Disciple Paul - Corinth
To find out what the acts of Paul and Thecla can tell us about the role of women in early Christianity, I've come to one of the premiere cities in the ancient world. A place visited by Paul - Ephesus.
Kate Cooper "I think Thecla was really an image of what it was, to really listen to the Word of God.". Kate Cooper is a leading
authority on the role of women in the early church.
She continues "The thing is, ancient people are burdened by the need to constantly be worrying about keeping the birth rate up, so every generation has got to reproduce itself, and in that sense, the idea that the world is ending, and that you don't HAVE to keep the population up, opens a hole horizon of liberated energy for people to think about."
So they don't have the pressure to bear children the whole time?
Kate Cooper "exactly! And think about how that influences women's positions."
What does that mean for the ordinary Christian woman on the street in the first or second century AD?
Kate Cooper "Well, one of the things that's really interesting is there is a lot of evidence that women played a different kind
of role in the early Christian communities. They were seen as equal sharers in the job of preaching and teaching. In a way, it
offered them the kind of opportunity that may not have been available to them in other religious communities."
Without the pressure to have sex, women's lives were transformed. Now they could be guardians, not just of sexual, but of divine
love. Of course, Paul was wrong about the apocalypse. The world didn't end, and Christians quietly abandoned the belief that it would.
Women instead started to look to the future, hosting prayer meetings in their homes and financially supporting the new movement. In
the first two centuries of Christianity, at least 50% of the churches in Rome were founded by women. And although we are now used to
Christian worship being led by male priests and bishops, there is evidence to suggest the picture was once very different.