Monday, June 25, 2012

Celibacy and Women

I finished The Cambridge History of Christianity: Constantine to c. 600.  On pages 671-672, Marilyn Dunn refers to Origen's view that differences in gender "were temporary and insignificant in the vast cycle of regeneration and renewal".  There were consequences as monastics adopted this view.  First, this view challenged "prevalent philosophical and scientific views of female inferiority or incompleteness."  Second, monasticism attracted Roman aristocratic women.  These women angered their families by embracing lifetime celibacy, thereby forgoing marriage and the corresponding "property strategies".

Jerome did not agree with Origen's view, but he did concur that celibacy was superior.  Jerome said there was a hierarchy in which "virgins would be rewarded one hundredfold, widows sixtyfold and the married only thirtyfold" (Dunn's words on page 673).

There is debate about whether early Christianity's commitment to celibacy hurt or helped women.  An argument on the "hurt" side is that Christian men resisting their sexual urges led to a stigmatization of the object of their attraction, women.  An argument on the "help" side is that celibacy enabled women to transcend the gender roles of their society.

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