As the 2nd and 3rd centuries passed
and it became only too obvious that there would be no imminent
return of the godman, the church and its theorists had to adjust
to the reality – and
opportunity – of
an institutional church and a human race that would perpetuate
itself whatever madness the theologians urged.
the example of the Jewish priests, who collected all manner
of "offerings" for
unclean sexual practices, the henchmen of Christ would regulate,
exploit and license human
sexuality on a truly monumental scale.
Sexual mores of the Romans
"For it is the semen, when possessed of
vitality, which makes us men."
– Aretaeus of Cappadocia,
Greek physician, 1st century AD. (Quoted
by Brown, p10)
In matters carnal, the Roman world of the imperial
age was unblighted by either "shame" or "guilt".
Before the triumph of Constantine and his church, the sex act had
no notion of "sinfulness" and the sight of human genitalia
did not offend. Copulation and the erect penis were subjects suitable
for public display and private art. The phallus was a ubiquitous "good
luck" charm, worn by many, etched on fine glass, emblazoned
on shop hoardings, adding beauty to garden ornaments or directing
travellers on road signs. Sexual imagery often had ironic or humourous
purpose rather than erotic. For a triumph, the Emperor Domitian
minted coinage showing an undraped figure, Germania captive.
In all things, the Roman public had an appetite for
the spectacular and the exotic. The theatre, aside from the entertainments
of comedy, tragedy and farce, featured a wide variety of eroticism,
including naked acrobats and burlesque shows in which the sex act
was either mimed or performed. The 1st century poet Martial records
bestiality performed as public entertainment (Spectacula 5).
In taverns, waitresses might provide sexual services for customers.
Suetonius noted that nude girls served at banquets (Life of
Tiberius 42.2). A late Roman (and Christian!) emperor, Justinian,
even married a performer from the circus famous for her erotic
buffoonery and made her empress.
Yet "fertility" had an official, and pragmatic
purpose: promotion of the family. The empire was always in need
of manpower. For all its civilisation, life expectancy in the Roman
world was not great. Female death in childbearing was a common
fate. An expansive empire needed its colonists. Society expected
its citizens to expend their sexual energies in begetting and rearing
children. Even the Vestal Virgins were free
to marry later in life, their chastity in no sense an exemplar
for society as a whole.
Marriage was encouraged. Widows and widowers remarried.
They did not yet retreat into "piety" or perpetual mourning
nor lavish the family legacy on the Church. Augustan laws penalized
bachelors and rewarded families. Young girls early in life were
utilised as baby factories; the median age for marriage may have
been as low as 14.
"As the opponents of Paul and Thecla
pointed out, procreation, and not the chilling
doctrine introduced by Saint Paul, was the only way to ensure
a "resurrection of the dead." The
true resurrection was ... that which takes place through the
nature of the human body itself ... the succession of children
born from us, by which the image of those who begot them is
renewed in their offspring, so that it seems as if those who
have passed away a long time ago still move again among the
living, as if risen from the dead."
– Brown, The Body and
Only religious fanatics, convinced that the dead
would rise and the world would end, could see virtue in mass chastity.
Unfortunately, those fanatics would capture control of the empire.
Pleasure – a
distraction from God
"To be carnally minded is death;
but to be spiritually minded is life ... The
carnal mind is enmity against God ... They that are in the
flesh cannot please God ... If you live after the flesh, you
shall die: but if you through the Spirit do mortify
the deeds of the body, you shall live."
chaste severity of the fathers, in whatever related to the
commune of the two sexes, flowed from the same principle; their
abhorrence of every enjoyment, which might gratify the sensual,
and degrade the spiritual, nature of man."
Decline and fall, 15.
In the first century of its incarnation Christianity
was a morbid, sociopathic death cult, unnoticed by most of the
Roman world. Convinced that they alone would survive the impending
apocalypse, the Christians went about their affairs in daily anticipation
and fear of their Lord, the saviour who would descend from the
clouds in glory to judge the quick and the dead. Nothing in
the demeanour, dress or word of the saints could be allowed to
jeopardise imminent judgement and the hoped for salvation. In a
manner reprised time and again in the centuries ahead by puritans
and fanatics, abstinence, chastity and somber domestic virtues,
laced with a bitter spite towards the vast herd of unbelieving
humanity, distinguished the Christians from their insouciant neighbours.
But time passed, the Lord did not come, and the first
generation of the brethren "fell asleep". To replace the dead, marriage, solely for the purpose of procreation, became
tolerable, at least within the faith. But the marriage bonds came
with the caveat of indissolubility. They would last for the eternal
age yet to come and a remarriage was nothing less than adultery.
Like every subsequent apocalyptic cult that has boldly
proclaimed the End Time and embarrassingly survived into
a new era, Catholicism adroitly adjusted its doctrine for the "long
Catholicism – a compromise with reality
How could the early evangelists of Christianity compete
with the taverns, the circuses, the theatres, the baths and the
bordellos that graced every Roman city? Only with difficulty, only
by exploiting the misfortunes that
befell the Roman world and only by appealling to neglected marginal
elements ("matrons and orphans") of the population
(even slaves could attend the games).
Catholicism was an opportunistic
compromise in the face of need and opportunity for a
universal faith. Within two or three generations it outgrew its
early austere fanaticism (refusal to serve
in the legions, will to martyrdom). Fanatics like Tertullian
left to join marginal sects of purists, leaving more urbane Catholic
bishops to frequent the corridors of the imperial palaces.
Orthodoxy borrowed without embarrassment or apology
from its enemies and in particular drew from the books of gnostic
heresy. "Pleasures of the flesh" remained an
enemy, just as surely as the fertility gods and goddesses of the
pagans who delighted in procreation. But now a taste of power favoured
accommodation and rapprochement with a disbelieving world.
In an age when Judgement Day and the Kingdom
of Heaven had been anticipated at any moment, celibacy and
denial of the body had a passable rationale. The world was about
to end. But as the Apocalypse retreated further and
further beyond the horizon, few could succumb to Christianity's
austere, joyless dictates without penalty. Those who did, reclusive
hermits, anchorites, stylites and the rest of the menagerie,
were lionized by a more worldly church. Admired and applauded
for their "heroic piety" and useful as propaganda for
the faith, they were contained within a more pragmatic and universal
A triumphant Catholicism would forgive "pleasures
of the flesh". After all, huge profits were to be derived
from venial sin.
A celibate priesthood?
From the very foundation of the Church, "sins
of the clergy" permeated the organisation from top to bottom.
Before the patronage of the Roman state filled the
coffers of the Church, rich Roman matrons paid the
bills, fed the priests and made their great houses over
as meeting places for the brethren. The priest, as a respected
and powerful figure, was often left alone with a cheerless widow
or a vulnerable novice. He became privy to the most intimate confidences
and indiscretions. The temptations, both venal and carnal, were
many. His position was most privileged. Who but a churchman
could visit a woman in her home while her husband was away? Who
could question the calling of lay women into the presbyteries of
the clergy – or
doubt the wisdom of entrusting minors into their care? Pagan
critics often questioned the purported purity of the saints. Even
the epistle of James had a cryptic warning, cautioning the brethren when
visiting widows and orphans to keep their "hands off":
"Pure religion and undefiled before God
and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and
widows in their affliction, and to keep himself
unspotted from the world."
The Church hierarchy guarded jealously the wealth
that was passing into its hands. But the hierarchy had
no intention of allowing power to pass back to its female benefactors,
no matter how influential or necessary they were, nor would it
brook any priest forsaking his holy calling and marrying into
Catholicism met the challenge in a characteristically
simple and pragmatic way. It instituted a prerogative, exclusive
to male priests, of "laying on hands" and conducting
the rituals of the Eucharist. It was the beginning of an avowedly
patriarchal church and ever-widening gulf between the clergy and
the laity. Had
not Jesus himself called only men to be his disciples?
device effectively sanctified the exclusion
of women. They could
be helpers but never protagonists. In later centuries they would
be regimented into approved "orders".
Among the first of such "orders", were collectives of Christian
widows, welcomed by a male clergy for their "charity" but denied
any leading role. It was a smart move, one that gave Catholicism
an edge over both rabbinic Judaism and gnosticism – the former rejecting
women and the latter rejecting wealth.
"The orthodox could accept such wealth
with a clear conscience. The slow rise of the Christianity
of the great Church at the expense of the more radical groups
was made possible by that elementary decision."
– Brown, The Body
and Society, p144.
In the matter of sexual procuring, the Church was
more accommodating. It was not unsympathetic to the physical needs
of its henchmen, rather the reverse. It required not sexual continence
but merely celibacy. A priest could acquire a concubine – or
several – and
there could arise no claims from wives or offspring to lands and property
coveted by the church. Priests were
at liberty to live as libertines, far beyond the excesses of the
After all, rape and debauchery were as nothing compared
to the mortal sin of denying Christ. Now that deserved
The Church of God
The triumph of Constantine and the subsequent state
patronage of Christianity opened up vast new opportunities for
sexual predators. In the mind of the superstitious emperor the
priesthood were beyond the reproach even of his own grandiose power.
... said that it was not permissible for him, as a man, and
one who was subject to the judgment of priests, to examine
cases, touching gods, who cannot be judged save by God alone.
Petitions containing accusations against priests ... he put
into the fire without even looking at them, fearing to give
publicity to accusations and censures against the fathers ..
Wherefore he said,
'Verily if with mine own eyes I had seen
a priest of God, or any of those who wear the monastic garb,
sinning, I would spread my cloak and hide him, that he might
not be seen of any.' "
of Salisbury, Policraticus, 4. 3.
Ecclesiastics were raised beyond
mortal law, with the result that clerical celibacy, so-called,
brought great immorality in its train. Not just the fleecing of
pious matrons but teenage mistresses, incest, prostitution and
perversion ever after would be the mark of the Church
triumphant. The young,
the old, male and female, the naive and the headstrong, all were
at risk. Sexual corruption became a systemic and endemic feature
Mother Church. Then
as now, wrongdoers were seldom punished – scandal
was bad for morale.
The so-called "Apostolic Constitution" of
the early 4th century – rules and regulations for the clergy –
required unmarried ministers to remain celibate but allowed priests
already married to keep their wives. No doubt the double standard
set up tensions within the ranks. Then in 366, Pope Damasus set
an example by abandoning his own wife. The boss of bosses knew
what he was doing:
"A celibate priest owed
total allegiance not to wife and children but to the institution.
He was the creature of the institution. The Roman system was
absolutist and hierarchical. For such a system to work,
it needed operatives completely at the beck and call of superiors
... The papal system would collapse without the unqualified
allegiance of the clergy; celibacy alone could guarantee that
sort of allegiance."
– De Rosa, Vicars
of Christ, p420.
The philandering Damasus,
known as the "matronarum auriscalpius" ("ladies'
ear-tickler"), actually ran Rome's city brothels, heavily
patronised by the clergy and visiting pilgrims.
The pressure to "unwed" clergy went on
for generations. Twenty years after Damasus, Pope Siricius actually
forbade priests who remained married from sleeping in the same
bed as their wives. Following the Second Council of Tours (567),
a priest who broke this rule could be excommunicated for a year
and his wife would receive a hundred lashes. And yet it remained
commonplace for Catholic priests to have multiple "wives" and
mistresses. Pope Gregory II in a decretal in 726 ruled that "when
a man has a sick wife who cannot discharge the marital function,
he may take a second one, provided he looks after the first one" (De
Rosa, p349), Married clergy were to be found in the Church until
the Second Lateran Council of 1139, when Pope Innocent II,
annulling the decisions and ordinations of "anti-pope" Anacletus
II, voided all marriages of priests.
The "reformer" Innocent
was the very same pope who confirmed the condemnation of French philosopher
and scholar Peter Abelard (castrated and confined to a monastery).
The pimping clergy
The Christian clergy, more than all others, have
inveighed against "lust", held to be a mortal sin which
jeopardizes the eternal soul. Yet in practice the hierarchs of
the church have indulged in every carnal vice and then confounded
their licentiousness with cupidity and violence. But this is not
merely the fallibility of human nature transgressing God's perfect
laws. The twisted and inhuman precepts of Christianity, which masquerade
as "love" sublime, are perverted in design as well as criminal
"sex crimes" inherited from Judaism became rank nonsense in the
musings of the Church fathers. In
Church would extend its rules on "blood marriages" (consanguinity)
out to a ludicrous seven generations, but not because of any
concern for in-breeding. In a pre-industrial village almost everyone
could be shown to have had a common ancestor. The real intent
was to collect fees for dispensations to marry which
were levied on almost anyone who had extractable wealth. Pimp-in-chief
was the pope himself. Sixtus IV (1471-1484) not only licensed the
brothels of Rome, he taxed priests for their mistresses and even
sold permits which allowed rich men "to solace certain
matrons in the absence of their husbands" (De Rosa, p101).
love, the surrender of the individual to another in physical
and emotional pleasure, their bonding together into a union
stronger than all others, the sacrifice each to the other,
ran counter to an unchallenged primacy of the religious cause
and an unfettered loyalty to the Church. Natural
affection was driven out by "Christian morality",
which, when it did not fill the believer with the terrors of
the pit, brought in its train private
traumas and public shame.
In a million unknown torments across two millennia the
psychotic disorder of Christianity wrought havoc and misery. The
counterfeit passion on offer, even to claims of earth-moving
ecstasy, was a "spiritual communion" with
the illusory godman, an audacious claim incompatible with reality,
though perhaps real enough in the religious imagination.
To be sure, Christianity had
comforters on offer for the lost souls it created, the
depressed, the lonely and the frustrated. Whether a flickering
candle, or an icon of the virgin, the falsetto voices of a choir,
or the pomp and theatricals of the sacraments, the majestic gloom
of a basilica or the homely comfort of a Bible study class.
It was – and is – a world of sham and subterfuge – and,
of course, fellowship with Christ, a placebo conjured from the
The Gospel of Sin
Is Sexuality the nemesis
Aurelius Augustinus (354-430), Bishop of
Hippo (in what is now Algeria), was an early systematizer
of Christian theology. He developed a view of original
sin which prevails in some quarters even today.
In Augustine's belief, the sin of Adam and
Eve was transmitted, generation by generation, throughout
history by the act of intercourse. Thus children are born
in sin, the result of a further act of sinning
by their parents. This was because sexual urges are demonic
in origin and should be resisted by the exercise of freewill.
Only procreation justified the act at all, even within
marriage, and certainly carnal pleasure should be no part
of the process.
Where on earth did Augustine
get such monstrous ideas?
Augustine spent his formative years in youthful
rebellion against his violent pagan father and up-tight
Christian mother, first as a gang member (the Euersores or
'wreckers') and then as a Manichaean heretic.
He spent nine years as a follower of Mani, a 3rd century
Persian mystic who had elaborated a dualistic system of
cosmic conflict, of good versus evil. As "matter" was
intrinsically evil it freed Augustine for a life of profligacy.
In later life, he would come to regret the
heartless behaviour of his youth, and in particular the
ambition to marry well which led him to abandon more than
one concubine (one the mother of a child that died).
"When that mistress of mine which
was wont to be my bedfellow, the hinderer, as it were
of my marriage, was plucked away from my side my
heart cleaving unto her was
broken by this means." – Confessions.
Guilt (and maternal influence) got the better
of Augustine and instead of marriage he found Christian
asceticism. Yet he remained tormented by his own "concupiscence" ("when
God is utterly forgotten and creatures revel shamelessly
in one anther" – Armstrong, p144). This troubled soul
hammered out the dysfunctional dogma that would blight
the most natural of human proclivities for two millennia.
"At times, without intention, the
body stirs on its own, insistent. At other times, it
leaves a straining lover in the lurch, and while desire
sizzles in the imagination, it is frozen in the flesh;
so that, strange to say, even when procreation is not
at issue, just self-indulgence, desire cannot even rally
to desire's help – the force that normally wrestles
against reason's control is pitted against itself, and
an aroused imagination gets no reciprocal arousal from
– Augustine, City of God,
Perhaps the venerable saint just
couldn't get it up!
Sex as the highest expression of
Buddhism. The deity Cakra Samvara copulates with
his spiritual consort Vajravarahi. The union is emblematic
of a perfect combination of wisdom and compassion.
|Tãrã – Mahayana
Buddhist goddess of serenity, health and good
fortune. This firm breasted playmate
of the god Avolokitesvara helped him save sentient
beings from suffering.
Cullen Murphy, The Word According to Eve (Allen Lane, 1998)
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Bantam, 2006)
Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion (1927)
Sam Harris, The End of Faith (Free Press, 2005)
Peter de Rosa, Vicars of Christ (Bantam, 1988)
Paul Tabori, A Pictorial History of Love (Spring, 1968)
Uta Ranke-Henemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven (Penguin, 1993)
Peter Brown, The Body and Society (Colombia, 1990)
P. Aries, A. Bejin, Western Sexuality (Blackwell, 1986)
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