Athenagoras, “Sexuality and Family Life”

Athenagoras was a contemporary of Marcus Aurelius.  Writing in the late second century, he described what he saw as Christian attitudes toward sex and family morals.

. . . But we are so far from practising promiscuous intercourse, that it is not lawful among us to indulge even a lustful look. “For,” saith He, “he that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery already in his heart “ [Matthew 5:28] Those, then who are forbidden to look at anything more than that for which God formed the eyes, which were intended to be a light to us, and to whom a wanton look is adultery, the eyes being made for other purposes, and who are to be called to account for their very thoughts, how can any one doubt that such persons practise self- control? For our account lies not with human laws, which a bad man can evade,. . . but we have a law which makes the measure of rectitude to consist in dealing with our neighbour as ourselves. On this account, too, according to age, we recognise some as sons and daughters, others we regard as brothers and sisters, and to the more advanced in life we give the honour due to fathers and mothers. On behalf of those, then, to whom we apply the names of brothers and sisters, and other designations of relationship, we exercise the greatest care that their bodies should remain undefiled and uncorrupted; for the Logos’ again says to us, “If anyone kiss a second time because it has given him pleasure, (he sins):” adding, “Therefore the kiss, or rather the salutation, should be given with the greatest care, since, if there be mixed with it the least defilement of thought it excludes us from eternal life.” (Probably from an Apocryphal gospel not included by the church in the New Testament)



Therefore, having the hope of eternal life, we despise the things of this life, even to the pleasures of the soul, each of us reckoning her his wife whom he has married according to the laws laid down by us, and that only for the purpose of having children. For as the husbandman throwing the seed into the ground awaits the harvest, not sowing more u on it, so to us the procreation of children is the measure of our indulgence in appetite.  Nay, you would find many among us, both men and women, growing old unmarried, in the hope of living in closer communion with God. But if the remaining in virginity and in the state of an eunuch brings us nearer to God, while the indulgence of carnal thought and desire leads away from Him, in those cases in which we shun the thoughts, much more do we reject the deeds. For we bestow our attention, not on the study of words, but on the exhibition and teaching of actions— that a person should either remain as he was born, or be content with one marriage; for a second marriage is only a specious adultery. “For whosoever puts away his wife, says He, “and marries another, commits adultery;” [Matthew 19:9] not permitting a man to send her away whose virginity he has brought to an end, nor to marry again. For he who deprives himself of his first wife, even though she be dead, is a cloaked adulterer, resisting the hand of God, because in the beginning God made one man and one woman, and dissolving the strictest union of flesh with flesh, formed for the intercourse of the race.