chapter  3
16 Pages

Sexual Austerity

According to the first-century BCE Roman geographer Strabo, the annual religious festival at Canopus in Roman Egypt was marked by singing, dancing, devotional duties and sexual licentiousness. There may have been many Greek and Roman philosophers, religious authorities and doctors who warned of the perils of sexual excess, counselling the virtues of moderation, but, as 'Canoptic life' suggested, religion and sexual licence were not entirely incompatible.1 Four hundred years later Christianity had wrought a dramatic shift in the relationship between sex and religion. In the Eastern Church influential founders such as John Chrysostom preached an ideal of Heaven uninflamed by any lustfulness...[in which] there was no desire for sexual intercourse'. In the Western Church, St Augustine, one of Christianity's most important Fathers, preached the doctrine of 'original sin', clearly linking sex to 'man's' fall from grace. While St Augustine was prepared to sanction marriage as an acceptable relationship, sex within marriage was only permissible for the purposes of procreation.