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date: 26 November 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The period between the third and fifth centuries CE was crucial for the development of Christianity not least for ideas about desire and the body. Patristic writers hoped for the elimination of sex and sexual desire among Christians, encouraging the renunciation of sexual activity, marriage, and family life. Monasticism and men’s self-castration were among the varied means by which to achieve that renunciation, the former encouraged by the Church Fathers and the latter discouraged. Marriage was permissible if couples engaged only in procreative sex with each other, and married only once. Other types of sexual behaviour, including what we would call homosexuality, were condemned. Gender difference was also reinforced in this period and earlier notions of a genderless ideal in Christianity were mostly abandoned, through the strengthening of traditional public lives for men and private lives for women.

Keywords: body, castration, Church Fathers, desire, gender transgression, late antiquity, marriage, monasticism, patristic, sexual renunciation, sexual sins

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