Sunday, January 7, 2018

Five Influential Women

Five influential women stand out in the history of the church between the time the Apostolic Constitutions laid out guidelines for ordaining women to the diaconate in 375 CE and the Council of Orange in 411 CE when the practice was halted. 

Marcella (325-410)
Olympias the Elder (330-361)
Melania the Elder (350-410)
Olympias the Younger (368-408)
Melania the Younger (383-439)

What happened in this short period of time that would trigger such a swift change in the church's policy?  There is scant evidence in the lives of these influential women of a scandal that would motivate the Holy See to back away from the decision to elevate women to positions of authority in the church.  It seems likely that women deacons were caught in the crossfire during the period of hostile rivalry between Rome, Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria that ultimately led to the schism between East and West. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

After Constantine the Great

Olympias the Elder was the daughter of a wealthy Roman aristocrat who was one of the most important Roman Senators of Constantinople.  The date of her birth is unknown, but she and her brother were raised by maid servants while her father was serving in the senate in Constantinople.  Her father arranged for the engagement of Olympias to Constans, the son and heir to the throne of Constantine the Great. When Constans I became Emperor in 337 CE, he took Olympias under his protection allowing her to remain a virgin.

In 350 CE Constans I was assassinated on the orders of the usurper Magnentius.  Vetranio.  The general who defeated Magnentius was made Emperor in 356 CE, but abdicated nine months later.  When Constantius II succeeded him as emperor, he gave Olympias as a bride to Arsaces II to create an alliance with Armenia.  Olympias married King Arsaces II, but bore him no children before he died of natural causes in 361 CE.  His cousin, Julian the Apostate, was named successor to the throne and King Arsaces II took a second wife who fiendishly arranged for the Holy Sacrament given to Olympias to be poisoned causing her early demise.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Pope and Antipope

Ten men reigned as pope during the tumultuous period at the turn of the fifth century.  The first, Pope Liberius, began his papacy in 352 CE.  Pope Liberius refused to condemn Athanasius of Alexandria, the chief defender of Trinitarianism against Arianism.  Instead he wrote to Emperor Constantius II asking for council to be called to denounce Arianism as a heresy.  However, Constantius II, sympathized with the Arians, and forced the pope’s messenger to sign a writ of condemnation.  Unable to persuade Pope Liberius to condemn Athanasius, the Emperor imprisoned him and appointed Felix II as a “puppet” pope in 355 CE. 

After three years in exile Liberius returned to Rome. The emperor proposed that Liberius govern the church jointly with Felix II, but the Roman population refused to recognize Felix II and expelled him from the city.  Neither Liberius nor Felix took part in the Council of Rimini in 359 CE, and after the death of the Emperor Constantius II in 361 CE, Liberius annulled the decrees of that assembly. 

Living in exile from Rome, Felix remained pope until his death in 365 CE.  Some historians claim that Pope Liberius eventually relented in his opposition to Arianism and resigned the papacy validating the reign of Felix II.  Most assert on the contrary that Pope Liberius adhered staunchly to the orthodoxy of the Trinitarian belief through the end of his pontificate and death in 366 CE.  The Eastern Orthodox Church reveres him as a saint, while the Roman Catholic Church does not.