The Virtues of Godly Women

In studying for a class I will be teaching tonight on the history of the early church, I stumbled upon a passage written by Gregory of Nazianzus, a fourth century elder. This passage is from an oration given at the death of his father concerning his mother, Nonna (who converted her husband after they were married, bringing him to Christ and eventually to become an elder in the church). We often times hear discussion of the role of women in the church, with the feeling often being that if the woman is not at the forefront in recognized leadership before the congregation she has no place of prominence and is being “held back” or is being placed “under foot” of men. Gregory shows the beauty of the service of a godly woman and that such feminist characterizations could not be further from the truth. In thinking about what is stated concerning the “virtuous woman” in Proverbs 31, consider this woman as a 4th century example of those principles.

I have heard the Scripture say: Who can find a valiant woman? and declare that she is a divine gift, and that a good marriage is brought about by the Lord. Even those without are of the same mind; if they say that a man can win no fairer prize than a good wife, nor a worse one than her opposite. But we can mention none who has been in this respect more fortunate than he. For I think that, had anyone from the ends of the earth and from every race of men attempted to bring about the best of marriages, he could not have found a better or more harmonious one than this. For the most excellent of men and of women were so united that their marriage was a union of virtue rather than of bodies: since, while they excelled all others, they could not excel each other, because in virtue they were quite equally matched.

She indeed who was given to Adam as a help meet for him, because it was not good for man to be alone, instead of an assistant became an enemy, and instead of a yoke-fellow, an opponent, and beguiling the man by means of pleasure, estranged him through the tree of knowledge from the tree of life. But she who was given by God to my father became not only, as is less wonderful, his assistant, but even his leader, drawing him on by her influence in deed and word to the highest excellence; judging it best in all other respects to be overruled by her husband according to the law of marriage, but not being ashamed, in regard of piety, even to offer herself as his teacher. Admirable indeed as was this conduct of hers, it was still more admirable that he should readily acquiesce in it. She is a woman who while others have been honoured and extolled for natural and artificial beauty, has acknowledged but one kind of beauty, that of the soul, and the preservation, or the restoration as far as possible, of the Divine image. Pigments and devices for adornment she has rejected as worthy of women on the stage. The only genuine form of noble birth she recognized is piety, and the knowledge of whence we are sprung and whither we are tending. The only safe and inviolable form of wealth is, she considered, to strip oneself of wealth for God and the poor, and especially for those of our own kin who are unfortunate; and such help only as is necessary, she held to be rather a reminder, than a relief of their distress, while a more liberal beneficence brings stable honour and most perfect consolation. Some women have excelled in thrifty management, others in piety, while she, difficult as it is to unite the two virtues, has surpassed all in both of them, both by her eminence in each, and by the fact that she alone has combined them together. To as great a degree has she, by her care and skill, secured the prosperity of her household, according to the injunctions and laws of Solomon as to the valiant woman, as if she had had no knowledge of piety; and she applied herself to God and Divine things as closely as if absolutely released from household cares, allowing neither branch of her duty to interfere with the other, but rather making each of them support the other.

What time or place for prayer ever escaped her? To this she was drawn before all other things in the day; or rather, who had such hope of receiving an immediate answer to her requests?… Or stood like a pillar at the night long and daily psalmody? Who had a greater love for virginity, though patient of the marriage bond herself? Who was a better patron of the orphan and the widow? Who aided as much in the alleviation of the misfortunes of the mourner? These things, small as they are, and perhaps contemptible in the eyes of some, because not easily attainable by most people (for that which is unattainable comes, through envy, to be thought not even credible), are in my eyes most honourable, since they were the discoveries of her faith and the undertakings of her spiritual fervour. So also in the holy assemblies, or places, her voice was never to be heard except in the necessary responses of the service. (Source: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/gregnaz-fathr.asp – Medieval Sourcebook: Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 18, On the Death of his Father – Sec. 7-9)

There are certainly many examples that could be used to illustrate the points being made here, but let it never be said that God has no place for women, no appreciation for their talents, or no view of them as equals. May God always continue to bless the virtuous, godly woman.

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