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Women in the Dark Age
by Bonnie Moss (c) 2010 -06



A Woman's Place in Ancient Times to the Dark Age

  "Of all the tyrannies that afflict mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst. Every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in, but this attempts a stride beyond the grave and seeks to pursue us into eternity." - Thomas Paine

The fabric of time interweaves history. Sometimes, there are no definite parameters as to where it starts or where it ends. Historians unfold events of a time - some facts are timeless, some do come to an end. Were women always in the background? This presents a very interesting study on womens' place in history. Recorded history proves that many women ruled alongside their husbands from Asia Minor, to the Far East ( Orient in ancient times) - China, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia to name a few cultures. History proves that being born to a privileged class is indeed a privilege. Petrach is believed to have defined the Dark Ages in 1330. He wrote of those before him: Amidst the errors there shone forth men of genius, no less keen were their eyes, although they were surrounded by darkness and dense gloom. He considered the previous 900 years as a time of stagnation. In the dark age, there was a lack of recorded cultural achievement. There was no widespread means of disseminating information, much less the current events of the time. Most of tradition and history were passed on by word of mouth through generations. Literacy belonged to the very few, mainly to theologians, the scholars of the time, to the nobility and to the aristocrats. Classical antiquity, according to Petrach, was actually the age of light due to its cultural achievements, although lacking in Christianity. Does the Dark Age only refer to Europe? Some historians consider the start of the dark age when Rome left England, or at the start of Christianity or when the Goths conquered Rome. How long did it last? The rise of Christianity brewed a cauldron of troubling social and political turmoil in every facet of human behavior - actions, thoughts, and beliefs. It left a society divided and absorbed in crime and punishment based on religious beliefs and gender. This truly reflects a dark age in human history. It was a time when any part of the world is up for grabs by the strongest conqueror who devised the best strategy. Many wars were fought over/or in the name of religion. It was a time when recorded materials were burned or destroyed. A lot of important data of the era were lost forever. Did the Crusades have some influence on the timeline of the dark ages? What defines Antiquity, Paganism and the dawn of Christianity? What are their specific contributions or lack of it to current history? Christianity gained a foothold on society. It defined the established guide for the general population- peasants and nobles.This was the feudal times.This was a time that Christianity preached that women were to blame for life's miseries. This concept, sadly, carried through to later periods of history. Women did have some personal freedoms, but they had little chance for individuality or personal choice. They were under the constant supervision of their fathers, male relatives and husbands. The Roman women moved freely in society, especially among the nobility. They had certain duties to perform and deliver. Men believed that women should not be hampered by being shut out of society. In many cultures, marriage was arranged for political or economic reasons. Women married men who were much older and they had no choice in the matter. Women did not have their own identity, they were not allowed to take their own names. There are many women of note during these times, and there were saints among them too. Among them: 921 Regent Dowager Duchess Ludmila of Bohemia (Czech Republic) Widow of Prince Borivoj, the first Christian ruler of the area. She raised her oldest grandson, Wenceslas as a Christian, and her daughter-in-law raised the younger, Boleslav, as a pagan. After the death of her son, Bratislav I, the anti-Christian Faction attempted to seize control, but she urged Wenceslas, who was around 13, to take power in the name of Christianity. She acted as regent, but her daughter-in-law, Drahomira, had her strangled. She became a martyr and was later declared a saint. 1013-85 Sovereign Countess Irmgardis of Aspel (Germany) Also known as Saint Irmgardis von Köln, the sources show her as Reigning Countess. After her parents died, she distributed her wealth among hospitals, churches and social institutions. She lived a simple life in solitude and went on three pilgrimages to Rome. She spent her last years in Köln, where she supported Chapters and Convents. 936-66 "Regent" Queen Mathilda of Quedlinburg (Germany) Widow of Emperor Heinrich I; she was also Head of the Chapters of Winithusen, Nordhausen, Richeberg and Pölden. Later declared a saint. Hypatia - 415. Cyril the bishop of Alexandria gave in to the mob demand to cut to punish the famous philosopher days before the Christian Pascha( Easter). Her body was cut to pieces, and carried around in the streets and later burned along with her books in Cynaron.She wrote about science and mathematics. The Byzantine Era Constantine established Constantinople, start of the Byzantine Empire. It was the seat of Christianity. Constantinople was one of the most elaborate and civilized cities of its time. For over 800 years, Constantinople enjoyed growth and stability- till the Fourth Crusade. Helena mother of Constantine The Christian church made her a saint for supposedly discovering the cross on which Christ had been crucified. Her real contribution to history, however, lay in her talent for drawing people to her cause, building churches to her religion, and working for the poor. Constantine, her son, made her an Augusta. This gave her unlimited access to the imperial treasury, with the intention of finding the relics of Judeo-Christian tradition. On her trip to Jerusalem , she had a church built to identify the burning bush of Sinai. Despite her piety, she was not able to stop Constantine from killing his eldest son and suffocating his wife in a heated bath. ****** Christianity gave a new meaning, a renewed purpose to life. Society was getting away from the belief in fickle and whimsical gods and goddesses. It started a social revolution where social status was not a criteria to be a Christian. So humanity marches on in the unlit world of the dark age. Historian Karen Armstrong, in her book, The History of God, writes that this new religion drew in women because the scriptures taught that in Christ, there was no distinction between male and female. It instructed men to cherish their wives as Christ cherished his church. Women were the backbone of the church for many generations. Meetings and services were conducted in private homes where women were the main leaders. This did not stop men from expressing their disapproval and resentment. In the New testament, Paul and Timothy wrote that women should be silenced in the church. By the second and third centuries, as Christianity was more established, a male heirarchy evolved and women were getting more and more excluded. Female ministers were considered heretics. Leonard Swidler writes that as Christianity became male dominated, the status of Christian women got very restricted. The fathers took a superior male attitude that was often misogynistic. This trend continued to the middle ages to the modern era. Who was worthy to speak of Jesus? 325 C.E. Council of Nicea decreed that women were no longer to be ordained along with the clergy for leadership roles, but were to remain among the laity. 352 C.E.Council of Laodicea forbade women from priesthood and presiding over churches. It also barred women from approaching the altar. 398 CE The Fourth Synod of Carthage said that women may not teach men in assembly and may not baptize. 451 CE Council of Chalcedon ruled that no woman under forty can be ordained a deacon and only under close scrutiny. There were prominent writers and thinkers of that time that were vehement in degrading womenhood. Tertullian – 160- 230 C/E referred to women as vipers.He was against women preaching, baptizing and teaching. Tertullian was a theologian. He believed that every woman carries the curse of Eve. These views are in contradiction of what and who Jesus was. It is documented that: Jesus travelled with women who supported his ministry. Jesus taught women at a time when women did not study with rabbis. Jesus reached out in compassion to the woman with the issue of the blood. Jesus trusted the woman at the well to tell others who he was. Jesus trusted Mary Magdalene to take the news of his resurrection. Rena Pederson, in her book, The Lost Apostle, asks this question: Can we really understand where we are at the journey if we don't look at the beginning with clear eyes? Her questions are tough. Why is it that some believers cling to scriptures that limit the role of women in faith, yet turn a blind eye to all those that include women in leadership roles? Is the role of the bible to teach us about patriarchy- or salvation? She writes that the church may be looking at the Church Fathers' as role model that emerged hundreds of years after Jesus' death, not at the way Jesus brought women into his ministry during his lifetime. Women have served as an outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace. ( quotes from Rena Pederson's book) This is a rewarding research. There is so much to learn about the journey of women through the pages of history. It is not about passing judgment. It is not about condemnation. There would always be short-sightedness, narrowmindedness, cruelty and bigotry in the struggle for power. History depicts the evolution of society, for good or evil, where the good comes through, amid unimaginable struggles, injustice and unfathomable reasons. Mankind will keep on weaving a most interesting tapestry on the fabric of history. Every generation will leave their marks, their own designs. A walk through time is fascinating - amid the mists, storms and chaos, the bright rays of hope and enlightenment comes shining through. This article hardly touches the events of women's role in the dark age. References: Karen King- Women in Ancient Christianity The Gospel According to Woman- Karen Armstrong Pope Joan - Peter Stanford Warrior Queens Notable Women of Medieval Europe - John Johnson Lewis The Lost Apostle- Rena Pederson On-line resources: worldwide guide to WomenLeadership.com ancient history.com pbs.org about.com

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