Responsive image
Nederlands/Vlaams Deutsch Francais English language Spanish language Portuguese language Catalan Chinese Czech Malayalam Finnish Igbo
Japanese Korean Romanian Malay language Norwegian Swedish Polish Swahili Chichewa Tagalog Urdu
Sexuality, Gender and Christian Identity in the Fourth and Early Fifth Centuries

Sexuality, Gender and Christian Identity
in the Fourth and Early Fifth Centuries

R.P. Fisher
University of Wales, Cardiff. M. Th. 30.9.2000.

The new Christians who crowded the basilicas of the victorious Church on great festivals in the age of Constantine and Theodosius I heard preaching on sexual discipline which many found extremist and more suitable for women than for men. Those who listened to Montanist preachers, or spokesmen for any of the other groups claiming a Christian identity, discovered the same.

'The unfamiliarity of applying such teaching to men and women alike must itself have seemed strange when there remained so much agreement over gender difference. All were agreed that the gulf which separated the educated male of Antiquity from such lesser beings as women, slaves, barbarians and animals was self-evidently huge and unbridgable.

This breath-taking assumption was held to rest upon common observation and to be supported in the case of women by the best available medical opinion. The Christian Church in the Graeco-Roman world of the fourth century inherited this assumption, was influenced by it and reacted to it. The Fathers wrote many books about women's roles and sexuality; but few works exist which were written by women about men's roles or even their own.(1) Nor did the Christians' Hebrew roots encourage women to write them. The grounds of this fundamental Graeco-Roman belief are unfamiliar to modern minds and require setting out.

In the thinking of late antiquity, males were clearly those who had developed in their mothers' wombs to their full potential. This was evidenced by their harder muscles, deeper voices and greater strength. They had, in the language of the day, amassed great quantities of the 'vital spirit' early in this development. Their hot ejaculation of semen on reaching puberty put this beyond doubt. In contrast, females were, equally selfevidently, incomplete males and therefore lesser beings.

This was held to be an observable fact of nature. Their bodies were softer, their voices higher. Above all, their menstruation showed their bodies could not absorb the vital spirit; but such surpluses were necessary to nurture the hot male seed and so produce children. In the view of the doctors Galen and Aretaeus, drawing upon Aristotle and 'common observation', this last factor showed that the Creator had not made half the human race imperfect and mutilated without purpose. (2)

A Roman husband, already skilled in the exercise of benevolent autocracy towards his social inferiors, was expected to instruct, gently control and eventually absorb into his own world of superior culture his usually much younger wife. This form of marital concord, if such it might be termed, was seen in late antiquity to be a reassurance of the proper nature of social order. This male position of unquestioned superiority was, nevertheless, not assured beyond possibility of loss. It was all too easy for a man to become 'womanish'. His voice, his deportment, his self-restraint were trained to show no sign of that indiscipline or softness which were held to be evidence of a decline into womanishness.(3)

Above all, a womaniser or uxorious husband was despised for his loss of 'heat', for the total bodily act of sexual intercourse was expensive in vital spirit. It should therefore be used expeditiously and under the man's rational control, It followed that the most virile men were those who had lost little or no seed. Unmarried philosophers had an honoured place and the physicians Galen and Soranus agreed that athletes who were carefully castrated would become stronger. It will be evident that late antiquity's attitude to sexuality could provide fertile ground for Christian teaching concerning celibacy. In contrast, the dominical teaching that the two shall be one flesh might suggest a need for a major and probably unwelcome review of such a patronising form of matrimony.

The Theodosian Code, named after the emperor of the East and promulgated in the Western empire in December 438, gives further insight into long held views concerning marriage. The Christian emperor Theodosius, like Constantine before him, was ready to make new laws; but they seem generally to have reinforced ancient customs (4).

At its first reading the Code seems disappointing. It is concerned with betrothals, dowries, wedding gifts, marriage breakdown and remarriage, and has little to say about day to day activities within the home. But, although short of explicit statements, the Code is revealing in what it implies. There are three laws in which this is particularly so.

The first of these considers widows who are less than twenty-five years old. (Cod. Theod.3. 7. 1. ). The law declares that such widows have no freedom to take a second husband of their choice. If they marry again they must accept the suitor chosen by their fathers, or, if their fathers have died, the suitor chosen by a close relative. If a woman has two suitors a judge must be consulted. He is to take account of the views of the close relative; but is to make the final decision himself. In doing so he is expressly forbidden to consider the wishes of the woman. He must base his decision on the status of the suitors.

Here we see that the status of the family is what matters. The woman is there to maintain or enhance it, and her judgement, because she is a woman, is suspect. The advantages of freedom from matrimony and membership of a sisternood are clear.

The second law is in the section concerned with prosecutions for adultery. (9. 7. 1.) It declares that the wife of an inn-keeper may be prosecuted if she commits adultery; but wives who are simply barmaids may not. Chastity is not to be expected of those who, in the words of the Code, 'live such worthless lives'. If the inkeeper's wife acts as a barmaid she too is reduced to the same 'worthless' status.

No provision is made for the prosecution of adulterous husbands. Wives could be divorced for poisoning, procuring or adultery. A husband could only be divorced if he were a murderer, an employer of magic or a destroyer of tombs (Harries and Wood. p.128). The position of the paterfamilias was generally strengthened under the Christian emperors.

In the reference to barmaids we gain a glimpse of that great under class which performed all the more menial functions in the empire and included stage performers, prostitutes and procurers. These last were refused enrolment as catechumens. If this seems unfair to stage performers, Augustine's description of their acts celebrating the feast of Attis (City of God VII, 24-26) ) provides explanation. Such performances also explain his constant preaching against the theatres although he had once been their devotee.

The third law considers dowries and pre-nuptual gifts. The code declares that, if a girl of ten is betrothed but the suitor is subsequently rejected, his gifts to the bride must be returned 'before the end of her eleventh year.' Then follow the words 'but, if she be a widow, she forfeits the special privileges of her age'.( 3.5.11. )

The Code assumes without comment that some girls will be widows before their twelfth birthday. It would seem the chief reasons for this were the much greater age of husbands and their relatively short life expectancy. Only four in every hundred men appear to have lived beyond the age of fifty.(5) It is not clear how many girls married so young; but evidently some did, and most commonly in the West.(6)

The Code shows that within a patriarchal and paternalist system some care was taken to preserve the rights and property of women; but no amount of law-making could alleviate the life of the very young bride. She could expect many years of pregnancy with little or no medical attention or an early death in childbirth or consequent upon it. Inscriptions upon tombs attest the way in which men learned to grieve while still young; but the women whose remains the tombs contained were often younger. An example is the wife of Quintillian, the rhetor, who had already borne him two sons; but was only eighteen years old when she died.

It now becomes easier to understand the preoccupation of such advocates of virginity as Jerome, Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom with the suffering and grief of married life. Godly though their choice of asceticism no doubt was, there is reason to believe that from childhood onward the ascetics' experience of suffering in their own families and their observation of their neighbours' influenced their thinking.

Meanwhile the Church spoke to young men and women of the superiority of virginity. It had little to say to the comfort of its married women of child-bearing age. Their lot was much the same as before their conversion and it is little wonder that many of them called upon Juno and the Goddess of Heaven or made recourse to superstitious remedies for pain and anxiety. (7)

It was a different matter with men. Christian bishops, when preaching to them, expected a greater change than many men found palatable, particularly in the realm of sexual morals. The men's attitude may be summed up as 'the new way is best for women; but the old way preferable for men'. No doubt this situation was most plainly seen in the hastily Christianised West and it is in Augustine's homilies and writings that we find it most often challenged. But the problem was not limited to Augustine's age or to Augustine's Africa. A century later Caesarius of Arles experienced much the same problems in Gaul (8)

Both bishops found the practice of concubinage among the propertied classes especially difficult to eradicate. Young men of position, waiting for a wife of the same class or above, saw nothing contrary to Christian commitment in taking a mistress during the intervening years, most commonly from among their slave girls. (9) This was a long established and legal Roman custom which had strong public support. The children of such unionstook the status of their mother. Under Constantine these children could be legitimated and could inherit their father's property if their mother was a free woman. The Theodosian Code was stricter. It forbade even the children of a concubine with the status of a free woman to receive more than one twelfth of their father's estate to be shared between them. This would have applied to Augustine's own son Adeodatus.

The system was widely accepted and some of a bishop's most influential laymen must have been involved in it. These men were not among the most fervent of Christians. Their approach to sexuality was an offence to bishops and no doubt to many Christians of longer standing; but it was just as much part of the fourth and fifth century attitude to sexuality and Christian identity as any other. It was an aspect of the wider problem of Christianising the empire; a process which could not be carried out in the short term. We must look briefly at this lengthy and complicated matter of Christianisation.

Christianisation: Addressing a Problem.

Constantine's acceptance of Christianity and the Christian Church in 313 had brought to the latter the problems of success. The Church's change of status had amounted to a revolution and the fourth and fifth centuries were seeing the fruits of this in a spectacular increase in the Church's secular power and authority. This naturally resulted in an influx into its congregations of large numbers of new members whose motives were mixed. The result was a deepening crisis of identity. The Church was no longer a society of those willing to risk persecution and death in order to claim a clear Christian identity. It was becoming one less distinguishable from society in general and one in whose membership there could be distinct advantages. There were those who were deeply dissatisfied with the new situation.

No doubt we see the crisis through the thoughts of literate Christians who have left us written works; but there was a popular level, too. Pagan literature caused disquiet among some literate Christians; but even some humble. illiterate believers must have cavilled at the bloody deaths in the games, the lewdness of theatre players and the bawdy comments of the crowd. The difficulty did not lie primarily with people who were joining for material gain or personal advancement. Initial motives for allegiance were bound to vary and, as Augustine, Ambrose, Basil and Chrysostom show, it lay with the bishops to teach the implications of conversion. The difficulty lay chiefly with the men and women new to the Church; but with catechumens among them, who intended to remain very much members of the bawdy crowd.

The problem for Christian commitment and sexual probity, then, was the acceptability or unacceptability of a culture which, as we have seen, can be considered at two levels. The first concerned the question of how much high Graeco-Roman culture. with its literature full of strong pagan images, could still serve as a culture and a body of learning for Christian men and women. The second concerned the games, the theatre, deeply ingrained superstition. the celebrations of birth and marriage and the celebrations of pagan or secular festivals of popular culture.

At first a continuity with both seemed possible. Erudite men like Ausonius found no difficulty in combining his Graeco-Roman culture with his Christian belief (10). At the popular level the emperor Constantine himself was happy for citizens to honour him with games and theatrical spectacles and even with a temple dedicated to his famly at Hispellum in Italy, as long as no pagan sacrifices were celebrated there. Change came as the fourth century drew to a close.

In its last two decades, in the West especially, the opposition of the senatorial families provided a focus for the distinct identity of Christians; but this was not to last. Paganism was dying out in the senatorial families in the early fifth century and mixed marriages were becoming more common. The line dividing the Christian society from popular culture was fast disappearing. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that some zealous Christians met the new situation by stressing the unity of their fourth century Church with the martyr Church of the years of persecution. To this end they were concerned not only to celebrate the festivals of the martyrs: but to find a contemporary equivalent to the martyrs' sacrifice (11).

For some Christians, at least, the answer was evident. If the mark of the martyr was a determination to give all for the Faith and make plain to all their Christian identity, they saw convincing examples of the same spirit in the virgins and solitaries whose contribution to Christian identity we must now consider.

Asceticism. Christian and Pagan.

From the second century onward, at least, devoted Christian believers had renounced life as it was normally lived for one of lifelong virginity and self denial. Their sentiments were to be well summed up by Isidore of Seville. (c560-636)

'Many who bear the attacks of the adversary and resist the desires of the flesh are martyrs, even in the time of peace, in virtue of this self-immolation to God in their heart : they would have been martyrs in the time of the persecutions.'(12)

This zeal for asceticism drew upon the teaching of Christ concerning perfection in the Gospels and the parallel teaching of St Paul in his epistles. It gained further strength from the doctrine of the 'recapitulation' of humanity into the sinless humanity of Adam before the Fall, popularised by Irenaeus, and from the enthusiasm, teaching and example of Origen.

In all this it differed from the virginity well known and accepted within the cultures of the Graeco-Roman empire; but, in some Christian forms, this difference might not have been transparently evident. The pagan philosophical tradition, too, offered a training in virtue and demanded celibacy, detachment, simplicity and, if not poverty, at least the reining in of desires. It was not for nothing that monasticism in its various forms was commonly known among the Fathers as the philosophic life.

In the West, Augustine, who claimed that the reading of Cicero was the gateway through which he began his journey toward God, joined a group of like minded philosophical friends for the first months after his conversion to Christianity. That group might not have looked very different from those encouraged by Aristotle. The celibacy of both groups could be lifelong; but was often of a temporary nature, as in the case of Rome's vestal virgins, or the widowed, or middle-aged men of independent means and philosophical bent. The Christian ascetic. when living in seclusion on his estate and not a wandering holy man, might have appeared at first sight no different from the philosophical gentleman of the ancient world. This was especially so if the Christian ascetic, too, had begun the celibate life as an older man or a widower. Yet, despite these similarities, the gulf between the two was as vital as it was unbridgeable.

The non-Christian men and women who embraced the single state, willingly or involuntarily, in the Graeco-Roman world, did so for the benefit of the civic society of which they were a part. Their closer union with the One or with the god whose devotees they were, was not intended to hasten the end of the existing world order. The Christians' asceticism was.

Even so, despite this radical difference in intention, Christian asceticism drew on the Graeco-Roman intellectual and spiritual ascetic tradition (13) as well as the promises of the Gospel. But, if ascetic withdrawal from the political world was accepted and even honoured by Graeco-Roman society. other Christian practices were not.

It was not easy, for instance, for that society to find acceptable the decision of widows to continue in their single state even though they were still of marriagable age. More difficult still was the deliberate and apparently reprehensible choice of young men and women to remain virgins for life. Such a course was calculated to bring disaster upon the communities in the towns and villages around the Mediterranean. In that society the average life expectancy is thought to have been less than 25 years and the population could only be maintained when an average of five children were born to each family.(14)

The ascetics of the Church, however, had no interest in preserving Graeco-Roman society. They had rejected it. To them that society was the dire result of Adam's transgression, as evidenced by the crushing demands its maintenance made upon all citizens and especially upon women. Instead, thev were concerned to create alternative societies in which thev could strive to attain to that blissful union with God which was enjoyed by Adam and Eve before the Fall. They claimed to be the advance guard of a mankind which, through Christ, was slowly recovering the nature of that uncorrupted Adam. This required the rejection of sexuality and the begetting of spiritual children only.

Their form of Christian identity and commitment was to be found across the spectrum of Christian churchmanship and throughout the empire. We shall look briefly at its roots and then examine it in both the Eastern and Western empires through the lives of some of its leading figures in thefourth and early fifth centuries.

If this treatment seems at first somewhat extensive. the historic importance of monasticism must be borne in mind. In particular, without this movement, the position of women in the Christian world is likely to have remained as restricted as it has in the world of Islam, which, in early centuries, Christian households so closely resembled.

The Contribution Of Christian Asceticism.

W. K. Lowther Clarke, in his 1918 edition of Palladius's Lausiac History, had no doubts about the origin of Christian asceticism. In his view 'Asceticism was inherent in Christianity from the first...' (p20), arising from the eschatology in chapter seven of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. and especially:

'What I mean. my friends, is this: the time we live in will not last long. ' (1 Cor. 7. 29. )

and in the first epistle general of Sohn:

'Children. this is the last hour!' (1John 2.18) and

'Be on your guard against idols.' (1John 5.21.)

This last text, he suggested. (Lausiac Hist. p. 20) meant the renunciation of the world and he found asceticism 'a strong force in the early post apostolic age.'

'There was as yet no formal separation from the world, devotees of both sexes lived at home and were described as "bearing the whole yoke of the Lord".
(See Didache 6: cf. 1 Clem 38 and Ignatius. ad Poly. 5. )

It emerged first in Egypt, he thought, through the exodus of Christians into the desert during the persecution of Decius, c250. as recorded by Eusebius. H. E. VI. 42.

A more recent scholar. S. Rubenson. gives a slightly later date. He considers none of the sources of monasticism to be earlier than the second half of the third century (15). Chief among these he suggests was the social and economic crisis in late third century and early fourth century Egypt; and he cites the use of the word anchorite to describe both a refugee from government oppression and a Christian holy man.

'As a result of the crisis and accelerated integration. the religious map of Egypt was completely redrawn. The diverse Egyptian. Greek and Roman cults (often merged with each other) which constituted the official religion increasingly gave way to new and vigorous religious movements'(16).

We see here two scholars of different generations approaching the truth from the differing angles preferred by their very different cultures.

A third scholar, Susanna Elm, draws a convincing picture of the wide spectrum of Christian asceticism already existing in the third century, especially among women. She outlines the way of life of Juliana, a highly regarded orthodox lady of means, on the one hand and a nameless, itinerant, Montanist woman, strongly condemned by Catholic authority, on the other(17). Between these two extremes, she suggests, women found several ways of exercising their ascetic role. This is surely what one would expect to find. Asceticism was a grass-roots movement. It might be expected to vary in different cultures and economic groups and yet to show an underlying unity.

We find a reference to the first of Elm's ascetics in Palladius's Lausiac History (XLIV.1.2) in which he relates his finding of a book containing an inscription by Origen (c185-c254). In this document Origen tells of his finding the book, which appears to have been a collection of New Testament books and letters in verse form, in the house of 'the virgin Juliana'. This lady, who had hidden him during the Alexandrian persecution of 235, had told him she received the book from the late second century Jewish translator, Symmachus. A similar account is given by Eusebius (H. E. 6. 17). Juliana lived in Caesarea in Cappadocia. Origen had been invited there from Alexandria by its bishop, Firmilian, in c235.

Juliana's title 'the virgin' is significant. Here we have a lady of means and education sharing a house with an unrelated male ascetic with, apparently, no raised eyebrows in the Caesarean Christian community. She is described by Palladius in the same passage as 'very learned and most faithful' and as providing for Origen 'for two years at her own cost'. Juliana was clearly a dedicated virgin ascetic of a sort already known to the Church.

We find the itinerant lady who represents the other end of the spectrum of Christian believers in the correspondence of Firmilian with Cyprian. according to Firmilian 'she pretended, when in a state of trance, to be a prophetess, and behaved as though full of the Holy Spirit' (18).

The nameless lady appeared in the district of Caesarea at the time of an earthquake and subsequent persecution. She was supported by a country priest and a deacon. In a time of disaster she preached the arrival of the end of the world and encouraged Christians to take up the deeper commitment of the ascetic life by joining her little band of itinerant preachers. One of Firmilian's complaints is that she was very successful in this. She presided at celebrations of the Christian mysteries, to the horror of bishop Firmilian and in defiance of the teaching of the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy 2: 11-13.). It seems she claimed the right to do this as a prophetess and one full of the Holy Spirit. She gave the impression of having come from Jerusalem and intending to return there.

Elm thinks her liturgical and teaching ministry indicate that she was a member of the Montanist or New Prophecy movement founded sixty years before in Phrygia. That seems possible enough, although there was no shortage of Spirit-led radical groups; and surely, apart from the sex of the prophetess, there are echoes of the Didache in her liturgical claims and her itinerant life. (19)

The way of commitment of this prophetess meant leaving home without concern for her well-being, for marriage, or for the procreation of children. Economics must have meant little to her; but in any form of ascetic life between her hedgerow existence and the life of Juliana. the lady with means, economics were bound to play a major role.

Before considering that role we may note again that Montanists were not the only non-Catholic teachers who contributed to the development of Christian asceticism. Marcion, Tatian and the Encratites, teachers who came to be judged heretical, were among its earliest proponents, maintaining that the gift of the Spirit at baptism restored to the newly baptised the state of Adam before his fall. This new state, in their view, enabled all Christian men and women to live at ease with each other as celibates. Moreover. whereas other teachers had seen asceticism as a matter of men resisting seduction by women, the Encratites called on all Christian women to renounce their sexuality too. Sexuality was, for the Encratites, the sign and token of the bondage of the whole human race, men and women alike. Their summons included the call for wives to cease cohabiting with their husbands as Mygdonia had rejected Prince Karish in the influential, third century apochryphal work, the Acts of Judas Thomas.(20)

This leads P. Brown to suggest that the Encratites bequeathed to future Christian presentations of sexuality a poignant note. They saw sexuality as that which made the whole of humanity vulnerable to the corruption, selfseeking and violence of 'this present age', stressing especially the enslavement of women to child-bearing and to family pride.(21)

The Encratite Gospel of Judas Thomas shows they possessed both a social awareness, which recognised the wrongness of a world where the poor went hungry while emperors built palaces, and a strong expectation of a world where the proud were no longer treading down the humble. (22). These characteristics were shared in varying degrees by such radical bodies as Epotactics, Eustathians, Messalians and Euchitai. By the fourth century these had developed hierarchies; but, because their authority required evidence of possession by the Spirit, women who could provide it exercised leadership and priestly ministries as well as men.

Not surprisingly, the Church as a whole could not accept the Encratite position. Moreover. Christian ascetics had long numbered Origen among their teachers. His teaching that every soul had been given a body ideally suited to itself and valuable as an anvil against which the spirit could be forged, tolerated a place for matrimony, at least until child-bearing was over. Thus, although virginity was honoured as by far the better Christian commitment, the married were not denied Christian identity by the catholic church; but this wider understanding brought with it a problem.

The rejection of the Encratite call for a totally celibate, itinerant, missionary Church meant the emergence of a Church with two tiers of discipleship : the discipleship of those who felt called to the ascetic life and that of Christians living 'in the world'. It was to be a Church in which the ascetics did not heasitate to speak of virgins and widows as disciples producing fruit one hundred-fold and sixty-fold; leaving a grudging thirty-fold to the married and little or nothing to those married twice.

It will be seen that the Christian church entered the fourth century with a long, complex history behind it and with differing opinions within it concerning Christian sexuality, commitment and identity. Some of these we may now consider.

Asceticism's Emergence from households in Asia Minor and Syria,

The Church of the fourth century, as in earlier times. was composed, for, the. most part, of households. These provided it with stability and financial resources. The heads of the more distinguished houses sometimes became its bishops almost as a matter of course. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, were members of a land-owning family of this sort, which is described as 'if not senatorial', then 'one from whom ... new members of the senatorial order were chosen' (23).

Such households had inherited generations of Christian tradition, often maintained in the face of persecution; but this tradition had included the severely regulated and subordinate position of their womenfolk. as indicated in 1 Timothy 2, 9-15, Titus 2, 35 and Ephesians 5, 22-24. The expansion of the ascetic movement, for which the century was to become notable. emerged from this environment. Within orthodoxy, it was to prove an emergence from the domination of the paterfamilias to that of the bishop; but two factors must not be overlooked. Firstly, virgins coming from the more distinguished families retained their distinguished status. Secondly, the age-old ability of women to counter male dominance with a power of their own did not desert them. Both these factors were of importance in the development of women's ministry, identity and status in the Church of the fourth and fifth centuries.

An anonymous homily entitled Peri Parthenias and published in its Greek text in 1953,(24) gives us a compelling picture of this emergence. The absence of references to Trinitarian questions and the early description of Christ as 'child of God' in this document suggest its date is prior to the Council of Nicaea in 325.

The homily is concerned with matrimony and virginity; but the author's emphasis is clear from the title. He believes the married state to be sanctified only through procreation, and that the married will achieve salvation only if they abstain from sexual relations after the birth of their last child, The homily is addressed primarily to fathers and may well represent a point of view widely held in the author's region. which is thought to be Syria or Asia Minor(25), P. Brown gives a compelling picture of groups of celibates, such as the author of Peri Parthenias prefers, at the centre of Syriac speaking congregations, embuing their Christian communities 'with a sense of being a group marked out by inviolate holiness' (26). It is possible that John Chrysostom and his companion Theodore belonged to such a body in their youth, as J. N, D. Kelly suggests (27).

The author insists that no pressure should be put upon sons or daughters to remain virgins; but that no father should impede the free wish of his 'sons, daughters, servants or maids' to remain virgins of God. He lays great stress upon the relationship between father and daughter and the burden he places upon the father of a daughter intending to remain dedicated to God is a heavy one. Much less is said about the role of her mother. A virgin daughter is seen as a bride of Christ; a virgin son is seen as a sacrifice, as Isaac was offered by his father as a sacrifice to God. (28)

Peri Parthenias has most to say about virgin daughters. The father's duties, the homily states begin with an assessment of his daughter's capacity to live as a virgin of God. The author gives him a list of matters to consider. If a father is convinced of his daughter's intention and capacity his further duties begin. He is to safeguard her from the very chance of meeting corrupting influences. She is to be confined 'as in a prison'; but external disciplines are not enough. He is to ensure that her mind is full of such scriptures as will exalt the virgin life. Perfection will not be reached without suffering and even a form of death. ( Peri Parthenias. 2. 10-11). Such a stern and even, at times, miserable regime was to be endured for a glorious purpose. The regime was the pathway to a blissful eternity with the heavenly bridegroom. The father, the virgin's paterfamilias, would receive a share in heavenly blessings as a reward for his labours.

It would seem that some form of declaration of intention to be a virgin of God was made as a private matter within the family; but the virgin was free to recant at any time; moreover, the homily is insistent that no one must constrain her or blame her. In later decades these matters would be seen differently; but, in this early stage, remaining a virgin of God or not was a matter for the virgin and her conscience (3. 45-46)

This homily is chiefly concerned with young virgins who remained at home under the protection of their families and supported by family resources; but the call of virginity was not limited to people with resources. Young women without means, whose parents had died, or whose relations were unable to support them, were also subject to this call and had to find resources of their own. Their enterprise took more than one form; but one of these caused deep concern among Church authorities in countries as far apart as Asia Minor and Spain.

It seems that the practice of virgins living with clergy as if brother and sister was a widely accepted answer to the unsupported virgin's problem. The virgins gained security and the priests such feminine support as cooking and mending. This practice must have been acceptable to the congregations which supported the priests; but was open to two obvious objections. The possibility of a virgin becoming the priest's mistress was always there and the comfort secured by the arrangement was thought by some to be excessive for those practising the ascetic life. This practice was therefore forbidden by the councils of Elvira in Spain in 306 and Ancyra in Asia Minor in 314. That it was the subject of deliberations in regions so far apart testifies to the widespread nature of a convenient practice which continued long after the decisions of these councils and others.

No doubt this ban on 'virgin wives' contributed to the development of sisterhoods in which dependent virgins would find support and oversight. But sisterhoods of strangers appear to have been a less than satisfactory answer,(29). Communities modelled on or adapted from households seem to have proved more successful. There may well have been many communities of the latter kind because the household unit was fundamental in the thinking of the age. The communities of Melania the Elder and Olympias were among them and, in the early case of Macrina, whose mother, younger brother and servants joined her in the single life, we might have an example of the development of such bodies. Indeed in Macrina. whom we must consider in some detail later, we might have evidence to support Susanna Elm's contention that ascetic virgins worked out their vocations by spiritualising the various household roles which society found acceptable for women (30)

Of course. not all Christian families could be so unconcerned about continuity of lineage or the aquisition of family wealth and honour, and such families had a twin identity, Sons were necessary in the world as they found it; but there were also concrete advantages if some of their daughters remained virgins. The Canons of Athanasius show that a virgin daughter was thought to bring blessings as well as honour to her house (31) and Palladius records how the prayers of the virgin Piamun were thought to preserve her village in Upper Egypt from raids upon its irrigation channels (32).

Virginity also solved an age old problem in a Christian way. Girls who were to be married required dowries which could prove a great drain upon a family's resources and the ancient remedy of exposure at birth was forbidden by the Church. But, however disadvantaged a girl might be, or however parsimonious her parents, she could be enrolled among the virgins (33).

Family advantage modified Christian commitment. The practice of taking a virgin daughter back if a suitable husband appeared was sufficiently widespread for bishops to preach against it. So, too, was the practice of parents giving their less well-favoured daughters as virgins. Some parents failed to endow daughters whether well-favoured or otherwise. Others profited from their daughters' enrolment as virgins by being relieved of the cost of their upkeep (34)

But the failure to endow virgin daughters even when money was available had complex causes. These included meanness, disapproval and an understandable reluctance to see both daughter and large sums of money go out of the family forever. At least a bride and her dowry cemented a union calculated to strengthen her family or dynasty; but money given with the virgin of God went to the Church or to the poor. But to the devoted and well endowed. like Macrina, the sister of Basil of Caesarea (330-379) and Gregory of Nyssa (330-c395). such matters were of no concern.

Macrina. Her Brothers And Their Predecessors.

Macrina was the eldest of ten children of an old established and distinguished Anatolian family, Christian for generations. She grew up determined to remain what her mother had wished to be; a virgin dedicated to Christ. What that virginity entailed is set out at length in her brother, Gregory of Nyssa,'s treatise 'On Virginity' and his 'Life of Macrina'.

To Basil and Gregory, as to others involved in the civic and ecclesiastical politics of the day, Macrina and her like represented the still point in a turning world. These virgin women were their link with the earliest Christian era; the evidence of how things could be and the promise of a Paradise that was to come. Unspoiled by the compromises forced upon men active in the world, Macrina assisted her mother in raising the younger children in a culture of domesticity, bible reading and prayer. If the locale of the Eastern monk was the desert, the loci of virgins in the early fourth century were home and church. In the latter, large numbers of virgins, some of gentle or noble birth, and grouped about the bishop, were no small part of his display of power and authority.

Based at first in their fathers' houses and sheltered from the world, thev would be escorted to church and back again. As community living became more common the role of paterfamilias was taken up by the bishop, as Basil the Great makes clear in his Letter to a fallen virgin (XLVI, esp.3). Macrina exercised at different times the roles of virgin daughter (of a widow), spiritual mother and leader to her own mother, spiritual mother to her youngest brother and, even before her mother's death, leader of a sisterhood, or perhaps a mixed community, at Amnesi in the hill country of Pontus.

Such a representative of Trinitarian orthodoxy as her brother Gregory of Nyssa was hardly likely to do justice in his 'Life of Macrina' to predecessors later deemed heretical. Perhaps this is why we find no reference there to the great debt they owed to such semi-Arians as their former friend, Eustathius. But the movement from households to religious communities in Cappadocia and Syria owed much in its early stages to the enthusiasm of radical bodies, such as his, acting in obedience to Scripture as they understood it. We must see the movement as arising from the devotion of individuals, parties and groups and inspired by charismatic leaders from across a wide spectrum of fourth-century Christian conviction. Later the enthusiasm of the radical groups was contained and their practices regulated or condemned by Church and Imperial authority; but their example could not be ignored. An acceptable alternative had to be found by orthodoxy. Macrina and her work were presented as a pattern to be followed. Previous leaders, if semi-Arian, were passed over.

Orthodoxy's unorthodox, pioneering predecessors included Eustathius of Sebaste, the teacher who earned the enthusiasm of the young Basil the Great and, it would seem. his brother Naucratius. Other leaders were Macedonius, bishop of Constantinople, his associate Marathonius and Basil, bishop of Ancyra. All these leaders may be loosely called Arians or semi-Arians. They were to suffer condemnation for their theological views at the second ecumenical council of Constantinople in 381; but many of their practices were condemned by the council of Gangra, the capital of the province of Paphlagonia, as early as 340 or 341. These practices are revealing, although the evidence for them comes primarily from the Fathers of the Gangra council who condemned them.

The council's Canons 13, 14, 17, make it clear that Eustathius, like the Encratites before him, encouraged women to abandon their husbands, for, in the words of the Fathers' letter to their neighbouring bishops in Armenia, '...the Eustathians condemn marriage, and maintain that no married person has hope in God.' Women were also to cut short their hair and wear, like men, the philosopher's coat. Worse still, in the view of these Fathers, the women claimed to do these things in the name of asceticism. The Fathers' phrase is 'under the pretence of asceticism'.

It must be remembered that a woman's long hair was not only a badge of her subordination to men (1Cor.11.6-10) but a sign that she was not made in the image of God. To cut short her hair was to be subject no longer to either doctrine and to assume a new male-like identity. Indeed the Gospel of Thomas, so beloved of radical groups, makes this explicit.

'Jesus said, "Behold I shall guide her myself in order to make her male so that she herself may become a living spirit like you males, for every woman who makes herself male shall enter the kingdom of the heavens (35).

Once again, salvation for the female involves leaving femininity behind.

For the male it meant leaving behind his sexuality; but not his masculine gender. Such denials made mixed communities of ascetics possible, Gender difference no longer existed. Now they were living the angelic life, where there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage. And yet the women were not thought of as asexual, but as 'virile'.

Obligatory celibacy, universally called 'continence', was just one aspect of the Eustathian rejection of the world and what they saw as the worldly Church. The letter of the Gangra Fathers refers to their questioning the status of the clergy, their open contempt for married clergy, their refusal to pay church tax, their denial of any distinction between slaves and their masters and their condemnation of Christians who remained rich. This last applied especially to the institutional church.

'That these radical Christians influenced Basil the Great, his brother Naucratius and his sister Macrina is difficult to deny. Naucratius and his companion Chrysaphius chose the ascetic life and linked it to the care for a group of men and women enfeebled by age and poverty (36). Such care for the poor was a hallmark of the Eustathian way. Like them, Macrina abolished, in her day to day life and work, any distinction between herself and her servants and slaves living in community with her, although it is doubtful if her status was forgotten by them.(37)

There is no evidence that Macrina cut her hair short. She wore simple attire. but not the philosopher's cloak. At least one man, her brother Peter, was included in her community in its earlier days. (38) In short, Macrina took up some of the practices recommended by Eustathius but not all. As we shall see, this was also true of her brother Basil the Great.

In the careers of Macedonius and Marathonius we see demonstrated the Eustathian care for the poor and contempt for riches. Both men founded monasteries which Socrates and Sozomen say were for both men and women. Macedonius founded hospices for the poor in Constantinople and Marathonius governed them, disposing of his fortune in so doing. (39)

Basil the Great, therefore, was not so much the originator of monasticism in Cappodocia and Syria as a politically prudent reformer. This is suggested by two changes. Whereas the Eustathian monasteries were mostly in urban districts and had a powerful voice in the election of bishops, Basil's communities were mostly sited in country districts. Whereas Eustathian monasteries were probably mixed, Basil the Great's monasteries were twin estabishments, But his communities retained a Eustathian-like close identity with the poor, as is shown in his establishments at Caesarea and Amaseia.

In the opinion of S. Elm, mixed communities had been the norm, not the exception, in Asia Minor and Egypt in the late third and early fourth centuries well before Basil introduced his form of monasticismc:(40).Certainly, where the theology of Origen guided Christian discipleship, the appetites of the body were but a passing stage. By disciplining them the soul passed to its natural state, and sexuality and gender were rendered superfluous. But the great Cappodocian Father's form of monasticism was bound to flourish and others were bound to dwindle when his fully Trinitarian party triumphed and the emperor Theodosius I declared all other parties heretical and illegal on the 28th of February, 380. Nevertheless, even the imperial ban could not extinguish the Eustathian/Macedonian communities immediately. Their popularity was such that as late as 787 the ban had to be repeated in Canon 20 of the second council of Nicaea.

It does appear that the triumph of Basil's theology represented a setback for women ascetics. They could no longer act in concert with male ascetics as part of one body. Separation brought with it an opportunity for the denial of equality, or at least the affirmation of difference. Regulation, justified initially on grounds of morality, remained as a means of control.

The separate sisterhoods of orthodoxy became spiritual power bases that did not directly challenge the Church's structures of authority; but which could prove to be a bishop's useful allies (41) because their wealthy and distinguished heads were so well connected in Church and state. In this setting the sisterhoods exercised their own discreet form of alternative authority. They were free to choose their own spiritual advisers, whose reputations could be made in this office. Jerome and Arius are examples. Christian matrons. sometimes of exalted social position, would consult them concerning their daughters. Monks, too, would consult them, for it was noticed that celibate men required the society of celibate women. Basil. bishop of Ancyra, notes this profound need in his treatise 'On the Preservation of Virginity' and regards it as a gift which God had given to women. Nevertheless, as the title of his treatise shows, the dangers involved were at the forefront of his mind. He and others, like the clergy of the Council of Elvira. made efforts to regulate their association. Oversight in the end was in masculine hands.

The scholarship of these ascetic women could be considerable. Macrina. brought up from childhood in the study of the scriptures, acted as 'father, teacher, paedagogue , mother and counsellor in all good things' (42) to her younger brother. Peter. In her last days she saw nothing patronising in congratulating her brother Gregory. bishop of Nyssa, on the Providence which had led him to high office. This, she observed. had been achieved 'even though you have little or no equipment within yourself.'(43)

Such sisterhoods often involved intense friendships and it was noticed that they held together more peaceably when they were composed of intimate friends and, as well as the poorer members of extended families already mentioned. The nucleus of Macrina's community, as we have seen, was composed of her maids and slave girls. Olympias is said by her anonymous fifth century biographer to have assembled a women's community of 250 dependents beside the great church in Constantinople (44), although Palladius makes no mention of this.

These women chose the virgin life as the foremost expression of Christian commitment and identity. Theirs was a most honoured status although they had no ministerial authority in orthodoxy. They formed a spiritual elite in the Church which attracted members of the greatest families in the empire.

Gregory of Nyssa's Views on Virginity and Matrimony.

The admiration, which this way of asserting Christian identity inspired, is well illustrated by Gregory of Nyssa in his treatise 'On Virginity'. Gregory saw virginity even in the nature of God, 'for the Father has a Son; begotten, but without passion.' The Son, too, and the Holy Spirit are virgin, pure and incorruptible. (§2) The virgin birth itself reveals the secret, i.e. the necessity of virginity for true purity. Hence it is a necessary part or sign of that purity or incorruptability which deifies the devotee. §1,§2) Those who follow it 'have no fellowship whatever with the sins of mankind'. Those who neither married nor gave in marriage were imitating the angels who look upon the face of God. as Adam had done before the Fall. 'Then beautify their characters from the Source of all beauty'(§4). If this owes much to Origen. the bible too, inspires his world renouncing, new age embracing, stance.

Drawing upon 1 Corinthians 4 v15 and Philemon v10 he declares that the body's virginity is a cooperative agent in the 'inward' marriage that produces spiritual children. He has already declared that virginity is 'man(kind)'s fellow worker in the work of assimmilating to themselves spiritual natures'.(§5) In short, virginity 'makes us like the angels'. (§4,§5) It is 'a representation of the blessedness of the world to come'.(§5)

Justice requires the admission that the preservation of virginity, or continence, was but a first step in the ascetic life (§12); but to the ascetics it was an essential, non-negotiable, step. Although Gregory of Nyssa, Anthony, Ambrose and Augustine, like Origen before them, rejected the Marcionite/Encratite/Eustathian view that celibacy was essential for all Christians. their attitude towards the legitimacy of matrimony in the Christian life was one of critical ambiguity.

Gregory could write that he was 'not against marriage as an institution'; but not without adding immediately, 'but better avoid it lest passion corrupts lawful indulgence'. (§8) Marriage was 'among the dust which had to be swept away before the lost coin could be found'. (§12) It involved one in the entanglements of the secular world. It brought vicious family quarrels and family cupidity.(§3,§4) It brought death in the loss of loved ones. Even the happiest of marriages was 'like a sword with a beautiful hilt but with the steel blade of death.' 'What is the cause of widowhood but marriage?'!(§13). In short it was 'remaining in Egypt' and 'we cannot be rid of Egyptian bondage unless we leave Egypt'(§4).

It is possible that Gregory is expressing here the grief and despair known to all in a world where the early death of loved ones was so common an occurence. That grief is evident in the funeral inscriptions of the age, as illustrated in W. Tabbernee's Montanist Inscriptions and Testimonia, especially page 252, and would seem to be deep, even allowing for the possibility of conventional language.

'Aurelia Appes prepared this tomb for her sweetest husband Trophimos (aided by their children.) Christians for a Christian'.

What is also noteworthy in these inscriptions is the solidarity in Christian identity of all concerned, demonstrated by the repeated phrase, 'Christians for Christians' at the end of the inscriptions.

The Contribution of Jerome.

When discussing fourth century views of sexuality, gender and Christian identity, ignoring the letters and stories of Jerome (342-420) would be an act of partisanship of truly Jerome-like proportions. If, in the course of a long life, his views mellow, this mellowing is shown in his advice on the bringing up of virgins rather than his observations concerning matrimony.

To the modern mind there is frequently something ludicrous in the size of the club with which Jerome lays about him when he is denigrating marriage. He can relate the story of Malchus, the captive monk, who thinks his wickedness has been so great that in his old age it has reduced him to the status of a married man. (45) He stretches the credulity of another age to the limit when he roundly asserts that he praises wedlock and marriage but only because they give him virgins! (46) His deep aversion to the married life continued into old age for in A. D. 403 he can tell Laeta. a Roman lady of substance, that if her daughter is to be brought up a virgin she should not bathe with married women 'as women with child offer a revolting spectacle.'(47)

In his twenty second letter, which is addressed to Eustochium, a lady of high status in Rome and the first of her sort to take a monastic vow (§15) he encapulates in a single sentence the guiding principle of Eastern monasticism and then proceeds to give practical advice. Jerome writes in §10,

'Care must be taken, therefore, that abstinence might bring back to Paradise those whom satiety once drove out.'

These words are a salutary reminder that, despite the great emphasis upon virginity, the sexual appetite was but one hunger among others. All had to be suppressed. To these ascetics Adam's sin was not sexual desire but ravenous greed. Jerome would appear to be at one with the Desert Fathers in this matter. Eve's sexual relations with Adam began later, when they put on clothes (48). Nevertheless, sexual desire was a lust indicative of all lusts. One's guard must never be let down, and so he advises Eustochium against a long list of sinful errors.

These include holding on to unsuitable thoughts. 'Slay the enemy while he is small'. he advises (§6). Eating and drinking must be carefully controlled. She must '...avoid wine as you would poison'(§8), avoid any food but the simplest fare. This is '...indispensable as a means to the preservation of chastity'.(§11)

She must certainly not have anything to do with agapetae. (§14) i.e. false virgins who, although allegedly spiritual companions of unmarried clergy were, it was thought, all too often their mistresses (49). She must avoid courting the company of the high-born companions of her former life. Instead 'let your companions be women pale and thin from fasting'. (§16 and 17) Other matters to avoid are slipping into covetousness, (§31 and 32), going out often and unnecessarily. (§17 and 25) and listening to improper remarks.(§24)

The interior life is not forgotten. Jerome insists there should be no passion for vainglory. 'When you fast be of a cheerful countenance' and 'let your dress be neither too neat nor too slovenly,'(§27) and unremarkable. Avoid both the highest and the lowest seats (§27). This will involve avoiding vainglorious clerics (§28), not appearing over eloquent or affected in speech (§29) and not glorying in another's failure. (§38)

The lady is to remember the fixed hours of prayer. (§37) e. g. the third, sixth and ninth hour, at dawn and in the evening; before meals, when we come in and when we sit down. She is to rise three times in the night and re-read well-known scripture passages.

The virgin's denial of worldly ways is emphasised here with Jerome's mixture of good sense and severity. The fanaticism is often in the rhapsody that accompanies it; but not always. The virgin's avoidance of sexual temptation is to include a fanatical denial of 'worldly' hygiene. Jerome recommends that, in view of the temptations that abound, she should not bathe at all.

With this must be compared his later views expressed in his letter CXXX to Demetrias in A. D. 414. This letter is to a lady whose birth and riches make her 'second to none in the Roman world' (§1). In it Jerome's tone is gentler and the asceticism he recommends is less fanatical. Whether this is because his views have changed, as the editors of the Library of the Fathers suggest, or because he is modifying his advice to suit the great lady in question is not clear.

He commends her relatives for giving her the same dowry as her married sisters and from his observations we learn that this was by no means always the case with wealthy virgins. Jerome has not always held this point of view. In A. D. 394, in his letter to Paulinus (letter 53 §11), he ends with the strong recommendation that ascetics, upon declaration of their calling, should give up their possessions totally and without delay. He says this is to avoid the possibility of the sin of Ananaias and Sapphira; but it might also be in answer to the outrage felt by some aristocrats at the alienation of their families' riches. Yet Jerome himself did not give up his wealth; for three years later, in letter 66 §14, he writes of sending his brother Paulinian to Italy to sell various 'ruinous villas and property inherited from our common parents'.

He insists once again that the virgin must guard her thoughts and use fasting as a remedy for sexual passion. (§9). He follows this however with the insistance that fasting is not to be so extreme as to disable one from reading scriptures, singing psalms and keeping vigils. Fasting, he says, is only 'a foundation on which other virtues can be built'. (§11)

Demetrias is never to look on a man except in the company of her Christian mother and grandmother. (§12) He exhorts her not to forget the traditional Roman patrician teaching that the passions and affections require curbing (§13). He insists that her property (which was vast) when she comes of age is hers; but it is also Christ's. She must use it to feed the poor, to support religious communities, as the Lord directs. (§14) This is in accord with his own practice in Letter 66 where the property his brother is to sell will pay for the building of a monastery and hospice.

He discusses the relative merits of the solitaries and virgins who live in community and decides the latter course is perhaps to be preferred as it carries with it the salutary discipline of obedience to superiors. (§ 17)

From this section we learn something of the shortcomings of solitaries in Jerome's day. Excessive fasting has sometimes impaired their faculties, so that they no longer 'know what to do or where to turn' (§17). Their scholarship is weak, but puffed up, because they have never deferred to their betters.

Having referred to women of this stamp he passes on to the virgin's need to avoid married women, who have priorities which are not hers, and her need to choose servants and companions well. From this we learn that the devoted Christian woman was expected to be cloaked and veiled, showing only her eyes and that she 'only uses these to find her way' (§18).

He has been insistent about the virgin's strict prayer times and bible study leading to a sound knowledge of the Faith. She is to make things with her hands, too, and be constantly industrious.

Jerome and Gregory of Nyssa are notable, not for their adulation of virginity, which was shared by almost all the thinkers of their day, but for the violence with which they expressed their intense dislike and fear of sexuality. It can be paralleled, for example in John Chrysostom's writings, but not exceeded. But, side by side with this insistence on virginity, Jerome opens further a door to women's advancement which Origen had opened in the previous century.

The virgin Eustochium is to love the Holy Scriptures. 'When your head falls let it be upon the sacred page' (XX11, 17). There follows the promise that wisdom would then love her and keep her safe. This insistence on loving the Scriptures brings us to the next generation of ascetic women and two new characteristics which were the wonder of their contemporaries.

Learned and Mobile : Women With a New identity?

The first of the freedoms virginity brought to women was the freedom to enter the male world of learning. Jerome, taking up the mantle of Origen, took for granted the identity of the minds of men and women and encouraged the latter's learning. Well-educated, well-connected women moved to Palestine in the company of Jerome or near him. They were accustomed to the company of scholarly males, as were the visiting ladies and their entourages on pilgrimage.

Their great wealth was of inestimable value in maintaining monasteries where learning by either sex was encouraged. Jerome's own library, the provision of his stenographers and his Jewish teacher of Hebrew were all paid for by Paula (347-404), This noble Roman lady and ascetic financed his monastery and founded and financed her own for women nearbv. On the Mount of Olives, Melania the elder (345-410), at the head of a monastery of fifty sisters and with Rufinus (345-410) as her advisor and comrade, studied the Scriptures and the thinking of Origen. This comradelv association continued until the Origenist controversy, when Rufinus left for Italy in 397 and Melania followed two years later.

In Rome itself another noble lady, Marcella, (325-410) made her palace on the Aventine hill a centre of learning and a focus for clergy returning from the Greek world. Similarly, from Melania' s palace, or one of her Sicillian villas, the newly returned Rufinus brought the theology of Origen to well-educated Italian ladies, very much as Jerome had done before him.

The learning of such heiresses as Marcella and the two Melanias was prodigious and their opinions were soon carefully sought by bishops. Nor was their pastoral insight lacking. Melania the elder diagnosed the cause of the nervous breakdown of Evagrius of Pontus and healed the schism of the 400 monks. Theirs was also ongoing pastoral work. The monks and pilgrims who visited Paula and Melania the Elder and her grand-daughter did so for advice on the Christian life as well as the interpretation of Scripture (50).

The second characteristic was more evident to the world at large. The better endowed of the new ascetic women and. in particular, the great aristocrats who were joining them, were geographically mobile. Hitherto such mobility among women had been a feature of the Encratites, who, in the power of the Spirit, had renounced sexuality at baptism. They had thus become 'non-animal', as Adam and Eve were thought to have been. They could be at ease in each other's company, even travelling long missionary journeys together (51). This, however, was largely an eastern and especially Syrian phenomenon. The aristocratic virgins who rose to such fame in the fourth century were from great Roman families in a west which was suspicious of such practices and conservative in its views of family lite. The independent spirit of these 'virile' ladies rose to the opportunity offered by pilgrimage and missionary, journeys. The great esteem in which they were held by the highest in the empire was only increased by such devoted activity.

When Melania the Elder made her way to Jerusalem, bishops and governors along her route vied with each other in paying court to her. This she accepted as her due, ascetic or not. If, moreover, she should chance to meet resistance from some uninformed Arian governor, as happened when she went to the assistance of some exiled Desert fathers and orthodox clergy, she could reduce him to obsequious apologies by informing him of her social position (52).

Olympias of Constantinople, the other great heiress among the ascetics, had, at first, less freedom to dispose of her enormous wealth as she pleased. Widowed, possibly before her nineteenth birthday, her vast resources were sought by clerical and secular fortune hunters alike and were quickly put in trust by a prefect and later by Theodosius I himself. Bishops and other clergymen were banned from visiting her palace, and large gifts to clergy were forbidden by imperial edict.

The situation was changed by the patriarch Nectarius who ordained her deaconess. Reception of this office obliged her to do what she was only too anxious to do, that is, spend her wealth on the support of the Church of Constantinople. Her generosity was on such a scale that John Chrysostom, perhaps the greatest preacher of almsgiving of his day, had to warn her of the need for wisdom in these matters (53).

Her Christian commitment continued the generosity towards the poor which was the ancient practice of her class. Her commitment to the ascetic life was to be of the highest order and her gifts princely. As in secular, so in religious life, she remained an aristocrat.

The great wealth and social standing of these women was essential to their version of commitment. They were factors never to be forgotten. These women had escaped domesticity and had no intention of surrendering to another form of cloistered discipline. Their background and means ensured respect and their asceticism ensured their recognition as 'virile'. Together these assets assured their powerful independence and a Christian identitv which their contemporaries found awesome. The greatest figures in the empire sought their company and they had no superiors in their own sphere.

Melania the Elder financed and governed her own convent; but left it for ten years in Italy when family affairs required her powerful presence. As she had chosen to leave, so she chose to return to the Holy Land, to die their shortly after arriving in 410. Melania the younger established her own convent in Jerusalem, chose its mother superior and undercut her authority as it pleased her. Later she chose to accept her uncle's invitation to Constantinople to move in imperial circles. She attempted to convert unbelievers, instructed prominent women and perhaps even the emperor (54). Paula, whatever the influence of Jerome. was abbess for life of her convent in Bethlehem. Marcella in Rome took a public stand against Origenism and was acknowledged as an interpreter of Scripture, while dissembling as to the source of this learning so as to avoid any accusation of violating the biblical ban on teaching by women (55).

These wealthy ascetics have been called 'social iconoclasts' (56); but that is not wholly apt. They did not change the nature of marriage in late antiquity. These ascetics made men see them as different from women as they had formerly known them; but only by being, in men's eyes, no longer women. They were described by men as 'virile' and, even if a later age would rather call them androgenous, as Clark prefers, a gulf separated them from all married women. They might be called the spiritual ancestors of Lady Hester Stanhope, Miss Buss and Miss Beal and the framers of legislation requiring women to resign their professions upon marriage. Whether they would have supported the repeal of that legislation is open to doubt.

Perhaps these aristocratic women belonged to the Remnuoth or Sarabaite variety of independent ascetics of which Jerome (letter XXXII,34) and Cassian (Collationes XVIII,7) disapproved so strongly. E. Clark thinks so (57) and suggests their status absolved them from criticism; but if those ascetics lived in companies of two or three, as Benedict thought (58), the suggestion loses much of its force.

It is impossible to say whether these aristocrats would have joined the much criticised virgins who shared accommodation with men if they had been subject to economic need, because they would not then have been the same people. Yet their need for a close association with a male friend is, in some cases, very evident. Examples are Melania the Elder and Rufinus, Paula and Jerome and Olympias and John Chrysostom. Their status and their wealth enabled them to handle these needs in a way not open to their poorer sisters. We have an insight into a way such as this in the relationship of Olympias and Ghrysostom through his five surviving playful and encouraging letters to her.

Olympias and John Chrysostom.

Problems concerning sexuality do not arise in any of the five letters. This is only to be expected of such experienced celibates. Instead, her concern is for his bodily health, his is for her health and her tendency to depression. Olympias was a lady of action as well as of great resources. It was hard for her not to be able to assist her banished and physically frail triend and to suffer the temporary defeat of the orthodox party, And so he writes:

'Come now, let me relieve the wound of thy despondency and disperse the thoughts that gather this cloud of care around thee.' (Ep. I, 1)


'...when you write ...tell me that you are not confounded with sorrow, that you do not pass your time in weeping and sorrow, but in serenity and cheerfulness.' (Ep. I, 5)


'Why do you lament'? Why do you belabour yourself...For why are you grieved because you could not remove me from Cucusus'?' (Ep. 3, 1).

Later, throughout his fifth letter, when she has come through her depression and suspects that her inner joy is evidence of lack of piety he assures her of the contrary and, although miles apart and surrounded by enemies, they are together in a blissful religious assurance. We see here an example of that freedom for close friendship, despite a difference of gender, which ascetics could enjoy and which would have been so difficult for a Roman wife. One wall separated her convent from his palace and he alone was allowed to pass through it. He preached to her nuns. She cared for his clothes and cooked him simple meals - and had them sent over.

They had spiritual and intellectual interests in common and practised similar disciplines; but the relationship seems to have had within it a strong sexual element. Indeed, Kelly says explicitly that those who think so are 'entirely correct' (59); but his reminder that they were perfectly well aware of it and had their skilful ways of limiting it to a courteous gender relationship is also important. It is possible that theirs was a special form of ascetic life in its own right, and one well known to later centuries (60); but there is a doubt. Kelly maintains that the relationship was very damaging to Olympias (61). If he is right, it is possibly a relationship which ought not to have developed between ascetics for whom physical sexual expression was both forbidden and deeply repugnant. We cannot be sure about these matters without further research.

Chrysostom's Views on Sexuality and Christian Commitment.

Of Chrysostom's understanding of sexuality in relation to Christian mission and commitment generally there is no doubt. His devotion to virginity was as great as Jerome's, despite his playfulness and well-turned phrases. He maintained that the earth had become fully populated and the age of virginity had arrived with the coming of Christ. Matrimony, in Chrysostom's view, came in the wake of mortality, and now, with the resurrection age upon us, it was no longer necessary as the provider of the city's legitimate children. Matrimony was now to be seen only as a restraint to the sexual urges of the young. These he considered so powerful that only fear of the fires of hell could check them (62). He went so far as to suggest that homosexual relationships might also serve the purpose (63.)

Chrysostom hoped for a Christian city where the public baths and theatres of the old city had been replaced by the great city church surrounded by Christian households while this world lasted. These households were to resemble little monasteries in their sexual restraint and their concern for the poor. For behind ail his preaching there is horror at the abject poverty of the destitute in a great and proud city (64). He did not consider it primarily the task of solitaries or monastics to feed the city's poor in the manner of the Desert Fathers, although he was very ready to direct them to assist. That task, he insisted, lay with the Christian married couples resident in the city, Sexuality and gender had, at best, the temporary purpose of providing these households. The Christian identity of the married was to be shown in a sexual restraint which would eventually bring about the end of the city as it had been known for centuries. This understanding of Christian life and witness hopelessly underestimated the appetite of the population, Christians among them, for the ancient lite of the city, In the end, privation and defeat at the hands of the Muslims and not Christian asceticism brought about the city's end.

The sexual immodesty of both the rich and the poor of the city are linked in Chrysostom's mind as especially indicative of the city's corruption. The poor had no means of providing the conditions of modesty for their daughters. This was part of their subjection to the powerful. 'their daughters, as 'non-persons', had no right to such consideration. Their nudity in the city's public spectacles and theatre performances was expected by the populace. To John Chrysostom, they and the rich women who bathed naked in the baths before a mixed company of slaves and retainers, from whom their class separated them almost as much as from the animal world, were equally immersed in that 'ocean of debauchery' which was the city.

Chrysostom's adulation of the single life is all the more impressive because he shows a deeper appreciation of the feelings of a woman bereft of a lover than is common in the writings of the Fathers. In his Letter To A Young Widow' (iii) he writes of her former closeness to her admirable late husband and the strength of her feelings and says,

'For such is the power of love---the affection of the soul'

but he does not carry the thought through and ends with the customary

'for this is only a bodily kind of intercourse, but then will be a union of soul with soul more perfect, and of a far more delightful and far nobler kind.
(conclusion, section 7)

In between he dissuades her from a second marriage and urges what he describes as 'a loyalty to Christ now' in spite of the difficulties a young widow will encounter if she remains single. These are a telling reminder of the practical difficulties of a solitary ascetic woman living in the city. He lists the attentions of mercenary and libidinous men, the contempt of servants and the loss of general esteem now that she is no longer the wife of a man of position.

But, if second marriages are to be avoided, leaving the ascetic life for any marriage is, to Chrysostom, as to Jerome, worse than adultery. The first of his 'Letters To Theodore After His Fall' is now thought to have been written to another recipient seventeen years later (65); but his second is indeed to Theodore and comes roughly to the point.

'...for if he who has been attached to a heavenly bridegroom deserts him, and joins hmself to a wife, the act is adultery, even though you call it marriage ten thousand times over, or rather it is worse than adultery in proportion as God is greater than man.' (II, 3)

He has already reminded Theodore that his wife Hermione's beauty will fade, being only 'phlegm, blood, humour and bile-masticated food.' It seems that even in this eloquent and sometimes sensitive saint, the concept of psychosomatic unity, though it has skirted the edge of his consciousness, has not penetrated it.

We turn now to sexuality, gender and commitment in the experience of Anthony the Great and the Desert Fathers and briefly to Cassian who introduced their monasticism to the West. This will bring us back to Augustine and to a comparison of the mind of the East with that of he West.

Anthony, the Desert Fathers and Sexuality.

The form of the commitment of the monks of Egypt was shaped by Egyptian geography and the Origenist theology of St Anthony (251-356). The former may be stated briefly.

The close proximity of the desert and its stark contrast with the Nile's fertile plain brought into sharp focus the agricultural world of fallen Adam and the challenge of another way of living. That way demanded an environment which was as hostile to the ways of fallen Adam as the fertile plain was supportive..

Life in the society of the Nile valley meant subjection to the demands of family and city, to back-breaking toil to pay taxes and to conscription for military service. These social conditions are well illustrated in the account of the anchorite Paphnutius in the Historia Monarchorun in Egypto where Paphnutius

'...found a beautiful woman wandering in the desert who was being pursued by agents of the governor and city councillors because of her husband's arrears of taxes...'

who told him

'...my husband has often been flogged during these last two years because of arrears of taxes amounting to three hundred gold coins. He has been put in prison and my beloved three children have been sold as slaves. As for me, I have become a fugitive and move from place to place' (66).

Paphnutius's care for the persecuted woman was part of the desert ascetics' care for the poor of the world they had left. We must consider this role of the monks in greater detail later, as part of their commitment and identity as seen by pilgrims; but first we must consider the monks' self understanding.

The Egyptian ascetics of the fourth century were not a homogenous body. The different words used to describe them is evidence of this. The apotactites who lived in the towns or villages in small groups could still be landowners, church officials and tax-payers. The anchorites who had withdrawn from society, had not necessarily entered the desert. The monk could have started as either of these and later joined one of the monasteries of Pachomius (c292-346). Egyptian asceticism as the fourth century opened was a developing movement and the nature of that development was to owe much to the influence of Pachomius and Anthony and other teachers less well known because they were eventually left beyond the margins of a developing orthodoxy.

'The three religious systems which challenged and defeated the traditional cults of Egypt - Gnosticism, Christianity and Manichaeism - were not only related to each other, but in some respects almost indistinguishable.(67)'

Gnostics and Manichaeans reguarded themselves as Christians and, when eventually persecuted by orthodoxy, disguised themselves as such. They all taught an individual salvation requiring a gnosis of some sort and asceticism. But, various as they were, they had in common the renunciation of marriage and traditional social life and the need to create another environment.

It is sometimes said that this renunciation was founded not so much on a devaluation of the body, or a belief in celibacy as a prerequisite for holiness, as a search for liberation from the ties of family, society and even bishop, in order to concentrate on the spiritual life (68). But this is both to overstate the case and to underrate the complex heritage of the monks. Even in the school of Anthony, the body was a 'heaviness' from which to be freed. If this freedon was to be won by the spiritualising of the body, by becoming free of its corruptibility, then marriage, however deep the love between the partners, was not seen as a possible means to this end. As Anthony wrote in Letter 1V, 2-3, 'Bodily love has no firmness or stability.'

He follows Origen's theology in this matter so closely that Rubenson suggests a direct contact with Origen's teaching, rather than a general knowledge of it (69). P. Brown sums up the teaching of both men with,

' As for the facts of the marriage bed there was something pointedly 'inapposite' about them...Knowledge of married love could not be a stepping stone, by which the soul might rise, through physical experience, to a higher, more spiritual sense of partnership with God. Rather, the experience-----was delineated with bleak precision, as a darkened antithesis to the blazing, light-filled embrace of Christ in the spirit.'(70)

Corporeality meant corruptibility.

It would be quite wrong to think of Anthony's teaching as largely philosophy and lacking the gospel message; but the Christ of Anthony's letters is not so much a sacrifice for the sin of the world as a healer of mankind's wounded mind. He has come, and yet is to come (for Anthony makes no clear distinction between the incarnation and the parousia) bringing with him this healing gift which is sometimes called the gift of the Spirit. This healing restores to man the ability to know himself, and to know one's self is to have, once again, the ability to know God.

Christian identity, in Anthony's teaching, involves knowing this and acting accordingly.

'But I believe that those who have entered with all their heart and have prepared themselves to endure all the trials of the enemy until they prevail, are first called by the Spirit who alleviates everything for them so that the work of repentance becomes sweet for them. ...

'The body is thus brought under the authority of the mind and is taught by the Spirit... The mind sanctifies it in food and drink and sleep, and, in one word, in all its movements, even separating itself from the natural union through its own sanctity.'(71)

To Anthony and those who followed him, the body, like all matter, is both the seat of 'the devil's power' and the means and opportunity for progress in virtue.

'To halt their [souls'] fall God gave men bodies; which enabled them again to ascend to their (original) contemplation (72).

The ultimate end is the freeing of

'----their spiritual essence, which is hidden in this corruptible body, which it did not have from the beginning, and which it will be called away from. (73)'

meanwhile the task is to

'----lift up your body in which you are clothed and make it an altar and lay upon it all your thoughts and leave all evil counsels before God (74)'

The prize sought by the disciplining of the body and its passions was the stability and peace of 'pure mind' or essence united with its Source which is God, in exchange for the ambivalence and insecurity of mind immersed in the 'heaviness' of matter.

Anthony had no doubt that this unity with unchanging Being was possible, in large measure at least, in this mortal life, through the guidance of the Spirit. This is made clear in his first letter where he describes the need to discipline all parts of the body in order to expel the passions which have no place in eternity. The mind, he assures his spiritual children, is united with the Spirit and under its authority. It makes the feet of believers walk according to the wishes of the Spirit to do good works. Thus, he says, the whole body is changed and placed under the authority of the Spirit.

' And I think that [even) now this dwelling (75) has taken on something of that other spiritual body which will be taken on at the resurrection of the dust. (76)'

There is no reference here to Church (77) to sacraments or to sacramental grace. The emphasis is placed on the Spirit's authority, the need for good works and the spiritualising of the body. Believers are those who have accepted the coming of Christ the healer and are progressively enlightened and empowered by the Spirit. The relationship of this to baptism is not stated.

Christ the Healer : the Body and Gender.

We must now look in greater detail at Anthony's understanding of Christ as the essential healer of mankind and, indeed, of all creation. We shall see that it results both in personal asceticism and in acceptance of the oneness of mankind and of all creation. This is because Anthony's teaching has two great themes, i. e, Christ's coming and the eventual unity of the essence of all creation with the Source of all.

i. In his second letter he relates how God, through the Spirit, raised up a council of prophets who built upon the foundation of Moses but could not complete the task. They then died and, in the power of the Spirit, saw that the wound in man was incurable except by

'the Only-begotten who is the very mind and image of the Father, who made every rational creature in the image of his image'(78).

Similarly, in his third letter, in almost the same words, he writes;

'Those invested with the spirit saw that no one among the creatures could heal this great wound, but only the goodness of God, his Only-begotten, whom he sent as salvation of the entire world. He is the great healer who is able to heal this great wound' (79 ) .

Anthony refers directly to the wound and its healing in all except the first of his seven letters. In his thinking, this wound is to man's mind, which is the image of God's mind. It is a wound which makes him incapable of knowing his own essence. The resurrection of Christ, in Anthony's teaching, brings about the resurrection of the believer's mind through the gift of the Spirit. Through the disciplining of the body by the enlightened mind the passions can be expelled and he or she can know again the natural law implanted in them at their creation; that law which had enabled them to know their origin in the Creator. Anthony describes this law as the law of promise or of covenant which irrational passion has 'withered away' or ' frozen' .

Despite the premier position of mind, the body, in the tradition of Anthony and his monks, was not to be discarded, but transformed. It was to be made more spiritual, obeying the urges which were natural to it and guided by the soul. This meant the expulsion of those urges which were 'unnatural', the result of arrogance and greed or demonic activity (80), and the recovery of man's natural way. Christian identity was, to the Desert Fathers, a return to the natural identity of man. They were not to be afraid of the struggle for virtue, because all virtue needed was the compliance of the monk's will. Virtue is in mankind and arises when the soul maintains what is spiritual.

'To maintain what is according to nature, is for it to remain as it was made ...and it was made perfectly straight. ...That the soul is straight means that its spiritual [part] is in its natural state, as it was made (81).

ii. But the struggle for perfect discipleship meant also a recovery of the oneness of mankind and that unity of all things in God which was broken by the fall (V1, 56, 62), The expulsion of the passions meant the expulsion of egotism and the will to divide. To the monk, as to Plato, virtue was knowledge and its pursuit was a moral and spiritual task as well as an intellectual one.

This desire for the knowledge which is virtue and this belief in the oneness of all mankind were made evident by the monks' agricultural work undertaken in common although many of the monks were anchorites. This work was largely for the benefit of the poor outside their ranks. This was a part of the life and character of the desert monks most evident to visitors and pilgrims, as was the peace and unity that reigned among the monks themselves; but, before we examine them, one aspect of the unity which was to come is worthy of attention.

Gender was seen by Anthony's monks to be a division which would one day end. It had no place in eternity. In the spiritual essence 'which has a beginning but no end' there is 'neither man nor woman' (1V,5). Gender was part of the corruptible body, which the essence did not have in the beginning and which was to pass away (1V,80 ), As we have seen, sexual union was held to coarsen the participants and deflect them from a desire for that perfect union with God. Nowhere in Anthony's seven letters does he say explicitly that those who are married and living 'in the world' are not to be considered Christians; but the implication throughout them is that ' in the world' must mean ' of the world. ' Whether this was still the case in the subsequent generation when the Lausiac History of Palladius and the Historia Monachorum in Aegypto were written we must consider now.

Christian Identity in Fifth Century Egypt,

In the fourth and fifth centuries the deserts of Egypt asserted a fascination for Christians with the freedom and resources to travel. Palladius, bishop of Helenopolis, was one of these.

In 419-20 he wrote an account of his visit, some years previously, for Lausus, chamberlain at the court of Theodosius II, which is known as the Lausiac History. Two decades before, an account of the travels of seven pilgrims had been written by one of their number who was a monk of Rufinus's monastery on the Mount of Olives. To this work Rufinus added some of his own experiences among the monks of Nitra twenty five years before. 'this is the Historia Monachorum in Aegypto.

The deserts were seen throughout the Christian world as the remote region where Anthony and others were living a life of such discipleship that God could work in them miracles such as those recorded in the Scriptures (82). Such angelic lives were said to have led these saints into such intimacy with God that they had become like Adam before the Fall. It follows that Egypt had many visitors.

Some of these were no more than tourists and were treated hospitably and sent on their way; but many more were pilgrims who had visited the holy places of Palestine but were even more concerned to meet and learn from these spiritual athletes of the desert. As the visiting band of seven pilgrims told the clairvoyant monk John of Lycopolis,

'We have come to you from Jerusalem for the good of our souls, so that what we have heard with our ears we may perceive with our eyes... [because] the memory of what we have seen is not easily erased but remains imprinted on our minds like a picture, ' (83)

In the opinion of the writer they were not disappointed. In his prologue he writes.

'I have truly seen the treasure of God hidden in human vessels.'

and he quotes the opinion of the local villagers.

'Indeed it is clear to all who dwell there that through them the world is kept in being, and that through them too human life is preserved and honoured by God.'(84)

In these two statements the writer links what he saw with what he was told.

i. He and his friends saw men for whom extreme asceticism was but a means to an end; that end being a degree of serenity which visitors found bath admirable and awesome. Like the Abba Or, these men could look like angels, their countenances so radiant they filled the onlookers with awe. They found these men living in the countryside, in the desert and even occasionally in a city like Oxyrhynchus. They found some living solitary lives and others ministering to hundreds (85) and even thousands (86) of their brother monks. They found that two-roomed cells were most commonly their accommodation (87), grouped around a church where corporate worship was offered on Saturdays and Sundays. The solitaries, they found, were rarer than in Anthony's time (88) .

The seven witnessed the monks' agricultural work for the comfort of visitors and sick brothers and the larger scale agriculture and commerce for the relief of the poor of Alexandria (89). They noticed the many trades contributing to the large scale commerce of the Pachomian monks. Above all they experienced the monks' warm hospitality which they do not hesitate to describe as loving (90). They found that, some elderly ascetics apart, the monks' diet was now usually one simple meal at the ninth hour, often after the celebration of the holy mysteries (90).

They were surprised at the frequency of the ascetics' celebration of these mysteries and recorded the view of the holy man Apollo who thought that the Eucharist should be celebrated daily, 'for he who separates himself from the mysteries separates himself from God' (91). Baptism and the Eucharist are spoken of in a familiar way in this, the second generation of the desert monks, a way which is not to be found in the letters of St. Anthony. We even hear of many anchoresses and nuns, for women too lived the life of the desert. Palladius considers them to have attained 'a male degree of virtue', devotes a chapter of his Lausiac History to them (92) and describes the careers of the most outstanding. In the words of Susanna Elm,

'Women are mentioned as practising ascetic life in the villages, in the villages and in the desert, alone, with their mothers, as partners in a marriage blanc [a marriage where sexual activity has ceased], in communities, as anchorites, and as wandering ascetics.' (93)

These, however, are 'manly' women, counted by Palladius as 'fathers'. None is married and Rufinus's Latin account of the healing of the little girl by Macarius (H.M.E. XX1) sums up the attitude of these ascetics.

'So he restored her to health, but in such a way that no femininity showed in her form, no female parts were apparent, so that in all her contact with men, she never beguiled them with womanly deceits.

It is possible that Basianilla, whom Palladius calls the wife of Candidianus the general (Laws. Hist. XL1,4) to whom Chrysostom wrote as an old friend (94) is still living as a married lady; but even here it is unlikely, given the people with whom she is grouped and her description as 'practising virtue ardently and scrupulously'. Those mentioned with her, besides the virgins, include Avita, the niece of Melanin the Elder, and her husband Apronianus (XL1,5). These two have given up marital relations (XL1,5 and L1V,4) for 'the life of virtue and continence' on which account they were 'found worthy ...to fall asleep in Christ free from all sin' (XL1, 5). It is probable that they, and Veneria, wife of Vallovicus, the count, and Theodore, the wife of the tribune, are included among the distinguished widows mentioned earlier (XL1,1), their sexual activity having ceased. Palladius seems to be emphasising the social status of these ladies, and the great Melanin the Elder herself, although insisting on her religious status as a widow, could still describe herself as the wife of an aristocrat when the occasion demanded it (Laus. Hist. XLV1,4) .

In Antony's letters, the Historia Monachorum in Aegypto and Palladius's Lausiatic History, abstinence from sexual relations seems to be considered by both monks and pilgrims to be an essential prerequisite of serious Christian commitment. This seems to be underlined in Palladius's account of his visit to John of Lycopolis (95) where the clairvoyant monk recognises his visitor's worry over the spiritual state of his brother and sister and tells him not to worry as 'both are saved as both have renounced the world.'

Nevertheless, there seem to have been 'people of the region' in the Historia Monachorum (I, 4-9,10) who were married Christians. Significantly they appear as supplicants or receivers of blessngs through the monks' superior powers.

There is no suggestion of marriage blanc about the tribune and his wife mentioned in the first of these passages and the wife clearly believes the monk John of Lycopolis is a prophet. It is most probable that these two visitors from the region would claim to be Christians. In the second passage the garrison commander is an expectant father whose wife gives birth to a son on the very day when her husband is visiting Father John, who brings her back from the brink of death. There seems no doubt that these people, too, were lay Christians.

It may be that we see here two forms of Christian commitment which are becoming accepted norms. The first, the ascetic form of the Desert Fathers, we have examined at some length. The second is more mysterious.

It may be that the christianisation of these people of the Nile valley was at an early stage and was well mixed with pagan religion in which holy men had long had an established place. Perhaps the people felt that little more than this was expected of them, anything more being the province of the celibate professionals on whose powers they could call. If this were the case the desert monks would have been a mixed blessing to the Christians of the Nile valley.

These stories properly belong to the things the pilgrims were told, not to the things they saw. To the things told we may now briefly turn.

The Reputed powers of the Desert Fathers.

It would be easy to dismiss Palladius and the authors of the Greek and Latin versions of the Historia Monachorum as victims of credulity whose accounts of miracles are worthless; but to do so would mix sensible reservation with arrogance. They record what people thought and believed about the holy men of the desert. As a fourth or fifth century man or woman who did not believe in the miraculous would have been a rare specimen indeed, it is likely that they give a true report of what they heard. Further understanding comes from an examination of the words they used in their record which in English are translated 'miracle'.

Benedicta Ward, in her introduction to Norman Russell's translation of the Historia Monachorum makes the important point that the words miraculum and teres are not the most used in the Historia Monachorum, because the miracles are not seen primarily as strange events contrary to nature; but as effective signs of the power of God. The words most commonly used are therefore dunamis, semeion, thaumata and signa, virtus, prodigia and sometimes thaumaturgia. Those who work these miracles are open to the power of God because of their faith and good works. They are in direct line with the prophets of the Scriptures.

Ward suggests that the writers and, no doubt, some at least of the pilgrims, saw the healing work of the monks as part of the restoration of humankind in Christ, the new Adam. Such a restoration may have been seen as natural to holy men who had entered, or come close to, a state of things which existed before the old Adam's fall. Similarly, in their nature miracles, Ward suggests, the monks may have been seen to be bringing about man's original oneness with nature; at ease with the wild beasts; but in his proper place at their head.

Apollo of Hermopolis, who is described as renowned and the spiritual father of five hundred monks and, through the Lord, a worker of wonders, expressed both the way of commitment of these Desert Fathers and their expectations in his teaching recorded in Hist. Mon. V111,15)

'Let it be a sign to you of progress in the virtues...when you have acquired mastery over the passions and the appetites. For these are the beginnings of the charisms of God. When someone receives proof from God that he can work miracles, let him not be puffed up with pride... and let him not show everyone that he has obtained such a charism; otherwise, stripped of good sense, and deprived of grace, he simply deceives himself.'

Two of these passions and appetites, sexual activity and gluttony (which sometimes seems to be no more than a desire for a square meal) are commonly mentioned and bracketed together in the literature of the desert (96), as when Serapion the Sindonite tells the Athenians that covetousness, fornication and gluttony have troubled him all his life (Laws. Hist. XXXV11). Both are seen as compulsions to return to the fallen world; but the actual sin of fornication is treated rather leniently, even among clergy. The Canons of Athanasius (c.370) include the following.

'And if one [priest] is found in adultery or fornication he shall do penance one year. If he do not do penance he shall be excluded. ' (C. A. 42 )

This compares favourably with the preceding canon (C.A.41) which is concerned with priests going to magicians, wizards or sorcerors. The priest in this case 'shall, on the evidence of three witnesses, be cast forth' and refused the reception of the mysteries for three years, 'doing bitter penance the while.' He is only to be restored to office according to the measure of his penance.

It is not sexual activity which occupies so much space in the Historia Monachorum and Lausiac History; but sexual desire and erotic imaginings. The former robber Moses (Laus. Hist. XX1) is a case in point. We are told that, formerly a sexual athlete, he was attempting to become one of the athletes of asceticism. Not surprisingly, the demons of desire pursued him even in his dreams. He exercised the normal disciplines of fasting, hard work, long prayers and little sleep, without success. Finally victory was granted to him as pure gift, in order that he should not boast of victory. Another is Evagrius, who, after sixteen years without cooked food, needed, for health's sake, to change to vegetables, gruel and pulse. When he died two years later he was able to say that for three years he 'had not been troubled by fleshly desire' (XXXV111,13)

In the way of commitment of the Desert Fathers sexual passions were the barometer of the soul's love for God. When this last, most private and most ubiquitous phantasy was admitted to the monk's mentor and fought against and defeated, the souls's turning to God was thought to be complete.

Having thus described how fluids and damp humours betray the sinner John Climacus describes how the fierce passion of sensuality could be transformed into a passion for God. Former objects of love could be seen without passion; but with the greatest intensity, as objects of beauty. Tears of joy, deep satisfaction and exultation could flow and heartfelt thanksgiving be made to God, a fraction of whose wonder is shown in his creation. He sums it all up in the following words.

'such a man has risen to immortality before the general resurrection.'(97)

The surrender of his sexual fantasies was among the most costly humblings of the monk's heart. If he won through to the highest standards achieved by the greatest monks there would be about him a great tranquility, giving evidence of the tranquility of his soul. He would radiate that magnetic charm and openness to others which visitors noticed immediately in Anthony.

As the centuries passed, understanding between the Desert Fathers and the Christians of the Nile valley grew. The harsh notes of Jerome and Gregory of Nyssa are absent. A hierarchy has emerged with virginity at its pinnacle; but marriage has its place; it even being admitted by 'Athanasius' in his Letter to Amoun that it is a good thing if a young man becomes the head of a household and begets children (98).

In exercising their form of Christian identity, the married borrowed from the discipline of the monks. These borrowings included keeping vigils, times of fasting and times of sexual abstinence. Added to these were times of greater generosity to the poor. But it came to be tacitly agreed that the Desert Fathers' way of life as a whole was for monks only. They made little attempt to devise codes regulating in detail the lives of Christians living in the world, as Origen had done. Local notables, including clergy, could, and did, live thoughout their youth and their prime as friends, associates and disciples of the monks. Eventually, in middle or old age, they could retire from the world, as scholarly gentlemen had for centuries, and become monks themselves.

But, if the re-emergence of matrimony as an accepted status for Christian men and women came about by tacit agreement in Egypt, it came about by debate and reconsideration in the West. The open challenge to the primacy of virginity by Jovinian, Helvidius and Vigilantius precipitated the debate.

On the Status of Matrimony.

Jovinian and his successors had experienced asceticism and had rejected it as a way of perfection. Jovinian's views are known only through the rebuttals attempted by Jerome in his two treatises 'Against Jovianus', his defence of these in his Ep.ILVIII to Pammachius, and by references in Augustine's works. Nevertheless, it can be inferred from these that Jovinian's teaching contained three elements relevant to this study.

He denied the need for asceticism as advocated by Gregory of Nyssa and Jerome. Abstinence, he argued, was no better than a thankful partaking of food. He rejected the teaching that virginity has a higher status than matrimony in the eyes of God; suggesting that the proponents of virginity were at heart Manichaean. He denied the current teaching that Christ was born of Mary through the walls of the womb, much as his resurrection body had later passed from the tomb and through closed doors (99), insisting that the Virgin had experienced normal childbirth. The teaching that Christ and the Virgin had been uninvolved in the normal birth process had placed the latter squarely in the fallen and therefore sinful state of man.

Jovinian and his associates were probably giving voice to many fourth and fifth century Christians who felt misgivings over asceticism and the two standards developing in the Church. Jovinian was condemned by Pope Siricius in 392 and by Ambrose of Milan in 393; but his views could not be banished. Like the Encratites, he represented a genuine school of thought concerning sexuality and commitment in the Church, however unacceptable those thoughts might have been to Church authority. Indeed he might be seen as an influential thinker, as he appears to have influenced the thinking of Augustine who entered the debate in 403 in measured and somewhat critical support of Jerome,

Jerome had written his first book refuting the opinions of Jovinian and defending the excellency of virginity in 393; but was plainly guilty of having done so at the expense of condemning marriage. His whole book attests the regrettable nature of first marriages and his comments on subsequent marriages include

'I do not condemn... I will go still further...I welcome even a penitent whoremonger.'
(Against Jonvinianus, bk 1.15)

Augustine, therefore, began his contribution to the debate with a consideration of matrimony in his book 'On the Good of Marriage'. The argument between Jerome and Jovinius had moved the discussion along. It is unlikely that Jerome or Gregory of Nyssa, or even Ambrose, would have thought matrimony required or deserved a whole book to itself. This was to be the first of three books; the others being 'Of Holy Virginity' (c401) and ' Of the Good of Widowhood' (c413)

Augustine begins his study of marriage by carefully describing the social nature of mankind and the 'great and natural good' of friendship and deduces from this;

'Therefore the first natural bond of human society is man and wife'. (Section 1)

These two, he reminds his readers, were not created in isolation from each other; but one was born from the side of the other. This, he maintains, is of great importance, since it makes it natural for them to walk side by side and their union is increased by their doing so. There follows, he declares,

'a friendly and true union of the one ruling and the other obeying'. (section 1)

Here in his earlier writings on the subject we see Augustine's biblical interpretation reinforcing Graeco-Roman reasons for alloting to women a subordinate role.

This union, Augustine argues in the same section, is enhanced by children, 'the one worthy fruit of sexual intercourse', for then the couple see each other not only as husband and wife, but as mother and father. He then passes to a matter he acknowleges as difficult and without definitive answer.

If sexual intercourse is God's way of maintaining upon earth a mankind which has become mortal subsequent to Adam's fall, what was the meaning of the command to Adam and Eve in the days of their immortality to 'increase, be multiplied and fill the earth?' (Gen.1.28). He argues that there are many opinions and lists some of them.

God was able to give them children, precisely as he had created them without parents. God might have instituted sexual intercourse as a means of producing children who would age, but not die, until the earth was filled by mankind. If, by divine fiat, the garments of the Israelites did not wear out in the desert, he argues, (section 2) neither need the bodies of those who were obeying his commandments.

Yet again, the change might be from an 'animal' life to one of spiritual quality. The command 'increase and multiply' might refer to an improvement of mind and an increase in virtue, as in Psalm 138 verse 3 in the Septuagint. He concludes that no one can be sure which of these opinions is most agreeable to Scripture; but he is not a man to be satisfied with that. In 419 he will return to the subject in 'On Marriage and Concupiscence' and, at some time between 413 and 426, in book 14 of 'The City of God'. In both he will show a far greater certainty. Meanwhile, in 403, he continued to explore the good of marriage.

The Lord, he says, came by invitation to a marriage. Therefore there can be nothing fundamentally wrong in marriage itself. Marriage is good, not merely because of its primary function, the creation of children, but because of the natural society of a difference of sex. This continues into old age, when the possibility of begetting children is past and marriage is 'improved' by abstinence from sexual intercourse.(section 3).

In this treatise, Augustine goes so far as to say that the state of those who come together for sexual pleasure, if monogamous and lifelong, may be called marriage; but only if the possibility of procreation, despite their primary intention, is not removed. (section 5). But this charity does not alter his conviction that marriage is for the procreation of children and for companionship. Sexual desire within or without marriage is sinful concupiscence.

In 'The Good of Marriage' Augustine addresses the subject of matrimony and its relation to virginity without direct reference to Jovinian; but Jovinian's claim for their recognition as equals is rejected throughout. Jerome tells us that Jovinian had asked consecrated virgins if they thought they were superior to the wives of the Patriarchs. Augustine answers for them. There was a time when the Fathers of the Old Testament used sexual intercourse from a 'duty of conservation, begetting sons for that mother Jerusalem' (section 17); but that time has passed. Now the Church begets children to Christ, and virgins, too, share in this spiritual motherhood.('Of Holy Virginity', section 7). He then widens the discussion, reminding virgins that a lax, worldly virgin was inferior to a good wife.

He ends the first book with a combination of both points. Virgins are to be assured of the superiority of their calling 'as Mary surpasses Anna and Susanna'; but this is not enough, They are to remember that the Old Testament patriarchs will also, by God's grace, sit down with them in the kingdom of Heaven; because they were married men and fathers - for the sake of Christ's purposes.

There is nothing of Jerome's rudeness or fanaticism in this. Thus far Augustine is restating a well known, moderate and widely accepted position; but there remain some unanswered questions. Perhaps it was in awareness of this that he launched into a profound study of Genesis as soon as 'of the Goodness of Marriage' was finished.

Augustine was brought back to the subject of matrimony nearly twenty years later by the accusation of Julian, the Pelagian bishop of Eclanum in Southern Italy, that his teaching concerning marriage was Manichaean. Julian was the most able and articulate of the Pelagian writers and his views represented a strongly felt opinion within the Church. It needed a reply. In considering that reply and the work that provoked it we see at their best two points of view concerning sexuality within the early fifth century Church.

Julian saw that Augustine's teaching concerning Adam's fall and original sin was intimately connected with his teaching that this corruption was made explicit by a derangement of the sexual urge. He set himself to defend the goodness of that sexual impulse and sexual delight as identical with that given by God to Adam and Eve.

'not as some outstandingly good thing, but as a drive in our bodies made by God - a drive you (Augustine) claim has been placed deep within us by the Devil, making your whole doctrine stand or fall upon little more than the discrete behaviour that surrounds the sexual act. (100)

This drive, he maintained, was within the control of the human will. Such a doctrine had obvious attractions for married Christian laymen. Julian was well-connected and his views came to the knowledge of influential friends.

To clarify his position in the mind of one of these, the distinguished soldier Count Valerius, Augustine sent him the first of the two books entitled 'On Marriage and Concupiscence' in late 418 or early 419 'after the condemnation of Pelagius and Coelestius'. Julian replied to it with no less than four books of his own. Extracts from these Pelagian works were collected by someone unknown and passed to Valerius, who sent them to Augustine for comment.

Augustine's reply took the form of the second book under the same name as the first, written no later than 420. Both books may be seen as a defence of the doctrine of original sin, a refutation of the charge of Manichaeism and a systematic refutation of Pelagian teaching; but the last is applied especially to marriage.

The first section of the first book acts as an overture to the whole work. New-born infants whether born in wedlock or not are created by God; but they inherit a nature rebellious against God through the sin of concupiscence inevitably associated with sexual intercourse, They require baptismal regeneration. This, he insists, is a very different thing from saying that marriage itself is of the devil. He is to continue this theme throughout this book and the next; but in this first section he puts things in their proper order in passing.

Virgins are to be preferred. They are not party to this concupiscence. They are like Christ

'who willed not to be born of the same union of the two sexes'

The virgin birth of Christ and the perpetual virginity of Mary give primary authority to his understanding that the pursuit of perfection involves the life of virginity. Here Augustine stands squarely with Ambrose and the traditionalists.

Ambrose had written to his sister Marcellina that virginity is 'of heaven'; that Christ is its author; that Christ was virgin before being 'of the Virgin' and has taken the virgin Church to be his bride (Ambrose. 'Concerning Virgins' , I, 5, §§ 2O and 21). Later, in his second book on the subject, he declares Mary to be the great example to be followed. Her life, he says, should be seen as 'virginity itself' .(II §6). His horror of compromise with the world forces him to see in virginity a type of the uncompromised Church. Perhaps this is why he is far from convincing and reminiscent of Jerome when he asserts that he is not discouraging matrimony; but merely 'enlarging on the benefits of virginity'.(VI §24). It is to be remembered that both Augustine and Verecundus, on hearing Ambrose preach, understood him to imply that baptism involved celibacy because baptism meant incorporation into the perfect, virgin, flesh of Christ. Ambrose could write treatises on virginity and widowhood; but, as we have noted, no more than Jerome or Gregory of Nyssa did he find it necesary to write a book on marriage.

Augustine, in contrast, having already written a book on each of these three states, is prepared to write two more on marriage. This alone is a strong indicator of marriage's growing prominence in the mind of the fifth century Church and the current uncertainty on the subject.

The Manichaean calumny out of the way, Augustine outlines his main theme. His purpose in writing, he declares, is to distinguish between the purpose of creation which is the good of marriage, (Bk I, Chs I and V) and the evil of carnal concupiscence from which is inherited original sin and which "in the body of this death" cannot be separated from the process of procreation (Bk I Ch I). The marriage of believers, he argues, is God-given to 'convert to the use of righteousness' the evil of concupiscence, 'by which the flesh lusteth against the Spirit'. (Bk I Ch V). Augustine thus lays bare his belief:

1. That there is no distinction between the excitement of lovers and the gratification of lust;

2. That Paul's term 'the flesh' is encapsulated in erotic desire; which is a lust disobedient to the will.

3. This concupiscence had no existence in Paradise and is a just punishment; 'the rebellion of the members retaliating man's own disobedience'. (BkI Ch XXVI)

His Neoplatonic training makes him insist that the body is there to serve the reason and to obey its will. The erotic urge must, in Augustine's view, be sinful, because it displays a will of its own and is rebellious against reason.

'concupiscence is called sin, as producing sin when it conquers the will' (Bk I Ch XXV)

It is therefore the pre-eminent example of the rebel spirit which was Adam's downfall. This, at any rate, is the cerebral reasoning; but there might well have been subconscious factors which could have led to a different conclusion and which Augustine could not or would not admit.

It does appear that Augustine entered long term and exclusive concubinage for love's sake (101). Such a love's contempt for the primacy of reason had within it the power to undermine both his Neoplatonism and his Roman teaching of the need for manly control in all circumstances. It might be that Augustine could not or would not accept so explosive a truth. The preaching of Ambrose offered a noble, demanding and, in the end, a more easily acceptable alternative.

What Augustine called concupiscence and Julian natural appetite, (Bk II, XVII) was eulogised by Julian and the Pelagians as part of a wider argument which Augustine found wanting. Their insistence that sexual delight was a good gift from God was bound up with their insistence that children were born free of any taint of sin and that a doctrine of original sin was disguised Manichaeism. Augustine's objection to the description 'natural appetite' was, in return, bound up with his fundamental objection to other Pelagian doctrines.

Augustine constantly refers to the ubiquitous nature of shame in connection with cohabitation which made it always a private act, despite arguments that it need not be, which the Cynics put forward. He finds the origin of this shame in Adam and Eve's rebellion which aroused a similar rebellion in their sexual members, which caused them shame (Genesis 3,7. and Bk II,XIV).

Augustine insists that this universal feeling of shame recalls to everyone the rebellion of Adam. It is possible that his former inability to remain 'continent' produced in his competitive nature a shame for which he later found justification in Genesis and in the universal nature of what his opponent described as natural modesty. The unmerited, miraculous grace of God did what his unaided reason and will could not do, namely, give him continence. After such an experience the beguiling power of concupiscence was bound to be seen as of the devil.

It might well be that J.M.Rist is correct in pointing out that Augustine has overstated his case. Nakedness does not cause universal shame. Perhaps his point should have been, and perhaps was intended to be, that men are ashamed to be seen erect (102). His further point that Julian would have done better if he had dropped the charge of Manichaeism and attacked Augustine's dualist teaching that body and soul are separate substances would also appear a sound one.

Even so, through his long and profound study of Genesis, Augustine reached a conclusion concerning sexuality in Paradise which was to separate him from the previously held Christian view that men and women were originally created as sexless beings. In his work The City of God, which occupied him from 413-426, he discusses the conjugal union as it was originally instituted and blessed by God, and answers the problem he had left unanswered in the first chapter of On The Good Of Marriage. His answer is unequivocal. Men and women were created by God as fully sexual beings.

'but it is quite clear that they were created male and female, with bodies of different sexes, for the very purpose of begetting offspring, and so increasing, multiplying and replenishing the earth; and it is a great folly to oppose so plain a fact.'
(The City of God. Bk. XI V, 22 )

and later in the same passage he asserts that the first 'men' were made

' as we see and know them to be now, of two sexes, male and female and that they are called one---'

Augustine has thus made two uncompromising statements.

1. Sexuality is of God, whatever may be said further about concupiscence.
Julian of Eclanum, his able Palagian critic, might well have agreed so far. John Cassian, the equally able representative of so much in the east which is derived from Origen, would perhaps have demurred at so fleshly a view of Paradise.

2. 'Men', or as we should perhaps say, mankind, or human beings, were by divine act created in two genders. Both sexuality and gender, therefore, had a place in God's original creation.

Yet, strangely, it was not the corporate, two-part man who was considered able to represent God in the ministry of the orthodox Church. Trinitarian orthodoxy proclaimed God the creator as Father, his son as God incarnate, and his Spirit, too, as masculine. As Adam alone was masculine he alone was able to represent them.

It would seem, therefore, that Susanna Elm's claim that Nicene orthodoxy increased the subservience of women was justified (103). So, too, is Gillian Cloke's claim that this subservience was buttressed within orthodoxy by New Testament examples, whereas the example of Thekla in apocryphal literature had the opposite effect outside orthodoxy, for Thekla taught and baptised (104).

The continued adulation of virginity, which had formerly drawn upon the sexlessness of Adam and Eve, was not undercut by Augustine's exegesis, and for this there appear to be two reasons. Firstly, virginity had the authoritative examples of Christ and the Virgin. 'Unpolluted and unmixed', to use Ambrose's terms (105), they were seen to symbolise the uncorrupted body of the Church. Secondly, there remained the problem of concupiscence, for the sexual urge, which Augustine allowed as a possibility in Paradise, was there subject to the will; whereas we now find it in rebellion.

It was concerning this rebellious libido that Augustine and Cassian differed. To Augustine it was a most appropriate punishment for Adam's rebellion, being beyond the power of the will to conquer, epitomising the corruption of mankind and carrying on this corruption from generation to generation. To Cassian, every soul was distinct and the sexual urge was implanted in fallen man by God as an act of mercy. It ensured his survival as a species; moreover, the battle against its rebellious nature enabled mankind to draw ever closer to God.

To Augustine, victory over it was impossible in this life. The will was as good as dead. To Cassian, a change in the depths of the soul was possible. The will was not dead, but unhealthy (106).

Their disagreement is well known; but their areas of agreement less so. To Cassian, as to the Desert Fathers, sexual phantasies were the barometer of the soul, revealing a will still retaining a love of sin in its other, often weightier, forms. To Augustine, concupiscence stood for the disruption of the world by violence and oppression, contrary to the will of God. For both, as for Church authority generally, virginity was by far the better way and the married were expected to revert to continence when the years of child-bearing were over. Not to do so was to forsake the bliss of the world to come and to be at ease in concupiscence; that is, in the irrational pleasure of a fallen world.

The place of sexuality in the orthodox Church of the fourth and fifth centuries was therefore a very limited and circumscribed one. Gender, on the other hand, was emphasised; an emphasis which resulted in the exclusion of women from the ranks of the clergy.

It was outside orthodoxy, where sexual activity had no place and where baptism and the spirit of Christ, the incarnate Logos, rendered gender redundant, that women sometimes occupied preaching, teaching and sacramental roles.

Such bodies were numerous, especially in the eastern empire, and they could claim an ancient Christian identity. Such an identity was denied them after Nicaea and the proclamation of Theodosius I. The great variety in response to the Christian Gospel was thereupon restricted. That does not mean that the banning of those forms, judged unacceptable, was justified, or that they immediately ceased to exist.


1. See Susanna Elm. Virgins of God. pp10,11 for a discussion of the limitations of the sources and an assertion of our ability to interpret their evidence.

2 Aretaeus; Causes and Symptoms of Chronic Diseases. 2.5 in The Extant works of Aretaeus the Cappadocian.pp346,347 M. T. May. trans. Galen. The Usefulness Of Parts Of The Body 2:620 I.Maclean. The Renaissance Notion of Woman.pp8-27. Quoted by Peter Brown, The Body and Society. p l0.

3. Galen. de Semine. 1.16. in C. G. Kuhn ed. Galeni Opera 4. 586.
Polemo, Physiognomica. R. Foster ed. Physiognomici Graeci. 1. 260.
Lucian, Demonax. 12. quoted by Brown. The Body and Society. p 11.

4. J. Harris and I. Wood. The Theodosian Code. pp137, 141, 142

5. There is some hesitation on this subject. Brown quotes A. R. Burn, Hic Breve Vivitur, ppl-31 in favour; but cites K. Hopkins, ' On The Probable Age Structure Of The Roman Population', pp 245-264 and B.W. Frier, Roman Life Expectancy : Ulpian' s Evidence, pp 213-251, who both advise caution. ( Brown, The Body And Society, p6 and footnote 2.)

6. Elm says the legal minimum age for marriage was 14 when Macrina's fiance died c340 but notes that the Theodosian Code allowed marriage at 10. CTh.3.5. 11. (17.June 380) and further cites W. M. Calder (ed) Monumenta Asiae Minoris Antiqua. VII 56 No258. Elm, Virgins of God, p43 and footnote 46.

7. F. Van der Meer. Augustine The Bishop p 57. For superstition generally see Chrysostom's Second Instruction to Catechumens. section 5.

8. In many sermons; but in 9, 10, 14 he insists he will not stop. See also reference to Caesarius of Arles, Markus. End Of Ancient Christianity.p70. In the East, Basil of Caesarea gives 33 rulings on sexual shortcomings in the Church in his letter CXIX alone.

9. F. van der Meer. pp 181-193
W. Klingshirn. Caesarius of Arles. pp 190-197.

10. R. A. Markus. The End of Ancient Christianity. pp33-36.

11. The witness of St Martin had popular appeal. Markus. E. A. C. p 70 -72. Ausonius and Paulinus of Nola mark either side of a divide. A complicating factor was Paulinus's tendency to equate Christian identity with asceticism. E. A. C. p35-38

12, Markus. E. A. C. p72 and footnote 33.

13. ibid. p75.

14, Bruce F Frier. Roman Life Expectancy : Ulpian's Evidence. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 1982. 86: 213-251. quoted by P. Brown. B. S. p 6. footnote 5.

15. S. Rubenson. The Letters of St Anthony. p 91.

16. ibid. p 90.

17. Elm. Virgins of God. pp 29-33

18. Cyprian. Ep. 75. 10, ed. G. Hartnell. Vienna 1871
Saint Cyprien: Correspondance, ii. ed. L. de Bayard Paris. 1961, pp289-308.
C.Saumagne. Saint Cyprien. Paris 1975. pp 35-40. Cited by S. Elm. Virgins of God. p31, footnote.
See also;
Brown. The Body and Society. pp149-151 for prophesy among the enrolled widows of the Church and the emergence of prophetesses in times of crisis.
Elm. Virgins of God. pp194, 195.
C. Evett, Montanism. pp152, 153.
They have assembled convincing evidence of a recognised prophetic ministry among 'continent' women widespread at least in the East.

19. The Didache accepts as a norm the right of a travelling prophet with charismatic gifts to preside at the Eucharist of local churches. Didache X,7. and
P. Bradshaw. Liturgical Presidency in the Early Church. Cambridge 1983. p.25.

20. Acts of Thomas 98 p115

21. Brown. The Body and Society, pp99, 100.

22, Acts of Thomas 18-19, pp72-74; 82-83, p108; 129, p134 cited by Brown. The Body and Society, pp98,99.

23. Elm. Virgins of God. pp 40, 41 footnote 36.
See also Lowther Clarke's introduction to The Life of Macrina. London. 1916 and the prolegomena of volume 8 in the Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series.

24. D. Amand and M. C. Moons. Revue benedictine. 1953. 63:18-69, 211-238.

25. Elm. V. of G. p34.

26, Brown. The Body and Society. pp 99-102 and esp. p1O1.

27, J. N. D. Kelly. Golden Mouth. p. 19.

28, Elm. Virgins of God. p37

28. Palladius. Historia Lausiaca. 29.1.

30. Elm is referring here to ascetics within 4th and 5th century orthodoxy and not to Montanist ascetics.

31. Canons of Athanasius. 98. pp 62-63 in Riedel and Crum's edition.

32. Palladius. Historia Lausiaca. 31. 1-4.

33. Basil of Caesarea. Letter 119. 18. in R. J. St Basil: Letters 2.109.
See also Peri Parthemus 8. 105-9 quoted by Elm. V. of G. p. 37 and, more obliquely, Life of Macrina 966. A, B, C.
P. Brown. B. and S. p261, cites John Boswell. Expositio and Oblatio: The Abandonment of Children in the Ancient and Medieval Family. pp13-19
and Cynthia Patterson. Not Worth The Rearing: The Causes of Infant exposure in Ancient Greece.

34, Brown. Body and Society. p.261, footnote 10 cites Augustine's recently discovered letter to a parent who withdrew a virgin daughter. Epistola 3.1.; pp98-100 in the French translation of the Works of St Augustine 46B. Letters 1-29
Basil of Caesarea refers to profiting relations and insists that virgins should be 16 or 17 years old and well examined before admission to the roll of virgins Ep. CXCIX, 18.

35, Gospel of Thomas. 114. (eds) E. Hennecke and F. Schneemelcher. Apochryphal New Testament. Tubingen. 1959 p. 216.
See also A. Cameron. 'Neither Male nor Female'. pp. 60-67 cited by Elm. Virgins of God. p. 109.

36, Life of Macrina. 968 B. Lowther Clarke's translation.

37. ibid 970 C, D.

38, ibid 972 C, D. His work seems beyond the capacity of a boy. See also Elm. Virgins of God. p205. Perhaps the ambiguity surrounding his age reflects the rejection by orthodoxy of mixed communities supported by Macrinus's brother, Basil of Caesarea.

39. Socrates. Historia Ecclesiana. Eng. trans. A. C.Zenos. Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. 2;2 Grand Rapids. 1979. p. 1-178.
Sozomen. Historia Ecclesiana. Eng. trans. C. D. Hartrauft. pp. 179-42 7. Cited by Elm. Virgins of God. pp. 111, 112.

40. Elm. Virgins of God. pp 206 and 378. Elm's enthusiasm for evidence of mixed communities is seen in her argument (plea?) for the extended use of the term 'migas'. See p206.

41. Basil of Caesarea. Ep. CV. acknowledges their support.

42. Life of Macrina. 972 C. Lowther Clarke's trans.

43, Life of Macrina. 982 B. Lowther Clarke's trans.

Palladius. Laus Hist. LV.3. describes the well-to-do virgin Lavania as 'very learned' and Olympias of Constantinople as 'having engaged in no mean combat for the truth's sake' and 'having instructed many women' L V1. 2 .

44. Life of Olympias. ed. A. M. Malingrey. Sources chretiennes 13bis Paris 1968. pp418-420

45. Jerome. Life of Malchus. 5. Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers. 2nd. series. vol.6

46. Jerome. Ep. XXII, 20.

47. Jerome. Ep. CVII, 11.

48. Jerome, Against Jovinius. 1,4 and 1,29.

49. Recent historians testify to their desire for virginity. G. Cloke. This Female Man of God. p78.

50. Palladius. Laus. Hist. XLVI, 5. and LV, 3. testifies to Melania the Elder's erudition and pastoral ability.
See also, J. N. D. Kelly. Golden Mouth. pp113, concerning Olympias of Constantinople.

51. Brown. Body and Society. p.100.

52. Palladius. Laus. Hist. XLVI, 4.

53. Kelly. Golden Mouth. p. 122.

54. Vita Melaniae (the younger) 54. Latin version, says she instructed illustrious women in sound doctrine. The Greek version says there were cultivated men among those she edified. V. M. 56. says she edified the emperor Theodosis. Cited by Elizabeth A Clark. Anglican Theological Review. 1981. LXIII, 3, p. 252.

55. Jerome says she took a stand against Origenism in Rome. Ep. CXXVII, 9, and was an interpreter of Scripture. Ep. CXXV1I, 7.

56. Clark. A. T. R. LXIII. p. 257.

57. Clark. A. T. R. LX1II, 3. pp254, 255.

58. Benedict's comment is noted by Clark herself. ibid p255, note 119 and W. H.Freemantle. trans. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series, vo1.6, p37, footnote 5.

59. Kelly. Golden Mouth. p. 113.

60. e. g. the sixteenth and seventeenth century saints Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross; St Francis de Sales and St Jeanne de Chantal.

61. Kelly. Golden Mouth. p. 114.

62. A. M. Melingrey. ed. Jean Chrysostome : Sur la vaine gloire et 1' education d' infants. p. 178. cited by Brown. Body and Society. p. 309.

63. J. Chrysostom. de Virginitate. XIX, 1.

64. John Chrysostom's preaching stressed poverty's abuse of the bodies of the poor. Sexual exploitation was part of this. C. Baur. Chrysostom and his Times calculates that in Chrysostom's series of sermons on St Mattew's Gospel he condemns injustice to the poor from different aspects 130 times. Quoted by P. Brown. B and S, p 309. footnote 22.

65. Kelly. Golden Mouth. p.22.

66. N. Russell and B. Ward. Lives of the Desert Fathers. (The Historia Monachorum in Aegypto, plus an introduction by Ward.) XIV, 5.

67. S. Rubenson. The Letters of St Anthony. p. 101.

68. Brown. The Rise and Function of the Holy Man. p. 95. quoted by Rubenson. p. 118, footnote 1.

69. Rubenson. p66.

70. Brown. Body and Society. p174.

71. St. Anthony. Ep. I, 18, 19 and 32-34. The Syriac version reads 'the sexual intercourse of the imagination'.

72. Rubenson. Letters of St. Anthony. p. 66

73. Rubenson. Letters of St. Anthony. Ep. VI, 70.

74. Rubenson. Letters of St. Anthony. Ep. VI, 73.

75. Rubenson. Letters of St. Anthony. p. 67. Thus the Syriac version. The Arabic version gives 'body' for 'dwelling'.

76. S. Rubenson. Letters of St Anthony. Ep.I, 69-71.

77. Anthony does not appeal to the Church to support his teaching. He quotes only the bible. He refers to the Church on just three occasions in his seven letters. i. e. Ep. II, 10; Ep. IV, 1; Ep. VI, 85; but there is some variation in the wording between the Arabic, Georgian and Latin versions. Rubenson. p.203. footnote 10.

78. Rubenson. Letters of St. Anthony. Ep. II, 12-14.

79. ibid. Ep. III, 20, 21.

80. ibid. pp. 71, 87, 88.

81. Life of Anthony. 20, quoted by Rubenson.

82. N. Russell and B. Ward. Lives of the Desert Fathers (Historia Monachorum Aegyptae plus introduction by Ward.) Intro. pp. 39, 40 and prologue to H. M. A. p. 51.

83. ibid. pp. 54, 55. H. M. A. I, 13-19.

84. ibid. H. M. A. prologue. pp. 49, 50.

85. ibid, VIII, 2.

86. ibid. XVIII, 1; III, 1.

87. ibid. Intro. p. 21.
Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Poemen.31

88. H. M. A. Intro. p. 20.

89. Russell and Ward. p13 and XVIII,1,2. See also Lausiac History XXXII, 8-10.

90. ibid. XX, 5-8 in Rufinus' s Latin account of their visit to Nitria. p148.
See also XX,5 in the Greek account. p104.

91. ibid. VIII, 55.

92. Palladias. Lausiac History. XLI

93. Elm. Virgins of God. p.330.

94. J. N. D. Kelly. Golden Mouth p. 263.

95. Palladius. Laus Hist. XXXV, 8, 9.

96. Russell and Ward. Lives of the Desert Fathers.
p. 37. See also Lausiac History. XXXVII, 7 and XXXVIII, 13.

97. John Climacus. The Ladder. 130. p. 179; quoted by Brown. Body and Society. p.239.

98. Athanasius. Letter to Amoun: Patrologia Graeca 26:1073.
Lefort. S. Athanase, Coptic p 97, transl. p 247. quoted by P. Brown p 255 and footnote.

99. Rufinius of Aquileia. Expositio Symboli 9. Corpus Christianorum 20 pp 146-147.
Maximus of Turin. Sermon 97,3. Corpus Christianorum 23, pp387-388 Cited by P. Brown. B. S. p 444, footnotes 57 and 60.

100. Julian of Eclanum. Opus Imperfectum 3:142: 1303. quoted by Brown. Body and Society. pp. 1412, 413.

101. Augustine. Confessions, Bk VI. 15.
Brown. Body and Society. p.390.

102. J. M. Rist. Augustine. pp. 325-7.

103. Elm. Virgins of God, p.387.

104 R. S. Kraemer and M. R. D'Angelo (eds). Women and Christian Origins pp. 310-313.

105. Hexaemeron. 5. 21. 67. p190. quoted by Brown. B. S. p353, footnote 60. See also pp347-357, esp. p353.

106. O. Chadwick. Cassian. p123.
P. Rousseau. Ascetics, Authority and the Church. pp232, 233 esp. notes 53 and 57.



In the reprint edition of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, first and second series, published Massachusetts 1994, second printing June 1995:

AMBROSE............................................. Concerning Virgins. (1 and 2)
.........................................................................Concerning Widows.

AUGUSTINE......................................... On The Good Of Marriage
........................................................................Of Holy Virginity
........................................................................On Original Sin.
........................................................................On Marriage And Concupiscence. (I and 2)
........................................................................City Of God.

BASIL OF CAESAREA......................... Letters

JOHN CHRYSOSTOM.......................... Ascetic Treatises

GREGORY OF NYSSA .........................On Virginity

JEROME................................................. Letters
.........................................................................Against Jovinianus ( I and 2 )
........................................................................ Life Of Paulus
........................................................................ Life of Hilarion

SOCRATES, SOZOMEN....................... Histories and Letters


AUGUSTINE.......................................... Confessions. trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin. Harmondsworth, Middlesex. 1961.

GREGORY OF NYSSA.......................... Life Of Macrina. trans. W. K. Lowther Clarke. London. 1916.

PALLADIUS........................................... Lausiac History, trans. W. K. Lowther Clarke. London 1918
.........................................................................The Theodosian Code
.........................................................................Sayings of the Desert Fathers. B. Ward. ed. Oxford 1975.



ALFOLDI. A. The Conversion of Constantine and Pagan Rome.1948.Oxford

BROWN. P. Society and The Holy. London 1982.
The Body And Society. New York. 1988.
Augustine of Hippo. London. 1967.

CHADWICK. 0. John Cassian. London/Cambridge. 1968.

CLARK. E. Ascetic Renunciation And Feminine Advancement. Anglican Theological Review LXIII:3 Vo1.63. 3, p.240. July 1981.

CLOKE. G. This Female Man of God. London. 1994

ELM. S. Virgins Of God. Oxford. 1994.

HARRIS. J. AND WOOD I. The Theodosian Code (studies) London 1993.

HEDLUND. M. F. and ROWLEY. H. H. Atlas of the Early Christian World. London and Edinburgh. 1958.

JONES. A. W. M. Constantine and The Conversion of Europe. Toronto. 1978.

KELLY. J. N. D. Golden Mouth. London. 1995

KLINGSHIRN. W. Caesarius of Arles. Cambridge 1994.

KRAEMER. R. S. and D' ANGELO. M. R. (eds.) Women and Christian Origins. New York/ Oxford. 1999.

MARKUS. R. A The End of Ancient Christianity. Cambridge. 1990.
Saeculum : History and Society in the Theology of St Augustine, Cambridge. 1970.

RIEDEL. W AND CRUM. W E. The Canons of Athanasius. London/Oxford. 1904.

RIST. J. M. Augustine. Cambridge 1994.

RUBENSON. S. The Letters of St Anthony. Minneapolis. 1995.

RUSSELL. N. (trans) and WARD. B. (introduction) The Historia Monachorum In Aegypto. Oxford. 1981.

ROUSSEAU. P. Ascetics, Authority and The Church. Oxford. 1978.

TABBERNEE. W. Montanist Inscriptions and Testimonia. Mercer.1997.

TROMBLEY.F.R. Religious Experience in Late Antiquity: Theological Ambivalence and Christianisation. Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 24 (2000) 2-60.

VAN DER MEER. F Augustine The Bishop. London/New York. 1961.

WILLIAMS. D. H. Ambrose of Milan and the End of the Arian-Nicene Conflicts. Oxford. 1995.

Please, credit this document
as published by www.womenpriests.org!

Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.

Visitors to our website since January 2014.
Pop-up names are online now.

The number is indicative, but incomplete. For full details click on cross icon at bottom right.

Please, support our campaign
for women priests
Join our Women Priests' Mailing List
for occasional newsletters:
An email will be immediately sent to you
requesting your confirmation.