Women, The First Priests?
Women, the first priests?
To say that society dictates what we do is an understatement, because society dictates so much more than that. We allow society to dictate our beliefs, our morals, and even the things we hold to be true. Society tells us that men should be the leaders, and we believe that and make assumptions based on this. Most Catholics would say that Women cannot be priests, and will tell you that they know it because it is in the bible. The truth is that there is nowhere in the bible in which Jesus states women cannot be priests. In fact, Jesus' teachings as well as history would tell us that the opposite is true. They would lead us to believe that not only is the role of the celebrant a gender-neutral role, but that the original celebrants were indeed women.
In the catacombs under the streets of Rome, a new section has been discovered with a number of frescos painted on the walls. This, in itself, is not unusual, but the stories they tell and the history they convey are quite different from what many believe. These frescos depict people with outstretched hands signifying a priest, a group at a table breaking bread as if having a mass, and another figure is laying hands on the head of someone like a bishop ordaining a priest. What is striking is that these figures appear to be women. While many argue that the figures are men, a close look at the frescos reveals many feminine characteristics. Some of these characteristics are much more prevalent in some than in others. The paintings of women with outstretched hands and the bishop ordaining a priest are the easiest to distinguish. These figures have a woman's long hair and physique. There are no masculine characteristics about them. The figures around the table are not as easily distinguishable. Out of the seven at the table, one is clearly a female. The other, however, would be difficult to distinguish if not for a common trait that is found in all of the frescos. The garments being worn go all the way to the ankles. Only women wore these garments, while men's garments only came down to their calves.
If these frescos are, in fact, women, we should not be surprised. Much of history also points to women being priests in the early church. Before the Edict of Constantine in 313 AD, Christians were forced to worship in the privacy of their homes. Women were the ones that ran things in the home. They organized the dinner and entertained the guests, and it would only have been natural for them to celebrate mass as well. It wasn't until after Constantine made it possible for Christians to practice in public, that Christians had the privilege of worshipping in basilicas. Once Christianity was the official religion under Constantine, Christians had to adapt to the culture around them and make the role of the celebrant a male role. Soon after, four councils in one hundred years banned the ordination of women. This is significant because if women were not being ordained priests already, the councils would not have to ban it so many times. This is not the only proof, however. In a church in Rome, a mosaic behind the alter depicts four women. One of these women has a rectangular halo that sets her apart from the rest and has the words Theodora Episcopa written next to her. Theodora would be her name and Episcopa translates into bishop. Not far from there a tomb was found with the title Letapresbiteressa on it. Leta is a feminine name, and if she were a priest, as the title would suggest, she would have been the first woman priest. While the debate will undoubtedly go on for a long time to come, the most obvious explanation for these findings is that women really were priests. While we can always find complex and extravagant explanations for any argument, the simplest explanation is almost always true.