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500 - 600 AD


from a perspective of women in the Church


 

Timeline

before Christ
0-100 AD
100-200
200-300
300-400
400-500
500-600
600-700
700-800
800-900
900-1000
1000-1100
1100-1200
1200-1300
1300-1400
1400-1500
1500-1600
1600-1700
1700-1800
1800-1900
1900-1950
1950-2000
2000-2050

This century brought great wealth to upper-class families, especially in the Byzantine part of the Roman Empire which was ruled from Constantinople. Many Hellenist women lived in luxury. People, belonging to all classes of society, offered themselves to the Church for instruction and baptism.

At baptism, catechumens were stripped naked and anointed from head to toe. Where adult women were concerned, it was obvious that a woman deacon would be more appropriate for this ministry than a male deacon or priest. That is why almost every parish had an ordained woman deacon.

In his book the Spiritual Meadow 6th-century Joannes Moschus tells the amusing story of a priest who preferred to anoint the women catechumens himself. It reveals the attitudes of the time, and testifies to the ministry of women deacons.

The central Byzantine emperor during this century was Justinian who reigned for almost 40 years (527-565). In his famous Justinian Code of Law he also laid down the organization of the Church. Various provisions seek to regulate the behaviour of women deacons.

"Whatever we have decreed about the venerable [male] clerics, we want also to apply to the God-pleasing deaconesses . . . In age they should neither be young, nor in their flowering which could easily lead to transgressions, but from those who have passed their middle age and who are, in harmony with divine rules more that 50 years old. Only then they merit sacred ordination (Novella 6, 6, § 1-2).



from painting by Alma-Tadema (1836-1912)



Women Deacons 500 - 600

The ministry of women deacons in the East at this time is attested in tombstones and in the correspondence of bishops, such as Severus of Antioch and Theodoret of Cyrrhus.

In the West we have the example of Radegunde, wife of King Clothar of Neustria (see left). She devoted herself to the poor, the sick, and captives, founded a leper hospital, and bore Clotaire's cruelties uncomplainingly until he murdered her brother Unstrut. She then left the court, received the diaconate from Bishop Medard at Noyon, and became a nun at Saix in about the year 557.

518
Deaconess. From Antioch in Syria (?)
518
Deaconess. From Antioch in Syria (?)
532-562
Deacon
538
From Nicopolis
543-558
Deacon. From Cappadocia
543-558
Deacon. Of Melitene in Cappadocia
594
From Rihab, Transjordan
5th-6th century
Of Thasos in Thrace
Early 6th century
Deacon. Of Palestine
6th century
Deacon(ess). In Klauseios, Achaia
6th century
Deaconess. Of Novae
6th century
Deacon. Of Archelais in Cappodocia
6th century
Deacon. From Galatia
6th century
Deacon. From near Amisos
6th century
Received the deaconate from Bishop Medard at Noyon, and became a nun at Saix, Gaul

Fathers of the Church 500 - 600

This was not a period blessed with prominent Church Fathers. The few who did write exhibit mediocre theology.

Ca. 500 AD
"...woman is not created in the image of God..."
560-636
"...a woman is an animal that menstruates..."

Local Church Synods and councils

When women are mentioned in new regulations, the concern is usually to reduce their involvement in the Church.

517
“We abrogate the consecration of widows whom they call ‘deaconesses’ completely from our region. ”
527
“During the administering of baptism, [ordinary] women may not serve as if they were women deacons.”
585 or 588
“No woman may receive the holy eucharist with bare hands.”
“Every woman must have her dominicale (=a linen cloth to cover her hand) at communion”.