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Courageous Women: Three Desert Ammas—Theodora, Sarah, and Syncletica

Something like 90% of classical Greek and Roman literature is lost to us. This realization becomes acute, even heartbreaking, when we think of how very little of the little we have is by women. An exception that proves the rule is Plutarch’s “Sayings of Trojan Women,” in the Moralia.2 A unique manuscript of Catullus’ poems survived in a wine jar discovered in a monastery. How many of us would delight—exult—to have the complete poems of Sappho? This attrition continues into early Christianity: Paul names quite a few women in ministry; we have authentic writings by none of them.1 In the New Testament we also have "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.”4 In the decade before or after the turn of the fourth century, Bishop Theophilus of Alexandria ups the ante, even when he, seemingly, has all the chips: “Do you not know that you are a woman? And that because of women the Enemy wages war against the saints?”5

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