Here is the story of Blandina the martyress, taken from the Letter of the Churches of Lyons and Vienne, ca. 177. “This report of martyrdoms…is one of the earliest of the surviving Passiones” says editors Coakley and Sterk, (2004). Passiones are stories that claim to be born by eyewitnesses to the events. This story is not just for Christians, but for any man or woman who is looking for the strength to live boldly. Listen to her story. Feel her passion and ask yourself, why not women?
“But the whole wrath of the populace, and governor, and soldiers was aroused exceedingly against Sanctus…Maturus…Attalus…and Blandina, through whom Christ showed that things which appear mean and obscure and despicable to men are with God of great glory, through love toward him manifested in power, and not boasting in appearance.
“For while we all trembled, and her earthly mistress, who was herself also one of the witnesses, feared that on account of the weakness of her body she would be unable to make bold confession, Blandina was filled with such power as to be delivered and raised above those who were torturing her by turns from morning till evening in every manner, so that they acknowledged that they were conquered and could do nothing more to her. And they were astonished at her endurance, as her entire body was mangled and broken; and they testified that one of these forms of torture was sufficient to destroy life, not to speak of so many and so great sufferings.
“But the blessed woman, like a noble athlete, renewed her strength in her confession; and her comfort and recreation and relief from the pain of her sufferings was in exclaiming, ‘ I am a Christian, and there is nothing vile done by us.’…
“…Maturus…and Sanctus and Blandina and Attalus were let to the amphitheater to be exposed to the wild beasts, and to give to the heathen public a spectacle of cruelty, a day for fighting with wild beasts being specially appointed on account of our people…(followed by descriptions of the sufferings of Marturus and Sanctus who faced every torture they could contrive and were still alive proclaiming Christ).
“But Blandina was suspended on a stake, and exposed to be devoured by the wild beasts who should attack her. And because she appeared as if hanging on a cross, and because of her earnest prayers, she inspired the combatants [the men with her] with great zeal. For they looked on her in her conflict, and beheld with their outward eyes, in the form of their sister, him who was crucified for them, that he might persuade those who believe on him, that everyone who suffers for the glory of Christ has fellowship always with the living God.
“As none of the wild beasts at that time touched her, she was taken down from the stake and cast again into prison. She was preserved thus for another contest, that, being victorious in more conflicts, she might make the punishment of the crooked serpent irrevocable; and, though small and weak and despised, yet clothed with Christ the mighty and conquering Athlete, she might arouse the zeal of the brethren, and, having overcome the adversary many times might receive, through her conflict, the crown incorruptible.”
– Our Women will be called to the stage of the world. They will be placed in the center of thousands and told to deny their faith, they will have to stand before tens and thousands and be asked to give a reason for the hope to which they were called. This will happen in their schools, at their jobs. This will happen on the mission field, foreign or domestic, and even in their own churches. Such events are not pleasant to say the least. Crowds can be cruel, torturous with their words and unforgiving in their criticisms and judgements. Yet we do little to prepare them for this.
How life changing and inspiring would it be for the daughters of God if they were taught to speak and teach before the crowd? Not passively, but with conviction and boldness! And what safer place for them to learn than with their families, the body of Christ. As Paul cautions ALL believers, regardless of gender (for he addresses both specific men and specific women with the charges of false teaching) one who speaks publicly must be educated in the Truth of the Gospel so that they do not mislead by mistake. Are women so much more prone to mistakes than men that they be confined as an entire CLASS within the church to the imprisonment of the pew? Our pews should be models of sitting at the feet of Christ, and our pulpits preparation for the amphitheaters of the good work to which we are called. And in which we will be condemned no matter our gender. Listen to the final chapter of Blandina’s life. Listen to inspiration her steadfastness and devotion gave to the men around her, and to her torturers. And listen to the tender words with which her biographer honors the power of her womanhood.
“…After all these, on the last day of the contests, Blandina was again brought in, with Ponticus, a boy about fifteen years old. They had been brought every day to witness the sufferings of the others, and had been pressed to swear by the idols. But because they remained steadfast and despised them, the multitude became furious, so that they had no compassion for the youth of the boy nor respect for the sex of the woman. (emphasis mine). Therefore they exposed them to all the terrible sufferings and took them through the entire round of torture, repeatedly urging them to swear, but being unable to effect this; for Ponticus, encouraged by his sister so that even the heathen could see that she was confirming and strengthening him, having nobly endured every torture, gave up the ghost.
“But the blessed Blandina, last of all, having, as a noble mother, encouraged her children and sent them before her victorious to the King, (speaking of Marturus, Sanctus, Attalus and the boy Ponticus), endured herself all their conflicts and hastened after them, glad and rejoicing in her departure as if called to a marriage supper, rather than cast to wild beasts.
“And after the scourging, after the wild beasts, after the roasting seat (an iron chair heated to orange in which one is fastened with no clothes), she was finally enclosed in a net, and thrown before a bull. And having been tossed about by the animal, but feeling none of the things which were happening to her, on account of her hope and firm hold upon what had been entrusted to her, and her communion with Christ, she also was sacrificed.
And the heathen themselves confessed that never among them had a woman endured so many and such terrible tortures.”
Conclusion: The TRUTH is that if the spirit of Christ is in us both then He has no reason to direct his Church to suppress and withhold from women the many, many diverse roles of leadership there are in the Kingdom of God. Neither too should any woman in her own home, not be allowed to stand next her husband and assume whatever role they deem necessary, by the distinct gifts and bents of the individuals and by their own unanimous consent. We are to submit to each other in love. Does this not apply to the husband as well as the wife? What woman should be ordered by her church to submit to her husband before she be submitted to God?
These questions have been answered in so many ways, by twisting the relationships, by saying that a woman’s submission to God is THROUGH her husband. I say that is self-righteous arrogance. The same arrogance that was condemned by Cyprian Bishop of Carthage when he proclaimed that a Confessor did not have any special power to forgive the sinners who had recanted to Rome. No power more special than that which Christ had given to all of us.
Martyrdom has no gender. Neither should the life of the Body of Christ.
(an addendum to my final plea. I do not separate gender from sexuality, I believe they are one in the same. Women are created to be women, men are created to be men. Otherwise God has made some mistake in the makeup of our being, or else sin has corrupted our DNA so much as to create a dichotomy of sexuality within us which is not to be accepted. I do not believe that the church should teach “nor male nor female” as a permission to render our sexuality as meaningless (men can be women, women can be men) rather that the kingdom of God so transcends the flesh of our created bodies that before the light of Christ our differences are no longer visible. Sexuality/gender becomes superseded by the LOVE of God).