The Burden of the Flesh: Fasting and Sexuality in Early Christianity

The Burden of the Flesh: Fasting and Sexuality in Early Christianity

The Burden of the Flesh: Fasting and Sexuality in Early Christianity

The Burden of the Flesh: Fasting and Sexuality in Early Christianity

Synopsis

"Shaw's rich and fascinating work provides a startling look at early Christian notions of the body - diet, sexuality, the passions, and especially the ideal of virginity - and sheds important light on the growth of Christian ideals that remain powerful cultural forces even today." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Many of the concepts and assumptions we will encounter in Christian ascetic discourse and theory are grounded in the wider context of Greco-Roman medical theory, moral philosophy, and contemporary understandings of the relationship between body and soul in the human being. This chapter will introduce two dynamically interrelated and interdependent fields of late ancient inquiry and concern: moral philosophy and dietetic and sexual physiology. in both arenas, the mutual dependence and influence of body and soul inform arguments concerning human health, character, and behavior. After reviewing these themes briefly in the works of several writers representing moralist philosophy or ethics in the early centuries of the common era, we will examine theories of diet, sexuality, and male and female physiology in the medical theory of the same period, represented primarily by Galen. This chapter will articulate much of the essential context for the fourth-century surge in Christian ascetic theory and practice, especially relating to sexual and dietary abstinence.

The Moralist Tradition

Scholars have recently called attention to a flowering of concern with the “care of the self” or “cultivation of the self” in the first

1. the terms are from Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: vol. 3, The Care of the Self, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986).

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