AND EVOLUTIONARY ALTRUISM
Celibacy has always been a cornerstone
of the Christian faith in my life experience and many of my family and friends
who grew up in the Church; however, the concept is not unique to the Christian faith.
A cumulative cross-cultural and evolutionary study on celibacy from Current Anthropology at the University
of Tennessee notes the existence of celibacy in Hindu and Buddhist monasteries
in addition to some pronatalist religions, Islamic dervish groups, and
Protestant communal organizations1.
Due to the presence of this no-kin phenomenon across faiths, I think it would
be advantageous to my research to start with a theory which applies to all
humans and reaches across religious differences: evolution. Reproduction is
what allows organisms to continuously adapt to their surroundings; therefore, an
adaptation to abstain from reproduction may seem counter-productive. Throughout
this paper I will attempt to use the evolutionary theory of altruism as well as
Biblical text analyses to gain a fuller understanding of the Christian
second-century sect of the Encratites’ practice of sexual asceticism.
must consider the evolutionary benefits of no-kin practices. The benefits of
not producing offspring is best summarized by this quote from Qirko, “Evolutionary
theory predicts that individuals may sacrifice themselves for the benefit of
genetic relatives, and humans generally recognize kin by means of indirect cues2.”
In other words, if one chooses not to bear offspring they will then have more
time to care for their other relatives, which is ultimately an act of altruism.
The effect of celibate person on a society depends on how said person spends
their life; furthermore, we can ascertain that celibacy is intended to have an
altruistic effect on the person’s local community and/or the larger global context.
By sacrificing the possibility of procreation, they are able to focus on the
issues of their family and community.
identified the intentional philosophy behind celibacy, we can begin to delve
into the second-century Christian Encratite explanation and history of
To begin our thinking about the Encratites, I
would like to start with a short introduction. The early Encratites taught
within the Catholic Church in Alexandria about 200 AD.3
“The origins of this form of asceticism were eschatological and Christological.”4
The Encratites rejected marriage because they were concerned with how they
would be judged post-mortem. This is because Jesus said after his resurrection
that there would be no more marriage.5
Because He had already risen, marriage was to be no more; additionally, the
Encratites wanted to live like the Son of Man who was single, poor, and
motivation for the Encratites not to taste the forbidden fruit was the concept
of Original Sin; the forbidden fruit understood to be fornication.7
They said that birth created bitterness.8
By having children, one created another life that would have to endure
suffering and eventually die; furthermore, since the resurrection had already occurred,
it was their job to spread the word of God because judgment day was coming.
TATIAN, IRENAEUS AND EUSEBIUS
the Encratites were a gnostic sect, their way of life was not well-received in
the Roman Catholic congregation. Tatian adopted their philosophy and was met
with criticism from Irenaeus in his book, Irenaeus
Against Heresies. Within Rome, Irenaeus is a voice of apostolic authority. Irenaeus
commented on the doctrines of Tatian, the Encratites, and others who are committing
similar heresy, saying that these people are making up their own doctrines and
that is not okay with him.
felt that the anti-marriage and vegetarian sentiments within Encratite
philosophy were “setting aside the original creation of God, and indirectly
blaming Him who made the male and female for the propagation of the human race.9”
The Encratites also were described as ungrateful to God because they did not
Irenaeus additionally targeted Tatian, saying after he broke away from the Church
he became arrogant and pronounced marriage to be “nothing else but corruption
believes that Tatian is conceited in thinking that his doctrine is original in
any sense. The apostolic authority of Irenaeus asserted the idea of sexual asceticism
had been composed by Marcion and Saturninus.12
Irenaeus is not the only church authority who confirmed this information;
Eusebius also credits Marcion and Saturninus in book four of Ecclesiastical History for the
philosophical roots of Encratism.13
THE JUDGMENT OF TATIAN THE ASSYRIAN
fair for Tatian to endure all of this criticism from church officials? The essay
Tatian, The Assyrian by William L.
Petersen, New Testament scholar, lends an alternate viewpoint to Tatian’s work.
Petersen has structured
his work through a chronological thought process about Tatian and his writing. The
author uses this structure in order to first establish why one should care
about Tatian by identifying his popular texts. Then the author looks at Tatian
himself and how his personality contributed to his criticism.14
author employs an argument which takes into consideration which factors helped
paint Tatian as a heretic and concludes that it wasn’t only because of his
theology but his presentation and personality. The thesis is “Had Tatian been
active only in the East, then he probably would not be known as a heretic. There
is one more factor that must be mentioned as well: heresy is frequently not
only a question of theology,
timing, and location; it is also a matter of personality and presentation. And
Tatian’s personality seems, in no small measure, to have contributed to his
problems with the church in Rome.”15
The structure of Petersen’s work enhances his
argument by giving each piece of the argument a subsection within the article.
To know about Tatian’s personality you have to look at his work. To know why
there were opponents to his work one has to look at the opponents’ argument and
decide if they are valid.
I think this is a good
argument because it uses the primary source of Irenaeus to back up the
personality part of the argument. Irenaeus says that now that Tatian has become
a teacher he’s arrogant. That is the only indication of Tatian’s arrogance is
in Irenaeus’ writings, and he doesn’t back up his information. The text that is
referenced by Petersen is actually a compilation of Irenaeus’ arguments about
different heretics, but Irenaeus does not back up the claims in his arguments.
It seems like Irenaeus is trying to keep people from questioning the power or
ways of the Roman Empire.
When I read Irenaeus’ charge
against Tatian I was astonished at the immaturity of the writing and lack of
evidence. According the Irenaeus, thinking for oneself and questioning doctrine
shows that someone is getting a little too big for their boots.
The first subheading of the
essay speaks on the surviving work we have from Tatian. We only have one: the Oratio. Within the surviving text,
Tatian criticizes the Greeks as well as proves that Chrisitanity is superior to
The next subheading is over Tatian’s life, intellectual
interests, and teachers. Also, it is
in this section that we find out Tatian is a convert; this fact makes me more
trusting of his argument knowing that he had an outsider’s perspective on
Christianity and then decided to adopt the religion.17
One finds out that Tatian is eventually kicked out of the Roman
congregation. I find this to be important because it shows that he was a
teacher that the Roman Church did not like and wanted out.
The personality of Tatian can be inferred from his writing. Tatian
often writes in the first person and this, according to the writer, indicates
self-absorption.18 Tatian is also described
as stubborn, arrogant, and intolerant. Petersen seems to think this is a result
of his intellect. I would have to agree; when a person criticizes the dominant
culture they are going to be seen as arrogant for simply assessing the culture
in front of them. Petersen also notes that such personalities are also found in
prominent Christian theologians.
Regarding the charges brought
against Tatian, Petersen reminds us that the ascetic practices of celibacy and
vegetarianism were not new at the time, giving us some perspective on
asceticism within Christianity.19
He also reminds us that one way to discredit someone quickly in those days was
to call them a heretic.20
The charges against Tatian are correct, but they aren’t wrong. I am convinced
in this argument that Tatian was called a heretic but not for the right
Petersen uses Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical history as a primary source
and used it well. Though Eusebius is a prominent figure, one pitfall is that Petersen
will be subject to the bias of the writer. The use of primary sources
influences the arguments he can make in the way that everything is biased to
the author. Maybe the author could’ve used a non-Christian journal to give an
unbiased view of the situation; however, I realize the Church was the main
recorder of information in that time.
Emily Hunt’s book, Christianity in the
Second-Century: the Case of Tatian, she believes that due to proximity, the
Gospel of Thomas reflects Tatian’s philosophy
within Syriac texts21.
Jesus presents himself as Judas Thomas in the gospel; Hunt is convinced that
Judas Thomas is a parallel character to Tatian’s prophets in the way that they
are both ascetics and using their spiritual clarity to help reveal God to
draws the parallel between the Syriac text of the Acts of Thomas and Tatian’s text, Oration, from the weddings in both23.
Not only is there evidence of Tatian’s philosophy of celibacy, but also Hunt
adds that the scene in the temple in the Acts
of Thomas is identical to a scene written prior to this that is found in
chapter sixteen of Oration. In the beginning
of the Acts of Thomas, Judas Thomas prevents
a regal wedding from taking place, “He commands the young couple to reject
intercourse and introduces them to the ‘incorruptible and true marriage’, by which
is clearly meant a spiritual union.”24
A physical, earthly marriage was depicted as inferior to a heavenly marriage,
which was founded in celibacy. Likewise in virtue, according to Hunt, a
recently married couple in Oration was
convinced to convert their union to one of the Spirit.25
Throughout the book, Hunt gives many more salvation similarities between the
two texts; however, it is important to note Hunt’s acknowledgment of the discrepancies
between the texts, which is the radical shift to include the sacraments in the Acts of Thomas.26
I am convinced of Hunt’s argument because it takes into consideration the geography
and history of Tatian’s texts which circulated Assyria. She also gives multiple
citations of comparable stories both of the texts, including places in the text
where Tatian’s philosophy appears. As any good researcher would do, Hunt
included parts of her text exploration that weren’t conducive to her thesis,
but were recurring themes in a piece which a reader needs to know in order to
grasp the content as holistically as possible.
biblical text the Encratites used to promote their philosophy of celibacy is
Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians.27 Price uses Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians as a
primary source to support his argument. The letter itself contains multiple
arguments which support sexual asceticism.
Within the Paul’s letter he agrees that sexual asceticism is suitable
for when a couple wants to offer prayers. “Do not deprive each other except by
an agreement for a time, in order to be free for prayer.”28
He goes on to state that married people cannot serve God with all their hearts
because they are worried about providing for their families. This argument
makes perfect sense to me.
In contrast to Paul’s realistic portrayal of the responsibilities
and worries of family life, he agrees that “continence cannot be imposed on all
the baptized,”29 and this is because “it
is better to marry than to be on fire.”30
Furthermore, we can still take from the reading of Paul’s letter that even
though he recognizes marriage as an acceptable alternative, he still recognizes
sexual asceticism as the better choice for one’s spirituality.31
Price cites a parable from Luke in which a man throws a big
I also appreciate that Price uses mostly the same sources to speak
on the beliefs of the Christians who practice celibacy; this shows he is comfortable
working with the sources and can navigate them easily. Historians who use
primary sources such as Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians are at the mercy of
the people who wrote, translated, and re-wrote the letter. Also, the source may
have a widely accepted message that could inhibit the researcher from actually
getting at the heart of the message. The use of historical documents limits him
to a historical viewpoint which can be difficult in terms of finding reliable
Coxe, A. Cleveland. 1989. The Apostolic Fathers
with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans. (print
Eusebius, and Roy Joseph Deferrari. 1953. Eusebius
Pamphili ecclesiastical history. New York: Fathers of the Church,
Inc. (print book)
Hunt, Emily J. 2003. Christianity in the Second
Century : The Case of Tatian. London: Routledge, 2003. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed
November 10, 2017).
Qirko, H. (2002).
The Institutional Maintenance of Celibacy. Current Anthropology, 43(2), 321-329. doi:10.1086/339380
Quispel, Gilles, and J. van Oort. 2008. Gnostica, Judaica, Catholica : Collected Essays of Gilles Quispel. Leiden: Brill, 2008. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed November 10, 2017).
Price, Richard M. “Celibacy and Free Love in Early
Christianity.” Theology & Sexuality: The Journal of the Institute for
the Study of Christianity & Sexuality 12, no. 2 (January 2006): 121–41.
Marjanen, Antti, and Petri Luomanen. 2008. A Companion to Second-century Christian ‘heretics’. Leiden: Brill NV, 2008. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed November 10, 2017).
1 Qirko, H. (2002).
The Institutional Maintenance of Celibacy. Current Anthropology, 43(2), 323.
2 Qirko, 321.
4 Quispel, Gilles,
and J. van Oort. 2008. Gnostica, Judaica, Catholica :
Collected Essays of Gilles Quispel. Leiden: Brill, 2008. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed November 10, 2017). 342.
9 Coxe, A. Cleveland.
1989. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Grand
Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans. (print book) 353.
13 Eusebius, and Roy Joseph Deferrari. 1953. Eusebius
Pamphili ecclesiastical history. New York: Fathers of the Church,
Inc. (print book) 267.
14 Marjanen, Antti,
and Petri Luomanen. 2008. A Companion to Second-century
Christian ‘heretics’. Leiden: Brill NV, 2008. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed
November 10, 2017). 136.
15 Marjanen, 156.
16 Marjanen, 128.
17 Marjanen, 130.
18 Marjanen, 134.
19 Marjanen, 139-140
20 Marjanen, 146.
Emily J. 2003. Christianity in the Second Century : The Case
of Tatian. London: Routledge, 2003. eBook Collection
(EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed
November 10, 2017). 155
22 Hunt, 157.
26 Hunt, 159.
27 Richard M. Price, “Celibacy and Free Love
in Early Christianity,” Theology & Sexuality: The Journal of the
Institute for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality 12, no. 2 (January