10: Ancient Women of Words

2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the ELCA, the 40th anniversary of women of color, and the 10th anniversary of LGBTQ+ siblings.

It’s an incredibly important marker for the ELCA, though it is only the beginning for the Church, as women are still denied ordination across the denominations and hold less than 15% of the leadership positions in the worldwide church! Therefore, in 2020, we in the Oregon Synod will highlight one woman from Christian history every week. Some you may know, others you may not, but all worthy of our respect and gratitude.

#10 Ancient Women of Words

At a time when only a fraction of the population was literate (350-450 CE), there were several Christian women known for their writing. These women, privileged with both wealth and education, utilized their creativity, to express and share their faith through their writings. The following four women were well-known and well-received, surviving patriarchy’s erasure through the wide-spread popularity of their work. Proba, wrote a popular epic cento poem of 694 hexameters detailing the Genesis account of the creation of the world and other early events in biblical history, and, in greater detail, scenes from the life of Christ titled: “Virgilianus de laudibus Christi.” Egeria, wrote a personal travelogue “Itinerarium Egeriae” (Travels of Egeria) about her three year pilgrimate to visit significant sites from the Bible. She traveled through the regions of modern-day Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and back to the region of Anatolia. Paula, first encouraged Jerome to translate the Bible into Latin (from Hebrew and Greek), then edited and proofread his work for publication. The Vulgate translation became an authoritative translation for the next 1,500 years. After being wrongly accused of adultery and banished by her husband, teh emporer, Empress Eudocia, left Constantinople for Jerusalem where she used her remaining wealth and influence to repair the city walls, build and decorate churches, create shelter for the poor, aged, and indigent and well as pilgrims, and financially support monks and clergy. She also promoted religious tolerance for Jews and pagans (an unpopular sentiment at the time). She was a prolific writer across multiple genres: centos, hagiographies and Church history. She is best known for her work “The Martyrdom of St. Cyprian” which tells the story of the chaste Justa, the attempts by the pagan Cyprian to seduce her, his conversion to Christianity, and martyrdom for his faith.