Editor's Reflections | Spring 2014 (28.2) | CBE International

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Editor's Reflections | Spring 2014 (28.2)

Is it difficult to take Priscilla Papers to the beach? Not exactly light summer reading? Maybe not, but this issue introduces you to an interesting collection of individuals, any of whose stories would make some novels pale in comparison.

Each in her or his own way, some intentionally, and some not, has made a lasting contribution to the egalitarian thought of our authors as they lived lives so remarkable that they have, in their own sphere, become significant figures of history and, in some cases, of legend.

The first we consider are those heroic women who stood up for Jesus, despite the cost of the social approbation some of them may have faced, as our opening author, Angela Ravin-Anderson, reminds us. We often think of the liberating joy of being with Jesus that these first female followers experienced, but we do not always realize that it came with a price from the disapproval of family, certainly from society shrinking back from the cross, and in the sometimes fierce governmental persecution that followed. Worthwhile to remember is that one of the earliest reports of an active church outside the New Testament was in a letter from AD 112, written by the Governor of Bythinia, Pliny the Younger, asking the emperor Trajan whether to torture two women ministrae (ministers or servants) he had arrested for leading a “nest” of Christians,1 a popular pagan slur for early churches. This acknowledgement of the active leadership of women in the church is so early that it may have occurred while John the Apostle was still alive, since John’s own disciples tell us he died during the reign of this same Trajan (98–117 AD).2 Then, as now, serious and called Christian women were working steadfastly for the advancement of Christ’s reign, even in the face of general disapproval.

 The next woman we meet has indeed become so enmeshed in legend that we wonder if she ever really existed. Andrea Lorenzo Molinari, whose book on the heroic Perpetua and article for Priscilla Papers on women martyrs back in 2008 (vol. 22, no. 2) were so well received, is back in our pages to discuss the building of the legend of Veronica, which has so eclipsed this faithful disciple of Jesus herself. In a fascinating tour from myth through fact, the dean of the Blessed Edmund Rice School for Pastoral Ministry suggests one possible referent is no one less than the Bernice or Beronikē who is better known as the woman healed of the issue of blood in Mark 5:25–34. That this woman was a real, breathing human being whom Jesus cured and not just the figment of a miracle story invented to adorn the reputation of a character who is legendary himself is confirmed by Eusebius of Caesarea, the author of the seminal work, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, to which every church historian continues to turn for data on the first three hundred years of the Christian church. In chapter 7, section 18, of his history, Eusebius explains that her residence had been at Caesarea Philippi, where he eventually served as church overseer, and he adds,

I do not think I ought to omit a story that deserves to be remembered by those who will follow us. The woman with a hemorrhage, who as we learn from the holy gospels was cured of her trouble by our Savior, was stated to have come from here. Her house was pointed out in the city, and a wonderful memorial of the benefit the Savior conferred upon her was still there. On a tall stone base at the gates of her house stood a bronze statue of a woman, resting on one knee and resembling a suppliant with arms outstretched. Facing this was another of the same material, an upright figure of a man with a double cloak neatly draped over his shoulders and his hand stretched out to the woman. Near his feet on the stone slab grew an exotic plant, which climbed up to the hem of the bronze cloak and served as a remedy for illnesses of every kind. This statue, which was said to resemble the features of Jesus, was still there in my own time, so that I saw it with my own eyes when I resided in the city.3

With such a remarkable legacy as commissioning a statue of Jesus that had stood by the time of Eusebius for some 300 years, one might wonder how the legend could eclipse the person herself. For myself, however, having been a small child in the United States in the 1950s, when this was routinely done not only with figures like Davy Crockett (who, we were taught, “kil’t him a bar [bear] when he was only three”), but also in lionizing even shady and dubious characters like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, it fits my experience. As nearly everyone else in that era, I was enthralled by the multitude of Western stories constantly being written, filmed, and televised, and I easily accepted the spin on these stories. One of my favorite authors, however, was Dorothy M. Johnson, who wrote a more realistic classic collection of short stories published under the title Indian Country, which supplied me with an alternative view. Out of this book and its companion title, The Hanging Tree, came ideas that inspired major films (e.g., the title story “The Hanging Tree” with Maria Schell and Gary Cooper and “A Man Called Horse” with Richard Harris and Judith Anderson). But the most impacting film to me from one of her short stories was “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” As an aspiring neo-teen journalist by this time, already writing school news pieces for the local newspaper, I was struck by the concluding thought of one character who was a journalist, through whom Dorothy Johnson critiqued the entire era and its excesses: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”4 Apparently, that is what has happened with the real woman who would become the legendary Veronica. But, if she was, indeed, the woman healed from the issue of blood in Mark 5, then, in a most graphic way, she kept alive and before the eyes of her neighbors the testimony to what Jesus had done for her, still apparent three centuries later, but, even more so, a lasting part of the canonically recorded actions of Jesus. And her account lives on to edify us as much for her courage to press onward to seek healing from the Savior as for the compassion shown by the Veronica of legend, passing that healing on. In short, the point is that, as Veronica of legend transmitted the good news of Christ’s physical healing through her symbolic cloth, the real woman passed on both that and the even greater message of Christ’s spiritual healing through her representative statue.

The next two women we meet, drawn from the two poles of Christian theology, the Calvinist and the Arminian camps, both sensed an early calling to preach, and both underwent arduous opposition to realize that calling. Tim Lee recounts for us the trials of Louisa Woosley, ordained, nearly “unordained,” but still steadfastly ministering while writing a defense of her calling, in this 125th year celebration of her ordination to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC). We thank CPC’s Michael Qualls and archivist Susan Knight Gore for our beautiful cover photograph. The year that had raised Louisa Woosley’s hope was 1877, when the CPC first approved women serving as trustees and deacons. That same year was born the Methodist M. Madeline Southard, who was to exemplify the combining of evangelism and social action for nearly a century. Struggling against the limitations put on women, attempting to fulfill her calling from God, she sacrificed family life for ministry, a bittersweet choice she felt forced on her as it was on so many missional women over the centuries. Kristen Kobes Du Mez explains her story to us against the fuller background of a cultural ideal of family that disempowered those whom it should have empowered, the ones who comprised the institution of family themselves.

Taking us into modern times, Gilbert Bilezikian presents to us a great woman of personal legend. If all the preceding women are major historical figures, colaborers with Jesus, a paragon of faith, the first woman ordained in a denomination, and a champion for women’s rights who helped change the mind of another denomination, the next woman we celebrate was virtually unsung until this poignant reminiscence has given her eulogy back its voice. I would guess that many of us have one or more Madame Talents in our own personal histories, saints who put up with the ordeals of shepherding us in our untamed youth because they loved the Lord and could see that, if this wild little hooligan could be transformed by the love of Jesus, he or she could do great things for the reign of God. I can think of patient saints whom I tested mercilessly in my youth and who continually responded with grace, like Mister Tim, my longsuffering Stockade leader and Sunday School teacher, and Missus Mariana, abandoned with two children, but the soul of sweet patience with a neighborhood good-news club, and the all but homeless elderly missionaries Brother Ornan and his sister who lived on the corner and scraped together thirty-four cents for gasoline to take their tiny gathering to which my mother sent me in the summers to the pathetic little Trailside Museum (picture a possum in a cage). When I and a friend wandered off, making everyone wait for an hour, they received us back so graciously, only commenting they were glad we were safe. How many of these saints did I exasperate in my early years? How much do I owe them for the nurturing of my faith? But what if there were war in my hometown and their sacrifice meant starvation? Madame Talent’s is a story of great heroism that put a lump in my throat as I read it. Of such saints are the foundational pillars of the reign of Jesus Christ that support each of us as Christ supports us all.

Our final figure comes from a parallel arena, the struggle of minorities to achieve recognition in a largely hostile majority culture. The struggle of Christian women to overcome the ramifications of the curse in Genesis 3 that resulted from the fall of humanity by missing the mark of God’s intentions for the way we should live and treat each other (which is what God calls “sin”) was not something invented recently, as some mistakenly suggest. Its history can be traced from the fall to today as God raises up a remnant of egalitarian champions in each generation. In the 1800s, the struggle for equality among people groups in the United States, focusing on the abolition of slavery, encouraged many champions, when the battle was won, to extend their efforts to right the wrongs done to women and to struggle now for equality between the genders as well. That effort goes on among people groups around the world. Douglas Groothuis explains the parallel between these liberating movements through studying the example of the well-known African American composer and performer Duke Ellington, whose unfailing graciousness made him a model of goodwill for an entire nation and set an example of how to meet opposition in a manner that echoes the biblical advice, “a gentle answer turns away wrath” (Prov 15:1, TNIV). Prof. Groothuis suggests that this is how egalitarians should pursue the presentation of our argument.

To complete our issue, we have an interesting book to feature. I am delighted to report that the long-awaited book by Mary Stromer Hanson on Mary and Martha, which in earlier form was introduced in our pages, is now completed and reviewed for us by Prof. Judy Diehl. Finally, a major new poet to our pages, Deborah Shore, gives us a provocative reflection to close our issue.

Everywhere around us, we find the world clamoring to commandeer our interest on behalf of so many celebrities whose words and deeds are unworthy of our attention. For myself, spending time in the presence of such saints as those who are featured in this issue is tremendously uplifting to my spirit. I find refreshing being reminded of the movers and shakers down through the ages whose goal was to assist God, as God reconciles the world to Godself. I am always remarking to my wife, “We know the nicest people!” So, it is always a privilege to expand that circle from “the cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) in our heritage.

Blessings,

Notes

  1. Pliny the Younger, “Christians in Bithynia, c. 112.” Plin. Epp. X (ad Traj.) in Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, eds., Documents of the Christian Church, 4th ed. (New York, NY: Oxford, 2012), 3–4.
  2. Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, trans. G. A. Williamson (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1965), notes this claim is “proved by the evidence of two witnesses who could hardly be doubted,” Irenaeus, overseer of Lyons, and Clement of Alexandria, 3.23 (128).
  3. Eusebius, History, 7.18 (303–04).
  4. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” Paramount Pictures Corporation and John Ford Productions, Inc., 1962.

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