• Is Everybody Doing It? Marital Celibacy in the Cappadocians and Augustine

      Limberis, Vasiliki, 1954-; Schipper, Jeremy; Bolman, Elizabeth S., 1960-; Fitzgerald, Allan; Soufas, C. Christopher, Jr., 1948- (Temple University. Libraries, 2014)
      Sources from the late antique and Byzantine eras attest that some Christian spouses adopted marital celibacy, or married persons' abstention from sexual intimacy, as an ascetic practice. The prevalent scholarship on marital celibacy has all too often read later practices of marital celibacy into earlier texts, due to scholars' tendency to universalize ascetic practice. This study endeavors to dismantle such universalizing by demonstrating the differences among four church fathers' approaches and attitudes toward marital celibacy, assuming neither the popularity of the practice nor the immediate affirmation of its necessity for marital ascetic piety. The dissertation explores the theme of marital celibacy in the works of four of the most influential men of the late fourth and early fifth centuries --Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil of Caesarea, and Augustine of Hippo-- through a careful analysis of various sources, from funeral orations to hagiographies, to sermons to dogmatic treatises, to letters and to monastic rules. It questions whether the practice was widely embraced in both the eastern and western regions of the empire and distinguishes between theoretical and pragmatic acceptance of marital celibacy. Not only does the study place the men's beliefs regarding marital celibacy within their larger teachings on marriage and virginity, but it also emphasizes the way in which each man's social context and pastoral role contributed to his rhetoric on the topic. It considers the ways in which the rhetoric surrounding marital celibacy intersected with the men's agendas and perspectives concerning other matters, such as their promotion of their saintly family (Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa), their monastic program (Basil), and their apologetics (Augustine). The project highlights the nuances among each father as well as the divergences between the east (represented by the Cappadocians) and west (represented by Augustine). Although each man discusses the topic of marital celibacy in some way and endorses its practice, at least ideally, they also indicate that not everyone was embracing marital celibacy, nor was every ecclesial leader promoting its practice as necessary for marital piety. Their writings reveal that at least a few people had adopted marital celibacy, and that many people--bishops and laity alike--were attempting to understand its theoretic and pragmatic place and role in the Christian life, particularly in light of Paul's instructions in 1 Corinthians 7. Despite efforts to offer a conclusive analysis of marital celibacy in the works of these four church fathers, the limitations caused by the divergences in the fathers' rhetoric, due to the distinctive contexts and genres of their writings, hinders a straightforward conclusion. Thus this dissertation serves as a glimpse into the diversity of early Christian marital practices through the lens of marital celibacy, underscoring the complexity of both belief and behavior in the late antique Christian world.