Hi brethren, I'm posting 2 section from Philip Schaff's book, 'History of the
Christian Church,' which he wrote in 1882. The 2 sections are about the
contrasting lives of the heathen & Christian marriages, treatment of women,
family life, etc. He gleaned this from the writings of the early church
fathers, as well as some heathen (mostly Roman) writers. I hope you enjoy it.
                                                        Herm Weiss
                                        Part 1

 Â§ 98. The Heathen Family.

In ancient Greece and Rome the state was the highest object of life, and the
only virtues properly recognized—wisdom, courage, moderation, and
justice—were political virtues. Aristotle makes the state, that is the
organized body of free citizens632 (foreigners and slaves are excluded),
precede the family and the individual, and calls man essentially a "political
animal."  In Plato’s ideal commonwealth the state is everything and owns
everything, even the children.

This political absolutism destroys the proper dignity and rights of the
individual and the family, and materially hinders the development of the
domestic and private virtues. Marriage was allowed no moral character, but
merely a political import for the preservation of the state, and could not be
legally contracted except by free citizens. Socrates, in instructing his son
concerning this institution, tells him, according to Xenophon, that we select
only such wives as we hope will yield beautiful children. Plato recommends
even community of women to the class of warriors in his ideal republic, as
the best way to secure vigorous citizens. Lycurgus, for similar reasons,
encouraged adultery under certain circumstances, requiring old men to lend
their young and handsome wives to young and strong men.

Woman was placed almost on the same level with the slave. She differs,
indeed, from the slave, according to Aristotle, but has, after all, really no
will of her own, and is hardly capable of a higher virtue than the slave.
Shut up in a retired apartment of the house, she spent her life with the
slaves. As human nature is essentially the same in all ages, and as it in
never entirely forsaken by the guidance of a kind Providence, we must
certainly suppose that female virtue was always more or less maintained and
appreciated even among the heathen. Such characters as Penelope, Nausicaa,
Andromache, Antigone, Iphigenia, and Diotima, of the Greek poetry and
history, bear witness of this. Plutarch’s advice to married people, and his
letter of consolation to his wife after the death of their daughter, breathe
a beautiful spirit of purity and affection. But the general position assigned
to woman by the poets, philosophers, and legislators of antiquity, was one of
social oppression and degradation. In Athens she was treated as a minor
during lifetime, and could not inherit except in the absence of male heirs.
To the question of Socrates: "Is there any one with whom you converse less
than with the wife?" his pupil, Aristobulus, replies: "No one, or at least
very few."  If she excelled occasionally, in Greece, by wit and culture, and,
like Aspasia, Phryne, Laïs, Theodota, attracted the admiration and courtship
even of earnest philosophers like Socrates, and statesmen like Pericles, she
generally belonged to the disreputable class of the hetaerae or amicae. In
Corinth they were attached to the temple of Aphrodite, and enjoyed the
sanction of religion for the practice of vice.633  These dissolute women were
esteemed above housewives, and became the proper and only representatives of
some sort of female culture and social elegance. To live with them openly was
no disgrace even for married men.634  How could there be any proper
conception and abhorrence of the sin of licentiousness and adultery, if the
very gods, a Jupiter, a Mars, and a Venus, were believed to be guilty of
those sins!  The worst vices of earth were transferred to Olympus.

Modesty forbids the mention of a still more odious vice, which even depraved
nature abhors, which yet was freely discussed and praised by ancient poets
and philosophers, practiced with neither punishment nor dishonor, and
likewise divinely sanctioned by the example of Apollo and Hercules, and by
the lewdness of Jupiter with Ganymede.635

The Romans were originally more virtuous, domestic, and chaste, as they were
more honest and conscientious, than the Greeks. With them the wife was
honored by the title domina, matrona, materfamilias. At the head of their
sacerdotal system stood the flamens of Jupiter, who represented marriage in
its purity, and the vestal virgins, who represented virginity. The Sabine
women interceding between their parents and their husbands, saved the
republic; the mother and the wife of Coriolanus by her prayers averted his
wrath, and raised the siege of the Volscian army; Lucretia who voluntarily
sacrificed her life to escape the outrage to her honor offered by king
Tarquin, and Virginia who was killed by her father to save her from slavery
and dishonor, shine in the legendary history of Rome as bright examples of
unstained purity. But even in the best days of the republic the legal status
of woman was very low. The Romans likewise made marriage altogether
subservient to the interest of the state, and allowed it in its legal form to
free citizens alone. The proud maxims of the republic prohibited even the
legitimate nuptials of a Roman with a foreign queen; and Cleopatra and
Berenice were, as strangers, degraded to the position of concubines of Mark
Antony and Titus. According to ancient custom the husband bought his bride
from her parents, and she fulfilled the coëmption by purchasing, with three
pieces of copper, a just introduction to his house and household deities. But
this was for her simply an exchange of one servitude for another. She became
the living property of a husband who could lend her out, as Cato lent his
wife to his friend Hortensius, and as Augustus took Livia from Tiberius
Nero."  Her husband or master, says Gibbon,636 "was invested with the
plenitude of paternal power. By his judgment or caprice her behavior was
approved or censured, or chastised; he exercised the jurisdiction of life and
death; and it was allowed, that in cases of adultery or drunkenness, the
sentence might be properly inflicted. She acquired and inherited for the sole
profit of her lord; and so clearly was woman defined, not as a person, but as
a thing, that, if the original title were deficient, she might be claimed
like other movables, by the use and possession of an entire year."

Monogamy was the rule both in Greece and in Rome, but did not exclude
illegitimate connexions. Concubinage, in its proper legal sense, was a sort
of secondary marriage with a woman of servile or plebeian extraction,
standing below the dignity of a matron and above the infamy of a prostitute.
It was sanctioned and regulated by law; it prevailed both in the East and the
West from the age of Augustus to the tenth century, and was preferred to
regular marriage by Vespasian, and the two Antonines, the best Roman
emperors. Adultery was severely punished, at times even with sudden
destruction of the offender; but simply as an interference with the rights
and property of a free man. The wife had no legal or social protection
against the infidelity of her husband. The Romans worshipped a peculiar
goddess of domestic life; but her name Viriplaca, the appeaser of husbands,
indicates her partiality. The intercourse of a husband with the slaves of his
household and with public prostitutes was excluded from the odium and
punishment of adultery. We say nothing of that unnatural abomination alluded
to in Rom. 1:26, 27, which seems to have passed from the Etruscans and Greeks
to the Romans, and prevailed among the highest as well as the lowest classes.
The women, however, were almost as corrupt as their husbands, at least in the
imperial age. Juvenal calls a chaste wife a "rara avis in terris."  Under
Augustus free-born daughters could no longer be found for the service of
Vesta, and even the severest laws of Domitian could not prevent the six
priestesses of the pure goddess from breaking their vow. The pantomimes and
the games of Flora, with their audacious indecencies, were favorite
amusements."  The unblushing, undisguised obscenity of the Epigrams of
Martial, of the Romances of Apuleius and Petronius, and of some of the
Dialogues of Lucian, reflected but too faithfully the spirit of their

Divorce is said to have been almost unknown in the ancient days of the Roman
republic, and the marriage tie was regarded as indissoluble. A senator was
censured for kissing his wife in the presence of their daughter. But the
merit of this virtue is greatly diminished if we remember that the husband
always had an easy outlet for his sensual passions in the intercourse with
slaves and concubines. Nor did it outlast the republic. After the Punic war
the increase of wealth and luxury, and the influx of Greek and Oriental
licentiousness swept away the stern old Roman virtues. The customary civil
and religious rites of marriage were gradually disused; the open community of
life between persons of similar rank was taken as sufficient evidence of
their nuptials; and marriage, after Augustus, fell to the level of any
partnership, which might be dissolved by the abdication of one of the
associates. "Passion, interest, or caprice," says Gibbon on the imperial age,
"suggested daily, motives for the dissolution of marriage; a word, a sign, a
message, a letter, the mandate of a freedman, declared the separation; the
most tender of human connections was degraded to a transient society of
profit or pleasure."638

Various remedies were tardily adopted as the evil spread, but they proved
inefficient, until the spirit of Christianity gained the control of public
opinion and improved the Roman legislation, which, however, continued for a
long time to fluctuate between the custom of heathenism and the wishes of the
church. Another radical evil of heathen family life, which the church had to
encounter throughout the whole extent of the Roman Empire, was the absolute
tyrannical authority of the parent over the children, extending even to the
power of life and death, and placing the adult son of a Roman citizen on a
level with the movable things and slaves, "whom the capricious master might
alienate or destroy, without being responsible to any earthly tribunal."

With this was connected the unnatural and monstrous custom of exposing poor,
sickly, and deformed children to a cruel death, or in many cases to a life of
slavery and infamy-a custom expressly approved, for the public interest, even
by a Plato, an Aristotle, and a Seneca!  "Monstrous offspring," says the
great Stoic philosopher, "we destroy; children too, if born feeble and
ill-formed, we drown. It is not wrath, but reason, thus to separate the
useless from the healthy."  "The exposition of children"—to quote once more
from Gibbon—"was the prevailing and stubborn vice of antiquity: it was
sometimes prescribed, often permitted, almost always practised with impunity
by the nations who never entertained the Roman ideas of paternal power; and
the dramatic poets, who appeal to the human heart, represent with
indifference a popular custom which was palliated by the motives of economy
and compassion .... The Roman Empire was stained with the blood of infants,
till such murders were included, by Valentinian and his colleagues, in the
letter and spirit of the Cornelian law. The lessons of jurisprudence and
Christianity had been insufficient to eradicate this inhuman practice, till
their gentle influence was fortified by the terrors of capital punishment."639


                                        Part 2

 Â§ 99. The Christian Family.

Such was the condition of the domestic life of the ancient world, when
Christianity, with its doctrine of the sanctity of marriage, with its
injunction of chastity, and with its elevation of woman from her half-slavish
condition to moral dignity and equality with man, began the work of a silent
transformation, which secured incalculable blessings to generations yet
unborn. It laid the foundation for a well-ordered family life. It turned the
eye from the outward world to the inward sphere of affection, from the
all-absorbing business of politics and state-life into the sanctuary of home;
and encouraged the nurture of those virtues of private life, without which no
true public virtue can exist. But, as the evil here to be abated,
particularly the degradation of the female sex and the want of chastity, was
so deeply rooted and thoroughly interwoven in the whole life of the old
world, this ennobling of the family, like the abolition of slavery, was
necessarily a very slow process. We cannot wonder, therefore, at the high
estimate of celibacy, which in the eyes of many seemed to be the only radical
escape from the impurity and misery of married life as it generally stood
among the heathen. But, although the fathers are much more frequent and
enthusiastic in the praise of virginity than in that of marriage, yet their
views on this subject show an immense advance upon the moral standard of the
greatest sages and legislators of Greece and Rome.

Chastity before marriage, in wedlock, and in celibacy, in man as well as in
woman, so rare in paganism, was raised to the dignity of a cardinal virtue
and made the corner-stone of the family. Many a female martyr preferred cruel
torture and death to the loss of honor. When St. Perpetua fell half dead from
the horns of a wild bull in the arena, she instinctively drew together her
dress, which had been torn in the assault. The acts of martyrs and saints
tell marvellous stories, exaggerated no doubt, yet expressive of the ruling
Christian sentiment, about heroic resistance to carnal temptation, the sudden
punishment of unjust charges of impurity by demoniacal possession or instant
death, the rescue of courtesans from a life of shame and their radical
conversion and elevation even to canonical sanctity.640  The ancient councils
deal much with carnal sins so fearfully prevalent, and unanimously condemn
them in every shape and form. It is true, chastity in the early church and by
the unanimous consent of the fathers was almost identified with celibacy, as
we shall see hereafter; but this excess should not blind us to the immense
advance of patristic over heathen morals.

Woman was emancipated, in the best sense of the term, from the bondage of
social oppression, and made the life and light of a Christian home. Such pure
and heroic virgins as the martyred Blandina, and Perpetua, and such devoted
mothers as Nonna, Anthusa, and Monica, we seek in vain among the ancient
Greek and Roman maidens and matrons, and we need not wonder that the heathen
Libanius, judging from such examples as the mother of his pupil Chrysostom,
reluctantly exclaimed: "What women have these Christians!"  The schoolmen of
the middle ages derived from the formation of woman an ingenious argument for
her proper position: Eve was not taken from the feet of Adam to be his slave,
nor from his head to be his ruler, but from his side to be his beloved

At the same time here also we must admit that the ancient church was yet far
behind the ideal set up in the New Testament, and counterbalanced the
elevation of woman by an extravagant over-estimate of celibacy. It was the
virgin far more than the faithful wife and mother of children that was
praised and glorified by the fathers; and among the canonized saints of the
Catholic calendar there is little or no room for husbands and wives, although
the patriarchs, Moses, and some of the greatest prophets (Isaiah, Ezekiel),
and apostles (Peter taking the lead) lived in honorable wedlock.

Marriage was regarded in the church from the beginning as a sacred union of
body and soul for the propagation of civil society, and the kingdom of God,
for the exercise of virtue and the promotion of happiness. It was clothed
with a sacramental or semi-sacramental character on the basis of Paul’s
comparison of the marriage union with the relation of Christ to his
church.642  It was in its nature indissoluble except in case of adultery, and
this crime was charged not only to the woman, but to the man as even the more
guilty party, and to every extra-connubial carnal connection. Thus the wife
was equally protected against the wrongs of the husband, and chastity was
made the general law of the family life.

We have a few descriptions of Christian homes from the ante-Nicene age, one
from an eminent Greek father, another from a married presbyter of the Latin

Clement of Alexandria enjoins upon Christian married persons united prayer
and reading of the Scriptures,643 as a daily morning exercise, and very
beautifully says: "The mother is the glory of her children, the wife is the
glory of her husband, both are the glory of the wife, God is the glory of all

Tertullian, at the close of the book which he wrote to his wife, draws the
following graphic picture, which, though somewhat idealized, could be
produced only from the moral spirit of the gospel and actual experience:645
"How can I paint the happiness of a marriage which the church ratifies, the
oblation (the celebration of the communion) confirms, the benediction seals,
angels announce, the Father declares valid. Even upon earth, indeed, sons do
not legitimately marry without the consent of their fathers. What a union of
two believers—one hope, one vow, one discipline, and one worship!  They are
brother and sister, two fellow-servants, one spirit and one flesh. Where
there is one flesh, there is also one spirit. They pray together, fast
together, instruct, exhort, and support each other. They go together to the
church of God, and to the table of the Lord. They share each other’s
tribulation, persecution, and revival. Neither conceals anything from the
other; neither avoids, neither annoys the other. They delight to visit the
sick, supply the needy, give alms without constraint, and in daily zeal lay
their offerings before the altar without scruple or hindrance. They do not
need to keep the sign of the cross hidden, nor to express slyly their
Christian joy, nor to suppress the blessing. Psalms and hymns they sing
together, and they vie with each other in singing to God. Christ rejoices
when he sees and hears this. He gives them his peace. Where two are together
in his name, there is he; and where he is, there the evil one cannot come."

A large sarcophagus represents a scene of family worship: on the right, four
men, with rolls in their hands, reading or singing; on the left, three women
and a girl playing a lyre.

For the conclusion of a marriage, Ignatius646 required "the consent of the
bishop, that it might be a marriage for God, and not for pleasure. All should
be done to the glory of God."  In Tertullian’s time,647 as may be inferred
from the passage just quoted, the solemnization of marriage was already at
least a religious act, though not a proper sacrament, and was sealed by the
celebration of the holy communion in presence of the congregation. The
Montanists were disposed even to make this benediction of the church
necessary to the validity of marriage among Christians. All noisy and wanton
Jewish and heathen nuptial ceremonies, and at first also the crowning of the
bride, were discarded; but the nuptial ring, as a symbol of union, was

In the catacombs the marriage ceremony is frequently represented by the man
and the woman standing side by side and joining hands in token of close
union, as also on heathen documents. On a gilded glass of the fourth century,
the couple join hands over a small nuptial altar, and around the figures are
inscribed the words (of the priest): "May ye live in God."648

Mixed marriages with heathens and also with heretics, were unanimously
condemned by the voice of the church in agreement with the Mosaic
legislation, unless formed before conversion, in which case they were
considered valid.649  Tertullian even classes such marriages with adultery.
What heathen, asks he, will let his wife attend the nightly meetings of the
church, and the slandered supper of the Lord, take care of the sick even in
the poorest hovels, kiss the chains of the martyrs in prison rise in the
night for prayer, and show hospitality to strange brethren?  Cyprian calls
marriage with an unbeliever a prostitution of the members of Christ. The
Council of Elvira in Spain (306) forbade such mixed marriages on pain of
excommunication, but did not dissolve those already existing. We shall
understand this strictness, if, to say nothing of the heathen marriage rites,
and the wretchedly loose notions on chastity and conjugal fidelity, we
consider the condition of those times, and the offences and temptations which
met the Christian in the constant sight of images of the household gods,
mythological pictures on the walls, the floor, and the furniture; in the
libations at table; in short, at every step and turn in a pagan house.

Second marriage.—From the high view of marriage, and also from an ascetic
over-estimate of celibacy, arose a very, prevalent aversion to re-marriage,
particularly of widows. The Shepherd of Hermas allows this reunion indeed,
but with the reservation, that continuance in single life earns great honor
with the Lord. Athenagoras goes so far as to call the second marriage a
"decent adultery."650

The Montanists and Novatians condemned re-marriage, and made it a subject of

Tertullian came forward with the greatest decision, as advocate of monogamy
against both successive and simultaneous polygamy.651  He thought thus to
occupy the true middle ground between the ascetic Gnostics, who rejected
marriage altogether, and the Catholics, who allowed more than one.652  In the
earlier period of his life, when he drew the above picture of Christian
marriage, before his adoption of Montanism., he already placed a high
estimate on celibacy as a superior grade of Christian holiness, appealing to
1 Cor. 7:9 and advised at least his wife, in case of his death, not to marry
again, especially with a heathen; but in his Montanistic writings, "De
Exhortatione Castitatis" and "De Monogamia," he repudiates second marriage
from principle, and with fanatical zeal contends against it as unchristian,
as an act of polygamy, nay of "stuprum" and "adulterium."  He opposes it with
all sorts of acute argument; now, on the ground of an ideal conception of
marriage as a spiritual union of two souls for time and eternity; now, from
an opposite sensuous view; and again, on principles equally good against all
marriage and in favor of celibacy. Thus, on the one hand, he argues, that the
second marriage impairs the spiritual fellowship with the former partner,
which should continue beyond the grave, which should show itself in daily
intercessions and in yearly celebration of the day of death, and which hopes
even for outward reunion after the resurrection.653  On the other hand,
however, he places the essence of marriage in the communion of flesh,654 and
regards it as a mere concession, which God makes to our sensuality, and which
man therefore should not abuse by repetition. The ideal of the Christian
life, with him, not only for the clergy, but the laity also, is celibacy. He
lacks clear perception of the harmony of the moral and physical elements
which constitutes the essence of marriage; and strongly as he elsewhere
combats the Gnostic dualism, he here falls in with it in his depreciation of
matter and corporeity, as necessarily incompatible with spirit. His treatment
of the exegetical arguments of the defenders of second marriage is
remarkable. The levirate law, he says, is peculiar to the Old Testament
economy. To Rom. 7:2 he replies, that Paul speaks here from the position of
the Mosaic law, which, according to the same passage is no longer binding on
Christians. In 1 Cor. 7, the apostle allows second marriage only in his
subjective, human judgment, and from regard to our sensuous infirmity; but in
the same chapter (1 Cor 7:40) he recommends celibacy to all, and that on the
authority of the Lord, adding here, that he also has the Holy Spirit, i.e.
the principle, which is active in the new prophets of Montanism. The appeal
to 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6, from which the right of laymen to second marriage
was inferred, as the prohibition of it there related only to the clergy, he
met with the doctrine of the universal priesthood of believers, which
admitted them all both to the privileges and to the obligations of priests.
But his reasoning always amounts in the end to this: that the state of
original virgin purity, which has nothing at all to do with the sensual, is
the best. The true chastity consists therefore not in the chaste spirit of
married partners, but in the entire continence of "virgines" and "spadones."
The desire of posterity, he, contrary to the Old Testament, considers
unworthy of a Christian, who, in fact, ought to break away entirely from the
world, and renounce all inheritance in it. Such a morality, forbidding the
same that it allows, and rigorously setting as an ideal what it must in
reality abate at least for the mass of mankind, may be very far above the
heathen level, but is still plainly foreign to the deeper substance and the
world-sanctifying principle of Christianity.

The Catholic church, indeed, kept aloof from this Montanistic extravagance,
and forbade second marriage only to the clergy (which the Greek church does
to this day); yet she rather advised against it, and leaned very decidedly
towards a preference for celibacy, as a higher grade of Christian morality.655

As to the relation of parents and children, Christianity exerted from the
beginning a most salutary influence. It restrained the tyrannical power of
the father. It taught the eternal value of children as heirs of the kingdom
of heaven, and commenced the great work of education on a religious and moral
basis. It resisted with all energy the exposition of children, who were then
generally devoured by dogs and wild beasts, or, if found, trained up for
slavery or doomed to a life of infamy. Several apologists, the author to the
Epistle of Diognetus, Justin Martyr,656 Minutius Felix, Tertullian, and
Arnobius speak with just indignation against this unnatural custom.
Athenagoras declares abortion and exposure to be equal to murder.657  No
heathen philosopher had advanced so far. Lactantius also puts exposure on a
par with murder even of the worst kind, and admits no excuse on the ground of
pity or poverty, since God provides for all his creatures.658  The Christian
spirit of humanity gradually so penetrated the spirit of the age that the
better emperors, from the time of Trajan, began to direct their attention to
the diminution of these crying evils; but the best legal enactments would
never have been able to eradicate them without the spiritual influence of the
church. The institutions and donations of Trajan, Antonins Pius, Septimius
Severus, and private persons, for the education of poor children, boys and
girls, were approaches of the nobler heathen towards the genius of
Christianity. Constantine proclaimed a law in 315 throughout Italy "to turn
parents from using a parricidal hand on their new-born children, and to
dispose their hearts to the best sentiments."  The Christian fathers,
councils, emperors, and lawgivers united their efforts to uproot this
monstrous evil and to banish it from the civilized world.659