Nathan (vovat) wrote,

Paul and Thecla's Celibate Adventure

I just recently learned about Thecla, who was a quite significant figure in early Christianity, although her role has been downplayed considerably over the centuries. Her first known appearance was in the Acts of Paul and Thecla, believed to have been written in the second century. Thecla was a young virgin woman from Iconium, who was engaged to a man named Thamyris. After hearing Paul's preaching, however, she decided to remain chaste, which angered her mother and fiancé. They brought trumped-up charges against Paul, and had him cast out of the city. When Thecla took his side, her own mother ordered her burned at the stake, but a freak storm saved her life, and she became Paul's companion for a while. Another story had her thrown to the wild beasts, but a friendly lioness protected her from the other animals. Thecla later spent seventy-two years as an ascetic in a cave, presumably deciding that she'd had enough excitement as part of society.

Although Thecla is still recognized as a saint in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, her book is firmly considered apocryphal. I'm sure sexism has something to do with the suppression of this story, but Christianity also developed to the point where celibacy was no longer considered the ideal. There are still some remnants of the value of chastity, as with Catholic priests and nuns, and modern Christianity still tends to hold rather arbitrary views on sex. Paul basically said that it was better than remain virginal if possible, but it was okay to get married if you really couldn't hold in your lustful feelings. He thought the world was going to end soon, though, so he viewed human relations and reproduction as largely unimportant to the Christian lifestyle. When Jesus didn't show up, the church leaders presumably decided it was necessary for Christians to reproduce if the religion was going to survive, so sex was essentially changed from a totally bad thing to a thing that's bad unless done in a very specific way, in which case it's good. Thecla, who preferred to abstain from sex and marriage entirely, might not go over too well with today's Sanctity of Marriage Christians.
Tags: bible, religion

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