Women in the Apostolic Fathers: Greetings in Ignatius

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

Although characteristically brief, epistAncient Roman Womenolary greetings provide further insights into the contexts and conceptions of Ignatius and Polycarp regarding Christian women.[1]

Ignatius’s Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 13.1-2[2]

Ἀσπάζομαι τοὺς οἴκους τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου σὺν γυναιξὶ καὶ τέκνοις καὶ τὰς παρθένους τὰς λεγομένας χήρας. ἔρρωσθέ μοι ἐν δυνάμει πατρός. ἀσπάζεται ὑμᾶς Φίλων σὺν ἐμοὶ ὤν. 2. ἀσπάζομαι τὸν οἶκον Ταουΐας, ἣν εὔχομαι ἑδρᾶσθαι πίστει καὶ ἀγάπῃ σαρκικῇ τε καὶ πνευματικῇ. ἀσπάζομαι Ἄλκην, τὸ ποθητόν μοι ὄνομα, καὶ Δάφνον τὸν ἀσύγκριτον καὶ Εὔτεκνον καὶ πάντας κατ᾿ ὄνομα. ἔρρωσθε ἐν χάριτι θεοῦ. I greet the households of my brothers, along with their wives and children, and the virgins who are called widows. I wish you farewell in the power of the Father. Philo, who is with me, greets you. 2. I greet the household of Tavia, whom I pray will be firm in faith and in a love that pertains to both flesh and spirit. I greet Alce, a name dear to me, and the incomparable Daphnus and Eutecnus, and all by name. Farewell in the gracious gift of God.

Ignatius’s greetings are aimed primarily at two social groups within the community: the householders, along with their wives and children, and τὰς παρθένους τὰς λεγομένας χήρας. Grant suggests that this later group consisted of numerous actual widows along with some older women who had never actually been married, enrolled among the widows because of a shortage of widows to whom the church gave care.[3] More convincing is the possibility that virgins formed a distinct (and relatively large) subgroup in Smyrna by this early date and were entrusted with special responsibilities, much like groups of widows had been elsewhere.[4]

Ancient Smyrna
Ancient Smyrna

In this view, Ignatius had likely received some special care from these virgins during his time in Smyrna, and this greeting was his way of offering special thanks to these virgins for their service. The names which follow are likely particular people whom Ignatius singled out for their particular faith and service in the Smyrnaean community. Tavia, which is otherwise unattested in the ancient world, may be a feminine form of the Latin Tavius.[5] Alce may be the same person mentioned in the Martyrdom of Polycarp 17.2, which would make her a person of some standing. Whoever these women were, Ignatius honored them in his letter and in his prayers.


[1] Lindemann, 16-24.

[2] Ehrman Apostolic Fathers I, 308-9.

[3] Grant, Volume 4, 125.

[4] Schoedel, Ignatius, 252.

[5] Ibid., 252-3.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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