Orthodoxy and “Homosexuality”

Trisagion anyone?

The church’s teaching on gays and lesbians has been consistent for 2000 years. Also, heliocentrism!

Pretending to be an ostrich is not an effective Christian social theory, but we Orthodox do just that when it comes to sex and gender-identity issues. For example, now that I have said those words, someone is sure to tell me that I am sowing confusion. “You see,” they will say, “the Orthodox Church has been clear and consistent in its position on ‘homosexuality’ for centuries.”

Except it hasn’t! The claim itself is offensive! Why? Well, obviously, those of us who keep talking about “homosexuality” are either ignorant of the clear teachings of the church or we are just stubborn, preferring intellectual gymnastics to intellectual humility necessary to accept what the truly spiritual Orthodox Christians know in their hearts what’s right.

(For the record, I do believe in, and try to practice, intellectual humility.)

I’m all for knowing things in your heart, but I’m a scholar. I have always believed in loving God with my mind, which does not mean that God has to make sense, only that my mind resists demands of obedience for its own sake (which actually isn’t very Orthodox anyway).

tyrion-lannister-1024

Really?

The Orthodox Church does not have a clear and consistent teaching on “homosexuality” because the “homosexual” was an invention of the Victorian era. That is why I keep putting that word in scare quotes. The fathers and mothers of the Orthodox Church thought about acts and desires, but those are apples, modern gays are oranges, and there are more than a few reasons to believe that our theological predecessors thought of same-sex acts in very different terms than us. To say that Gregory the Great wrote about “homosexuality” would be like saying he wrote about “white dwarfs.” Using the same words does not mean referring to the same idea. History matters.

This underscores the need to develop a coherent Orthodox understanding of sex and gender-identity issues.Typically, when we write about “homosexuality,” we either borrow Roman Catholic natural theology arguments, or we repeat Protestant prooftexts. We are so anxious to defend the Orthodox faith from the assaults of modernity, that we do not stop to listen to what that faith is actually telling us.

I am out of my element. I am a political theologian who spends most of his time mulling over how to conceive of, and negotiate the boundary between, the sacred and the secular. I first began writing about gay marriage in that context. I have never done what my field dubs “queer theory” (an actual, technical term). But I have been trying to come to grips with my church’s teaching on this subject, and I think the stand the church takes depends a lot on how we answer a couple of basic questions. I want to put those questions out there and trace a few of their implications. I will not come to any groundbreaking conclusions. Instead, I am hoping to start a civil conversation about this issue. (Civil! I’m serious! Be nice or go home!)

By Bilerico Project (California Marriage Equality - San Francisco)

I agree! (Ezekiel 16:49)

My hope is only to keep the topic on our minds as we collectively suss out a response.

  1. Is sexual difference essential to human nature?
  2. What is the purpose of sexual intercourse?

These are the questions the fathers and mothers of the church asked in their own contexts, which focused mostly on the value of marriage versus virginity. There was a strong tendency to relegate marriage to a second-class status. Ascetics viewed sexual desires as evidence of our disordered and passionate souls. Others, like Jovinian, rejected some of the anthropological assumptions behind that view, arguing instead that conjugal intercourse was innocent. (Jovinian, for what its worth, was condemned as a heretic).

I will not get into all of the issues. We only need to understand that the mothers and fathers of the church were dealing with a different set of problems, but that does not mean that their answers cannot inform us.

St. Gregory of Nyssa

St. Gregory of Nyssa

So, what if the answer to Question 1 is “No”? That is the view St. Gregory of Nyssa took. He said that God intended for Adam and Eve to remain sexless. They were not male or female. But in anticipation of the Fall, God gave them different “parts” so that they might perpetuate the species in a way that corresponded to their animal natures (Gregory talked about a kind of “angelic” reproduction if Adam and Eve had not sinned, whatever that means).

But I want to know if it is possible to agree with Gregory and not also disparage sex and marriage. Despite some modern attempts to reinterpret Gregory’s theology of sexuality, a straightforward reading of his encomium On Virginity pretty clearly indicates that he thought the truly spiritual should avoid marriage altogether. Otherwise, at least try to have as little sex as possible (see my recent post on this).

Personally, I don’t like that answer. [winkey-face]

So what if the answer to Question 1 is “Yes”? Well, then we are all Augustinians. St. Augustine said that marriage, sex, and natural reproduction were all part of God’s plan. Thus sexual difference is somehow essential to what it means to be human. (This may raise other problems I don’t have time to get into.), but Augustine was practically the only person who made that claim. Also, Orthodox Christians don’t really care for him. To say more about this, I need to address Question 2. Are sex and sexual difference a part of God’s plan for creation?

St Augustine of Hippo. Not white.

St Augustine of Hippo. Not white.

If we take the Augustinian view, then it is only a short step from there to a kind of natural theology argument. One could pretty easily conclude that same-sex acts are outside God’s original intentions. Augustine certainly opposed anal intercourse on those grounds. He told wives that if their husbands insisted on the act, they should tell him to go to a prostitute because it was so unnatural. Nature thus becomes a normative theological category if we follow Augustine.

But this is where things get interesting, particularly for us Orthodox Christians. As a general rule, we don’t like Augustine’s views about sexuality, and we often adhere to Gregory’s views about being essentially neuter (thus there will be no male and female in the Resurrection).

We don’t necessarily adhere to Gregory’s views about marriage either. It turns out, we Orthodox like sex acts, but we don’t really care about sexual difference, which ironically lends itself to the support of gay sex. In other words, if we are not essentially different, and the point of sex is not just to make babies, then it really does not matter who has sex with whom as long as they only have sex with each other.

That is putting it too simply, and I know that one might bring other issues or concerns into this topic. Please don’t. At least, don’t do it if it is going to muddy the waters. I am trying to bracket other concerns for the sake of conceptual clarity. My point is that there there seems to be an aporia (a gap in our thinking). If we go with Augustine, then we can (actually) like sex, but probably not like gay sex, and think all sex this side of heaven had sin in it. Or we could go with Gregory, not like sex, think we won’t be sexed in heaven, but hypothetically be okay with gay sex now (since all sex is pretty bad anyways).

Or are there other questions I am not considering? Do other church mothers and fathers provide resources for thinking about sex and gender in a rich and constructive way?

49 Comments

  1. Chris Banescu April 14, 2014 9:12 pm  Reply

    Dunn is wrong. He is spreading lies and confusion. I would say he is downright heretical in the kind of falsehoods he writes.

  2. David J Dunn January 16, 2014 1:02 pm  Reply

    Nathan Duffy

    Burn.

    I did not say, we must choose either between Nyssen or Augustine. I said, "I think the stand the church takes depends a lot on how we answer a couple of basic questions." The questions are foundational, not exhaustive, and certainly not dichotomous.

    I think your analysis would benefit from more sympathetic criticism and less confirmation bias.

  3. David J Dunn January 16, 2014 1:02 pm  Reply

    Nathan Duffy

    Burn.

    I did not say, we must choose either between Nyssen or Augustine. I said, "I think the stand the church takes depends a lot on how we answer a couple of basic questions." The questions are foundational, not exhaustive, and certainly not dichotomous.

    I think your analysis would benefit from more sympathetic criticism and less confirmation bias.

  4. Nathan Duffy January 10, 2014 5:57 pm  Reply

    No, sorry, that's precisely the false dichotomy you presented. Re-read your own piece if need be. You presented a yes/no question that admits of more answers than "yes"/"no"; then you said "No" = Nyssian, and Yes = "Augustinian", and that these were the options available to us. Glad we both agree (at this juncture) that your argument is asinine.

  5. Dima Kotik January 10, 2014 2:30 pm  Reply

    I understand the angle you are working and what you say is valuable for the state of things in USA right now. My gripe is primarily with your starting point and your method.

    All Christians still confess heliocentrism in a theological sense – this piece of rock is where Christ chose to be born. As far as we are concerned, here and now is the theological center of the universe, because this world is entirely about Him.

    I cannot give you more sources right now, my comments were just from the general surface-level familiarity with patristic literature. I will get back with you when I run into something. Rightly or wrongly, everything the Church does is theogically driven and motivated. Somebody linked Chrysostom's commentary on Romans 1 on your post and it contains every argument that you seem to find distasteful. May be start by collecting all the patristic commentary on Romans 1 and Lev? My hunch is that you will find 99% agreement with Chrysostom.

  6. Brian Patrick Delaney January 10, 2014 2:09 pm  Reply

    The Scriptures also do not answer many questions specifically

  7. Fr. John Whiteford January 10, 2014 12:06 pm  Reply

    And if I were discussing this question with someone who was not Orthodox, I would first have to determine what they would consider to be evidence. If you have liberal Protestants, for whom the clear statements of Scripture no longer matter, then probably you need to be discussing the question of authority at a higher level before you begin discussing things like homosexuality or women's ordination.

  8. Fr. John Whiteford January 10, 2014 12:02 pm  Reply

    The reading that St. John Chrysostom gives to Romans 1 is contested by whom, among the Fathers or Saints of the Church? Answer: Not one. You could also look at Patristic Commentaries on several other passages, such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. There are also canons of the Church, endorsed by the Ecumenical Councils that are quite explicit on the question, see http://fatherjohn.blogspot.com/2011/07/bible-church-and-homosexuality.html Since you cannot produce a single Father or Saint of the Church that says anything to the contrary, exactly how many Patristic references do you need to see to be convinced on the matter?

  9. David J Dunn January 10, 2014 11:55 am  Reply

    Dragos Neacsu – That whole "be civil" thing. I meant that. I just read the "horse manure" comment. Please, if you think what I have to say is horse manure, then be the bigger man. Let your words reflect your superior character.

  10. Fr. John Whiteford January 10, 2014 11:53 am  Reply

    David J Dunn I am aware that in many cultures it is not uncommon for men to walk down the street holding hands. They might sit and drink together with one arm around the other. Orthodox clergy give three kisses on the cheek to one another when they greet, which is also often down by laymen in Orthodox Countries. I don't think any of those things are remotely close to what an American has in mind when they speak of kissing and cuddling.

  11. David J Dunn January 10, 2014 11:51 am  Reply

    Nathan Duffy – Actually, I think I was pretty clear that I was out of my element. I was going with what I know. Saying we can only choose between Gregory or Augustine is, indeed, asinine.

  12. David J Dunn January 10, 2014 11:49 am  Reply

    Fr. John, I was hoping for a something more than the Romans 1 argument, which is by no means an uncontested reading. That does not mean "wrong," per se. Rather, I am inviting you to think about this from other angles.

    Let me put it to you this way: If I were, for instance, to try to argue that only men should be priests/pastors at a liberal divinity school (like Vanderbilt), quoting the Pastoral Epistles won't get me very far. It helps to have other tools in your tool belt. I know you have other arguments about this. I'm asking if you have other, other arguments, particularly patristic ones (like Mr. Neascu's citation of Chrysostom above)?

  13. David J Dunn January 10, 2014 11:44 am  Reply

    Fr. John Whiteford – Have you listened to Kh. Frederica Mathewes-Green's podcast on this? One of the things she points out is that some of the boundaries you mention are cultural impositions. In other words, men in this country are squeamish about showing physical affection to each other. They kiss and cuddle in other countries (think of the beloved disciple laying his head on Jesus' chest). I know that's not quite what you are talking about. I'm only pointing out that the line between what you might call "proper" and "improper" physical affection between members of the same sex is not absolute.

  14. David J Dunn January 10, 2014 11:38 am  Reply

    Thanks for the link. I am curious about the composition of the commentary. St. John Chrysostom's Bible didn't have verses. But that's an aside.

    I actually find the whole discussion of those verses in Romans to be very interesting. I don't have time at the moment to fully reflect on them, but a couple of things jump out at me. First, like Augustine, he associates sex with violence. Second, like Gregory, he seems to be thinking in terms of a kind of "stream" of desires. That is, men who lust after other men do not have the wrong "kinds" of desires, per se. They have too much desire. I am not trying to make a normative statement, mind you. I'm only saying that Chrysostom seems to think about same-sex attraction *differently* than us.

    But we doctors are inclined to try to peer too deeply into what is obvious to sensible people. ;-)

  15. David J Dunn January 10, 2014 11:27 am  Reply

    Thanks for the feedback. I have a few thoughts in return.

    1. Not all Orthodox Christians would say one must choose between being Orthodox and being modern.
    2. On divine and human nature, you raise a fair methodological difference, though I am not sure how to think about sex and gender in a God who transcends both. Those who have applied trinitarian arguments to gender in the case of women's ordination ended up with tritheistic results (Fr. Thomas Hopko is a great example of this insofar as he made the kind of argument you are talking about, but then had to backpedal and take a different approach.) In other words, the claim that human persons are somehow analogous to divine persons (which you would need for normative arguments) is not an axiom and may be heresy.
    3. Great point about the dichotomy of Gregory v. Augustine. My goal is to expand the way we think about this. I would love to hear about other resources you know of, particularly as rich as those two when it comes to this topic.

    Also, I'd take issue with your claim about Augustine and Gregory not being all that Orthodox. You are right, to a point, but Orthodox dismissal of Augustine is a historical novelty, and Gregory of Nyssa had more weight in the past than some are inclined to give him now. So…yes, but with caveats.

  16. Dima Kotik January 10, 2014 4:27 am  Reply

    I appreciate the questions you have raised, but I think you have started answering them in modern rather than Orthodox way. The discussion should not begin with human nature, it should begin with the Divine Nature, and answers relating to Divine Nature must guide our application to human behavior.

    So, (1) sexual difference is essential because it mirrors spiritual diversity of the Holy Trinity; and (2) sex must express Trinity (I don't mean 3 persons).

    I find your historical dichotomy of Gregory vs Augustine quite misleading. Do not make the readers choose between those two, neither is truly Orthodox in a sense that expects a hefty weight of universality.

  17. Fr. John Whiteford January 9, 2014 3:58 am  Reply

    In fact, St. Nicodemus says that a man who has anal sex with his wife is worse than a homosexual.

  18. Fr. John Whiteford January 9, 2014 3:58 am  Reply

    In fact, St. Nicodemus says that a man who has anal sex with his wife is worse than a homosexual.

  19. Dragos Neacsu January 9, 2014 3:57 am  Reply

    It seems to me that David Dunn, Ph.D. hasn't read either the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans or Saint John Chrysostom's commentary on the epistle. For a quick reference start on page 20, http://www.holyresurrection.us/CommentsonRomansJC/chpt1.pdf

    I may not have a Ph.D. but the language seems pretty clear to me. No need to speculate.

  20. Dragos Neacsu January 9, 2014 3:57 am  Reply

    It seems to me that David Dunn, Ph.D. hasn't read either the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans or Saint John Chrysostom's commentary on the epistle. For a quick reference start on page 20, http://www.holyresurrection.us/CommentsonRomansJC/chpt1.pdf

    I may not have a Ph.D. but the language seems pretty clear to me. No need to speculate.

  21. Fr. John Whiteford January 9, 2014 3:55 am  Reply

    Elijah John McKnight What do you mean "what is your epistemology for that statement?" If you mean "What is the basis for that statement?" If you read the Fathers of the Church, they talk quite a bit about engaging in activity likely to incite the passions. For example, one father said that if you stand on the edge of a cliff, it is easy for someone to push you over it. If you keep your distance from a cliff, you if someone tries to drag you to the edge, you have time to resist. I saw on your blog that you were just chrismated in May. You need to let the chrism dry.

  22. Fr. John Whiteford January 9, 2014 3:55 am  Reply

    Elijah John McKnight What do you mean "what is your epistemology for that statement?" If you mean "What is the basis for that statement?" If you read the Fathers of the Church, they talk quite a bit about engaging in activity likely to incite the passions. For example, one father said that if you stand on the edge of a cliff, it is easy for someone to push you over it. If you keep your distance from a cliff, you if someone tries to drag you to the edge, you have time to resist. I saw on your blog that you were just chrismated in May. You need to let the chrism dry.

  23. Elijah John McKnight January 9, 2014 3:50 am  Reply

    Fr. John Whiteford What is your epistemology for that statement? What do the Fathers or the Scriptures say about cuddling or kissing?

  24. Elijah John McKnight January 9, 2014 3:50 am  Reply

    Fr. John Whiteford What is your epistemology for that statement? What do the Fathers or the Scriptures say about cuddling or kissing?

  25. Nathan Duffy January 9, 2014 3:48 am  Reply

    An additional point: even if Dunn believes that homosexual identity exclusively developed as late as the Victorian period, this hardly matters: he was putting "homosexuality" in scare quotes, not "homosexual identity". And homosexuality is still the same as it ever was. Not to mention we have, you know, Saints and a living Tradition that existed during the Victorian period and since and, let me check — yep. 100% of them who have spoken on the matter disagree with Dunn. Oops!

    Here's an interesting angle that further destroys Dunn's argument: does the Orthodox Church have an unequivocal teaching about *heterosexual* sodomy inside of marriage? Yep, it does, and that teaching is that it is a sin that must be confessed and penanced (See canon 62 of St. Basil the great re: sodomists, Canon 4 of St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Nikodemos' interpretation of canon 18 of St. John the Faster). But maybe if inherently abominable acts, which have no blessed outlet anywhere in creation, are done consistently with 1 person they become not abominable!

  26. Fr. John Whiteford January 9, 2014 3:47 am  Reply

    Proof texting is taking a text out of context. Taking positions based on Scripture and the Fathers is what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. One other feature of proof texting is usually citing a text.

  27. Fr. John Whiteford January 9, 2014 3:47 am  Reply

    Proof texting is taking a text out of context. Taking positions based on Scripture and the Fathers is what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. One other feature of proof texting is usually citing a text.

  28. Fr. John Whiteford January 9, 2014 3:43 am  Reply

    Proof texting is taking a text out of context. Taking positions based on Scripture and the Fathers is what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. One other feature of proof text is usually citing a text.

  29. Fr. John Whiteford January 9, 2014 3:43 am  Reply

    Proof texting is taking a text out of context. Taking positions based on Scripture and the Fathers is what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. One other feature of proof text is usually citing a text.

  30. Fr. John Whiteford January 9, 2014 3:35 am  Reply

    There is nothing wrong for people of the same sex to have a good non-sexual relationship. "Cuddling" and "kissing" are not quite consistent with that kind of a relationship. I have many friends of the opposite sex, but cuddling and kissing them would obviously be crossing serious boundaries.

  31. Fr. John Whiteford January 9, 2014 3:31 am  Reply

    Elijah John McKnight, you don't seem to know what proof texting is. Proof text is taking a quote or quotes out of context. Taking positions that atr rooted in the teachings of the Fathers and the Scriptures is what is known as being an Orthodox Christian.

  32. Fr. John Whiteford January 9, 2014 3:31 am  Reply

    Elijah John McKnight, you don't seem to know what proof texting is. Proof text is taking a quote or quotes out of context. Taking positions that atr rooted in the teachings of the Fathers and the Scriptures is what is known as being an Orthodox Christian.

  33. Elijah John McKnight January 9, 2014 3:26 am  Reply

    Fr. John, I appreciate your proving of Dr. Dunn's thesis to be true. He mentioned that some Orthodox either cling to natural theology or enjoy using prooftext to support their conservative claims. I appreciate your contribution to showing the validity of Dr. Dunn's point.

  34. Elijah John McKnight January 9, 2014 3:16 am  Reply

    Fr. John, So does the Church has an issue with two people of the same sex being in committed, loving relationships – minus the sexual component. For example, is it okay for a guy and his partner to cuddle, kiss, or even go to the movies?

  35. Dragos Neacsu January 8, 2014 7:01 pm  Reply

    Mr. Dunn should pick up a Guide to Confession booklet and read it. That should edify him. Besides, even Ph.D.s need to confess. I also need to go to confession and ask for forgiveness for reading Mr. Dunn's pile of horse manure.

  36. Jonathan Hill January 8, 2014 3:41 pm  Reply

    I had to stop reading at the paragraph about the Orthodox not carrying about specific sexual acts, therefore we support gay sex, as long as it's only done between two individuals.

    First that is a completely erroneous conclusion. Second, it's flatly inconsistent with his first statements on how Orthodoxy borrows protestant and Catholic argumentation. Bc the argument he just made is entirely Western thought.

  37. Nathan Duffy January 8, 2014 2:33 pm  Reply

    What an abomination of an article. Even beyond just being completely wrong about whether or not the tradition speaks clearly about homosexuality (which, of course, it does), and disparaging those who are aware of this fact by claiming that they 'just know it in their heart' (rather than holding to what they've received from Christ, the Apostles and the subsequent Tradition), he also bases the entirety of the rest of his argument on an utterly asinine false dichotomy: the Tradition must either be Augustinian (as he conceives of it), or Nyssian (again as he conceives this) on sexuality. No, it doesn't have to be either, and it actually isn't — especially as he has caricaturized those positions, which is largely inaccurately anyways.

  38. Mike Carter January 8, 2014 2:22 pm  Reply

    I am not certain, but I believe I totally disagree with David Dunn here. He seems to take that stance that Orthodoxy has no position on homosexual sex, and if so, I have been reading so much about this issue from Orthodoxy and have been in error?? Since the Apostle Paul forbade homosexual sex, I assume we as Orthodox do also.

  39. Paul Smith January 8, 2014 2:09 pm  Reply

    Dr. Dunn seems to try to define PhD as "Piled Higher and Deeper" frankly his article is ludicrous.

  40. Fr. John Whiteford January 8, 2014 1:55 pm  Reply

    The Church does have a clear teaching on men who have sex with other men. And it likewise has a clear and consistent teaching on women who have sex with other women… and in both cases, the Church clearly and consistently has taught and still teaches that those who do such things are acting contrary to nature (Romans 1) and sinning against God and the person that they engage in this sin with.

  41. David J Dunn January 8, 2014 11:18 am  Reply

    I've read Behr, and I find his argument on Gregory unconvincing. However, you raise a good point about refusing difference. Though I wonder if that sword doesn't cut both ways. I mean, there are a LOT of sexual differences if you consider the fact that a significant percentage of the population is born without being clearly one sex or another, or both, or somewhere in between.

  42. Joseph S. O'Leary January 8, 2014 12:31 am  Reply

    Gregory of Nyssa was a married man and probably took sex for granted, though he admired his sister' virgin lifestyle. Approving loving sexual relationships is the correct Christian attitude, but it has to be asserted against centuries of manicheanism and jansenism.

  43. Thomas Shaw January 7, 2014 10:01 pm  Reply

    No human activity for a Christian can be divorced from the process of being healed of our disordered passions. The sure way is virginity as regards the sexual passion, but this is an ascesis, not a requirement, as the disorder of the sexual passion can be transfigured into order within marriage, an expression that still requires ascesis, as not all acts are permitted nor are even those permitted permitted at all times–if one follows the ascetical practice of the Church. A "natural theology" of sex is impossible for Orthodox, as is a "natural theology" of eating or any other passion, as nature itself is disordered from the primordial creation, which is Saint Gregory's position as I understand it.

    As for those who find themselves sexually and romantically attracted to people of the same sex, the only option available other than a presumably (romantically) loveless marriage, is virginity. Romantic (but not sexual) relationships between same-sex partners were once blessed, however, and, as Saint Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain demonstrates in his argument against these unions, such proscriptions to sexual relationships in these blessed unions were often observed in the breach. "It is better to marry than to burn (with passion)." In my opinion, such unions should be blessed again in the Church, and just as married couples work out their expression of their sexuality in the context of confession, so too should homosexuals, leaving the shaming rhetoric behind.

    The larger problem is that we have allowed ourselves to be drawn into a problem that is really a nonstarter in an Orthodox context, choosing sides between an impossible natural theology, on the one hand, and an identity politics, on the other, which are both inconsistent with Orthodox thinking on the state of nature and how humans should be behaving. The endless capacity of Christ, through the Church, to forgive and encourage us in our ascetic struggle against the passions is lost if sinners are shamed rather than forgiven, which shame, in our times, (having stopped shaming divorce and fornication among heterosexuals), has fallen full force on homosexuals–resulting in suicides and psychological harm. This is obviously not the Way of Christ.

    Considering the economia (a thorough understanding of the akriveia/economia distinction is essential to dealing with the topic of the ascetic struggle against the passions) being exercised in sexual relationships among heterosexuals, it is simply not loving nor kind to bring the full force of akriveia down on homosexuals. The way out is to quit taking sides in a debate not of our own making, based on premises we do not share, and to exercise Christ's infinite compassion, love, and forgiveness within the Church and its Holy Mysteries. As with all aspects of our personal struggle to live up to an impossible akriveia, it is only in the context of Mystery of Repentance (Confession) that our failures can be transfigured into success. Sex, along with the other passions, can only be effectively addressed in the Mysteries.

  44. Maria McDowell January 7, 2014 9:09 pm  Reply

    I think it is important to note that sexual difference is tremendously important for 20th century Orthodox theological anthropologies that were developed in direct response to questions regarding feminism and women in ministry. The work of individuals such as Evdokimov, Hopko, Wesche, Mitchell and Farley all depend on varying understandings of biological differences indicating ontological gender differences which then lead directly to theories of complementarity of the sexes, both physical and social/emotional/spiritual. I agree that this family of theories (there are some important differences between each of these authors which make them related but not identical) are NOT a part of longstanding Orthodox reflection on the topic (Hopko flat out dismisses both Gregory of Nyssa and Maximos the Confessor on this), it has become an essential element of virtually all popular discussions of both the role of women in the ministries of the church and homosexuality.

    In an interesting twist however, Eugene Rogers uses Evdokimov's understanding of difference to argue for same-sex relationships. While I think he does not take into account the way in which Evdokimov's theology merely guilds the cage in which women are 'naturally' required to live, Rogers works posits that sexual and gender difference does not lead to the necessary conclusion that "same-sex acts are outside God's original intentions."

    I agree that there is an aporia in our thinking. I think that the 20th century is rife with attempts to close this aporia along lines that are more reflective of particularly conservative interpretations of the Catholic "Theology of the Body" made popular by John Paul II. I think figures like Sarah Coakley, who work from Gregory of Nyssa's later works to present a more complicate view of his attitude towards sexual intercourse in particular, open a door that is worth considering. Such a consideration will call into question the adequacy of the two options you present via Augustine and Gregory, specifically, whether we must stay with these two options or can expand our reflections to take into account both the wisdom of a tradition that does not place intercourse as primary within marriage but acknowledges its importance beyond merely procreation, that does not reduce us to what is natural in light of the belief that theosis is about becoming more human which is to be more like Christ, and that prioritizes the 'pursuit' of theosis through all relationships, married or otherwise.

    So, perhaps oddly, I disagree with Gregory (and Karras as Adam points out) that difference is unimportant or "not ontological" (Behr, however, is far to cagey to clarify the implications of his assertion of difference (or his undefined "third-way"). Rather, I think we are failing to see the extent of alterity and the ultimate uniqueness of each person (Zizioulas) such that reduction to natural categories is a failure to understand our full humanness.

  45. Adam DeVille January 7, 2014 8:31 pm  Reply

    The literature on Gregory's views is, to my reading, rather more controverted and equivocal than you would suggest here. In other words, some scholars (e.g., Valerie Karras) would seem to agree with your reading, but others (e.g., John Behr) tend to be much more cautious; and in general the consensus seems to be (unless I'm mistaken) that it's very difficult to conclude definitively what Gregory thought on these questions. But even if we did know, and concluded that sexual differentiation is otiose, I think that approach glides too easily over such questions as the nature of bodies in the eschaton (Christ, while different post-resurrection, is still visibly and manifestly male, yes?). I also think–in a way that I have not yet sorted out for myself so forgive the lack of clarity here–that positing sexual difference as having no meaning is somehow (ironically for post-moderns!) a refusal of alterity or "difference" in its most basic form, and thus, however obliquely or indirectly, an undermining of the Trinity.

  46. Andrew Durand January 7, 2014 8:11 pm  Reply

    You kind switched up Question 2, starting with "the purpose of sexual intercourse" to "are sexual differences part of God's plan". Did you answer the original question 2?

    Does transcending gender lead to a place where sexual intercourse is performed? Doesn't this transcending remove the need for sex? Is it not base to say this removal of sexual differences leaves us at a place where genitals don't matter? Is it really the aim or even the realm of St. Gregory?

    I would also like for this question to be considered in your list. "What is the theological significance, if any, of the marriage union?" Also, "Is this union illustrated anywhere in scripture, and how."

    Playing around with the Church Fathers is great and all, but if they really did not answer our questions specifically, maybe the scriptures are where we need to be. Just some opinions.

  47. Kevin Kirkpatrick January 7, 2014 6:18 pm  Reply

    Are we requried to side with Augustine or Gregory? Are there no other views? I tend to see Gregory as writing a rule book for ataining sainthood, or perhaps for monastics. Sure,virginity might be the best state, but it is not realistic or scalable. If universal virginity were implemented by the orthodox, the church would be depopulated pretty fast, unless they start a serious missionary campaign. I am aware of other heretical sects in the past that required abstinence even in the married, and guess what; they don't exist anymore! I have never bought the "angelic reproduction" line as it simply makes no sense. It is a logical leap that is hard to find any biblical support for. Jews read Genesis a totlaly different way and take God making them "male and female" as a sign that God wanted them to reproduce and raise families. I don't care for Augustine's or Gregory's view. I suppose I have a protestant view that sex within marriage is a good thing as it unites the husband and wife, and produces children. This is no surprise as I have only been orthodox for 5 years. But in that time, I have yet to meet a married couple who practices abstinence out of the fear of the great sin of sleeping with eachother in a loving relationship. It may be a lower calling that monasticism, I would never argue that, but how do these luminaries get around Paul talking about the joining of husband and wife as a "great mystery" that reflects Christ and the church? And we haven't even talked about homosexuality yet!

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