Women and early Christianity


Sir, – Ursula Halligan makes some bold claims concerning the history of the early church but names none of the historians on whose work she professes to depend (“Women have been robbed of religious heritage”, Rite and Reason, March 19th).

Her claim that historians have only recently discovered that women were early Christian martyrs is odd; female martyrs such as Saints Perpetua and Felicity have been venerated for centuries.

Contrary to her assertion that there were many more Apostles than the Twelve, it should be noted that the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles testify to an inner group of a dozen (to which St Paul was later added and in which St Matthias replaced Judas).

Perhaps she has confused the 12 with the outer group of 70 disciples of Jesus.

Her claim that there was no hierarchical Church until hundreds of years after the death of Jesus is also open to severe criticism.

The late Henry Chadwick, an Anglican priest and outstanding historian of the early church, observed in his magisterial The Church in Ancient Society ( 2001 ) that Ignatius of Antioch, writing early in the second century, uses the titles bishops, presbyters and deacons and that he assumes that in Syria and Asia Minor each city has but one bishop to some extent pre-eminent in relation to his fellow presbyters – in short a hierarchy in formation.

Chadwick also notes that by the late second century a single bishop presiding over each local congregation was “a general and accepted arrangement”. – Yours, etc,