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rojo's avatar

Do you think that there is a possibility that there were female priests in the Early Christian church?

Asked by rojo (14862 points ) February 6th, 2014

I found this Article and this Blog about the report online and wanted to get your impressions on the possibility and the probability, that women were authority figures within the early Christian church.
Also, what do you think of the attitude of most present day Christian churches to the ordination of female priests?

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19 Answers

antimatter's avatar

I think so, ref to the Gospel of Mary

downtide's avatar

I think it highly unlikely, as Judaism (from which Christianity evolved) is highly patriarchal with no history of female rabbis during that period of history.

zenvelo's avatar

That is scant “proof”, and it is subject to the interpretation of what the image represents. Just because current priests hold their hands like that is not evidence that priests held their hands that way in the 3rd century.

And given historical patriarchal society, it seems unlikely that women were priests.

I’m not sure what you mean by “most present day Christian Churches”. Catholic churches are the ones that are resistant to ordination of women. There are plenty of women clergy in most other mainstream churches – Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist Presbyterian.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I doubt it. Part of the purpose of the religion is to make sure everyone knows their place. Everyone was subservient to the males. Rape wouldn’t have been treated so casually if there had been women in any kind of power.

rojo's avatar

I apologize, evidently I miscopied the weblog site. If you click on it please then click on the first lead titled “Women as Leaders in Early Christianity, Fairy Tales.

@downtide It appears there may be some disagreement regarding the role of women in Judaism, from the block I find the following:

Bernadette Brooten, a professor at Brandeis University, published a book (based on her doctoral dissertation) in 1982 demonstrating that there were women who carried out leadership roles in Roman and Byzantine Judaism from 19 Latin and Greek texts that used titles such as “elder”, “leader”, “head of the synagogue” and (my favorite) “mother of the synagogue”, as well as “priestess”. An article published in 2000 covers the main arguments.

And makes the argument that if this is so, then there is a good chance that the Christian church which, as you too indicated, has its roots in Judaism also included women as leaders. From further in the article:

“Eisen considers at length [on pages 119–120] the key arguments of Epiphanius, a church leader near the end of the fourth century AD who argued vigorously against women’s ordination as priests. To do so, he had to argue that women who had been called presbytides– priests– were not really regarded the same as men with that title. Eisen notes that Epiphanius is arguing against the understanding these women had of their own role, and the opinion of other members of the Christian community who “acknowledged women as bishops and presbyters and either practiced their ordination to those offices or at least favored it”.

Note that this was in the 4th century and would, in my mind at least, indicate that he is arguing against a practice that was in existence at the time and, conjecture on my part, but had been for several hundred years.

@zenvelo that is the argument asked in the blog and it is pointed out that male images holding their hands in this fashion are interpreted as “priests” and then questions why an interpretation of the actions for males is not applied to this figure because it is feminine. As stated: You need to look at the image in relation to other similar images. If male figures with the same features are called “priests”, then you need to justify why, simply due to gender, you won’t extend that identification to identically posed figures that are female. .
And while you are correct, many Christian religions, mostly Protestant, do accept women in leadership roles, many with restrictions, but have only been doing so with any regularity within the last 100 years, I would say that the majority, such as Catholics ,Eastern Orthodox, LDS, Baptists, most Evangelical groups, still adamantly refuse to even consider it. I should retract the word “most” and say “many” instead.

ibstubro's avatar

I seriously doubt there were female leaders in the early Christian church, @rojo.

If so, it would probably have been much more nurturing.

filmfann's avatar

There was a rumor that one of the early Popes was secretly a woman. A quick web search shows a Pope Joan from the 9th Century, but I thought there was another.

MadMadMax's avatar

No, the beliefs were based on Judaism and Judaism was always Patriarchal.

MadMadMax's avatar

Pope Joan supposedly reigned in the 9th century AD.

“The story first appeared in 13th-century chronicles, and was subsequently spread and embellished throughout Europe.” Wikipedia

She’s a fantasy.

rojo's avatar

@MadMadMax It appears there may be some disagreement regarding the role of women in Judaism, from the block I find the following:

Bernadette Brooten, a professor at Brandeis University, published a book (based on her doctoral dissertation) in 1982 demonstrating that there were women who carried out leadership roles in Roman and Byzantine Judaism from 19 Latin and Greek texts that used titles such as “elder”, “leader”, “head of the synagogue” and (my favorite) “mother of the synagogue”, as well as “priestess”. An article published in 2000 covers the main arguments.

And makes the argument that if this is so, then there is a good chance that the Christian church which, as you too indicated, has its roots in Judaism also included women as leaders.

Might it not be that we are viewing the past through the eyes of those who wish to keep the truth from us?

MadMadMax's avatar

@rojo Not in the 9th century, no. In the early early church after Constantine organized the fractions, church houses were places where people went to worship and these were owned by women and organized by women. But:

“What seems to happen within the first few centuries is that whatever limited activities women might have had in the beginning begin to get curtailed as you have the development of a hierarchy of clergy members with bishops, presbyters and deacons, and it’s pretty firmly established that women should not be either bishops or priests.

Many church fathers write about this. So that women tend to get excluded from those functions, [though] they do have some roles, [such] as joining a group called the widows or deaconesses in the fourth century. We have good evidence of a order of deaconesses, but they are excluded from the priesthood.”

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/first/roles.html

Dutchess_III's avatar

Why do you suppose women were excluded from priesthood?

ibstubro's avatar

Clarify ’suppose’, @Dutchess_III?

‘What makes you think…’
vs
“Why were…”

It’s not clear if you are asking opinion on the lack of women in the priesthood, or why someone would believe there was a lack?

Dutchess_III's avatar

It was a simple, straight forward question. Asking for suppositions. Nothing deep. I shall rephrase: Does anyone have any thoughts or opinons on why women were excluded from priesthood?

ibstubro's avatar

I think women were excluded because the males were the hunter/gatherers and used that to keep women in their place. Women were the nurturers. It’s pretty straightforward if you don’t get to eat, more subtle if your dinner tastes like garbage. Men tend to fight, women tend to negotiate.

Religion and politics are almost always intertwined and up until fairly recently women were largely excluded from both.

@Dutchess_III

rojo's avatar

And yet @ibstubro we have women gods and priestesses throughout recorded history until some point after the creation of the monotheistic, in this case, Abrahamic deity. I would not expect thousands of years of feminine worship and service to disappear overnight. I think it is more likely that it was phased out over time.

ibstubro's avatar

Well, from a Biblical perspective, why would you allow the original sinner to lead over the innocently duped Adam? We know where letting Eve lead gets us!

Interesting, @rojo. One would expect the Eastern religions to have more female leaders. Did we discuss that it was recently discovered that the ancient Phoneticians had mass production and somehow that was lost for thousands of years? It amazes me the things that the human race has learned and subsequently lost for centuries.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I figure it’s prolly because God himself is a man.

ibstubro's avatar

Yes, and he didn’t have any sissy daughter, @Dutchess_III.

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