I can now sort of understand the Patristic angelic celibacy thing

I posted my Musings on Methodius on Puritanboard.   They didn’t like my dichotomy of Hebrew vs Hellenic thought.  I’ve spent almost a decade reading Greek (pagan and Christian) sources.  What I say is beyond dispute.  I’m also (not) surprised they didn’t take up the line of Methodius’s neo-Galatian two-class Christianity, but enough of that.

I’m fairly harsh on the Fathers for the idealization of angelic celibacy.  But as I reflect upon it, I can kind of get where they were coming from. They lived in a decaying, overly sexualized debauched culture of the late Roman Empire (nominally Christian or not).  The appeal to monasteries fairly obvious:  faced with starving poverty, unfulfilled sexuality, and lack or order, monasteries offered a stable alternative.  Does that justify later monastic trends?  Of course not, but it’s worth remembering.  If the Fathers were over-reacting to what is below, then I can understand, even if I do not approve.

(Wisdom prevailed and I didn’t post any pictures)


9 comments on “I can now sort of understand the Patristic angelic celibacy thing

  1. John says:

    Re: Angelic Celibacy

    You once posted that God said that celibacy was ‘not good’. Clearly, you were referencing Genesis, where God said that it is not good for man to be alone. I wonder, do you really believe that, in light of St. Paul’s admonition of celibacy in the NT? I’m not talking about the what Methodius is saying specifically, but about virginity/monasticism in general. The comments of that post were closed from the start and so I was not able to comment then.

    Additionally, you are not being fair to Orthodox monasticism. God said that it was not good for man to be alone. Monastics, excepting a very minute number, are never alone. They live in community. Even those very few that become hermits first live in community.

    Finally, if we accept that man should not be alone (i.e. be a virgin for their entire lives) because it is not good, then logically we should allow people whose cross is same-sex attraction to marry one another. Why? Because otherwise they would be alone, according to your argument, because they are as monastics, not having a spouse. If you object and say that the local church can be for them in some sense what a spouse is for their partner, then why can this not also be true of the monastic?

    • jbaitken says:

      Paul qualified his remarks on celibacy to “this present distress,” which most assume he means “a coming persecution” (whether it actually happened or not).

      As to monastic communities: not all such communities are communal, but assuming they are: Genesis means “not alone” in terms of “not having a spouse.”

  2. John says:

    So then, what about our Lord Himself who took no spouse, or St. John the Baptist, called by our Lord the greatest man born of woman, yet he too was without a wife. Are their lives exceptions? If they are exceptions, why not others? Monastics never have made up a majority of the Christian population, though their numbers have waxed and waned over time.

    Regarding a “coming persecution”, could you provide a reference? I am unable to find those exact words, or a variation, using a Bible search tool like Biblegateway or e-Sword. I skimmed 1 Corinthians 7 (and the preceding verses in chapter 6 and the following verses in chapter 8) and couldn’t find something qualifying his statements to a “coming persecution” only. Perhaps you mean verses 25 through 31? That is the closest I could find to something like what you are speaking, yet from those verses and the context I don’t see how that exegesis stands. Some clarification would be helpful, please.

    • Jesus is a little different than you or me. John had a unique ministry. I Have no disagreement with the claim that a man may focus more on the works of the Lord if he is single. Paul says expressly that. I simply reject the hidden supposition that such a man is “Higher” or a better type of Christian.

      As to the coming distress, it is a supposition but one I think can be developed and defended. I was referring to NT Wright’s works, but I’ll have to wait until later to develop it.

      • John says:

        So, everything about the lives of Christ and John the Baptist is worthy of emulation: humility, charity, selflessness, love… except their celibacy?

        Even if I grant your thesis on the “coming persecution”, is there something distinctly different from said persecution that is absent from every other period of persecution that Christians have faced over the last several centuries, whether Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox? I’ve heard it said that the communist persecution of the 20th century was the most brutal in the history of Christianity, at time putting the Roman persecutions to shame. Whether or not that is true, the fact is they were brutal. Was there something fundamentally different about the “coming persecution” by the Romans (I would assume) that has never been replicated in Christian history? If so, please elaborate. I can’t imagine taking a part of the New Testament and saying “this section is now nearly useless” or at the very least “what a quaint set of historical facts”. What, then, are we to learn from St. Paul regarding his passages on celibacy if they are relegated to quaint, historical facts? If we believe that what God has put within the Scriptures is to be read, prayed and lived, what do we make of these passages that are apparently of little or no value to us today, or any Christian after that persecution (300’s, give or take?). If the answer is wrapped up in your later development of N.T. Wright’s works and you cannot give a good shorthand response here, then I shall wait eagerly for your response in the future.

  3. I don’t think I used the word “quaint,” but I am not sure.

    Per John the Baptist and Jesus. Yes, we should imitate them but this can’t be absolutely. Neither one of us will die for the sins of the world nor anoint the Messiah.

    I have no problem with celibacy. While there are economic problems for society with a full-orbed monasticism, I have no problem with monasteries. My problems are these:

    1) making celibate life a higher plane of existence than married life.
    2) rushing into celibacy (Jesus’s words seem to say that this is for few).

  4. Eric Castleman says:

    1-I don’t think the consensus of St Paul’s words was that he was instructing people to stay single because of oncoming persecution, but because he thought the world was going to end, which is how I read it.

    2- The 144,000 are said to be virgins, who didn’t defile themselves. Do you think sex is defilement?

    “These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.”

  5. “virgin” could be a reference to OT idolatry. Many commentators see it that way, since defilement and idolatry.

    No, I don’t think godly sex in marriage is a defilement. Hebrews says the marriage bed is undefiled.

  6. olivianus says:


    Whew! I’m glad you qualified that. I was freaking out when I saw the title of this blog. Well played.

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