A Story that demonstrates a woman in active ministry: Can an early Christian story show a woman as an apostle?

Thecla, believed to have been a disciple and colleague of the apostle Paul, became perhaps “the most celebrated female saint and ‘martyr’ among Christians in late antiquity: One of the most ancient, as she is one of the most illustrious, Saints in the calendar of the early church. Thecla used to be a Saint in the Catholic Church, and is still a Saint in the Byzantine Rite.  “It was at Iconium that St. Paul met St. Thecla, and kindled the love of virginity in her heart. She had been promised in marriage to a young man who was rich and generous. But at the Apostle’s words she died to the thought of earthly espousals; she forgot her beauty; she was deaf to her parents threats, and at the first opportunity she fled from a luxurious home and followed St. Paul.”History tells us St Paul was travelling in Iconium with his two companions, Demas and Hermogenes. They were offered hospitality at one of the houses. Paul was giving a sermon praising virginity, stating that eternal reward awaits anyone who lives a chaste life: “Thecla overheard his sermon from her window and became enamoured by his teaching to the point that she was unable to move from her window for three days and three nights.

Naturally, Paul was arrested for ‘unnatural teachings’ and remanded to prison to await trial. Same night, Thecla bribes the prison guard and visits Paul in this cell to learn more. Her family searches for her and they were enraged when they find her together with Paul. Thecla is condemned at the insistance of her mother by being burned alive in the theatre. She was taken to the theatre, stripped naked and tied to a pole. The pyre was set blazing around her. Miraculously, a hailstorm extinguished the fire and killed many of the observers. Thecla escaped to search for Paul. “Longing for Paul, Thecla dressed as a man and together with a large group of people went to the city of Merou.  Upon finding Paul, she announced that the one who commanded her to preach baptized her.  Paul acknowledged her mission and sent her home to Iconium to continue preaching.  Upon returning to Iconium, she learned that Thamyris had died.  Her mother still had hardened her heart and remained immune to her message.”

St. Thecla soon rejoins St. Paul’s group, committed to spreading the gospels. It is a saying that she left the group to dwell in a cave, living in monastic live and died peacefully at the age of 90. She is regarded by many as the first virgin martyr of the early Church despite the fact that she did not technically die a martyr’s death. Since she courageously faced certain death not once, but at least three times, she certainly shows a marytr’s heoric faith. “Thecla’s fame can be traced quite early in written records,starting at least in the second century ce with the Acts of Paul and Thecla. This work served as the basis for later biographical legends about Thecla, and for the many references to her inascetic treatises and miracle stories from late antiquity. Thecla also became a popular subject for Christian artists: her image is painted on walls, stamped on clay flasks and oil lamps, engravedon bronze crosses, wooden combs, and stone reliefs, etched onto golden glass medallions, and even woven into a textile curtain.By the 4th and 5th centuries, devotion to Saint Thecla waswidespread in the Mediterranean world; from Gaul (modern France) to Palestine, writers and artists extolled her as an exemplary virgin and martyr.”

 Index: Oxford University Press J. Davis Stephen, “The Cult of Saint Thecla”