British History, 407-597, by Fabio P. Barbieri

Novels I Classical Literature I (Pseudo)-Scientific I Children's Books I Comics I Music & Movies I Various stuff
What's New I Sitemap I Arthurian articles I History of Britain, 407-597 I View guestbook I Sign guestbook I Poll I About me I Links I Search

  Vortigern Studies > Faces of Arthur > British History > Book VII > chapter 7.5

Faces of Arthur Index

Vortigen Studies Index

The Arthurian Collection is a part of Vortigern Studies



British History
click here

Chapter 7.5: Interlude: Lovocatus and Catihernus

Fabio P. Barbieri

The most obscure, undocumented period of British history is that from about 470 (Sidonius’ letter speaking of renewed Saxon pirate raids in Gaul) to 516 (the date of Mount Badon). The only document from the period known to me, apart from Constantius, is the severe letter of condemnation sent by three Gallic Bishops, including Licinius, Metropolitan of Tours, to two British priests with Celtic names, Lovocatus and Catihernus (“Battle-Lion” and “Iron-battle”) in the first or second decade of the sixth century. As it is insufficiently known – most books about the period do not even mention it[1] – I include a full translation, as well as the Latin original in the footnotes.

To the most blessed lords and brothers in Christ the priests Lovocatus and Catihernus, [this letter comes from] the bishops Licinius, Melanius and Eustochius.[2]

We have been informed by the report of the good and venerable man, Sparatus the priest, that you have not ceased to carry certain tables around the huts of your fellow-countrymen[3]; and that you dare celebrate Masses in the same conditions with women committed to the Divine Sacrifice, whom you have named fellow-hosts, so that, while you deliver the Eucharist, they hold the Chalices, given by you, and administer the Blood of Christ to the people[4].

This unheard-of superstition and the strangeness of this matter saddened us greatly; that a sect so much to be dreaded, and which can be proved never to have existed in Gaul, should be seen to spring up in our day; [the sect] which the Eastern fathers have named Pepondian (since Pepondius was the author of this schism, and dared to have women with him in the sacrifice); [the Eastern fathers] ruled that whoever wished to remain in this error would be rendered alien to the communion of the Church[5].

For which matter we have believed that your charity should first be warned, in the love of Christ, for the sake of the unity of the Church and the fellowship of the Catholic Faith, imploring that as soon as this page of letters of ours reaches you, an immediate correction of the aforementioned matters should follow; of the aforementioned tables, which we do not doubt were consecrated, as you say, by priests, and of those women whom you call fellow-hosts; an expression not spoken nor heard without a certain shivering of the soul, which disgraces the clergy, a name[6] so much to be detested in the holy religion that it strikes shame and horror[7].

Therefore, according to the statutes of the Fathers, we decree that your charity should not only not corrupt the Divine Sacraments by the illegal ministering of such wretched females, but also that, apart from a mother, a grandmother, a sister or a niece, if anyone[8] wished to have [any such woman] to live under his roof, he should be repulsed by canonic sentence from the bounds of the Church[9].

It is therefore right for you, dearest brothers, that if matters are as they have been reported to us, a very swift correction should be shown; because it is better, for the salvation of soul and the edification of the people ,that things so disgracefully perverted by the clerical order [itself] should be corrected swiftly, so that neither should the stubbornness of this obstinacy expose you to greater confusion, nor should it be necessary for us to come o you with the Apostolic rod, if you deny charity, and hand you over to Satan in the death of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved[10].

This is to hand over to Satan: when someone is separated for his own crime from the flock of the Church, he should not doubt that he is to be devoured by the demons like savage wolves[11].

In the same way we are also warned by the Gospel sentence, where it says “if one of our limbs[12]should be a scandal to us”, whoever intrudes heresy into the Catholic Church [or: the universal church]. So it is easier to cut off one member who is staining the whole Church, than to lead the whole Church to destruction.[13].

Let these few things which we have said out of many be enough for you. Work hard in the communion of charity, and take care with the keenest attention to walk in the royal highway, from which you have deviated a little; so that both you may receive the fruit of obedience, and that we may rejoice together that our prayers have saved you[14].

I would imagine that a nastier kind of apostolic letter never reached a priest.  And it is easy to see what the real issue is.  The Bishops are annoyed at the two priests using portable altars - goodness knows why, since portable altars were used by priests then and are used now – but it is the presence of women at the altar, serving the Precious Blood, that has them foaming at the mouth, almost literally.  The uncomposed emotion that comes to the surface every time that the conhospites are mentioned rips the language apart; in spite of the brevity of the letter, there is not only bad style and bad Latin (uel for et – something that Gildas would not have dreamed of writing), but repetition, verbosity, incoherence.  It is clear that the Bishops were no scholars, and perhaps we already see here the work of that decline of Gaulish learning which led, in a century, from the ultra-academic Latin of Sidonius Apollinaris to the peculiar idiom of Gregory of Tours, whose dissection by Auerbach we remember.  But another power, beside poor usage, is twisting the language: the need to talk, to relieve oneself, to shout one’s innermost fury and loathing, incoherently, dragging in red herrings, poor arguments, wild parallels – finding a reason, any reason, good or bad, to refuse the inconceivable thing that has unfolded itself before their eyes.

There is, to begin with, a large, unmistakable, odoriferous red herring.  The ruling about no woman except mothers, grandmothers, sisters and nieces being allowed to live with priests, spat out in a voice so strangled that it neglects even to say that the ruling is about priests – so that it sounds like they are forbidding anyone, si quis, from living with any woman not related to him – is completely unnecessary, since Sparatus is not said to have reported any such thing of the conhospites!  That sort of thing happened, and still does; but the only two things that Sparatus reported on, and the only two on which the bishops actually ruled, were the portable altars and the women serving the Precious Blood.  What happened is perfectly clear: the bishops’ minds, in a state of scarcely rational fury, seized on the first charge associated with priests and women that occurred to them, by a kind of psychological free association.

But their more rational arguments are scarcely better.  They completely misrepresent the facts about the Pepuzians (not Pepundians), who took their names not from any sect founder but from their village, Pepuzus.  They were a branch of the Montanist heresy who consecrated women to the priesthood; the only ancient sect known to me who did.  The point is that theirs was the only group the Bishops could think which, a) was condemned as heretical, and b) consecrated women to the priesthood.  But that they were condemned because they consecrated women is, to the best of my knowledge, quite false; they simply came within the general condemnation that had befallen the Montanist sect, which combined extreme rigorism with increasing eccentricity in doctrine and self-regard among its leaders (who came to think themselves greater than Christ, bearers of a further revelation beyond His).

The debating tactics of the Bishops can only be described as desperate.  No condemnation of the Pepuzians as such exists, although St.Epiphanius of Cyprus (who is not commonly regarded as one of the wiser Church Fathers) placed them in his list of eighty heresies.  But one entry in a highly artificial list by a single Father hardly counts as unchallengeable canonical authority.  As far as anyone can see, to say that “the Pepuzians” were ever condemned is rather like saying that “the Norwegians” were condemned.  Lutheranism was condemned; but there was no special condemnation for Norwegians as Norwegians, and, in the same way, no special condemnation for Pepuzians as Pepuzians.  Pepuzian was only a geographical description.  And the fact that the Bishops spoke of generic “Eastern Fathers”, specifying neither the authority, nor the date, nor the place, nor the events, shows that they were, on some level, aware that they were prevaricating.

What is more, they were talking of the wrong thing.  There is a difference between diaconal (or “Levitical”) service, and presbyteral (or priestly) service: at the altar, in particular, presbyters consecrate, deacons distribute, the Body and Blood.  No deacon is allowed to speak the words of Consecration, or indeed celebrate Mass.  Now what shocked Epiphanius, and later Augustine, about the Pepuzians, is that they admitted women to the full presbyterate; but if one thing is abundantly clear, it is that the conhospites of Lovocatus and Catihernus were not consecrators – hence presbyters – but deaconesses.  They distributed the Precious Blood already consecrated, presumably by Lovocatus and Catihernus themselves.

Reading the excellent article which, long ago, made the Letter to Lovocatus and Catihernus known to the scholarly world[15], it becomes clear that the Letter was in fact one episode in a long and rancorous struggle by the Gaulish episcopate to destroy the institution of female Deaconesses, in a series of local councils from 394 to 533.  The first and bitterest blow was struck in 394 at the Council of Nīmes, which refused deaconesses the Levitical office, that is serving at the altar.  The Second Council of Orange, 451, the Council of Epaone, 517, and finally the Council of Orleans, 533, forbade women the diaconate altogether; the Council of Orleans, faced with the fact that the office existed and was ancient, brutally and uncanonically asserted that the only reason why women had been granted “the blessing of the diaconate” was because earlier canon law had been remiss!

Nīmes had apparently disposed of the notion of service at the altar; the following councils simply decree against women exercising any of the diaconal services, in particular their taking what we would today call a pastoral role, intervening in the lives of the congregation and giving advice and help.  But there is no further mention of service at the altar until Lovocatus and Catihernus appear on the scene.

In the light of this vast body of purely Gallic authority against deaconesses[16], it is significant that the Bishops prefer to appeal to dubious and unnamed “Eastern Fathers” to condemn Lovocatus and Catihernus.  They could say, rightly it would seem, that there had never been a “sect” in Gaul in which women served at the altar; even the canons of Nīmes do not contradict that, since they speak of the practice as of something exotic - it happens nescio quo loco, “I don’t know where”, in distant parts.  But when they invoke basically fictitious Eastern condemnations instead of calling on the authority of two centuries of Gaulish councils, there must be a reason.

Now, in 1887 – only thirty years after Macaulay had found it bizarre that the Church of Rome should “even” find some space at all “for female agency” – no Church historian could have conceived that a full sacramental female diaconate could exist, let alone that it had.  That picture is now reversed.  Rituals of consecrations of deacons and deaconesses in the Eastern Church have been discovered in Greek and Syriac documents, and it is clear that, until the eighth century or so, an order of female deaconesses shared regularly in the work of the Church[17].  The office went back as far as the New Testament.  Phoebe is mentioned as a deaconess in Romans 16.1, before any other member of the Church including the rich and important Priscilla and Aquila, whose money supported the Church in Corinth and in whose house it met: it is clear that her “diaconate” was not a mere generic “service” but something of far greater moment to St.Paul’s missionary Church, important enough to place her at the head of the list of people who had helped him in his work.  The Church in the East relied on the work of deaconesses; St.John Chrisostomos, Archbishop of Constantinople, Doctor of the Church, and, to many Christians, as close to being the voice of orthodox faith as any author ever got, had 100 male and 40 female deacons serving in his cathedral.

The interpretation seems almost too easy: if the Eastern Church did actually regularly employ large numbers of regularly consecrated female deacons, and if the Bishops practically invent an Eastern precedent, it must mean that Lovocatus and Catihernus were aware of Eastern practice and arguing from it.  It is clear from the content of the letter that some discussion, with charges proffered and refuted, must have preceded it: the Bishops accept (without altering their position one millimetre) that the presbyters’ portable altars were in fact consecrated by priests, which means that at a previous stage of the debate they had been under the impression that they were not consecrated at all.  In fact, the letter seems to me intended as the last word.  Lovocatus and Catihernus are denied any time to argue: they are to change their practices forthwith, as soon as the letter is received, or else they will be excommunicated and probably condemned to death (…and hand you over to Satan in the death of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved).  Even in Gaul’s barbarous sixth century, men would not be threatened with the death penalty without any previous warning.  And if that is the case, there is another item, apart from the incorrect reference to “Eastern Fathers”, that suggests bad faith on the Bishops’ part: namely, that according to Gregory of Tours, Licinius at least had travelled extensively in the East[18] - this is practically the only thing Gregory says of him - and must have been quite aware of Eastern practices.  It follows that, in my view, his ferocious onslaught on Lovocatus and Catihernus’ deaconesses is consciously at odds with features of Church life known to himself.  This is not too distant from the brutalities of the Council of Orleans, consciously rejecting earlier canon law.

Socially, it is quite clear that the tribal Britons to whom Lovocatus and Catihernus minister have nothing like the dominant position they seem to have acquired when, by the time of Gregory of Tours, the Bishop of Vannes refers to them as “our masters”.  The Bishops speak with disdain of their capanas or huts – a plebeian word for a plebeian thing: in classical Latin a hut is a casa or tugurium – and the whole tone is different.  One thing with which the Bishops do not charge them is notoriety: their influence does not spread beyond the capanas.  There is no sense that the eccentric practices of Lovocatus and Catihernus could have any influence beyond their misguided flock, let alone that any power or threat attaches to this embryonic Celtic Church; the fact that the two priests are confidently threatened with death shows clearly enough that political power is in the hands of their enemies.

The only threat perceived is that of corruption, and the corruption in question is utterly local.  It is because they themselves are doing something that the Bishops see as horrible and sinful, that the Bishops threaten the presbyters with excommunication and death.  Nothing in the letter suggests that the Britons might serve as a bad example to the wider Gaulish Church.  They are indeed charged with shocking the “people” with their bad practices; but the only “people this refers to is the “people” they themselves minister to.  It is the very existence of the practice that, in the view of Licinius, Eustochius and Melanius, stains the Church unbearably.

Indeed, one suspects that the British community in question was so separated from the Gallo-Romans that any chance of contamination would have been indeed remote.  The best, or least bad, explanation for the Bishops’ condemnation of the two presbyters’ portable altars is that they made use of them not as an emergency measure, but as a regular feature of their service, celebrating Mass not in a regularly consecrated church building, but in selected dwellings of their lay flock – no doubt, those of the most socially prominent among them.  This turned this British church in on itself, allowing only members of the British community, probably dependent on their chieftains, into ceremonies held probably in the homes of those same chieftains.  The Bishops’ overriding goal is to break down the peculiarities of Lovocatus and Catihernus’ practice and force them into the Gallo-Roman mould; it can be seen that to regularly celebrate only for the social circle of the British settlers themselves, in ways that only reinforce the hold of the most socially prominent of them over the rest, would not tend to open the community to other influences.

But this insular – in every sense of the word – community seems to have been more open to the farther reaches of orthodox Christianity (there is no trace of heretical teaching in what Lovocatus and Catihernus do – the problem is all with practice, not with doctrine) than the narrow-minded metropolitan of Tours.  Licinius and his colleagues certainly did not write good Latin; as for their knowledge of Church history and doctrine, they may not have been as ignorant as the letter makes them sound, since they were clearly bent on twisting every fact available to them – that is, their ignoring of the Gallic rulings against deaconesses and their extraordinary treatment of the Pepuzians are evidence not of ignorance but of purpose.  For all we know, they may have been perfectly conscious that the Pepuzians had a sacrificing female presbyterate, not just a diaconate; but the least that we can say is that if that is the case, they did not show unblemished polemical methods in deliberately using an irrelevant case to condemn their opponents and threaten them with the two most terrible punishments, excommunication and death.

From the point of view of history, what may be got from the Letter is that the British community was probably small and poorly regarded.  That is, it was at a low ebb both as compared with the role of the British of Rigocatus and Rigothamus forty years earlier, who were able to occupy and defend Gaul up to the Loire, and with that of Gregory eighty years later, when the British were the almost unchallenged masters in the Armorican peninsula.  On the other hand, the Letter is the first evidence we have of British Celtic settlement anywhere near Armorica.  However, the names of the Roman bishops of Vannes and Nantes are missing from the address, and, while the presence of the metropolitan of Tours – who was set over the whole of Armorica – is understandable, the bishop of Angers had little to do with the historic bounds of Brittany.  The grouping of these three bishoprics, Tours, Rennes and Angers, suggests the old fighting grounds of the war of the Loire; and I would therefore suggest that the communities of Lovocatus and Catihernus were remnants of the vast British forces settled in those days to defend the river.  Their political power and prestige seems to have been extremely small; it is probably not a coincidence that the Letter was, by the best estimate, written in the years of Clovis’ triumph, when the newly converted Franks were sweeping Gaul clear of Arians and other enemies with the warm approval of the bishops.

The knowledge of Eastern practices shown by Lovocatus and Catihernus, however, reminds us of Britain’s close seaborne contact with the Greek East, abundantly proved by archaeology, and, indirectly, by the evident influence of the Eastern Church on the Irish (the Eastern features often noticed in Irish monasticism, and Eastern texts like Enoch and The Ascension of Moses, known nowhere else in the Latin West but popular in the East, must have come to Ireland in the keels of Eastern traders, together with the wine whose "combed amphorae" have been found in Cork); and this, in turn, suggests that this community, however visibly diminished and weak as compared both to earlier and to later British presences in Gaul, was still close to Britain, sharing its religious and cultural experiences.  This, in turn, suggests a political subtext to the violent clash of the presbyters and the bishops, with a pro-Frankish Gallo-Roman ecclesiastical authority trying to subdue an isolated British community that still looks across the sea to Britain, and perhaps, beyond Britain, to the Roman East.  Of course, such a political subtext is extremely far from explaining everything: the threat of excommunication and death is something that goes far beyond mere squabbles for control, and can only be explained by the savage disgust of the bishops at the very thought of women around the altar, that dreadful thought that distorts their Latin and makes them twist both argument and evidence rather than tolerate it.


This chapter has unavoidably passed over from the past into the hottest of modern ecclesiastical hot potatoes, namely the ordination of women.  After making statements that are directly relevant to the lives of contemporary Christians and to the opposing viewpoints to which they are all, from the highest (I mean the Pope) to the lowest, committed, I cannot for shame let the matter as it is.  It is necessary to make a statement of my views.

The existence of fully consecrated women deacons in the Eastern church, at a time in which it was in full communion with the Church of Rome and indeed its liveliest part, is in my view a proven fact.  If people want to deny that it goes back as far as Romans 16.1, they may, but that is hardly the best reading of the passage.  The point is however that a fully sacramental ritual of consecration of deaconesses, parallel in every respect with the ritual for their male counterparts, is known from more than one Eastern source at a time when Catholic unity was undoubted, and when the validity of the ordination of the bishops who ordained the deaconesses cannot be impugned.

Historically, the Eastern church never went beyond the ordination of deaconesses and refused explicitly or implicitly to even consider presbyteral ordination; and it was perhaps able to mentally separate the two grades.  It is quite possible that it was deepening reflection on the theological nature of the priesthood that drove first the Western and then the Eastern churches to suppress the female diaconate, since it was becoming clearer and clearer that a basic unity underlay the three grades of ordination, and that a female diaconate might imply the possibility of a female presbyterate and episcopate.

Personally I can’t stand people such as John Wijngaards, with their minds stuffed with “progressive” clichés and dead English (he is the kind of person who says that “women have to battle against prejudice”; that verb “battle” being the vilest kind of journalistic dead talk); but I cannot see how anyone who understands theology and Church history can escape the logic of his argument.  The sacrament of Holy Orders has three levels: diaconate, presbyterate, episcopate.  “Any one who receives any of the three is consecrated to the ministerial priesthood, as the Council of Trent defined it”.  Holy Orders, like Baptism and Confirmation, is a sacrament that alters the very being of the person who receives it, and cannot be unmade, even retrospectively; which is why a priest who wants to be unfrocked has to follow a procedure many find humiliating, to admit that he never meant the vows he pronounced in the first place, and that therefore his ordination had a vice of form.  No Church authority can make a person who was validly ordained be, in any way, retrospectively deprived of the sacrament.  The Council of Trent thunders: “If anyone says that, through sacred ordination, the Holy Spirit is not given, and therefore that bishop says in vain, Receive the Holy Spirit… let him be anathema”.

The Church cannot disregard the internal logic of its own law, let alone of the theology according to which it has to live.  It – the universal Church, before division, before schism, before mutual hatred – has ordained and recognized what I heard opponents call "priestesses".  It – the Catholic Church at Trent, irremovably confident that it was still that same undivided universal Church – has proclaimed that the Holy Spirit was passed in the act of ordination.  In other words, women have received the Holy Spirit.  It is just because I am theologically conservative, a detester of fashions and fads, a firm supporter of the supernatural nature of the Church, that I say that it cannot for shame turn its back on facts and pretend, like a scurvy politician, that it has not done what it has.

I believe that there is no bar to women consecrating the Body and Blood.  The very institution of the priesthood is not the result of the direct action of Christ, but of his delegation of authority "to bind and to loose" to Peter, who incarnates the authority of the Church.  I believe this means that the authority of the Church can, within limits of doctrine, organize and run things as it sees fit, and that Jesus left no guidelines for organization at all.  I think it is within the authority of the Church to ordain women if it so decides.

The strongest argument against the ordination of women in the modern world is that it is tainted.  The Swedish Lutheran Church was the first major body of any kind to ordain women, and it did not do so of its own free will, but under the orders of a Social Democrat and presumably largely atheist parliament.  From Sweden the fashion for women spread, like many other fashions of the sixties and seventies - from sex to unadorned furniture – in concentric circles across Europe and North America; Italy’s ancient Waldensian Church, that predated the Reformation, received its first female ministers in the sixties.  I am in favour of a married clergy, of the ordination of women, and for that matter of ordained married women; but I would rather have another thousand years of unmarried male priests, than that the Church were forced to change its constitution by anything but its own unforced decision on the issues.  I think it was a black day for any Christian, male or female, when the Swedish Parliament forced its will on the Swedish Lutheran Church, for whatever reason; I think it was just as black a day when the nastiest kind of self-righteous demand-maker fell upon the Anglican entity and forced, with a concerted propaganda campaign, to accept women ministers by political means.

But in my view, the reason why the Church must now make up its mind on an issue it simply did not occur to her to tackle before is here now, and it has nothing to do with Swedish sixties fashions.  It has, however, plenty to do with Communist sixties persecution.  The case of the women ordained by an underground Czech bishop who had been authorized by the Vatican to take what emergency measures he felt right to preserve the Church involve the whole Church in a matter of sacramental validity.  Quite simply, if those women were not validly ordained, then the sacraments delivered in conditions of heroic secrecy and intense danger to underground Catholics who relied on them for the grace of sacraments are invalid too; the holy oils given to the dying are invalid; and hundreds if not thousands of Czechs who have struggled to stay faithful in the grimmest circumstances have worse than wasted their efforts.  I am convinced that they were, and that all the heroic believers of the catacombs have lived and died with valid sacraments.  It does not, in this respect, matter much whether the unfortunate Czech faithful in question have received grace by means of their faith even if their sacraments were invalid.  That is, it matters to them, but not to the Church.

This, in my view, is an issue worthy of a Council, and indeed only the consensus of a whole Ecumenical Council could legitimately decide on it.  The Pope has rightly declined to solve the matter ex Cathedra, doing, perhaps, the right thing for the wrong reasons: his view was that the Infallibility vested in the whole Church has pronounced against the ordination of women.  I speak as a historian when I say that it has done nothing of the kind.  Of course, too, if once a Council had pronounced in favour - or indeed against - the ordination of women, then the Church could face any schism with a clean conscience.  Meanwhile, the "ordained women" of the former Czechoslovakia would do many people in the Church a big favour if they would only form a schism and - in the American sense of the word - split; by not doing so, by stubbornly staying within the Church, they bear witness to their own belief in their legitimacy.

Finally, I have heard an intelligent opponent caricature the opposition view - which is largely my view - by describing it as, and I quote, “Jesus was 'simply' an ordinary man of his time - though a very gifted and 'spiritual' one to be sure - a total product of His environment - and that was a patriarchal and misogynistic one”. No; I think it is perfectly possible to argue that Jesus was God in the full conscience of being God, and that he still set up the organization of the Church, not as a perfect model that would function in the same way always, but as something that would work in His time, and that was not meant to be, organizationally, unchanged. If it was otherwise, the Church would still be ruled by 12 Apostles and 70 Disciples. And yes, in Jesus' environment and time, a woman preacher would have got considerably less than nowhere: she would have discredited the whole movement she belonged to. Men, and especially Jewish men, would not have stopped for a minute to listen to her teachings; and as the whole duty laid on the shoulders of Apostles and Disciples was: "Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" - I think it is simply obvious that, short of continued miracle, such a commission COULD NOT be given to a woman in the Roman age; perhaps less at that time than at almost any time in the history of the world.

Paul's attitude is characteristic, and it must be noticed that the Church has calmly dropped his demand that women should be silent in the congregation, for to them it was not permitted to speak. Indeed, it is fairly certain that it was not observed even in his time, for Philip the Evangelist had four daughters who were all prophetesses (Acts 21) and it is on record that among the faithful (explicitly not only the Apostles) who were gathered in Jerusalem and received the Holy Spirit, there were the Blessed Virgin and "the women", meaning surely all the women who were prominent in the first Church, and whose names we sometimes encounter in the Gospels. The Spirit was given to them as well; yet the moment when it is a matter of speaking to a large crowd of unbelieving Jews, it is only the men – and in particular their leader, Peter - who speak. To anyone familiar with the time, the place and the spirit of it, this is simply obvious; in all my Classical and Biblical reading, I do not think I have come across a single case in which a woman made a speech in a public place - except for the wicked Queen Clytemnestra in Aeschylus' Agamemnon, as she is preparing to murder her legitimate husband and lord and put an usurper in his place. But this is nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with the social habits (and, indeed, the inheritance laws) of Romans, Greeks and Jews.

I think that the fact that Philip's four daughters were prophetesses says a lot, for as far as I can see, unlike apostles and later bishops and presbyters, prophets - as an office in the early Church - spoke only to the already converted. They spoke as it were in code, from a viewpoint and within categories that only Christians were expected to receive and understand. I therefore suggest that women were generally held to be able to speak within the congregation, among the converted, but not outside, in what moderns would call the real world. If I am correct, among other things, it would explain why it is frequently held that contemporary Jews and Pagans tended to find the attitudes of the Christians to their women, not too rigid, but too loose. In fact, the horror of pagans at the idea of men and women sitting down together at the agape and sharing sacred things was such that they immediately turned it into a legend of depravity and perverted lust: to them, such things were the reverse of all accepted standards. (Eighteen hundred years later, Macaulay was to praise the "policy" of the "Church of Rome" in that "even for female agency she finds a place". In that even there is all the difference between that century and this.)


[1]This is part of a visibly insular attitude among British writers on these subjects (late Roman Britain, the rise of Wales and England, etc.). Many books in the field tend to cover all insular events and evidence. I know, for instance, one work about Celtic church history that includes even the Northumbrian saints - on the ground that they were closely connected with Iona - but has nothing whatsoever to say about Breton saints. This attitude I find mindless and self-damaging, since much of our best evidence - including several manuscripts of Gildas and most Arthurian legends - come one way or another from Brittany. Morris, at least, can be exonerated from this charge, although his chapters on Brittany contain some of his most enormous freaks.

[2]Dominis beatissimis et in Cristo fratribus Lovocato et Catiherno presbyteris, Licinius, Melanius et Eustochius episcopi.

[3]Note the presence of the word ciues to define a non-Roman, Celtic British ethnic group, clearly according to the same usage as Gildas.

[4]Uiri uenerabilis Sparati presbyteri relatione cognouimus, quod gestantes quasdam tabulas per diuersorum ciuium uestrorum capanas circumferre non desinatis; et missas ibidem adhibitis mulieribus in sacrificio diuino, quas conhospitas nominastis, facere praesumatis, sic ut erogantibus uobis Eucharistiam, illae uobis positis Calices teneant et Sanguinem Christi populo administrare.

[5]Cuius rei nouitas et inaudita superstitio nos non leuiter contristauit, ut tam horrenda secta, quae intra Gallias numquam fuisse probatur, nostris temporibus uideatur emergere; quam patres orientales Pepondianam uocant, pro eo quod Pepondius auctor huius schismatis fuerit et mulieres sibi in Sacrificio habere praesumpserit, praecipientes ut quicumque huic errori uoluerit inhaerere a communione ecclesiastica reddatur extraneus.


[7]Qua de re caritatem uestram in Christi amore pro ecclesiae unitate et fidei catholicae [societate] inprimis credidimus admonendam, obsecrantes ut cum ad uos nostra peruenerit pagina litterarum, repentina de praedictis rebus emendatio subsequatur; id de antedictis tabulis, quas a presbyteris non dubitamus (ut dicitis) consecratas, et de mulieribus ills quas conhospitas dicitis; quae nuncupatio non sine quodam tremore dicitur animi uel auditur, quod clerum infamat, et sancat in religione tam detestandum nomen pudorem incutit et horrorem.

[8]This, also, is incoherent; the Bishops forget to say that this ruling is to be applied to clergymen, and end up speaking as if any male Christian under their jurisdiction should not live with any woman “except for a mother, grandmother, sister, or niece”! And all they had to do to avoid falling into nonsense, would have been to add the word presbyterus after si quis… Every time they speak of the conhospites, the Bishops’ Latin goes to pieces.

[9]Idcirco secundum statuta Patrum caritati uestrae praecepimus ut non solum huiuscemodi mulierculae Sacramenta Diuina pro inlicita administratione non polluantur, sed etiam praeter matrem, auiam, sororem uel neptem intra tectum cellulae suae si quis ad cohabitandum habere uoluerit, canonum sententia a sacrosanctae liminibus ecclesiae arceantur.

[10]Conuenit itaque uobis, fratres carissimi, ut si ita est ut ad nos de supradicto peruenit negotio, emendationem celerrimam exhibere, quia pro salute animarum et pro aedificatione populi res ab ecclesiastico ordine tam turpiter deprauatas uelocite expedit emendare; ut nec uos pertinacitas huius obstinationis ad maiorem confusionem exhibeat, nec nobis necesse sit cum uirga ad uos uenire apostolica, si caritatem renuitis, et tradere Satanae in interitu carnis, ut spiritus possit saluari.

[11]Hoc est tradere Satanae: cum ab ecclesiastico grege pro crimine suo quisquis erit separatus, non dubitet se a daemonibus tamquam lupis rapacis deuorandum.

[12]Readers unfamiliar with Church terminology should know that one of the ways to speak of the Church is as a single body, of whom the single believers are the limbs or “members”. It is from this that comes the usage “member” of a club, society, team, etc. What the Bishops are saying is that the harsh Gospel sentence “if thine eye offend thee, cut it off” applies also to the Church as a body, and that therefore scandalous “members” can and should be ripped out of it.

[13]Similiter et euangelica commonemur sententia, ubi ait “Si nos nostra scandalizauerint membra…”, quicumque in ecclesia catholica haeresim intromittit. Ideo facilius est unum membrum qui totam commaculat ecclesiam ascidatur, quam totam ecclesiam in interitu deducatur.

[14]Sufficiat uobis haec pauca quae de multis praediximus; date opera multa communione caritatis, et uiam regiam, qua paululum deuiastis, auidissima intentione ingredi procuretis, ut et uos fructum de oboedientia capiatis, et nos uos perorationem nostram congaudeamus esse saluandos.

[15]Lovocat et Catihern, in Revue de Bretagne et de Vendée 57 (1887, third series), pp.5-21.

[16] The proceedings of the Council of Nīmes, at least, were known to Licinius’ predecessor St.Martin. SULPICIUS SEVERUS, Dialogues, 2.13, tells how they were revealed to him by an angel…

[17]For all the data that follow – except for the interpretation of Romans 16.1., which is mine – see JOHN WIJNGAARDS, When women were deacons, in The Tablet, 8 May 1999, and

[18]History of the Franks 2.39, 10.31

History of Britain, 407-597 is copyright © 2002, Fabio P. Barbieri. Used with permission.

Comments to: Fabio P. Barbieri

VortigernStudies is copyright © Robert Vermaat 1999-2007. All rights reserved