The Contributions Of Christian Women To The Pastoral Care And Counseling Ministry Of The Church – Part Three
The Apostolic Mothers And Wives:
The Roman Empire had fallen, and the barbarians invaded. The lights of what appeared to St. Ambrose an unquenchable Roman civilization had been quenched. One era closed, but a new plan for humanity was opening. God planned that the temporal Reign of Christ is born from the remnants of that broken Roman Empire that converted the uncivilized barbarian tribes. In this darkness, a new light appeared – noble, sacred, dignified. A soul imbued with the spirit of the Catholic Church, shining with the lumen of sanctity from the Mystical Body of Christ.
St. Clotilda (474-545)
She was the daughter of the King of the Burgundians of Lyons, wife of Clovis, King of the Franks. Clovis had reasons to want this Christian wife. Clotilda was reputed to be very beautiful; the Burgundians would become an ally of the Franks, and a Christian wife could help to bind his Roman subjects more closely to him. Confident of her virtue, Bishop Remigius sent the 17-year-old girl to reign as queen over the pagan Franks with the mission of converting their barbarian King. We can imagine Clotilda: her features are delicate but firm, stately in bearing, sophisticated in gesture and voice. Her constant prayers and exemplary life began to affect Clovis. To understand the influence of St. Clotilda, one need only recall the exclamation of Clovis during a battle against the Alemanni. Seeing his troops on the point of yielding, he invoked the aid of “the God of Clotilda” and promised to become a Catholic if only victory were granted him. By the force and influence of that supernatural lumen of Clotilda, Clovis understood the light of the Catholic Church.
It was St. Clotilda, born at the dawn of the Middle Ages, a sun who will shine for all of history. Rejoicing quietly, humbly, without the palms of victory, she would have assisted at the Baptism of Clovis at Christmas 496, perhaps with the intuition that a historical era was being born. The Frankish Kingdom thenceforth become the representative and defender of Catholic interests throughout the West. In this crucial situation, one woman had a decisive mission: Clotilda. In Britain, it fell to the great-granddaughter of Clotilda to unlock the doors for Christianity.
A Frankish princess (d. 612), married the pagan King Elthelbert of Kent. For many years she lived as a Catholic at the pagan court of Canterbury. When St. Augustine of Canterbury arrived at the head of his forty missionaries to preach the Gospel in England in 596, he found Queen Bertha a powerful ally at the court of her husband and Ethelbert ripe for conversion. Ethelbert was baptized on Whit-Sunday in 597, and Canterbury became the mother of the Church of England.
Bertha’s daughter, following in that heroic tradition of the family, married the pagan King Edwin of Northumbria and thus carried the faith to the Angles. Edwin, the first Christian King of Northumbria, was baptized at York in 627 and was so zealous in the conversion of his people that the Church today honors him as Saint.
Around 600, Theodlind, a Bavarian Christian princess married the King of the Lombards. Both husband and nation converted to the Catholic faith. In Spain, a pious Christian Greek mother,
She instructed the two sons of her impious Visigothic husband in the Catholic faith. One son, St. Hermengild, died a martyr rather than abjuring his Catholic belief. His brother Recared ascended the throne, embraced Christianity, and proclaimed Spain aspired to be a Catholic nation at the 3rd Council of Toledo (589). The Christian mother from her tomb had triumphed in her sons over the persecuting father.
Turning East, we see the first Christian Queen of Bohemia, who converted with her husband in 879. She was strangled at prayer in 921 at the order of her daughter-in-law, who was jealous of Ludmilla’s significant influence over her grandson. That grandson was the great famous hero St. Wenceslaus, who would water with his blood the seeds of faith planted so heroically by his grandmother. Catholic queens laid the foundation for Christianity in Poland and Russia.
St. Margaret of Scotland (1038-1093)
And it was the great St. Margaret of Scotland who married Malcolm III of Scotland and gentled the rough manners of the Highland warriors. In her position as queen, all of Margaret’s significant influence was thrown into the cause of religion and piety. She was instrumental in the convocation of the synod that instituted reforms that led Scotland out of isolation and into line with the rest of Western Christendom.
The valiant Queen Blanche of Castile told her young son, who would become St. Louis IX of France: I would rather see you dead at my feet than have you commit one mortal sin. A formidable woman, Blanche of Castile was able to hold the Crown for her son during the regency against powers in Languedoc, Brittany, the Ile de France, and even Henry III of England. It is a fragment of the stories of great medieval women, many of whom are Saints. It is said that the history of a saint is a page in the history of Christian Civilization. Let Simone de Beauvoirs’ and the feminists’ rage and twist the facts of history. But the truth needs to be stated. The role and influence of virtuous Catholic wives and mothers, who never lost their femininity of spirit, has always been immense. These women are archetypes for young girls and women today who are so desperately in need of finding models of women who did not abandon their traditional roles and yet were so essential in the shaping of Christian Civilization, masters in pastoral care, and great counselors.
Women In The 1st – 5th Century Of Christianity:
After the death of Jesus, women continued to play prominent roles in the early movement. Some scholars have even suggested that most Christians in the first century were women. The letters of Paul, dated to the middle of the first century CE, and his casual greetings to acquaintances offer fascinating and solid information about many Jewish and Gentile women who were prominent in the movement. His letters provide vivid clues about the activities women engaged in more generally. He greets Priscilla, Aquila, Mary, Junias, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’ mother, Julia, and Nereus’ sister and Olympas who worked and traveled as missionaries in pairs with their husbands or brothers (Romans 16:3, 7, 15). He tells us that Priscilla and her husband risked their lives to save him. He praises Junia as a prominent apostle who had been imprisoned for her labor. Mary and Persis are commended for their hard work (Romans 16:6, 12). Euodia and Syntyche are called his fellow workers in the gospel (Philippians 4:2-3). Here is clear evidence of women’s contribution to pastoral care and counseling in the first century of Christianity.
Paul’s letters also offer some important glimpses into the inner workings of ancient Christian churches. These groups did not own church buildings but met in homes, no doubt due in part to the fact that Christianity was not legal in the Roman world at that time and partly because of the enormous expense to such fledgling societies. Such homes were a domain in which women played vital roles. It is not surprising to see women taking leadership roles in house churches. Paul tells of women who were the leaders of such house churches (Apphia in Philemon I:2; Priscilla in I Corinthians 16:19).
This practice is confirmed by other texts that mention women who headed churches in their homes, such as Lydia of Thyatira (Acts 16:15) and Nympha of Laodicea (Colossians 4:15).
Women held offices and played significant roles in group worship. Paul, for example, greets a deacon named Phoebe (Romans 16:1) and assumes that women are praying and prophesying during worship (I Corinthians 11). Women’s roles were not limited to pastoral care and counseling but included ecstatic public speech, preaching, teaching, leading prayer, and perhaps even performing the Eucharist meal. (A later first-century work, the Didache, assumes that this duty fell regularly to Christian prophets.)
Other women appear in later literature as well. One of the most famous woman apostles was Thecla, a virgin martyr converted by Paul. She cut her hair, donned men’s clothing, and took up the duties of a missionary apostle. She persevered in her faith and purity. She was threatened with rape and prostitution and was twice put in the ring as a martyr. She was reported to have contributed to pastoral care in her mission to excel. Her lively and somewhat fabulous story is recorded in the second-century Acts of Thecia. From very early, widowed women served formal ministry roles in some churches (I Timothy 5:9-10).
The Corinthian women, Philip’s daughters, Ammia of Philadelphia, Philumene, and the visionary martyr Perpetua, Maximilla, were among those involved in pastoral care. For example, the African church father Tertullian describes an unnamed woman prophet in his congregation who not only had ecstatic visions during church services but also served as a counselor and healer (On the Soul 9.4). A remarkable collection of oracles from another unnamed woman prophet was discovered in Egypt in 1945. She speaks in the first person as the feminine voice of God: Thunder, Perfect Mind. Women prophets inspired a Christian movement in second-century Asia Minor (called the New Prophecy or Montanism) that spread around the Mediterranean and lasted for at least four centuries.
Their oracles were collected and published, including the account of a vision in which Christ appeared to the prophet as a woman and “put wisdom” in her (Epiphanius, Panarion 49.1). Montanist Christians ordained women as presbyters and bishops, and women held the title of the prophet, but in reality, they were into pastoral care and counseling. The third-century African bishop Cyprian also tells of an ecstatic woman prophet from Asia Minor who celebrated the Eucharist and performed baptisms (Epistle 74.10).
Women were also prominent as martyrs and suffered violently from torture and painful execution by wild animals and paid gladiators. The earliest writing by a woman is the prison diary of Perpetua, a relatively wealthy matron, and nursing mother. She was put to death in Carthage at the beginning of the third century on the charge of being a Christian. In it, she records her testimony before the local Roman ruler and her defiance of her father’s pleas that she recant. She told of the support and fellowship among the confessors in prison, including other women.
But above all, she records her prophetic visions. Through them, she was not merely reconciled passively to her fate. But she claimed the power to define the meaning of her death in a situation where Romans use their violence against her body as a witness to their power and justice and where the Christian editor of her story sought to turn her death into a witness to the truth of Christianity. Her writing lets us see the human being caught up in these political struggles. She actively relinquishes her female roles as mother, daughter, and sister in favor of defining her identity solely in spiritual terms. However horrifying or heroic her behavior may seem, her brief diary offers an intimate look at one early Christian woman’s spiritual journey.