woom'-an ('ishshah, "a woman" (feminine of 'ish, "a man"]; gune, "a woman" "wife"):
I. IN THE CREATIVE PLAN
II. IN OLD TESTAMENT TIMES
1. Prominence of Women
2. Social Equality
3. Marriage Laws
5. Domestic Duties
6. Dress and Ornaments
7. Religious Devotion and Service
(1) in Idolatry and False Religion
(2) in Spiritual Religion
III. INTER-TESTAMENTAL ERA
IV. IN NEW TESTAMENT TIMES
1. Mary and Elisabeth
2. Jesus and Women
3. In the Early Church
4. Official Service
IV. LATER TIMES
1. Changes in Character and Condition
2. Notable Examples of Christian Womanhood
3. Woman in the 20th Century
The generic term "man" includes woman. In the narrative of the creation (Ge 1:26-27) Adam is a collective term for mankind. It may signify human being, male or female, or humanity entire. "God said, Let us make man .... and let them" (Ge 1:26), the latter word "them" defining "man" in the former clause. So in Ge 1:27, "in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them," "them" being synonymous with "him."
See also ADAM; ANTHROPOLOGY.
I. In the Creative Plan.
Whatever interpretation the latest scholarship may give to the story of woman's formation from the rib of man (Ge 2:21-24), the passage indicates, most profoundly, the inseparable unity and fellowship of her life with his. Far more than being a mere assistant, "helper" (`ezer "help" "helper" Ge 2:18), she is man's complement, essential to the perfection of his being. Without her he is not man in the generic fullness of that term. Priority of creation may indicate headship, but not, as theologians have so uniformly affirmed, superiority. Dependence indicates difference of function, not inferiority. Human values are estimated in terms of the mental and spiritual. Man and woman are endowed for equality, and are mutually interdependent. Physical strength and prowess cannot be rated in the same category with moral courage and the capacity to endure ill-treatment, sorrow and pain; and in these latter qualities woman has always proved herself the superior. Man's historic treatment of woman, due to his conceit, ignorance or moral perversion, has taken her inferiority for granted, and has thus necessitated it by her enslavement and degradation. The narrative of the Fall (Ge 3:1-24) ascribes to woman supremacy of influence, for through her stronger personality man was led to disobedience of God's command. Her penalty for such ill-fated leadership was that her husband should "rule over" her (Ge 3:16), not because of any inherent superiority on his part, but because of her loss of prestige and power through sin. In that act she forfeited the respect and confidence which entitled her to equality of influence in family affairs. Her recovery from the curse of subjection was to come through the afflictive suffering of maternity, for, as Paul puts it, "she shall be saved (from the penalty of her transgression) through her child-bearing" (1Ti 2:15).
Sin, both in man and woman, has been universally the cause of woman's degradation. All history must be interpreted in the light of man's consequent mistaken estimate of her endowments, worth and rightful place. The ancient Hebrews never entirely lost the light of their original revelation, and, more than any other oriental race, held woman in high esteem, honor and affection. Christianity completed the work of her restoration to equality of opportunity and place. Wherever its teachings and spirit prevail, she is made the loved companion, confidante and adviser of her husband.
II. In Old Testament Times.
1. Prominence of Women:
Under the Hebrew system the position of woman was in marked contrast with her status in surrounding heathen nations. Her liberties were greater, her employments more varied and important, her social standing more respectful and commanding. The divine law given on Sinai (Ex 20:12) required children to honor the mother equally with the father. A similar esteem was accorded her in patriarchal times. Sarah held a position of favor and authority in Abraham's household. Rebekah was not less influential than Isaac, and was evidently the stronger personality. The "beautiful" Rachel (Ge 29:17) won from Jacob a love that accepted her as an equal in the companionship and counsels of family life. Many Hebrew women rose to eminence and national leadership. Miriam and Deborah were each a prophetess and a poetess. The former led bands of women in triumphant song and procession, celebrating the overthrow of enemies (Ex 15:20); the latter, through her dominating personality and prophetic power, became the virtual judge of the nation and led armies to victory. Her military general, Barak, refused to advance against Sisera without her presence and commanding influence (Jg 4:8). Her ode of victory indicates the intellectual endowment and culture of her sex in that unsettled and formative era (Jg 5:1-31). No person in Israel surpassed Hannah, the mother of Samuel, in intelligence, beauty and fervor of religious devotion. Her spiritual exaltation and poetic gift found expression in one of the choicest specimens of early Hebrew lyric poetry (1Sa 2:1-10). Other women eminent as prophetesses were: Huldah, whose counsel was sought by high priest and king (2Ch 34:22; compare 2Ki 22:14); Noadiah (Ne 6:14); Anna (Lu 2:36). The power to which woman could attain in Israel is illustrated in the career of the wicked, merciless, murderous, idolatrous Jezebel, self-styled prophetess (Re 2:20). Evidence of woman's eminence in the kingdoms of Judah and Israel is seen in the influence she exercised as queen mother (1Ki 15:13) and queen (2Ki 8:18); in the beautiful honor shown by King Solomon to his mother, Bath-sheba (1Ki 2:19); in the filial devotion of the prophet Elisha (1Ki 19:20); in the constant mention of the mother's name in the biographies of successive kings, making it evident that she was considered the important and determining factor in the life of her royal sons. Her teaching and authority were sufficiently eminent to find recognition in the proverbs of the nation: "the law of thy mother" (Pr 1:8; 6:20) was not to be forsaken, while contempt for the same merited the curse of God (Pr 19:26; 20:20; 30:11,17).
2. Social Equality:
Additional evidence of woman's social equality comes from the fact that men and women feasted together without restriction. Women shared in the sacred meals and great annual feasts (De 16:11,14); in wedding festivities (Joh 2:1-3); in the fellowship of the family meal (Joh 12:3). They could appear, as Sarah did in the court of Egypt, unveiled (Ge 12:11,14). Rebekah (Ge 24:16; compare Ge 24:65), Rachel (Ge 29:11), Hannah (1Sa 1:13) appeared in public and before suitors with uncovered faces. The secluding veil was introduced into Mohammedan and other oriental lands through the influence of the Koran. The custom was non-Jewish in origin, and the monuments make. It evident that it did not prevail, in early times, in Assyria and Egypt. Even Greece and Rome, at the time of their supreme culture, fell-far below the Hebrew conception of woman's preeminent worth. The greatest hellenic philosophers declared that it would radically disorganize the state for wives to claim equality with their husbands. Aristotle considered women inferior beings, intermediate between freemen and slaves. Socrates and Demosthenes held them in like depreciation. Plato advocated community of wives. Substantially the same views prevailed in Rome. Distinguished men, like Metullus and Care, advocated marriage only as a public duty. More honor was shown the courtesan than the wife. Chastity and modesty, the choice inheritance of Hebrew womanhood, were foreign to the Greek conception of morality, and disappeared from Rome when Greek culture and frivolity entered. The Greeks made the shameless Phryne the model of the goddess Aphrodite, and lifted their hands to public prostitutes when they prayed in their temples. Under pagan culture and heathen darkness woman was universally subject to inferior and degrading conditions. Every decline in her status in the Hebrew commonwealth was due to the incursion of foreign influence. The lapses of Hebrew morality, especially in the court of Solomon and of subsequent kings, occurred through the borrowing of idolatrous and heathen customs from surrounding nations (1Ki 11:1-8).
3. Marriage Laws:
The Bible gives no sanction to dual or plural marriages. The narrative in Ge 2:18-24 indicates that monogamy was the divine ideal for man. The moral decline of the generations antedating the Flood seems to have been due, chiefly; to the growing disregard of the sanctity of marriage. Lamech's taking of two wives (Ge 4:19) is the first recorded infraction of the divine ideal. By Noah's time polygamy had degenerated into promiscuous inter-racial marriages of the most incestuous and illicit kind (Ge 6:1-4; see SONS OF GOD). The subsequent record ascribes marital infidelity and corruption to sin, and affirms that the destruction of the race by the Flood and the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah were God's specific judgment on man's immorality. The dual marriages of the Patriarchs were due, chiefly, to the desire for children, and are not to be traced to divine consent or approval. The laws of Moses regarding chastity protected the sanctity of marriage (see MARRIAGE), and indicated a higher regard for woman than prevailed in Gentile or other Semitic races (Le 18:6-20). They sought to safeguard her from the sensual abominations prevalent among the Egyptians and Canaanites (Le 18:1-30). Kings were forbidden to "multiply wives" (De 17:17). Concubinage in Israel was an importation from heathenism.
Divorce was originally intended to protect the sanctity of wedlock by outlawing the offender and his moral offense. Its free extension to include any marital infelicity met the stern rebuke of Jesus, who declared that at the best it was a concession to human infirmity and hardness of heart, and should be granted only in case of adultery (Mt 5:32).
Hebrew women were granted a freedom in choosing a husband not known elsewhere in the East (Ge 24:58). Jewish tradition declares that a girl over 12 1/2 years of age had the right to give herself in marriage. Vows made by a daughter, while under age, could be annulled by the father (Nu 30:3-5) or by the husband (Nu 30:6-16). Whenever civil law made a concession to the customs of surrounding nations, as in granting the father power to sell a daughter into bondage, it sought to surround her with all possible protection (De 22:16 ff).
The Mosaic Law prescribed that the father's estate, in case there were no sons, should pass to the daughters (Nu 27:1-8). They were not permitted, however, to alienate the family inheritance by marrying outside their own tribe (Nu 36:6-9). Such alien marriages were permissible only when the husband took the wife's family name (Ne 7:63). Unmarried daughters, not provided for in the father's will, were to be cared for by the eldest son (Ge 31:14-15). The bride's dowry, at marriage, was intended as a substitute for her share in the family estate. In rabbinical law, a century or more before Christ, it took the form of a settlement upon the wife and was considered obligatory. Provision for woman under the ancient Mosaic Law was not inferior to her status under English law regarding landed estates.
5. Domestic Duties:
Among the Hebrews, woman administered the affairs of the home with a liberty and leadership unknown to other oriental peoples. Her domestic duties were more independent, varied and honorable. She was not the slave or menial of her husband. Her outdoor occupations were congenial, healthful, extensive. She often tended the flocks (Ge 29:6; Ex 2:16); spun the wool, and made the clothing of the family (Ex 35:26; Pr 31:19; 1Sa 2:19); contributed by her weaving and needlework to its income and support (Pr 31:14,24), and to charity (Ac 9:39). Women ground the grain (Mt 24:41); prepared the meals (Ge 18:6; 2Sa 13:8; Joh 12:2); invited and received guests (Jg 4:18; 1Sa 25:18 ff; 2Ki 4:8-10); drew water for household use (1Sa 9:11; Joh 4:7), for guests and even for their camels (Ge 24:15-20). Hebrew women enjoyed a freedom that corresponds favorably with the larger liberties granted them in the Christian era.
6. Dress and Ornaments:
That women were fond of decorations and display in ancient as in modern times is clear from the reproof administered by the prophet for their haughtiness and excessive ornamentation (Isa 3:16). He bids them "remove (the) veil, strip off the train," that they may be better able to "grind meal" and attend to the other womanly duties of the home (Isa 47:2). These prophetic reproofs do not necessarily indicate general conditions, but exceptional tendencies to extravagance and excess. The ordinary dress of women was modest and simple, consisting of loose flowing robes, similar to those worn by men, and still in vogue among Orientals, chiefly the mantle, shawl and veil (Ru 3:15; Isa 3:22-23). The veil, however, was not worn for seclusion, as among the Moslems. The extensive wardrobe and jewelry of Hebrew women is suggested by the catalogue given in Isa 3:18-24: anklets, cauls, crescents, pendants, bracelets, mufflers, headtires, ankle chains, sashes, perfume-boxes, amulets, rings, nose-jewels, festival robes, mantles, shawls, satchels, hand-mirrors, fine linen, turbans, veils. The elaborateness of this ornamentation throws light on the apostle Peter's counsel to Christian women not to make their adornment external, e.g. the braiding of the hair, the wearing of jewels of gold, the putting on of showy apparel, but rather the apparel of a meek and quiet spirit (1Pe 3:3-4).
7. Religious Devotion and Service:
The reflections cast upon woman for her leadership in the first transgression (Ge 3:6,13,16; 2Co 11:3; 1Ti 2:14) do not indicate her rightful and subsequent place in the religious life of mankind. As wife, mother, sister, she has been preeminently devout and spiritual. history records, however, sad and striking exceptions to this rule.
(1) In Idolatry and False Religion
Often woman's religious intensity found expression in idolatry and the gross cults of heathenism. That she everywhere participated freely in the religious rites and customs of her people is evident from the fact that women were often priestesses, and were often deified. The other Semitic religions had female deities corresponding to the goddesses of Greece and Rome. In the cult of Ishtar of Babylon, women were connected with the immoral rites of temple-worship. The women of heathen nations in the harem of Solomon (1Ki 11:1) turned the heart of the wise king to unaccountable folly in the worship of the Sidonian goddess Ashtoreth, and of Chemosh and Molech, in turn the "abomination" of Moab and Ammon (1Ki 11:5-8). The fatal speller Maacah morally blighted the reigns of her husband, son and grandson, until Asa the latter deposed her as queen and destroyed the obscene image of Asherah which she had set up (1Ki 15:13). As "queen mother" (gebhirah, "leader") she was equivalent to the Turkish Sultana Valide.
Baal-worship was introduced into Israel by Jezebel (1Ki 16:31-32; 18:19; 2Ki 9:22), and into Judah by her daughter Athaliah (2Ch 22:3; 24:7). The prominence of women in idolatry and in the abominations of foreign religions is indicated in the writings of the prophets (Jer 7:18; Eze 8:14). Their malign influence appeared in the sorceress and witch, condemned to death by the Mosaic Law (Ex 22:18); yet continuing through the nation's entire history. Even kings consulted them (1Sa 28:7-14). The decline and overthrow of Judah and Israel must be attributed, in large measure, to the deleterious effect of wicked, worldly, idolatrous women upon their religious life.
(2) In Spiritual Religion
The bright side of Hebrew history is an inspiring contrast to this dark picture. Prior to the Christian era no more luminous names adorn the pages of history than those of the devout and eminent Hebrew women. Jochebed, the mother of Moses, left upon him a religious impress so vital and enduring as to safeguard him through youth and early manhood from the fascinating corruptions of Pharaoh's Egyptian court (Ex 2:1-10; Heb 11:23-26). In Ruth, the converted Moabitess, the royal ancestress of David and of Jesus, we have an unrivaled example of filial piety, moral beauty and self-sacrificing religious devotion (Ru 1:15-18). The prayers and piety of Hannah, taking effect in the spiritual power of her son Samuel, penetrated, purified and vitalized the religious life of the entire nation. Literature contains no finer tribute to the domestic virtues and spiritual qualities of woman than in the beautiful poem dedicated to his gifted mother by King Lemuel (Pr 31:1-31).
Women, as well as men, took upon themselves the self-renouncing vow of the Nazirite (Nu 6:2), and shared in offering sacrifices, as in the vow and sacrifice of Manoah's wife (Jg 13:13-14); were granted theophanies, e.g. Hagar (Ge 16:7; 21:17), Sarah (Ge 18:9-10), Manoah's wife (Jg 13:3-5,9); were even permitted to "minister" at the door of the sanctuary (Ex 38:8; 1Sa 2:22); rendered conspicuous service in national religious songs and dances (Ex 15:20; Jg 11:34; 1Sa 18:6-7); in the great choirs and choruses and processionals of the Temple (Ps 68:25; Ezr 2:65; Ne 7:67); in religious mourning (Jer 9:17-20; Mr 5:38). They shared equally with men in the great religious feasts, as is indicated by the law requiring their attendance (De 12:18).
III. Inter-Testamental Era.
The women portrayed in the apocryphal literature of the Jews reveal all the varied characteristics of their sex so conspicuous in Old Testament history: devout piety, ardent patriotism, poetic fervor, political intrigue, worldly ambition, and sometimes a strange combination of these contradictory moral qualities. Whether fictitious, or rounded on fact, or historical, these portrayals are true to the feminine life of that era.
Anna is a beautiful example of wifely devotion. By her faith and hard toil she supported her husband, Tobit, after the loss of his property and in his blindness, until sight and prosperity were both restored (Tobit 1:9; 2:1-14).
Edna, wife of Raguel of Ecbatana and mother of Sarah, made her maternal love and piety conspicuous in the blessing bestowed on Tobias on the occasion of his marriage to her daughter, who had hitherto been cursed on the night of wedlock by the death of seven successive husbands (Tobit 7; 10:12).
Sarah, innocent of their death, which had been compassed by the evil spirit Asmodeus, at last had the reward of her faith in the joys of a happy marriage (Tobit 10:10; 14:13).
Judith, a rich young widow, celebrated in Hebrew lore as the savior of her nation, was devoutly and ardently patriotic. When Nebuchadnezzar sent his general Holofernes with an army of 132,000 men to subjugate the Jews, she felt called of God to be their deliverer. Visiting holofernes, she so captivated him with her beauty and gifts that he made a banquet in her honor. While he was excessively drunk with the wine of his own bounty, she beheaded him in his tent. The Assyrians, paralyzed by the loss of their leader, easily fell a prey to the armies of Israel. Judith celebrates her triumph in a song, akin in its triumphant joy, patriotic fervor and religious zeal, to the ancient songs of Miriam and Deborah (Judith 16:1-17).
Susanna typifies the ideal of womanly virtue. The daughter of righteous parents, well instructed in the sacred Law, the wife of a rich and honorable man, Joachim by name, she was richly blessed in position and person. Exceptionally modest, devout and withal very beautiful, she attracted the notice of two elders, who were also judges, and who took occasion frequently to visit Joachim's house. She spurned their advances and when falsely charged by them with the sin which she so successfully resisted, she escapes the judgment brought against her, by the subtle skill of Daniel. As a result, his fame and her innocence became widely known.
See SUSANNA,THE HISTORY OF .
Cleopatra, full of inherited intrigue, is influential in the counsels of kings. She married successively for political power; murdered her eldest son Seleucus, by Demetrius, and at last dies by the poison which she intended for her younger son, Antiochus VIII. Her fatal influence is a striking example of the perverted use of woman's power (1 Macc 10:58; Josephus, Ant, XIII, iv, 1; ix, 3).
IV. In New Testament Times.
1. Mary and Elisabeth:
A new era dawned for woman with the advent of Christianity. The honor conferred upon Mary, as mother of Jesus, lifted her from her "low estate," made after generations call her blessed (Lu 1:48), and carried its benediction to the women of all subsequent times. Luke's narrative of the tivity (Lu 1:1-80; 2:1-52) has thrown about motherhood the halo of a new sanctity, given mankind a more exalted conception of woman's character and mission, and made the world's literature the vehicle of the same lofty reverence and regard. The two dispensations were brought together in the persons of Elisabeth and Mary: the former the mother of John the Baptist, the last of the old order of prophets; the latter the mother of the long-expected Messiah. Both are illustrious examples of Spirit-guided and Spirit-filled womanhood. The story of Mary's intellectual gifts, spiritual exaltation, purity and beauty of character, and her training of her divine child, has been an inestimable contribution to woman's world-wide emancipation, and to the uplift and ennoblement of family life. To her poetic inspiration, spiritual fervor and exalted thankfulness as expectant mother of the Messiah, the church universal is indebted for its earliest and most majestic hymn, the Magnificat. In her the religious teachings, prophetic hopes, and noblest ideals of her race were epitomized. Jesus' reverence for woman and the new respect for her begotten by his teaching were well grounded, on their human side, in the qualities of his own mother. The fact that he himself was born of woman has been cited to her praise in the ecumenical creeds of Christendom.
2. Jesus and Women:
From the first, women were responsive to his teachings and devoted to his person. The sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, made their home at Bethany, his dearest earthly refuge and resting-place. Women of all ranks in society found in him a benefactor and friend, before unknown in all the history of their sex. They accompanied him, with the Twelve, in his preaching tours from city to city, some, like Mary Magdalene, grateful because healed of their moral infirmities (Lu 8:2); others, like Joanna the wife of Chuzas, and Susanna, to minister to his needs (Lu 8:3). Even those who were ostracized by society were recognized by him, on the basis of immortal values, and restored to a womanhood of virtue and Christian devotion (Lu 7:37-50). Mothers had occasion to rejoice in his blessing their children (Mr 10:13-16); and in his raising their dead (Lu 7:12-15). Women followed him on his last journey from Galilee to Jerusalem; ministered to Him on the way to Calvary (Mt 27:55-56); witnessed his crucifixion (Lu 23:49); accompanied his body to the sepulcher (Mt 27:61; Lu 23:55); prepared spices and ointments for his burial (Lu 23:56); were first at the tomb on the morning of his resurrection (Mt 28:1; Mr 16:1; Lu 24:1; Joh 20:1); and were the first to whom the risen Lord appeared (Mt 28:9; Mr 16:9; Joh 20:14). Among those thus faithful and favored were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, Salome (Mt 27:56), Joanna and other unnamed women (Lu 24:10). Women had the honor of being the first to announce the fact of the resurrection to the chosen disciples (Lu 24:9-10,22). They, including the mother of Jesus, were among the 120 who continued in prayer in the upper room and received the Pentecostal enduement (Ac 1:14); they were among the first Christian converts (Ac 8:12); suffered equally with men in the early persecutions of the church (Ac 9:2). The Jewish enemies of the new faith sought their aid and influence in the persecutions raised against Paul and Barnabas (Ac 13:50); while women of equal rank among the Greeks became ardent and intelligent believers (Ac 17:12). The fidelity of women to Jesus during his three years' ministry, and at the cross and sepulcher, typifies their spiritual devotion in the activities and enterprises of the church of the 20th century.
3. In the Early Church:
Women were prominent, from the first, in the activities of the early church. Their faith and prayers helped to make Pentecost possible (Ac 1:14). They were eminent, as in the case of Dorcas, in charity and good deeds (Ac 9:36); foremost in prayer, like Mary the mother of John, who assembled the disciples at her home to pray for Peter's deliverance (Ac 12:12). Priscilla is equally gifted with her husband as an expounder of "the way of God," and instructor of Apollos (Ac 18:26), and as Paul's "fellow-worker in Christ" (Ro 16:3). The daughters of Philip were prophetesses (Ac 21:8-9). The first convert in Europe was a woman, Lydia of Thyatira, whose hospitality made a home for Paul and a meeting-place for the infant church (Ac 16:14). Women, as truly as men, were recipients of the charismatic gifts of Christianity. The apostolic greetings in the Epistles give them a place of honor. The church at Rome seems to have been blessed with a goodly number of gifted and consecrated women, inasmuch as Paul in the closing salutations of his Epistles sends greetings to at least eight prominent in Christian activity: Phoebe, Prisca, Mary "who bestowed much labor on you," Tryphena and Tryphosa, Persis, Julia, and the sister of Nereus (Ro 16:1,3,6,12,15). To no women did the great apostle feel himself more deeply indebted than to Lois and Eunice, grandmother and mother of Timothy, whose "faith unfeigned" and ceaseless instructions from the holy Scriptures (2Ti 1:5; 3:14-15) gave him the most "beloved child" and assistant in his ministry. Their names have been conspicuous in Christian history for maternal love, spiritual devotion and fidelity in teaching the Word of God.
See also CLAUDIA.
4. Official Service:
From the first, women held official positions of influence in the church. Phoebe (Ro 16:1) was evidently a deaconess, whom Paul terms "a servant of the church," "a helper of many" and of himself also. Those women who "labored with me in the gospel" (Php 4:3) undoubtedly participated with him in preaching. Later on, the apostle used his authority to revoke this privilege, possibly because some women had been offensively forward in "usurping authority over the man" (1Ti 2:12 the King James Version). Even though he bases his argument for woman's keeping silence in public worship on Adam's priority of creation and her priority in transgression (1Ti 2:13-14), modern scholarship unhesitatingly affirms that his prohibition was applicable only to the peculiar conditions of his own time. Her culture, grace, scholarship, ability, religious devotion and spiritual enduement make it evident that she is often as truly called of God to public address and instruction as man. It is evident in the New Testament and in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers that women, through the agency of two ecclesiastical orders, were assigned official duties in the conduct and ministrations of the early church.
Their existence as a distinct order is indicated in 1Ti 5:9-10, where Paul directs Timothy as to the conditions of their enrollment. No widow should be "enrolled" (katalego, "catalogued," "registered") under 60 years of age, or if more than once married. She must be "well reported of for good works"; a mother, having "brought up children"; hospitable, having "used hospitality to strangers"; Christlike in loving service, having "washed the saints' feet." Chrysostom and Tertullian make mention of this order. It bound its members to the service of God for life, and assigned them ecclesiastical duties, e.g. the superintendence of the rest of the women, and the charge of the widows and orphans supported at public expense. Dean Alford (see the Commentary in the place cited) says they "were vowed to perpetual widowhood, clad in a vestis vidualis ("widow's garments"), and ordained by the laying on of hands. This institution was abolished by the eleventh Canon of the council of Laodicea."
Other special duties, mentioned by the Church Fathers, included prayer and fasting, visiting the sick, instruction of women, preparing them for baptism, assisting in the administration of this sacrament, and taking them the communion. The spiritual nature of the office is indicated by its occupant being variously termed "the intercessor of the church"; "the keeper of the door," at public service; "the altar of God."
Many of these duties were transferred, by the 3rd century, to the deaconesses, an order which in recent history has been restored to its original importance and effectiveness. The women already referred to in Ro 16:1,6,12 were evidently of this order, the term diakonos, being specifically applied to Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea. The women of 1Ti 3:11, who were to serve "in like manner" as the "deacons" of 1Ti 3:10, presumably held this office, as also the "aged women" of Tit 2:3 (= "presbyters" (feminine), presbuterai, 1Ti 5:2). Virgins as well as widows were elected to this office, and the age of eligibility was changed from 60 to 40 by the Council of Chalcedon. The order was suppressed in the Latin church in the 6th century, and in the Greek church in the 12th. because of certain abuses that gradually became prevalent. Owing, however, to its exceptional importance and value it has been reinstated by nearly all branches of the modern church, the Methodists especially emphasizing its spiritual efficiency. Special training schools and courses in education now prepare candidates for this office. Even as early as the Puritan Reformation in England the Congregationalists recognized this order of female workers in their discipline. The spiritual value of woman's ministry in the lay and official work of the church is evidenced by her leadership in all branches of ecclesiastical and missionary enterprise. This modern estimate of her capability and place revises the entire historic conception and attitude of mankind.
See DEACONESS .
V. Later Times.
1. Changes in Character and Condition:
Tertullian mentions the modest garb worn by Christian women (De Cult. Fem. ii.11) as indicating their consciousness of their new spiritual wealth and worthiness. They no longer needed the former splendor of outward adornment, because clothed with the beauty and simplicity of Christlike character. They exchanged the temples, theaters, and festivals of paganism for the home, labored with their hands, cared for their husbands and children, graciously dispensed Christian hospitality, nourished their spiritual life in the worship, service and sacraments of the church, and in loving ministries to the sick. Their modesty and simplicity were a rebuke to and reaction from the shameless extravagances and immoralities of heathenism. That they were among the most conspicuous examples of the transforming power of Christianity is manifest from the admiration and astonishment of the pagan Libanius who exclaimed, "What women these Christians have!"
The social and legal status of woman instantly improved when Christianity gained recognition in the Empire. Her property rights as wife were established by law, and her husband made subject to accusation for marital infidelity. Her inferiority, subjection and servitude among all non-Jewish and non-Christian races, ancient and modern, are the severest possible arraignment of man's intelligence and virtue. Natural prudence should have discovered the necessity of a cultured and noble motherhood in order to a fine grade of manhood. Races that put blighting restrictions upon woman consign themselves to perpetual inferiority, impotence and final overthrow. The decline of Islam and the collapse of Turkey as a world-power are late striking illustrations of this fundamental truth.
2. Notable Examples of Christian Womanhood:
Woman's activity in the early church came to its zenith in the 4th century. The type of feminine character produced by Christianity in that era is indicated by such notable examples as Eramelia and Macrina, the mother and sister of Basil; Anthusa, Nonna, Monica, respectively the mothers of Chrysostom, Gregory Nazianzen and Augustine. Like the mothers of Jerome and Ambrose they gave luster to the womanhood of the early Christian centuries by their accomplishments and eminent piety. As defenders of the faith women stand side by side with Ignatius and Polycarp in their capacity to face death and endure the agonies of persecution. The roll of martyrs is made luminous by the unrivaled purity, undaunted heroism, unconquerable faith of such Christian maidens as Blandina, Potamiaena, Perpetua and Felicitas, who, in their loyalty to Christ, shrank not from the most fiendish tortures invented by the diabolical cruelties and hatred of pagan Rome.
In the growing darkness of subsequent centuries women, as mothers, teachers, abbesses, kept the light of Christian faith and intelligence burning in medieval Europe. The mothers of Bernard and Peter the Venerable witness to the conserving and creative power of their devotion and faith. The apotheosis of the Virgin Mother, though a grave mistake and a perversion of Christianity by substituting her for the true object of worship, nevertheless served, in opposition to pagan culture, to make the highest type of womanhood the ideal of medieval greatness. The full glory of humanity was represented in her. She became universally dominant in religion. The best royalty of Europe was converted through her influence. Poland and Russia were added to European Christendom when their rulers accepted the faith of their Christian wives. Clotilda's conversion of Clovis made France Christian. The marriage of Bertha, another Christian princess of France, to Ethelbert introduced Roman Christianity into England, which became the established religion when Edwin, in turn, was converted through the influence of his Christian wife. The process culminated, in the 19th century, in the long, prosperous, peaceful, Christian reign of Victoria, England's noblest sovereign.
3. Woman in the 20th Century:
The opening decades of the 20th century are witnessing a movement among women that is one of the most remarkable phenomena in the history of mankind. It is world-wide and spontaneous, and aims at nothing less than woman's universal education and enfranchisement. This new ideal, taking its rise in the teaching of Jesus regarding the value of the human soul, is permeating every layer of society and all races and religions. Woman's desire for development and serf-expression, and better still for service, has given birth to educational, social, eleemosynary, missionary organizations and institutions, international in scope and influence. In 75 years after Mary Lyon inaugurated the higher education of woman at Mt. Holyoke College, in 1837, 60,000 women were students in the universities and colleges of the United States; nearly 40,000 in the universities of Russia; and increasingly proportionate numbers in every higher institution of learning for women in the world; 30,000 were giving instruction in the primary and secondary schools of Japan. Even Moslem leaders confessed that the historic subjection of woman to ignorance, inferiority, and servitude was the fatal mistake of their religion and social system. The striking miracle occurred when Turkey and China opened to her the heretofore permanently closed doors of education and social opportunity.
This universal movement for woman's enlightenment and emancipation is significantly synchronous with the world-wide extension and success of Christian missions. The freedom wherewith Christ did set us free includes her complete liberation to equality of opportunity with man. In mental endowment, in practical ability, in all the higher ministries of life and even in statecraft, she has proved herself the equal of man. Christianity always tends to place woman side by side with man in all the great achievements of education, art, literature, the humanities, social service and missions. The entire movement of modern society toward her perfect enfranchisement is the distinct and inevitable product of the teaching of Jesus. The growing desire of woman for the right of suffrage, whether mistaken or not, is the incidental outcome of this new emancipation. The initial stages of this evolutionary. process are attended by many abnormal desires, crudities of experiment and conduct, but ultimately, under the guidance of the Spirit of God and the Christian ideal, woman will intelligently adjust herself to her new opportunity and environment, recognizing every God-ordained difference of function, and every complementary and cooperative relation between the sexes. The result of this latest evolution of Christianity will not only be a new womanhood for the race but, through her enlightenment, culture and spiritual leadership, a new humanity.
Dwight M. Pratt