Women in the Apostolic Fathers: Paranetic Women in 1 Clement (Part I)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Women in the Apostolic Fathers.

Saint Clement of RomeWomen’s voices are not directly heard in First Clement, although a number of women do appear as characters in Clement’s exhortations to the Corinthian church. While Trevett argues that Clement singled out the “uppity women” of Corinth, this seems unlikely for a couple of reasons.[1] First, Clement was highly familiar with Paul’s writings, especially those to Rome and Corinth.[2] Yet nowhere does he invoke the authority of Paul concerning ordered and submissive women in the church, instead generally discussing the order of all.[3] Second, Clement felt free to utilize biblical women as models for concord and order among the entire community, not just among women. These paranetic women include Lot’s Wife, Rahab, Judith, and Esther.

1 Clement 11.2[4]

συνεξελθούσης γὰρ αὐτῷ τῆς γυναικὸς ἑτερογνώμονος ὑπαρχούσης καὶ οὐκ ἐν ὁμονοίᾳ, εἰς τοῦτο σημεῖον ἐτέθη, ὥστε γενέσθαι αὐτὴν στήλην ἁλὸς ἕως τῆς ἡμέρας ταύτης, εἰς τὸ γνωστὸν εἶναι πᾶσιν, ὅτι οἱ δίψυχοι καὶ οἱ διστάζοντες περὶ τῆς τοῦ θεοῦ δυνάμεως εἰς κρίμα καὶ εἰς σημείωσιν πάσαις ταῖς γενεαῖς γίνονται. Lot’s wife was made a sign of this: for when she left with him but then changed her mind and fell out of harmony, she was turned into a pillar of salt until this day—so that everyone may know that those who are of two minds and who doubt the power of God enter into judgment and become a visible sign for all generations.

Lot’s Wife is cited as a negative example of one who lives “double-mindedly,” someone who did not live in harmony with herself, her husband, or Yahweh. As a result, she was turned into a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:26) as a reminder to all of the perils of double mindedness. Trevett views this as a specific warning to those “uppity women” of Corinth, though it seems better understood as a warning to all who live out of harmony with themselves, their families, and God Almighty.[5] Additionally, Lot’s Wife seems to be contrasted with Rahab (whose story follows immediately) as one who was not hospitable. This indicates that, for Clement, a lack of harmony and single mindedness will eventually result in a lack of hospitality, thus signaling to the exterior world the internal discord at work in the Corinthian church.


 

[1] Trevett, 45-7, 69-70, 81-6. “Clement never directly addressed the ‘sisters’ but only made clear the Roman church’s wish to see Corinthian women compliant and quiet, with men rightfully supreme. In Corinth, I suggest, that unassailable truth had been assailed. Women who did not deign to be ‘little’ were not, in Rome’s view, good wives. I suggest that, as the Romans saw matters, shameless female partisanship had contributed to the all-too-public scandal in Corinth.” Trevett, 45.

[2] 1 Clement 1.3-2.8. Andreas Lindemann, “Paul’s Influence on ‘Clement’ and Ignatius,” in Trajectories Through the New Testament and Apostolic Fathers, ed. C.M. Tuckett and Andrew F. Gregory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 9-16. Jacob J. Prahlow, Discerning Witnesses: First and Second Century Textual Studies in Christian Authority (Winston-Salem, N.C.: Wake Forest University, 2014), 53-6.

[3] It is always somewhat dangerous to argue from silence. But here the silence is especially palpable, given Clement’s strong knowledge of 1 Corinthians, his upholding the authority of Paul throughout this letter, and the purpose of his letter. If there were women causing trouble in Corinth, Clement had ready access to the materials necessary to “put them in their place.” Yet nowhere does he utilize this arsenal. Cx. 1 Clem. 37. See also Lindemann, 11-12, 14-15.

[4] Ehrman Apostolic Fathers I, 54-5.

[5] Trevett, 55.

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