THE SAINT AND HIS VIRGIN
Sacred Sexuality in Early Christianity
and the Inner Teachings of Jesus
by Walter Last
The Gnostic Gospels as well as other writings point to a central role of sacred sexuality in early Christianity. No details of these practices seem to have survived as the Church later tried to erase all records. In the following I will show that, according to my understanding, these sacred sexual practices are central to the teachings of Jesus about the “Kingdom of Heaven”, and that they are still relevant in our time.
||The Unique and Authentic Image of the Master Jesus
Taken from an emerald cutting said to be engraved by order of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. It comes from the Treasure of Constantinople and was surrendered by the Sultan of Turkey to Pope Innocent VIII as ransom payment for his brother, held captive by the Christians. This image has been taken directly from the priceless emerald, belonging to the Vatican Treasury.
Historical Background Information
Early Christianity had a strong oral tradition of what Jesus had said and done, and this was only gradually written down. After the crucifixion the inner teachings of Jesus seem to have been the basis of Jewish Christianity under the leadership of James the Just, the first bishop of Jerusalem and the brother of Jesus. The innermost teachings were always kept secret and never written down, but even more general teachings went underground with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE, and especially after the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 CE.
At this time gentile Christians became the dominant group with their power base in Rome, and the original Essene-based Jewish Christians were increasingly being persecuted. The records of their teachings survived in hiding as the Gnostic Gospels ascribed to various disciples of Jesus. They have been rejected by the Roman church in favor of a version of the more general teachings and doctrines of Paul. The Church never acknowledged that Jesus had secret inner teachings for his disciples.
The apostle Paul did not know Jesus personally and seems to have had a different agenda than Jewish Christianity under the leadership of James. Only one of the letters of James is in the New Testament. Most of his writings were apparently destroyed by the church and survived only as part of the Gnostic Gospels. In contrast most of the New Testament writings are by Paul and his followers. Many of the Jewish Christian leaders rejected the writings of Paul in preference to oral transmissions from reliable sources.
Paul was subordinate to James, but after the scattering of Jewish Christianity the writings of Paul became the basis of Western Christianity. After the New Testament scripts had been selected based on Paul’s doctrines, writings with differing viewpoints, such as now found in the Gnostic Gospels, were declared as being heretical, and they and their owners were destroyed. Only some of them surfaced again in the last century; see www.gnosis.org.
While this greatly reduced the number of Gnostic Gospels that did survive, it also protected them from being creatively rearranged to correspond to changing church doctrines as apparently happened to Canonical Gospels in the New Testament . Furthermore, the Canonical Gospels are basically stories of happenings and parables, while the Gnostic Gospels are mainly collections of sayings and teachings of Jesus, and therefore more instructive.
The Kingdom of Heaven
In our modern perception we associate Jesus with the teaching of being “good and loving”, but a different picture emerges from the Gnostic Gospels, and even from parts of the New Testament and other writings.
For instance in the Gospel of Thomas Jesus said 16): “Men think, perhaps, that it is peace which I have come to cast upon the world. They do not know that it is dissension which I have come to cast upon the earth: fire, sword, and war. For there will be five in a house: three will be against two, and two against three, the father against the son, and the son against the father. And they will stand solitary.” Or in 10) Jesus said, “I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am guarding it until it blazes.”
According to this more hidden understanding Jesus was not greatly concerned with this world and did not try to improve it (e.g. “give Caesar what is Caesar’s”). Instead his teaching was centered on the kingdom of heaven, and the quickest way to get there.
It is clear that this kingdom is not just the afterlife but a special condition that actually is the goal of human existence, similar to the Nirvana of Buddhism or the highest goal of yoga. Jesus, Krishna and Buddha all taught special ways to overcome the human condition. In present New Age terminology these teachings are about ascending, and becoming an ascended master.
In order to enter the kingdom, we must first build a new and higher energy body that is superior to the normal human soul. This is the goal of many religious and spiritual traditions, such as Yoga, Tantra, Tao, Buddhism, Alchemy, Rosicrucians, Theosophy, New Age, and it can also be found in the Gnostic teachings of Jesus.
There is general agreement that this higher energy body is an “immortal light body”. Lao Tzu explained the light body thus: “It is self-aware yet without ego, capable of inhabiting a biological body yet not attached to it, and guided by wisdom rather than emotion. Whole and virtuous, it can never die” . In the last paragraph of the Gospel of Philip we read: “He who will receive that light will not be seen, nor can he be detained. And none shall be able to torment a person like this, even while he dwells in the world. And again when he leaves the world, he has already received the truth in the images.”
The interesting part is that all these different traditions agree that to build this immortal light body it is necessary to balance our male and female energies. In this light we can understand the widespread practice during the early stages of Christianity of devout Christian males living with their “virgins”.
Agape is Greek and defined as spiritual, selfless or universal love – in contrast to Eros being romantic or sexual love. Agapetae may be translated as the beloveds or holy virgins and described as holy virgins who personify and radiate universal love.
A further definition that needs to be cleared up is the term “virgin”. As I understand it, in biblical times a virgin simply was an unmarried young woman who was not a widow or a prostitute. Physical virginity was not the issue, although it may have been assumed. Early Christian texts often were in Greek, and there the word ‘parthenos’ was used which meant virgin but also maiden or young woman.
There is very little known about the spiritual sexual practices of these Christian males (agapeti) with their holy virgins (agapetae) because most of the writings that survived were polemics against this practice. It seems to have been widespread for several centuries until it was outlawed by the synod of Elvira (305 CE) and the Council of Nicea in 325 CE, and replaced with asceticism and monasticism, except for the clergy who could live with their subintroductae or housekeepers. This was the beginning of the suppression of sexuality in Christian societies, the consequences of which are still with us at present.
However, the practice seems to have survived in some form for several centuries longer. When looking for AGAPETI and AGAPETAE I found the following entry in the Dictionary of Religion & Ethics: “Monks and nuns of the early Middle Ages, who, while professing celibacy, dwelt together in what they called holy love. The practice was suppressed by the Lateran Council, 1139.”
The Cathars with their strong links to the Gnostics also encouraged chastity and avoidance of procreative sex. They became prominent in Southern France and neighboring countries from about 1000 CE to the middle of the 13th century when they were massacred by the papal army. Afterwards the Inquisition was established to eliminate any survivors and their teachings. There are also suggestions that the Cathars have been the protectors of the Holy Grail of Christian mythology. From the 15th century the gnostic tradition of sacred sexuality was cautiously carried on by the Rosicrucians who celebrated a mystical marriage, and later by the Alchemists in their search for the elexir of life.
Marnia Robinson in Spiritual Brides of Early Christianity and Andrew Moore at http://members.ozemail.com.au/~moorea/agapetae.html give many referenced examples of the polemic against the agapetae custom, which I do not want to repeat here but give just a few general descriptions.
“Our fathers,” Chrysostom begins, “only knew two forms of sexual intimacy, marriage and fornication. Now a third form has appeared: men introduce young girls into their houses and keep them there permanently, respecting their virginity.” And later he continues: “The virgin is free from these burdens (of a married woman). She retains her vigor and her youthfulness, and even at the age of forty may rival the young nubile girl (= teenager).” He also described all the loving care that these virginal sweethearts received even in public.
Desert ascetic St. Jerome wrote: “I blush to speak of it, it is so shocking; yet though sad, it is true. How comes this plague of the agapetae to be in the church? Whence come these unwedded wives, these novel concubines, these harlots, so I will call them, though they cling to a single partner? One house holds them and one chamber. They often occupy the same bed…”
Even St. Paul alludes to the agapetae in his first letter to the Corinthians:
7:36 – But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. 37 Nevertheless he that standeth steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. 38 So that he who marries his virgin does well, and he who refrains from marriage does better.
Here Paul clearly states that it was accepted practice for a Christian man to live with his virgin. If she got on in years and now wanted a conventional family or if she became pregnant, it was not a sin, and it was fine to marry. However, his preferred way was for them not to marry but just live together as a holy couple.
While Paul states in the first Corinthian that he is single, he seems to have acquired his own virgin some time later. The ACTS OF PAUL AND THECLA is a second Century apocryphal of St. Paul and his virgin Thecla. After hearing Paul preach in her home town on chastity, Thecla broke off her engagement which caused much trouble for herself and Paul. This text became very popular and was translated from the original Greek into a number of languages by the early church, and St. Thecla became the most famous of virgin martyrs.
Another reference to the agapetae may be a saying of Jesus according to the New Testament in Luke 23:29: “Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.” A similar saying is in 79) of the Gospel of Thomas. Here Jesus seems to say that remaining a virgin or practicing undefiled sex is preferable to reproductive sex.
There must have been a powerful reason that caused this agapetae phenomenon to erupt so suddenly and widely in our first century, and I believe that it was the teaching of Jesus of the Sacrament of the Bridal Chamber and his relationship with Mary Magdalene.
According to the Gnostic Gospels Mary Magdalene seems to have been the consort of Jesus and the first of the agapetae. In paragraph 59 of the Gospel of Philip  it says: “And the Consort of the Christ is Mariam the Magdalene. The Lord loved Mariam more than all the other Disciples, and he kissed her often on her mouth.”
In Chapter 9 of the Gospel of Mary Levi said to Peter: 8) “But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well. 9) That is why He loved her more than us.”
If Jesus and Mary Magdalene had been married it is unlikely that the disciples would have been upset about his affection for her. Therefore it is much more likely that this was a loving spiritual relationship.
The other aspect that concerned Peter and other disciples was Mary Magdalene’s role as a disciple because women had a rather low standing in their society. Even worse, after the crucifixion Jesus gave teachings to Mary Magdalene, which she passed on to the male disciples, so that she became the teacher or apostle to the apostles.
However, Mary Magdalene was not the only female in that group. There were also other women following Jesus and the disciples . In those times such women would either be wives or prostitutes. No further details are given, but these women do not seem to have been disciples in the way that Mary Magdalene was, and Peter did not voice any recorded objections against them. There are no indications that they were wives or prostitutes. This points to the possibility that they were the agapetae of some of the disciples.
Uniting Male and Female
According to all mystical and most religious traditions, in the beginning was the undivided Whole which split into its opposite parts, and their interaction created the multitude of manifestations. In regard to sexuality we see this when the androgynic Shiva-Shakti splits into the male Shiva and the female Shakti, or when the androgynic Adam-Eve splits into the separated Adam and Eve.
The idea is that a non-sexual or androgynic spiritual being manifests on a denser plane of existence by splitting into dualistic male and female parts. Conversely, to permanently ascend from a denser to a less dense plane, male and female need to permanently unite to become again whole or androgynic.
The commonly used term ‘androgynous’ may lead some to think of hermaphrodites with male and female sexual traits, or bisexual plants. However, the spiritual condition of androgyny (andro = male, gyny or gynic = female) is rather different and I prefer to refer to it as ‘androgynic’ rather than ‘androgynous’.
The androgynic condition, required to transcend the density level of three-dimensional humanity, commonly involves a body with normal male or female characteristics but with an additional higher energy body that is neither male nor female. We all have several energy bodies, such as the etheric and the astral bodies which are part of what we call the soul, and which may be visible to some psychics. But all of these bodies are polarized which then become manifest as our sexual characteristics. It is not yet clear to me if or how far hermaphrodites have balanced higher energy bodies.
The Gospel of Thomas speaks of the mystery of entering the kingdom of heaven when male and female become one: 22) “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the …..
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Source: THE SAINT AND HIS VIRGIN