Vow of Chastity
By: Yvette

Modern and Medieval times are two eras that share some differences and similarities. One of the major distinctions is sex. Although sex is not a new phenomenon, the personal consideration of how and why a person chooses to govern themselves sexually can be viewed as an occurrence of one. When the issue of an individual’s sexual activity is considered within the context of present times, the ideas of chastity and virtue are not dominant nor are they common aspects that are widely shared. Today’s society and some religious sects within the Christian community have evolved to a new level of thought that includes tolerance; while typically it has frowned upon freely exercising the freedom of sexual activity outside the realm of marriage (McNamara, J. Sexual Equality and the Cult of Virginity In Early Christian Thought p. 151). Intercourse within the confines of marriage has been the rule yet; the exception is that however an adult chooses to privately conduct their sex life is permitted-even within the institution of the Christian church.
The early Christian church during the Middle Ages encouraged sexual integrity among people who desired to live a life that reflected sexual virtue (McNamara, J. p. 151). Not only did the life of Christ serve as an example, but the heroic example of the Virgin Mary was praised (McNamara, J. p. 152). The holy mother of God solidified that, “virgin life was [put in place] to achieve perfection in sanctity (McNamara, J. p. 152)." The thought of deterring women from marriage was furthered by the religious institution by an obvious conclusion that, “From best to worst, marriage is a state of bondage from which the only escape is celibacy” (McNamara, J. p. 151). Benefits of chaste living were also promoted in the church with statements such as:
At the very least, the virgin woman could expect release from the governance of a husband and the chains of children. She [would be] free of the burden of worldly cares and responsibilities that weighed her sisters down. On a higher plane, she was almost free of the mortal coil itself (McNamara, J. p. 151).
This idea assisted many holy women in their decision to embrace the vow of celibacy which was practiced throughout Christendom.
The mantra of Christianity has hinged upon the attempt to emulate Christ in all aspects that pertain to life. The religious elements presented by Christianity have been a part of the lives of humans for centuries and the demonstration of an individual’s seriousness concerning those elements have varying degrees. One approach a person can take in exemplifying Christ is by making a vow to God. A person, who has subscribed to the principles of Christ’s teachings and applied the concept of change, allows them to arrive at a particular place in their faith that would require a form of sexual denial. An essential area of the Christian lifestyle where this may be achieved is within the vow of chastity.

Among the heightened spread of Christianity, commitment to this religious institution included the vow to abstain from sex. To be chaste is demonstrated by one who is sexually virtuous, presents themselves as decent, modest and simplistic in style (Agnes, M., & Laird, C. (2007)Webster’s New Dictionary & Thesaurus p.87). The vow of chastity is a solemn promise or statement made mainly within the context when a religious order is entered into (Agnes, M., & Laird, C. p.603). Though it is not unusual for men and women to share in the solemn oath and commitment of sexual abstinence, the usual context of the word chastity is generally associated with women. In order to
understand the vow chastity and what it is meant by living an abstinent life, married with ideals presented by the early church must be explored.
Despite church doctrine which stated, “. . . with God there is neither male nor female (McNamara, J. p. 145); patriarchs of the early Christian church had a number of beliefs about women and the effects of their sexual nature (McNamara, J. p. 145). “In at
least one case, this exclusion was defended on the grounds that the natural pollution of the female body rendered women ineligible to participate in the sacrifice of the altar (McNamara, J. p. 146)." Initially, women were not looked upon overall as a favorable asset to the religious community; and were even excluded from public worship (McNamara, J. p. 145). These ideals included laymen as well as male clerics being tempted to the point of physically responding to women. Even the conflict of the biological process of menstruation which was thought to make a woman unclean. The fifth century church had “Substantial numbers of Christians [that] embraced the extremist position that women were to be identified with the flesh, flesh with the world, and the world with evil itself (McNamara, J. p. 146)." The early church clung to this ideal and implemented it throughout its constitutions and doctrines.

Since the church favored women living a sexually pure life it had to provide an atmosphere for that was conducive for nuns to execute their vows in a community of sanctity. Large groups of celibate women that lived separated from the world should have placed them in a setting that spiritually and physically provided protection however, that was not always the case. Cloistered living quarters on occasion were invaded and the sanctified women suffered attacks. In 865 A.D., this was the case for those who lived within the monastic living quarters of Kent (Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence: The Old English “Juliana”, Anglo-Saxton Nuns, and the Discourse of Female Monastic Enclosure, p.658). An Anglo-Saxton Chronicle recorded the attack of approximately 41 convents by the Danes (Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence. ..p.658). It seemed that although these cloistered communities of Christian women were aligned with the power and protection of God, they still had to contend with the opposing force of evil in the world (Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence. ..p.658). The holy people of Kent paid money to the “heathen army” that camped at Thanet to maintain peace (Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence. ..p.658). Truly representative of the opposing nature of the devil, that night the army came inland and ravaged almost every convent of that area by physical and sexual assault, followed by arson (Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence. ..p.658). The attack against the monastic communes was so fierce that, “only nine houses for women in Britain remained (Schulenburg 1989, 222)”; (Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence. ..p.658).

The church offered an, “affirmation of the value of female chastity and the ideological negotiations at work in a monastic “discourse of enclosure’- a system that dictated that the female religious must remain inviolate, impermeable to either spiritual or physical invaders. . .” (Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence. ..p.658). But history that included the Vikings’ invasion suggested, “…a number of Anglo-Saxton nuns in fact did endure physical persecution and torture…” (Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence. ..p.660). The place that made sure that the women were closed off in an impermeable fortress from evil intrusions, was a tangible representation of their solemn oath of purity to God (Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence. ..p.660). Because of the attacks and tortures suffered by the nuns, “the protective cloister [in many cases] may [have] become a tomb (Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence. ..p.671). Due to the realistic threat that remained after these violent events, the faith of cloistered women had to be restored, and this occurred through literature (Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence. ..p.671).
The stewardship of the nuns’ sexual purity was a, “spiritual battle to keep [their] body enclosed and…impenetrable by any sort of pagan forces” (Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence. ..p.672). Nuns clung desperately to their vow of chastity and were encouraged, “to defend their virginity” (Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence. ..p.671). “Stories of virgin martyrdom, then, both confirm Christian ideology and create a context in which the nuns have responsibility for their own spiritual safety” (Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence. ..p.671). The literary work that recorded the legendary life of Saint Juliana of Nicomedia served as one inspirational text (Garnett, J.M. (1899). The Latin and the Anglo-Saxton Juliana). It was the hope that Juliana would serve as a clear definition of how to defend chastity from the female perspective (Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence. ..p.660).
The sainted woman Juliana, was a perfect Christian model; holy virgin martyr and heroine (Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence. ..p.660). At age nine her father Affricanus of Nicomedia promised her hand in marriage to a man of wealth named Eleusius (Garnett, J.M. (1899). The Latin and the Anglo-Saxton Juliana p.280). By the time Juliana was 18; she was a Christian and had given a vow of chastity to God (Garnett, J.M. (1899). The Latin and the Anglo-Saxton Juliana p.280). When she refused, both her father and fiancée tried to coerce her to renounce her vow (Garnett, J.M. (1899). The Latin and the Anglo-Saxton Juliana p.280). The two men used, “persuasion and. . .punishments of various kinds-scourging, hanging by the hair, torturing on the wheel, and imprisonment in a dungeon” (Garnett, J.M. (1899). The Latin and the Anglo-Saxton Juliana p.280). It was during the times she was brought to tribunal and of imprisonment that she would emphatically defend her purity and show herself heroic through the grace of God (Garnett, J.M. (1899). The Latin and the Anglo-Saxton Juliana p.280).
After prayer, Juliana followed the instruction she received from God and confronts, seizes and scourges satan who appeared to her deceptively as an “angel of light” (Garnett, J.M. (1899). The Latin and the Anglo-Saxton Juliana p.281). Eleusius again summoned her before a tribunal and Juliana was seen dragging her demonic opposition with her (Garnett, J.M. (1899). The Latin and the Anglo-Saxton Juliana p.281). Although Juliana went on to suffer and miraculously survive additional tortures such as; being plunged into a bath of hot lead that left her unharmed but killed 75 on-lookers, and also decapitation, for which there was, “no remedy. . .found” (Garnett, J.M. (1899). The Latin and the Anglo-Saxton Juliana p.280). Saint Juliana proved to be the exemplary Christ model in that she endured all for the sake of commitment to God and salvation; “her constancy converts [an estimated] 500 men and 130 women” (Garnett, J.M. (1899). The Latin and the Anglo-Saxton Juliana p.280). Juliana was able to overcome because,” (The love of Christ was firmly enclosed in her heart [233-b-234])” (Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence. ..p.667). Her parting words serve as the ideal stance of faith one should take, “build your houses on firm rock, so you will not be shattered by the coming fierce winds (Allen & Calder 1976,32)” Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence. ..p.662).
It is evident that the struggle between good and evil, flesh and spirit, and Divine will over the lust of the flesh has existed throughout the ages of time. An individual’s willingness to subdue their flesh and abstain, living a life without sex, marriage or children for the cause of faith is more than admirable. According to the nuns in Kent and the life of Juliana, it requires more than human strength to sustain such a vow. Despite the choice to live and vow one’s sexual purity at the invocation of religious authority or personal desire, virginity is a unique gift that can symbolize a deep commitment to self and God at the benefit of eternal salvation.

Saint Juliana- St. Julianahttp://t2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcT3TnArnZiwdEbRCN7q6drGxBIkQSDirdJ2N_QH7y2NxwBUnw2gEA
Saint Juliana dragging demon-St. Juliana dragging demonhttp://4.bp.blogspot.com/_uACq96G7tSs/SnleCU27XlI/AAAAAAAAAeM/gjnnpQgU0Ws/s400/Feti-Bl+Juliana+of+Nicomedia.jpg


Agnes, M., & Laird, C. (2007). Webster’s New Dictionary and Thesaurus. Cleveland, OH: Wiley Publishing, Inc.
Garnett, J.M. (1899). The Latin and the Anglo-Saxton Juliana. PMLA, Modern Language Association, Vol. 14(3), 279-298. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/456639.
Horner, S. (1994, Spring). Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence: The Old English “Juliana”, Anglo-Saxton Nuns, and the Discourse of Female Monastic Enclosure. Signs, The University of Chicago Press, Vol. 19(3), 658-675. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3174773.
McNamara, J. (1976, Spring-Summer). Sexual Equality and the Cult of Virginity in Early Christian Thought. Feminist Studies, Vol.3 (¾), 145-158. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3177733.

Wiki Analysis #1
April 23, 2011

Analysis: Sexual Equality and the Cult of Virginity in Early Christian Thought, Jo Ann McNamara, Feminist Studies, Vol.3, No. ¾ (1976) pp.145-158

Focus: It would be all too easy to gather a large body of evidence exposing their fear of the seduction of women and their revulsion against their physical functions. In moments of moral passion, normally prudent preachers and writers were all too prone to lapse into diatribes against the offensive behavior and questionable moral capacity of women…For some time now; both feminist and anticlerical writers have made this literature familiar to us all.

Early Christianity
institutional teachings

Rarely favored women & excluded them from worship gatherings. Women seen as weak & excluded from rigorous practices.
Excluded women from the priesthood & altar sacrificing because they were thought to be naturally polluted.

Judaism credited the fall of man with the 1st woman Eve.
Procreation was seen as instrument of the devil in the context of the eternal struggle w/God.
The seduction & moral capacity of women was feared. (5th cent.) Women were associated w/flesh, and flesh w/the world.
Church sought to reconcile by recognizing women differed from men maternally & as wives.
The church acknowledged doctrine stating there is no male/female in God.
balancing of the sexes with the writing of Paulinus of Nola: “You are her head in Christ and she is your foundation
Consecrated virginal young women were not permitted to conduct business (buy/sell goods in the marketplace). It was believed only their bodies would remain virgin-not their spirits.
Sexual equality illustrated by the incarnation of God as a man being born of a virginal woman, thus making both sexes holy.
Virginity praised throughout literature. Virginal women choosing husbands was thought to be offensive.
Tertullian: “Every Christian woman is obliged to obey the will of God”

Choosing a life of chastity meant a life completely devoted to God.
Women would rather disobey their husbands than abandon their virtue. Punishment was a consequence that sometimes caused the wife to be sacrificed.

Choosing to a chaste life released women from the responsibility of wifely duties and the burden of caring for children.
Chaste Women were viewed as the “Bride of Christ”

Women denied themselves & remained virgins to emulate the Virgin Mary who was seen as honorable. Church clerics periodically would call them in to verify their virginity was still in tact.
Believed to be ranked among the 1st saints in heaven.

Virginity seen as a masculine quality.
The sexually pure viewed as part of a spiritual hierarchy.

Men went to extremes making themselves eunuchs for the sake of heaven.
A life virginity would allow a life free from the vices present in the world and fulfilling devotion to God.

Implications: The idea and vow of living a life of virginity is held in high esteem by the church and most likely encouraged because of the church’s view of women. Thankfully some early clerics’ writings that once stated the thoughts of women’s existence as negative and consequently viewed as polluted, unclean and a liability to men in terms of their faith were eased over time. Ultimately women saw their virtuous lives as a way to express their worship, dedication and overall devotion to God. The extreme idea of virginity was exemplified by my men who castrated themselves in display of their faith. Overall, I think that physically checking or even questioning one’s vow of chastity is crossing the line. I view chaste living as a private devotion to God.

Wiki Analysis #2
April 23, 2011

Analysis: Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence: The Old English “Juliana”, Anglo-Saxon Nuns, and the Discourse of Female Monastic Enclosure, Shari Horner, Signs, Vol. 19, No. 3 (1994), pp. 658-675

Focus: Like most hagiography, Anglo-Saxton female saints’ lives are profoundly concerned with the manipulation of the virginal body and the protection of that body when it is threatened-as nearly always is –by exposure, torture, mutilation, or rape... Moreover,...the implications the poem may have had for Anglo-Saxton female religious audiences facing both monastic ideals of chastity and the real and immediate threat of violence and rape during the Scandinavian invasions of England.

Religious Women
Monastic Living

Eleusis & Affricanus reject Christian Wisdom.
“Juliana” accounts recorded in Old English poem/Legend. The account of Juliana was written to strengthen the faith of cloistered women.
values chaste living & requires a closed female body-in tact

Eleusis visits pagan idols & goes against the Word of God.
Juliana-Virginal Christian martyr willingly accepted death rather than sex/marriage.
8th-11th cent. Anglo-Saxton Monastic homes were attacked because of geographic location (Sheppey & Thanet).
Eleusis relates his lust & desire for Juliana to idol worship.
Juliana seen as a hero for her faith & her vow; endured persecution
Attacks by the Scandinavians (Danes/Vikings) often burned convents w/nuns inside.
Affricanus promises Juliana to Eleusis in marriage.
Monastic women viewed rape worse than dying.
Few monastic living quarters survived the attacks. In Britain only 9 remained.
Affricanus is ignorant to Juliana’s vow to God. He opposes it & insists that she marry.
Holy women were at fault if they were violated.
Convents by design were to be an impermeable fortress and physically represented the spiritual chaste vow.

Eleusis & Affricanus face public humiliation & become enraged. They see her as stubborn.
Holy women defended their sexual integrity by self mutilation, suicide or murder.
Monastic rule dictated the female life enforcing a strict system that cloistered living required.

Eleusis orders the public humiliation & torture of Juliana.
Juliana survives every form of torture ordered by Eleusis
The record of attacks inspired literary works to be written of virgin martyrs’ lives to encourage Anglo-Saxton nuns.

The devil reveals himself & his agenda to Juliana.
The religious receive spiritual assistance to stand against violators/the devil.

The religious place a great value on the soul & significantly the body because it encases the soul.

Implications: A vow is a very serious promise and to make a promise that involves what you will and will not experience takes a deep level of commitment. To choose a monastic life means a life of absolute commitment to God that affects your body. It goes deeper than the denial of food for a period of time for the sake of fasting. I cannot imagine mutilating myself, killing myself or even another sainted sister in the faith to keep my virginity. But I acknowledge that I am looking at this vow from the other side of chastity and maybe would think differently if I were dedicated to God with a monastic fervor. In today’s society men and women alike should certainly place value on their souls; but more importantly the value of the body that encases it (in terms of sexuality) is not endeared as the creation of God as it should be.

**I enjoyed reading and learning all of this information about chastity. It is an interesting topic and you shared a lot of great information. I can tell you did a lot research and I like that you added picture links to your page! I myself tried to post a photo but it did not work so I should have done the link like you did ;) As far as critiquing goes, I think you did a good job on your wiki page you definitely shared lots of information about the vow of chastity and your analysis have good argument. I did catch some grammar errors and fixed some of them. One thing I noticed is when making a quote you want to put the " last and not before the reference for example, "....... (Smith)." not "...." (Smith). Also make sure to include your name and title I added it to the top for you :)