Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

The significant feature of this transformation is that it was a change from a group experience, in which all participants were equal, to a religion in which each individual was individually in relation with God, and individually responsible to a priest who was in authority over him. There were those in the new Church who had experience of divinity, but it was as a result of private meditation, and unsynchronized with the experience of others. It was a natural concomitant of this new authoritarian conception of religion that, whereas Christ had said that no one could become a Christian without deserting his family, now the Church laid great stress on the importance of the family, and of subservience to parental authority.

As the living religious experience was squeezed out of Christianity, it became necessary to substitute something. The substitutes found were masochistic self-torture, and the creation of an elaborate body of doctrine. The criterion of being a Christian ceased to be the ability to experience a certain change in oneself, and to manifest love as a result, and became willingness to believe in certain doctrines. The first step in this direction was the claim that Christ was both completely human and completely divine, which led to a very satisfactory series of disputes and the establishment of a corresponding number of heresies. Early Christians seem to have believed that He was born a man, but received divine powers at His baptism, and His baptism was the principal feast of the Church. The decision that He was divine from the moment of conception made is necessary to establish the Nativity as a major feast. Internal evidence suggests that Christ was born in the early autumn; it was not until the Church decided to try to overlay pagan feasts with Christian ones that the date was switched to January 6, and later to December 25 (the date of the principal Mithraic feast), which date was not claimed as the natal date of Christ until A.D. 354-77 When we consider the comparative uncertainty of our knowledge of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, despite the existence of printed records, we can imagine how speculative must have been many of the matters settled so definitely by Church councils in the third and fourth centuries A.D.

Parallel with the creation of doctrine went other changes, such as the building up of an ecclesiastical hierarchy, and a gradual depression in the status of women, who were deprived of the right to preach and baptize, which they had enjoyed in the Early Church. The transformation must have been effectively completed by 385 when the death penalty was introduced for ecclesiastical offences. Clearly the original glowing sense of love for one’s fellows had gone when one could coldly sentence them to death for disagreement on a doctrinal point. At almost exactly the same date, the Church, having concluded an agreement with the State, was empowered to persecute the followers of Mithra, which it did with immense savagery, slaying the Mithraic priests where they stood and pulling down their temples on top of them. So violent was the persecution, according to Marmotius, that farmers dared not look at the setting sun, nor sailors observe the sky, for fear of being slain as Mithraists. (49) Some of the fathers, such as Tertullian, protested against the Church’s abandonment of the doctrine of turning the other cheek, but in vain. Similar persecutions were launched against the worshippers of Serapis, and the books of those early teachers, such as Porphyry, who had sought the theoleptic experience, were burned.

From the psychiatric point of view, we can sum up the revolution wrought by the Early Church in different terms. The earliest Christians had sought to substitute the transcendence of sexual instincts for the technique of dealing with them by catharsis. The Church abandoned this device of sublimation for the principle of repression. But the issue was not Irrevocably decided. Interest in the alternative techniques was to flare up again and again in the centuries which followed, and his I shall now describe.