Preamble: Read Peter Lampe, Christians at Rome from Paul to Valentinus, 120-122.
Bishop Callistus of Rome (217-22) had a problem. Many women from the Roman upper classes (senatorial and equestrian) had become Christians. However, there was a shortage of male Christians of the same social rank. So these women had a choice: either marry a pagan man of the same social rank or marry a socially inferior Christian.If the women married below their station (plebs, freedman, or slaves) they would forfeit their social status, but if they married a pagan then they would become unevenly yoked which Paul warns against in 1 Cor 6:14. Knowing this Callistus wanted to stop mixed marriages with pagans and prevent the social decline of women. So Callistus allowed Christian women to marry slaves in their household, in marriages recognized by the church but not by the state.
So here’s the question.
You are a presbyter in Rome in 220. A woman of equatorial rank named Livia has married her long time slave now freedman Markus. Both of Livia’s parents are dead, she has no surviving siblings, as the materfamilias of her house she has authority over freedmen, slaves, and two teenage cousins from Calpurnia. The family derives income from plantations in Sicily and slaves employed as artisans in Rome which she administers. She is happily married in a church sanctioned marriage with Markus and is expecting their first child. However, they are confused. Livia is the materfamilias of the household due to her rank and owing to her husband being a social inferior who cannot be the paterfamilias. Yet they have recently heard a sermon on Eph 5:22-33 where it seems to assume that the household head is the husband. They want to know, how does the household code apply to their situation?
What do you say?