Although missionary dating gets a bad rap, most probably don't know how much ancient mixed marriages influenced Christianity's spread. George Maclear stated, “[t]he intermarriage of the Goths with their Christian captives in the days of Ulphilas, of the Saxons with the conquered Britons in England, of the Northmen [vikings] with the Franks in Normandy “ probably helped spread the faith.
On a more personal note, individual spouses affected their unbelieving consorts. Some details we can only speculate about. Avita married a man named Apronianus. Her aunt, Melania the Elder, converted him. Palladius said, “And having met there that most blessed and worthy man Apronianus, a pagan, she instructed him and made him a Christian…” However, A. Cameron suggested he may have not been a flat out pagan. Also, it is uncertain whether Avita married Apronianus as a Christian.
Laeta married Toxotius, who was at one time a pagan. However, whether he was a pagan and she a Christian at time of marriage is uncertain.
Cecilia's story is of questionable historical value. Perhaps, a more reliable legend was of Chrysanthus and Daria, who supposedly lived in the late 200’s. Chrysanthus, the son of a rich Roman senator, converted to Christianity. His father disliked this, and arranged for Chrysanthus to marry Daria, a vestal virgin to distract him. Instead, Chrysanthus converted his wife. They lived a celibate life together and converted many. Emperor Numerian ordered them buried alive. Although thought to be legendary, National Geographic published an article about findings that suggest they may have been real. “Legendary Saints Were Real, Buried Alive, Study Hints.”
Monica of Hippo
Other stories were somewhat more verifiable. Monica of Hippo was born in 331. Her devout parents betrothed her to a pagan, Patricius. Their lifestyles clashed. A website called Orthodox Christian said of Monica's husband “He was annoyed by her prayers; he found her charity excessive; he could not understand her desire to visit the sick… [nor] fathom her love for slaves. At every step in her Christian walk, Monica met with countless hindrances.” Both her husband and mother-in-law had fits of anger. The maidservants slandered Monica. Her husband was unfaithful and wouldn’t allow their children’s’ baptism.
Monica was still a meek and devoted wife, eventually winning her husband. When arguing that a believer could marry an unbeliever, Protestant Reformer Martin Luther said, “And St. Peter, in I Peter 3 [:1], says that Christian wives should behave so well that they thereby convert their non-Christian husbands; as did Monica, the mother of St. Augustine [of Hippo].”
Nonna, born around 305, converted her husband, Gregory the Elder. That he didn’t share her faith troubled her. The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America said Gregory the Younger wrote “Day and night she turned to God with fasting and many tears, entreating Him to grant salvation to her husband.” After a vision in his dream, Gregory the Elder desired to go to church. Bishop St. Leontius came to their city on his way to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea and instructed and baptized him.
Gregory, the elder, former member of the hypsistarians, would one day become bishop of Nazianzus. All three of Nonna and Gregory’s children, Gorgonia, Caesarius, and Gregory the Younger, became saints. Like Saint Augustine, Monica's son, Saint Gregory became a Doctor of the Church.
Synesius of Cyrene's Wife
Similarly, an anonymous Christian woman married Synesius of Cyrene, who was born in 373. The bishop Theophilus of Alexandria performed the ceremony. We know little of Mrs. Synesius. J. C. Nicol said, “though in his [Synesius’] letters we rarely find any mention of her, we may gather from these scanty allusions that his affection for her was deep and real, and her influence in proportion considerable… it requires no great stress of imagination to see in the intercourse of a Christian wife and the slow work of time, ample causes for Synesius ' gradual approximation to the Church.” Synesius converted and entered the priesthood, one day rising to be bishop of Ptolemais.
More impressive, several queens perhaps helped convert their royal pagan husbands. Queen Clotilda married Clovis, King of the Franks. The legend states that on the eve of a losing battle, Clovis made a promise to Clotilda’s God that if He helped him win, he would follow Him. Clovis triumphed, and St. Remigius, the Bishop of Rheims, baptized him. The chiefs of the Frankish people also converted that day. According to Michael Frassetto, it is likelier Clovis became an Arian Christianity before becoming Catholic. However, according to Frassetto, Clotilda still likely played a part in the decision and also influenced Clovis to destroy pagan shrines, build churches, and support the poor, widows, and orphans.
Clotilda’s great-granddaughter, Queen Bertha, married Æthelberht of Kent. She may have caused her husband to be tolerant of the evangelist Augustine of Canterbury to come to their country. Eventually, the king converted.
Edwin and Ethelburga
Bertha and Æthelberht had a daughter named Queen Æthelburga (also spelled Ethelburga). She converted her husband, Edwin, King of Northumbria. Before marrying her, he promised to let her practice her faith and also to consider Christianity if his advisors agreed. Paulinus accompanied her as her chaplain.
This gave Edwin a chance to hear Paulinus’ preaching. At first, Edwin didn’t accept his words. According to Bede, he delayed “to receive the Word of God at the preaching of Paulinus.” However, a man visited him who he had made a promise to earlier.
Someone once appeared to Edwin in a vision and asked what he would give the man who could deliver him from his enemies and make him king; would he follow the man? According to Bede, “Edwin at once promised that he would in all things follow the teaching of that man who should deliver him from so many great calamities, and raise him to a throne.” The man touched Edwin’s head with his right hand and said, “When this sign shall be given you, remember this present discourse that has passed between us, and do not delay the performance of what you now promise.”
Later, as Edwin pondered which religion to follow, the man reappeared to him, putting his right hand on his head. He reminded him of the promises God kept. The man said to not delay “to perform your third promise; accept the faith and keep the precepts of Him Who… has raised you to the honour of a temporal kingdom; and if… you shall be obedient to His will, which through me He signifies to you, He will also deliver you from the everlasting torments of the wicked, and make you partaker with Him of His eternal kingdom in heaven.” Edwin converted. In turn, he influenced Eorpwald ruler of East Anglia to follow suite.
The Hungarian-Polish Chronicle tells of a legendary Polish woman named Adelaide, who allegedly married the pagan Geza, Grand Prince of the Hungarians. The HPC says, “She was a Christian and inspired by the Holy Spirit, she followed the Holy Scriptures. She started converting her husband to Christ, turning him to the Catholic faith and away from idolatry. Thus, while frequently flattering him and sweetly persuading him, she led him to Christ.” As one of Geza’s first foreign policy acts, he requested that Otto the Great send missionaries to Hungary.
People give a lot of flack about mixed marriages. However, these unioms may have helped spread Christianity. Without mixed marriages, much of the world may have remained pagan. Folks who oppose “unequally yoked” marriages might not have even been Christians without those exogamous couplings!
So, throughout history, wives have converted their husbands. If we believe these stories, God directly intervened sometimes to convert the husband.
These wives made a huge impact. Likewise, today, God could arrange for a Christian to marry an unbeliever. Who knows how a person could change if shown compassion and love. Who knows what they could accomplish?