"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Celibate Marriages?

Nearly a decade ago now, in a long and very rich article we published in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, Brian Butcher looked at the diverse and sometimes rather odd portraits of married saints as they emerge in the hymnody of the Byzantine tradition. That article was the basis for a book Brian published in 2009: Married Saints in the Orthodox Tradition: The Representation of Conjugality in the Sanctoral Hymnography of the Byzantine Rite.

At the very end of 2011, a new book was published that goes over some similar territory: Anne Alwis, Celibate Marriages in Late Antique and Byzantine Hagiography: The Lives of Saints Julian and Basilissa, Andronikos and Athanasia, and Galaktion and Episteme (Continuum, 2011), 352pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
This book explores the puzzling phenomenon of celibate marriage as depicted in the lives of three couples who achieved sainthood. Marriage without intercourse appears to have no purpose, especially in Christian antiquity, yet these three tales were copied for centuries. What messages were they promoting? What did it mean to be a virgin husband and a virgin wife? Including full translations, this volume sets each life in its historical context, and by examining their individual and shared themes, the book shows that the tension raised by pitting marriage against celibacy is constantly debated. It also highlights the ingenuity of Byzantine hagiographers as they attempted to reconcile this curious paradox. The book addresses a gap in late Antique and Byzantine hagiographic studies where primary sources and interpretative material are very rarely presented in the same volume. By providing a variety of contexts to the material a much more comprehensive, revealing and holistic picture of celibate marriage emerges. 

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