Vision of Female Christ (Early Christian Female Visionaries and Prophets)

Dear Lightworkers,

Our devotional lives depend on the imagination. A rich imagination prospers our emotional and spiritual foundations. We connect personally to a God/Spirit who comes to us in forms that arouse our yearnings or our curiosity. Why then is the contemporary imagination, pertaining to Jesus Christ, sometimes rather fixated on the maleness of Jesus? It was otherwise for early Christians.

Here is a report — from the second or third century — about a vision of the female Christ, which came to a female prophet. We learn of this vision from a church writer and heresiologist Epiphanius.

To be clear, the vision of a female Christ that Epiphanius reports may not be a literal and accurate report. This church writer may have been defaming and slandering the group, against whom he argues, by imputing to their female leaders a vision of the female Christ. Nevertheless, the passage is intriguing and may speak to the actual devotional practices of early Christians.

Epiphanius of Salamis, Cyprus (c.311-403)  put together a book called Panarion (literally: Medicine Chest), in which he makes a collection of heresies (figuratively: diseases) and orthodox truths (figuratively: medicines).  He writes about the Montanists, a group which adhered to the teaching of the prophet Montanist, and Maximilla and Prisicilla, two female prophets. They lived in the mid-second century in the area of Phrygia (in modern day Turkey).

Their movement, at its inception, was called the New Prophecy, and went through a number of iterations during the several centuries of its lifespan.  Besides accepting females as leaders and prophetesses in their movement, the group were millenarian, who supposed that heaven would come to earth in the Phrygian city Pepuza. [See below for a link to more writings about the Montanist movement].

In one report Epiphanius argues against a certain off-shoot of this movement, called the Quintillianists. Their prophetess had a vision of Christ as a woman. Although Epiphanius does not favor this group – he conceives them to be heretics – we, as modern people, are free to examine the matter from their side. In any case, we have evidence, here, of the visionary richness of the early Christian movement.

Here’s the report from Epiphanius, Panarion 49.1:

  1. … The Quintillianists or Priscillianists say that either Quintilla or Priscilla (I am not sure which one, but one of them), as I mentioned before, slept in Pepuza and Christ came to her and he slept next to her and it happened this way according to the misled woman: “Christ came to me dressed in a white robe,” she said, “in the shape of a woman, instilled into me wisdom, and shared with me how that this place is holy, and that Jerusalem will come down from heaven here.” And, because of this, even down to this day, they say, that certain women and men also are initiated there on the site, so that those people can wait for Christ and see him [themselves]. They are women in this group whom they refer to as prophetesses.

**Tertullian (155 – 240 CE), the North African Christian theologian, was an adherent to the New Prophecy. Later writers, of which there are a great number, argued voluminously against the Montanists. For a comprehensive set of documents, see Montanist Archives

***For female Christ images see: Art that Dares

 

 

 

NFL Protests and early Christian Martyrs

Hello All,

Peaceful protest, and the right to dissent, are encoded in our democratic constitution. The NFL controversies (see: NYTimes on NFL ) are sparking new debates about this freedom. Where does peaceful protest, such as the NFL players demonstrate by kneeling rather than standing during patriotic anthems, constitute a healthy freedom? Where do such gestures undermine civic unity and become disloyal or unpatriotic?

From a Christian standpoint, similar democratic rights are enshrined in early Christian accounts. The Roman governor Pliny the Younger (in 112 CE) wrote to the Roman emperor Trajan about disciplinary problems, in his territories, concerning  Christians (see: Pliny’s Letter on Christians ) who confess to being Christian. Pliny wants to know whether the mere name of Christian is sufficient to be deemed a crime or whether it is only crimes (in conjunction with this self-appellation) that may give cause for legal suspicions. The Christians are innocent in their practices (see Pliny’s description of their practices below). What then gave the Romans reason to criminalize Christianity? Such that to belong to this sect (this “superstition”) would constitute a crime?

As the martyrdom accounts show, it was the Christian refusal to offer obeisance and sacrifices to the emperor that incurred civil rebuke. Christians made peaceful protests against what they viewed as monarchic abuses in the Roman imperial regime. They offered worship to God alone not to a human ruler.

The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas, a second century text, exhibits in stock scene the trial of early Christian martyrs who refused to offer obeisance or sacrifices to the emperor. (See excerpt below).

As a country, the USA was founded upon democratic protests against monarchic abuses. Surely, the people ought to exercise these freedoms, while our president could squarely confront rather than punishing such critique. Christianity was founded upon a similar right to critique authoritarian regimes while offering devotion to God alone.

From the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felictas : Hilarianus the governor, who had received his judicial powers as the successor of the late proconsul Minucius Timinianus, said to me: ‘Have pity on your father’s grey head; have pity on your infant son. Offer the sacrifice for the welfare of the emperors.’ ‘I will not’, I retorted. ‘Are you a Christian?’ said Hilarianus. And I said: ‘Yes, I am.’ When my father persisted in trying to dissuade me, Hilarianus ordered him to be thrown to the ground and beaten with a rod. I felt sorry for father, just as if I myself had been beaten. I felt sorry for his pathetic old age. Then Hilarianus passed sentence on all of us: we were condemned to the beasts, and we returned to prison in high spirits.

From Pliny’s Letter: re Early Christian practices.

That they were wont, on a stated day, to meet together before it was light, and to sing a hymn to Christ, as to a god, alternately; and to oblige themselves by a sacrament [or oath], not to do anything that was ill: but that they would commit no theft, or pilfering, or adultery; that they would not break their promises, or deny what was deposited with them, when it was required back again; after which it was their custom to depart, and to meet again at a common but innocent meal, which they had left off upon that edict which I published at your command, and wherein I had forbidden any such conventicles. These examinations made me think it necessary to inquire by torments what the truth was; which I did of two servant maids, who were called Deaconesses: but still I discovered no more than that they were addicted to a bad and to an extravagant superstition.