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Early Church Fathers On Premarital Sex

Discussion in 'Patristics' started by Ave Maria, Nov 2, 2007.

  1. Ave Maria

    Ave Maria Ave Maria Gratia Plena

    United States
    In Relationship
    What did the early church fathers have to say about premarital sex? I am primarily interested in quotes from the first 300 years of Christianity.
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  2. MrPolo

    MrPolo Woe those who call evil good + good evil. Is 5:20

    For necessary sexual intercourse for begetting [children] is alone worthy of marriage. But that which goes beyond this necessity no longer follows reason but lust. And yet it pertains to the character of marriage . . . to yield it to the partner lest by fornication the other sin damnably [through adultery].
  3. Nazaroo

    Nazaroo Joseph is still alive! (Gen 45.26)

    That would exclude Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose, and most early fathers.

    You would narrow your search down to Paul (the Apostle), the Apostolic Fathers, (Clement, Shepard of Hermas), Justin Martyr, Iranaeus, Origen, and a handful of others.

    Possibly Justin Martyr would have commented on it, un discussing the morality of pagans (and contrasting it with that of Christians).

    Also, Origen may have had something to say, since he was celibate (self-castration), when commenting on marriage or virginity (for that also see Jerome and Ambrose, although they are too late).

    The most likely to comment on it would be Tertullian, but he was harsh, judgemental and misogynistic, and because of his faulty Christology and Soteriology he became a heretic.

    The important thing about premarital sex is to allow for youth and ignorance, and biological drives, and accept grace in these matters especially in dealing with teenagers in the West in this modern (permissive and unfocussed) culture.

    There is a massive amount of peer pressure on teens to engage in experimental sex, although for girls especially, the risks are the same as they always were (high).

    This is compounded by the fact that there is no leadership or role models in this area, even parents.

    Finally, in Apostolic times most marriages were arranged by parents, and necessarily involved a close and permanent social contract between families.

    Obviously marriage for 'romance' by both parties (ie. voluntary free will marriage based on physical attraction) is a relatively new social experiment (only 100 years or so).

    Of course there were drawbacks with arranged (from a modern feminist view "forced") marriages, but they led to strong social and family stability, a necessity for the survival of children.

    Augustine is considered a strict 'prude' by modern standards, but in fact he was actually the innovator of the modern age. ALthough he disallowed divorce and remarriage (following New Testament teachings from Paul and Jesus), he set the stage for the modern concept of 'free will marriage' for the reason of 'love' (eros, not agape).

    In my view, Augustine's teachings and systematization of marriage was a disaster, not because he was too strict, but because he opened the door to the modern 'me' generation.

    The church was in serious doctrinal error in following everything Augustine said to the letter. Just because someone is a good systematizer, or organizer, it doesn't guarantee that they really know what they are doing, or that they have any clue as to the repercussions that will follow their advice.

    There is room for alternate interpretations both of Jesus' teaching, and in terms of where Jesus and the Holy Spirit wish to lead the church today.

    As the feeding of the 5000 with 2 loaves and 3 fish (or was it 3 loaves and 2 fish?) shows, the Lord can bring out unlimited possibilities from basic circumstances.

    It might be a mistake to limit marriages (approved by the church) too much.

    It is already quite obvious that current doctrine cannot even hope to cope with the current situation, in which 25% or more of marriages end in 'divorce' and remarriage. Nor can early Biblical teaching on chastity help the majority of people today who have already engaged in extramarital sex.

    It may help to consider that in Jesus' time, people were betrothed via arranged marriages, long before they became sexually active. The Laws of Moses were designed to regulate this ancient norm. This situation simply doesn't hold today.

    Obviously MOST women (girls) are NOT betrothed before puberty, and so the laws concerning for instance 'adultery' (violation of betrothal vows) are meaningless.

    I would suggest that Moses' law was never meant to cope with the situation as we find it today. According to Biblical standards, not only are most people not eligible AT ALL to be married (one requirement was virginity as the ideal standard), and most marriages, even Christian ones, would be outlawed by both Jewish and ancient Christian standards (i.e., they would be classed as 'adulterous' relationships).

    It seems clear then that for modern Christians wanting to 'return to' and uphold ancient Christian standards, the only real option is celibacy.

    Jesus Himself might comment on self-imposed celibacy the same way he apparently did in His own time:

    "Not all can receive this teaching. Let he who can receive it, do so."

    No doubt, most people would be as dismayed by the teaching of Jesus today as they were in 30 A.D.!

  4. Clearly

    Clearly Newbie

    Hello Ave Maria;

    Despite the controversial nature of the subject, the early Christian Texts from the earliest periods had a great deal to say about morals associated with all aspects of reproduction and sexuality (Pre-marital sex, homosexuality, bestiality, pedophilia, Abortion, etc). Though I have not specifically studied early texts for connections between early Christianities strict moral standards, I have wondered if the firm moral stance on such things wasn’t a great source of persecution for the Saints anciently just as it is becoming a source for controversy, argument, and persecution of individuals in the various moral camps today.

    If this issue is important to you, I can provide you with many more references. I am NOT an expert on this subject, but I do think that a simple and superficial sampling from the Judao-Christian texts will show that firm commitment to certain sexual morals was taught.

    If one simply considers Quotes from JUST the APOSTOLIC FATHERS (a narrow group of writings that were written during the time the apostles either were living - e.g. I clement, OR written by those living when the apostle were still alive - e.g. Papias)

    For example: In the Didache (used as scripture by early Christians such as origen, clement and didymus -the blind) The second commandment (behind murder) was :
    New Testament Barnabas repeats the ancient teaching that :
    Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch taught the ephesians that
    Polycarp (who heard John speak and believed him) taught that
    It is clear that such things were prohibited in early and authentic Christianity.

    A Jewish and Christian sampling from the OLD TESTAMENT PSEUDOEPIGRAPHA also reveals the same moral stance : for example, Abortion was one of the misdeeds of the fallen angels before noah’s time. The fifth angel named Kasadya :
    Speaking of such conditions, Enoch prophesied that
    This teaching was not simply from the Jewish-Christian literature, but GREEK-CHRISTIAN LITERATURE represents a similar moral stance : The Sybaline Oracles also relate that
    Such text tell us that the modern willingness to promiscuity unprotected by birth control that results in abortion is not really modern : Ezra’s vision of Mothers who both aborted and killed infants relates that abortion was a moral problem in their day and age. Seeing the regret of such women on the day of judgement, Ezra saw such women and asked :
    By the way, any Muslims who might read this will recognize the reference to the example of the dead child accusing it's parent of it's own death in the judgment from the similar and wonderful version in the Holy Quran (in very similar language and with interesting detail).

    It is very clear that the ancients took a firm moral stance on sexual immoralities. Enoch was shown the terrible regret associated with such immoralities :
    In MANY of the testaments of the Twelve partriarchs (sons of Jacob), they told their sons to avoid promiscuity.

    says to his children :
    Simeon tells his sons that he has

    repeats this warning and goes even further :
    Judah reveals the problems of promiscuity by his own experiences :
    When Judah read from and quotes Enoch’s writings, it gave the patriarchs as clear a vision of our day as any prophet :
    Dan and Benjamin give the same testimony as this one from Jacob to his sons :
    They had all heard these teachings before. Abraham, in his farewell testimony from Jubilees (a book in the current eastern old testament canon) reads :
    Pseudo-Phocylides, in it’s Summary of the Decalogue reads the early take on this moral issue “Neither commit adultery nor rouse homosexual passion”. (THE SENTENCES OF PSEUDO-PHOCYLIDES vs 3). These themes seem to remain relatively constant over the centuries. Phocylides tells them :
    The syriac menander reinforces this same moral stand : "45 And as for an adulterous woman, her feet are not firm, 46 for she deceives her good husband. 47 And a man who does not correctly deal with his wife, 48 even God hates him. 49 Keep your son away from fornication," THE SENTENCES OF THE SYRIAC MENANDER

    Psalms of Solomon remind us that
    Though it seems clear that the ancient and authentic Judao-Christianities on the whole, remained firm on these BASIC moral issues, (there are many “grey areas”), there have always been versions of Christianity that abandoned the “immovable” moral stance for certain sexual behaviors (such as the infamous Caprocratians). When I wax philosophical regarding how the modern Christianities react to these same issues the ancient Christianities faced, I have wondered at what point in abandoning certain basic moral doctrines will modern Christians lose the right to claim it teaches authentic Christian morals?

    While I cannot answer that question, I have noticed modern Christianities are being faced with a greater number of confusing rhetorical and logical arguments regarding various sexualities. Despite the discomfort and arguments waging in our day, one is still left with the question “What if the ancients were correct about the importance of these principles and the effect on our interpersonal relationships; our family relationships; and ultimately, on the world in which we must live? "

    I do not pretend to fully understand just WHY these are critical moral values (I honestly do not understand why), but I think that they are a mark of authentic ancient christian morals. However, If the early Judao-Christian doctrine is correct, that one critical purpose of man’s mortality is learning to live by moral laws such as prohibition of certain types of abortion, and certain types of sexual relations then it makes sense that these principles cannot be abandoned, nor disregarded, without abandoning authentic original Christian religion.

    I hope this was helpful and the few and incomplete examples give you some of what you were looking for. Good luck in your own journey toward discovery and understanding Ave Maria.

    Last edited: Apr 13, 2010