I cannot remember how it was that I ended up with this book. It is likely I was looking at the books Amazon suggested would appeal to me, considering the other books I had already purchased. No one else I knew had heard of it. But it looked interesting, I remember that much, and decided to buy it on spec.
I have actually read this book three times now, and I may go ahead and read for a fourth. I first purchased it as a kindle, and didn’t realize quite how long it was until I decided I needed to have the paperback to underline and dog-ear. But honestly, I am glad it is as long as it is, because the research inside is priceless.
Crispina and Her Sisters: Women and Authority in Early Christianity, by Christine Schenk, CSJ, upended just about everything I thought I knew about the early centuries of the church. I cannot tell you how often I have recommended this book to others, for every armchair archaeologist and early church history buff, this book is essential. From funerary inscriptions and stele, to sarcophagi, to ancient city monuments, Schenk has painstakingly pieced together a startling new narrative of just how deeply involved women were in pioneering the gospel, leading, teaching and officiating in the church, and even in ordination.
- I had no idea many of the catacombs were originally privately owned by women, to eventually become part of the church in Rome’s communal property.
- I did not know women were depicted as hosting the Lord’s Supper, or reading the scriptures, preaching the Gospel, or saying the blessing and benediction at worship gatherings.
- I did not realize there were in fact a good number of women who could read and write, were trained in rhetoric and philosophy, and had published works (though often under a male pseudonym).
- I did not know the evidence literally chiseled in stone suggests there were more women than men represented in church leadership.
- I did not realize how long it took (three centuries) for men to finally edge women out of these leadership roles. Evidently, the general assemblies of believers were thriving and loved their leaders, both women and men. It took dogged, relentless pressure from men of wealth and high standing to finally get their way.
This book has been foundational in helping me to understand who I am in Christ and in the church, and has shown up in at least half of the papers I have written over the past four years. Crispina and Her Sisters is part of a growing library of books revealing what has so long been hidden. God has always been at work through women as well as men, appointing, anointing, and empowering women to lead in the cause of Christ.
Crispina and Her Sisters have been given their voices back!