Female Priests from the Beginning of Christianity?

Rosemary Joyce’s “Women as leaders in early Christianity: Fairy tales?” details the discovery of a fresco that depicts what appears to be a female priest. This painting is dated back to the third century AD. The Vatican has firmly denied the claims as having “no foundation in reality.”

Scholars have noted that women have historically held the role of priestesses and leaders of spiritual worship in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Catholic Church has excluded women as leaders of religious activity for the majority of their existence. As far back as the fourth century, male church leaders were protesting against the inclusion of women in leadership. This shows that men have actively tried to remove from powerful roles and that the inequality of power between men and women is not, as some would believe, a result of natural dispositions of genders.

Another interesting facet of this story is that the Vatican reacted so strongly to the claims of a women priest. The Catholic Church is arguably the most influential institution of Western culture from the Middle Ages to modern times because of its continuity. The church’s attitude towards women can tell us about origins and perpetuations of attitudes towards women including demonization of female sexuality and disenfranchisement of women.

Linguistics also plays a role in disempowering women because defenders of a male exclusive clergy have used the words of the Bible to build their argument upon. What they believe to be God’s word is actually highly dependent on human interpretation as stories were passed from one generation to the next. This article posits that the specific passage defenders use is actually a misinterpretation of ancient Greek. In order to understand the meanings and connotations of language, one must understand the culture a language was used in. This has intriguing implications for such social issues such as gay relationships and marriage that are rooted in religious arguments. Perhaps people know that they are defending outdated and incorrect interpretations as the word of God, but use religion as a way to impose social control on different groups.