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“In his life of preaching, as recorded in the Gospels, Christ preached to men and women, rich and poor. This sentiment is echoed in St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, which discussed an open approach to welcoming converts: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ Although Christ was God’s son, he had been born of a human woman and grew up with a human family; some of his most important followers were women.
“In a striking departure from local precedent, he also taught that faith came before earthly ties, including family. For example, Luke’s Gospel quotes Christ as having said, ‘If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.’ He promised his disciples a reward for their renunciation of family: ‘Verily I say unto you,’ Jesus said to them, ‘There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake/ Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.’
“Although such passages are open to a variety of interpretations, some early Church leaders read them to mean that a celibate life of devotion to Christianity and away from all family ties was the best form of Christian life. Some traditions of early Christian commentary reveal a strong strain of hostility toward the female body, sexuality, and family life, despite the recognition of their necessity. Augustine, a Christian philosopher and theologian who lived from the fourth to the fifth century CE, for example, wrote ‘I fail to see what use woman can be to man … if one excludes the function of bearing children.’ In his writings on marriage Augustine held up celibacy as the highest spiritual state: ‘For intercourse of marriage for the sake of begetting hath not fault; but for the satisfying of lust, but yet with husband or wife, by reason of the faith of the bed, it hath venial fault: but adultery or fornication hath deadly fault, and, through this, continence from all intercourse is indeed better even than the intercourse of marriage itself, which takes place for the sake of begetting.’
“In the hands of an unabashedly misogynist writer such as Tertullian, who lived from the second to the third century CE even the redeeming virtues of reproduction were not enough to justify marital sexuality. Tertullian’s views on sexuality drew upon the tradition of blaming Eve for the introduction of sin into the world. ‘You,’ Tertullian wrote to Christian women, ‘destroyed so easily God’s image, man.’ According to Tertullian only human law makes the distinction between marital sex and fornication; he believed that ‘the best thing for a man is not to touch a woman; and accordingly the virgin’s is the principal sanctity, because it is free from affinity with fornication.’ “
Author: Mary Jo Maynes and Ann Waltner
Title: The Family: A World History
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Date: Copyright 2012 by Oxford University Press