David at (as?) the Thirsty Theologian writes on sex (while married) and the Puritans. I had written an mid-length reply to our short conversation on that, which got lost. Or so I thought … as my reply did in fact show up (as I check later as I write this). To clarify what is being discussed here.

  • David’s post is about how the Puritans have been misread by history (as is so common in history) the “conventional wisdom” regarding the Puritan attitude toward sex has it backwards. That is, that Puritans enthusiastically encouraged and celebrated sex within marriage. I think this is right and is right. That is to say, I think that it is correct that the historical reading has it wrong and that celebration of sex within marriage is the right attitude. I would only temper that with what Fr. Isaiah taught this summer, that as marriage continues into old age the (Orthodox) expectation is that the seeking of dispassion by the married couple will lead ultimately to celibacy within marriage.
  • David starts (as well) pointing out Augustine, who he feels is highly regarded (?) within the Reformed community, felt that celibacy was a higher calling … and that this was wrong. David feels that Sola Scriptura is the only criteria by which normative Christian behaviour is to be measured.

David in his last exchange writes:

Since you claim to agree with the patristic tradition because it agrees with scripture, then you’re not really going counter to my statement dismissing tradition “if scripture says something else,” are you? We just disagree about what scripture says. So, if the fathers could really argue the superiority of celibacy from scripture, you should be able to do the same.

And on this I wish to write a little more. The full argument for the superiority of the monastic life and celibacy in particular from Scripture is derivative, for indeed the New Testament itself (obviously) does not lay out anything like the monastic example or teachings like St. John Cassian, St. Basil the Great, or St. John Climacus. So how did this conclusion come about. For this I think the key point is not to specifically single out celibacy or any other particular other monastic practice but the general practice of apatheia (dispassion) within the ascetic life (to which we are all called but the monastics single out as their primary focus in life). The writers noted just previously all assumed the necessity of apatheia. Apatheia in Christian writings and teaching is found as early as in Clement (AD 30-100) Stromata. At Clement’s time gnosticism and stoic influences were readily apparent, but by the time of those noted above that had long since gone through the wringer and the non-Christian influence weeded out. Take for example the later writer, Evagrius, and look at his work Praktikos. The Protestant claim is that this writing does not follow Scripture, yet scan the opening pages of the Praktikos, you will not find references to Scripture a rare thing. He uses Scripture to support and explain why dispassion is necessary and how to come by it. Once you have accepted dispassion as necessary to the Christian life … celibacy as a higher calling and exceptional way of life is unavoidable. Look at any of the early Christian writers. These writings form and explain Christian tradition and, lo, they are in fact heavily if not “solely” dependent on Scripture for inspiration.

Filed under: ChristianityMark O.OrthodoxProtestantismReligion

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