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

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

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

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


Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in Ancient Christianity is the first major study in English of the 'heretic' Jovinian and the Jovinianist controversy. David G. Hunter examines early Christian views on marriage and celibacy in the first three centuries and the development of an anti-hereticaltradition. He provides a thorough analysis of the responses of Jovinian's main opponents, including Pope Siricius, Ambrose, Jerome, Pelagius, and Augustine. In the course of his discussion Hunter sheds new light on the origins of Christian asceticism, the rise of clerical celibacy, the developmentof Marian doctrine, and the formation of 'orthodoxy' and 'heresy' in early Christianity.


In the later years of the fourth century an intense theological controversy occurred in Western Christianity over the issue of celibacy and marriage. At the centre of this debate stood a monk named Jovinian, who earned ecclesiastical condemnation for asserting that celibate and married Christians were equal in God's sight. Jovinian was opposed by some of the foremost churchmen of his day, among them Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine (all later named 'doctors' of the Latin Church). This book tells the story of Jovinian and the conflicts generated by his teaching.

A word about the scope of my discussion is in order, for much of this book deals with figures and ideas that appeared prior to the time of Jovinian. Chapter 3, for example, begins with Jesus and Paul and concludes with Origen of Alexandria, and Chapter 4 ranges widely across the East and West in the fourth century. I deemed this approach necessary because I wished to place Jovinian within the context of the broader history of early Christian teaching on marriage and celibacy. One of the central arguments I develop is that although Jovinian was condemned as a 'heretic', he actually had much in common with previous Christian writers of impeccably 'orthodox' stripe. Conversely, I considered it necessary at times to trace the prehistory of ideas opposed by Jovinian (e.g. my discussion of Mary's virginitas in partu in Chapter 5), if only to demonstrate the marginal status of such ideas within the earlier tradition.

Scholars of Christianity in late antiquity have produced an abundance of studies of ascetic behaviour, and especially sexual renunciation, in recent decades. But no one has yet directed comparable attention to the reverse phenomenon, that is, to the ways in which Christians questioned and challenged aspects of the ascetic ideal. My aim has been to retrieve some of these antiascetic tendencies in early Christianity and to demonstrate their place within the broader Christian tradition. The result, I believe, is a revised and more nuanced account of the development of Christian thought on asceticism in late antiquity.

As my friends know, I have been at work on this project for much too long and have accumulated more than the usual share of debts. Over the years many scholars have heard, read, or responded to pieces of the present work, especially at meetings of the North American Patristics Society, the Oxford International Conference on Patristic Studies, the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature, and the American Society of Church History. I apologize to those I have unwittingly omitted from the following acknowledgements.

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