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Relationships, Resistance and Religious Change in the Early Christian Household

  • Kate Cooper (a1)

The household was an ideological battleground in antiquity. To ‘turn a man against his father’ was to challenge deeply held convictions about how society should be constituted. For a free man to raise children in his own image was understood – by Jews, Greeks, and Romans alike – as a right and even a duty. The household was the acknowledged nerve centre for the processes of social control and social reproduction.

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1 Unless otherwise indicated, Bible quotations in this essay are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Quotations marked NRSV are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

2 Edward, Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Book III, chs 624 , ed. Bury, J. B. (London, 1902).

3 Kate, Cooper, ‘Gender and the Fall of Rome’, in Philip, Rousseau, ed., A Companion to Late Antiquity (Oxford, 2009), 187200 .

4 For references, see Kate, Cooper, ‘Christianity, Private Power, and the Law from Decius to Constantine:The Minimalist View’, JECS 19 (2011), 32743, at 32832 .

5 Justinian, , Novel 22 (536), discussed in Philip, Lyndon Reynolds, Marriage in the Western Church: The Christianization of Marriage during the Patristic and Early Medieval Periods (Leiden, 1994), 63 ; and John, Noonan, ‘Marital Affection’, Studia Gratiana 12 (1967), 479509 .

6 Kate, Cooper, ‘Closely Watched Households: Visibility, Exposure, and Private Power in the Roman domus ’, P&P, no. 197 (2007), 333.

7 Kathy, L. Gaca, The Making of Fornication: Eros, Ethics, and Political Reform in Greek Philosophy and Early Christianity (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, 2003).

8 Kate, Cooper, ‘Insinuations of Womanly Influence: An Aspect of the Christianization of the Roman Aristocracy’, JRS 82 (1992), 15064 .

9 Cooper, , ‘Closely Watched Households’, 7 .

10 Gregory, C.A., Savage Money: The Anthropology and Politics of Commodity Exchange (Amsterdam, 1997), 78, 236 , on reciprocal recognition, with summary and critique of Louis, Dumont, Homo Hierarchies: The Caste System and its Implications, transl. Mark Sainsbury (Chicago, IL, 1970), on household polity.

11 On sexual ethics and Paul, see the illuminating discussion in Gaca, The Making of Fornication.

12 Michael, L. Satlow, ‘Marriage and Divorce’, in Catherine, Hezser, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Daily Life in Roman Palestine (Oxford, 2010), 34461, at 344 .

13 Roger, Bagnall, ‘Church, State, and Divorce in Late Roman Egypt’, in Florilegium Columbianum: Essays in Honor of Paul Oskar Krisleller, ed. Somerville, R. E. and K.-L., Selig (New York, 1987), 4161 .

14 On the ‘household tables’, see Ulrike, Wagner, Die Ordnung des ‘Hanses Gottes’, WUNT 2 Reihe 65 (Tübingen, 1994). On marriage and fatherhood in the Pauline literature, see Yarborough, Larry. O., Not like the Gentiles: Marriage Rules in the Letters of Paul (Atlanta, GA, 1985); Gerd, Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity (Philadelphia, PA, 1982). On attitudes to the family, see Carolyn, Osiek, ‘The Family in Early Christianity: “Family Values” Revisited’, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 58 (1996), 124 . Margaret, Y. MacDonald’s Early Christian Women and Pagan Opinion: The Power of the Hysterical Woman (Cambridge, 1996) and The Pauline Churches: A Socio-Historical Study of Institutionalization in the Pauline and Deutero-Pauline Writings (Cambridge, 1988) chart how the attitudes to gender and family became more conservative over time, while MacDonald, Dennis R., The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon (Philadelphia, PA, 1983), offers what is still the liveliest account of the second-century conflict over changing gender roles.

15 Guerra, Anthony. J., ‘The Conversion of Marcus Aurelius and Justin Martyr: The Purpose, Genre, and Content of the First Apology’, The Second Century 9 (1992), 17187.

16 The story is told in Justin, Martyr, Second Apology 2.120 . Useful discussions of the passage can be found in MacDonald, , Early Christian Women and Pagan Opinion, 20513 ; P. Lorraine, Buck, ‘The Pagan Husband in Justin, 2 Apology 2: 1-20’, JThS 53 (2002), 5416 .

17 Kraemer, Ross. S., ‘The Conversion of Women to Ascetic Forms of Christianity’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 6 (1980), 298307 .

18 Acts of Paul and Thecla, in Edgar, Hennecke and Wilhelm, Schneemelcher, eds, New Testament Apocrypha, 2: Writings Related to the Apostles; Apocalypses and Related Subjects, transl. Wilson, R. McL., rev. edn (Cambridge, 1993). My own understanding of this text has changed over the years; compare The Virgin and the Bride: Idealized Womanhood in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, MA, 1996), ch. 3, ‘The Bride that is No Bride’; and now Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women (London, 2013), ch. 3, ‘The God of Thecla.

19 Acts of Paul and Thecla 7 .

20 Ibid. 27.

21 I have discussed this theme further in ‘The Household as a Venue for Religious Conversion’, in Beryl, Rawson, ed., A Companion to Families in the Greek and Roman Worlds (Oxford, 2010), 18397; and ‘Ventriloquism and the Miraculous: Conversion, Preaching, and the Martyr Exemplum in Late Antiquity’, in Kate, Cooper and Jeremy, Gregory, eds, Signs, Wonders, Miracles: Representations of Divine Power in the Life of the Church, SCH 41 (Woodbridge, 2005), 2245 .

22 On the network theory of conversion, see Rodney, Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (Princeton, NJ, 1996), 511.

23 Passion of the Holy Perpetua and Felicitas 5, in Herbert, Musurillo, ed. and transl., Acts of the Christian Martyrs, OECT (Oxford, 1972).

24 This reading of Perpetua is discussed at greater length in Kate, Cooper, ‘A Father, a Daughter, and a Procurator: Authority and Resistance in the Prison Memoir of Perpetua of Carthage’, CH 23 (2011), 686703.

25 Acts of Thomas, in Hennecke, and Schneemelcher, , eds, New Testament Apocrypha, 2.

26 I say ‘seems’ because the dating of many of the texts in question is uncertain, and the versions to come down to us often include earlier and later story elements; the miracle at the grave of Thomas, for example, probably developed in a later version of the story.

27 On conversion in the Recognitions, see Kate, Cooper, ‘Matthidia’s Wish: Division, Reunion, and the Early Christian Family in the pseudo-Clementine, Recognitions , in Brooke, George. J. and Jean-Daniel, Kaestli, eds, Narrativity in Biblical Studies (Leuven, 2000), 24364; on the date and context of the narrative, Edwards, Mark, ‘The Clementina: A Christian Response to the Pagan Novel’, Classical Quarterly 42 (1992), 45971 , offers an insightful discussion, with valuable starting points for further inquiry.

28 Passio Sebastiani 27 (PL 17, cols 1113-50, at 1124), translations here and below are my own unless otherwise acknowledged.

29 Cooper, , ‘Family, Dynasty, and Conversion’, 279.

30 On consensus, see Susan, Treggiari, Roman Marriage: Iusti Coniuges From the Time of Cicero to the Time of Ulpian (Oxford, 1991), ch. 2, ‘Capacity and Intent’, esp. 547.

31 On the fluctuations in divorce legislation, see Judith Evans, Grubbs, Women and the Law in the Roman Empire: A Sonrcebook on Marriage, Divorce and Widowhood (London, 2002), 20210. On the attitude of clerics ‘on the ground’ to divorce when it was unwelcome but perfectly legal, see Bagnall, , ‘Church, State, and Divorce’. See also Judith Evans, Grubbs, Law and Family in Late Antiquity: The Emperor Constantine’s Marriage Legislation (Oxford, 1999), 25360.

32 Augustine, The Good of Marriage (De bono coniugali) 9.7.12. On De bono coniugali, see Markus, R. A., The End of Ancient Christianity (Cambridge, 1990), ch. 4, ‘A Defence of Christian Mediocrity’.

33 Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram) 9.7.12 (CSEL 28, 276).

34 Fulgentius, Ad Optatum 14 (SC 487, 92-4); ET Eno, Robert B., Fulgentius: Selected Works, Fathers of the Church 95 (Washington, DC, 1997), 286.

35 Fulgentius, Ad Optatum, with discussion in Cooper, , Fall of the Roman Household, 17383. Fulgentius allows that it is possible for the spouses to choose continence together, but not for one to choose it without the approval of the other, since this would violate the apostle’s doctrine of the conjugal debt (1 Cor. 7).

36 On the marriage vow, see Cooper, , Fall of the Roman Household, 17383 , and literature cited there.

37 Smith, Julia M. H., ‘Did Women have a Transformation of the Roman World?’, GH 12 (2000), 55271.

38 Anon, ., Ad Gregoriam in Palatio 7 (CChr.SL 25A, 202). There is an interesting discussion of the passage in Lesley Dossey, ‘Wife Beating and Manliness in Late Antiquity’, P&P, no. 199 (2008), 340. My own views on the text can be found in Kate, Cooper, The Fall of the Roman Household (Cambridge, 2007), ch. 4, ‘“Such Trustful Partnership”: The Marriage Bond in Latin Conduct Literature’, with a full translation of the text at 23983.

39 Cooper, , Fall of the Roman Household, 1536.

40 Notable recent examples are Peter, Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians (Harlow, 2005), who makes a lively case for why the landed gentry might have seen barbarian warlords as attractive sponsors for their property rights; and Bryan, Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (Oxford, 2005), who stresses the long-term detriment to trade and prosperity caused by the resulting fragmentation.

41 Cooper, , ‘Gender and the Fall of Rome’, 1989.

42 Patrick, Wormald, ‘The Decline of the Western Empire and the Survival of its Aristocracy’, JRS 66 (1976), 21726 , reviewing John, Matthews, Western Aristocracies and Imperial Court.

43 Wormald, , ‘Decline of the Western Empire’, 222.

44 For complementary approaches, see Peter, Sarris, ‘The Origins of the Manorial Economy: New Insights from Late Antiquity’, EHR 119 (2004), 279311; Roberta, Mazza, ‘Households as Communities? Oikoi and poleis in Byzantine Egypt’, in van Nijf, Onno M. and Richard, Alston, eds, Political Culture in the Creek City after the Classical Age, Groningen-Royal Holloway Studies on the Greek City after the Classical Age 2 (Leuven, 2011), 26386.

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Studies in Church History
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