The Controversy of the Possessors and Non-Possessors in Renaissance Russia

During the years of the Renaissance, issues surrounding the relationship between the Church and the State as well as between the Church and the world at large came into high relief throughout Europe. The status quo of the Middle Ages was both widely questioned and vigorously upheld by opposing groups. At one end of the spectrum of opinion concerning these relationships were groups like the Spiritual Franciscans, who advocated ecclesiastical poverty and the renunciation by the Church of all secular power. At the opposite end of the spectrum of opinion were organizations like the Inquisition, which sought to expand the temporal power of the Church and to use that power against the Church’s enemies. One manifestation of this debate occurred in Russia, where the Orthodox Church was split between the Possessors, who advocated the ownership of land and serfs by the Church and a close relationship of the Church with the State, and the Non-Possessors, who advocated the spiritual poverty of the Church and a distancing of the Church from secular powers.

The relationship between Church and State in Russia had been a close one from the beginning of Christianity there. According to Medieval Russian Orthodox tradition, the conversion of Russia from paganism to Christianity took place in the year 988 at the behest of Prince Vladimir the Great (958-1015).1 After having himself baptized, “he then mandated the baptism of all his subjects and had all the idols of the Russian gods destroyed.”2 This mandate by Prince Vladimir is commemorated in modern Russia as the national holiday of “Christianization Day;” it is celebrated on 28 July, the same day that Prince Vladimir, a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church, is commemorated on the Church’s liturgical calendar.3

The relationship between Church and State in Russia continued to grow throughout the remainder of the Middle Ages, finally culminating in the second half of the fifteenth century with the conception of Moscow, the seat of both the Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church, as the “third Rome.”4 According to Russian ideologues of the time, the first Rome, the city of Rome on the Italian peninsula and identified with the Roman Catholic popes, had fallen away from the true faith into heresy with the Great Schism between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches in 1054;5 the second Rome, the “New Rome” of Constantinople, had fallen into Muslim hands in 1453,6 ostensibly due to God’s judgment after the Council of Florence held in 1431-45, in which the bishops of the Byzantine Orthodox Church agreed to a reunion with the Roman Catholic Church.7 Moscow and, by extension, all of Russia, then, was the third Rome, “the sole remaining stronghold of the true faith in the world.”8

This close relationship and even identification of the Church with the State in Russia at the beginning of the Renaissance was especially facilitated by elements within the Russian monastic tradition. The figure most associated with this increasing collaboration between the monastics and the government of Russia was “Sergius of Radonezh (?1314-92), the greatest national saint of Russia.”9 Though monks, nuns, hermits, and other similar figures had existed in Russia for many years before Sergius, he is undoubtedly the most significant representative of the Medieval Russian monastic tradition. Not only did he contribute greatly to the development and spread of a distinctly Russian spirituality, but also to the development and enlargement of Muscovite Russia:

Sergius played an active part in politics. A close friend of the Grand Dukes of Moscow, he encouraged the city in its expansion, and it is significant that before the Battle of Kulikovo the leader of the Russian forces, Prince Dimitry Donskoy, went especially to Sergius to secure his blessing.10

This close relationship between the monastics of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian government, as well as the close relationship of monastics with the secular world that their relationship with the State necessitated, caused a good deal of tension within the Church over the proper application of Christian values, finally leading to the outbreak of controversy in 1503.11 At a Church council held that year, Nil Sorsky (1433-1508), “one of the saintliest of Russian ascetics”12 and “a monk from a remote hermitage in the forests beyond the Volga, rose to speak, and launched an attack on the ownership of land by monasteries.”13 “Joseph of Volokolamsk” (1439-1515), also known as Joseph Volotsky, abbot of a monastery in Volokolasmk and “one of the most notable churchmen of the time,” rose to oppose him and vigorously defended the ownership of land by monasteries.14

The debate that began between the two at that council would last for another 20 years, splitting the monastics and others in the Church into two camps, that of the Possessors, originally led by Joseph of Volokolamsk, who advocated land ownership by the Church, and that of the Non-Possessors, originally led by Nil Sorsky, who opposed it. The issues at stake in the debate between the two parties naturally expanded during that period of time to include other topics connected to the two positions and disagreements necessitated by the original dispute; the overarching issues were what relationship the Church, and especially the monastic movement within the Church, should have with both the State and with the world outside of the monastery.

The dispute finally reached a boiling point in 1526 due to the actions of the leaders of the Non-Possessors after the death of Nil Sorsky; these leaders were Vassian Cross-Eye, who had been a disciple of Nil Sorsky, and Maxim the Greek, one of whose teachers during his travels in Western Europe had been the Florentine reformer Girolamo Savonarola, the leader of a movement similar to the Non-Possessors.15 In that year, Vassian and Maxim made the mistake of openly criticizing Czar Basil III for his divorce, which had been unlawful according to the canons of the Orthodox Church. As a result, the Czar imprisoned both Vassian and Maxim and ordered the monasteries which had supported them to be closed. The Non-Possessor movement was nearly crushed and never recovered its former size and strength while the Possessors were granted official favor by the government.16 Both factions, however, would leave an enduring mark on the Russian Church as well as the nation as a whole; that legacy will be examined after a discussion of the central issues which divided the two groups, the respective stances of the groups on these issues, and the place of these issues in the Orthodox Church previous to the outbreak of controversy in the early 16th century.

Before the official suppression of the Non-Possessors in 1526, three issues in particular had been at the heart of the debate between the two groups: property ownership by monasteries, the proper relationship between Church and State, and the correct treatment of heretics by the Church.

The initial issue of disagreement, as has already been seen, was the question of whether the Church, and especially the monasteries, should own property. Nil Sorksy and the Non-Possessors who followed in his footsteps argued that the “monk’s primary task is to help others by praying for them and by setting an example.”17 The monk should not involve himself with worldly concerns, such as land ownership and the obligations of management that result, but should pursue God in prayer and silent meditation. Any engagement with the world, according to Nil Sorsky, was hazardous to the spiritual health of the monk. “When one allows any distraction to disturb the mind,” he wrote, “such draws the mind away from silence.”18

Nil’s disciple Vassian wrote even more vehemently against those monasteries who took part in the system of serfdom in Russia through the acquisition of land and peasants, demanding of them:

Where in the traditions of the Gospels, Apostles, and Fathers are monks ordered to acquire populous villages and enslave peasants to the brotherhood? … We look into the hands of the rich, fawn slavishly, flatter them to get out of them some little village … We wrong and rob and sell Christians, our brothers.19

Joseph of Volokalamsk, as leader of the Possessors, argued equally vehemently for the opposite position. Monks serve social functions, he said, in addition to the spiritual ones spoken about by the Non-Possessors; not only do monks pray for the world and set an example for nonmonastic Christians, they also have the obligations of charity, nursing the sick, hospitality, and teaching.20 How, Joseph and the Possessors asked, could monks fulfill these functions if they did not have the material resources necessary to do so? Joseph and his followers adopted for themselves the slogan, “The riches of the Church are the riches of the poor.”21

At the root of the debate on the ownership of property by monks was a difference in perspective between those monastics who adopted the cenobitic, or communal, way of living in a monastery and those who adopted the eremetic, or hermit, way of life in a skete or hermitage. It is significant that the leader of the Possessors, Joseph of Volokolamsk, as well as his followers were cenobitic monks whereas Nil Sorksy and the rest of the Non-Possessors were eremetic monks.22 Their respective ideas reflect the tendencies inherent in each form of monasticism and are also reflective of differences that had existed between the two Orthodox monastic traditions from their beginnings in Egypt in the fourth century.

Anthony the Great (251-356), one of the first Christian hermits, often credited with being the founding figure of Christian monasticism, wrote, in a passage which sounds very much like the words of Nil Sorsky quoted above, that

Fish die if they stay on dry land, and in the same way monks who stay outside their cell or remain with secular [non-monastic] people fall away from their vow of quiet. As a fish must return to the sea, so we must go to our cell, in case by staying outside, we forget to watch inside.23

According to those monks who followed this way of life, the primary tasks of the monk were those laid out by the Non-Possessors: praying for the world and setting an example.

In the monasteries, among those monks who adopted the cenobitic way of life, first founded by the monk Pachomius (292-348), however, the attitude was somewhat different. It was recognized from an early date that a communal way of life would necessitate not only increased interaction between the monks but an increased interaction with the world outside the monastery. As a result, more emphasis was placed on charity, care for the sick, hospitality, and related works. The monks of Pachomius’s monastery, for instance, saved the leftovers from each of their meals for “the sick and aged, because the neighborhood is poor and populous.”24 That there were leftovers to be had from meals, indicating that the meals must have been of a sizable portions, and that there was apparently a neighborhood nearby the monastery are both substantial differences from the way of life recorded concerning the contemporary eremetic monks. This focus on charitable activities, it was recognized very early, required that monasteries have a certain measure of material resources. In the same ancient work already quoted on Pachomius’s monastery, for instance, it is recorded that the monastery included “fifteen tailors, seven smiths, four carpenters, twelve camel-drivers, and fifteen fullers” among its monks, indicating that the monastery must have also had the materials necessary for these jobs. The same work goes on to say that “they keep pigs too.”25 The controversy between the Possessors and the Non-Possessors on the issue of property ownership is reflective of this difference, and resultant tension, between the cenobitic and eremetic schools of monasticism, the foundations of which were laid in Christian monasticism’s earliest days.

The second major issue dividing the Possessors and the Non-Possessors was the nature that the relationship between the Church and the State should assume. This issue was closely related to the issues of land ownership and monastic relations with the world and, like those issues, was an enduring source of tension in historical Christian thought that came to the forefront of controversy throughout Europe during the Renaissance.

The Possessors advocated a close relationship between the Church and the State, following the Byzantine model, with Church and State acting in a symbiotic manner; the idea of Moscow as the third Rome held a particular and very real importance for the Possessors.26 The Non-Possessors, on the other hand, argued for a stricter separation of the two; “in general Nilus drew a clearer line than Joseph between the things of Caesar and the things of God.”27

The third issue, that of the proper treatment of heretics, gave concrete implications to this difference between the two groups on the issue of Church-State relations. Joseph of Volokolamsk argued vehemently in favor of the use of power by the State against heretics, demanding that the czar have them burned at the stake after they had been convicted by a Church tribunal, in much the same fashion as the Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church functioned in Western Europe.28 “Supported by Grand Princess Sophia, he secured the condemnation and burning” of the leaders of a popular heretical group in 1504.29 Nil Sorsky, on the other hand, “condemned all forms of violence and coercion against heretics.”30 He argued instead that the Church should work to win them over through persuasion and compassion.

Like the issues of land ownership and Church-State relations, this issue also had deep roots in previous Christian thought. The prevailing attitude throughout Christian history was that expressed by John Chrysostom (349-407), Archbishop of Constantinople, very near the beginnings of the rise of the Christian Church to official status in the Roman Empire and the resultant symbiotic relationship between Church and State:

I do not persecute the heretic bodily, but I wage war against him with words — and not even against the heretic, but only against his heresy: I do not disdain the man; it is the error I hate, and I seek to pull him out of it….I am accustomed to being persecuted, not to persecute others….Thus did Christ triumph; He did not crucify, but rather it was He that was crucified. He did not smite others, but was Himself smitten.31

This attitude, however, has not always been adhered to consistently in the history of Christianity as a whole or in Orthodox Christianity specifically. The Byzantine Empress Theodora (815-867), for instance, had used the power of the State against the heretical sect known as the Paulicians, ordering the military to intervene, which resulted in the massacre of a large number of them.32

It is perhaps not ironic that the Possessors, who favored the use of State power against heretical sects and in Church matters in general, eventually became the favored party by the Russian government, whereas the Non-Possessors, who opposed State intervention in Church affairs, were eventually suppressed and had their leaders imprisoned by the government. In spite of the drastically different fates of the two groups as regards their respective official relationships with the State, however, both would have a lasting influence on the Russian Church and culture. It is especially significant in this regard that both Joseph of Volokolamsk and Nil Sorsky were canonized as saints by the Russian Orthodox Church.33

Later thinkers in the Russian Church were able to see both positive and negative aspects in the writings and ideas of both the Possessors and the Non-Possessors. The Possessors’ focus on charitable activities by the monasteries, for instance, is certainly a laudable thought. However, with too much focus on this element of the monastic vocation the Possessors came close to under-emphasizing the importance of silence, prayer, and the spiritual life for monks. On the opposite side, the Non-Possessors’ focus on the spiritual life and the practice of high ideals for monks was certainly a boon to the Russian spiritual tradition, and Nil Sorsky’s works were a major contribution to Orthodox spirituality, but simultaneously came dangerously near an individualist and quietist spirituality which ignored the need for practical work and care for others.

Similarly, the Possessors were right, if judged by the lens of previous Orthodox Christian practice, to attempt to establish something of a symbiotic relationship between Church and State in which the Church could fulfill its mission of care and service with the State’s assistance, but their ideology inevitably led to a subordination of the Church under the State, as would occur later in Russian history under Czar Peter the Great, stripping the Church of its independence and so inhibiting its mission.34 With their ideas of Moscow as a third Rome, they came very close to identifying the Church with the State as had nearly happened with the Roman Catholic Church and the Papal States in Italy at nearly the same time. And with their desire to bring the power of the State to use against heretics, they also came dangerously near replicating the activities of the Roman Catholic Church’s Inquisition.35

The Non-Possessors, on the other hand, were right to demand that the Church not use the military powers of the State and that the State not intervene in matters of the Church, but their ideas, if taken to their logical conclusion, were liable to result in an absolute separation of the Church and the State, resulting possibly in an opposition between the two and probably in a state like that which the division of the Protestants from the Roman Catholic Church caused in Western Europe, with the Church and the State often working in ways contrary to each other.36 In addition, the Non-Possessors’ adoption of spiritual poverty alongside this tendency against cooperation with the government had the risk of becoming something similar to the heretical movement of the Spiritual Franciscans in Western Europe.37

There can be little doubt that it has been a very positive influence in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church that its leaders in the centuries following the controversy between the Possessors and Non-Possessors were able to recognize both the good and the bad of each side’s teachings and to attempt to find a middle road between the two extremes. The Possessors and the Non-Possessors, like their kin in the Western European movements respectively resembling each position, each helped to shape the form that both Church and the State as well as the relationship between the two entities would take during and after the Renaissance.


1 David Bentley Hart, Story of Christianity: An Illustrated History of 2000 Years of the Christian Faith (London: Quercus, 2007), 131.

2 ibid., 132.

3 “Russia to celebrate Christianization as official holiday,” Russia Today (28 July 2010) (Accessed 9 February 2011).

4 Serge Zenkovsky, “The Russian Church Schism,” in Readings in Russian Civilization, Volume I: Russia Before Peter the Great, 900-1700, 2nd ed., ed. Thomas Riha (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969), 144.

5 John Julius Norwich, A Short History of Byzantium (New York: Vintage Books, 1999), 229-30.

6 ibid., 372-81.

7 James Patrick, Renaissance and Reformation (Tarrytown: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2007), 427-30.

8 Zenkovsky, “Russian Church Schism,” 144.

9 Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church: New Edition (New York: Penguin Books, 1997), 84.

10 ibid.

11 ibid., 104.

12 Bernard Pares, A History of Russia (New York: Dorset Press, 1953), 98.

13 Ware, 104.

14 Pares, 99.

15 ibid.

16 Ware, 104.

17 ibid., 105.

18 “Nil Sorsky’s Rule for Hermits,” The Hermitage (2007) (Accessed 10 February 2011).

19 Pares, 99.

20 Ware, 105.

21 ibid.

22 David Goldfrank, “Old and New Perspectives on Iosif Volotsky’s Monastic Rules,” Slavic Review 34, no. 2 (June 1975): 279-301.

23 Benedicta Ward, tr., The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (New York: Penguin Books, 2003), 8.

24 Paul Halsall, tr., “Chapter XXXII: Pachomius and the Tabennesiots,” in Medieval Sourcebook: Palladius: The Lausiac History (September 1998) (Accessed 12 February 2011).

25 ibid.

26 Steven Merritt Miner, Stalin’s Holy War: Religion, Nationalism, and Alliance Politics, 1941-1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 16.

27 Ware, 106.

28 David Goldfrank, “Burn, Baby, Burn: Popular Culture and Heresy in Late Medieval Russia,” The Journal of Popular Culture 31, no. 4 (1998): 17–32.

29 Pares, 99.

30 Ware, 105.

31 Metropolitan Ephraim of Boston, “Do We All Worship the Same God?,” Orthodox Christian Witness (April 2007) (Accessed 12 February 2011).

32 Norwich, 140.

33 Ware, 107.

34 Ware, 114.

35 Edward Peters, Inquisition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 40-74.

36 Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967), 509.

37 David Burr, The Spiritual Franciscans: From Protest to Persecution in the Century After Saint Francis (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001), 1-10.


Burr, David. The Spiritual Franciscans: From Protest to Persecution in the Century After Saint Francis. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.

Erlinger, Rachel. The Unarmed Prophet: Savonarola in Florence. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1988.

Goldfrank, David. “Burn, Baby, Burn: Popular Culture and Heresy in Late Medieval Russia,” The Journal of Popular Culture 31, no. 4 (1998): 17–32.

Goldfrank, David. “Old and New Perspectives on Iosif Volotsky’s Monastic Rules,” Slavic
Review 34, no. 2 (June 1975): 279-301.

Halsall, Paul, tr. “Chapter XXXII: Pachomius and the Tabennesiots.” Medieval Sourcebook: Palladius: The Lausiac History. September 1998. (Accessed 12 February 2011).

Hart, David Bentley. The Story of Christianity: An Illustrated History of 2000 Years of the Christian Faith. London: Quercus, 2007.

Kharkhordin, Oleg. The Collective and the Individual in Russia: A Study of Practices. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

Medlin, William K. and Christos G. Patrinelis. Renaissance Influences and Religious Reforms in Russia. Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1971.

Metropolitan Ephraim of Boston. “Do We All Worship the Same God?” Orthodox Christian Witness. April 2007. (Accessed
12 February 2011).

Miner, Steven Merritt. Stalin’s Holy War: Religion, Nationalism, and Alliance Politics, 1941-1945. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

“Nil Sorsky’s Rule for Hermits.” The Hermitage. 2007. (Accessed 10 February 2011).

Norwich, John Julius. A Short History of Byzantium. New York: Vintage Books, 1999.

Pares, Bernard. A History of Russia. New York: Dorset Press, 1953.

Patrick, James. Renaissance and Reformation. Tarrytown: Marshall Cavendish Corporation,

Peters, Edward. Inquisition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

Pfeffer, Leo. Church, State, and Freedom. Boston: Beacon Press, 1967.

Pospielovsky, Dimitry. The Orthodox Church in the History of Russia. Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998.

“Russia to celebrate Christianization as official holiday.” Russia Today. 28 July 2010. (Accessed 9 February 2011).

Sorsky, Nil. Nil Sorsky: The Complete Writings. Edited and Translated by George A. Maloney. Mahwah: Paulist Press, 2003.

Ward, Benedicta, tr. The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks. New York: Penguin Books, 2003.

Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church: New Edition. New York: Penguin Books, 1997.

Zenkovsky, Serge. “The Russian Church Schism.” Readings in Russian Civilization, Volume I: Russia Before Peter the Great, 900-1700, 2nd ed. Edited by Thomas Riha. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969.

The Christian Rescue of the Greco-Roman Intellectual Tradition

The Christian Church of the Middle Ages has become somewhat of a boogeyman in the modern popular imagination. It is fairly typical to hear even supposedly educated individuals claim that Christianity quashed out all science, philosophy, and learning, which aspects of civilization would only reemerge from the darkness of the “Dark Ages” with the Renaissance and, still later, with the Enlightenment.1 The destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria, supposedly at the hands of a violently anti-intellectual Christian mob, the gruesome murder of the Alexandrian female mathematician Hypatia, supposedly at the hands of a similarly violently anti-intellectual (and anti-woman) mob of Christian monastics, and the supposed stagnation of scientific knowledge, along with other similar examples, are paraded out as evidence for this assertion. However, many of these examples, such as the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria, are myths,2 others, such as the murder of Hypatia, are vastly exaggerated and wildly misreported,3 and still others, such as the decline of scientific knowledge, are outright fabrications of Christianity’s Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment detractors such as Edward Gibbon and John William Draper.4 Contrary to the common misconception of history, the advent and eventual triumph of Christianity was a great boon to the intellectual tradition of the Greco-Roman world, as it freed this tradition from superstitious presuppositions and encouraged its proliferation within a more logical worldview.

As much as the pre-Christian scientific tradition of the Greco-Roman world has been hailed and lauded by some in the course of criticizing medieval Christians, if there is anything for which modern people can pass blame on the Christians of the Middle Ages it is that they so long held on to so many of the methods and notions of the Greco-Roman world, a world whose intellectual tradition had been on the decline for many years before the triumph of Christianity.5 As David C. Lindberg, a historian of science, observed, “It is agreed by most historians of ancient science that creative Greek science was on the wane, perhaps as early as 200 B.C., certainly by A.D. 200.”6 The field of cosmology is a notable example.

Aristotle’s model of the universe, based upon his philosophical concepts and not upon anything even remotely resembling modern scientific research, posited that the universe was composed of a series of concentric “celestial spheres” which moved in a perfectly circular motion around a perfectly spherical earth and “that the heaven as a whole neither came into being nor admits of destruction … but is one and eternal.”7 It was only with the advent of Christianity that these assumptions, now shown ridiculous by modern science, of an eternal and perfect symmetry and harmony in the universe, began to be questioned. Importantly, the questioning of these ancient pagan presuppositions was engaged in upon the basis of uniquely Judeo-Christian concepts.

The Judeo-Christian beliefs that only God is inherently eternal, that he created all that exists ex nihilo, and that all things continue to exist only because he sustains them, not because of any inherent immortality on their part, clearly stood in stark contradiction to Aristotelian cosmology. It was upon this uniquely Judeo-Christian basis that the assumptions of Aristotle and the many who had followed him were criticized by philosophers and scientists such as the Byzantine Christian philosopher John Philoponus (490-570 CE).8 Philoponus would be read, admired, and heavily borrowed from by Galileo Galilei (1564-1642 CE), whose theory of a heliocentric universe, in spite of its infamous and habitually misrepresented condemnation by the Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church, would be foundational for modern scientific views of cosmology.9

Medieval Islam, by contrast, would never produce such a flowering of scientific thought as did the Christian world in spite of handling the same Greco-Roman texts and observing the same astronomical phenomena as the Christians for a nearly equal period of time. Although Muslims, such as the theologian Ghazali (1058-1111 CE), did question certain aspects of the cosmological models received from the Greco-Roman tradition, they typically did so only by arguing from another aspect of the Greco-Roman tradition.10 For instance, the Muslim polymath Averroës (1126-1198 CE) opposed the Ptolemaic model of the universe primarily by arguing for the superiority of the Aristotelian model.11

In spite of the mythology propagated by Christianity’s fashionable enemies during the Enlightenment and since and still held in the popular consciousness today, Christianity not only is not responsible for any kind of disappearance or weakening of the Greco-Roman intellectual tradition, it is in fact responsible for having saved that intellectual tradition, in many ways from itself. As the modern Christian philosopher and historian David Bentley Hart has pointed out, “despite all our vague talk of ancient or medieval ‘science,’ pagan, Muslim, or Christian, what we mean today by science … came into existence, for whatever reasons, and for better or worse, only within Christendom, and under the hands of believing Christians.”12


1 A popular recent example of such erroneous thinking can be found in Charles Freeman, The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise and Fall of Reason (New York: Knopf, 2003).

2 David Bentley Hart, The Story of Christianity: An Illustrated History of 2000 Years of the Christian Faith (London: Quercus, 2007), 47.

3 ibid., 97.

4 David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, 600 B.C. To A.D. 1450 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).

5 Arnold J. Toynbee, Hellenism: The History of A Civilization (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959).

6 David C. Lindberg, “Science and the Early Church,” in God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science, eds. David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 30.

7 Aristotle, “On the Heavens,” Book II, Chapter 1.

8 Alister E. McGrath, A Scientific Theology: Nature (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001), 95-8.

9 Edward Grant, Science and Religion, 400 B.C. to A.D. 1550: From Aristotle to Copernicus (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).

10 Eric L. Ormsby, Ghazali: The Revival of Islam (Oxford: Oneworld, 2008).

11 David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (Ann Arbor: Sheridan Books, 2009), 59.

12 ibid., 63.

The Role and Status of Women in the Early Medieval Church

The role and status of women in both society at large and in the various Christian churches has changed much in the last several decades as a result of the radical feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s.1 In the light of these changes and the challenge they present to traditional ways of life and modes of thinking, much new scholarship has been produced reexamining the place of women in the history of Western culture and in the foundational document of Western culture, the New Testament.2 It seems that the most popular, or at least most influential, assessment has been to find oppression and repression of women in every nook and cranny of Western history and civilization.3 However, such views are inherently and fatally flawed for a number of rather obvious reasons; primary amongst these reasons is the rear-view perspective from which they are written, which leads to the strange position of judging the past according to standards which are quite different from those of the past but which themselves find their philosophical roots in that past. A more balanced approach is to allow the past to speak for itself and to evaluate the past based upon its own ideals and those that preceded it. With this approach in mind, this paper will discuss the role and status of women in the early medieval Church, roughly the period from the reign of Constantine I (r. 306-337 CE) to that of Justinian I (r. 527-565 CE), arguably the infancy years of what has become modern Western civilization. This paper will discuss the views of the Church Fathers on women, the ideals of Christian womanhood, and the roles that women filled in the Church during this period.

Before the role and status of women in the infancy of the Christian Roman Empire can be examined and evaluated, it is important to note, as was said above, what the role and status of women consisted of in the previous era of the pagan and pre-Christian Roman Empire. According to historian of ancient Rome Marcel Le Glay,

Freeborn women … scratch[ed] out a living as laundresses, weavers, butchers, and fishsellers, or in one of the occupations that are recorded on inscriptions at Pompeii: bean-dealer, nail-seller, brick-maker, even stonecutter. A number of poor women worked as waitresses in taverns, where they were probably expected, or obliged, to engage in prostitution on the side. In fact, for a lot of unskilled working-class women, prostitution was the only way to make a living, however inadequate. Many worked out-of-doors in the public archways (fornices). Slave women were employed mostly in the homes of the wealthy, cooking, cleaning, weaving — in short, doing whatever they were told to do, which sometimes meant submitting to the sexual demands of their owners. … It is reasonably clear also that daughters were abandoned more often than sons, perhaps because they might some day need a dowry, and could therefore be seen to be a potential drain on the family’s financial resources.4

In spite of this bleak picture, describing the role and status of women in the first centuries of the Roman Empire, roughly from the first century BCE through the second century CE, the lot of women in nearly all sectors of society, but especially amongst the upper classes, had improved significantly by the time that Constantine I, the first Christian Roman emperor, began his reign in 306 CE.5 Beginning in the middle of the second century CE, Roman women gained a number of privileges they had not previously possessed, including the rights to own property separate of their husbands and to initiate divorces.6 During this same period, the interest and interaction of women in philosophical inquiry, which had previously been the privilege almost solely of men, also increased significantly, as did the appreciation of the role of women in religious activities both at home and in the temples.7

In order to be understood and evaluated in context, however, it must be realized that these gains for women were not, as it may appear at first glance, the product of any organic growth from pagan thought or of a natural shift in attitudes amongst Roman pagans. On the contrary, these advances were made largely as a result of exposure to, and often as a reaction against, Christian ideas concerning women and the attraction that these ideas held for women.8

In the words of Thomas Cahill,

Christianity’s claim that all were equal before God and all equally precious to him ran through class-conscious, minority-despising, weakness-ridiculing Greco-Roman society like a charged current. It is no wonder, really, that the primitive church seemed an almost fairyland harbor to women, who had always been kept in the shadows, and to slaves, who had never before been awarded a soupçon of social dignity or political importance.9

Though the estimated proportions of female to male converts posited by various scholars differ, what is agreed upon universally is that in its first several centuries “Christianity seems to have been especially successful among women” specifically because, in sharp contrast with the pagan Greco-Roman civilization and all other religions and cultures of the ancient world, “Christians believed in the equality of men and women before God.”10 “It was often through the wives that it penetrated the upper classes of society in the first instance,”11 and it was through this penetration into the upper, governing classes of the Roman Empire that Christianity was eventually, in 313 CE,12 legalized and, in 381 CE,13 made essentially the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Fathers of the Christian Church of the first centuries after this legalization and official adoption of Christianity continued to emphasize the early Christian tradition, unique, radical, and unprecedented in world history, that all human beings, male or female, are inherently equal.

While various quotes and misquotes of the Church Fathers are often touted about for the apologetic purposes of those who would like to indict Western civilization for its supposed inherent sexism, most of these quotes are, if authentic at all, wrenched out of context.14 In addition, the choice of these quotes reflects a lopsided selectivity which leads to a biased and unbalanced view, unrepresentative of the rather balanced views of the majority of Church Fathers.15 While it is beyond the scope of this paper to examine each individual quote and to present the relevant counter-quotes to establish a more balanced view of the Fathers, a single example, from the writings of Gregory Nazianzen, a very important fourth century Christian bishop, is sufficient to demonstrate the views of the early medieval Church Fathers in general on women.

Gregory Nazianzen, who was Archbishop of Constantinople, the capitol of the Eastern Roman Empire and one of the most important ecclesiastical sees in medieval Christendom, during the years 380-383 CE and who presided at the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381 CE,16 wrote on the equality of the sexes and the injustice of the unequal pagan law still in force in the Roman Empire, condemning the latter by reference to aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition,

What was the reason why they restrained the woman, but indulged the man, and that a woman who practices evil against her husband’s bed is an adulteress, and the penalties of the law for this are very severe; but if the husband commits fornication against his wife, he has no account to give? I do not accept this legislation; I do not approve this custom. Those who made the law were men, and therefore their legislation is hard on women, since they have placed children also under the authority of their fathers, while leaving the weaker sex uncared for. God does not do so, but says Honor your father and your mother, which is the first commandment with promise. … See the equality of [God’s] legislation. There is one Maker of man and woman; one debt is owed by children to both parents.

… How, though you are equally a body, do you legislate unequally? If you inquire into the worse — The Woman Sinned, and so did Adam. The serpent deceived them both; and one was not found to be the stronger and the other weaker. But do you consider the better? Christ saves both by His Passion. Was He made flesh for the Man? So He was also for the Woman. Did He die for the Man? The Woman also is saved by His death. He is called of the seed of David; and so perhaps you think the man is honored; but He is born of a Virgin, and this is on the woman’s side. The two, He says, shall be one flesh; so let the one flesh have equal honor.17

Given that this quote from a single Church Father provides an accurate summary of the views of the early medieval Patristic consensus and that it indeed represents a significant departure from Greco-Roman pagan attitudes towards women, it is safe to say that a statement like that of Norman F. Cantor that “the teaching of the fourth century church fathers on sex and marriage was the first and very modest stage in the emancipation of women in western civilization”18 is itself too modest a statement.

Gregory Nazianzen’s reference to the birth of Jesus Christ from “a Virgin” in the quote above is very significant in examining the status and role of women in the early medieval Christian Church. Elizabeth Sarah Cowie succinctly summarizes the ideals of womanhood, and the model of those ideals, held by Christians in this period:

The Mother of God is the model of married women and mothers in her life with Joseph and her bearing Christ. She is the model for monastics and celibates (as well as their abbess), in that she is ever virgin and attained to perfect spiritual union with God. … The Mother of God is the ideal of Christian womanhood for all women. She embodies every virtue.19

Even the terminology that Cowie uses here to refer to the Virgin Mary, “Mother of God,” is significant and indicative of the attitude of early medieval Christians toward women. The title “Mother of God,” in Greek Θεοτόκος (“Theotokos”),20 for the Virgin Mary, although long in use amongst Christians, was officially recognized and endorsed by the Church at the Third Ecumenical Council held at Ephesus in 431 CE.21 “When the decision was announced, whoops and cheers filled the night, and torchlight parades began, led by women chanting hymns to the Theotokos.”22 The effect of this decision, essentially an official endorsement by the Church of the popular veneration of Mary that had been an unofficial aspect of Christian doctrine and piety since the religion’s earliest days, should not be underestimated.23 By the early medieval era, Mary was nearly universally regarded by Christians as the entirely sinless Mother of God. This view of Mary, coupled with the early Christian and medieval doctrine of recapitulation, largely forgotten by Western Christians in the later Middle Ages in favor of Augustinian soteriological views,24 had great ramifications for the Church’s view of women. Even as early as 180 CE, Irenaeus of Lyons, a Christian bishop in Gaul, could write that,

The Lord then was manifestly coming to His own things, and was sustaining them by means of that creation which is supported by Himself, and was making a recapitulation of that disobedience which had occurred in connection with a tree, through the obedience which was [exhibited by Himself when He hung] upon a tree, [the effects] also of that deception being done away with, by which that virgin Eve, who was already espoused to a man, was unhappily misled,—was happily announced, through means of the truth [spoken] by the angel to the Virgin Mary, who was [also espoused] to a man. For just as the former was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did the latter, by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain (portaret) God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness (advocata) of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience.25

It was in the fourth and fifth centuries especially that these earlier seeds of Marian piety and doctrine, including this recognition of her role in the redemptive activity of Christ through recapitulation, began to be fully explored by the Church Fathers; the selection from the writings of Gregory of Nazianzen quoted earlier is an example of the thinking that this reinvigorated theological exploration produced.

According to the doctrine of recapitulation, Christ “passed through every stage of human growth, hallowing each and redeeming each.”26 Essentially, Christ, in being simultaneously a sinless human being as well as God incarnate, perfected each stage of human life by passing through it perfectly, undoing the sin and corruption introduced by Adam; his perfect death on the cross was the culmination of this process of recapitulation and his resurrection was the fulfillment of the process. Similarly, Church Fathers such as Irenaeus and Gregory posited, the Theotokos, in being simultaneously a sinless human being as well as the Mother of God incarnate, also served the same purposes in roles unique to women, undoing the sin and corruption introduced into womanly nature by Eve. It was this exalted view of the role of the Virgin Mary in the scheme of redemption, which included her perfection of both motherhood and virginity, that informed the roles of women in the early medieval Church, as the Virgin Mary acted as the ideal and the example for women who chose either possible course in life: the family life of motherhood and marriage or the monastic life of prayer and virginity.

Naturally, the most common course for a woman to choose was the former of the two options; the vast majority of women chose to take a husband and have children. The family life being the most frequently chosen lifestyle, the amount of material written by early and medieval Christians on the subject is enormous. It is sufficient to say that the ideal marriage was that inculcated by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:22-29 (NKJV):

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.

Of course, it is no understatement to say that the reality of marriage more often than not fell far short of such a lofty ideal, as is evidenced by the regulations imposed by various Church councils as well as the frequent admonitions of the Church Fathers. It is indicative of the overall view of the Church Fathers on the relationship of men and women that these regulations and admonishments were more often directed to men than to women. For instance, the bishops gathered at the Fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon in 451 CE forbade the practice of kidnapping a woman and forcing her into marriage, imposing a stiff ecclesiastical penalty on violators:

The holy Synod has decreed that those who forcibly carry off women under pretence of marriage, and the aiders or abettors of such ravishers, shall be degraded if clergymen, and if laymen be anathematized.27

Another example of this attitude toward relationships between men and women, this time more specifically within a legal marriage, is the homily of John Chrysostom, a famous fourth century preacher and Archbishop of Constantinople during the years 398-404 CE,28 on the passage from Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians quoted previously. Addressing the husbands of his congregation, Archbishop John expounded:

Thou hast seen the measure of obedience, hear also the measure of love. Wouldest thou have thy wife obedient unto thee, as the Church is to Christ? Take then thyself the same provident care for her, as Christ takes for the Church. Yea, even if it shall be needful for thee to give thy life for her, yea, and to be cut into pieces ten thousand times, yea, and to endure and undergo any suffering whatever,—refuse it not. … Yea, though thou see her looking down upon thee, and disdaining, and scorning thee, yet by thy great thoughtfulness for her, by affection, by kindness, thou wilt be able to lay her at thy feet. For there is nothing more powerful to sway than these bonds, and especially for husband and wife. A servant, indeed, one will be able, perhaps, to bind down by fear; nay not even him, for he will soon start away and be gone. But the partner of one’s life, the mother of one’s children, the foundation of one’s every joy, one ought never to chain down by fear and menaces, but with love and good temper. For what sort of union is that, where the wife trembles at her husband? And what sort of pleasure will the husband himself enjoy, if he dwells with his wife as with a slave, and not as with a free-woman? Yea, though thou shouldest suffer anything on her account, do not upbraid her; for neither did Christ do this.29

For those women who did not desire the family life, monasticism was allowed by the Church as an alternative.

Although not formalized and standardized by the Church until the fourth and fifth centuries, female monasticism, a state of lifelong consecrated virginity or widowhood coupled with intense devotion and the practice of spiritual and ascetic exercises such as prayer, fasting, and charity, had been a popular, even if minority, option for Christian women since the Church’s earliest days.30 In a pagan world that attached a great deal of value to family ties and in which women were treated as the property of their fathers, husbands, and other dominant male figures in their lives, the celibate life had great appeal for many women who saw in it an escape from this tyrannical patriarchal system.31 “Their vows of celibacy served many converts as a declaration of independence from the crushing pressures of tradition and of their families, who ordinarily arranged marriages at puberty and so determined the course of their children’s lives.”32

In the fourth and fifth centuries, the period immediately following the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire, spiritual seekers, including both men and women, flocked in droves to the deserts of Egypt, establishing hermitages and communal monasteries across the landscape. “The enthusiasm for the monastic life became so great that, as a famous quip put it, the desert had become a city.”33 Many famous and venerated female monastics and ascetics belong to this period, including Melania the Elder, Melania the Younger, Sara of the Nile, Macrina the Younger, Syncletica of Alexandria, and Mary of Egypt.34

The story of Mary of Egypt in particular presents an illuminating example of the reverence with which these holy women were held. According to the sixth century account of Sophronius of Jerusalem, Zosima of Palestine, a hieromonk,35 encountered Mary, who was naked, shriveled, and sunbaked from her years of asceticism in the desert. Mary, recognizing Zosima as a priest, approached him to ask for a blessing, in accordance with Eastern Christian tradition. Zosima, however, recognized Mary’s holiness and instead begged for her blessing. According to the account of Sophronius,

Zosima threw himself on the ground and asked for her blessing. She likewise bowed down before him. And thus they lay on the ground prostrate asking for each other’s blessing. And one word alone could be heard from both: “Bless me!” After a long while the woman said to Zosima: “Abba Zosima, it is you who must give blessing and pray. You are dignified by the order of priesthood and for may years you have been standing before the holy altar and offering the sacrifice of the Divine Mysteries.” This flung Zosima into even greater terror. At length with tears he said to her: “O mother, filled with the spirit, by your mode of life it is evident that you live with God and have died to the world. The Grace granted to you is apparent — for you have called me by name and recognized that I am a priest, though you have never seen me before. Grace is recognized not by one’s orders, but by gifts of the Spirit, so give me your blessing for God’s sake, for I need your prayers.” Then giving way before the wish of the elder the woman said: “Blessed is God Who cares for the salvation of men and their souls.” Zosima answered: “Amen.”36

That Zosima was willing to break with Christian tradition and urge Mary to bless him, rather than bless her in accordance with custom, is indicative of the general attitude of Christians of all ranks and social classes to holy women found throughout the literature of the early medieval period.

So central was monasticism to the female experience and ideal in the Church that even the one ordained order that was open to women, that of deaconess, was very early on identified with monasticism. The other ordained roles in the Church, those of priest, bishop, and deacon, were viewed as the exclusive vocations of men largely because of an understanding and appreciation of the differences inherent in men and women and because of a view of the local church as a family under the presidency of a father with a unique sacramental role.37 The wives of these sacramental clergy filled the role of mother.38 The role of deaconess, on the other hand, was a sacramentally ordained ministry unique to women. Probably always an order which consisted entirely or nearly entirely of virgins and widows, the order of deaconesses, in the Late Middle Ages, faded from parish life and became identified with women’s monasteries. Eventually, probably in the High Middle Ages, it disappeared entirely, becoming united with the role of abbess, the head of a women’s monastery.39

Interestingly, the role of abbess would also come to include aspects of the prerogatives not only of deaconesses but even of priests and bishops.40 For instance, at some point in the Middle Ages, the tradition developed of asking for an abbess’ blessing and kissing her right hand upon greeting her, as had been the custom involving greeting priests and bishops; in the case of a priest and an abbess greeting each other, each blessed the other and kissed the other’s hand.

There is no doubt that the place of women in society had changed dramatically from the days of the pagan Roman Empire described at the opening of this essay. Inspired by ideas unique to Christianity, including the belief that all human beings are equal in the sight of God and the venerability of the Virgin Mary, the amount of respect for and equality granted to women would continue to increase throughout the Middle Ages. In the sixth century, Empress Theodora, wife of Emperor Justinian I, would enact a large body of legislation, the first of its kind anywhere in the world, for the protection of women.41 Still later, in the years 797-802 CE, Irene of Athens would be the first woman to reign as empress regnant in the Roman (Byzantine) Empire.42 She also convoked and presided over the Seventh Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church at Nicaea in 787. This growth in the status of women in society would eventually lead to the first wave of feminism in the nineteenth century. The role and status of women in the early and medieval Christian Church, as propounded in the writings of the Church Fathers and explicated in the doctrine and piety of the Church, forever changed the way that women viewed themselves and were viewed by men, inevitably leading to a view of womanhood, and an appreciation of its distinctive aspects, far different than that of the culture which the Church had emerged from and conquered. To say, as in the words of Norman F. Cantor which were quoted previously, that “the teaching of the fourth century church fathers on sex and marriage was the first and very modest stage in the emancipation of women in western civilization” is so vast an understatement as to be a lie. On the contrary, it was the teaching of the fourth century Church Fathers, radical and innovative in its time as well as inspirational and influential in all times since, that overturned and replaced the previous order.


1 Danielle Crittenden, What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999).

2 Actually a collection of 27 distinct documents first compiled as is by Athanasius of Alexandria in his Paschal letter of 367 CE. See Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

3 For instance, Simone De Beauvoir, The Second Sex (New York: Knopf, 2009).

4 Marcel Le Glay, et al., A History of Rome, 4th ed. (Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2009), 179-180

5 Jacob Burckhardt, The Age of Constantine the Great (New York: Dorset Press, 1949).

6 Peter Garnsey and Richard Saller, The Roman Empire: Economy, Society and Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 130-1.

7 Arnaldo Momigliano, On Pagans, Jews, and Christians (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1987), 170-1.

8 ibid., 206-7.

9 Thomas Cahill, Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World (Hinges of History) (New York: Doubleday, 2008), 44.

10 Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (New York: Dorset Press, 1967), 58.

11 ibid.

12 Jon E. Lewis, A Documentary History of Human Rights: A Record of the Events, Documents and Speeches that Shaped Our World (New York: Avalon, 2003), 115-6.

13 Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 120.

14 For example, see Mary Daly, The Church and the Second Sex (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985).

15 Sarah Elizabeth Cowie, More Spirited Than Lions: An Orthodox Response to Feminism and a Practical Guide to the Spiritual Life of Women (Salisbury: Regina Orthodox Press, 2001).

16 John Anthony McGuckin, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography (Crestwood: Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001).

17 Gregory Nazianzen, “The Fifth Theological Oration,” 6-7, of “Oration XXXVII,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, vol. 7 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 339-340.

18 Norman F. Cantor, The Civilization of the Middle Ages (New York: HarperCollins, 1993), 354.

19 Cowie, 251.

20 “Mother of God” is an imprecise but appropriate translation of the word Theotokos. A literal translation renders the word as “God-bearer.” See Jenny Schroedel and Reverend John Schroedel, The Everything Mary Book: The Life And Legacy of the Blessed Mother (Avon: F+W Publications, Inc., 2006), 58.

21 John Anthony McGuckin, Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy: Its History, Theology, and Texts (Crestwood: Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004).

22 Ted Byfield, ed., The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years; Darkness Descends A.D. 350 to 565 The Fall of the Western Roman Empire [Vol. 4] (Canada: Christian History Project), 183.

23 Jaroslav Pelikan, Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 55-66.

24 John Norman Davidson Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines: Revised Edition (New York: HarperCollins, 1978), 170-173.

25 Irenaeus of Lyons, “Against Heresies,” book 5, ch. 19, par. 1, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 547.

26 Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), 144.

27The XXX Canons of the Holy and Fourth Synods, of Chalcedon,” Canon XXVII, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, vol. 14 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 287.

28 David C. Ford, Women and Men in the Early Church: The Full Views of St. John Chrysostom (South Canaan: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1996), 5-10.

29 John Chrysostom, “Homily XX on Ephesians 5:22-24,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st series, vol. 13 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 144.

30 Chadwick, 175-7.

31 Elaine Pagels, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity (New York: Random House, 1988), 87-9.

32 ibid, 20.

33 David Bentley Hart, Story of Christianity: An Illustrated History of 2000 Years of the Christian Faith (London: Quercus, 2007), 56.

34 Margot H. King, “The Desert Mothers: A Survey of the Feminine Anchoretic Tradition in Western Europe” (2003) (Retrieved 10 November 2010).

35 A “hieromonk” is a monk who is also an ordained priest. See The Orthodox Church of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, “Glossary of Terms” (2010) (Retrieved 10 November 2010).

36 Sophronius of Jerusalem, “The Life of Our Venerable Mother Mary of Egypt” (2010) (Retrieved 10 November 2010).

37 John Chrysostom, “Treatise Concerning the Christian Priesthood,” Book 2, chapter 2, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st series, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 40.

38 Frederica Matthewes-Green, “Twice Liberated,” in Cowie, 299-300.

39 Valerie A. Karras, “Female Deacons in the Byzantine Church,” Church History 73, no. 2 (June 2004): 272-316.

40 Protopresbyter Alexander Lebedeff, “How to Greet a Monk or Nun” (February 1999) at “Orthodox Christian Information Center,” (Retrieved 10 November 2010).

41 Lynda Garland, Byzantine Empresses: Women and Power in Byzantium AD 527-1204 (London: Routledge, 1999), 11-39.

42 ibid, 73-94.


Burckhardt, Jacob. The Age of Constantine the Great. New York: Dorset Press, 1949.

Byfield,Ted, ed. The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years; Darkness Descends A.D. 350 to 565 The Fall of the Western Roman Empire [Vol. 4]. Canada: Christian History Project.

Cahill, Thomas. Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World (Hinges of History). New York: Doubleday, 2008.

Cairns, Earle E. Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

Cantor, Norman F. The Civilization of the Middle Ages. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.

Chadwick, Henry. The Early Church. New York: Dorset Press, 1967.

Cowie, Sarah Elizabeth. More Spirited Than Lions: An Orthodox Response to Feminism and a Practical Guide to the Spiritual Life of Women. Salisbury: Regina Orthodox Press, 2001.

Crittenden, Danielle. What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Daly, Mary. The Church and the Second Sex. Boston: Beacon Press, 1985.

De Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. New York: Knopf, 2009.

Ford, David C. Women and Men in the Early Church: The Full Views of St. John Chrysostom. South Canaan: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1996.

Garland, Lynda. Byzantine Empresses: Women and Power in Byzantium AD 527-1204. London: Routledge, 1999.

Garnsey, Peter and Richard Saller. The Roman Empire: Economy, Society and Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

Gregory Nazianzen. “Oration XXXVII” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. 2nd Series, Vol. 7. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978.

Hart, David Bentley. Story of Christianity: An Illustrated History of 2000 Years of the Christian Faith. London: Quercus, 2007.

Irenaeus of Lyons. “Against Heresies” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978.

John Chrysostom. “Homily XX on Ephesians 5:22-24” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. 1st Series. Vol. 13. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978).

John Chrysostom, “Treatise Concerning the Christian Priesthood” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. 1st Series. Vol. 9. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978.

Karras, Valerie A. “Female Deacons in the Byzantine Church.” Church History 73, no. 2 (June 2004): 272-316.

Kelly, John Norman Davidson. Early Christian Doctrines: Revised Edition. New York: HarperCollins, 1978.

King, Margot H. “The Desert Mothers: A Survey of the Feminine Anchoretic Tradition in Western Europe” (2003) (Retrieved 10 November 2010).

Lebedeff, Protopresbyter Alexander. “How to Greet a Monk or Nun” (February 1999) at “Orthodox Christian Information Center.” (Retrieved 10 November 2010).

Le Glay, Marcel, Jean-Louis Voisin, Yann Le Bohec, David Cherry, Donald G. Kyle, and Eleni Manolaraki. A History of Rome. 4th ed. Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2009.

Lewis, Jon E. A Documentary History of Human Rights: A Record of the Events, Documents and Speeches that Shaped Our World. New York: Avalon, 2003.

McGuckin, John Anthony. Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy: Its History, Theology, and Texts. Crestwood: Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004.

McGuckin, John Anthony.Saint Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography. Crestwood: Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001.

Metzger, Bruce M. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Momigliano, Arnaldo. On Pagans, Jews, and Christians. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1987.

The Orthodox Church of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. “Glossary of Terms” (2010) (Retrieved 10 November 2010).

Pagels, Elaine. Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity. New York: Random House, 1988.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.

Schroedel, Jenny and Reverend John Schroedel. The Everything Mary Book: The Life And Legacy of the Blessed Mother. Avon: F+W Publications, Inc., 2006.

Sophronius of Jerusalem. “The Life of Our Venerable Mother Mary of Egypt” (2010) (Retrieved 10 November 2010).

The XXX Canons of the Holy and Fourth Synods, of Chalcedon” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. 2nd Series, Vol. 14. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978.