Editor's Reflections | Summer 2013 (27.3) | CBE International

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Editor's Reflections | Summer 2013 (27.3)

The dream of every truly Christian parent is to raise godly offspring—children who live wholeheartedly for Christ no matter what the cost. This dream was fulfilled by the daughters of a father named Pudens.

Pudens makes an undisputed appearance in the New Testament, but he does not figure prominently: a mere two words in Paul’s closing remarks to Timothy, “and Pudens,” in the second letter to Timothy 4:21, as the apostle ends this—his final—
letter with greetings from those courageous enough to stand by him in his last imprisonment.

Paul’s penultimate sentence reads like an honor roll: among a group, he specifies three coworking men and one woman, “Eubulus and Pudens and Linus and Claudia.” His last words bless Timothy and all the saints, “The Lord [be] with your spirit. Grace be with all of you (plural),” and Paul falls silent. We know that his legal problems are increasing (2 Tim 4:6, 14, 16). Eventually, he will be transferred to the dreaded cistern, a hole under the pavement in downtown Rome—the final incarceration of the condemned, inaccessible except by lowering by rope. Into this cistern, seasonably, the Tiber River overflows, flooding it and threatening to drown its inmates. It is pitch dark, putrid, mildewed, filled with nothing but vermin and the hopeless moaning of the other condemned.

Roman citizens like Paul await only a jerking up of the rope, a final summary transfer to the Appian Way on the outskirts of the city, and execution by beheading. Noncitizens like Peter, who was also imprisoned there, faced greater tortures, including crucifixion.

To stand by a prisoner thus condemned and run the risk of accusation took uncommon courage. Even Paul’s appreciative letter naming Pudens and the others could have triggered accusation and arrest, trial, and a similar fate. For Claudia, Eubulus, Linus (who went on to become an overseer of the church of Rome and suffer eventual martyrdom), and Pudens to render such assistance put them at great risk. Obviously, they were great heroes of faith. Can we know anything at all about them?

Recently, we had the privilege to search through Rome, culling data about Paul’s last days there and the Christians who stood by him. My wife, the Rev. Dr. Aída Besançon Spencer, professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, was researching her two-volume commentary on the Pastoral Epistles coming this autumn from Cascade’s New Covenant Commentary series. What we learned about Pudens was fascinating:

Rome has significant archaeological and traditional information on Pudens and Claudia. Pudens was probably a senator. A church was built over the home of Pudens and Claudia (now the Basilica of Santa Pudenziana1). They had used their home for worship. Pudens was a member of the Acilii Glabriones family (probably related to Aquila). His sons (Novatus and Timotheus) ran thermal baths. Pudens married Claudia, who was British. After being captured by Emperor Claudius and sent to Rome, the family was set at liberty, eventually introducing Christianity into Britain. According to a repeated tradition, Peter lived in their house in AD 64.2

Is the Claudia mentioned in 2 Timothy the Claudia who married Pudens? Aída notes the nineteenth-century scholar Sabine Baring-
Gould believed she was and championed this tradition, but, “in contrast, other scholars conclude that the Claudia in 2 Tim 4:21 is not this Claudia,” referring the reader to Theodore Zahn’s work. Aída adds that Bishop Lightfoot “notes another tradition that considers Pudens’ wife to be Sabinella and mentions a different married Pudens and Claudia in the imperial household.”3 From her own examination of Paul’s language, Aída notices that Paul has presented these names in polysyndeton, a technique that connects each one with a conjunction, thereby “treating each person” as “of equal importance.”4 So, Claudia held the same status in Paul’s regard as the men, whether or not she and Pudens were married.

But, while the exact identity of this Claudia as Pudens’s wife may be disputed, who his two daughters were is less so, for both of them had churches named for them. Aída explains: “After her father Pudens, brother Novatus, and sister Pudentiana died, Prassede used her wealth to build a church, where she concealed many Christians persecuted by Emperor Antonius Pius. Pudens, Pudentiana, and eventually Prassede died as Christian martyrs and were buried in the cemetery of St. Priscilla.”5 Of these two churches, the standout among them is the Basilica (Church) of Saint Praxedes (or Prassede), which was already among the top items of our must-see list of ancient sites, because it included the famous mosaic of Bishop Theodora.6

A beautiful 64-page booklet, full of color photographs and detailed information produced by the church, confirms “St. Praxedes (Prassede) and St. Pudentiana were the daughters of the Roman senator Pudens of whom St. Paul talks in the Second Letter to Timothy (4.21).” She and her sister worked together with an elder, appropriately named “Pastor.” The two sisters had a baptistery built into a worship area their father had constructed in the family home, and, when a hostile government began persecuting Christians, Praxedes, the “young saint” and apparently the sole surviving family member, “concealed many Christians persecuted by the Emperor Antoninus Pius, Christians who, if discovered, would be put to death.” For those who died, Praxedes “gathered their bodies and buried them in the cemetery of Priscilla on the Via Salaria,”7 on land dedicated for that purpose by Prisca, the Apostle Paul’s coworker in the New Testament.8 Praxedes “died about a month later” and was herself buried in Priscilla’s cemetery, along with her father and sister.9

Embedded in the New Testament are references to such wonderful and faithful saints as Pudens and Claudia. Tradition supplements information on their faithful daughters Praxedes (Prassede) and Pudentiana. And both the Bible and tradition tell us of similar households of faithful women and men empowered to work together, using their God-given gifts to spread the gospel and lead the church (1 Cor 16:15–18; Acts 16:14–15).

In this issue, a number of fine scholars explore these implications of what the New Testament teaches us about women and men ministering together. David Malick begins by presenting a fascinating study of the way that Mark in his gospel embeds one account of Jesus into another to highlight the importance of women in our Lord’s ministry. Next, Todd Still compares Jesus’s and Paul’s views of women, unearthing unifying similarities, and Heather Celoria analyzes Paul’s instructions regarding women in 1 Timothy 2. Michael Chung follows with a thoughtful examination of the annunciation and Anna stories in Luke. Finally, Christine Cos reviews an interesting study of women exegetes in history, and our deeply moving poem is by the Cuban Christian poet Rosselyn Rodriguez Lalana.

Faithful to the death, Pudens and his two daughters served the Lord steadfastly and today remain an edifying example of what one family can do. As a senator, Pudens was a man of privilege. He could have traded on that position of privilege, curried favor with the emperor, found profitable marriages for his daughters, lived the safe and comfortable life, and been lost in memory.

Instead, he and his daughters after him chose the more difficult way—the way of sacrifice. As a result, his and his daughters’ examples will last as long as does our faith on earth, that is, until Jesus returns and all of us are gathered in the warm embrace of the everlasting arms of our Savior at the marriage supper of the Lamb, celebrating with our Lord eternally and with saints like Pudens and his wife and their two young brides of Christ.

Blessings,

 

Notes

  1. Please note alternative spellings. The beautiful booklet of her church includes both spellings of her name, “Saint Pudenziana’s Basilica” on its cover, “St. Pudentiana’s Basilica” on its inside cover; Stephen Merola, Saint Pudenziana’s Basilica (Rome: St. Pudentiana’s Rectorate, n.d.). An alternative, skeptical view is presented by the entries “Pudens, St.” and “Pudentiana, St.,” in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed., ed. F. L. Cross, E. A. Livingstone (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1974), 1142, col. 1, arguing “There are no sufficient grounds for identifying the Pudens of the NT with the Pudens (prob. 3rd cent.) who gave his house on the Vicus Patricius (titulus Pudentis or ecclesia Pudentiana) to the Roman Church,” and “probably the cultus rests on the mistaken popular notion which supposed that the ‘ecclesia Pudentiana’ in Rome, really the church of St. Pudens, presupposed a ‘St. Pudentiana.’” Doubts raised in this volume’s entry on Praxedes’s history deal with her as a martyr under Marcus Aurelius, but fail to address her identity as a martyr under Antoninus Pius, which the church in her honor claims, and, again, fails to substantiate its claim: “She was buried in the Catacomb o [sic] *Priscilla next to the grave of St. *Pudentiana and hence (on wholly insufficient grounds) was supposed to have been her sister,” Praxedes, St.,” 1115, col. 1. It also fails to explain whose remains Pope Paschal 1 moved there when “Pope Paschal 1 rebuilt the ancient titulus Praxedia (the modern day basilica), depositing the relics of the virgin Praxedes there, along with a few of her sister’s remains,” since “the presbyter Pastor arranged . . . burial in the cemetery of Priscilla, where the remains of her sister and her father had already been laid to rest” (Paola Gallio, The Basilica of Saint Praxedes, Edicione d’Arte Marconi, No. 28, 3rd ed. [Rome: Monaci Benedettini Vallombrosani, 2009], 2).
  2. Aída Besançon Spencer, Titus, 2 Timothy, New Covenant Commentary (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2013), forthcoming.
  3. A. Spencer, Titus, 2 Timothy, forthcoming.
  4. A. Spencer, Titus, 2 Timothy, forthcoming.
  5. A. Spencer, Titus, 2 Timothy, forthcoming.
  6. For more information on Bishop Theodora and this church which houses her mosaic, see my “In Praise of Heroic Early Church Women,” http://blogs.christianpost.com/scriptural-truths/in-praise-of-heroic-ear..., in our monthly Christian Post blog: Aída and William Spencer, “The Timeless to the Timely: Applying Scriptural Truths to Today.”
  7. Gallio, The Basilica of Saint Praxedes, 1.
  8. See Sandro Carletti, Guide to the Catacombs of Priscilla, trans. Alice Mulhern (Vatican City, Rome: Commission for Sacred Archaelogy, 2007).
  9. Gallio, The Basilica of Saint Praxedes, 1.

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