The Making of Fornication: Eros, Ethics, and Political Reform in Greek Philosophy and Early Christianity

By Kathy L. Gaca | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Introduction
Ancient Greek Sexual Blueprints for Social Order

In this study I aim to resolve an important philosophical and historical problem about the making of sexual morality in Western culture: Do the patristic sexual rules of second-century Christianity differ notably from the Greek philosophical sexual principles that the patristic writers used to help formulate their own? Alternatively, are these Christian rules in unison with the Greek philosophical basis that they claim to have? These questions are of great significance for understanding the didactic motives of those patristic writers who later came to be known as church fathers, 1 because their sexual teachings have set an enduring and far-reaching standard of ecclesiastical sexual morality.

By the beginning of the second century c.e., patristic writers actively began to adapt ideas about regulating human sexual conduct from Plato, the Stoics, and the Pythagoreans as they developed their own teachings about permissible and impermissible sexual activity.2 Tatian, Clement of Alexandria, and Epiphanes exemplify divergent early trajectories of this adaptation. Tatian was an ardent Christian advocate of complete sexual renunciation, also known as the “encratite” position, and Epiphanes was a Christian Platonist and a Gnostic supporter of more libertine sexual principles. Both

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1
Translations from Greek in this work are my own. In my study “church fathers” are a subset of “patristic writers. ” They are patristic writers who have been deemed edifying by one or more branches of Christianity, such as Roman Catholicism. “Patristic writers” are not necessarily church fathers and some were declared heretical, such as Tatian and Epiphanes.
2
By “sexual activity” I refer to acts that involve genitals and generally orgasm as well, that is, άfrodφροδίσιαsia, not to sexually arousing behavior in general. “Sexual intercourse” denotes vaginal-penile copulation. I use the adjective “heterosexual” on occasion strictly to refer to such copulation, not to denote a sexual identity.

-1-

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