Forced Choices: Who Is Your Favorite Church Mother?

In our last Forced Choice, I asked everyone to select their favorite church father. And I can’t say I’m terribly surprised that Augustine ran away with almost 34% of the vote. He got off to a fast start and never looked back. Irenaeus started off more slowly, but eventually came in second at 20%, with Athanasius close behind at 16%. Nobody else hit double-digits. Probably the most surprising was how badly the great Greek theologians (Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and John of Damascus) fared. Given how well Eastern Orthodoxy did in our earlier poll, one might have expected a slightly better showing here. Which, of course, raises the question of how many people like Eastern Orthodoxy in the abstract without having spent all that much time reading her most influential thinkers.

This week, we’re going to change the channel and ask: Who is your favorite church mother? Now, I hope I’m not insulting anyone’s historical intelligence. But I think there’s a distinct possibility that many of you are not as familiar with the church mothers as you are the church fathers. So, unlike past polls, I’m going to provide a little information about the individuals you’ll be voting on. As with prior polls, this is not a comprehensive list. And if you think that I’ve excluded someone who absolutely must be on a list like these, please feel free to let me know in the comments.

Here Are the Contestants

Thecla. According to the Acts of Paul and Thecla, Thecla was a young, noble virgin who converted to Christianity and ministered alongside Paul.  During her ministry, she was threatened with rape, prostitution, and martyrdom. But she persevered through it all to become one of the most revered women in the early church.

Perptua and Felicity (d. 203). These two young women were Christian martyrs in the third century, and the story of their faithfulness in the face of certain death was one of the most widespread and influential martyrdom accounts in the early church.

Brigid of Kildare (451-525). Brigid is one of the patron saints of Ireland, famous for founding a number of influential  monasteries throughout Ireland.

Cecilia (d. ca. 180). Another famous martyr of the early church, Cecilia died sometime during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (ca. 161-180). According to tradition, officials attempted to smother her with steam, but she did not die. Then they proceeded to try and cut off her head, but she still didn’t die. And through it all she was singing praises to God. For this reason she is known as the patron saint of musicians.

Macrina the Younger (330-379). She was the sister of Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Peter of Sebaste, and she played an important role in discipling and shaping these key Christian leaders. Gregory portrayed her as the ideal Christian philosopher and teacher, and he even said her philosophy was further advanced than that of Socrates!

Monica (ca. 331-387). Monica was the mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo. Augustine wrote extensively about his mother, speaking highly of her life in Confessions and the obviously important role she played in shaping him into the person he would become.

So, Which Is Your Favorite?

(See the poll in the sidebar.)



About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on November 26, 2011, in Church History. Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Can I have a write-in vote for the Apostle Junia? 😉

    • Nice.

      I should have mentioned, though, that I intentionally excluded anyone from the Bible. I’ll probably reserve that for a later poll.

  2. I have a soft spot for St. Mary of Egypt. I “met” her at my 1st lenten retreat and for the devotional we took turns reading her story out loud. When it was my turn to read we had reached her confession. 1st person account. Slightly mortifying.

  3. Saint Cecilia intrigues me so much. I first heard about her last year and ever since I have had a found place in my heart for her, I think it is primarily because she is the patron saint of music and reminds me so much of my wife.

  4. note: I meant to say “fond place in my heart” not “found”

  5. So does it matter that Macrina the Younger was, as it appears, a Universalist?

  6. Gregory of Nyssa was a universalist and most of what we know of and have from Macrina has been mediated through Gregory. It could be possible that Gregory placed concepts in his sister’s mouth, or that he received his concepts from Macrina. The influence of Origen on this family should not be underestimated as Origen’s disciple, Gregory Thamaturgus, is the one who converted Macrina the Elder (Macrina the Younger’s Grandmother) and for whom Gregory was named.

    • Yes, indeed that’s the general EO position with Macrina. But, I am not sure its, as you say, in the mouth of Macrina herself? There is often a lot of “cream” on the top of Orthodox statements of the faithful!

    • It is highly debated whether Gregory was a universalist or not. I personally do not believe that he was a universalist, it was a Catholic Theologian, Pierre Batiffol, in 1914 who taught that Gregory was a universalist. The Orthodox dispute this and so do I.

      • Indeed this is one of the so-called problems with the history of the EO! It is hard often to find collective historical voices on certain subjects. And again, the issue of Universalism is an open debate with many Orthodox. Again, this may not be a negative thing, since the EO does not always define many things theologically in the absolute sense.

      • Btw, for what its worth, I came very close to going over to Orthodoxy several years ago. And was in an Anglican-Orthodox society for dialogue years before that. I am very Orthodox friendly, though still seeking a rather broad Reformed place. And I would stand with the EO, on the order and primacy of the Father in the Godhead, and just their basic Trinitarian belief, and position on the filioque. Can I recommed two nice books for western people: both Through Western Eyes, Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective, by Robert Letham. And, Eastern Orthodoxy Through Western Eyes, by Donald Fairbairn. 🙂

    • I brought my wife (Sara) into this debate on accident (she was signed in on word press).

  7. Definition of Irony: Discussing Church Fathers in the Forced Decision on Church Mothers

  8. I go with Steve and would like to see the Apostle ‘Junia’ included. My next favourite female figure would be Joan of Arc.

  9. I think it is a very easy verse…only some parts of the church don’t like the connotations of a female apostle. Non of the early Greek literature uses a masculine version of Junia.

    • But even if it is a woman? The idea of the meaning could also be, they were “prominent” among or “well known to the apostles”. This is scanty information to make a full blown female apostle! And if they are couple, as it could appear (Andronicus and Junia)? They also appear to be Jewish, perhaps they had been imprisoned before Paul, and were Christians before Paul, as the text says. Literally, “my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.” (Roman 16:7)

  1. Pingback: Forced Choices (NT Authors) « scientia et sapientia

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