Has a repressive morality been the primary contribution of
Christianity to the history of sexuality? The ascetic concerns that
pervade ancient Christian texts would seem to support such a common
assumption. Focusing on hagiographical literature, Virginia Burrus
pursues a fresh path of interpretation, arguing that the early
accounts of the lives of saints are not antierotic but rather
convey a sublimely transgressive "countereroticism" that resists
the marital, procreative ethic of sexuality found in other strands
of Christian tradition.
Without reducing the erotics of ancient hagiography to a single
formula, The Sex Lives of Saints frames the broad
historical, theological, and theoretical issues at stake in such a
revisionist interpretation of ascetic eroticism, with particular
reference to the work of Michel Foucault and Georges Bataille,
David Halperin and Geoffrey Harpham, Leo Bersani and Jean
Baudrillard. Burrus subsequently proceeds through close,
performative readings of the earliest Lives of Saints, mostly
dating to the late fourth and early fifth centuries-Jerome's Lives
of Paul, Malchus, Hilarion, and Paula; Gregory of Nyssa's Life of
Macrina; Augustine's portrait of Monica; Sulpicius Severus's Life
of Martin; and the slightly later Lives of so-called harlot saints.
Queer, s/m, and postcolonial theories are among the contemporary
discourses that prove intriguingly resonant with an ancient art of
"saintly" loving that remains, in Burrus's reading, promisingly
mobile, diverse, and open-ended.
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