Christian Sexual Ethics: What Went Wrong? pt. 4

This is the final installment of this series. For the full series here is Part 1,  Part 2, Part 3, of this series. This brings me to the second way in which Christianity performed an end-run around the entire complex of assumptions that governed ancient thought about sex and marriage. It did so, not by addressing these subjects directly, but by presenting a model of holiness even higher and more exalted than the ascetics. I have in mind, of course, the Virgin Mary. Her elevation to a central place in Christian life and devotion revolutionized how…

Christian Sexual Ethics: What Went Wrong? pt. 3

This is the third installment of this series. For the full series here is Part 1,  Part 2, Part 4, of this series. The first was monasticism. It is unfortunate that early in western Christianity monasticism came to be set in opposition to the married life, as if the two are rivals that must be judged against one another. Views on this subject were crystallized by the writings of a monk named Jovinian, who held that virgins, widows, and married women, if they are equal in other respects, are of “equal merit.” St. Jerome and others…

Christian Sexual Ethics: What Went Wrong? pt. 2

This is the second installment of this series. For the full series here is Part 1,  Part 3, Part 4, of this series. We must begin by recognizing that Christianity was born into a world whose assumptions about sex and marriage were radically foreign to our own. Aristotle devotes a chapter of the Politics to discussing the ideal age of marriage. Questions of mutual compatibility or love do not enter the discussion. The issue as he frames it is that of how to maximize the couple’s childbearing potential. Since a man (as he believes) remains fertile…

Christian Sexual Ethics: What Went Wrong? pt. 1

This is the first installment of this series. For the full series here is Part 2,  Part 3, Part 4, of this series. On September 12, 1966, William F. Buckley hosted Hugh Hefner on his weekly talk program, Firing Line. Their subject was the “Playboy philosophy” that Hefner advocated through his magazine and associated enterprises such as the Playboy Clubs. Hefner was an articulate and thoughtful spokesman for his views. He described his goal as to replace the “old legalism” of “thou shalt not” with a more flexible and realistic approach to sex that truly promotes…

Guidance for our Times, and Always: Twenty Beautiful Life-Giving Patterns of Reality Concerning Sex and Marriage

In light of the widespread misunderstandings and confusion about human sexuality and marriage in our own day, and the vast amount of suffering that this is bringing to so many people, especially young people, I would like to humbly offer this list of simple, clear patterns of the way Reality has been set up by our Lord for the optimal well-being of all.  I hope and pray that this list will be helpful for those who are wondering how to personally navigate among all the various views about sexuality that are vying for our attention today.  …

Compassionate Denial: A Paradigm of Abuse?

Inga Leonova, in her article of the same name for Public Orthodoxy, describes what she calls “the paradigm of compassionate denial.” She offers this quote as an example of the traditionalist position in the social media culture war: “My heart breaks for people in the Church who struggle with same-sex attraction, and we should counsel them and offer them support with love in their ascetic endeavor to carry the cross of chastity.” It soon becomes apparent, when reading this article, that Ms. Leonova does not believe this position to be compassionate at all. Unfortunately, while critiquing…

Twenty-Eight Patterns of Living to Strive for to Enhance the Glory of your Marriage

Dr. David Ford and Dr. Mary Ford, professors of St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary,  have written the following for the edification of the faithful. These patterns are patterns emanating from the Kingdom of God – to enter into them is to enter into the mystery of God. At the end there are a collection of quotes from Fr. Alexander Elchaninov about the mystery of marriage. We share these patterns and sayings for the building up of marriage, a sacrament which sustains and blossoms into many blessings for the life of the world. Do everything with love…

Marriage as communion: strangers in a strange land

In the previous entry in this series, I discussed the idea in Saint John Chrysostom’s homilies of marriage as freedom, but as freedom paradoxically defined as mutual service. From this idea of freedom-as-mutual-service, which is the idea of the marriage as a miniature church, we can begin to see how the importance of communion arises. The distinction between unity and communion is a subtle one, but it is important to Saint John and important for our purposes. It consists in the analogous Liturgical difference between the Holy Mysteries of Baptism and of the Eucharist. The process…

Freedom in Marriage

In the prior essay on marriage and the theme of unity, we explored a bit how Saint John Chrysostom might answer the critics of marriage and family, who level against the institution of marriage the charges that it is too atomising and too alienating. We have seen from Saint John’s writings that the standard for marriage is that of a complete dissolution of ‘mine’ and ‘yours’, even at the level of the body and the breath. But how do we answer the charges we saw before, that marriage and the family are too stifling, too conformist,…

Marriage, unity and the ends of the person

One of the unfortunate genres of opinion writing that has cropped up in this past year, from the left-liberal magazine The Nation to the editorial pages of the centre-right Washington Post, is that the coronavirus has exposed the fundamental faults and flaws of the family unit. The feminist radical Sophie Lewis writes: ‘the unfolding of Covid-19 in the United States makes more palpable, among other things… that the family—as the property logic and mode of social reproduction central to capitalism—is killing us.’ A month and a half before this, the capitalist Harvard professor Ian Marcus Corbin…