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Early Christian Widows: A Study in Their Social-economic Situation, Support, and Contribution to the Church

ZHAO, YURONG (2024) Early Christian Widows: A Study in Their Social-economic Situation, Support, and Contribution to the Church. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



This research focuses on the subject of early Christian widows mainly in the first two centuries (up to Tertullian) and seeks to explore the questions regarding their social-economic situation, means of support, and their contributions (if any) to the church. Through literary analyses of three different genres of early Christian texts – narrative, instruction, and apologetic texts – which exhibit similar patterns concerning the above questions, some tentative historical conclusions can be drawn, especially in light of the situation of widows in the Roman world and ancient Judaism (which provided a historical and cultural background to Christianity). In terms of the social-economic situation of early Christian widows, this study suggests that the majority of them were poor and vulnerable economically, socially and legally, although there were also well-to-do widows. As for their support, there were mainly three means of support for them – family support from children or other relatives; individual support from friends, benefactors, or patrons; and collective support from the church. The collective support additionally indicates the existence of centralised church funds through pooling of resources from the whole Christian community. Despite their poverty and vulnerability, widows in the early church should not be stereotyped as merely passive recipients of support. They played an active role in church ministry and contributed to the Christian community in various ways, such as prayer and intercession, hospitality, charity, patronage, nursing children (i.e., orphans), looking after the sick, and visiting the imprisoned. In addition, their purity and celibacy represented the peak of Christian commitment, as indicated by people’s reference to them as the ‘altar’ of God. And the establishment of the ‘order’ of widows further highlights their particular status in the early church.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:contribution, early church, social-economic, support, widows
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Theology and Religion, Department of
Thesis Date:2024
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:02 Feb 2024 09:08

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