I am currently going through a church history class (with emphasis on missiological expansion), and have so far found it to be incredibly interesting. In my reading today, I read through a short section on a woman named Marcella (325-410). I found it quite interesting, especially because women are much more rarely mentioned. Here is a summary of her life’s story:
Marcella grew up in Rome. Her home was, for a time, a temporary lodging place for Athanasius, a well-known bishop in Alexandria who was banished five times from Alexandria throughout his life. It is thought that Marcella may have learned much in her early years about God from him.
While still young, Marcella married a wealthy aristocrat. A year later, he died, leaving Marcella with a great amount of wealth. However, she felt called by God to a live of poverty, and she sells nearly everything she has, and gives up her high-class clothes, hairstyles, and makeup for a coarse brown garment. Other young women begin to join her, and form a small society of women dedicated to Bible reading, singing, and serving the poor, and Marcella’s home is opened up as a refuge.
A man named Jerome is later summoned to Marcella’s home by Bishop Damasus in 382. By this time, Marcella was learned in Hebrew and Greek, and her knowledge of the Old and New Testaments was strong. Jerome spent the next 3 years there, translating the Bible into Latin. During that time, Marcella continued to learn much from Jerome, and helped in critiquing his translation.
Marcella’s knowledge of the Bible easily rivaled or exceeded most men of the time, but her humility and submission to men at the time was grounded in Paul’s teachings. Jerome writes of her:
“All that I had gathered by long study and constant meditation, she drank in, learned and possessed, and after I left Rome, she answered any arguments that were put to her about scripture, including obscure and ambiguous inquiries from priests, saying that the answers came from me or another man, even when they were her own, claiming always to be a pupil even when she was teaching, so that she did not seem to injure the male sex because the apostle [Paul] did not permit women to teach.”
Later in 410, in her late-seventies, while still serving the poor from her home, Goths pillaged the city, and they came to Marcella’s home demanding her wealth, which had been sold long ago. Angry about this, they beat her close to death. She is found and taken to a nearby church, but died the following day.
Roman Catholics remember and honor her with the “Feast Day of Saint Marcella” on January 31.