Life and Death, Confession and Denial: Birthing Language in the Letter of the Churches of Vienne and Lyons

Stéphanie Machabée


This study analyzes the peculiar language of birth, abortion, and rebirth in the second-century Letter of the Churches of Vienne and Lyons. I argue that the metaphor of birthing, particularly in its relationship to the Virgin Mother, is deemed rhetorically useful by the letter’s author in order to communicate his understanding of what constitutes a true or ‘legitimate’ Christian (that is, the confessor) and an ‘illegitimate’ Christian (that is, the denier). The author uses the notion of ‘coming back to life’ in order to demonstrate that Christian deniers are still eligible for legitimate birth through the Virgin Mother, representative of the Church, by means of life-giving confession. Thus, the author’s rhetoric simultaneously naturalizes a sharp division between legitimate and illegitimate Christians while also opening up a permeability which allows for deniers to be reinstated as confessors. This grey space may be a response to the fact that the lines in the early church between insiders and outsiders were themselves quite porous.

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