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social sciences

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Patristic Writers  
page: 1  2  

What remains distinctive about the Judeo-Christian appropriation of these precepts is that what began as philosophical counsels of moderation, temperance, and self-control have been transformed into commandments of the biblical God.

A New Commandment and a New Vocabulary

The fathers gave added weight to the Levitical and Pauline prohibitions in two more original ways: by adding a prohibition of pederasty to the Ten Commandments (the sixth: "Thou shalt not commit adultery") and by coining terminologies in Greek and Latin designed to inscribe in the language itself Christian hostility to the same-sex acts already judged abominable in the Holiness Code (Leviticus 17-26).

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The Constitution of the Apostles, a collection of ecclesiastical law compiled in the late fourth century, but containing earlier material, records the expansion of the sixth commandment like this: "Do not commit adultery: for you divide one flesh into two: For . . . husband and wife are one by nature, concord, union, affection, life, and habit, and separated only by sex and number. Do not abuse boys (oude paidophthoréseis): for this vice is against nature and had its beginning in Sodom, a city consumed by fire sent down from Heaven. Let such a man be cursed and the whole people say: So be it, so be it."

The Greek neologisms are compounds of pais (boy) and phthora (abuse, corruption): the noun paidophthoros, the verb paidophthoreo, and the class noun paidophthoria.

Paidophthoros, like Paul's arsenokoitai, was probably coined by Hellenized Jews. The word does not appear in either the Septuagint or the New Testament. Christians adopted it in the second century. Neither it nor its relatives appear in the literature of the Gentiles.

To be sure, pagan moralists and legists had strong views of their own about honor and shame, consent and coercion, and they had words like hubris and stuprum, each capable of registering a wide range of disapproval with which to reprobate sexual behaviors they considered illicit: for example, any effort to coerce or buy a freeborn boy, the seduction of boys too young to be legitimate players on the sexual scene, or the failure of an adult lover to protect with tact the masculinity of his adolescent boyfriend.

The innovation of the early fathers of the church was to make the crucial move of labeling pederasty itself an abuse. So Greek Christians learned to say "boy abuse" (paidophthoria) instead of "boy love" (paiderastia), "abuser of boys" (paidophthoros) instead of "lover of boys" (paederastés, paidophilos), and "to abuse boys" (paidophthoreo) rather than to love them (paidophilein).

The Myth of Sodom

The same ideological climate caused Christians to accept without challenge the homosexual interpretation of the Sodom story that Philo had taught Greek-speaking Jews. By the end of the fourth century, the Latin fathers had fixed permanently in the folklore of the West the links between male-male sex, the lewdness of Sodom, God's anger, and the city's incendiary punishment.

The male inhabitants of Sodom wrote St. Augustine (354-430), "burned with unspeakable lust for one another." Their offense was "abusive intercourse with males" (stuprum in masculos), and God punished them by raining fire from heaven on their sinful heads, a foretaste of the divine punishment to come. The crimes of the Sodomites are against nature (contra naturam) and must be everywhere and always hated and punished. The relationship we ought to have with God is violated when the nature of which He is the author is polluted by perverted desire.

Augustine's influential disciple, the historian Orosius, stressed that the crime of the Sodomites was precisely their choice of male sexual partners. Sodom and Gomorrah were rich. From abundance sprang luxury, and from luxury, sexual depravity, "males with males working shame" (masculi in masculos operantes turpitudinem, Romans 1:27), indifferent in their lust to any consideration of place (public or private), condition (free or slave, rich or poor), or age (adolescent or adult).

The homosexualization and acceptance of the Sodom story spawned a new sexual vocabulary in the Latin West, corresponding in meaning and intent with the paidophthoros family in the Greek East. The noun "" (sodomita), the adjective "sodomitical" (sodomiticus), the verbal phrase "to fornicate in the manner of a Sodomite" (more sodomitico) began to circulate in late antiquity. Their frequent attestation in the sixth century signals the beginning of a new period in the history of homosexual nomenclature.

From a queer perspective, the most important legacy of the Christian fathers to the modern West is the unconditional condemnation of all non-procreative acts as unnatural, immoral, and unlawful. The corollary is also true: in sexual contexts, "unnatural" and "against nature" come to mean "without procreative potential."

Eugene Rice

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literature >> Overview:  The Bible

Perhaps no other book has been more influential--for better or worse--in determining the construction of gay and lesbian identity in the modern world, as well as social attitudes toward homosexuality, than the Bible.

social sciences >> Overview:  Natural Law

Natural law--the reading into nature laws that are not merely descriptive, but prescriptive--actually depends on circular reasoning; it discovers in nature what its adherents already believe is the intention of the Christian God.

social sciences >> Overview:  Roman Catholicism

Historically, the Roman Catholic Church may be the institution most responsible for the suffering of individuals involved in same-sex sexual relationships.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sodom

Sodom is a city mentioned in the bible as having been destroyed by god in a rain of brimstone and fire for the "sin" of its inhabitants, traditionally thought to have been male homosexual intercourse.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sodomy

First used to refer only to anal intercourse, sodomy was progressively defined by the Church Fathers, and many later lawmakers, to include all sexual acts that could not result in procreation.

literature >> Augustine of Hippo

Although same-sex friendships played a more important role in his emotional and personal life than relationships with women, his hostility to all forms of nonprocreative sexuality caused Augustine to condemn homosexuality.

social sciences >> Gomes, Peter

After coming out publicly in 1991, to protest a homophobic incident at Harvard University, the Reverend Peter Gomes lent his eloquent voice to the cause of equality for glbtq people.

social sciences >> Paul, St.

Verses from two epistles of the Apostle Paul shaped the attitudes of Christianity toward male and female homosexuality.

literature >> Plato

Among Greek writers on homosexual themes, Plato is preeminent not only as a major philosopher but also as the greatest master of Greek prose.


Bailey, D.S. Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition. London: Longmans, 1955.

Boswell, John. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Brooten, Bernadette J. Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Brown, Peter. The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.

Fox, Robin Lane. Pagans and Christians in the Mediterranean World from the Second Century A.D. to the Conversion of Constantine. London: Penguin, 1986.

Gaca, Kathy L. The Making of Fornication: Eros, Ethics, and Political Reform in Greek Philosophy and Early Christianity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Guthrie, Kenneth Sylvan. The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library: An Anthology of Ancient Writings which Relate to Phythagoras and Pythagorean Philosophy. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Phanes Press, 1987.

Kueffler, Mathew. The Manly Eunuch. Masculinity, Gender Ambiguity, and Christian Ideology in Late Antiquity. Chicago: University of Press, 2001.

Riedweg, Christoph. Pythagoras: His Life, Teaching, and Influence. Steven Rendall, trans. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2005.

Thesleef, Holger. The Pythagorean Texts of the Hellenistic Period. Abo: Abo Akademi, 1965.

Ward, Ray Bowen. "Why Unnatural? The Tradition behind Romans 1:26-27." Harvard Theological Review 90 (1997): 263-84.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rice, Eugene  
    Entry Title: Patristic Writers  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2006  
    Date Last Updated December 13, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, 2006, glbtq, Inc.  


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