Tag Archives: Tertullian

Sexual Renunciation and Early Christian Masculinity

Above Image: Trevisani’s depiction (c. 1722) of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.

*What follows is a brief selection from my dissertation that otherwise looked at warrior manliness and crusading. This is taken from an chapter that considered early Christian views of sexuality and how those views later influenced the way medieval clerics judged Christian warriors on the same topic. Moreover, I’ve had students from Protestant or secular backgrounds (or sometimes even Catholic or Orthodox backgrounds) curious about the Christian roots of the modern practice of celibacy among Catholic priests or Orthodox monks and bishops, and so I typically provide some of this information as a starting point for their further exploration of the issue.


In contrast to Roman societal norms of the time (with the exception of some philosophical groups like the Stoics), which in part defined masculinity by sexual aggression and playing the active, rather than passive, role during sexual activity, early Christians rejected such popular markers of masculine identity by pointing to Jesus as having never married and having remained continent throughout his life.[1]  That Jesus was both celibate (unmarried) and abstinent is not surprising in light of the Jewish influenced environment from which he is believed to have emerged. Near the Dead Sea, large communities of abstinent ascetic males are known to have preached repentance to nearby cities in a way similar to their better known contemporary, John the Baptist.[2] While Jesus never preached the abolition of marriage, his followers often interpreted his view of the married life as a hindrance to the highest levels of spiritual commitment, as he called on his followers to abandon their families to follow him.[3]

Continue reading