Latin term, corresponding to the Greek παρθένοι συνείσακτοι [virgins brought in with (a man)] given to the virgins or widows who were referred to as άγαπηταί or beloved and lived with a man dedicated to celibacy to care for his domestic needs. The term virgines subintroductae appears in the 3d century in a pejorative sense and is the result of the accusation that such virgins or widows considered themselves united to the ascetic in a spiritual marriage for mutual assistance in achieving a high spirituality. In the 5th century the term was applied almost indiscriminately to women, whether relatives or not, who lived as domestics in the houses of ecclesiastics.
In the New Testament. It is uncertain whether the words of St. Paul in 1 Cor 7.36–38 can be understood as referring to this or a similar custom. The passage is difficult. The Apostle is applying to a particular case his teaching on the superiority of celibacy and virginity over marriage in the Christian dispensation. Someone must decide whether this virgin should get married or continue a virgin. The main difficulty is to determine the relationship to the virgin of the man who must make the decision. Is he her father or a man who can marry her? The traditional exegesis, which was unquestioned until the close of the 19th century, understands Paul to be referring to the father (or guardian) of a virgin daughter (or ward) who is fully of an age to marry. Should he give her in marriage or keep her a virgin? The difficulties to this interpretation are the plural γαμείτωσαν (let them get married: v. 36) and the terms by which the Apostle designates the man and maid, τις (anyone) and παρθένσς (virgin). The subject of the plural "let them get married" can only be a man and a woman who may licitly become man and wife. The τις would, consequently, be the girl's fiancée. It was probably in order to obviate this difficulty that the Western text, followed by the Vulgate, changed the plural verb to a singular, γαμείτω (let her get married), si nubat (if she get married) in the Vulgate. Neither the Church Fathers who condemned the συνείσακτοι nor the συνείσακτοι themselves ever appealed to this text of Paul. Apart from the obscure passage of 1 Cor 7.36–38, there is no evidence for the existence of any such custom in the 1st-century Church. Consequently very few exegetes would read the custom into the text of Paul. But a growing number of exegetes do see in the passage a case analogous to the later Virgines subintroductae. A betrothed Christian couple, inspired by Paul's teaching on celibacy, must make a difficult decision: should they get married or continue simply as betrothed? This interpretation, however, which is adopted by the Revised Standard Version, has its own difficulties. The adjective [symbol omitted]πέρακμος (v.36) and the participle γαμίζων (twice in v. 38) are given unusual meaning. The adjective is taken as a masculine modifying τις and describing the sex urge of the man: "If anyone … if his passions are strong." But usage hardly supports such a meaning. The adjective [symbol omitted]πέρακμος should mean, etymologically, beyond the ἀκμή (high point, i.e., prime of life). In this passage it would be made to mean, therefore, sexually well developed or fully of an age to marry; it could, indeed, refer to the maiden as well as to the man. The participle γαμίζων (from γαμίζω) would normally mean giving in marriage, so that it would seem to indicate that the τις who must make the decision is the girl's father or guardian. The fiancé interpretation can be maintained only on the supposition that γαμίζων is here a synonym for γαμ[symbol omitted]ν (from γαμέω) in the sense of take in marriage.
Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, translated and adapted by l. hartman (New York, 1963) 2547–48. r. kugelman, "1 Cor 7:36–38," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 10 (Washington 1948) 63–71. j. j. o'rourke, "Hypotheses regarding 1 Cor 7:36–38," ibid. 20 (1958) 292–298. w. g. kÜmmel, "Verlobung und Heirat bei Paulus," Beiheft zur Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 21 (Berlin 1954) 275–295. r. h. a. seboldt, "Spiritual Marriage in the Early Church: A Suggested Interpretation of 1 Cor 7:36–38," Concordia Theological Monthly 30 (1959) 103–119.
In the Primitive Church. There is almost no evidence for this practice in the primitive Church despite apparent references in the Shepherd of hermas (ch. 9), the didache (11.11), irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 1.6.3), and tertullian (De exhort. cast. 12). Later attempts to justify the practice by St. Paul's reference to a woman companion (1 Cor 9.5) were offset by his cautions: adolescentiores viduas devita (1 Tim 5.11–13). The custom is known mainly through condemnations by the Fathers and councils, which indicate that this system, without being general, had a considerable diffusion particularly in connection with the Gnostic sects. It is explicitly referred to by St. cyprian of carthage (Epist. 4), the synod of Antioch, which condemned paul of samosata and his companions in 268 (Eusebius, Ecclesiatical History 7.30.12), the Pseudo-Clementine Epistula ad Virgines, Jerome (Epist. 22), and in the synods of elvira 306 (c.27), Ancyra 314 (c.19), and Nicaea 325 (c.3), which discouraged spiritual marriages.
With the condemnation of the practice by john chrysostom in two pastoral letters written shortly after he became patriarch of Constantinople (Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne 47:495–532) and the prevalence of clerical celibacy particularly in the West, many councils prohibited the custom outright: Orléans in 549 (c.3), Tours in 567 (c.11), and Toledo IV in 633 (c.42). The Council of Bordeaux in 663 or 675 (c.3) seems to be the only Merovingian synod to speak of the practice by name. Justinian I legislated against it (Novel. 123.29) as did Gregory I in a letter to the bishop of Spoleto (Epist. 13.39).
In Celtic countries during the 5th and early 6th centuries monks and nuns lived in separate buildings but within the same monastery walls (see monasteries, double). There seems to be a reference to the designation of virgines subintroductae in the so-called Synod of Bishops Patrick, Auxilius, and Isnerius c. 459 (c.9), and in Armorican Brittany in the early 6th century these virgins and widows, referred to as conhospitae, assisted the priest in the celebration of Mass and in presenting the chalice to communicants, a practice that horrified certain Gallican bishops. There is evidence for a similar practice among the Syrian Nestorians in the early 6th century.
Bibliography: j. schmid and d. misonne, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65); suppl., Das Zweite Vatikanische Konzil: Dokumente und kommentare, ed. h. s. brechter et al., pt. 1 (1966) 9:1229–31. a. adam, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 6:560–561. h. achelis, Virgines subintroductae (Leipzig 1902). p. de labriolle, Revue Historique 137 (Paris 1921) 204–225, spiritual marriage. g. morin, Revue Bénédictine 47 (Maredsous 1935) 101–113. e. kÄhler, Die Frau in den paulinischen Briefen (Zürich 1960) 38–41, 215–218.
[f. x. murphy]