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In the first century of the Christian era, the Agapetae were virgins who consecrated themselves to God with a vow of chastity and associated with laymen. In the beginning this community of spiritual life and mutual support, which was based on St. Paul s First Epistle to the Corinthians (ix, 5), was holy and edifying. But later it resulted in abuses and scandals, so that councils of the fourth century forbade it. The origin of this association was very probably that these virgins, who did not live in community, required laymen to look after their material interests, and they naturally chose those who, like themselves, had takes a vow of chastity. St. Jerome asked indignantly (Ep., xxii, ad Eustochium) after it had degenerated, Unde in ecclesias Agapetarum pestis introiit? A letter St. Cyprian shows that abuses of this kind developed in Africa and in the East (Ep., iv., Ed. Hartel). The Council of Ancyra, in 314, forbade virgins consecrated to God to live thus with men as sisters. This did not correct the practice entirely, for St. Jerome arraigns Syrian monks for living in cities with Christian virgins. The Agapetae are sometimes confounded with the subintroductae, or woman who lived with clerics without marriage, a class against which the third canon of the Council of Nice (325) was directed. The word Agapetae was also the name of a branch of the Gnostics in 395, whose tenet was that the relations of the sexes were purified of impropriety if the mind was pure. They taught that one should perjure himself rather than reveal the secrets of his sect.
HEMMER in Dict. De theol. Cath. s.v.; and in GIRAUD, Bibl. Sac., I, 207-208; ACHELIS, Virgines Subintroductae (Leipzig, 1902).
JOHN J. A'BECKET