Cracking the Da Vinci Code

Primary Sources for the Ancient Mind: Women in the Church
by The Rev. Jonathan Wilson

In the Church that Paul and Peter grew, women held office and were valued for their testimony.

Were Christian women devalued by the misogynists Peter and Paul, as contended by Brown and Gardner in the esoteric Grail Quest? If so, would “the Church” in its all-powerful effort to destroy many documents and edit others, have permitted references to female heroes to remain in the documents they preserved?
Clement of Rome lived towards the end of the 1st century. He wrote extensively in the same terms of the gospel as presented by Peter and Paul - a Bishop in Rome, he wrote, as Paul himself, to the Christians in Corinth. Thus Clement firmly established himself as continuing the legacy of these misogynistic, woman-bashing apostles Peter and Paul. In chapter five of this epistle, Clement lifts up the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul as “noble examples of our own generation.”
He then writes in chapter six, verse 2, of the example set by believing women and the jealousies of the pagan governments that persecuted and executed them:
“Because of jealousy women were persecuted, who as Danaids and Dircae suffered terrible and impious indignities and thereby safely completed the race of faith and, though weak in body, received a noble reward of honour.” (Stevenson, page 4.)
Note, these references to the Danaids and Dircae are to pagan literature: the daughters of Danaus, the Danaids, were subjected to a form of underworld torture, while Dirce was “tied to the horns of a bull and dragged to death.” (Stevenson, page 5.)
Eusebius of Caesarea, who lived into the middle of the 4th Century, composed a history of the first three hundred years of the Christian faith. On describing the persecution of Christians by the pagan Emperor Domitian, Eusebius, writes:
“…Even those writers who stood far apart from our doctrine did not hesitate to record in their histories both the persecution and the martyrdoms that took place in it. Yes, and they also gave an exact indication of the date, for they have placed it on record that in the fifteenth year of Domitian, in company with many others, Flavia Domitilla, the daughter of a sister of Flavius Clemens who was one of the consuls at Rome at that time, was committed by way of punishment to the island of Ponti because of her testimony for Christ.” (Stevenson, page 9.)

Or we can take the testimony of a pagan, Pliny, the Roman administrator of Bithynia, who around the year 112 submitted a letter to the Emperor Trajan concerning his conduct of interrogating and executing Christians. His problem is that so many were accused, that he wanted to get to the truth about what Christians believed. Concerning the Christian rituals surrounding taking meals together, Pliny writes:
“On this I considered it the more necessary to find out from two maid-servants who were called deaconesses, and that by torments, how far this was true: but I discovered nothing else than a perverse and extravagant superstition. I therefore adjourned the case and hastened to consult you. The matter seemed to me worth deliberation, especially on account of the number of those in danger - for many of all ages and every rank, and also of both sexes are brought into present or future danger.” (Stevenson, p. 14.)
We see from Pliny’s letter that the testimony of two women holding office in the church was considered of such a confounding nature (“extravagant superstition” referring to the body and blood of Christ in the eucharist?) that Pliny “adjourned the case and hastened to consult” the emperor of Rome.

In the late second century a council of bishops was held to determine when the annual celebration of the Resurrection should take place. In a dissenting opinion raised by Polycrates, the bishop of Ephesus, he recites the qualifications of those in his region, the imperial province of Asia, as inheritors of apostolic practice. He writes: "For indeed in Asia great luminaries have fallen asleep, such as shall rise again on the day of the Lord's wit, Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who has fallen asleep in Hierapolis, as have also his two daughters who grew old in virginity, and his other daughter who lived in the Holy Spirit and rests at Ephesus..."

The Biblical testimony of these "luminaries" is told in Acts Chapter 20, verses 7 through 9. While living in Caesarea, Philip hosted Paul's company on his final trip to Jerusalem. It states: "Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven" had "four unmarried daughters who prophesied." To "prophesy" is to speak the word of the Lord, in other words, it is to preach. One hundred fifty years later these women were boasted, by the Bishop of Ephesus, in his list of "luminaries" in order to lend credibility to his own status.

Certainly the all-powerful Church in its misogyny would have expunged this record from history? Why then were these records copiously copied and preserved throughout Christendom, with a mountain of cross-referencing attestations that place their authenticity and antiquity beyond dispute? The evidence is clear: “The Church” had neither the power nor the interest to erase this history of feminine heroism and "luminary" empowerment in the church.

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