Sunday, July 22, 2007

A defense against Patriarchy (part 3)


We move on to our third part in the series. We assume the reader is already familiar with part1 and part2. We ended part2 with a discussion of the Thecla and its anti-family pro virginity themes of that work. We pointed out that a key component of the Patriarchy case is to argue that their teachings are the clear teachings of scripture and consistent with orthodoxy through the centuries. In the 2nd part we proved that the churches founded by the apostles held beliefs and practices inconsistent with patriarchy. In this section we address orthodoxy head on. What we show is that for the next 3 centuries after Thecla, the "orthodoxy" continued to move in "her direction". That is the theology of sex, motherhood, and gender of the late 4th and early 5th century is what one sees today among the catholic rights not the one one sees among the protestant right. We will use conservative protestant for the modern fundamentalist/evangelical position since in part3 we have almost no need to differentiate between the mainstream conservative protestant position and the Phillips, Wilson... position.

To unquestionably establish the orthodoxy of the time we need to find the most authoritative texts, written by the most authoritative authors upheld with the full authority of the catholic church, and especially those that continue to be referred to over the centuries by later writers. The assertion is that the events and teachings leading up to trial of Jovinian and the events that followed meet this very high burden. That is we will focus our attention on the period between 380 and 410, ending with Saint Augustine's "On the good of marriage", and prove that by the time Christianity did develop an orthodox view of marriage and family it was the not the view that Phillips, Wilson and Bayly claim.

In the year 383, Saint Jerome penned the The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary. The quote below is his comparison between virginity and marriage:
And now that I am about to institute a comparison between virginity and marriage, I beseech my readers not to suppose that in praising virginity I have in the least disparaged marriage, and separated the saints of the Old Testament from those of the New, that is to say, those who had wives and those who altogether refrained from the embraces of women: I rather think that in accordance with the difference in time and circumstance one rule applied to the former, another to us upon whom the ends of the world have come. So long as that law remained, Genesis 1:28 "Be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth"; and "Cursed is the barren woman that bears not seed in Israel," they all married and were given in marriage, left father and mother, and became one flesh. But once in tones of thunder the words were heard, 1 Corinthians 7:29 "The time is shortened, that henceforth those that have wives may be as though they had none": cleaving to the Lord, we are made one spirit with Him. And why? Because "He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife. And there is a difference also between the wife and the virgin. She that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married is careful for the things of the world, how she may please her husband." Why do you cavil? Why do you resist? The vessel of election says this; he tells us that there is a difference between the wife and the virgin. Observe what the happiness of that state must be in which even the distinction of sex is lost. The virgin is no longer called a woman. 1 Corinthians 7:34 "She that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit." A virgin is defined as she that is holy in body and in spirit, for it is no good to have virgin flesh if a woman be married in mind.
The work contains dozens of quotes like the above but for now lets examine the underlying theology.

For one thing the entire thrust of the book contradicts the modern protestant. Modern protestants are strongly opposed to fornication. They have no opposition to marital sex and generally believe that marital sex is an important and valuable activity. That is, they range from being mildly positive to moderately positive towards marital sex. Moreover they believe people should marry and so no particular value (and many would argue they see harm) in a life of virginity. Sex builds intimacy in a marriage. The married couple should try and please each other sexually. Some limitiations may apply: fantasy, use of pornography, etc but the overall thrust is clearly pro marriage, pro marital sex and pro procreation.

Augustine has already preached that: Any sex act not specifically procreative is additionally sinful. Any pleasure that occurs as a result of sex must be accidental, "It is, however, one thing for married persons to have intercourse only for the wish to beget children, which is not sinful: it is another thing for them to desire carnal pleasure in cohabitation, but with the spouse only, which involves venial sin." (Book 1 Chapter 16 On Marriage and Concupiscence) . Conversely the whole thrust of the Perpetual Virginity is that Mary was far too holy ever to have consummated her marriage. For the modern protestant the command to be fruitful and multiply still applies. Having children is a good thing for a marriage and children are a blessing. In the above quote Jerome specifically argues that the NT teaches that the command is no longer in effect.

As David Hunter puts it, Augustine illustrated the importance of the good of fidelity with the example of two thieves. If one thief should enlist the help of another to commit a crime and should agree to give his partner a share of the loot, they have entered into an agreement characterized by fidelity. Even though they are partners in crime, their fidelity is still something good, even though it is being manifested in bad behavior. The goodness of their fidelity, Augustine observed, is evident from the fact that if one thief should violate their agreement, the other thief would have every right to complain. The only grounds for breaking their agreement would be if one thief decided to return to the "true and legitimate fidelity" which both of the thieves owe to society and which they violated by turning to crime in the first place.

As another example Saint Ambrose (Concerning Virginity Book I 62-66) had urged parents not to provide daughters with a dowry and thus avoid help their daughters avoid marriage.

Jerome also saw this elevated view of virginity as applying to men, and provides a "proof text" that Jesus loves virgins more:
And yet John, one of the disciples, who is related to have been the youngest of the Apostles, and who was a virgin when he embraced Christianity, remained a virgin, and on that account was more beloved by our Lord, and lay upon the breast of Jesus. And what Peter, who had had a wife, did not dare ask, he requested John to ask. And after the resurrection, when Mary Magdalene told them that the Lord had risen, they both ran to the sepulcher, but John outran Peter. And when they were fishing in the ship on the lake of Gennesaret, Jesus stood upon the shore, and the Apostles knew not who it was they saw; the virgin alone recognized a virgin, and said to Peter, "It is the Lord." … whereas we have maintained that his virginity was the cause of the special love our Lord bore to him), let him explain, if he was not a virgin, why it was that he was loved more than the other Apostles. (Against Jovinianus ch 26)
A second important difference is the clear separation between virgins and non virgins. In the above, "a virgin is no longer called a woman". In modern terms, this is the theory of gender which argues that virgins and non virgins are separate genders. For Jerome, Virgins can teach including teaching men. We've already discussed this in the previous article regarding Thecla but it comes up again. Moreover Jerome was a strong proponent of virgins studying the bible and led several virgin's bible studies. The original motivation behind the Vulgate was that woman did not get the language training men and thus virgins needed assistance studying the scriptures. Woman as opposed to virgins didn't have need for the bible directly and should learn it from persons who are chaste. Prohibitions against woman teaching don't apply to virgins. That is in today's terms Jerome was preparing virgins for the ministry.

Prohibitions against monks being alone with woman don't apply to virgins. "Knowing his own weakness and the frailty of the vessel which he carries, he is afraid of stumbling, lest he strike against something, and it fall and be broken. Hence he shuns the sight of women, and particularly of young women, and so far chastens himself as to dread even what is safe" (Against Vigilantius). But this doesn't apply to virgins. In short:
  • woman -- engage in animalistic behaviors like breeding and raising young
  • virgins -- engage in Christian behaviors like study and prayer
Marriage involves a woman into a web of deceit, "But she that is married is careful for the things of the world, how she may please her husband." Do you think there is no difference between one who spends her time in prayer and fasting, and one who must, at her husband's approach, make up her countenance, walk with mincing gait, and feign a show of endearment?"

Modern conservative protestants totally reject the theory of gender and argue for a theory of sex. In fact the whole core of the patriarchy movement is that being a wife and mother is a woman's highest calling.

Jerome believed throughout his life that, the purpose of marriage was to create children who might be virgins and thus redeem the sexual act, "Nor do we say this to condemn marriage, for virginity itself is the fruit of marriage"(perpetual virginity) or in against Jovinian "Marriage replenishes the earth, virginity fills Paradise. This too we must observe, at least if we would faithfully follow the Hebrew, that while Scripture on the first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth days relates that, having finished the works of each, "God saw that it was good," on the second day it omitted this altogether, leaving us to understand that two is not a good number because it destroys unity, and prefigures the marriage compact."

In particular towards woman:
Marriage is the work by which it is possible for a female having lost God's grace through fornication to regain it, "If you are a true virgin, why do you fear her careful guardianship; and, if you have fallen, why do you not openly marry? Wedlock is like a plank offered to a shipwrecked man and by its means you may remedy what previously you have done amiss." (Jerome Letter 117: To a Mother and Daughter Living in Gaul)
or to pick a quote directed regarding men and sex, where Jerome quite explicitly indicates that regular sexual activity reduces a man to the level of an animal:
and by his encouragement doubles the natural heat of the flesh, which in youth is mostly at boiling point, or rather slakes it by intercourse with women; so that there is nothing to separate us from swine, nothing wherein we differ from the brute creation, or from horses, respecting which it is written: "They were toward women like raging horses; everyone neighed after his neighbour's wife." This is that which the Holy Spirit says by the mouth of David: "Be not like horse and mule which have no understanding." And again respecting Dormitantius and his friends:"Bind the jaws of them who draw not near unto you with bit and bridle. (Against Vigilantius ch 15)

Augustine in The Good of Marriage has a similar notion where he joins fidelity to God and asceticism, though he doesn't quite go as far as the above.

The third point of departure is that sexuality itself is sinful. The Confessions of Saint Augustine is considered by many to be the greatest Christian work ever. It is considered by literary historians to be the invention of the autobiography. Bayly specifically references Augustine's analysis of Genesis in his defense of patriarchy. However in chapter 8 of the confessions Augustine discusses how his point of resistance to God was his inability to give up his sexual desire (not an act here, Augustine believes the desire in and of itself is sinful and contrary to God's will). Jerome even went further. Virginity is the very core of godliness and one who was sinful even if sexually chaste was no longer a virgin (that is in an elevated state with respect to God) (Against Vigilantius ch 23)

Saint Ambrose in Book III of Concerning Virginity addresses the issue of whether suicide is an appropriate remedy to sexual desire (Ambrose has to convince his readership that marriage is the better choice). The book main theme itself is interesting. Ambrose argues that Saint Agnes is almost a female equivalent to Christ in her sacrifice, that is how "virgin martyrs" are able to die bravely "ready to stretch forth her hands to Christ at the sacrificial fires, and at the sacrilegious altars themselves, to make the sign of the Lord the Conqueror, or again to place her neck and both her hands in the iron bands" while if she had been a woman and not a virgin she would have "taken to the couch" (i.e offered to trade sex for her freedom). In particular Agnes has bravery greater than a [married] man's due to her virgin state, with the clear implication that had Christ not been a virgin he would not have had enough bravery for the crucifixion. (Book 1 ch7-9)

Again, the modern conservative protestant believes that sexuality was ordained by God and is in accord with God's will. Virginity is not elevated state at all.

The 4 doctors of the Western church are: Jerome, Augustine, Ambrose and Gregory I. We've shown now how 3 of the 4 held to an orthodoxy completely contrary to the modern protestant one. We haven't discussed Pope Gregory I (see also Catholic Encyclopedia entry) because he lived over a century after the period we are discussing. As an aside, he himself was a monk and a virgin throughout is life as well as a follower of Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome. That is he also would agree with the theology present here. In particular he helped to normalize and stabilized the rules governing monasteries and convents, that is he continued the trend already established.

So at this point we have established that an alternate view was the most authoritative one. But we can go further, a view similar to the modern protestant one was discussed in the 4th and 5th century and declared a heresy. There was a monk by the name of Jovinian who argued:
  1. A wife is as honorable as a virgin
  2. All who are good will receive the same heavenly reward, in particular the married the chaste. This contrasted with Augustine had taught clearly that paradise needed to be free of all sexual pollution, i.e. the forbidden knowledge of eden was carnal knowledge and thus the married received a lesser reward.
  3. He also opposed asceticisms in other respects, fasting and eating with thanksgiving are equally pleasing to God.
There were 2 additional charges that are irrelevant for our theme (spirit and water baptism, and no differentiation between mortal and venial sins). This gives us a spread

  • Jerome -> Hard right position, marriage is a vastly inferior state and sex acts permanently damage one's relationship with God.
  • Augustine -> Moderate position, marriage is an inferior state
  • Jovinian -> Liberal position (a kind of I'm personally opposed to marriage and procreation but I think if done properly its harmless to one's eternal welfare).
Now of course our modern patriarchs are well to the left of Jovinian and so Doug Phillips et al get the rare experience of being the pinko liberals in a debate. Jovinian's position was considered at length by an full synod in Milan and declared a heresy. The ruling was then appealed to Rome where another full Synod was conducted involved people from throughout the empire. Again the declaration was that Jovinian's position was a heresy. Finally, Jovinian appealed directly to the emperor who not only upheld the ruling of the Roman synod but also sentenced Jovinian to exile for unrepentant heresy. Years after the ruling, Jerome delights in Against Vigiliantius that Jovinian died "amidst pheasants and swine's flesh".

That is the official organs of the church on multiple occasions on a case there were taking very seriously considered crucial elements of the "patriarchal position" and utterly rejected them. It simply cannot be maintained that the orthodox position was
  1. That a woman's highest calling is wife and mother, rather the orthodox position was that motherhood and marriage carry a female away from God. Though some sort of limited holiness is still possible inside of a sexual relationship abstinence is still the preferred option and lifelong abstinence carries with it a fundamental change in nature in one's relationship with God.
  2. That females cannot preach and cannot teach men, these prohibitions do not apply to virgins. Woman inside a sexual relationship need to be submissive since the primary good they are still capable of achieving is though creating the sort of discipline needed to create Christian virgins in the next (or later) generations.
  3. That God's intention is to work through families, rather the orthodox position is that God would like to work through sex segregated collections of men and woman unified in their desire for absolute purity knowledge and holyness -- the monastic and convent movement)
Quite simply the idea that marriage was coequal, much less superior to virginity, was considered silly enough to be mocked:

I now direct the attack against the passage in which, wishing to show your cleverness, you institute a comparison between virginity and marriage. I could not forbear smiling, and I thought of the proverb, did you ever see a camel dance? (Perpetual Virginity of Mary, Jerome ch20)
Now this rejection is very key. Most of the patriarchs come from the reformed tradition and Augustine was quoted extensively in the Synod of Dordt where reformed and Arminian (Baptist) separated (Augustine had written the brief against Pelagius). That is to say Augustine's theories are specifically upheld by the reformed tradition. Even more specifically, Augustine's interpretation of Genesis is frequently cited as justification for the patriarchal position. So the fact that Augustine considered and rejected key components of the patriarchal position is damning. In a more subtle way however Jerome is also problematic. Jerome is last major biblical scholar who read in the original languages free of translation. After Jerome every reader of the bible is influenced by a culture of translation of the bible. That is, indirectly, after Jerome no one can read the bible entirely free of Jerome's reading of the bible.

In the 2nd section we showed how those who knew the apostles did not understand scripture to teach what the patriarchs said it taught. In this section we have shown that orthodoxy of the church on the interpretation of scripture developed a doctrine which is completely in discord with the patriarchal view. Further that key elements of the patriarchal view were considered and branded a heresy. And thus the appeal to the original apostles and the appeal of orthodoxy have been undermined. At this point we could declare debate over.

Still I suspect our patriarchal opponents are not completely satisfied. Perhaps they might be so bold as to argue something like, "You have considered no one but intellectuals. Valentinus, Thecla, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine". They had a 'femininized', Platinized Christianity. We need to look at the Christianity of 'real men' who were uninterested in Greek philosophy, men who live on the earth not in the clouds". One could jokingly add Jesus, Paul and John to the list and again try and end the argument here. However, there is a better argument since history has a delightful sense of irony.

In 406 Saint Jerome finished his translation of the Vulgate, the magnum opus of an attempt to create a new Philosophical Christianity without mothers for a new Christian Roman Empire. At almost the same moment the Vulgate is born, a young Christian mother, the sister of the warlord Rugila, was giving birth to the Scourge of God. Through this act of motherhood she creates a vision of a new European Christianity. Absolam, Augustine and Jerome will all die in peace never knowing that it her child not theirs that will come to define Jesus's message. Their ideas mature into the monastic and convent movement that exist to our days. But for the next 500 years Christianity as practiced by the vast majority of Christians will no longer come from ascetics leaders who read a half dozen languages and intermix Greek philosophy with their Christianity. Rather we will see a new Christianity created by men by and woman many of whom have never seen a book. They will delight in the joys of sex and thank God for the birth of children. The men will have wives, mistresses and concubines in the name of Christian Chastity and when they war they will depopulate whole cities in the name of the Prince of Peace. This European Christianity and its "Orthodoxy" will be the topic of the next part.

3 comments:

Cindy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cindy said...

My intial post was so riddled with grammatical errors, I though that I would try to improve.

I am astounded by the similarites between Catholic thought and the patriarchal movement under Phillips, Lindvall and Gothard. These contemporaries do not state directly that all sex within marriage is evil, but the view of the evils of premarital emotional bonding and attraction compare well to the writings of Jerome. Evil women are redeemed through childbearing, so pleasurable sex can also be thus redeemed. Although you note that Jerome perceived procreation as a benefit for the production of more virgins, perhaps this modern version of patriarchy benefits from the birth of more patriarchs. (We women are a necessary evil!) As a wise person noted on Jen's Gems site, salvation comes not through the Cross but through the womb.

The authors of the expose of Bill Gothard's teachings identify much of Gothard's ideology as "Roman." Your presentation adds more weight to that argument (as Phillips' patriarchy closely follows Gothard's teachings). I also appreciate your identification of the melding of Greek culture with Scripture to form a package much like that of the contemporary movement. I find this to be a strong element also.

Excellent. Can't wait to see the next installment on this subject.

CD-Host said...

Interesting take. I hadn't considered reversing the the argument as you suggest and replacing virgins with patriarchs. Interestingly enough that becomes a defense that they are consistent with orthodoxy assuming you can find some biblical basis for the switch. Thecla was very disobedient to her parents.