Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Ideal of the Cockless State in Earliest Christianity

Nothing shows how different the early Church was than the Christianity which emerges after Constantine than the effective marginalization of individuals, texts and rituals which supported the transgender ideals of its original founders. While there is admittedly very little surviving information about what the face of earliest Christianity might have looked like to outsiders, the evidence which does exist suggests that it was cockless. 

While it rarely gets much attention from traditional scholars (for obvious reasons) the Alexandrian tradition in particular seems to have espoused ritual castration. This must be the source also of the Roman Catholic Church's interest in maintaining an unmarried priesthood and the monastic impulse in general. What ultimately 'killed' the urge for the cockless state was the outlawing of ritual castration - first by the second century Emperors (on the penalty of death) and then later in the fourth century through various efforts within the Church which ultimately proved successful. 

Nevertheless, it is amazing to see - in spite of the paucity of information about prominent figures in the early Church - how many of them are associated with the 'ideal of the cockless state.' 

Let's make a list of Christians identified as eunuchs, who advocated a literal interpretation of Matthew 19:12 or whose followers engaged in ritual castration before the third century:

1. Jesus (Tertullian Monogamy 5. 6)
2. St. Mark (Philosophumena, VII, xxx) finger = figurative reference to the male member in all ancient languages
3. St. Paul (Tertullian Monogamy 3)
4. St John (Tertullian Monogamy 17 ‘spado’; Jerome vol. vii. p. 655 ‘eunuchus’; cf. Leucius Acts of John) 
5. All the disciples except Peter "Petrum solum invenio maritum, per socrum; monogamum praesumo, per Ecclesiam, quae super illum aedificata, omnem gradum ordinis sui de monogamis erat collocatura. Caeteros cum maritos non invenio; aut spadones intelligam necesse est, aut continentes." (De Monogamia 8.4)
6. 'Marcion' and the Marcionite priesthood - "more ill-conducted also is Marcion than the wild beasts of that barbarous land: for is any beaver (Lat. castor) more self-castrating than this man who has abolished
 (Tert Against Marcion 1.1); "he [Marcion] contracts no marriages, nor recognizes them when contracted, refuses baptism except to the celibate or the eunuch, keeping it back until death or divorce. How then can you call his Christ a bridegroom? This title belongs to him who has joined together male and female, not to one who has put them asunder." (Tert Against Marcion 4. 11) "an outrageous thing, if that god is going to make us sons to himself, who by depriving us of matrimony has made it impossible for us to get sons for ourselves. How can he promote his own to that title which he has already abolished ? I cannot become the son of a eunuch, especially when I have for Father the same one whom all things have. For just as he who is the Creator of the universe is the Father of all things, so he who is the creator of no substance is but a eunuch. Even if the Creator had not conjoined the male and the female, even if he had not granted offspring to all living creatures whatsoever, I was in this relation to him before there was paradise, before there was sin, before the expulsion, before the two became one" (ibid 4.17); "among that god's adherents no flesh is baptized except it be virgin or widowed or unmarried, or has purchased baptism by divorce: as though even eunuch's flesh was born of anything but marital intercourse" (Tert Against Marcion 1.29); "can anyone indeed be called abstinent when deprived of that which he is to abstain from? Is there any temperance in eating and drinking during famine? Or any putting away of ambition in poverty? Or any bridling of passion in castration?" (ibid); "But before I come to the interpretation of this verse (Matt 19:12), it has yet to be said that Marcion, if he had acted with a little consistency, when he prohibited allegorical interpretations of the scripture, would have rejected these verses too as having not been said by the Savior; he would have had to consider that one would either have to accept (if one says that the Savior said this) that the one who has become a believer should dare to subject himself obediently to such things, or else, if it is not right to risk something like that, because it gives a bad reputation to the Word, one would not be able to believe that these words come from the Savior unless they could be interpreted allegorically."(Origen Commentary on Matthew 15.3)
7. the Egyptian contemporaries of the unnamed Alexandrian in Justin's report (Justin I Apol. 29) "And that you may understand that promiscuous intercourse is not one of our mysteries, one of our number a short time ago presented to Felix the governor in Alexandria a petition, craving that permission might be given to a surgeon to make him an eunuch. For the surgeons there said that they were forbidden to do this without the permission of the governor. And when Felix absolutely refused to sign such a permission, the youth remained single, and was satisfied with his own approving conscience, and the approval of those who thought as he did."
8. Valentinus (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata iii.13-14) and presumably many Valentinians
9. Basilides and the Basilidians. "Reciting the views of different heretics on Marriage, Clement (Strom. iii. 508 ff.) mentions first its approval by the Valentinians, and then gives specimens of the teaching of Basilides (οἱ ἀπὸ Β.) and his son Isidore, by way of rebuke to the immorality of the later Basilidians, before proceeding to the sects which favoured licence, and to those which treated marriage as unholy. He first reports the exposition of Matt. xix. 11 f. (or a similar evangelic passage), in which there is nothing specially to note except the interpretation of the last class of eunuchs as those who remain in celibacy to avoid the distracting cares of providing a livelihood. He goes on to the paraphrase of I. Cor. vii. 9, interposing in the midst an illustrative sentence from Isidore, and transcribes the language used about the class above mentioned. "But suppose a young man either poor or (?) depressed [κατηφής seems at least less unlikely than κατωφερής], and in accordance with the word [in the Gospel] unwilling to marry, let him not separate from his brother; let him say 'I have entered into the holy place [τὰ ἅγια, probably the communion of the church], nothing can befall me'; but if he have a suspicion [? self-distrust, ὑπονοίαν ἔχῃ], let him say, 'Brother, lay thy hand on me, that I may sin not,' and he shall receive help both to mind and to senses (νοητὴν καὶ αἰσθητήν); let him only have the will to carry out completely what is good, and he shall succeed. But sometimes we say with the lips, 'We will not sin,' while our thoughts are turned towards sinning: such an one abstains by reason of fear from doing what he wills, lest the punishment be reckoned to his account. But the estate of mankind has only certain things at once necessary and natural, clothing being necessary and natural, but τὸ τῶν ἀφροδισίων natural, yet not necessary" [Wace, Dictionary of Christian Biography p. 214]
10. Athenagoras of Alexandria who calls the unmarried state eunouchía, and the unmarried man eunuoûchos (Suppl. 33-34) 
11. Julius Cassianus (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata iii.13-14)
12. Montanus (Jerome Epist. 41.4 describes Montanus as “a eunuch and half-man” abscisum et semiuirim; See Greville Freeman, "Montanism and the Pagan Cults of Phrygia," Dominican Studies 3 ( 1950) : 297-3 16; Benko, Virgin Goddess chapter 4, Gorec “Cultural Bases of Montanism”
13. Hyacinthus described by Hippolytus (Philosophumena 5.7) 'a presbyter, though an eunuch rather advanced in life.' He was a trusted agent of Marcia, the official concubine of the Emperor Commodus. I suspect he came over from Alexandria. 
14. Marcus Aurelius Prosenes from procurator of the wine-cellar under Commodus to chief chamberlain of Septimius Severus. His continued - and unmolested - presence in the Imperial court is a clear sign that the persecution of Christians is very important to understand that members of the officially sanctioned Church were unaffected by the trials in Egypt. 
15. Carpophorus identified as "from the household of the Emperor" (Hipp. Ref. 9.12) involved in the intrigue with Hyacinthus to free the future Pope Callixtus.(not EXPLICITLY identified as a eunuch)
16. Pope Demetrius of Alexandria Origen's political master and described by Severus of Al'Ashmunein as a eunuch from some lost source. 
17. Origen of Alexandria 
18. Proculus Toracion Christian who healed Septimius Severus and stayed on his household until his death. May be the same as the Proclus the Montanist who was also in the company of Severus and friendly with Caracalla (not EXPLICITLY identified as a eunuch)
19. The eunuchs of the court of the Emperor Diocletian (after the anti-Christian edict of 303 CE “shortly after, a fire broke out in the palace and suspicion fell upon the Christians, notably upon the palace eunuchs ... the eunuchs of his household, before so trusted, Dorotheus, Gorgonius, Petrus, were put to death.”[Wace, Dictionary p. 446]

Even Philo, in many of his writings on the Law of Moses, which are esteemed by reasonable men, says the following in the book that he titled: The Worse Loves to Attack the Better: "It is better to eunuchize oneself than to lust for unlawful cohabitation." 

I am absolutely certain that the priesthood of the Alexandrian Church in the first, second and third centuries was populated by castrati. There is no direct evidence to this effect but this understanding can be pieced together from what is shown above. I also think that Roman Christianity borrowed heavily from the Egyptian tradition, literally finding unworthy stewards in Alexandria to reshape Christianity in the Imperial capitol, hence the great numbers of Christian eunuchs in the royal household. 

It is also worth noting that Egypt continued to be the home of many early Christian encratite and ascetic movements which are known to have members among whom were numbered eunuchs. Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses lviii mentions the followers of Valens as well as Leontios of Antiochia (Bishop of Jerusalem; late-fourth century), Hilarion (mid-fourth century), Marcarius “the Egyptian (late 4th century). Athanasius relates in Historia Arianorum ad monachos, Chapter 28, and otherwise frequently about an Arian presbyter Leontios, who harmed himself.

In the Vita Sabae per Cyrill. Scythopolit. 41 (Cotelerius, Eccles. graecae monumenta III, 1686, pp. 284ff.) we hear the name of a monk Jacob from the great Laura in Syria. But these are not isolated cases. Epiphanius reports without a word of censure that not a few monks castrated themselves (Expos. fidei 13, p. 1095). The rules of the Canones in particular, which touch on this point again and again, give pause: Canones apost. 21-23 (=17), of the Council of Nicaea I, or the second synod of Arles 7 (hos qui se carnali vitio repugnare nescientes abscidunt, ad clerum pervenire non possunt); cf. the instruction of Pope Gelasius I to the bishops of Lucania (Migne, Latin Series LIX, col. 53). Vehement polemics against the eunuchs are contained in a letter from Basil the Great to the heretic Simplicia (No. 115 or 87, Maurin Edition III, 1730, p. 87; cf. John Damascenus, Sacra parallel. 5.27 perì eunoúchoon) and a fragment of Cyril of Alexandria against those who emasculate themselves and thereby fully and completely pervert the divine work of the pneumatikeè eunouchía (Nova patrum bibliotheca II, 1844, pp. 494-497)

Even more interesting to me at least is the possibility that Irenaeus and his predecessors might also have supported this practice. Not only why Hyacinthus the eunuch Marcia's teacher, Marcia herself was married to a eunuch named Eclectus who was Commodus's chamberlain (but she met Eclectus when they worked for Commodus's uncle). Irenaeus proudly declares that many Christians served in the court of Commodus. This situation was true also throughout the Severan period but it is curious that Irenaeus never attacks the Alexandrian heresies for their interest in ritual castration. Polycarp praises Melito's self-castration and Ignatius's name means 'angel' seraph (via Syriac nurono). Irenaeus was connected to an Imperial court in which Christian eunuchs had an important presence. 

It wouldn't surprise me if Irenaeus too was a spado.

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