Saint Barbara can help men resisting being pressured into marriage

Saint Barbara crushing her father

Men, particularly those who sleep regularly with just one woman, face considerable social pressure to marry according to law. Yet thinking men know that marriage is a rotten legal institution. Why should a man enter into a contract that a woman can terminate at will and subject him to the grotesque anti-men discrimination of family courts? Why would a man enter a contract that makes him financially responsible for any children his wife might birth as a result of her extramarital sex?

Despite the irrationality of the legal institution of marriage, men are pressured into marriage. Some will tell a man to “man up and marry her.” That’s offensive to men who are fed up with being told what being a man means. Others will claim that an unmarried man isn’t treating his girlfriend fairly. That’s unfairly judgmental. She and he should be the ultimate judges of fairness in their consensual relationship. Some unmarried men might hear, “you should make an honest woman of her.” That comment reflects the sordid history of treating men’s sexuality as corrupting women. Men who forthrightly state their rational opposition to marriage are a courageous example of honesty. Those men can justifiably seek honesty from their girlfriends. Men who marry while being unwilling to talk about the injustices of legal marriage are dishonest. They don’t deserve an honest woman.

In our benighted age of anti-men bigotry, men being pressured to marry might pray to Saint Barbara to help them resist the vicious stupidity. Barbara was a strong, independent woman living in the third-century GC somewhere in the area from present-day Turkey to Lebanon. Her father was a wealthy, illustrious man who worshiped the traditional Greco-Roman gods. Most importantly, Barbara was beautiful. Many men eagerly sought to marry her. Her father pressured her to marry. After resisting brutal torture, Barbara died when her father beheaded her.

Barbara categorically renounced her fathers plans for her to marry. In the ancient world, just as today, daughters’ wishes commonly prevailed over their fathers’ preferences. When Barbara’s father came to her urging marriage, she:

did not wish even to hear about the matter, lest some of it taint her heart. She thus rejected it as something discordant and absurd and angrily pushed her father away. “Don’t ever say a word to me about this again,” she said, “for then you will not be called ‘father’ any more as you will drive me to suicide.”

Barbara’s father respected his daughter’s command to him. Yet he seemed to harbor considerable resentment from her forceful rejection of his ideal of her getting married.

Barbara and her father’s relationship broke fully when Barbara unilaterally intervened in his construction project. Her father had decided to build a bath. He hired craftsmen, gave them detailed instructions, and paid them in advance. Then he left on a trip. Barbara subsequently came to the construction site and saw that the craftsmen were building two windows. She urged them to add a third window:Saint Barbara directing construction

when they said, “Your father ordered it this way,” Barbara insisted that they add one more window. As they hesitated to make the addition and presented their fear of her father as a reasonable excuse, the blessed maiden showed them three of her fingers, and said, “you should build three, three windows. And if my father should be displeased about it, I will take the responsibility.” The workmen yielded and fulfilled her command.

When Barbara’s father returned home, he didn’t understand why his bath had a third window despite his construction orders. He asked the craftsmen why they hadn’t adhered to his orders:

When they attributed the responsibility for this innovation to his daughter, he summoned her and asked her about it. Not only did she not deny it, but also insisted that it should have been built this way and this it was good that it was done so.

When her further questioned her in private, she explained:

Look, this is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; all of creation is spiritually illuminated by this {three from one} light.

Underscoring her independent thinking, Barbara earlier had spat on the faces of her father’s statues of traditional Greco-Roman gods. That’s the sort of rebellious spirit men need to resist the intense pressure on them to marry.

Barbara’s father went mad with rage at her actions. Fathers love their children dearly, even after being deprived of their children’s presence through anti-men family court bias. Barbara’s father, however, became unlike a father:

The father forgot that he was a father and was on his way to becoming a tyrant and murderer: he drew the sword that hung from his shoulders and rushed to kill Barbara with his own hands.

When Barbara’s father raised his sword against her, she was miraculous transported to a distant mountain. He still sought to find her and kill her. After she was betrayed by shepherds, he found her:

he started beating her angrily with heavy blows. Then, grabbing her by the hair and dragging her by force, he imprisoned her in a small hut, establishing guards and securing the door with seals. … He then brought her in, handed her over to the governor, making him swear by his own gods that he would not spare his daughter (oh, what a paternal heart this father had!), but would treat her with the utmost violence and kill her with the most grievous tortures.

After seeing Barbara’s elegance and beauty, the governor wanted to marvel at her, rather than punish her. Barbara resolutely rejected that special, female-privileged opportunity for reprieve.

Barbara subsequently suffered brutal tortures and death. The governor had her stripped naked, scourged, and whipped. Then he had her wounds rubbed with haircloth. Subsequent punishments were even worse:

the governor ordered those present to scrape the martyr’s sides with iron claws, and, in addition, to burn her already scrapped limbs with lit torches, and then to strike her honorable head with a hammer. … {the governor ordered) that Barbara be stripped naked and be paraded through the entire land, and that she be flogged with even more whipping.

Barbara’s father-turned-monster nonetheless felt the social pressure of men’s gender role:

he judged that it would be a sign of weakness and soft-heartedness, if he himself did not inflict the fatal blow with his own hands, as if he reckoned it a clear disgrace not to become an innovator in wickedness.

Acting apart from the love of God the Father and the example of Abraham’s restrained hand before Isaac, Barbara’s father beheaded her.

Barbara’s father failed in his attempt to force her to marry. Moreover, Barbara became a saint now venerated for more than a millennium. Men being pressured to marry can look to Saint Barbara for strength and inspiration. Even at the risk of enraging their mothers and fathers, men should seek the truth about marriage rather than following false gods. True love requires truth.

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Veneration of Saint Barbara became common in the eastern Roman Empire from the ninth century. The specific version of her life above is from Symeon Metaphrastes late-tenth-century Menologion, “Passion of the Holy and Triumphant Martyr of Christ Barbara.” This account is set about the early fourth century in Helioupolis, a Roman city in Syria (now Baalbek, Lebanon). The name of Barbara’s father is Dioskoros. He seems to have been a single father.

A thunderbolt killed Barbara’s father Dioskoros immediately after he killed Barbara. Metaphrastes called the thunderbolt “God-sent fire,” and Diskoros’s death, “divine justice.” As a result of that explosive action, Saint Barbara become the patron saint of armourers, artillerymen, military engineers, miners and others who work with explosives. With greater reason, Saint Barbara deserves also to be regarded as the patron saint of men being pressured into marriage.

The above quotes are from Symeon Metaphrastes, Menologion, “Passion of the Holy and Triumphant Martyr of Christ Barbara,” from Greek (on facing pages) trans. Papaioannou (2017) (cited by paragraph in Greek text and page of English trans. in id): 5, p. 157 (did not wish even to hear…); 8, p. 159 (when they said…); 11, pp. 161, 163 (When they attributed…); 13, p. 163 (Look, this is the father…); 13, p. 163 (The father forgot…); 16, p. 167 (he started beating her…); 24, 28, pp. 171, 175 (the governor ordered…); 31, p. 177 (he judged that…).

[images] (1) Saint Barbara crushing her father under her feet, with a man kneeling in supplication before her. Panel painting by Domenico Ghirlandaio, c. 1473. Thanks to Web Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Saint Barbara giving new orders on her father’s construction project. Painting (oil on panel) made between 1470 and 1500. Held in Walters Art Museum (Baltimore), accession #37.777. Thanks to Walters Art Museum and Wikimedia Commons.


Papaioannou, Stratis, ed. and trans. 2017. Christian novels from the Menologion of Symeon Metaphrastes. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, Vol. 45. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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