First published in 1988, Peter Brown's "The Body and Society" was a
groundbreaking study of the marriage and sexual practices of early
Christians in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East. Brown
focuses on the practice of permanent sexual
renunciation-continence, celibacy, and lifelong virginity-in
Christian circles from the first to the fifth centuries A.D. and
traces early Christians' preoccupations with sexuality and the body
in the work of the period's great writers.
"The Body and Society" questions how theological views on
sexuality and the human body both mirrored and shaped relationships
between men and women, Roman aristocracy and slaves, and the
married and the celibate. Brown discusses Tertullian, Valentinus,
Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Constantine, the Desert Fathers,
Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine, among others, and considers
asceticism and society in the Eastern Empire, martyrdom and
prophecy, gnostic spiritual guidance, promiscuity among the men and
women of the church, monks and marriage in Egypt, the ascetic life
of women in fourth-century Jerusalem, and the body and society in
the early Middle Ages. In his new introduction, Brown reflects on
his work's reception in the scholarly community.
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