What happened when early Christian women took a stand.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our CT special issue focused on women raising their voices. In “Heard,” we explore how women are speaking up, not only in response to scandals or injustice, but also more broadly for the sake of the gospel and the values of Christ’s kingdom. Click here to download a free digital version of our special issue.
“I am a Christian,” declares Blandina, slave woman and martyr, to the Roman authorities. “I am a Christian,” asserts Perpetua to her pagan father, sealing her fate as a martyr. “I am a servant of the living God,” proclaims Thecla to the governor as he marvels at her testimony in the arena before she was to be eaten by wild beasts.
The voices of these female martyrs ring down through the centuries and sound notes of wisdom and encouragement to us today. In our current #MeToo moment, we hear the voices of persecuted women defining themselves not as victims but as agents. We find striking similarities to the ancient female martyrs and ascetics—bravery, willingness to face public shame, conviction that their words are important. But we also discover important differences between today’s ideas and the ancient female martyrs’ views on the ultimate goals of a life well lived.
The martyrdom accounts of women like Blandina, Perpetua, and Thecla reveal women who were extraordinarily bold. They resisted familial pressure and governmental orders to turn from their Christian faith. They unflinchingly testified to Christ, knowing that intense physical torture would be the outcome of their truthful, fearless answer. Their actions and the suffering they endured magnified their voices.
In 177 in Lyons, Blandina, …
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