Timeless Advice

Naomi of Embrace Your Femininity has discovered a wonderful letter written by St. Gregory of Nazianzus, a letter that provides timeless advice. It was written by St. Gregory to a spiritual daughter of his who was going to be married shortly, and he used it as an opportunity to provide some sage advice. I am going to give my thoughts on what I think are the more significant parts of the letter. I won’t repeat the letter in full; the whole letter can be found here. Those segments in quotes that are in bold are those which I feel are especially pertinent or (in some cases) those which the Naomi found meaningful. Keep in mind is that this letter is written for a woman who is about to be married, so its full impact is for married women.

Here is part of the first major paragraph:

Listen to me Olympiatha: I know that you desire to be a true Christian. As such, be aware that a true Christian must not only be one but she must also appear accordingly. This is why I ask you to pay special attention towards your personal appearance. You must be simple! Gold, attached to precious stones, does not add any value to women of your stature. This is even more so with make-up. It is very improper for you to alter your face, which represents an image of God, for the sole purpose of attraction and admiration by others. Know that this constitutes vanity that is unbecoming of a young lady of your character. I therefore ask that you overcome the feminine vanity that is abundant among young ladies of our time and remain simple in your appearance.

Something which has been noted around these parts for a while has been the tendency of many married women to use a lot of make-up and wear their nicest clothes when they go out and about, but to dress shabbily and appear unkempt at home. As St. Gregory rightfully notes, these women have their priorities backwards. Their husband is the only one that they need to look good for, and should look good for. He is the only man to whom attraction should matter. Looking good for the sake of other women is pure vanity, and must be rejected.

Of course, this must be balanced with the Christian wife’s duty to submit to her husband. So, if her husband asks her to beautify her appearance when they go out together, then she should. People will judge her husband by how she looks, so it is important that she provide a good impression. If he wishes her elegant, then she should be elegant. If he wishes complete modesty, then she should be modest. This advice by St. Gregory is primarily directed at a woman’s own initiative, not her husband.

What is particularly interesting is the language in the last sentence. While I am sure that the translation has turned it into something which is more akin to modern ways of speaking, that final sentence sounds just like something which could be said today. In that, it should serve as a reminder that vanity is a timeless trait, one that frequently rears its ugly head.

In your marriage, fondness, affection and love must be strong and persistent for him whom God has selected to be your life partner. This man is now the eye of your life and the delight of your heart. And if you ever perceive that your husband possibly loves you more than you love him, do not take advantage of his feeling by attempting to gain the upper had in your marriage. That is plainly wrong as it is totally against the writings of the Holy Gospel!

This warning seems to me to be a hint that pedestalization is not a recent development. Which should surprise no one, really. While one doesn’t necessarily have to agree with Rollo that men love idealistically (and women don’t), men are the same now as they have been throughout recorded history. We make the same mistakes, commit the same follies, and as seems obvious now, we repeat these time and time again. There is something within us as men that makes us (or most of us anyways) want to love women. At least, until we have suffered betrayal at the hands of a woman we loved. Respect is the fuel that keeps men moving. Without it we slow down and slowly fall apart. And there is no greater act of disrespect than betrayal. St. George is warning this young bride that taking advantage of her husband’s love for her will be hugely disrespectful, and may well lead to her betraying him, which could poison the well of love from him forever.

You must respect him and love him unconditionally, as you love God. Be aware that you are a woman and you have an important and great purpose and destiny; however, your purpose and destiny is different than that of your husband who must be the head of your household. Set aside the silliness of equality among the sexes, that some of your contemporaries preach, and attempt to comprehend the obligations of marriage. In the realization of these obligations you will discover the great patience and endurance that is necessary to fulfill your family duties; it is in this manner that you will also discover the great strength that you as a woman possess.

Consider that first sentence. Think of how radical it sounds. Unconditional love and respect? It sounds crazy to us today, but that only goes to show just how far afield Christianity has become. In truth, Christianity has always been, and will always be, a radical religion. God’s commands and Laws are never comfortable, because they are not aligned with our worldly wants and desires. A part of us will always resist what scripture and the Church teaches (or should teach), so we must always strive against this tendency and never forget that it exists.

What really strikes me, however, is the second sentence in bold. Is it just me, or is that not something which you could imagine having been written a few decades ago, when Feminism was making its greatest advances? When we think of our problems, the unhealthiness of the socio-sexual order in our present age, we tend to believe that it is a modern problem. Something which has only existed recently. This letter proves that lie for what it is. Feminism, with its call for “equality among the sexes” is an age old problem, one that has always been with us. There is nothing new under the sun, our present problems are to be found in every age.

You must never criticize, scold or become derogatory towards your husband for something that he has erred. Likewise, you must avoid any contempt towards any inaction or indecision by your husband, even when the outcome is not favorable or something that you greatly desire or consider proper. Be aware that demons are always around attempting to penetrate your household, and break up the couple’s harmonious spiritual cohabitation.

While he never directly uses the word Respect in this paragraph, St. Gregory alludes to it throughout. Everything I wrote about respect applies here. When a wife disrespects her husband, such as through open contempt, it opens a terrible wound in their relationship, one that doesn’t heal easily. While it may provide some instant gratification to prove him wrong, a wife who derides her husband will find that the long term consequences are perilous indeed. Such actions and behavior open a door through which the Adversary may enter, so that he may poison a wife’s mind, and through that bring the marriage to ruin.

Be extremely careful with whom you associate and the company that you keep. Be especially careful of the social gatherings that you may be participating in. Do not allow yourself to enter entertainment centers of questionable background; these represent extreme danger towards your purity and the sanctity of your marriage. These types of social interactions remove the instinct of shame, eyes cross with eyes, and once shame is not there to guard from any impropriety, the demons are able to exercise their influence and give rise to evils of unspeakable magnitude.

St. Gregory is giving more timeless advice here, by warning women (although this applies to men too) that they will be shaped by the company they keep. Oftentimes we won’t even notice this take place, but it does. You can often tell when someone has a new friend, just by the shift in their behavior. So it is essential we choose our associates carefully.

As for entertainment centers… I was struck by just how timely that advice seemed to be. Stories constantly pop up around these parts about wives who go to nightclubs with their friends for a “girls night out.” Such stories rarely end well. While they might be indicative of problems that already exist within the marriage, it is better not to chance such things. Avoiding temptation is essential, and so wives should be mindful of where they go.

Stay away from conceited and ostentatious women whose mind is pre-occupied with external appearances and social circles, all for the purpose of vainglory and public display. This should be the same for any men that you consider respectful and spiritual but whom your husband has not allowed to enter your home, irrespective of how highly you may regard them. For is there anything more precious for you than your good husband whom you love so dearly?

This is something which is very important for married women to understand. Men can perceive things about other men which a woman might be blind to. If your husband has indicated a man is not to enter your home, there is a strong reason for it. While there is always a chance that the husband might be mistaken, both respectful submission and general prudence dictate that a wife should not associate with men her husband wouldn’t want in the household. This advice is especially true in the present age, because there are more than a few men out there who seem to “specialize” in cuckoldry.

And now for your tongue. Your husband will always be your enemy for as long as your tongue is uncontrolled, even if you are to be blessed with thousands of other talents. A foolish tongue often endangers even the most innocent of people. It is preferred to maintain quiet, even in cases that you are correct. This is because you risk the expression of an unintended improper word or characterization. No matter how greatly you desire to say a lot, it is best that you limit your words and instead choose your presence to be a quiet one.

Nagging is nothing new. St. Gregory’s advice here is as good now as it was over 1600 years ago. Few things can erode trust, respect and love between a husband and wife quite like constant nagging. I am sure that it is a most difficult thing, to control your tongue as is required in marriage. But it is essential.

Lastly, this little part, which is the only section of the letter I was uncertain of:

And now pay close attention and be mindful of the following advice: You must never exemplify or maintain an uncontrollable desire for the flesh. Persuade your husband to respect the holy days of the Church and the fasting periods. This is because God’s laws are of much greater importance than the image of God. Be mindful that the institution of marriage was established by the Son of God to aid His creation so that a balance is maintained, as some depart this world while others arrive.

On the face of it, such language is not necessarily problematic. But it is easy to take such advice and use it improperly, towards evil ends. St. Gregory is correct that uncontrolled lust is a sinful thing, but that doesn’t mean that a wife’s passion for her husband is wrong. Far from it. Merely that she need temper it and not let it dominate her. Although I think for most women this is not apt to be likely, it is still advice worth noting. More important, however, is to not use Holy Days and fasts as an excuse to deny your husband. St. Paul was quite clear about the denial of conjugal rights, it should never happen. Abstinence in marriage must be mutual, and only for a limited time.

Other than that last part, this letter is a exemplary. Sadly, as a society we mostly reject the advice and counsel of the past. Too often we fall into the trap of thinking that our present situation is new and unique, and thus the wisdom of the ages is irrelevant. This letter proves otherwise. In our efforts to find a solution to today’s problems, it would behoove use to look into the past. Odds are that our elders have already given use the advice we need to carry us through today’s struggles.

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18 Comments

Filed under Attraction, Christianity, Femininity, God, Marriage, Sex, Women

18 responses to “Timeless Advice

  1. This is all excellent, but I assume the focus will be on the last part. I think the word “persuade” in the last bit is important. It doesn’t say, “Refuse your husband on holy days to keep him from sinning,” or, “Narc on him to your pastor if he demands sex on a holy day.” Just “persuade him,” and with the context of the rest of the letter, it’s clear that he really means persuade through loving submission, not browbeat or nag.

    So it’s clear that if she were unable to persuade him, she should submit to sex on those occasions, even though it was frowned upon (I don’t think it ever would have been considered a mortal sin, though since it would have meant discarding that appointed time for prayer, I might be wrong about that). I think we know how St. Gregory would have answered the common question about what a wife should do if commanded by her husband to sin.

    I think the other reason that last part sounds odd to us is his assumption that the wife could be the one overcome with lust. Modern thinking says men are the horndogs, and women can take sex or leave it; that women are sort of above such base needs and amused by men’s craving for them. Historically, that wasn’t the case; women were considered to be at least as lustful as men, if not more so. I wonder if that difference reflects a change in modesty in clothing, among other things. When people dressed more modestly, men wouldn’t have been so charged up by seeing skin everywhere, but women could have been just as fired up by seeing fully-dressed men being masculine and doing masculine things.

  2. “When people dressed more modestly, men wouldn’t have been so charged up by seeing skin everywhere, but women could have been just as fired up by seeing fully-dressed men being masculine and doing masculine things.”

    I hadn’t thought of it that way. Modern media projects so much of our modern perception on the man saying, “You seduced me to immodest behavior and sexual sin” that it is portrayed as something a man says only to excuse foul behavior. Rarely does the modern media show any such seduction, but uses that line as a ‘rape excuse’ line.

    Now I have to wonder exactly how often such seductions did take place in reality, rather than the modern narrative.

    @ Donal
    This is a great find. I know I’d never read it or heard of it. I know what I’ll be sending this to newly weds from now on.

  3. Caelan McKenzie

    I discovered St Gregory’s letter a few months ago, and I still think that it’s simply delightful. I was particularly amazed to see his blatant refutation of feminism in it as well – there really is nothing new under the sun.

    Donal, I believe I understand your reticence to accept St Gregory’s admonition in regard to fasting – given the current cultural climate, the last thing women need is yet another excuse deny their husbands sex. And fasting, like all aspects of spiritual discipline, is supposed to be done under the guidance of a spiritual father – if he perceives that a couple is not ready for the discipline of abstinence from sex, then they are not held to that standard. Theoretically, everyone is supposed to be keeping their eyes on their own plate.

    I was skeptical about certain elements of the fasting rule of the church… until I tried it, and was shocked by the results.

    The idea that married couples must gain mastery over their sexual passions through times of prayer and abstinence from sex comes from what is now an alien worldview. Many of the holy fathers taught that sex is something that came into existence after the fall. Marital sex is not a bad thing, but I think in the light of what the early church thought about it, that this modern Christian idea that marital sex is “holy” is kind of dubious.

    I’m sure all of us can say we’ve lost count of the amount of times we’ve heard Christians describe marital sex as being “holy”. Sure, that’s true, if you take that statement that it’s “holy” at face value. Sex is set apart, consecrated for a purpose and a place. But I think that when most Christians say “holy” here, what they really mean is “sacramental”. This saying that “marital sex is holy!” is just dressing up pagan values in Christian cant.

  4. @ Caelan

    If I came across as being opposed to fasting, then my apologies for the confusion. I do think that practicing “sexual fasting” from time to time is probably a good thing for a married couple. It provides a good opportunity for spiritual growth, as well as to truly appreciate your spouse.

    As for the rest of your comment…

    I have to be honest with you, but it is many of the early church father’s attitudes towards sex which I find dubious. Many were hedonists before conversion, and instead of appreciating the proper place and role of intercourse, they adopted what can only be considered an anti-sex attitude. We are just going to have to agree to disagree about such matters.

  5. Caelan McKenzie

    @ Donal

    Just because someone was a saint doesn’t mean they are inerrant, so (for whatever my opinion is worth) I think a lot of the church fathers views on the nature of sex fall more into the realm of theological opinions. However, I find the fact that many of them hold similar opinions to be… interesting. While I may not be entirely sold on some of the details, I do think that we (and by that I mean Roman Catholics and Orthodox) cannot idly dismiss their point of view.

    During my Protestant upbringing, whenever celibacy was discussed, it would inevitably be said that “celibacy is a calling; where those Catholics are going wrong is in forcing it on priests!”, along with the idea that those with this supposed “gift” were also as rare as hens teeth. But the more I look at historical Christianity, the more nonsensical this notion seems.

    The other day I was I was hanging out with some friends at my former Protestant church, and we started discussing the new draconian child protection laws in our state. (Seriously, it’s nuts.) Inevitably one of them opined in a very matter of fact tone that, well, priestly celibacy…

    I cannot ever recall someone standing up and saying “when was the last time any of us felt strong sexual attraction to a child because we couldn’t get women?”. So many incel Christian betas around, so little kiddie fiddling. I cannot believe how easily we swallow the propaganda hook, line, and sinker, and it is because the propaganda comes from our culture. Our culture. All these Christians truly believe they are Christian, but they are just as pagan as their neighbours. They think the same thoughts, they share the same worldview.

    The day I first made contact with an Orthodox parish, I spoke to a bloke (now a mate) about my age, a father of two young kids, and he said “In Orthodoxy, we say that you are called either to be a husband, or a monk”, and at the time I chuckled, taking it, despite his explanation, to be a wry joke on the difficulty of matrimony and ruling a woman. However, months later, I’m now starting to see the truth – that everyone is called to asceticism, and marriage is just a different kind. And part of that is the understanding that while marital sex is great, in the light of eternity it’s not only not anywhere as important as our culture inculcates us to believe, but that also as a thing of this world and the fallen nature, that accordingly it’s something that needs to be tamed.

    I guess you could say I see sex like alcohol. It has benefits and disadvantages, and it can be a useful tool, but it’s a thing of this world, and it therefore needs to be kept on a leash, because of the fact that while it’s useful, it works on our flesh, and incites that flesh as well as soothes it. Perhaps this is what the holy fathers are getting at – sex is the epitome of that which is of this world. Sex is one of the most intense experiences accessible to man, one of the greatest drugs – what if this was an experience that Adam and Eve were meant to partake of at a point in the future, after they had matured enough to handle it, after they had been divinised? (This, apparently, was the point of view of Theophilus of Antioch, and of St Irenaeus.) Having jumped the gun, Adam and Eve – and now, us – therefore experience sex without the full capability to handle it. It will always be something we cannot experience without it being at least a bit carnal in nature, when it should have been a totally pure thing.

    Fact of the matter is, all of us are called to celibacy until we are married anyhow, and especially today with society the way it is, finally finding a mate when you’re in your thirties is not an unlikely scenario for all us Good Christian Betas. So, if we, taking advantage of this opportunity, do in fact conquer our sexual nature in the meantime, do we then consider the idea that we might carry this discipline over into our married lives unusual? Think on it – how great a lord would a husband be if he can master this before he is married! He would be unshakeable!

    The slavish insistence that wives be sexually available, always, all the time, carries a hidden assumption – that a man’s sex drive is an inexorable, unstoppable force, that cannot be redirected or tamed, and if the attempt is made to do so he will go mad from an intractable case of spiritual blue balls. But what if we can, in fact, unpick the threads, untangle the knots, and in fact purify everything we do and are? What if, in fact, we can separate the good from the bad in sex, and have it serve us, instead of the other way around?

    I have been afflicted with same-sex attraction all my life, so, while you and I are about the same age, I necessarily have a different perspective on things. One of the things that particularly swayed me towards Orthodoxy was its emphasis of the concept of theosis – that my salvation is also my healing, and it starts right now. Now, I don’t know if that healing will end in marriage or monasticism, but I do know this – in the short time I have been Orthodox, I have discovered that every time I do what is prescribed, that it works. The Mother of God – she works. I don’t care what Protestants say, she’s real, and she works, just like it says on the tin. She really does quench the flame of my passions, and delivers me from many and cruel memories and deeds, and frees me from all their evil effects.

    And I guess this brings me back to what moved me to comment to begin with – I’m now on day 61 of no-fap and I intend on never masturbating again. I don’t know if I will fail, and I hope not, but that’s beside the point. I do not think it is coincidental that the incredible progress I have made over the last 2 months was begun with me keeping the fast of Our Lady’s Dormition. We are all called to monasticism – what form it takes depends on whether you choose marriage, or the cloister. I don’t mean to suggest that anyone else will get the same results that I have, in the same order, or in the same way, but what I am trying to impress is that if you just trust the process you might just be surprised at what happens.

  6. This is good advice, and you’d be shocked at how many good (really good I mean) Christian women would discount some of it, especially with regard to holding one’s tongue even when you’re right.

    As to the last part, I agree with Cail Corishev. This notion that most wives don’t want sex or don’t think of it or can live without it just fine is waaaay overblown in th manosphere.

    We’re not like men, of course. This is by design since procreation can take place whether we’re amorous or not. That said, the cocktail of premarital promiscuity, emotion worship, and female pedestalization has mostly warped womens’ sexuality and you guys think what is abnormal is normal, when it’s not.

    that a man’s sex drive is an inexorable, unstoppable force, that cannot be redirected or tamed, and if the attempt is made to do so he will go mad from an intractable case of spiritual blue balls. But what if we can, in fact, unpick the threads, untangle the knots, and in fact purify everything we do and are? What if, in fact, we can separate the good from the bad in sex, and have it serve us, instead of the other way around?

    That’s some good food for thought there, Calean. May God richly bless and reward you as you strive for purity and to honor him with your temple.

  7. I may be repeating someone else here – if so my apologies.

    A few weeks ago, I was reading an article (and I will try and find it for you) which discussed the many occasions during which the early/medieval church forbade intercourse between married people – this would have included ALL of the Lenten season (!), ALL Saint’s days, other feast days, the list goes on and on. One wonders (as somebody posted some time) that Christians every procreated! When St Gregory advises her to “Persuade your husband to respect the holy days of the Church and the fasting periods”, he is reminding her that there are A TON of them LOL!

    Also, if the couple were to engage in marital relations during the proscribed periods, they would be required to make a confession and perform penance as quickly as possible.

  8. Caelan McKenzie

    @ Elspeth
    Thanks for the kind words. I think by now I’m on the right side of a lot of my struggles, and I do still hope that one day I will be a husband and father. However I do also think I am basically now at peace with the idea that I may not, but that’s easy to say on this side of things – even 5 years ago I was still in agony. I just wish I could somehow know back then what I know now, and maybe I could have shortened my stay in the veritable Purgatory I was stuck in, but that’s not how these things work. All I can do is thank God for his mercy.

    @ Maeve
    If you strictly keep all the fasts of the Orthodox church, then that’s about 40% of the year you won’t be having sex. Only a few months ago I had a lot of trouble accepting that, but now it doesn’t seem like a big deal at all. Asceticism is spiritual athletics – you can’t just launch straight into it, or you’ll probably injure yourself.

    Don’t forget that these ideals come from a society where the culture was Christian, everyone was doing this stuff, and you were raised in it. There wouldn’t be much danger of being tempted to eat non-fasting food on a Wednesday or Friday, because it simply wouldn’t be available. (I’m generalising here of course.)

  9. Pingback: Lightning Round – 2013/08/02 | Free Northerner

  10. Honestly, I don’t think abstaining from sex on 40% of the days of the year would be that big a deal if you knew it was on tap for the other 60%. Not much worse than giving up meat, anyway, which they’d be doing at the same time. It’s one thing to give something up together as a couple for religious reasons; another to be denied it as part of a power struggle with your spouse, or to feel like you’ll never have it again because you can’t find someone.

    Also, I think the number of days tends to be overstated. I can’t speak to the Orthodox rules, but Catholics prior to Vatican II fasted or abstained about 90 days of the year: all days of Lent except Sundays, Ember days (4 sets of three scattered throughout the year, one set of which falls inside Lent), a few vigils of important feasts, and all Fridays. However, there are about 20 first-class feast days which supersede nearly any penitential day. We don’t fast or abstain on feast days — that’s kinda what “feast” means — and certainly not on saints’ days, since practically every day on the calendar belongs to at least one saint. So even in Lent, you would have Sundays and maybe a first-class feast or two during which you could #&%* like bunnies to help you through the 40 days.

    I think it’s fair to say that many married guys today would gladly trade their current sex lives for one where they could mark 250 days on the calendar with, “I get as much sex as I want today!”

  11. @Cail – Oh I’ll bet there would be much rejoicing at the prospect of 250 days of “all you can manage” so to speak 🙂 I’m trying desperately to find the article that discussed this. One other thing cited was intercourse was also prohibited during a woman’s menses, if she was nursing her child, for some period after the birth (I can’t recall if it included the actual duration of pregnancy) – the list went on – I think it was this part, in conjunction with the aforementioned days of fasting/abstinence, etc., that really made me blink. It’s going to drive me absolutely bonkers until I find it LOL.

  12. Time only for a quick comment, sorry.

    @ Cail

    The problem with using a “set days” strategy is that it isn’t flexible. What if one partner is sick or unwell? Or the spouses have to be in different locations for a while? Or both are really tired that day?

    Such a plan sets a ceiling for sexual activity, not a floor. In theory it may seem fine, but it doesn’t work in practice.

    Not to mention, the health benefits from sex are linked to its frequency. So the less sex, the less healthy the married couple.

    Following St. Paul’s advice in 1 Cor 7 (frequent sex with only perhaps an occasional mutual break for prayer) is, simply put, the best way to go.

  13. embracingourfemininity

    “So even in Lent, you would have Sundays and maybe a first-class feast or two”

    @Cail – do you mean not observing the fast on feast days and Sundays during Lent in Orthodoxy or Catholicism?

    During Orthodox Lent we don’t stop the fast for feast days, we just are allowed to include oil and wine, but none of the other prohibited stuff. Is it different during Catholic Lent?

    There are some interesting comments here, especially Caelan Mckenzie’s – I will leave a longer comment tomorrow.

    Great post as usual btw Donal! 🙂

  14. I’m talking about Catholicism; I don’t know anything about the practices of Orthodoxy. Yes, first-class feast days (which includes Sundays) override penitential seasons and days (except a couple of the biggies like Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but then the feast usually gets transferred to another day. There’s a big book of rules somewhere that handles every possible conflict).

    For instance, March 19th is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, a first-class feast. So if it happens to fall on a Friday, we’re feasting instead of fasting that day. That usually happens a couple times a year, so it doesn’t make a big difference, but it’s one of those little things that made the traditional way of things interesting back before they tried to modernize everything. It’s surprising how excited you can get about eating meat on a Friday when you actually follow this stuff for real.

  15. Donal, that’s true, the possibility of 250 days doesn’t mean that will be the result, and frequency is important. It’s surprisingly hard to find information on actual past practices in this area. I know what the fasting/abstinence days are/were, but I can’t find much about how much people paralleled that with sexual abstinence. For instance, did they abstain from sex on all penitential days, or just the abstinence days? (Some penitential days are fasting, some are abstinence, and a few are both.) Was it a rule or a suggestion? If a rule, was breaking it considered a mortal sin or venial? I’ve done a little searching, and haven’t found answers to those questions.

    If it were a suggested way for couples in strong marriages to grow together in spirituality by giving up this pleasurable act in harmony, that would be very different from an absolute rule forbidding sex 1/4 of the days of the year on pain of mortal sin.

    Another thought: we’re often told that people in less “enlightened” times considered sex dirty or bad. But it’s always been the case that you can only give something up as penance if that thing is good. You can’t do penance by giving up something bad or sinful, because you’re not supposed to be doing that thing in the first place. So if people were abstaining from sex as a penance, it’s clear that they considered it a good thing.

  16. Another thought: we’re often told that people in less “enlightened” times considered sex dirty or bad. But it’s always been the case that you can only give something up as penance if that thing is good. You can’t do penance by giving up something bad or sinful, because you’re not supposed to be doing that thing in the first place. So if people were abstaining from sex as a penance, it’s clear that they considered it a good thing.

    I don’t think most people thought that sex was dirty or bad. But some individuals, especially certain intellectual and religious leaders, did voice opinions and thoughts which essentially run along those lines. More than a few adopted the position that sex was really only for children, and “wrong” otherwise. And they had a profound influence on doctrine for a long time.

  17. No matter how greatly you desire to say a lot, it is best that you limit your words and instead choose your presence to be a quiet one.

    I think this has more to do than just nagging. Of course, it covers nagging, but there is more to it than that. It also has to do with knowing when to not say anything at all which can be incredibly difficult. Knowing when a simply nod of the head and then taking care of what needs to be taken care of is done.

    Also, knowing when it’s right to say something, followed by knowing when you’ve said enough. The urge to make sure your husband is understanding (in a way that we know how female friends would understand) is very hard to stamp down and to try to draw this understanding out might not be done in a nagging or shrewish way. However, it is still disrespectful in it’s own right.

    Also, “saying a lot” might happen when the husband says something in a group of other women (men might be there too, but it’s more prone to happen around women), in which the wife does not wish to look like a doormat in front of these other women and might say something to prop herself back up. Fighting off the urge to do this can be difficult, especially when it is something new to the wife.

  18. @Caelen

    During my Protestant upbringing, whenever celibacy was discussed, it would inevitably be said that “celibacy is a calling; where those Catholics are going wrong is in forcing it on priests!”, along with the idea that those with this supposed “gift” were also as rare as hens teeth. But the more I look at historical Christianity, the more nonsensical this notion seems.

    The Early Church gave us the writings, by the power of the Holy Spirit, by which we should judge those who came after; even the Early Church fathers. There are MANY places in the Scriptures themselves where ancient priests, and even St. Peter are rebuked for teaching things that were not imparted by the Holy Spirit.

    To wit: Jesus Himself refers to celibacy as an outside force; a calling.

    Matthew 19:12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

    In other words: Everyone is called one way or another. Even choosing that way makes it a calling, if he can accept it. (Some chose to be Nazirites, and some were dropped off as children.) St. Paul reinforces this in 1 Corinthians 7.

    Wherever anyone, even an Early Church Father, disagrees with the Scriptures, they are in error.

    I’m sure all of us can say we’ve lost count of the amount of times we’ve heard Christians describe marital sex as being “holy”. Sure, that’s true, if you take that statement that it’s “holy” at face value. Sex is set apart, consecrated for a purpose and a place. But I think that when most Christians say “holy” here, what they really mean is “sacramental”. This saying that “marital sex is holy!” is just dressing up pagan values in Christian cant.

    Ibid. What is called forth will be made sacramental. Not every Jew was called to be a Nazirite, but every Nazirite had peculiar sacraments.

    What is important about fasting or feasting is that we do either with the Lord, and that need supercedes custom.

    Mark 2:23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of[d] Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

    The whole chapter 2 of Mark deals with this question from every angle.

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