Date of Award

Spring 1989

Document Type

Restricted Thesis

Terms of Use

© 1989 Emily J. Stevens. All rights reserved. Access to this work is restricted to users within the Swarthmore College network and may only be used for non-commercial, educational, and research purposes. Sharing with users outside of the Swarthmore College network is expressly prohibited. For all other uses, including reproduction and distribution, please contact the copyright holder.

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Religion Department

First Advisor

Michael Greenwald


Bishops and presbyters representing the Christian Church in Spain assembled in Elvira at the beginning of the fourth-century, following the termination of persecution in Spain, to address the issues confronting their community. Expanding upon Samuel Laeuchli's interpretation of the council in Power and Sexuality, this paper focuses on canons relating to women. This study is necessitated by the silence of history concerning the lives of women in the past. Analysis of the canons using the historical-critical method permits a feminist historical reconstruction of women's experience in the community.

When viewed as a collective, the canons concerning adultery reveal a disparity in the treatment of male and female adulterers. Close reading of two of these canons uncovers an assumed notion regarding punishment for adultery demonstrating that this disparity originated with the council. This gender-based system is concerned with women's relations within the community and men's relations outside of it.

An examination of marriage in the canons provides insights into the marital relationship and how this is manipulated by the council. The clerics view the husband as the wife's moral guardian. He is culpable if she commits adultery with his knowledge or if he fails to inform the Christian community of her transgression. Guardianship in marriage is even male pronounced in the case of a prostitute who is required to marry, and thus place herself under the supervision of a man before she may be admitted to the community. Marriage for men is a sign of maturity and responsibility, but not of guardianship or dependence.

The council imposes these restrictive and controlling measures because women in the community are acting independently. and of their own initiative. They are meeting in cemeteries at night, most likely to perform ritualistic practices without men. They are also in communication with one another through a network of correspondence. These activities suggest the possibility of an emerging women's community. The clerics perceive the collective and independent activity of women to be a threat to their own authority and act to eliminate women's independent action and to control individual women through the institution of marriage. Regardless of the council's success or failure in this attempt, knowledge of these unnamed women's story can empower women today in their continuing struggle against patriarchal oppression.