We often talk here (and even more often on my blog) about how the basis of human freedom came from Christianity. We also talk a fair amount about the sexual sins.
In fact, right now we in the States have a kerfuffle going on because one of the stars of a reality show, Duck Dynasty, had the sheer temerity to state in an interview the classic Christian view of homosexuality. And yes he is now on hiatus, which likely means that one of a very few shows that showed the wholesome America that I grew up in is probably gone. But that’s a side issue.
There is a new book out, and no I haven’t seen it yet, apparently it posits that Rome ran it’s ‘bread and circuses’, blood sports and anything goes sexuality on the easy availability of slaves whose bodies could be used as one desired. OK, to me that seems rather like common sense.
But if I’m reading the review I’ve excerpted here correctly, a good part of the reason that Christianity came to be (almost alone in the world) such a fierce foe of slavery between the third and sixth century is simply because (although I’m pretty sure there were other reasons as well) because it was such a facilitator of sexual depravity.
This makes sense to me, at least on a facile level, we obviously know that the early church didn’t remonstrate all that strongly about slavery. But at some point in the later empire, slavery all but came to an end. Granted it wasn’t exactly to what we would call freedom for the individual, but it was a huge step. And it was one no other society took, only Christianity.
This is excerpted from Gene Edward Veith writing on Cranach, the Blog of Veith, One of the best Lutheran blogs
Classical scholar Peter Brown has published in the New York Review of Books an excited review of Kyle Harper’s From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity (Harvard University Press). The book, which is said to break new ground in the scholarship of ancient Rome, shows that the vaunted sexual permissiveness of ancient Rome was inextricably linked to the practice of slavery, with slave boys and girls being the primary sex objects who could not object to how they were used.
The jolly free-for-all, which we like to imagine as forming a timeless human bond between us and the ancients, was based upon the existence of a vast and cruel “zone of free access” provided by the enslaved bodies of boys and girls. Slavery, “an inherently degrading institution,” was “absolutely fundamental to the social and moral order of Roman life.”
But Harper realizes that this is too facile a conclusion. The excitement of his second chapter, “The Will and the World in Early Christian Sexuality,” lies in the manner in which he traces the sheer fierceness of Christian attitudes toward sexuality back to how sexual morality merged with the charged issue of freedom. Christians rethought these ideas in profound alienation from a society that took unfreedom for granted. They also dissociated themselves from a view of the cosmos that seemed to support a chill “indifference toward the brutalities accepted in the name of destiny.”
Continue reading Sex and freedom in ancient Rome.
This is well out of my field, so I’m mostly bringing this to everybody’s attention. As I said though, the concept makes all the sense in the world to me, although I have learned over the years that history doesn’t really have to make sense. Something happened though, to make Christianity the enemy of slavery.
And just because; on a much lighter note:
- Top 10 Reasons Ancient Rome Was a Pervert’s Paradise (toptenz.net)
- The sex lives of the Romans and Early Christians (matteroffactsblog.wordpress.com)