Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Women Bishops and the Anglican Church part 2 Thecla

As promised here is quite a surprise for those bought with the idea that the Church has never had female leaders. I refer to the tradition in the Syriac church regarding Thecla according to tradition she was an accomplice of Paul. The main tradition is based on a book called the Acts of the Apostle Paul and Thecla a summary of which can be found here.

Paul preached a doctrine of extreme ascetism, which was attractive to many women as it provided an escape from the traditional idea that the purpose of women was essentially to be married and to produce children (even though according to Timothy and the book of Genesis a woman was produced from a man :)). The early churches attitude to women  seems to have caused quite a stir amongst Roman society and the doctrine of ascetism for women  seems to have been regarded as a threat to society (sound familiar) . At about the turn of the 1st century there seems to have been a bit of a power struggle between men and women and it would seem that those men who didn't want women in the church eventually won the power struggle. There are many pictures of Thecla preaching alongside Paul but one of the most telling is this one,r:0,s:42,i:226

The painting shows Paul and Thecla preaching both are of the same height and both have their right hands lifted iconographically this would mean that both are seen as equal partners with the same amount of authority. But the image of Thecla has had her face defaced and an attempt has been made to obscure her right hand. This can be nothing but an attempt to airbrush the significance of Thecla out of history.     
Of course the ultimate irony is that she was canonized by the Catholic church which does not allow women as priests. Her feast day being 23rd September. Ascetism or abstinence from sexual activity now being seen as a good thing by a male patriachal society.

Anyway the point is that is strong evidence that up until the middle of the second century women seemed to have been able to take leadership roles in the Church. The claim that women did not is just bogus thus there can be no justfication for the idea that leadership in the church was the sole prerogative of men.

What about the second premise that Jesus only appointed men as his apostles. The point is that the church was not founded by Jesus. Indeed it is highly doubtful whether or not Jesus saw him self as founding a new religion. That was done by Paul and I have given sufficient evidence to show that women played a leadership role in the church.

As always the current Church has ignored these uncomfortable facts. I must admit to being quite surprised, given that a few hours research on the internet or consultation of some standard textbooks uncovers plenty of evidence that women took leadership roles in the church, that none of these arguments seemed to have been raised in the interminable debates about whether or not women should be Bishops or not.  

Anyway I hope I have shown that the two main arguments usually raised against women taking leadership roles have very little justification. I sincerely hope no one in the church really believes that a woman was produced from a man. The sooner the Church allows women to rise to the highest position in the insitutions the better it will be for all. Until it does so the Church can only be seen as upholding  the patriachal elements of  society alongside the Republican party and large parts of the Conservative party. Indeed until the current situation is changed I don't think it's going to far to accuse the Church (or those churches which do not allow Women priests or Bishops) of institutionalised sexism and as such subject to justified ridicule and contempt. 

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