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Women in Pastoral Office: The Story of Santa Prassede, Rome
Mary M. Schaefer
Oxford University Press, 2013
496 pp., $92.00
Amy L. B. Peeler
Once upon a time in the age of the apostles lived a family in Rome. When Peter came to the Eternal City, he dwelt in the house of the patriarch of this family, a senator, Quintus Cornelius Pudens. Peter led this man and his family to Christ and baptized them. The senator's son, also Pudens, became a friend of Paul when he was imprisoned in Rome (2 Tim. 4:21), and it was Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, who baptized Pudens' wife and children. As an act of commitment to the Way, Pudens the second gave his house to be used as a gathering place for Christians. He raised his daughters, Potentiana and Praxede, in this illustrious Christian household, so it was unsurprising, albeit wonderful, that they followed the traditions of their fathers and dedicated their lives to the service of God's people, embracing even the vows of chastity and poverty.
At ecclesial gatherings held in their ancestral home, the sisters led the people in works of mercy, prayer, and praise. The gospel came in spirit and truth one Easter when Pius, Bishop of Rome, manumitted and baptized 96 slaves there in a font constructed by the sisters. Potentiana, at times called Pudentiana, passed away after 16 years of ministry, and Praxede bestowed her sister's name upon a building on her property. There, in times of persecution, Praxede hid Christians, feeding them with physical and spiritual bread and performing the final act of service when 22 believers were martyred, burying them in the cemetery of her family. Faithfully serving God into her eighties, Praxede was laid to rest there as well.
So ends the story of the woman, but the story of her church was just beginning.
The property of Praxede, located northwest of the pope's seat on the base of the Viminale, came to be known as a titulus, an ecclesially designated space owned by a private family. Archaeological evidence indicates that this private dwelling was used by Christians during the first two centuries ce. Appearing ...