This is an amazingly thorough article with several very helpful references… worth a look!
“The role of women in the “desert father” phenomenon is a major factor. More precisely, the Christian virgin is the subject under consideration. This contingent became substantial in Egypt during the third century, and more particularly in Alexandria. Their renunciation of family commitments gave them opportunity and leisure for study of scripture and other works. This field of “Christian philosophy” attracted literate young women who were frequently of a wealthy background. Modern scholars sometimes refer to the studious tradition in terms of “academic Christianity.”
Alexandrian presbyters continued that tradition into the fourth century, one reason why many virgins supported the heretical Arius in the conflict with Bishop Athanasius. However, other virgins in Alexandria were followers of Athanasius. The latter was intent upon subjugating the “academic” tradition of Alexandria, replacing this with the clerical rules of guidance that seem more like a straitjacket to some recent investigators.
“Athanasius’ effort to separate…
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