Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 4, 2009
St Paul loved, respected women as Christ did
Catholic processor asserts that Paul wanted a totally egalitarian world
WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Sr. Teresita Kambeitz says St. Paul's desire to follow Christ led to his fair mindedness.
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Many people see St. Paul as a woman hater but Ursuline Sister Teresita Kambeitz says that’s inaccurate.
“To say that about Paul is to say he was a failed Christian,” Kambeitz says, noting the central pillar of St. Paul’s life was Christ. “No one had respected and loved women as Christ did and Paul wanted to be like Christ.”
Kambeitz, a professor of Catholic studies for teachers at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon and a former Newman College professor, was the guest speaker at the annual assembly of the Council of Consecrated Women of the Edmonton Archdiocese.
Some 70 members of the council attended the assembly at Providence Renewal Centre April 24-25.
THE PAULINE YEAR
The assembly chose St. Paul as its theme in line with Pope Benedict’s decree naming June 2008 - June 2009 as the Year of St. Paul.
Listeners were invited to identify with a loving Paul as Kambeitz led a session called St. Paul and Women.
“Paul wanted an egalitarian world where everyone would be one with Christ,” Kambeitz told participants. “Paul was not a woman-hater. Paul was totally committed to equality between women and men.”
In her presentation, Kambeitz examined in detail Paul’s dealings with women from the year 46AD, when with Silas and Timothy he headed from Antioch to Troas. They had just crossed the river Sangarious into Galatia when Paul became seriously ill.
Paul spent two years in the town of Pessinus where he was treated well and was nursed back to health by the Celts who populated the area. He spoke to the Galatians about Jesus and gained many converts.
“You know that it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the Gospel to you,” he wrote in a letter to the Galatians some eight years later.
“My condition put you to the test. You did not scorn or despise me, but welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ, Jesus, for I testify that had it been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.”
Scholars have puzzled about what sort of terrible illness Paul had that he said these words to the Galatians.
“I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch of the imagination to realize that if Paul was that sick, he probably had women looking after him, touching him — sinful Gentile women,” Kambeitz said.
A WOMEN‘S WORLD
“So can you imagine the stretch for Paul, coming from that male-oriented Jewish world (that he grew up in) to suddenly find himself with Gentile women touching him? Not only that; the chief deity of the Galatians was a female deity known as Cybele. And they had priestesses.”
This certainly would have been quite a stretch for Paul “but as he was trying to adjust to the situation, he was remembering his crash course in Christology with Peter and remembering what Peter had said about Jesus having talked to Gentile women, talked with prostitutes, having touched women,” Kambeitz continued.
Having Jesus at the centre of his life Paul could not but conclude, “This is what Jesus would do too.”
In 48AD, Paul, Silas and Timothy decided to go to Troas but on the way, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia asking Paul for help.
WHERE IS THE SYNAGOGUE?
So the trio headed for Macedonia, in northern Greece. They came to the town of Philippi. “And being good Jews, their first question was, ‘Where is the local synagogue?’
“The local people looked at them, ‘Sorry, no synagogue here. But come to think of it, there are some Jewish women who meet down by the river for prayer.’”
A modern man in 2009 would have no problem joining a women’s prayer group but remember, this was 2,000 years ago, commented Kambeitz.
“These are Jewish men who live in a very Jewish world.” The trio looked at each other and asked what would Jesus do? “And Paul said, ‘Let’s go.’”
So down to the river they went and met those Jewish women and a few Greek women who were no doubt shocked these Jewish men would join them. Soon they made a convert — Lydia — a wealthy businesswoman in the purple dye trade.
“She was very taken with Paul’s message about Jesus and she was also very taken with Paul,” Kambeitz commented. “And she invited the three men to her house.” They protested because it was not easy for Jewish men to enter a Gentile house, but Lydia would not take “no” for an answer.
Her spacious house became Paul’s base in Philippi and two women — Eurodia and Syntyche — became Paul’s co-workers and later, head of house churches.
So energetic were they in spreading the Gospel that Paul used the verb “athletic” to describe their activities, according to Kambeitz. “Within a year, Philippi became a favourite community for Paul as it came closest to Paul’s ideal of what a church would be.”
It is interesting to note that while Paul was under house arrest in Ephesus some years later, Lydia and her group sent him some money.
Paul steadfastly refused to accept money for his preaching, except from Lydia. He sent a letter to Lydia and the other women saying, “For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ.”
“The guy is homesick,” Kambeitz said. “He called them ‘beloved’ five times in this letter. And he tells them, ‘therefore my beloved, you shine my stars in the world. . . . Therefore my sisters whom I love and long for, you are my joy and crown.’”
Said Kambeitz: “Wow, this a love letter.”
When Paul arrived in Corinth in 51, he met Prisca and Aquila who became lifelong friends of his, preparing the way for him to preach in Ephesus and then in Rome.
Another woman who was a benefactor of Paul was Phoebe, whom he describes as a deacon. At the end of his letter to the Romans, he sent greetings to no fewer than nine women in Rome, a city he had never visited, commented Kambeitz.
“Although Paul was shaped by a patriarchal culture, his desire to be like Christ led him to the conviction that in a truly Christian community, women and men are equal in dignity,” asserted Kambeitz.
The passages that portray Paul as a woman-hater — namely those asking women to be silent in church and wives to be subject to their husbands — were “post-Pauline interpolations” — they were written after Paul’s death in 67.