A Female Christ

Our devotional lives depend on the imagination. Through the imagination, God (or Spirit) appears to us in forms that arouse our yearnings and 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.

This article discusses a report, from the second or third century CE, 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. As I will show, while our historical sources are biased against female prophets and their visions, we may read between the lines or “against the grain” of the text. In doing so, based on partial and biased evidence, we may reconstruct the lives and beliefs of female prophets and visionaries in early Christianity.

Context

Epiphanius of Salamis in Cyprus (ca. 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 Montanus, a prophet, 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 it 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 note 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.

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.

Text

Here’s the report from Epiphanius, Panarion 49.1:

.. 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.

Female Leaders and Scriptural Arguments

The female visionaries, described by Epiphanius, argued against the orthodox bishops of the period. The visionaries claimed that women should be ordained. They anticipated feminist arguments in later centuries by citing scriptural mandates for women’s ecclesiastical authority.

 Panarion 49.2:

  1. They use both the Old and New Testaments, and similarly say that they believe in the resurrection of the dead. Their founder is Quintilla, along with Priscilla who was also a prophetess of the Phrygians. The give many scriptural references which have no relevance and they give thanks to Eve because she was the first one to consume food from the tree of wisdom. They offer as scriptural support of their ordination of women as clergy the case of Moses’ sister being a prophetess. Beyond this, they say Philip had four daughters who prophesied.

The Bishop gives scriptural counterarguments.

Panarion 49.3:

Even though they ordain women as bishops and presbyters because of the example of Eve, they should listen to the Lord when he says, “Your resort shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over thee.” [Gen 3:16] And they have missed (perhaps on purpose) the command of the apostle which says, “I do not allow a woman to speak, or to have authority over a man,” [1 Tim 2:12] and again, “the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man,” [1 Cor 11:8] and, “Adam was not deceived, but Eve, deceived first, fell into condemnation.” [1 Tim 2:14 ]There is definitely abundant error in this world.

Conclusion

Even though Epiphanius portrayed the female prophets of the Montanist movement as if they were severely misguided—their beliefs were evidence for him of the “abundant error in this world”—nevertheless we are free to disagree with the Bishop’s opinion. Based on partial evidence and while correcting for biases not our own, we may surmise that these women spoke for a widespread and innovative variety of Christian spirituality, which flourished in the early Church. By considering their example, our own religious imagination may be enriched.

**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 the text by Ephiphanius, and many others about the Montanist movement, see these archives: Montanist Archives

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

 

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Santa Librada: Christ/Mary (boundary crosser)

Argentina Librada

Saint Librada Argentina

Hi All:

Popular devotion captures the scandal of the Cross, which mixes up boundaries between heaven and earth, male and female, and sacred and profane. This mixing up is exhibited in Saint Librada, who is popular in Argentina.

According to Marcella Althaus-Reid in Indecent Theology, “Santa Librada is worshipped as the female crucified Christ of the urban poor.” She is an ambiguous Christ/Mary: female like Mary but crucified like Christ.  Often she is portrayed as blonde, as Jesus tends to be. Thus, Mary transgresses the site of the Cross — like a female Jesus — while Jesus becomes a transvestite, adopting the garb and look of Mary, for instance by wearing a shawl and necklace– in a “pattern of divine transvest00Liberata_Santaism.” 

As a boundary crosser, “Librada’s worship originated around legal and social transgression. An old traditional prayer asks her to deliver a person from the police because she is the protector of petty thieves and bandits, who are understood in Argentinian society as thieves by necessity, not choice.” Librada, like  other Santos Bandidos (Bandit Saints), are heroes for assisting the poor to take risks for their own survival, for instance by small thievery. Thus, boundaries between virtue and vice are also blurred.

Saint Librada is not to be confused with Saint Liberata, aka Saint Wilgefortis – herself gender-transgressing. She is known as the bearded Saint. See: Paris Review: the Bearded Saint

See also: bearded woman

librada

 

 

 

Our Lady of Guadalupe as a Mirror for Our Selves

 

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Yolanda Lopez, a Chicana artist, produced this tripartite series of portraits (in 1978): The Guadalupe Triptych. The woman, who is depicted as a runner, is the artist herself. The picture is called:Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe.lopezyolanda6

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“Essentially, she [the Virgin of Guadalupe] is beautiful, serene and passive. She has no emotional life or texture of her own” so Lopez commented…..”Because I feel living, breathing women also deserve respect and love lavished on Guadalupe, I have chosen to transform the image. Taking symbols of her power and virtue I have transferred them to portraits of women I know….As Chicanos we need to become aware of our own imagery and how it functions. We privately agonize and sometimes publicly speak out on the representation of us in the majority culture. But what about the portrayal of ourselves within our own culture? Who are our heroes, our role models?” “Yolanda M. López Works: 1975-1978,” San Diego, 1978.

Amalia Mesa-Bains gives this interpretation of  the series:  “López’s Guadalupes are mobile, hardworking, assertive, working-class images of the abuela [grandmother] as a strong, solid nurturer, mother as a family-supporting seamstress, and daughter as a contemporary artist and powerful runner.”

On Yolanda Lopez and Guadalupe Triptych

See also: The Guadalupe Series

The First Female Directed Film about Jesus: La Vie du Christ (1906)

Alice Guy, the first female film director, produced a film (silent) on the life of Jesus. Consisting of 25 painted tableaux (typical of passion plays), together with location scenes (which take place outdoors), La Vie du Jesus (1906) is distinctive for its portraits of women.

Guy highlights Mary Magdalene’s primary role as the first witness of the risen Christ (Matt 28:7; John 20:11-18). Whether or not her themes count as “feminist,” Guy seems to go out of her way to include women in every scene–for instance, instead of  Simon of Cyrene, as the one who carries the cross of Jesus (Luke 23:26), six women do.  Eight women find the empty tomb (Luke 24:1-5), while many women are present at the foot of the cross.

Here’s the film (which runs 33 minutes).

Further References:

The Bible in Motion: A Handbook of the Bible and Its Reception in Film
edited by Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch, See contribution by Carol A. Hebron, re: Alice Guy and La Vie de Christ, ch. 32, pp. 545-547.

See article: Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013 | Posted by Film International, Alice Guy’s La Vie du Christ: A Feminist Vision of the Christ Tale; http://filmint.nu/?p=9219

Women Film Pioneers: https://wfpp.cdrs.columbia.edu/pioneer/ccp-alice-guy-blache/