About this blog

This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."


Mysterious Abstinence

Why did early Christianity get so preoccupied with virginity? Where did this preoccupation come from? Why did early Christians get so heavily invested in celibacy? Why did it take off so quickly and become one of the characteristic features of the early church. And, please understand, I am not speaking about medieval superstitious and manipulative piety, I am not speaking about celibate priests or eremites and monasteries; all of that would come in full force centuries later. But where did this strong interest in celibacy in early church come from? As strange as it might sound, scholars are finding out that it was part of a revolutionary, contra-cultural and subversive movement.
    Just imagine that you live in a society where you are married or given to marriage by your paternal grandfather or even worse, by some distant great grand uncle. And even if you are free of your family clan or you are the head of it, just imagine that you are forced by the imperial laws to marry, and you are severely and legally penalized if you don’t. Just imagine that you are forced by the law to have multiple children and you are persecuted by the state if you decline to procreate. I do not know how about you, but I would be quite unhappy and even inclined to resist, simply on the basis of being under legal pressure.
    That was exactly the situation in the Roman Empire from year 17 B.C.E. and especially from 9 B.C.E.. The Emperor Augustus declared the family and moral laws (Lex Julia de maritandis ordinibus) and particularly Lex Papia Poppaea. These laws forced specifically Roman citizens, but indirectly all Roman subjects, to marry and have children.
    This was the societal context. While Ovidius rebelled by highlighting promiscuity, early Christians lifted up virginity and defended celibacy; as I have said, it was their contra-cultural stand. In the name of their religion, they claimed control over their bodies, and they asserted their sexual freedom. It was their rebellion against patriarchal societal mores and inappropriate paternalistic political pressures. As strange as it might sound, it was their religious sexual revolution. (By the way, the radical separatist feminism of XX century, for instance  “Cell 16”, also followed similar, although secular, path!).
    This Sunday the Gospel of James will help us to look at where this ancient virginity and celibacy originated and what it might mean today, concerning our current social and legal pressures and how we can rebel, subvert and change them.
And I know about underlying influence of Hellenistic Platonism with its stark distinction between body and spirit - the dualism which found its full expression in Gnosticism. 
The miraculous virginal birth at the center of Christmas Story certainly also contributed (regardless being misrepresentation of Isaiah’s prophecy). The Apostle Paul’s eschatological pragmatism, “why to marry if the end is near?” played also significant role. But all of this does not explain this cultural phenomenon of the second and third Christian centuries.

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