Virginity in the early Church: The meanings and motives of sexual renunciation in the first four centuries

Heshmat Fawzy Keroloss, Fordham University


Sexual renunciation in the early Church had distinct meanings and motives that differentiate it from similar practices in other religions and philosophies. For early Christians, the virginal ideal was a special way of life in which one dedicates oneself wholly and permanently to God and His kingdom, which was believed to be at hand. The Gospel message with its eschatological calling, and the new life in Christ with its transforming power, were the ultimate source of this remarkable phenomenon. In order to prove and demonstrate this thesis we started our study by the New Testament (ch. 1), and we studied the meanings and motives of virginity in the early Christian community (ch. 3). From these two sources we realized that the ideal of virginity was highly honored on eschatological and mystical bases; but it was not mandatory for all as a condition of salvation. Virginity was the fruit of the love of purity and chastity--a main feature of the new creation in Christ--not the outcome of any negative view of the body or sexuality, as in the apocryphal works and the heretical sects (which we studied in ch. 4). Since religious notions and practices can be better understood when compared and contrasted with similar notions and practices in other religions and philosophies, therefore we studied chastity and sexual renunciation in pagan and Jewish traditions (ch. 2). This enabled us to realize both common and distinct characteristics of sexual renunciation in these two backgrounds and early Christianity. The rest of the dissertation is dedicated to the patristic tradition. We attempted to demonstrate the elements in the Fathers' thought that contribute to the formation of an orthodox theology of virginity. These elements manifested oneness of thought of the Fathers, which reflected the oneness of spiritual experience of one faith. The Fathers also had ideas and biases that do not stem from the Gospel or the Christian spiritual experience, but from their personal preferences, backgrounds, and experiences. These are to be analyzed for differentiating what is orthodox from what is not in the Fathers' writings. For not everything the Fathers said was expressing doctrinal statement on virginity and marriage.

Subject Area

Theology|Religious history|Religion|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Keroloss, Heshmat Fawzy, "Virginity in the early Church: The meanings and motives of sexual renunciation in the first four centuries" (1996). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9628338.