Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Vatican Secret Archives

Today I was brought into the Vatican Secret Archives where the collections of ancient figures are kept.  I was allowed to view an immense portfolio of etchings by the Dutch painter Abraham Bloemart, among them were portraits of Melania Senior and Junior, as well as other saints I've been studying, Jerome, Fabiola, Marcella, Eustochium and Olympias.  This afternoon in the revised edition of A to Z of Ancient Greek and Roman Women by Margorie and Benjamin Lightman, I learned exactly how many of these women are related to one another.  Patrician families of fourth century Rome were a convoluted mix of highly regarded pagans in the Roman court and Christian converts called to the ascetic way of life.  This call was handed down from generation to generation through the women in the family.  Albina, Melania, Marcella, Paula all had elder relatives of the same name who inspired their call to consecrated themselves to Christ.   Paula the Elder married Toxotius and gave birth to Blesilla, Paulina, Eustochium, Rufina and Paula the Younger.  When she was widowed, Paula the Elder took up the ascetic way of life, as did all of her daughters either as virgins or widows.  Paula the Elder had one son named Toxotius (after his father) who married Marcella’s niece, Laeta.  Their daughter was Paula the Younger who followed in the footsteps of her grandmother of the same name and took over the management of the monastery in Palestine after the death of Paula the Elder and Eustochium.  Melania the Younger was the second cousin to Paula the Younger and the grandniece of Albina the Younger.  Albina the Elder was the sister of Marcella the Elder and the mother of Marcella the Younger and her sister Asella.  The brother of Albina and Marcella the Elder was the Roman prefect, C. Caeonius Rufus, who married Caecina Lolliana the High Priestess of Isis.  Their son, Caeonius Rufus Albinus, also a Roman prefect, married Lampodia who gave birth to Albina the Younger who married the Roman senator Valerius Publicola.  Melania the Younger was their only child and heir.  What a convoluted family tree!  The point is that, in addition to the influence of priests like Athanasius and Jerome and martyrs like Agnes, this group of women from one large and powerful patrician family were determined to change Roman society.  Sadly, their endeavors were rejected.  The Goths were able to easily sack Rome in 410 precisely because their efforts to transform the dissolute Roman society and the degenerate Roman army were rejected.  The names of these valiant Roman women, Albina, Marcella, Paula and Melania are nearly forgotten in the West, but they are highly venerated as saints in the Eastern Churches that benefited greatly from their resources and witness.