Christianity & Sex


–Are Sex and Spirituality Compatible in Christianity?

by Paul Williams

With special thanks to Ivan Himmelhoch for his help in researching this topic. A historical and contemporary overview of diverse opinions expressed by various theologians and writers concerning Christian sexual conduct and attitudes.

(Bible references, unless otherwise indicated, are from the King James Version.)

Table of Contents:

Preface 2
God and Sex 3
The Bible Is Not Bashful 3
The X-Rated Bible 4
Is Sex of God or of the Devil? 4
The Great Cover-Up Begins 5
Monastic Mindset: Sex Equals Sin! 6
Hermits and Heresies 7
Marriage, Misogamy and Saint Augustine 8
Desexualizing and Censoring the Bible 9
The Repression of Eros 10
Celibates Seize Control of Christendom 12
Tightening the Chastity Belt 12
Non-Marital Sex 13
Smoldering Sexual Suppression 15
Getting Christian Sexuality Back on Track 16
Martin Luther–the Reformer! 16
Are We Now Entering the Dawning of a Christian Sexual
Reformation? 17


“They recognize each other by secret signs and marks; they fall in love almost before they are acquainted; everywhere they introduce a kind of religious lust, a promiscuous `brotherhood’ and `sisterhood.'”[1] This is not some modern-day tabloid description of the Family, but a second century description of early Christians, who the Roman establishment considered to be a promiscuous sex cult which indulged in orgies at secret meetings.

Perhaps as an attempt by some conservative watchdogs of the faith and in reaction to a decadent Roman society, followers of the “golden rule” were increasingly taking a more “moral” stance. By the second century, Gnostic teachings [2] and strange apocryphal books and stories began to circulate among Christians.

These fictitious imitations of Scripture often highlighted sexual “purity” and virginity. One such fanciful story was The Acts of Paul and Thecla, which if nothing else reveals that anti-cult propaganda, mind-control fantasies and violent deprogramming attempts are at least as old as the second century.[3] The story’s virtuous heroine, Thecla, was a young betrothed girl in Iconium, who upon hearing St. Paul preach became enthralled by his teachings on virginity. Her parents were outraged and “sexualized” her behavior. Paul is accused of casting a love spell on her and Thecla is accused of being controlled by him, because she is “so strangely troubled . . . like a spider at the window bound by his words [she] is dominated by a new desire and a fearful passion. . . .” As for St. Paul, they conclude, “Away with the sorcerer, for he has corrupted all our women.”[4]

So eager were some zealous young Christians to prove the “purity” of their religious intent that at least one young man in Alexandria during the time of Justin Martyr (c. A.D. 100-165) petitioned the Augustal Prefect to allow himself to be castrated in order to prove to the pagans that indiscriminate sex with his “sisters” was not what Christianity was all about.[5]–However, the sex-cult impression must have been hard to eradicate for as late as A.D. 320, Emperor Licinius was promulgating laws that forbade Christian men and women (in the Eastern empire) from appearing in company together in their houses of prayer.[6]

By the fourth century, this persecuted love movement called Christianity was drastically transforming. Under Emperor Constantine, Christianity became firstly tolerated and later installed as the imperial religion of Rome (Edict of Milan, A.D. 313). Heavily influenced by sex-negative Gnostic teachings, fractured into rival Christian groups that hurled accusations of bizarre sex practices at each other [7], and becoming all too eager to distance themselves from any sign of sexual impropriety, the great separation of human sexuality and spirituality began in earnest in Christianity.

Part I of Christianity and Sex explores some of the historical, howbeit, not always scriptural, development of Orthodox Christian views on sex. Part II is a survey of current radical changes in thinking towards sex that are rocking Christianity.

NOTE TO THE READER: This is a resource publication containing quotations from various contemporary writers, scholars, theologians and clergy on the subject of Christianity and Sex. Although the author is a member of the missionary movement known as the Family, this article is not intended to express Family doctrine, and it is not meant to be definitive as regards to Family thinking; the author leaves it to the reader to draw conclusions or make comparisons with Family publications and practices. Hopefully this material will provide the reader with a broadened perspective and appreciation of some of the more controversial themes published in the writings of the Family’s founder, the late David Brandt Berg.


And God created . . . every living creature that moveth . . . and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful and multiply. . . . God said, Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. . . . And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. . . . [So] in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it. . . . And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good (Genesis 1:21-26; 2:18; 1:27-31).

“Be fruitful and multiply!” “Reproduce!” was one of the first things God commanded the creatures of His glorious creation. And then again, after the great deluge, God reminded Noah and all that survived with him that they had an important job to do–reproduce!

Bring forth with thee every living thing that is with thee, of all flesh, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth; that they may breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth. And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth (Genesis 8:17; 9:1).

Throughout history, God put His stamp of approval on human sexuality and reproduction. To Abraham and later to Jacob (Israel) He basically said, “I am God and I want you to reproduce!”

I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins (Genesis 35:11; see also Genesis 12:1,2,7).

God has a point to make, He is above what currently is considered politically correct in many matters, even using the human sexual act to illustrate what He wants to say if need be. The prophet Hosea, for example, was commanded by God to go and marry a whore and have children by her. God certainly knew this would raise the eyebrows of some of the self-righteous, letter-of-the-law religious leaders in Israel, but having His prophet move in with a local prostitute provided God with an excellent opportunity to use the predictable reaction of the community to illustrate His own displeasure over their far worse acts of spiritual fornication and unfaithfulness to Him.

And the Lord said to Hosea [God’s prophet], Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms. . . . So he [Hosea] went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim; which conceived, and bare him a son (Hosea 1:2,3).



Many passages of the Bible are unabashedly erotic, including the Song of Solomon, and various descriptions of the relationship between God and His “unfaithful” Church. Even the promised world of spiritual bliss to come for His saved children begins with rapturous ecstasies as our present bodies are transformed by God into Heavenly bodies. Then begins the marriage feast of the Lamb (Jesus) for all who believe in Him, His “Bride,” who then enjoy ardent pleasures forever more at the right hand of God. (See Revelation 19; Psalm 16:11.)

The Scriptures are rich in sexual stories, allusions and sexual terms, demonstrating that God is far from being a prude when it comes to sex, and that he doesn’t mince His words. As a result, some sections of the Bible, such as the Song of Solomon, were virtually banned by fourth century celibates who feared they were just too hot.



Some people are trying to have the Bible banned as too sexual and sexist for our times. The truth is that although the Bible is a sexy Book, it also contains much thorny commentary on the hypocrisy of humanity, which may be the real source of its unpopularity in certain circles. What modern writer, for example, would dare to describe the 600 B.C. city of Jerusalem the way God inspired the great prophet Ezekiel to describe it in chapter 16 of the Book of Ezekiel?

The chapter begins with a graphic description of God’s involvement with Jerusalem, as a man involved with a woman, using explicitly sexual terms. At first she was just a filthy little abandoned baby that He took pity on, washed and beautified. Then, when she grows old enough and it “was the time of love” (verse 8), God makes love to her and showers her with presents. This ungrateful woman, however, runs away from God to become a whore, and a foolish one at that, who God says doesn’t even have common sense enough to charge for her sexual services, but rather pays her lovers. To discipline her, God allows her enemies to strip her naked and abuse her. In the end God takes her back a more humble and submitted woman. This is not a piece of bizarre sex-cult literature, but an allegorical part of sacred Scripture revered by millions of Jews and Christians alike as the very Word of God.



As already pointed out, God Himself created human sexuality and said it was “very good” and His first commandment to man and woman was to “be fruitful and multiply.” Yet, it only took one sly serpent in the Garden of Eden to foist upon humanity one of the cruelest lies imaginable–that contrary to Scripture, which quotes God as saying, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him” and “Be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth” (Genesis 2:18; 1:28).–God had lied about sex, that sex was “very bad” and not “very good,” that God’s physical creation, the human body, was evil and shameful, and that it was not good for man and woman to dwell together, “to be fruitful and multiply.”

Sexual pleasures, so the lie went, sprang like an evil forbidden fruit planted by the Devil himself in the garden of human goodness, and it had to be crushed, uprooted and cast out if the human soul hoped to escape the flames of Hell. Once the Devil, the “father of lies and of all that is false” (John 8:44, Amplified), had successfully planted his evil seeds of doubt about God, Creation, and human sexuality in the hearts and minds of humanity, the tragic wedge between spirituality and sexuality was in place.

Those who believed the lie and chose the anti-sexual body-rejecting path to perfection soon found the Biblical account of Adam and Eve frolicking naked and unashamed through the Garden (Genesis 2:25) a rather embarrassing quirk in the religious record that needed to be explained away. Hence, Adam’s expulsion from the Garden was taken to mean that he had been booted out for having had sex with Eve [8], who was portrayed as an evil sexual seductress who caused the curse to fall upon an otherwise perfect man. Sex, therefore, was to be viewed as part of the curse, the evil deed that got man into trouble; and woman was responsible.



The real sin in the Garden was Adam and Eve’s succumbing to the Devil’s temptation to disobey God and partake of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

After Adam and Eve sinned they became aware that they were naked and hid themselves even from God (see Genesis 3:8). Finding them hiding from Him and covering themselves, God asked them who told them they were naked and that it was wrong, and asked if they had eaten of the tree. (See Genesis 3:7,11). Therefore, logically, clothing and the first fig leaf cover-up should be viewed by Christians as the shameful and disgusting result of human sin, rebellion, deceit and disobedience to God. However, it has instead been embraced by many as the badge of honor, decency and wonderful “natural” modesty.

Sexually bound denominations within Christianity still defend their obsession with excessive prudery and their extreme, sex-negative attitudes by pointing out that God Himself endorsed this great human cover-up when He made humans their first set of clothes from animal skins. Men like Saint Gregory of Nyssa and Saint Maximos the Confessor championed the case for covering up, teaching that these “garments of skin” (chitones) represented the animal-like nature that humanity took on as a result of the Fall, which included an acquired animal-like sexuality. What cure did they recommend for this awful animal affliction that could have been so easily avoided had God only created humans sexless? Virginity, of course! They argued that virginity was the original immortal incorruptible state of humankind and that we should all strive to stay virgins (see Sherrard, 1976: 5-7).

It is a fact that “unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21), when they were about to leave the Garden. But let us not confuse God’s love, patience, and temporary tolerance of certain behavior to be a sign of His own personal approval of sex-negative teachings.

God certainly did not make them “coats of skins” because He thought that they needed to cover up because their bodies were vile, evil, dirty, sensual, sinful devices. It was not true that He, God, had unfortunately and unwisely equipped their bodies with those terrible, secret, vile, sinful, sensual sexual parts, that coincidentally worked so wonderfully together and felt so good, but were too wicked to even be seen without suffering some great spiritual damage. More likely, God wrapped them up in warm animal skins for protection out of love and mercy, knowing how they were pathetically unprepared for the harsh new living conditions outside the Garden.

Dealing with the dissonance that erupts when human sexuality and spirituality are set at odds has plagued all religions, but Christianity in particular. Church history reveals that a very long and stormy battle has been fought over the question of body and spirit, sexuality and spirituality, pleasure and piety. When human sexuality became the enemy of spirituality, humankind was caught in a dualistic dilemma. They were forced to choose between pleasure now and pain forever, between passion and paradise. Wherever this dualistic dilemma has seized control of religious belief, people have been thrown out of sync with their own God-created sexuality and have as a result suffered great mental agonies tormented by guilt and have become hateful of their own bodies and sexuality.



It is certainly legitimate to ask why sex was associated with sin for such a long time (Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, 1978).

The entrenchment of anti-sexual teachings in Christianity is actually not as traceable to the misinterpretations of the Bible as it is to the intentional anti-sexual teachings and writings of certain individuals. In the centuries following Jesus, a group of ascetics rose to positions of power and influence in the Church.

In the post-apostolic period Christian writers began expressing much more restrictive views of the role of sex in human life. . . . Church leaders needed to deal with the problems that sexual relations raised within the Christian community. There was a broad agreement that marital sex was acceptable, although a number of important writers sought to discourage sex among the devout. A few [so-called?] aberrant Christian groups taught that Christians were not subject to sexual restrictions and might have relations with anyone whom they pleased. Other doctrinal deviants wished to ban all sexual relations, even in marriage (Brundage, 1987: 74, 75).

Sad to say, the anti-sex lobby of “doctrinal deviants” gained the upper hand in the sex struggle, quickly labeling their sexually liberated brethren as heretics and “aberrants,” much as they do to this very day. Some “deviants,” as we will see, became so sexually uncomfortable with parts of the Bible that they virtually banned reading of them, fearing that the people would fall into sin from all those sinful sexual thoughts that might arise while reading suggestive selections of Scripture.

Reay Tannahill in her more recent revision of Sex in History, points out:


What the modern world still understands by “sin” stems not from the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, or from the tablets handed down from Sinai, but from the early sexual vicissitudes of a handful of men who lived in the twilight days of imperial Rome (Tannahill, 1992: 138).


Certain members of the church are quick to point out that the great “eunuch” for the Gospel’s sake, Saint Paul’s own personal preference was to remain unmarried, thinking it was good not to even touch a woman. However, he states in 1 Corinthians 7:12 and 25 that this was entirely his own opinion and not the Lord’s. Jesus Himself showed no such qualms about touching women or being touched by even the most socially and sexually questionable of women, even in public (Luke 7:37-39,44). Even this same sexually reserved Saint Paul warned of an approaching evil sexual downturn in Christianity:

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth (1 Timothy 4:1-3).



Marriage is honourable, and the bed undefiled (Saint Paul, Hebrews 13:4).

In the first three hundred years of its existence, the Church placed few restrictions upon its clergy in regard to marriage. Celibacy was, as Paul indicated, a matter of choice (Thomas, 1986: 8).

Far from receiving the joys of human coitus with thanksgiving, certain “Founding Fathers,” heavily influenced by Greek, Roman and Persian teachings and traditions, and pushing Saint Paul’s personal preference for sexual abstinence to the limit, lashed out against all sex. Men like Tertullian [9] (c. 150-230), Saint Jerome [10] (331?-420) and Saint Augustine (354-430) set their seal of approval to the doctrine that human sexuality was fundamentally detestable.

The ascetic monks of the fourth century made celibacy and suffering for the sake of greater spirituality very fashionable [11] and, as Philip Sherrard described in Christianity and Eros, they began teaching that “only through monastic celibacy can man recover that natural–and sexless–state for which [man] was originally created `in the image'” of God (Sherrard, 1976: 8).

Heaven became thought of as a sexless place, though by all New Testament eye-witness accounts, Jesus Himself seemed to have survived the transition to His new body with His manliness still plainly evident, and appropriately so for a bridegroom in waiting. The monastic mindset took the Scripture where Jesus said that men and women would not marry or be given in marriage in Heaven as a proof of celestial celibacy. However, far from proving that a sexless eternity awaits believers, it could just as well mean that Heaven will be more sexually liberal than most people presently imagine.

David Rice, a former priest, in his book, Shattered Vows, tells us that the early anti-sexual teachings and practices embraced by this rising celibate class of clerics were “steeped in gnosticism, one of the oldest and most persistent of all heresies, which sees the body as evil and only the spirit as good” (Rice, 1990: 139).

Robert T. Francoeur, a Catholic priest and a fellow of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, is Professor of Human Embryology and Sexuality at Fairleigh Dickenson University and has written no less than twenty books on human sexuality. This very respected author and academic, in his essay The Religious Suppression of Eros, gives us the following summary of the sexual derailment of Christianity:


“To understand the evolution from the early sex-affirming Hebraic culture to Christianity’s persistent discomfort with sex and pleasure, we have to look at three interwoven threads: the dualistic cosmology of Plato [i.e. the soul and mind are at war with the body], the Stoic philosophy of early Greco-Roman culture [i.e., nothing should be done for the sake of pleasure], and the Persian Gnostic tradition [i.e., that demons created the world, sex and your body–in which your soul is trapped, and the key to salvation is to free the spirit from the bondage of the body by denying the flesh]. Within three centuries after Jesus, these influences combined to seduce Christian thinkers into a rampant rejection of human sexuality and sexual pleasure.”

Many people forget that the pleasure-loving Greek society contained anti-sexual ascetic extremes as well. Even Epicurus, who loved good food, condemned sex, saying, “Sexual intercourse never benefited any man” (Davies, 1984: 176). Diogenes, a famous Greek cynic, lived in a washtub to shun the temptations of the flesh, and the Greek Stoics only permitted sex for procreation purposes. It was these and other ascetic forces, not the sensual expressions of Greek culture, that came to most affect Christianity.

Plato, though personally favorably inclined toward prostitutes, homosexuals and pedophilia, none-the-less taught in The Laws that the world would be a better place if all sex were “starved.” Socrates and Plato both taught that all sexual activity was harmful to the health of the soul. Plato’s teachings were revised in the third century, and Plotinus, the chief protagonist of this neo-Platonism, went far beyond Plato in denigrating sex, teaching that mystical ecstasies could be had through denying the body.



Saint Augustine, the leading theologian of the fourth century, embraced the faith on April 25, 387 along with his “illegitimate” son, leaving behind his wife and his second mistress. He had already split up from his first concubine, the mother of his son, after 17 years of living together. He turned his home in Hippo into a monastery, and as Bishop of Hippo, proceeded to make many literary contributions to Christianity. Unfortunately, his sexual views were sadly affected by the monastic temperament of the times, perhaps an over-compensation for the sexuality of his liberal youth.

It was Saint Augustine who, according to Nigel Davies in The Rampant God, “set the final seal on the anti-sexual bias of the Church” (Davies, 1984: 180). Before becoming a Christian, Saint Augustine had studied the works of Plotinus, and for eleven years was a member of the Manichaean sect, whose founder taught that Adam and Eve resulted from the Devil’s children having sex, and procreation was just another evil part of the Prince of Darkness’ creation.

Saint Augustine did, however, consider sex a necessary evil, though certainly not something to be enjoyed. He even thought it was permissible to take a second wife if the first was barren, and grudgingly admitted that Adam and Eve may have had sex in the Garden before their Fall, but theorized that it was a very cold dutiful mechanical act without passion. After daring to suggest that even if they did have sex in the Garden, he assures his readers that they certainly would not have enjoyed it.


Perish the thought, that there should have been any unregulated excitement, or any [excitement so great that they would ever] need to resist desire! (Augustine c. duas epist, Pelag. I 34, 17).


The somewhat moderating stance of an earlier theologian, Saint Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 200), may have helped temper Augustine’s attack on sex, or simply reflected the change in attitude towards sex that had taken place in the Church. Clement, himself a celibate monk, taught that those who condemn sex within marriage set themselves against the teachings of the Gospels, and that marriage was conducive to the spiritual well-being of faithful Christians. Though, having sex for pleasure rather than procreation, “voluptuous joy” as he called it, he discouraged [12] (Brundage, 1987: 66,67).

Many contemporaries of Saint Augustine were equally cool towards human coitus, and therefore cold towards women in general. Some early monastics became so anti-sex that they all but declared God an unfit Creator, who obviously should have invented a better way of dealing with the problem of procreation. Arnobius (d. c. A.D. 317) called intercourse filthy and degrading, and stated that it would be blasphemous even to imagine that Jesus was “born of vile coitus and came into the light as a result of the spewing forth of senseless semen, a product of obscene gropings”[13] (Brundage, 1987: 64).

Methodius thought sex was “unseemly,” and Ambrose, a “defilement.” Saint John Chrysostom, the “golden-mouthed” orator of the fourth century, had little golden to say about the fair sex in general: “Among all savage beasts, none is found as harmful as woman.”

Tertullian was so repulsed by sex he publicly renounced his own sexual relationship with his wife and taught that sexual intercourse drives out the Holy Spirit. Women, he declared, are “the devil’s door: through them Satan creeps into men’s hearts and minds and works his wiles for their spiritual destruction.”[14] Saint Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century showed little improvement in attitude, saying that “Woman is defective and accidental . . . a male gone awry . . . the result of some weakness in the father’s generative power” (cited in Rice, 1990: 138). A teaching common during that time taught that women and the lower half of men were created by the Devil.[15]



The antidote to this anti-sexual assault on Christianity would have been to return to the liberating light of God’s Word, but that was not to be for some centuries. As the dark clouds of Gnostic heresy and body-hatred gathered within Christianity, human sexuality was no longer viewed as a beautiful blessing, a Song of Songs, a gift from God, but rather a cruel seducing curse which was dragging all humankind into the very flames of Hell.

Certain Scriptures became very troublesome because they plainly did not support this anti-sexual attitude. Hence the new anti-sex medieval world order found it expedient to limit Bible reading, in practice, removing the Bible from circulation, replacing it with long lists of rules and regulations, punishments and penance and anti-sexual explanations and new interpretations of God’s Word.

A few early religious scholars became so ill-at-ease with the real Scriptural record that they decided to write their own scriptures. Some of these remain to this day and contain numerous anti-sex passages that degrade marriage as “a foul polluted way of life” or call it “an experiment of the serpent” or say that Jesus came “to destroy the [sexual] works of the female.” Fortunately such writings as The Acts of Andrew, The Acts of John [16], etc., have ended up on the scrap heap and not in the New Testament.

Origen (c. 185-254), an early monastic but Greek philosopher at heart, became so unsettled by his own sexuality that it is said he castrated himself, to become a literal eunuch. However, by so doing he spoiled his chances for canonization due to concerns over certain rules in the Old Testament regarding emasculated men. Origen took particular sexual exception to the Song of Solomon, warning Christians, “Everyone who is not yet rid of the vexation of the flesh and blood and not ceased to feel passion of his bodily nature should refrain completely from reading this book” (cited by Francoeur).

Origen wanted to make sure that this highly erotic Biblical account of tempestuous lovemaking centering around Solomon, the king with 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3), would be viewed by subsequent generations as purely allegorical. Rabbinic interpretations gave the Song symbolic meanings, but did not ignore the Song’s literal message of human love and passion.

Saint Jerome was also bothered by this “tawdry tale” and taught that it was not really about sex with a lover, but about virgins who mortify the flesh. Other monastic minds taught that the woman in the Song represented Christ, and the two breasts mentioned were the Old and New Testaments.

Francoeur makes the following interesting observation about the Song of Solomon:

The history of Jewish and Christian responses to the Song of Songs is a microcosm of the evolution of Western culture from a sex-affirming Hebraic perspective to a sex-negative Christian one, ill-at-ease with eroticism, sensuality, passion, and pleasure.



Some of the most sexually repressive times and regimes in history are also marked by much Scripture illiteracy, either through repression, rejection or misrepresentation of the Word of God. Repressive and sex-negative church teachings soon made the Bible virtually a banned book to be locked away from the laity who might “misinterpret” certain Scriptures–in other words, who may realize while reading the Bible that something was wrong with Christendom. Davies explains:

A Dark Age followed, after which in the Middle Ages, Church control over mind and body was so absolute as to make the totalitarian tyrannies of our century seem almost tolerant. To question a mere syllable of Church dogma was to court death (Davies, 1984: 182).

Cut off from Scriptures by a ruling celibate clerical class, the laity soon fell prey to their doctrines. All manner of sexual myths were foisted upon the faithful, complete with terrifying tales of eternal torment to all who dared to deviate from the virgin ideal. The war between sexuality and spirituality had begun in earnest. Men and women found themselves forced to go contrary to creation and natural order, and fight their own “flesh” to save their souls.

Fourth century celibacy and ascetic madness, patterned more after pagan teachings than Jesus or the Bible, soon threatened to overthrow all Christendom. Brundage tells us:

As the Church became part of the mainstream of Roman life, it borrowed increasingly from the pagan world, from which it had formerly been almost totally estranged. In the process, both Christian institutions and thought were irrevocably altered. These developments also signaled the beginning of radical changes in the ways the authorities of both Church and government dealt with sexual matters (Brundage, 1987: 76).

By the eighth century an enormously strict system of sexual rules and penalties was firmly in place, covering every imaginable thought and action related to sex. Jesus, as the Merciful Intercessor, the joyful Messenger of God’s love and forgiveness of all sins, as well as His free gift of Salvation through faith, were trodden underfoot by an emerging supposed sex-hating ascetic god who demanded complete sacrifice and much suffering from humanity. The message of damnation soon replaced the Good News that even the vilest of sinners could be forgiven and saved through Jesus. In fact, “it came to be held that only one person in a million could hope to reach Heaven” (Taylor, 1970: 69).

Sexual accounts in the Bible were twisted to fit the new non-sexual image of holiness. The mechanics of how Mary was impregnated by God and yet remained a virgin was most challenging for anti-sexualists to resolve. One popular explanation was that God or the Archangel Gabriel impregnated the Blessed Mary through her ear or windpipe using a special vapor (Taylor, 1970: 62). Some early paintings show the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descending with great speed carrying God’s sperm in its bill. In one early carving, the semen came from God’s mouth and entered a tube which led under Mary’s skirts.

Of course, once she was pregnant they faced the task of figuring out how Jesus could be born without having to touch or pass through Mary’s “parts of shame,” explaining why some taught that Jesus emerged through Mary’s breast or navel. Certain Gnostics insisted that Jesus had not been born of Mary at all but descended from Heaven fully formed, thus avoiding the whole question (Davies, 1984: 179).

New Testament references to the other children born to Mary after Jesus, were brushed off as being “relatives” and not literal brothers and sisters. (See Matthew 12:46; 13:55; Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; John 2:12; Acts 1:14.) Mother Mary could not be allowed to be seen as having been too “motherly,” since she would have had to indulge in sex after Jesus was born in order to have other children, which if admitted, would have put marriage, sex and baby-making spiritually on par with celibacy. That simply could not be allowed.

The warm, colorful, people-loving Christ of Scripture, comfortable with His own body and the little pleasures of life, was replaced by a solitary suffering celibate who fought off sex as well as Satan. The soul-freeing, sin-forgiving significance of His death and resurrection was blurred by long lists of do’s and don’ts, indulgences and sacred relics. The liberating message of Jesus, who came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10), was greatly toned down. This joyful wine maker and wine drinker, this friend of sinners and harlots, this divine Man, who healed on the Sabbath and constantly confounded and challenged the religious rules and the showy deeds of the religious of His day, while being cared for by an entourage of worshipful and often wealthy women (Luke 8:2,3), was not the exemplary ascetic figure envisioned by a celibate ecclesia.



As celibacy and anti-sexual teachings spread throughout Christianity, they quickly took on political dimensions as well as spiritual. A collector’s copy of Buck’s Dictionary (1838) under the topic “celibacy” comments appropriately:

Superstitious zeal for a sanctimonious appearance in the clergy seemed to have prompted [celibacy] at first; and crafty policy, armed with power, no doubt rivetted this clog [celibacy being referred to here as a piece of dirt] on the sacerdotal order in later periods of the Church (Buck, p. 81).

The Spanish provincial Synod of Eliberis (the Council of Elvira), in 305, enjoined bishops, priests, and deacons to separate from their wives. This ruling was disallowed by the Council of Nicaea, in 325. The counsel did not agree with the total banning of priests from marrying, deeming that honorable marriage was as truly chaste as the life of a celibate. However, in 385, Pope Siricius again commanded complete celibacy for bishops, priests, and deacons, and called for the separation of those who were married.

In A Handbook of Church History by Samuel G. Greene, we learn that:

False notions of Christian purity led in many instances to the voluntary separation of husband and wife. . . . Justinian was the first in the Eastern Empire to forbid married persons to be elected bishops. [Subdeacons could still have wives.] In the West, endeavours to enforce celibacy on all the clergy were made with indifferent success, until the days of Hildebrand (Gregory VII), in the Eleventh Century, by whom the law was made absolute. The East, on the contrary, while eventually (after the Synod of Trulla, A.D. 692) requiring celibacy in the bishop, not only permits, but encourages the marriage of the rest of the clergy (Greene, 1907: 229).



Since little distinction was made between the policy of celibacy for the clergy and the sex lives of the laity, and since the celibate class controlled “the keys to the Kingdom,” all sex was deemed as bad and only virginity was good.

During the fourth and fifth centuries Mary’s popular appeal greatly increased, and her [lifelong] virginity became widely accepted, providing a still more secure basis, in the teaching of the Church, for its priests and later its nuns to accept compulsory celibacy. But there were married clergy, who in theory remained continent (Thomas, 1986: 9).

Building upon the Roman tradition of vestal virgins, female virginity under the celibates took on a new twist and nunneries spread. All virgins became viewed as being the “brides of Christ,” therefore for anyone to take away a girl’s virginity was a crime against Christ Himself. Virginity became viewed as so much superior to marriage that even for husband and wife to avoid sex and try to remain “just about virgins” was greatly encouraged. Saint Jerome said, “I praise marriage and wedlock, but I do so because they produce virgins for me” (Davies, 1984: 180). Presumably he meant virgins for the Church or for Christ and not literally just for himself!

The real “sin” of sex, however, was not so much the procreative act, loathsome as it was perceived to be. It was the experience of sexual pleasure that was the prime source of sin. Many took steps to make sure that even marital sex was limited to procreation purposes and was made as unenjoyable as possible; some even rigged up animal skin barriers with a hole cut in the rough hide that caused the maximum discomfort and allowed the minimum of body contact between a copulating couple. This device and others presumably reduced the amount of sin involved by reducing the amount of pleasure (Taylor, 1970: 51). Saint Paul was never so unkind. He insisted that men and women should not “defraud” each other of their sexual rights, seeing their bodies were needed by and belonged to each other (1 Corinthians 7:4,5).

A few Christian churches today still teach that sex is solely for the purpose of procreation and not for pleasure. Would they be so zealous, we wonder, if they realized that it’s not the Bible they have to thank for this harsh approach to sexual joys, but heathen teachers and non-Christian philosophers like Seneca the Younger and Musonius Rufus, Stoic contemporaries of Jesus, and others? And it was the Greek Stoic Artemidorous, not “missionary” Christians, who first taught that the only morally acceptable position for intercourse was male-superior face-to-face (Francoeur: The Religious Suppression of Eros).



In modern times, several passages in the Bible are used as justification for condemning “fornication.” However, “porneia,” the word used in the Greek Bible, actually had many meanings such as whoremongering and excessive, illicit sex, and not simply casual sex between couples, as is pointed out by Brundage:

Several passages in the Gospels condemn porneia. This word carried a number of different meanings. At times porneia means prostitution, at other times it refers to non-marital sex in general.[17] It is difficult to be certain, for example, whether the term applied to premarital intercourse between persons betrothed to one another or, indeed, to any type of non-commercial, heterosexual relations of the kind conventionally labeled fornication. Since neither the Torah nor rabbinical teachers contemporary with Jesus prohibited intercourse between unmarried partners as a moral offense, perhaps porneia referred primarily to sex with prostitutes, adultery, and other promiscuous relationships [18] (Brundage 1987: 58).

Regarding sexual liberties which were taken by the early Church, we know that they did have some trouble with “wild fire” in certain quarters, as indicated by Saint Paul’s rebuke to the Corinthians, where reports of fornication and incest were quite common:

It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1).

Saint Paul subscribed marriage as a solution to such excesses:

Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband (1 Corinthians 7:2).

Much of Paul’s conservatism may be attributed not only to his strict Pharisaic background, but also to the fact that most of his Greek and Asian converts had come out of cultures in which male and female temple prostitution were noble professions. And, sexual excesses and orgies were a way of life amongst the pagans of the Near East. This is why many scholars interpret a number of New Testament references to “fornicators” to be specifically talking about “[male] temple prostitutes,” not inclusive of all those who engage in sex with a partner to whom they are not married.

Paul’s pronouncements regarding sex, as applied by sexually conservative Christians, come in direct conflict with the central theme of the Epistles. We believe that Jesus has utterly delivered us from the old Mosaic laws and purity requirements, against sex between consenting men and women. For “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the [Mosaic] Law” (Galatians 3:13), “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us [the old Law], which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross” (Colossians 2:14).

Surprisingly, sex between singles was not viewed as being as sinful as masturbation in the Middle Ages, at least by some. However, David A. Schulz and Dominic S. Raphael in their article, Christ and Tiresias: A Wider Focus on Masturbation, make the following historic observation:

In other cultures less restrictive [than Western cultures] by tradition, parents even encourage self-stimulation by playing with the genitals of infants. The medieval printmaker Hans Baldung Grien, shocks many Christians today because he incorporated this custom into his portrait of the Holy Family. In his picture, Saint Anne stimulates the genitals of her grandson, Jesus, while His mother and father look on [19] (Feuerstein, 1989: 222).

Still, according to Aquinas, masturbation was a greater sin than fornication. The death of Judah’s son, Onan, who “spilled his seed” (i.e., performed coitus interruptus) rather than willingly impregnate his widowed sister-in-law as custom required, is often mistakenly pointed out as the example of how displeasing to God masturbation must be.

And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy [deceased] brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore He slew him (Genesis 38:8-10).

Read in context, however, one quickly sees that what provoked God to slay Onan was his selfishness, greed and sexual withholding and refusing to sexually accommodate Tamar, his brother’s widow, not wanting her to have any children to inherit part of the family property. In slaying Onan, God was intent that Tamar receive justice, but He also had another reason to be particularly concerned about her success in love-making; she was chosen to be an ancestor of Jesus. As a spicy epilogue, Tamar assisted God’s purpose by posing as a prostitute, thereby luring Judah to fulfill his Godly duty (Genesis 38:13-26).



The “Agapae,” or “love feasts” of Early Christians, had for the first three centuries been a time when liberal contributions were made by the rich to the poor at a special gathering held for fun, feasting and fellowship. The Council of Carthage, in the year 397, repressed and solemnly condemned these “love feasts.” Rev. Charles Buck described the demise of this quaint Christian custom:

The kind of charity, with which the ceremony used to end, was no longer given between different sexes; and it was expressly forbidden to have any beds or couches for the conveniency of those who should be disposed to eat more at ease. Notwithstanding these precautions, the abuses committed in them became so notorious, that the holding of them (at least in churches) was solemnly condemned at the Council of Carthage, in the year 397 (Buck, 1838: 16).

In spite of every new rule, restriction and “religious” precaution, human sexuality did not for one moment depart, it only smoldered, mutated or transformed, often into more “acceptable” forms of religious expression. As Taylor points out in Sex in History, “Sexual energy cannot be reduced or annihilated; if denied outlet in one form, it soon finds it in another” (Taylor, 1970: 300).

In a Washington Post interview, Rev. Richard D. Dobbins, an Ohio psychologist and pastoral counselor points out that the unhealthy suppression of sexual drive easily leads to deviant sexual behavior, and adds:

While the Bible takes a healthy view toward the body and sexuality, institutional religion tends to see those things as wicked and evil. Children are not taught how to think of their body. It is a dark, secret side of themselves (cited by Session Steps, 1988: 3, Section A).

All this suppressed sexuality soon manifested itself in the most appalling of practices. Shamefully, many of these practices were then elevated to the level of Christian piety and virtue: the weekly flagellation of penitents and priests stripped naked, self-mutilations, castrations, sexual fixations and obsessions–frequently involving Jesus or Mary, sadomasochistic behavior, witch-hunts, religious massacres, to touch on only a few.

Noted anthropologist Nigel Davies, in his book The Rampant God, comments on the sexual anguish endured by centuries of Christians robbed of normal sexual enjoyment:

No one can ever quantify the mental anguish inflicted upon Christian believers through the centuries, an anguish beyond comprehension of other people; accepting in their minds [as] divine truths that every fiber of their body impelled them to ignore, they were forever haunted by fear of the fires of hell and thereby even suffered the torments of the damned during their life on earth (Davies, 1984: 184).



The glaring inconsistencies between the anti-sexual version of Christianity, and the Godly origins of sex and salvation as revealed in Scripture, fortunately were never successfully obliterated, even under the most unbridled of Gnostic attacks to overthrow the natural order of God-ordained human sexuality. Men and women of God throughout Church history have, under inspiration of Scripture, struggled to lift the cruel, unscriptural yoke of sexual repression off the shoulders of their fellow Christians.

Peter Abelard (1079-1142), one of the leading medieval theologians and the famous lover of Heloise, openly opposed this anti-sexual value system. Abelard wrote:

No natural pleasure of the flesh may be declared as sin, nor may one impute guilt when someone is delighted by pleasure where he must necessarily feel it. . . . From the first day of our creation when man lived without sin in paradise, sexual intercourse and good tasting foods were naturally bound up with pleasure. God himself had established nature in this way (cited by Robert T. Francoeur in his essay, The Religious Suppression of Eros).

Abelard’s liberal views were not well received by at least one powerful priest. When Abelard’s secret love affair was discovered with Heloise (a student he was tutoring, who was the niece of the Canon of the Cathedral of Notre Dame), Heloise’s outraged clerical uncle, Fulbert, had him castrated.


Francoeur comments:

The tragic fate [of Abelard] reflected the choice Christians were forced to make between a life of the body [or] a life of the soul.


And he adds:

Because we live in a society that prefers a puritive work ethic over an ethic of love and compassion, it is risky indeed to assert pleasure, especially sexual pleasure, as a legitimate social goal.


The sexual outrage unleashed against Abelard by the furious priest Fulbert is not perceivably different from the sexual hostility that lashes out even today against men and women of God who sincerely question the unscriptural anti-sexual bias and burden placed on Christianity by an ascetic movement some sixteen centuries ago. What “fallen” priest or pastor being pilloried in the public media today for “sexual misconduct” with a woman does not long for this weight to be lifted at last.



Men like Martin Luther (1483-1546) were alerted by Scripture to the fact that the Good Ship Christianity, carrying its precious message of salvation by grace, had been seriously blown off course. Heartened by a renewed access to the Word of God, many men and women placed their lives in peril to repulse the tide of untruths that had swept not only human sexuality off course, but covered and confused the entire message of salvation by grace through Jesus Christ.

Luther, the one-time monk liberated by the Light of the true Gospel, burst out of his celibate cage, shook off his sexual shackles, married a nun and joyfully proceeded to be fruitful and multiply and fill his house with children. He rocked the Christian world when he proved by Scripture that human works, such as sexual abstinence, fasting, good works, body deprivations, self-effort, donating to the church, etcetera, could contribute nothing towards a man’s salvation. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5).

Men could only be saved by having faith in Jesus. Salvation can only be received as a free gift from God. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). When threatened and asked to recant his “heretical” teachings, Luther stood firmly on Scripture, proclaiming, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither right nor safe to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise.”



Downstream from the Reformation and the great awakening of Luther’s time, teachings that saintliness can be had through personal piety, generosity, self-inflicted suffering and suppressed sexuality still persist in various forms throughout much of Christianity and secular society today. Happily, however, more and more Christians of all denominations are awakening to the terrible sexual “captivity” they have endured for too long. Even the most sexually-bound denominations have published “Christian” sex manuals which advocate the “open enjoyment of sex in the bedrooms of the born-again” (Davies, 1984: 183). And passages like the following from the Book of Proverbs, compiled and written by that wisest of Israel’s king, Solomon, is helping more than a few find out that foreplay is fun:

Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love (Proverbs 5:19).

As Christendom finds itself buffeted and battered by increasingly violent storms portending the long-awaited Endtime and the promised return of Jesus, a great awakening is taking place. One of the fruits of this new awareness is that the sad results that anti-sexual extremes have had both on the Church and on humanity must now be undone. Even in the Roman Catholic Church, the anti-sexual teachings of sainted celibates are slowly being set aside. Many Christians are accepting the liberating love and salvation of Jesus and coming to accept their own human sexuality as a truly natural and God-ordained part of life, meant to be received with thanksgiving.–“For every creature [creation] of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4).

God’s Yes to Sexuality, the report of a working group appointed by the British Council of Churches, edited by Rachel Moss in 1981, reports:

Thankfully, the view that sees celibacy as somehow a more Christian or a more perfect way of living than marriage, or other partnerships, is less prevalent now (Moss, 1981: 147).

Given and received in mutual surrender and trust, sexual intercourse can heal hurt, mediate forgiveness, restore hope, and provoke laughter and a resilient attitude to life (ibid., p. 157).

Sex was created and instituted by God in the very beginning! God is the Author of genuine pleasure, genuine happiness, genuine fleshly satisfaction, even sex! “All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3).–Including your sexual organs, your body, and every part of you. If sex is a sin, then God is a sinner, because He made it and He created us to have it and enjoy it!

Sex was not the Devil’s idea!–It was God’s.–And the Devil is its arch-enemy because it encourages the growth of the Kingdom of God! The Devil tries to take the credit for it, and then turns around and condemns you for enjoying it. God created sex, not Satan! God is the One Who made those sexual organs and every single nerve that feels so good! He’s the One Who dreamed up sexual pleasures and bodily contact and God Himself created that marvelous final explosion called the orgasm!

God is the God of the body, the God of sex–He made your flesh in His image! `God created man in His Own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them'(Genesis 1:27). Praise God for sex! He created it!–by David Brandt Berg (compiled quotes, Daily Might 2:67).



Brown, Peter

The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity. Columbia University Press, New York, 1988.

Peter Brown, formerly Professor of Classics and History at the University of California, Berkeley, is now Rollins Professor in the Department of History at Princeton University. His books include Augustine of Hippo, a definitive biography of Saint Augustine; The World of Late Antiquity, The Making of Late Antiquity, The Cult of the Saints, Religion and Society in the Age of Saint Augustine, and Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity.


Brundage, James A.

Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Society. University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1987.

James A. Brundage is the Ahmanson-Murphy Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Kansas. He is the author of numerous books on medieval history, including The Crusades, The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia, and Medieval Canon Law and the Crusader.


Buck, Rev. Charles

A Theological Dictionary. Published from the last London edition by J.J. Woodward, 1838.


Davies, Nigel

The Rampant God: Eros Throughout the World. William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, 1984.

Nigel Davis, of English origin and education, is a scholar of archaeology and anthropology who some years ago gave up the writing of scholarly works in favor of the popular audience. Since 1962 he has lived in Mexico City, which he has used as a base from which to study the history and culture of the ancient peoples of Central America. He holds a doctorate from London University and a master’s degree from the National University of Mexico. He has written widely–as scientist, anthropologist, and historian–and his earlier works such as The Aztecs and Voyagers to the New World have become international best sellers. In 1980 the president of Mexico awarded Nigel Davis the prestigious and rarely conferred order of the Aguilla Azteca for his outstanding contributions to Mexican culture.


Feuerstein, George (ed.)

Enlightened Sexuality: Essays on Body-Positive Spirituality. The Crossing Press, Freedom, California, 1989.

George Feuerstein has published a dozen books including Structures of Consciousness, Integral Publishing, 1987. He did postgraduate research in Indian philosophy at old University of Durham, England. He is a recipient of awards from the British Academy, editor of Spectrum Review, and general editor of the Paragon Living Traditions series of dictionaries.


Foucault, Michel

The History of Sexuality Volume I: An Introduction. Translated from the French by Robert Hurley, Penguin Books, 1978.


Francoeur, Robert T.

The Religious Suppression of Eros (published source unknown).

Father Robert Francoeur is a Catholic priest and Professor of Human Embryology and Sexuality at Fairleigh Dickenson University and a fellow of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex.


Greene, Samuel G.

A Handbook of Church History. The Religious Tract Society, London, 1907.

Rev. Samuel Greene is now deceased.


Moss, Rachel (ed.)

God’s Yes to Sexuality–Towards a Christian understanding of sex, sexism and sexuality. The report of a working group appointed by the British Council of Churches, Collins Fount Paperback, London, 1981.

Rachel Moss is a magistrate and a member of The Assembly of the British Council of Churches.


Pagels, Elaine

Adam, Eve and the Serpent. Random House, New York, 1988.

Elaine Pagels received her doctorate from Harvard University in 1970. She taught at Barnard College, where she chaired the Department of Religion, and Columbia University. Professor Pagels is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. She is the author of The Gnostic Gospels, which won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and The Johannine Gospel in Gnostic Exegesis and The Gnostic Paul. Elaine Pagels notes that in the century following Christianity’s rise under Constantine to become a respected institution, Christian teachings underwent a revolutionary change from a doctrine that celebrated human freedom to one that emphasized the universal bondage of original sin. Elaine Pagels is a mother and lives in New York city with her husband, Heinz Pagels, scientist and author.


Raphael, Dominic S.

Christ and Tiresias: A Wider Focus on Masturbation.

Dominic S. Raphael is widely published and pastorally active Roman Catholic author writing here under a pseudonym. Both Church and society need healing ideas in the area of sexual ethics. A pseudonym may help toward healing, by avoiding personal controversy and promoting objective discussion. At any rate, D.S.R. is in good company–Benjamin Franklin used no fewer than 57 different pseudonyms in the course of his life.


Rice, David

Shattered Vows: Priests Who Leave. William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, 1990.

David Rice, born in Northern Ireland and educated by the Jesuits of Clongowes, the school made famous by James Joyce, was ordained a Dominican in 1958. He has worked as a journalist all his life, and was an editor and award-winning syndicated columnist in the United States during the 1970s. He returned to Ireland in 1980 to head the School of Journalism at Rathmines. He left the priesthood in 1977 to marry. He lives in Dublin.


Schulz, David A. and Raphael, Dominic S.

“Christ and Tiresias: A Wider Focus on Masturbation,” published in Feuerstein’s Enlightened Sexuality, 1989: 214-241.

David A. Schulz is a part-time professor, Episcopal priest, and wood sculptor residing in California. He is the author of Human Sexuality, The Changing Family, and other books on human relationships. He has taught seminars on sexuality and sexual harassment. His manuscript “Sacred Shrines and Thirsty Fishes: Celebrating Ordinary Lives” is nearing completion.


Session Steps, Laura

“Evangelicals: Ecstasy and Temptation–Bakker, Swaggart Falls Spur Discussion of Sex”, The Washington Post, November 4, 1988: 3, Section A.

Laura Session Steps is a Washington Post staff writer.


Sherrard, Philip

Christianity and Eros: Essays on the Theme of Sex and Love. SPCK Holy Trinity Church, London, 1976.

Philip Sherrard, formerly Assistant Director of the British School at Athens, is Lecturer in the History of the Orthodox Church at London University. He is the author of many books and articles on Orthodox, Byzantine, and Greek themes.


Tannahill, Reay

Sex in History. Scarborough House/Publishers, revised and updated, 1992.

Reay Tannahill, as quoted by the London Times, has written a serious book that is a delight to read by placing her impeccable research within the context of the history of the relationship between the sexes and by abstaining from taking a moral stand.


Taylor, G. Rattray

Sex in History. The Vanguard Press, Inc., New York, 1970.

Gordon Rattray Taylor brings his broad training in both the biological and social sciences to bear on the subject of sex as it has historically effected people as people, rather than as statistics.


Thomas, Gordon

Desire and Denial: Celibacy and the Church. Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1986.

Gordon Thomas is the author and co-author of twenty-four books. Total sales exceed thirty-four million copies in thirty-six countries. Four have been made into successful motion pictures. He has reported on the papacy since the closing months of Pope John XXIII’s pontificate in 1963. He covered the election of Pope Paul VI and had several private audiences with the pontiff during his fifteen-year reign, which ended with his death in 1978. He commented on the thirty-three-day pontificate and funeral of Pope Paul’s successor, the first Pope John Paul, and the end to the 455 years of Italian domination of the papacy with the emergence of Poland’s Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II. He has continued to monitor the workings of the Vatican and the Church without interruption, co-authoring two best-sellers, Pontiff and The Year of Armageddon. Desire and Denial has been sold as a major film production.


Ward, Benedicta

The Desert Christian: The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1975.

Benedicta Ward is a Catholic nun in the order of the Sisters of the Love of God (S.L.G.), Oxford.




[1] Minucius Felix, Octavius 9, G. H. Rendall, trans., p. 337.

[2] Gnosticism refers to the belief system of a variety of heretical Judeo-Christian sects in the early centuries after Jesus, which stressed salvation through a secret gnosis, or “knowledge.” The central theme of Gnosticism was that the physical world was entirely evil and therefore had to be rejected. They had great contempt for the human body, discouraged marriage, and rejected the teaching that Jesus had a physical body that was resurrected. Some Gnostics were very immoral since everything was evil anyway, only themselves being above it all. Others adopted very austere patterns of living and bodily mortification. Some taught that woman was created by the Devil, and to have children was to multiply the souls bound by the powers of darkness. St. Augustine had been a member of a Manichaean Gnostic sect that traced back to a Jewish-Christian baptist movement, the Elchasaites. In 1946 a cache of 13 Gnostic Coptic Codices was discovered near Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt. These contained 53 treatises that had been deposited about A.D. 400. Basically these are fictitious and apocryphal writings supposedly by Adam, Abraham, Zoroaster, Jesus, Philip, Thomas, John, and others.

[3] G. Poupon, “L’accusation de magie dans les Actes Aporyphes,” In F. Bovon et al., eds., Les Actes Apocryphes, pp.71-93; see Brown, The Making of Later Antiquities, p.24.

[4] Acts of Paul and Thecla, New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 2, 10, p.356; 5, p.357.

[5] Justin, Apologia I, 29.2.

[6] Eusebuis, Life of Constantine, I.53, E.C. Richardson, trans., Library of the Nicene Fathers, I:497.

[7] W. Speyer, Zu Den Vorwrfen der Heiden gegen die Christen, (cited in Brown, 1988:140).

[8] Hildegard of Bingen in Germany was a great mystic Benedictine Abbess of the twelfth century (1098-1179), who interpreted the account of Adam’s sin as a “failure of eros,” proposing that Adam was banished from Eden for refusing to enjoy deeply enough the delights of the earth. In other words, that Adam lost his place because of sexual prudery. She wrote many books, but her principle work, Scivias, is an account of 26 visions with apocalyptic emphasis dealing with creation, redemption, and the church. She was investigated by the archbishop of Mainz and Pope Eugenius III and both gave her a favorable report.

[9] Tertullian was a Latin theologian who was in time won over by an ascetic “charismatic fundamentalist” sect started by Marcion Montanus. Tertullian, though married himself, considered sex shameful conduct and marveled at how a priest’s blessing could transform this sinful act into semi-sanctified behavior. He was particularly revolted by widows and others who would remarry, equating the sin of such “filthy sensualists” to fornication, adultery and murder(Tertullian, De exhortatione castitatis 9.1 and De monogamia 4.3, 10.7, 15.1, in CCL 2:1027, 1229, 1233, 1243, 1250, see also Brundage, 1987: 68). Saint Augustine spoke of marriage as “a medicine for immorality,” since marriage took sex into the more “respectable” realm of procreation.

[10] Saint Jerome is the Biblical scholar who translated the Bible into the Latin Vulgate. He is often remembered for the years he spent among the hermits of Syria battling in his desert cell with visions of troupes of dancing nymphs come to seduce him. Saint Jerome’s writings there-<M%1>after reflected that he considered sex most unclean, even adding that, “Anyone who has too passionate a love for his wife is an adulterer!”

Medieval theologian Peter Lombard (c. 1095-1169) reconfirmed this attitude in his apologetic De excusatione coitus: “Omnis ardentior amator propiae uxoris adulter est.” (For a man to love his wife too ardently is a sin worse than adultery.) (Cited in Taylor, 1970: 52.)

[11] “In the fourth century, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Arabia were the forcing ground for monasticism in its Christian expression; every form of monastic life was tried, every kind of experiment, every kind of extreme. Monasticism is of course older than Christianity, but this was the flowering of its Christian expression and in many ways it has never been suppressed. . . . The Syrian monks were great individualists and they deliberately imposed on themselves what is hardest for human beings to bear: they went naked and in chains, they lived unsettled lives, eating whatever they found in the woods. They chose to live at the limits of human nature, close to the animals, the angels, and the demons” (Ward, 1975: xv, xvii).

In the fifth and sixth century, St. Benedict of Nursia (c. 480-547), became the master of monastic “rule” makers–though his first efforts at hermit “reform” were met with an attempt to poison him. Typical of his deeds, this progenitor of the Benedictine Order, when tempted with thoughts about women, would throw himself into briars and nettles until his skin was badly torn and was bleeding profusely.

[12] Clement of Alexandria, Stomata 2.23, ed, 3.6.45; 3.12.80-81; 3.17.102-3.18.110, ed. Stahlin 2:188-94, 2:216-17, 232-33, 243-47, 3.57.1-3.60.4, 3.71.1-3.78.5, 3.96.1-3.99.4, 3.105.1-3.110.2; Paedagogus 2.83.1-2.115.5, ed. Stahlin 1:208-26. (Cited in Brundage, 1987: 66.)

“The majority of Christians . . . rejected the claim made by radical Christians that the sin of Adam and Eve was sexual–that the forbidden “fruit of the tree of knowledge” conveyed, above all, carnal knowledge. On the contrary, said Clemen of Alexandria (c. 180), conscious participation in procreation is “cooperation with God in the work of creation.” Adam’s sin was not sexual indulgence, but disobedience, thus Clement agreed with most of his Jewish and Christian contemporaries that the real theme of the story of Adam and Eve is moral freedom and moral responsibility” (cf. Pagels, 1988. xxiii).

[13] Arnobius, Adv. gentes 4.19, in PL 5:1039: “[Q]uod ex turpi concubitu creditis, atque ex seminis jactu ignorantem sidi ad lucem beneficiis obscoenitatis exisse.” On Arnobius, see also Liebeschuetz, Continuity and Change, pp. 252-260 (cited by Brundage, 1987: 64).

[14] Tertullian, De exhortatione castitatis 11.1, in CCL 2:1030-31, (cited by Brundage, 1987: 64).

[15] In the reign of Emperor Anastasius I (A.D. 491-518), about the year 494 a sect called Angelites had spread from the city of Alexandria. They were also called Severites, from Severus who was the head of the sect.

[16] Refer to Acts of Andrew, Vatican ms frag. v. (J 352); Acts of John, fragment (J 266); Eusebius Ecclesiastical History iv 29, etc. There have been several acts of the Apostles, such as the acts of Abdias, of Peter, of Paul, Saint John the Evangelist, Saint Andrew, Saint Thomas, Saint Philip, and Saint Matthias; but they have been all proved to be spurious. The reference to Jesus coming to destroy the works of the female, i.e., sexual desire and procreation, are to be found in The Gospel of the Egyptians (9:63) and is cited by Rosemary Radford Ruther, p. 128, in Sexism and God-talk: Toward a Feminist Theology.

[17] Especially Matthew 15:19 and Mark 7:21. In Matthew 21:31-32, Luke 15:30, and probably in John 8:41, that reference is to intercourse with prostitutes. Bruce Malina, “Does `Porneia’ Mean Fornication?”, Novum Testamentum 14 (1972) 10-17, lists and analyses all occurrences of porneia in the New Testament. (Footnote from Brundage, 1987: 58.)

[18] Bruce Malina, “Does `Porneia’ Mean Fornication?” p. 17; but cf. the very different conclusions of J. Jensen in an article entitled “Does `Porneia’ Mean Fornication?” Novum Testamentum 20 (1978:161-84). (Footnotes from Brundage, 1987: 58.)

[19] Found in Alan Shestack et. al., Hans Baldung Grien: Prints and Drawings (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1981), p. 131.

Copyright August 1995, World Services, Zurich, Switzerland.


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