fear of God. Polycarp (A.D. 69-156) ch.4

Tell my sisters to love the Lord and to be content with their husbands in flesh and in spirit. In like manner also charge my brothers in the name of Jesus Christ to love their wives, “as the Lord loved the Church.” Ignatius: to Polycarp (A.D. 35-105) ch.5

But make these words known to all your children, and to your wife who shall be as your sister; for she too refrains not from using her tongue. Hermas (A.D. 150) ch.11

Nor are women to be deprived of bodily exercise. But they are not to be encouraged to engage in wrestling or running, but are to exercise themselves in spinning, and weaving, and superintending the cooking if necessary. And they are, with their own hand, to fetch from the store what we require. And it is no disgrace for them to apply themselves to the mill. Nor is it a reproach to a wife - housekeeper and helpmeet - to occupy herself in cooking, so that it may be palatable to her husband. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.2 pg.283

Not to deck and adorn herself beyond what is becoming, renders a wife free of calumnious suspicion. while she devotes herself assiduously to prayers and supplications; avoiding frequent departures from the house, and shutting herself up as far as possible from the view of all not related to her, and deeming housekeeping of more consequence than impertinent trifling. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.2 pg.379

We do not say that woman's nature is the same as man's, as she is woman. For undoubtedly it stands to reason that some difference should exist between each of them, in virtue of which one is male and the other female. Pregnancy and parturition, accordingly, we say belong to woman, as she is woman, and not as she is a human being. But if there were no difference between man and woman, both would do and suffer the same things. As then there is sameness, as far as respects the soul, she will attain to the same virtue; but as there is difference as respects the peculiar construction of the body, she is destined for child-bearing and housekeeping. "For I would have you know," says the apostle, "that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man: for the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. For neither is the woman without the man, nor the man without the woman, in the Lord." For as we say that the man ought to be continent, and superior to pleasures. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.2 pg.420

Christ is the Head of the Christian man - (for his head) is as free as even Christ is, under no obligation to wear a covering, not to say a crown. But even the head which is bound to have the veil, I mean woman's, as already taken possession of by this very thing, is not open also to a crown. She has the burden of her own humility to bear… Therefore a woman, taking counsel from the apostles' foresight, will not too elaborately adorn herself, that she may not either be crowned with any exquisite arrangement of her hair. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg. 102

"You are bound to please your husbands only." But you will please them in proportion as you take no care to please others. Be you without carefulness, blessed (sisters): no wife is "ugly" to her own husband. She "pleased" him enough when she was selected (by him as his wife). Every husband is the exactor of chastity; but beauty, a believing (husband) does not require, because we are not captivated by the same graces which the Gentiles think (to be) graces: an unbelieving one, on the other hand, even regards with suspicion. Why are you eager to please either one who is suspicious, or else one who desires it not? Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg.20

II. Examples of godly women (Top)

Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. Hebrews 11:11

And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. Luke 1:45-47

For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. 1 Peter 3:5-6

Through envy, those women, the Danaids and Dircae, being persecuted, after they had suffered terrible and unspeakable torments, finished the course of their faith with steadfastness, and though weak in body, received a noble reward. Clement of Rome (A.D. 96) ch.6

Many women, also, being strengthened by the grace of God, have performed numerous manly exploits. The blessed Judith, when her city was besieged, asked the elders for permission to go forth into the camp of the strangers, …and the Lord delivered Holofernes into the hands of a woman. Esther also, being perfect in faith, exposed herself to no less danger, in order to deliver the twelve tribes of Israel from impending destruction. Clement of Rome (A.D. 96) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 1 pg.20

[I speak of] Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who is laid to rest at Hierapolis. I speak also of his two daughters, who arrived at old age unmarried. His other daughter also, who passed her life under the influence of the Holy Spirit, lies at Ephesus. Polycrates (A.D. 2nd cent.) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 8 pg.773

It is related in the Gospels that there were certain women who had been healed of their diseases. Among these was Susanna. From their own possessions, these women provided the disciples the means of support. Origen (A.D. 240) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg. 426

For such was the charm of Jesus’ words, that not only were men willing to follow him to the wilderness, but women also, forgetting the weakness of their sex and a regard for the outward propriety in so following their Teacher into desert places. Origen (A.D. 240) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg. 468

There are blessed women, too, who are established with you in the same glory of confession. For they have maintained the Lord’s faith and are braver than their sex. Not only are they near to the crown of glory themselves, but they have provided an example to other women by their constancy. Cyprian (A.D. 250) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.5 pg.407

III. The woman’s role in the church (Top)

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 14:34-37

You instructed your wives to do all things with a blameless, becoming, and pure conscience, loving their husbands as in duty bound; and you taught them that, living in the rule of obedience, they should manage their household affairs becomingly, and be in every respect marked by discretion. Clement of Rome (A.D. 96) ch. 1

The wise woman, then, will first choose to persuade her husband to be her associate in what is conducive to happiness. And should that be found impracticable, let her by herself earnestly aim at virtue, gaining her husband's consent in everything, so as never to do anything against his will, with exception of what is reckoned as contributing to virtue and salvation. But if one keeps from such a mode of life either wife or maid-servant, whose heart is set on it; what such a person in that case plainly does is nothing else than determine to drive her away from righteousness and sobriety, and to choose to make his own house wicked and licentious. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.2 pg.432

Accordingly he says in a letter: "Have we not a right to take about with us a wife that is a sister like the other apostles?" But the latter, in accordance with their particular ministry, devoted themselves to preaching without any distraction, and took their wives with them not as women with whom they had marriage relations, but as sisters, that they might be their fellow-ministers in dealing with housewives. It was through them that the Lord's teaching penetrated also the women's quarters without any scandal being aroused. We also know the directions about women deacons which are given by the noble Paul in his second letter to Timothy. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195) Miscellanies, book III ch. 6

It is not permitted to a woman to speak in the church; but neither (is it permitted her) to teach, nor to baptize, nor to offer, nor to claim to herself a lot in any manly function, not to say (in any) sacerdotal office. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg.33

(Women) - that is, married women - are at length elected, but "mothers" to boot, yes, and "educators of children;" in order, forsooth, that their experimental training in all the affections may, on the one hand, have rendered them capable of readily aiding all others with counsel and comfort, and that, on the other, they may none the less have travelled down the whole course of probation whereby a female can he tested. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg.33

In the first Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: “Let women be silent in the church. But if any wish to learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home.” Also to Timothy: “Let a woman learn with silence, in all subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to be set over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was not seduced, but the woman was seduced.” Cyprian (A.D. 250) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.5 pg. 546

IV. The woman’s role in heretic and pagan religions (Top)

Teach Minerva and Diana the works of women, and Bacchus the works of men. What seemliness is there in a woman's girding herself with armor, or in a man's decorating himself with cymbals, and garlands, and female attire, and accompanied by a herd of bacchanalian women? Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.271-272

It appears probable enough that this man possesses a demon as his familiar spirit, by means of whom he seems able to prophesy, and also enables as many as he counts worthy to be partakers of his Charis themselves to prophesy. He devotes himself especially to women, and those such as are well-bred, and elegantly attired, and of great wealth, whom he frequently seeks to draw after him, by addressing them in such seductive words… On the woman replying, "I have never at any time prophesied, nor do I know how to prophesy;" then engaging, for the second time, in certain invocations, so as to astound his deluded victim, he says to her, "Open your mouth, speak whatsoever occurs to you, and you shall prophesy." She then, vainly puffed up and elated by these words, and greatly excited in soul by the expectation that it is herself who is to prophesy, her heart beating violently [from emotion], reaches the requisite pitch of audacity, and idly as well as impudently utters some nonsense as it happens to occur to her, such as might be expected from one heated by an empty spirit. (Referring to this, one superior to me has observed, that the soul is both audacious and impudent when heated with empty air.) Henceforth she reckons herself a prophetess, and expresses her thanks to Marcus for having imparted to her of his own Chaffs. She then makes the effort to reward him, not only by the gift of her possessions (in which way he has collected a very large fortune), but also by yielding up to him her person, desiring in every way to be united to him, that she may become altogether one with him. Irenaeus (A.D. 180) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg. 334-335

For we do not train our women like Amazons to manliness in war; since we wish the men even to be peaceable. I hear that the Sarmatian women practice war no less than the men; and the women of the Sacae besides, who shoot backwards, feigning flight as well as the men. I am aware, too, that the women near Iberia practice manly work and toil, not refraining from their tasks even though near their delivery; but even in the very struggle of her pains, the woman, on being delivered, taking up the infant, carries it home. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.2 pg.420

Another woman, the maiden Philumene (whom we have already mentioned), who herself afterwards became an enormous prostitute. Having been imposed on by her vigorous spirit, he committed to writing the revelations which he had learned of her. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg. 257

I must not omit an account of the conduct also of the heretics - how frivolous it is, how worldly, how merely human, without seriousness, without authority, without discipline, as suits their creed… The very women of these heretics, how wanton they are! For they are bold enough to teach, to dispute, to enact exorcisms, to undertake cures - it may be even to baptize. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg. 263

The consequence is, that a viper of the Cainite heresy, lately conversant in this quarter, has carried away a great number with her most venomous doctrine, making it her first aim to destroy baptism… so that most monstrous creature, who had no right to teach even sound doctrine, knew full well how to kill the little fishes, by taking them away from the water! Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg. 669

But the woman of pertness, who has usurped the power to teach, will of course not give birth for herself likewise to a right of baptizing, unless some new beast shall arise like the former; so that, just as the one abolished baptism, so some other should in her own right confer it! But if the writings which wrongly go under Paul's name, claim Thecla's example as a licence for women's teaching and baptizing, let them know that, in Asia, the presbyter who composed that writing, as if he were augmenting Paul's fame from his own store, after being convicted, and confessing that he had done it from love of Paul, was removed from his office. For how credible would it seem, that he who has not permitted a woman even to learn with over-boldness, should give a female the power of teaching and of baptizing! "Let them be silent," he says, "and at home consult their own husbands." Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg.677

There is one place where a man may not go, and there are some that are sacred from women: it is a crime needing atonement for a slave even to be present at some ceremonies. Some sacred places are crowned by a woman having one husband, some by a woman with many; and she who can reckon up most adulteries is sought after with most religious zeal. Minucius Felix (A.D. 200) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg. 187

He, that is, Jupiter… has rejected the male sex, and, as Celsus observes, employs the women of Dodona for the prophetic office. Origen (A.D. 248) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg. 613

There arose among us on a sudden a certain woman, who in a state of ecstasy announced herself as a prophetess, and acted as if filled with the Holy Ghost. And she was so moved by the impetus of the principal demons, that for a long time she made anxious and deceived the brotherhood, accomplishing certain wonderful and portentous things, and promised that she would cause the earth to be shaken… Here also she deceived one of the presbyters, a countryman, and another, a deacon, so that they had intercourse with that same woman, which was shortly afterwards detected. For on a sudden there appeared unto her one of the exorcists, a man approved and always of good conversation in respect of religious discipline… Yet that exorcist, inspired by God’s grace, bravely resisted, and showed that that which was before thought holy, was indeed a most wicked spirit. But that woman, who previously by wiles and deceitfulness of the demon was attempting many things for the deceiving of the faithful, among other things by which she had deceived many, also had frequently dared this; to pretend that with an invocation not to be contemned she sanctified bread and celebrated, the Eucharist, and to offer sacrifice to the Lord, not without the sacrament of the accustomed utterance; and also to baptize many, making use of the usual and lawful words of interrogation, that nothing might seem to be different from the ecclesiastical rule. What, then, shall we say about the baptism of this woman, by which a most wicked demon baptized through means of a woman? Can it be believed that either remission of sins was given, or the regeneration of the saving laver duly completed, when all things, although after the image of truth, yet were done by a demon? Fermilian (A.D. 250) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.5 pg. 393