Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in Ancient Christianity: The Jovinianist Controversy

Article excerpt

Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in Ancient Christianity: The Jovinianist Controversy. By David G. Hunter. [Oxford Early Christian Studies.] (New York: Oxford University Press. 2009- Pp. xix, 316. $50.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-199-56553-5.)

We have here a first-rate instance of the classical tradition of objective scholarship: Everything on the topic has been read, mastered, and put in its place; the bibliography is exhaustive, the index helpful, and the final product, inevitably, dull. The book might interest those, if any such still exist, who know nothing of fourth-century Catholicism- specifically, of Pope Siricius's overriding concern for clerical status, Ambrose's Mariological excesses, and St. Jerome's typically obnoxious- and derivative- defense of consecrated virginity. The point at issue was the superiority of consecrated virginity to marriage, which the Church continues to maintain, but Hunter in his academic straitjacket is unable to address this crucial question. He merely provides a scholarly consensus about the various positions assumed in "ancient Christianity," although, as befits a contemporary thinker, his sympathy is clearly on the side of Jovinian.As Peter Brown- whose name is never mentioned without Hunter's performing a mental genuflection- says, "Paul left a fatal legacy to future ages" (p. 89).

The opening chapter includes a description of the impressive ritual of baptism in the fourth-century Church, which Hunter convincingly presents as the origin of Jovinian's conviction that all forms of Christian life are equivalent. He also taught that, as baptized, Christians are secure from the devil's attacks, not obliged to fast, and assured of "one reward in the kingdom of heaven for those who have preserved their baptism" (p. …