gospels and acts appeared that espoused the central tenets of Encratism, such as the Acts of Judas Thomas and The Protoevangelium of James. The widespread circulation of these writings in the fourth century and beyond is evidence of the continued attraction of radical renunciation among Christians.
In the third century two writers appeared who would exercise a profound influence on the subsequent shape of Christian thought. The North African Tertullian (fl. c. 197-220) vigorously defended marriage against Marcionite attack (Adversus Marcionem 1.29.6-7). But under the influence of the 'New Prophecy', which proclaimed the imminent end of this age, Tertullian also spoke of marriage as a 'sin' and barely preferable to fornication. Commenting on Paul's famous dictum in 1 Corinthians 7.9 ('It is better to marry than to burn'), Tertullian argued that marriage is 'good' merely by comparison with something evil and, therefore, 'it is not so much a good as it is a kind of lesser evil' (De exhortatione ad castitatem 3). In the fourth century Tertullian's rigour was to find new expression (sometimes verbatim) in the ascetical writings of Jerome.
Another influential third-century author, Origen of Alexandria, likewise bequeathed to posterity a view of sex, marriage and family life that closely resembled the rigorist stances of Tatian and Tertullian. Because Origen believed that God had created the material world as a response to the fall of pre-existent rational spirits, he viewed the body, and sexuality in particular, as fraught with ambiguity. Since the goal of rational creatures was to return to their pre-lapsarian state of spiritual contemplation, sexual activity was regarded as a dangerous distraction from the spiritual life. As Origen put it in his Fragments of commentary on First Corinthians:
Do not think that the body is meant for sexual intercourse, just because 'the stomach is meant for food and food for the stomach' [cf. 1 Corinthians 6.13]. If you want to know the chief reason for the existence of the body, take note: It is meant to be a temple for the Lord, and the soul is meant to be holy and blameless, to serve as a handmaid to the Holy Spirit and to become a priest to the Holy Spirit that is within you. For Adam had a body in paradise, and yet it was not in paradise that 'Adam knew his wife Eve' [Genesis 4.1], but when he had been expelled after the disobedience.11
In the fourth and fifth centuries, enthusiasm for monasticism and other forms of ascetic practice reinforced the anti-sexual sentiments inherited from the
11 Origen, On 1 Cor., frag. 29; text in Jenkins, 'Origen on I Corinthians', JTS 9 (1908): 370. Origen's teaching on marriage and celibacy has been thoroughly studied by Henri Crouzel, Virginité et mariage selon Origéne; see also P. Brown, Body and society, 160-77.
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