Sarah Ruden (via John Stonestreet) makes an interesting claim about the Roman Empire in the time of Paul:

Dreher cites classics scholar Sarah Ruden, whose book “Paul Among the Gentiles” was the subject of a BreakPoint three years ago. According to Ruden, “it’s profoundly ignorant to think of the Apostle Paul as a dour proto-Puritan descending upon happy-go-lucky pagan hippies, ordering them to stop having fun.” On the contrary, “Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture of the time . . .” Christianity “worked a cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male eros, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage—and marital sexuality—with love.” (from BreakPoint Commentary 5/23/2013)

While it is common to think of Classical Rome and Greece as morally decadent societies, I do find it surprising that sexual restraint was positively received as Christendom advanced.

Outside of Ruden's claim, are there are patristic sources that suggest the introduction of sexual restraint was positively received by Rome?

  • 2
    Might History be a better home for this? Does it matter if the source for this is patristic or could any collaborative evidence answer this?
    – Caleb
    Jun 3, 2013 at 14:41
  • I am reading a book that covers this topic, and I will try to make up an answer this week. tough I think this would be on topic on H.SE I think the community here would be more receptive to it.
    – user3961
    Jun 3, 2013 at 15:19
  • I vaguely recall Chesterton (or Lewis?) mentioning something like this in the context of Christianity naturally triumphing over paganism, not that the 20th Century would be considered part of the Patristic Period! (I would also not trust my memory!)
    – user3331
    Jun 3, 2013 at 18:22
  • I think I agree with fredsbend about the venue. While it might be interesting to see it over at H.SE, (and, if I don't get an answer in a few days, I might ask for it) I think I'm a lot safer for now. Plus, I like my score at history, and don't want it to change! Jun 3, 2013 at 19:23
  • Rodney Stark did write a book on the rise of Christianity. In Roman times, the society was patriarchal, favoring men over women. So, there was the practice of female infanticide and abortion. Christianity changed all that by condemning abortion and infanticide; I suppose that could be considered good, because that allows females the right to live.
    – Double U
    Jun 24, 2013 at 16:36

1 Answer 1


"Are there patristic sources that suggest the introduction of sexual restraint was positively received by Rome?"

This question is a little too broad I think - what do you mean by received "by Rome"?

Clearly it WAS well received by many; since there were lots of converts.

Clearly it WAS NOT well received by many others, even to the days of Charlemagne who had multiple wives and concubines, and teaching it was ridiculed by pagan contemporaries.

A few things are clear - the teaching was revolutionary. Concubinage was well accepted as a perfectly good alternative to marriage when marriage was not possible (perhaps due to class). Sexual rights to one's slave was considered natural. The man of the house had life and death over the entire household.

Certainly the teaching was more appealing to women, than to powerful men.

It is hard to know how a "common man" reacted, but again, there were many converts.

So although I am not at the moment recalling any specific sources commenting on the issue, I am sure that the claim is historically defensible even without direct commentary.

NOTE - Rome was not a "morally decadent society" to the extent as described by some. We have lots of evidence of pagan "moral philosophers" that taught many "Christian" values. To claim otherwise would be to claim that God completely abandoned pagans.

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