Two Cappadocian Mothers, Thecla and Macrina: A Case Study in Humanity, Femininity, and Virginity

A theological study of anthropology includes an examination of women, not only of the gender as a group, but also of particular women. Church history is replete with stories of Christian women who made contributions both to the church and to humanity. Two women of early Cappadocia, Thecla and Macrina the Younger, bequeathed significant legacies to the Christian church. Despite the patriarchal domination of their communities, their stories were recorded, circulated, and preserved for the edification and inspiration of many. Of special significance are their contributions to the rise of eastern monasticism with its emphases on virginity and asceticism.

Before discussing Thecla’s legacy, one must first determine her historicity, for all that is known of her derives from the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla. Despite the fictiveness of the Acts, however, its heroine may have been modeled on a strong female leader of first-century Asia Minor. Furthermore, the question of Thecla’s historicity does not minimize the influence of her Acts on asceticism in the East.

Thecla’s lasting influence in Cappadocia is evident in Macrina’s family, who honored her. Macrina, in fact, was considered by her family to be a second Thecla. Macrina led her family to establish a monastic community in their home. Because her brother Basil became a monastic pioneer, Macrina has been awarded the title of “Mother of Eastern Monasticism.”

Both Thecla and Macrina found a place in their male-dominated world through their commitment to virginity. By choosing celibacy, these women freed themselves from the constraints inherent in marriage and motherhood and, thereby, enabled themselves to become active forces in their communities. Their humanity, expressed through their femininity and virginity, provide a case study for theological anthropology.

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