The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity

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In his monumental book Peter Brown addresses the practice of permanent sexual renunciation--continence, celibacy, and life-long virginity--that developed in Christian circles from the first to the fifth centuries A.D.

Brown vividly describes the early Christians and their strange, disturbing preoccupations. He follows in detail the reflection and controversy these notions generated among Christian writers. Among the topics covered are marriage and sexuality in the Roman world, ...

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1988 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 504 p. Contains: Illustrations. Lectures on the History of Religions, 13. Audience: General/trade.

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Overview

In his monumental book Peter Brown addresses the practice of permanent sexual renunciation--continence, celibacy, and life-long virginity--that developed in Christian circles from the first to the fifth centuries A.D.

Brown vividly describes the early Christians and their strange, disturbing preoccupations. He follows in detail the reflection and controversy these notions generated among Christian writers. Among the topics covered are marriage and sexuality in the Roman world, Judaism and the early church, Origen and the tradition of spiritual guidance, sexuality in the desert fathers and Augustine and sexuality. The Body and Society is a significant study on sexuality and the family in the ancient world by a renowned scholar. Besides being of great interest to readers in ancient history and early church history, and to classicists and medievalists, it will engage readers concerned with women's studies and the history of sexuality.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Review of Books
A profound sociological and intellectual study . . . Brown has written a magisterial survey, a lasting work of scholarship.
New York Times Book Review
The reader of Peter Brown's work is always uncertain which to admire most, the grace and clarity, the scope and erudition, or the ability to bring diverse and complex units into a meaningful whole. These merits are all fully on display in The Body and Society.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

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 previous books include Augustine of Hippo, 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.

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Table of Contents

From Paul to Anthony
Body and City
From Apostle to Apologist: Sexual Order and Sexual Renunciation in the Early Church
Asceticism and Society in the Eastern Empire
Martyrdom, Prophecy and Continence: Hermas to Tertullian
Ambrose to Augustine: The Making of the Latin Tradition
To Undo the Works of Women: Marcion, Tatian and the Encratites
When You Make the Two One: Valentinus and Gnostic Spiritual Guidance
A Faint Image of Divine Providence: Clement of Alexandria
A Promiscuous Brotherhood and Sisterhood: Men and Women in the Christian Churches
I Beseech You: Be Transformed : Origen
Walking on Earth, Touching High Heaven's Vault: Porphyry and Methodius
Church and Body: Cyprian, Mani and Eusebius of Caesarea
The Desert Fathers: Anthony to John Climacus
Make to Yourselves Separate Booths: Monks, Women and Marriage in Egypt
Daughters of Jerusalem: The Ascetic Life of Women in the Fourth Century
Marriage and Morality: Gregory of Nyssa
Sexuality and the City: John Chrysostom
These Are Our Angels: Syria
Aula Pudoris: Ambrose
Learn of Me a Holy Arrogance: Jerome
Sexuality and Society: Augustine
Epilogue. Body and Society: The Early Middle Ages

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  • Posted March 9, 2012

    A Very Blinkered View

    Brown has a very blinkered view of the sexualities practiced in the Graeco-Roman world of late antiquity. In a book of some 450 pages, Brown references male homosexuality only very occassionally (and apparently reluctantly), while there is no entry at all for "bisexuality" in his index. Like so many others, including scholars like himself who should know better, Brown confuses celibacy (i.e. the single state) with continence (i.e. complete abstention from sex). This is like claiming that all bachelors are virgins. Likewise, Brown mistakes the rejection of heterosexual marriage with the rejection of human sexuality. A single life, in this view, immediately implies an "ascetic" life. But this is surely far too narrow. It may astonish Brown to learn that many single people have very active sex lives. The rejection of the heterosexual reproductive lifestyle is not synonymous with total sexual abstinence. Brown falsely claims that "We know singularly little about Jesus' own hopes for the coming of what he called 'the kingdom of heaven', except...he seems not to have envisioned the total disappearance of family structures." (p. 41) This ignores Jesus' plain statement that in the kingdom of heaven "there will be no giving and taking in marriage," as well as the suggestive claim in the Book of Revelation that the 144,000 "first fruits of God's creation" who will enter the kingdom of heaven are "those who have not defiled themselves with females." For Brown, a-sexuality and 'asceticism' seem to be the automatic default position once heterosexuality has been eliminated as an option. The Christian GBLT community knows of many other positions...

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