Mothers Day: Honoring the Mothers of our Faith
Growing up in the church, I often heard of the “fathers of the faith”. I could rattle off to you a litany of church fathers (Augustine, Luther, and Tertullian easily come to mind). And, I could tell you at least a little bit about what effect they had on my theology or the theology of the modern church.
One thing I could not easily tell you about are the “Mothers of the faith”.
This glaring hole in my knowledge of female voices, theologians, martyrs, and advisors in Christianity is no accident. Given the patriarchal landscape through the entirety of history, little access was given to female voices in the shaping of the church. Women, during the formation of the church and in every generation since, have wielded significantly less power than their male counterparts - both inside and outside the church walls.
Powerfully, Jesus contradicts the cultural notion that women have voices that should be silenced. In his first encounter with humans after the resurrection, it was women he physically appeared to, proclaiming the most amazing, radically-changing, undeniably beautiful miracle that this world has and ever will see - the moment of His resurrection.
This Mother’s Day, I could reflect on the joys of motherhood.
Or the burdens of sacrificial love.
Or the great blessing that children truly are. But you will find that just about everywhere else.
Instead, this Mother’s Day, I long to focus on the forgotten mothers of our faith.
When I encounter the great cloud of witnesses referenced in Hebrews 12, will I recognize the faces of the women in that crowd? Will I embrace them as the mothers of my faith and my church that they are?
Below, I have selected just a few Mothers of our faith and provided a few, brief highlights. Hopefully, it will wet your pallet to study these incredible women and the legacy they have left for all of us in the church, both male and female.
Perpetua and Felicitas (3rd century):
During persecution in Rome, Perpetua and her servant were tossed into the gladiator arena, where they were gored and beheaded publicly. She was a leader of an imprisoned community of believers, both male and female, who were all executed by Rome. Since she was a 22 year mother, she was given the chance to renounce her faith and be returned to her father’s household. She did not. Her leadership led to sermons from the likes of Augustine.
Proba (4th century):
She wrote “Centro” in 351, using a well-known, ancient poetry technique where-in the author rearranges exact lines from a well-known book (think the Odyssey). Proba applied this technique to passages of scripture such as the Last Supper. This poetic skill took extraordinary scholarship and studious work. Her work was used as a textbook for centuries, as it allowed for the Bible to be better understood by the Roman culture.
Egeria (5th century):
Egeria kept a diary, which later came to be known as “Pilgrimage to the Holy Land”. This diary became important to scholars in later years, as they utilized it in their understanding of church practices, architecture, and biblical sites of her time. The contents of her diary also established her as a role model for Christian women for centuries.
Church Leadership and Preachers:
Nino (4th century):
Preaching and healing in the Iberian kingdom (modern day Georgia), Nino healed the queen of Iberia from an illness. The queen converted to Christianity and was baptized by Nino. The king, once against Christianity, eventually converted after a conversion experience like the Apostle Paul’s. He was also baptized and then preached to his own kingdom about the experience.
The Desert Mothers:
Just like the desert fathers, the desert mothers were Christian ascetics that lived in the deserts of Egypt in the 4th and 5th centuries. Believed to include close to 2,000 women. One of which was Paula.
Known as a great scholar and good friend to St. Jerome, Paula was also one of his most generous financial supporters. When Jerome translated the Septuagint and the Greek writings of the Christian cannon into Latin, it was Paula who paid his living expenses and purchased the manuscripts and supplies needed for his work. She also assisted him in the work of his translations, so much so that he dedicated his translations of Job, Isaiah, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Esther, Galatians, Philemon, Titus, and the 12 minor prophets to her.
Jerome was criticized for dedicating his work to women. He responded, “These people do not know that while Barak trembled, Deborah saved Israel; that Esther delivered from supreme peril the children of God… Is it not to women that our Lord appeared after the resurrection? Yes, and the men could then blush for not having sought what women had found.”
What a powerful legacy these women have left for us!
I can only hope that one day, not only will I be remembered as a mother in the physical sense, but in my sanctification, that I will be known as a great spiritual mother for many.
May we be inspired to become mothers and fathers of the faith, inspired by the sacrifice, writings, and teachings of these incredible women and others like them.
For more information on many of these and many other incredible mothers of the Christian faith, check out these links:
The Junia Project: https://juniaproject.com/women-in-church-history-footnoted-forgotten/
Christianity Today International: https://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2017/september/searching-for-christian-heroines-from-history-look-to-early.html
More about the desert mothers at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-rebel-virgins-and-desert-mothers-who-have-been-written-out-of-christianitys-early-history
For a fun set of cards to introduce your children to some Mothers of the Faith
Emily Thien is a part of the community at Common Ground Northeast. She is a wife and the mother of 4 boys. She loves working with women and has a heart to see them become spiritually competent and confident in theology, scripture, and biblical community.