why flayed Hypatia

Detail from The School of Athens

Hypatia of Alexandria was a Neoplatonic philosopher and a member of the Academy who taught anyone—including Christians—who was willing to listen. She specialized in science and mathematics.

She was accused of being a threat to Christianity, and a mob of Coptic monks abducted and stripped her, dragged her naked body through the streets, and then flayed her alive before hacking her body to bits and burning it.

The fifth century writer Socrates Scholasticus records it thus:

Yet even she fell a victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed. For as she had frequent interviews with Orestes, it was calumniously reported among the Christian populace, that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop. Some of them therefore, hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was a reader named Peter, waylaid her returning home, and dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Caesareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her by scraping her skin off with tiles and bits of shell. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them.

Ironically, she’s not listed as a martyr.

As a philosopher, I find her life compelling; as one raised a Christian, challenging; as a lesbian, sympathetic.

I am intellectually and emotionally flayed by frightened, but sincere Christians, as are all of us who threaten by our very existence the structures that comfort the comfortable. But like the towering Alexandrian figure, I find it important to persist in my pursuit of truth, no matter how it may be perceived.

I would rather spend one day in the truth than the rest of my life being acceptable. I would rather spend one moment nakedly honest before God than eternity at a presentable arms-length in church.

So like the un-dragoned Eustace in the paws of Aslan, I seek to be spiritually flayed alive—or rather, to transform the flaying I’ve already received into a honest vulnerability before God, to have the dead skin in which I’ve cowered for so many years left behind as I plunge deeply into the pool of God’s gracious love and mercy.