Wild Girls in the Carthaginian Church? Cyprian’s De Habitu Virginum

In: Vigiliae Christianae
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  • 1 Department of Art, History, and Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, Culture, and Scientific Inquiry, University of West Georgia2291, Carrollton, Georgia, USA
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Cyprian’s homily De Disciplina et Habitu Virginum presents instructions and warnings about appropriate appearance and behavior for sacred virgins, women who had chosen to remain celibate and dedicate their lives to Christ. While this document has generally been read for its theological and literary merits, I argue for its historical value in reflecting real people and their behavior in the Carthaginian church. If we were to turn our focus from the bishop and his theology to the work’s addressees and their daily lives, what does this homily tell us about the women in the Carthaginian church in the mid-third century? A close analysis of this document complicates the presumed packaging of women’s virginity and asceticism together: while the bishops saw the two as necessary companions, some of the virgins in the early churches did not.

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