Greek Fathers on Human Sexuality and Eden (a Few Brief Comments)

Someone on a closed group posted a question about why several Greek church fathers would have taught that Eve was a virgin until after she left Eden. Someone else pointed out that, in this case, Adam would have also been a virgin before leaving the garden, and it was noted that Irenaus mentions Adam’s virginity as also significant. There was some continued speculation about why Eve’s virginity gets more comment. Most comments, however, focused on the theology involved—such as teachings about the fall of humanity. In any case, one comment that I made was appreciated, and I wanted to record it for possible later use (along with a few other comments from the same thread).

Point of humor that I appreciated from an earlier comment:

…Much of this is above my pay grade.

My comment:

This thread is helpful, and I’ve learned a few things above my pay grade too. For what it’s worth, I’d take it as given that preoccupation with Eve’s virginity would be connected to bigger problems in relation to sexuality within our history together as humans. That’s likely true and well worth considering, but it does not make the teaching wrong of course.

For my part, I take some comfort in the pervasive idea (among the fathers) of Adam and Eve as pre-adult and innocent in the time leading up to their first sin. It actually puts the fall into its place as a very sad but also relatively simple thing that happened to us all. It’s not the epic crime scene or the premeditated rebellion that’s its sometimes made out to be. Our sins have grown far more “mature” since that first and collective fall. Also, there is some sense in which all of humanity has suffered in a kind of “arrested development” since the fall: Jesus Christ and his saints are the only “adults” among us. Anyway, I’m not sure that the idea of Adam and Eve being virgins when they fell is so much about sex as it is about many other things. When it comes to sex, the church’s teaching that I love most is the gentle and modest icon of the Conception of the Theotokos which shows the joyful and tender context in which sex can exist inside of the marriage sacrament.

Another later comment:

Panyotis Nellas’ book Deification in Christ talks about pre-fall procreation and post-fall. The “garments of skin” were not “animal skin clothing” (as I was always taught in my Protestant traditions), but our actual “fleshly existence”. Prior to the fall we had different “bodies” and our communion with each other was on a different (spiritual) level. After the fall, we are now clothed in a “fleshly existence” and subject to physical necessities and have a different kind of relationship to each other and creation. So in that sense, pre-fall procreation could be defined as “virginal” and post-fall as “fleshly” and subject to fallen “passions”.

Yet another later response:

There are things written about what procreation would have been like before the fall. The idea of Eve being a virgin has more to do with sin being primordial to humanity. All human beings after creation are conceived in sin, which is about the condition of Man, not the imputation of sinfulness to sexual intercourse.

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