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Taylor G.


Gender and the History of Sexuality in Clement of

Alexandria and Epiphanes

Die Forschung hat Clemens von Alexandria als wichtigen Zeugen für das Verständnis
frühchristlichen Denkens über das Begehren betrachtet, das in einer Übergangs-
phase der Sexualitätsgeschichte aufkam. Clemens bietet Auszüge aus einem Traktat
des Epiphanes, eines konkurrierenden Christen und Vertreters des christlichen
Kommunalismus. Dieser Artikel überprüft die verschiedenen Positionen der beiden
christlichen Denker, um zu zeigen, inwiefern Fragen der christlichen Identität und des
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Geschlechts die Geschichte der Sexualität geprägt haben. In der Vergangenheit hat
die Verwendung essentialisierender Identitätskategorien in der Analyse beider Fi-
guren sowohl den Blick auf ihre Gemeinsamkeiten als auch auf den Kern ihrer
christlichen Lehren verstellt. Ihr Streit betraf nicht allein die Sexualethik, sondern
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bezog sich auch auf den sozialen Wert der Ehe, die Definition von Maskulinität und die
utopische Aufhebung sexueller Differenz.
Keywords: Clement of Alexandria, Epiphanes, sexual communalism, history of
sexuality, gender, utopianism

The scholarship about Clement of Alexandria’s treatment of desire has

tended to follow one of two major trajectories. In the first, scholars of the
history of sexuality have attempted to locate Clement’s views on desire in
the context of his Greek philosophical milieu in the Roman imperial pe-
riod. Since Michel Foucault and Peter Brown, the question of the history of
sexuality has often focused on looking for the sources of Christian morality
and sexual austerity in antiquity. These scholars have often placed Clement
of Alexandria in a prominent role in the history of sexuality for his views on
the desiring subject. Clement seems to offer something new when he de-
clares that not only should sexual intercourse between spouses occur for the
purpose of procreation, but also that it should occur without desire (ἐπι-
θυμία).1 In the second scholarly trajectory, feminist scholarship has treated

1 D. Hunter, “The Language of Desire: Clement of Alexandria’s Transformation of Ascetic

Discourse,” Semeia 57 (1992), 95–111. Hunter’s excellent analysis shows a sophisticated

Early Christianity 9 (2018), 319–341 DOI 10.1628/ec-2018-0022

ISSN 1868-7032 © 2018 Mohr Siebeck
320 Taylor G. Petrey

Clement’s view of desire as it relates to gender. Clement, like many of his

second-century Christian contemporaries, imagined an eschatological
future that fulfilled the promises of Gal 3:28 that there would be “no longer
male and female.” He saw desire as a feminine and feminizing quality that
would have to be overcome in order to achieve this goal. While these two
theoretical and historical questions about Clement are distinct, they are
also intertwined in important ways. Clement’s views on sexual difference
inform his treatment of desire, and vice versa.
In order to explore Clement’s place in the history of sexuality and his
relationship to a history of sexual difference, this essay revisits a particular
debate that Clement frames in the Stromata. In the third book, Clement
describes a multiplicity of Christian views that reject marriage. In partic-
ular, he quotes from the treatise of Epiphanes, On Righteousness. This text
offers an argument for sexual communalism, but also reveals a new debate
about the gendering of desire – one heretofore overlooked. Both Clement
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and Epiphanes share a gendered understanding of the ideal human being as

without sexual difference. Rather than seeing desire as a feminine attribute,
Epiphanes believed that desire was a masculine trait. In this light, Clement’s
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own treatment of desire seems far less radical than at least some other
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Christians and allows us to better situate his own understanding of desire

and the role of the household in its Hellenistic context.

1 Sexual Communalism

Clement of Alexandria was embedded within a long Christian tradition

already debating marriage, virginity, and continence. Primarily in the
second and third Stromata, but also in sections of the Protrepticus, Clement
notes with some impatience the innumerable types of Christians, and that
to deal with each one would extend his writings to an unacceptable length.
For the sake of simplicity, he divided them into two groups. First, there were
those who were too ascetic, proclaiming “the necessity of continence.”2 In
this camp, he put Marcion, Tatian, and Julius Cassian. Clement spent the

and nuanced treatment of different kinds of “desire” in Clement’s vision for proper
procreative intercourse.
2 Strom. 3.5.40. English translations based on J. Ferguson, Clement of Alexandria: Stro-
mateis Books 1–3, FC 85 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1991);
J.E.L. Oulton and H. Chadwick, eds., Alexandrian Christianity: Selected Translations of
Clement and Origen (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954). Greek citations from O. Stählin,
ed., Clemens Alexandrinus: Stromata Buch I–VI, GCS 52 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1972).
Gender and the History of Sexuality 321

bulk of his time arguing against this perspective, likely because it posed a
more serious competition with his own view of sexual restraint.
There was a second group of Christians who did not share this moral
vision of continence. Clement provides some of the best information about
the practices of sexual communalism in early Christianity, despite his
polemical interests. He warned against those with “indifference whether
one does right or wrong.”3 Drawing on anti-family teachings in the Gospels
and in Plato, at least some early Christians were redefining kinship and
sexuality in inventive new practices. Some followed antinomian impulses,
including the saying of Jesus that he is the Lord of the Sabbath, and Paul’s
admission that “all things are lawful” (1 Cor 6:12). Others had new takes on
how to battle desires, arguing that one conquered pleasure by practicing
pleasure.4 Still others were motivated by theories of justice. Clement reports
that a man sexually propositioned a virgin with the teachings of Jesus, “give
to every one that asks of you” (Luke 6:30; Matt 5:42).5 Here the ideal of
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communalism of property was transferred to the communalism of sexual

The communalists drew Clement’s ire. He was outraged by this episode
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of sexual propositioning, which he saw as a perversion of the Lord’s

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teachings. But these were not just individual instances of immoral prac-
tices – he reports that these Christians engaged in ritualized sexual ex-
change. In his account, these people “make holy (ἱεροφαντοῦσι) carnal and
sexual intercourse, and think that it will bring them to the kingdom of
God.”6 According to Clement, they call this mystery Aphrodite Pandemos,
or communal intercourse. The name would have had resonance with
philosophical conversations. In Plato’s Symposium, Pausanias’s speech
distinguishes between the Heavenly Aphrodite and the Aphrodite Pan-
demos, two temples in Athens signifying different kinds of eroticism, a
heavenly and a common one.7 The latter, according to Pausanias, was
simply erotic, vulgar, showing no preference between women or boys, and
was concerned with the body, not the soul. This Christian rite of sexual
communalism was apparently then rooted in the democratic impulse of
Aphrodite Pandemos. Clement charges that this sort of communalism
leads to the brothel and that goats and pigs should be the companions of its

3 Strom. 3.5.40.
4 Strom. 2.20.117–118.
5 Strom. 3.4.27.
6 Strom. 3.4.27.
7 Plato, Symp. 181a–c. Cf. Pausanias, Descr. 6.25.2
322 Taylor G. Petrey

practitioners.8 Clement’s association between this goddess and the

Christians who taught that sexual intercourse of any kind was a sacred act
of communion is impossible to verify, but the connection to Plato’s
Symposium is significant, as I will explore later.
Clement’s descriptions of sexual communalism strike some modern
readers as outlandish. Scholars of early Christianity have become critical of
the reliability of heresiologists to provide accurate information about their
theological opponents.9 This skepticism is especially acute when they levy
charges of sexual or immoral behavior, precisely because such charges are
rhetorical weapons rather than neutral claims of even-handed observa-
tion.10 Yet, while Clement’s discussion of these early Christian practices
may be exaggerated, inaccurate, and sensationalistic, his discussion of at
least some practices may not just be another instance of sexual slander.
Among the various sexual communalists, Clement mentions Epipha-
nes, the son of a heretical rival named Carpocrates. In his biographical
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account, Clement notes that Epiphanes was only seventeen when he died.
In spite of his youth, he seems to have made a mark. The young Epiphanes’s
treatise On Righteousness is a rare primary source from a more radical
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branch of Christianity developing in the second century. Clement adds to

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this text a description of a Carpocratian ἀγάπη meal that concluded with

group sex, sharing both food and sexual partners in common.11 Irenaeus
independently charges the Carporcratians with introducing “promiscuity
and a plurality of marriages.”12 There may be something to it.13
Clement labels Epiphanes with immorality, mocking his “fornicating
righteousness” and making the case that he is far outside of philosophical
and Christian norms.14 He charges that Epiphanes has brought shame to
the name of Christians and that his interpretations are incorrect. The
proper hermeneutics of desire, both of the self and of the textual treat-
ments, were a key factor in Clement’s argument. Quoting scripture, he lays
out the case against ἐπιθυμία in both the Law and the Gospels.15 But

8 Strom. 3.4.28.
9 E.g., K.L. King, What Is Gnosticism? (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
10 J. Knust, Abandoned to Lust: Sexual Slander and Ancient Christianity (New York: Co-
lumbia University Press, 2006).
11 Strom. 3.2.10.
12 Irenaeus, Haer. 1.28.2.
13 T. Whitley, “The Greatest Blasphemy: Sex, Souls, and the Carpocratian Heresy” (PhD
diss., Florida State University, 2016).
14 Strom. 3.2.10.
15 Strom. 3.2.8.
Gender and the History of Sexuality 323

Clement also seeks to delegitimize Epiphanes’s use of Plato’s teachings in

the Republic that wives are to be held in common. Plato, Clement insists,
only meant that all women are available to marry anyone before they are
married and that after a woman is married she is held by only one man.16
This reading has no basis in fact – Clement apparently sought to protect
Plato as much as the scriptures from Epiphanes’s supposed exegetical
missteps.17 But there was more at stake than exegetical respectability. For
Clement, the sexual communalists had approached both desire and mar-
riage in the wrong way, bringing shame on themselves and upon Christians
more generally. Here, I want to highlight the gendered aspects of both of
these charges to explore how gendered performances were crucial to
second-century Christian self-representation.

2 Sexual Communalism and the History of Sexuality

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The sexual communalists seem to diverge sharply from the emergent

philosophical discourses about sexuality developing in the Roman imperial
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era. Scholars have described two features of this period: the turn to the self
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and to the qualitative nature of one’s relationships. Generally, the indi-

vidual ascetic and the companionate family are the two figures who emerge
from this discourse. In his influential narrative, Michel Foucault argues
that the political and social framework of the city and other civic affiliations
declined, but he notes that this shift was accompanied by a turn to the
“importance granted to family relationships,” which were considered a part
of “private life.” He sees this as the peak of the phenomenon of the “cul-
tivation of the self.” This was “not an exercise in solitude, but a true social
practice.”18 Marriage also became for men “more important, more intense,
but also more difficult and more problematic” as a “form of living.”19
There were, of course, opponents to marriage. The Cynics and the
Epicureans saw the married life as an obstacle to the philosophical life.
These views had a universalist ethos. They saw the role of the philosopher
as tied to the human family rather than any one household. The philo-

16 Strom. 3.2.10.
17 Clement may take this interpretation from Epictetus, Diatr. 2.4.8–10. There Epictetus
argues against a man’s defense of adultery by saying that women are “common [to all] by
nature.” Epictetus defends monogamy.
18 M. Foucault, History of Sexuality, vol. 3: The Care of the Self (New York: Vintage Books,
1986), 51.
19 Foucault, Care of the Self (see n. 18), 80.
324 Taylor G. Petrey

sophical debate was whether the family and the household were a handicap
or an aid to the pursuit of philosophy. In this history, the primary direction
of the history of sexuality for men moved between marriage and the single
life, with sexual restraint as a key goal in both.
When Epiphanes wrote his treatise, sexual communalism was not en-
tirely out of the realm of possibilities in the philosophical history of sex-
uality. He drew on utopian resources in Plato, Stoicism, and early Chris-
tianity. Still, Clement expected his readers to be sufficiently scandalized by
Epiphanes’s text. The effect has often been successful. Henry Chadwick
summarized Epiphanes’s treatise as “the scribblings of an intelligent but
nasty-minded adolescent of somewhat pornographic tendencies.”20 Yet,
this accusation misses the broader philosophical and Christian context for
Epiphanes’s teachings. Notably, his treatise On Righteousness (περὶ δι-
καιοσύνης) may have based on the alternative title of the Republic in an-
tiquity, On Justice (περὶ δικαίου).21 Both texts treated political philosophy
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and sexual ethics. Working within the history of sexuality paradigm, Kathy
Gaca stresses the fidelity of Epiphanes to “the Platonic and early Stoic
blueprints of communal justice.”22 Gaca locates him in continuity with a
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Greek philosophical heritage that saw desire as part of the natural creation
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to be used “to a moderate and not strictly reproductive degree.”23 Indeed,

his proposals were “better positioned to be put into practice” than the
theories Plato and Zeno had imagined because of the other tendencies in
Christianity toward communalism. Jesus’s description of the utopian
Kingdom of God emphasized the importance of δικαιοσύνη, which con-
veys both a sense of equitableness and personal virtue (e. g., Matt 5:6, 10, 20;
6:33). In this view, Epiphanes was a natural extension of Platonic thought
that took a positive view toward desire.
Epiphanes’s utopian vision started with an observation about cosmic
egalitarianism. He emphasized both equality or equity (ἴσος) to describes
the sky, the night, the sun, and the commonality (κοινή) of sight.24 There is
equity in the heavens and earth, and the stars and sun. All living beings,
human and animal, equally benefit from this outpouring of righteousness.

20 In Oulton and Chadwick, Alexandrian Christianity (see n. 2), 25.

21 H. Lorenz, “Ancient Theories of Soul,” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer
2009 Edition), ed. E.N. Zalta,
cient-soul/. This is not to be confused with the spurious text On Justice that is attributed
to Plato.
22 K.L. Gaca, The Making of Fornication: Eros, Ethics, and Political Reform in Greek Phi-
losophy and Early Christianity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 290.
23 Gaca, Making of Fornication (see n. 22), 288.
24 Strom. 3.2.6.
Gender and the History of Sexuality 325

The sun makes food grow for all creatures. The ontological principle of
unity was central to Epiphanes’s system, which emphasized the goodness of
creation and the Creator. But there has been a break in the system of unity.
Epiphanes contrasts individualism (ἰδιότης) with communalism (κοινω-
νία), which was manifest in the introduction of laws that replaced the
divine law.25 The law that introduced ownership obscured the principle of
common use.26 Epiphanes defined God’s righteousness (δικαιοσύνη) as “a
kind of social equity” (κοινωνίαν τινὰ εἶναι μετ’ ἰσότητος).27 The definition
bears close resemblance to a pseudo-Platonic dictionary, which defined
δικαιοσύνη as “social equity” (ἰσότης κοινωνική).28
Epiphanes’s attack on marriage was vitally connected to his attack on
private property as a misunderstanding of divine law. In order to attain the
ideal society where all things were held in common, he sought to abolish the
practices of kinship-based partisanship and preferential treatment. In this
sense, the abolishment of private property was not a ruse for permitting
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unrestrained sexual access. The family and household were the principle
institutions where ownership existed. To get rid of one – either marriage or
private property – required eliminating both. Epiphanes defined injustice
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as regarding people and property as “that which is mine” and “that which is
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yours.”29 Gaca points out that Plato made the same point in the Republic
when he said that the principle of “that which is mine and that which is not
mine” is “the root of social vices and violence.”30 According to the Republic,
the idea of lineage-based kinship should be abolished. After children are
born, they should be raised by nurses in another section of the city. These
nurses would weed out the deformed children to ensure the purity of the
species.31 No mother should recognize her own offspring.32 In this pro-
posal, the duties of kinship were removed from society to prevent the
problems that arise from favoring one’s own kin over others in the com-
munity, which was part of a larger concern about holding private property
and other possessions.
Though Gaca emphasizes the continuity between Epiphanes and Pla-
tonic/Stoic utopianism, it is worth pointing out some significant differ-

25 Strom. 3.2.7.
26 Strom. 3.2.7.
27 Strom. 3.2.6.
28 Plato, Def. 411e.
29 Strom. 3.2.7.
30 Gaca, Making of Fornication (see n. 22), 277. See Plato, Resp. 462c3–5, 464c5–e2.
31 Resp. 5.460c–d.
32 Resp. 5.461d.
326 Taylor G. Petrey

ences. Epiphanes does not adopt the view of the utopian society in the
Republic entirely. In Plato’s treatment of marriage and the family in the
Republic, he proposes a eugenic alternative to these institutions. Using an
analogy from breeding animals, Plato suggested that the best men should
have intercourse with the best women as often as possible, and the reverse
for the most ordinary men and women.33 The prize for men of great
strength in war or other endeavors should be more intercourse with more
women, so that these powerful warriors will be the fathers of more children.
The overall strength of the human flock is made better through controlled
breeding. These goals lie in tension with the communalistic ethos Epi-
phanes draws from his Christian sources where all things are held in
common and hierarchy is eschewed. Clement also reports that Carpo-
crates, Epiphanes’s father, interpreted Jesus’s saying “give to every one that
asks of you” (Luke 6:30; Matt 5:42) to be about sexual communalism.34
Marriage and property entailed exclusive control of things that really
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belonged to all. For Epiphanes, God’s righteousness was about community

and equality.
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3 Gendering Desire in Sexual Communalism

Epiphanes’s model of social organization, however marginal, challenged

some of the basic assumptions about the natural and necessary formation
of kinship in antiquity. He did not accept emerging companionate models
of marriage, nor did he embrace a cultivation of the self and the ascetic
framework for virtue. Hearkening to nature, paradise, or the resurrection,
he envisioned a different set of relationships between men and women.
Epiphanes imagined a community that rejected the values of ownership of
women and property and emphasized a new ideal of harmony with na-
ture – a classic example of a utopian cult, a kind of counterpolis that
promised a new freedom for women and men. His model of social or-
ganization would have rejected, for instance, the exchange of women by
and for men and the transmission of wealth, power, and status from parent
to child.
Epiphanes relied on gender equality as a key aspect of his teaching.
Alluding twice to Gal 3:28, Epiphanes writes, “there is no distinction be-
tween rich and poor, ruler and ruled, fools and wise, female and male, slave

33 Resp. 5.459d–e. Cf. Diogenes Laertius 7.33.131.

34 Strom. 3.6.54.
Gender and the History of Sexuality 327

and free.”35 A bit later, he restates that God “made no distinction between
male and female, rational and irrational, no distinction of any kind.”36 The
scholarly attention to the hermeneutics of Gal 3:28 in early Christianity has
often focused on its relationship to celibacy. Dale Martin has argued that
Julius Cassian’s ascetic view offered the “dominant interpretation” of Gal
3:28 – no male and female meant no sexual intercourse. Further, Martin
suggests that “we have little evidence that in Paul’s day it would have oc-
curred to anyone to take his slogan ‘no male and female’ as implying
equality between male and female or men and women. Equality was not the
issue; division was.”37 At least by the second century, the picture was far
more complex. Cassian did not offer the only interpretation – the sexual
communalists at least understood Gal 3:28 to mean equality. For Epi-
phanes, the lack of distinction between male and female, as well as other
hierarchical pairings, entailed an end to property, including marriage. It
did not entail, however, an end to sexual intercourse. This egalitarian vision
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was a sexual revolution that embraced free love.

This vision for a utopian community faced the perennial question about
the interrelationship between women’s freedom and sexual freedom. How
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did these values play out in actual practice for women’s equality? As James
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Goehring has noted, just as women may have found liberation from the
constraints of marriage in ascetic practices, so too may sexual commu-
nalism have provided similar avenues for women’s power and authority.38
However, there is some scholarly debate about how these values may have
been instituted in the blueprint of On Righteousness. Did Epiphanes mean
that all women were equally available to all men, or that women were equal
to men? The standard English translations of On Righteousness make it
appear as if Epiphanes is saying that men should pass their women around
to one another. Instead, Gaca argues that the phrase “all alike can share”
(δυναμένων κοινωνεῖν ἁπάντων) is not about men sharing their women
but about men and women alike sharing one another.39 She believes that the
egalitarian ethos enabled women’s freedom in sexual relationships.

35 Strom. 3.2.6.
36 Strom. 3.2.7.
37 D.B. Martin, Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation
(Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 87.
38 J.E. Goehring, “Libertine or Liberated: Women in the So-Called Libertine Gnostic
Communities,” in Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism, ed. K.L. King (Harrisburg, Pa.:
Trinity Press International, 2000), 329–344, here 341.
39 Gaca, Making of Fornication (see n. 22), 279 n. 10.
328 Taylor G. Petrey

Independent sources may confirm that Carpocratians embraced some

kind of social egalitarianism. Though Irenaeus’s description of Carpo-
cratian teaching bears only superficial resemblance to Epiphanes’s treatise,
and radically departs from it in the understanding of the Creator, he reports
that Marcellina was a leader in this movement and that when she came to
Rome, she “led multitudes astray.”40 If this account is accurate, it may be the
case that women lead in Carpocratian communities in line with their
egalitarian values. However, neither Irenaeus nor other accounts of Mar-
cellina in contemporary sources mention sexual communalism in rela-
tionship to her teachings.41
Whatever egalitarian impulses may have informed Epiphanes, there are
aspects of his teachings which undercut this view. Epiphanes often de-
scribes male-female sexual relationships in androcentric, hierarchical
terms, rather than using reciprocal language. For instance, he says that God
“joins the female to the male in common as the rest of the animals show.”42
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Rather than seeing mutuality, this language describes one party as joining
to another. It seems to indicate that men shared women, not that women
and men shared one another.
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Epiphanes’s treatment of desire also exposes a key tension in his egal-

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itarian framework by introducing sexual difference back into his system.

On one hand, he teaches that there is “no distinction […] between female
and male.” On the other hand, Epiphanes says that ἐπιθυμία was given “to
males (ἄρρεσιν) for the endurance of the race.” Neither laws nor customs
could eradicate this desire – male desire was the “decree (δόγμα) of God.”43
This view of a society without sexual distinction “of any kind” lies in tension
with his positive association of desire with maleness.
It would be tempting to see the way that Epiphanes flips feminine desire
to a masculine quality as an embrace of a lusty male sexuality. However, the
actual treatment of a masculine desire is more complexly gendered.
Epiphanes defines the term ἐπιθυμία twice, both times in relationship to
reproduction. In the first instance above, he qualifies desire as a gift to men
for the continuance of the race. In the second instance, Epiphanes provides

40 Irenaeus, Haer. 1.25.6; Epiphanius, Pan. 27.6. Even if Epiphanius’s personal story is a
rhetorical fabrication, he mentions that when he met the group of gnostics in Alexandria
called Phibionites, it was the women from that community who tried to seduce him,
suggesting that at least in his imagination there was women’s leadership in the com-
munity (Pan. 26.17.8–9).
41 Cf. Origen, Cels. 5.62.
42 Strom. 3.2.8.
43 Strom. 3.2.8.
Gender and the History of Sexuality 329

commentary on the Decalogue’s prohibition “You shall not desire your

neighbor’s wife.” He describes it as a “joke of the Lawgiver.” He explains
again that the “desire” is a natural desire “for reproduction.”44 Such a
commandment against desire, he insists, is not only impossible, but con-
trary to the operations of nature. The same God who instilled in human
beings these desires would not also command that they be “suppressed,”
and does not create a “neighbor’s wife” as private property.45 Both times he
describes desire, Epiphanes qualifies it as a desire for reproduction. His
evaluation of desire regenders it in a surprising way – and points to a
perennial issue in early Christian reimagining of sexual difference. When
early Christians sought to transcend sexual difference, the new creature
often turned out to be very male. In this case, the new creature which is
neither male nor female exhibits male desire for reproduction.
The problem can be summed up in this way: if there is no distinction
between male and female, why does Epiphanes only say that God estab-
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lished desire in males? One possibility may be that we are dealing with the
fragment of the text that Clement has created for his readers. It is possible
that in the full text Epiphanes also treats female desire. Citing the Timeaus,
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Gaca takes the view that Epiphanes would presumably follow Plato in
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attributing appetitive desire to women as well as men.46 But, rather than

trying to harmonize this infelicity in Epiphanes, it is important to examine
this tension on its own terms. After all, Epiphanes is not fully consistent in
his egalitarian language about the hierarchy in the sexual relationship
between women and men. There is no reason to assume that he sees sexual
desire as applying to both men and women when he makes the contrary
point explicit. Here, it is worth noting the context of the second century –
desire is not a gender-neutral characteristic, but a deeply gendered one.
In attributing desire to males, Epiphanes is reversing the traditional
association between desire and femininity. He sees human society as having
it all backwards as a result of laws that contradict nature. Desire is not a
feminine trait, but a masculine gift established by God and replicated in
nature. He looks to animals and sees that males may copulate with any
female. In all of the examples he offers, women give themselves to men.
Desire is coded as male. But this is not a desire without object or for the
purpose of pleasure – a term which does not appear in Epiphanes’s writ-
ing – but is constrained and constituted by the demands of reproduction.

44 Strom. 3.2.9.
45 Strom. 3.2.9.
46 Gaca, Making of Fornication (see n. 22), 288.
330 Taylor G. Petrey

For Epiphanes, the interdependence of sexual desire and reproduction is a

divinely decreed feature of males.
The positive association between desire and males certainly stands out
in the traditional history of sexuality in this period that advocated the
extirpation of desire and warned against its feminine quality. But does the
maleness of desire for reproduction have any philosophical antecedent?
Perhaps Plato’s Symposium may provide some context for the male ap-
propriation of culturally-associated female qualities. I am not suggesting
that Epiphanes is directly dependent on the Symposium here – though the
connection to the Aphrodite Pandemos ritual is tempting. Still, there are at
least some overlaps in themes that may help make sense of Epiphanes’s
transference of desire to be a male characteristic. In Diotima’s dialogue with
Socrates, there is also a positive association of desire and reproduction with
males, suggesting some potential resources for rethinking desire in the
imperial period. She asks Socrates, “When a man loves the beautiful, what
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does he desire?” Socrates answers, “that it may be his,” but she pushes back
on his answer. She explains that they are drawn to reproduce: “All humans
(ἄνθρωποι) are pregnant, Socrates, both in body and in soul: on reaching a
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certain age our nature desires to beget. […] the conjunction of man and
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woman is a begetting for both.”47 Desire, pregnancy, and birth all belong to
males and females alike. She draws on the natural world of animals to il-
lustrate her points: “For you must have observed the strange state into
which all the animals are thrown, whether going on earth or winging the air,
when they desire to beget (γεννᾶν ἐπιθυμήσῃ).”48
The argument here is that desire, particularly the desire to reproduce, is
a feature of all creatures and points toward a higher goal. But this argument
also engages sexual difference in important ways. In his classic essay, “Why
Is Diotima a Woman?,” David Halperin argues that Plato’s Symposium
transforms erotic desire from the feminine to the masculine in two ways.
First, Plato advocates for a mutuality of desire between partners so that they
are both edified, rejecting the eroticized inequality of ancient sexuality. In
the second, Diotima attests that men’s primary desire is to reproduce.
Halperin notes that Plato is deeply committed to a view of erotic intention
as not based in pleasure, but “a model of erotic responsiveness whose
central terms are fecundity, conception, gestation, and giving birth.”49

47 Plato, Symp. 206c.

48 Plato, Symp. 207a (trans. W.R.M. Lamb, LCL 166).
49 D.M. Halperin, “Why Is Diotima a Woman?,” in Before Sexuality: The Construction of
Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World, ed. D.M. Halperin et al. (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1990), 257–308, here 277.
Gender and the History of Sexuality 331

This has metaphorical as well as literal domains, but the use of these
metaphors is itself instructive. For Plato’s contemporaries, these would
have been feminine concerns, but Plato transforms them into the domain
of manliness. At the same time, Halperin points out that Plato’s trans-
formation of desire is an appropriation of the female into the male, rein-
scribing male identity on what he describes as the female experience.50
Halperin calls this “mimetic transvestitism,” “impersonation,” and “a
cultural fiction,” as a way of critiquing it.51 For Halperin, this is a cultural
misunderstanding of “the basic nonconfoundability of the genders.”52 The
“woman” is something that the male philosopher both lacks and possesses,
as Plato reinscribes male identity in the representation of female difference.
Halperin’s use of essentialist theories of gender to critique Plato on this
point is noteworthy. For our purposes, the blurring of the boundary be-
tween male and female in Plato’s argument is the most significant.
Epiphanes goes far beyond Plato by attributing desire to reproduce to
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men instead of both men and women. Where Plato blurs the difference
between male and female desire and begetting in the ἄνθρωπος, Epiphanes
subverts this erasure by claiming the desire for reproduction as a male trait
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alone. Here, his egalitarianism breaks down by arguing that there is no

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longer male and female, yet also describing desire as given to men. Further,
by limiting this desire to a desire for reproduction, he too assimilates
cultural presuppositions about femaleness into maleness. Poststructuralist
approaches to gender, which pay attention to the ways in which the efforts
to establish difference often break down, might also help to understand the
ways in which difference persistently confounds efforts to transcend it.
Rather than seeing this as a destabilization of maleness and further evi-
dence of the eschatological and utopian erasure of sexual difference, Epi-
phanes marks male difference with this female trait. What he thought about
female desire remains entirely unsaid, but his appropriation of this desire
into the realm of males re-gendered desire in such a way as to represent
male difference in culturally feminine terms.

50 Halperin, “Diotima” (see n. 49), 289.

51 Halperin, “Diotima” (see n. 49), 291.
52 Halperin, “Diotima” (see n. 49), 291.
332 Taylor G. Petrey

4 Clement and the History of Sexuality

Clement’s effort to situate the sexual communalists outside the norms of

Hellenistic culture and Christian teaching raises questions about his own
location in the history of sexuality. Scholars have typically cast Clement in
two opposing roles. In an earlier view, they identified Clement as an import
figure bridging early Christianity and the Greco-Roman philosophical
thought about desire and marriage.53 For Peter Brown, for instance,
Clement was a moderate among Christians, who had more in common
with the Roman moralist Musonius Rufus and the doctors than “many of
his fellow believers.”54 Brown tells the story of a Stoic Clement versus the
Encratites in a battle for the value of marriage. The Encratites were the
radicals while Clement’s careful and judicious use of the Greek philoso-
phers allied him with pagan elites. Like his Stoic peers, Clement sought after
ἀπάθεια and the control of the passions. Brown then frames the debates
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over marriage and continence in terms of a combat for church leadership:

“Clement wrote, in part, to block the rise of a dangerous mystique of
continence. He reassured married householders that they did not need to
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feel ashamed to have married leaders, nor, as married persons, need they
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feel unable to aspire to Christian perfection. They could also aspire to

leadership within the Christian communities.”55 Brown laments that this
view was drowned out in the next centuries by the advocates of virginity, a
“dangerous” ideal compared to Clement the “moderate.”
More recently, some scholars have located Clement differently in the
history of sexuality. They focus on his attempt to exceed the rigor of
philosophical thinkers by advocating sex not only for the sole purpose of
procreation, but also without desire at all. Kathy Gaca and Kyle Harper are
persuasive defenders of Clement’s exceptionalism from Greek and Roman
sexual ideologies. For Gaca, Clement is primarily an advocate of “Christian
sexual separatism.”56 In Gaca’s analysis, “Clement’s reborn procreationism
stands a religious world apart from Greek philosophical sexual ethics,
despite his borrowings from the Stoics, Pythagoreans, and Plato.”57 His
dual focus on restricting sexual intercourse to procreation alone and his

53 J.-P. Broudéhoux, Mariage et famille chez Clément d’Alexandrie (Paris: Beauchesne,

54 P. Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early
Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 131.
55 Brown, Body and Society (see n. 54), 138.
56 Gaca, Making of Fornication (see n. 22), 250.
57 Gaca, Making of Fornication (see n. 22), 271.
Gender and the History of Sexuality 333

elimination of pleasure from this exchange makes his view irreconcilable

with his philosophical peers. In this view, Clement’s teachings on sexuality
mark Christian difference.
Harper agrees with this differentiation. In his analysis, Clement bears
the marks of Greek erudition, but was a crucial transitional figure. Re-
jecting the view that Clement was more informed by his philosophical
heritage, Harper insists that Clement is “purely Christian” and “exclusively
Christian.”58 Harper ultimately agrees with Gaca: “Clement’s defense of
marriage bears utterly no resemblance to the warm ideals of conjugal af-
fection or cheery romantic patriotism of the culture that surrounded
him.”59 For Harper, Clement anticipates the desert by advocating “mon-
asticism avant la lettre […] within the oikos and the polis.”60 He goes so far
as to say that “of all the early Christians, Clement is most sensitively es-
tranged from the civic fabric of the Roman Empire.”61 Clement’s radical
difference from his non-Christian peers marks his identity as a separatist.
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I want to raise a problem in this model of reading Clement in the history

of sexuality. These efforts to distinguish “Christianity” from “Hellenistic
culture” rest on a foundation of essentialism of both categories. Judith Lieu
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cautions against the use of these categories in essentialist and mutually

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exclusive terms, encouraging scholars “to acknowledge not only that there
is not ‘any universal meaning that can be attributed to terms such as
“Roman”, “Greek”, “Christian”, “barbarian”’, Jew, but also that these are
not mutually exclusive categories.”62 In her discussion of the various
models used to describe early Christianity, Lieu invokes “the second
century as the age of the laboratory.”63 Karen King’s efforts to retell the
history of Christianity similarly warn against this assumption: “Essen-
tializing categories tend to reinforce the complex, overlapping, multifari-
ous clusters of material that constitute the continually shifting, interactive
forms of early Christian meaning-making and social belonging into ho-

58 K. Harper, From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late
Antiquity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2013), 108, 115.
59 Harper, From Shame to Sin (see n. 58), 115.
60 Harper, From Shame to Sin (see n. 58), 109.
61 Harper, From Shame to Sin (see n. 58), 115.
62 J.M. Lieu, Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2004), 21, quoting from R. Miles, “Introduction: Constructing Iden-
tities in Late Antiquity,” in Constructing Identities in Late Antiquity (London: Routledge,
1999) 1–15, here 4.
63 J.M. Lieu, “Modeling the Second Century as the Age of the Laboratory,” in Christianity in
the Second Century: Themes and Developments, ed. J. Carleton Paget and J.M. Lieu
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 294–308.
334 Taylor G. Petrey

mogenous, stable, well-bounded theological or sociological formations.”64

The goal of scholars should be “analyzing the variety of discourses, material
and intellectual resources, processes, and practices by which people make
sense of their lives in contexts of ancient pluralism, the governing regimes
and institutions that further and constrain such practices, and the power
relationship that are at stake.”65 Rather than assessing whether or not
Clement is “purely Christian” or if he is a species of Greek thought, it may
be more useful to see these as overlapping categories that are fluid and
contested in the very practices of self-definition.
In analyzing Clement’s writings, I find the categories of locative and
utopian religious possibilities a useful alternative to the history of sexuality
paradigm that has too often deployed essentializing categories of “Chris-
tian” and “Hellenistic.” In Jonathan Z. Smith’s early study of so-called
“gnostic” cosmogonies, he defined a locative morphology of religion as
emphasizing cosmic order, the goodness of the world as it is created, and
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the responsibility for maintaining that order. In the utopian morphology,

one must rebel against the present cosmos because it is out of step with the
ideal. Smith stresses that these cannot be understood in evolutionary terms;
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one does not precede the other. “Both have been and remain coeval ex-
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istential possibilities,” he explains, “while in this culture, at this time or that

place, one or the other view may appear to be the more dominant.”66 But
they are both structural possibilities of religion. The Hellenistic and the
Christian are too often construed as mutually exclusive in this framework
because they are seen as identities with distinct intellectual and cultural
meanings. In contrast, the locative and the utopian are non-essentialist
categories that are both structural possibilities that may be simultaneously
deployed and reshuffled.
Sex is a mobilizing force for both locative and utopian models of reli-
gion. These categories help to thread through these conversations Clem-
ent’s concern for class and respectability, subscribing to the elite values of
the household.67 Clement’s insistence upon marriage and kinship as
compatible with Christian virtue is not simply a matter of adjudicating

64 K.L. King, “Which Early Christianity?,” in The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian
Studies, ed. S.A. Harvey and D.G. Hunter (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 66–
84, here 71.
65 King, “Which Early Christianity?” (see n. 64), 72.
66 J.Z. Smith, “When the Chips Are Down,” in Relating Religion: Essays in the Study of
Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 1–60, here 16.
67 B. Leyerle, “Clement of Alexandria on the Importance of Table Etiquette,” JECS 3.2
(1995), 123–141.
Gender and the History of Sexuality 335

between the orthodoxy or the exegetical skill of competing Christian

factions, but rather of establishing Christian practice within the locative
boundaries of Greek and Roman society.

5 Clement on Masculinity and the Household

As part of his locative interests, Clement’s disagreement with Epiphanes

highlights his broader concerns in the values of the elite householder. The
picture that emerges from an analysis of locative and utopian ideals is
admittedly closer to Brown’s vision of Clement as a moderate invested in
the respectability of the household, rather than as a radical Christian who
was wholly distinct from his philosophical peers. In Clement’s main def-
ense of the household, his evaluation of desire was central to his argument.
As David Hunter has explained, “in Clement’s own lexicon of desire, the
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term epithumia became irrevocably associated with the unrestrained use of

sex advocated by the libertines, and enkrateia was proposed as the orthodox
Christian alternative.”68 Clement objects both to the sexual communalists
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and the Encratite ascetics not only for their misunderstanding of desire, but
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also for their misunderstanding of the household. For Clement, the

teachings of Epiphanes share too much with the ascetics in their utopian
abolition of the household and family. Both groups have devalued marriage
and the household and have disrupted the temporal activities of posterity
and legacy, and therefore have engaged in culturally shameful practices. For
Clement, there is no room in civil society for such a utopian practice.
Marriage established social order.
Procreation was a key element of the alternative to asceticism. When
Clement defines marriage, he explains: “Marriage is a union between a man
and a woman; it is the primary union; it is a legal transaction; it exists for the
procreation of legitimate children.”69 In this definition, there is no emo-
tional, affective account of marriage. Clement’s concern for the production
of offspring, or heirs, and their status as “legitimate,” appeals to legalistic
rather than affective or utilitarian understandings of the family. Repro-
duction is possible without marriage at all, as the communalists would
certainly point out. But, for Clement there had to be a reason to link both
reproduction and marriage together. The concern over “legitimate chil-
dren” roots Clement’s argument in a particular kind of social respectability.

68 Hunter, “Language of Desire” (see n. 1), 97.

69 Strom. 2.23.137.
336 Taylor G. Petrey

The values of the production of heirs and social legitimation inform his
understanding of what kinds of reproduction are acceptable. Clement
appropriates elite discourses about the family in Greek and Roman society,
such that imitation of these values for the proper and productive family is
part of the Christian identity he is shaping.
There are other benefits to family and kinship besides legitimate off-
spring. Clement was engaged in a struggle against subversive actions to
redistribute social power away from the family structure. It is important to
link Clement’s concerns with sexual practice in the Stromata with his
concerns for household affairs in the Paedagogus. The household for
Clement, and his primary moral target in the Paedagogus, is the prosperous
urban household. Clement offers practical advice on all sorts of topics: how
to respond to invitations, behavior at dinner parties, behavior in the street,
management of slaves, the projection of status and good taste, and behavior
at the bath and spectacles.70 Further, he gives guidance about how to
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manage a wife, children, and slaves.71 When practiced with care, interac-
tions with the wife, the family, and at the symposium, lead to virtue.
In particular, the household was a key institution for proper gender
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performance, especially masculinity. The urban ἄσκησις of Clement does

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not prefigure the desert, but is rather opposed to it by embracing a kyri-

archal ethic. For Clement, masculinity was not only established by having a
household, but also by properly managing desire within the context of
marriage. At the end of Strom. 2, he is positively opposed to the single life as
unmanly. He explains, “Such behavior is irreverent. It undermines gen-
eration, which is a gift of God. It is a sign of weakness and unmanliness to
try to escape from a partnership in life with wife and children.”72 However,
there is some inconsistency in how Clement depicts the individual ascetic.
Later, in Strom. 3, he does not fault the ascetic who desires to be free from
the burdens of marriage and children, but warns that some who have
avoided marriage “have lapsed into hatred of humanity so that the spirit of
charity has departed from them.”73 Clement does not wholly forbid the
single life, but warns that it carries some risks. In Strom. 7, however, he
again rejects singlehood as morally inferior and unmasculine: “The prize in
the contest of men is won by him who has trained himself by the discharge
of the duties of husband and father and by the supervision of a household,
regardless of pleasure and pain – by him, I say, who in the midst of his

70 Broudéhoux, Mariage et famille (see n. 53), 189–192.

71 Broudéhoux, Mariage et famille (see n. 53), 139–171.
72 Strom. 2.23.142.
73 Strom. 3.9.67.
Gender and the History of Sexuality 337

solicitude for his family shows himself inseparable from the love of God
and rises superior to every temptation which assails him through children
and wife and servants and possessions. On the other hand he who has no
family is in most respects untried.”74 The household provided a greater
venue to prove one’s virtue and masculinity than the single life. However,
marriage did not convey masculinity – it needed to be earned by controlling
desire. Clement declares, “it is absolutely impossible to combine under-
standing with a failure to show shame to gratify the body.”75 These regu-
lations extended to the marital bed as well: “If a man marries in order to
have children he ought to practice ἐγκράτεια, so that he does not desire
(ἐπιθυμεῖν) for his wife […]. He ought to produce children by a reverent,
disciplined act of the will.”76
While Clement situates his notion of marriage within a broader phil-
osophical context, drawing on quotes from philosophers, poets, and
anonymous maxims, he also wants to distinguish the marriage he envisions
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from others. “For the rest of humankind,” he explains, “marriage finds

concord in the experience of pleasure, but the marriage of true lovers of
wisdom leads to a concord derived from the Logos.”77 Rather than the
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praise for the joys of intimacy between husband and wife in conjugal love,
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Clement sets another basis for intimacy rooted in shared values. He di-
minishes sexual concord as an inferior foundation of the husband-wife
relationship. A foundation of concord derived from the Logos causes
“women to beautify their character rather than their appearance; [and] it
enjoins husbands not to treat their wives as erotic lovers, making their goal
the violation of their bodies, but directing their marriage to support
throughout life and to self-control at the highest level.”78
Yet this difference was not intended to be visible. Clement’s notions of
humility were very much a part of his notion of continent marriage. He
explains, “continence is a virtue of the soul which is practiced in secret, not
publicly.”79 This idea of a “secret” foundation for Christian marriage is
framed as humility, but it provides still another advantage. The Christian
family of Clement appears to be similar to its neighbors allowing for all of
the social benefits this apparent similarity provides. Yet Clement also in-
sists that the Christian family must be different in order to create an in-

74 Strom. 7.12.70.
75 Strom. 3.5.43.
76 Strom. 3.7.58.
77 Strom. 2.23.143.
78 Strom. 2.23.143.
79 Strom. 3.6.48.
338 Taylor G. Petrey

visible boundary of identity between Christian and non-Christian. Iden-

tifying his approach to sexual morality as a “secret” virtue, while em-
phasizing the public virtues of the good householder, Clement makes clear
the value of the household lies in its public status. In this regard, Clement’s
own radical and utopian ideals, those which he believes distinguish
Christians from non-Christians most sharply, are invisible to the public.
Indeed, they are invisible even to one’s spouse since the regulation of desire
is entirely a secret affair.

6 Clement and Sexual Difference

Clement’s own utopian views of sexual difference are not far beneath the
surface of his locative defense of the household and the masculine
householder. Clement’s commitments to marriage cool considerably in his
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eschatological framework. Clement actually shares some of the utopian

themes that motivate Epiphanes, including his radical challenge to the
distinction between male and female. For all of Clement’s defense of
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marriage, he sees it only as a duty of human beings, but does not hold a
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particularly vaunted position in God’s eyes. Just as marriage itself is only a

temporary feature of the human condition, so also is sexual difference.
Citing Jesus’s saying as reported in Luke 20:34, “In this world, they marry
and are given in marriage,” Clement explains, “for this world is the only
place in which the female is distinguished from the male, ‘but in that other
world, no longer.’” “There,” he continues, “the rewards of this life, lived in
the holy union of wedlock, await not man or woman as such, but the human
person (ἄνθρωπος), freed from the desire (ἐπιθυμία) that in this life had
made it either male or female.”80 Citing the end of marriage in the Gospels,
Clement recalls also Gal 3:28 with its expression that there is “no longer
male and female” in Christ.
Even for Clement, this status after sexual difference was not entirely an
eschatological condition, but could be accomplished in part in this life. The
extirpation of desire was the basis of the creation of the new ἄνθρωπος.
After the period of sexual procreation comes to an end, the relationship
between husband and wife should transform. Clement advises for such a
man, “his wife, after begetting children, is a sister and is considered as of the
same father, only being reminder of her husband when she looks at their

80 Paed. 1.4.10 (trans. S.P. Wood, Clement of Alexandria: Christ the Educator, FC 23
[Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1953]).
Gender and the History of Sexuality 339

children.”81 John Behr argues that the ascetic lifestyle after the period of
procreation is “proleptic,” anticipating the life of the resurrection. Mar-
riage, then belongs to that mortal station, something which is necessary, but
only for its bounded utility.
Clement’s ascetic rivals held similar views about the end of sexual
difference in the renunciation of desire – though they did not want to wait
until old age. He notes that many of them rely on the Gospel according to
the Egyptians which states, “I have come to destroy the works of the female.
So here, the ‘female’ is ‘desire’ (ἐπιθυμία) and its works are birth and
corruption.”82 Julius Cassian, whom Clement puts into the Encratite camp,
quotes from another passage in the Gospel according to the Egyptians:
“When you trample upon the garment of shame and when the two become
one – the male with the female, neither male nor female.”83 For Cassian,
desire “feminizes” (θηλυνθεῖσαν) the soul. Clement does not entirely
disagree with this formulation. He indicates that whenever someone resists
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the male impulse of “anger” and the female impulse of “desire,” then the
soul fulfills Paul’s dictum “there is no male or female among you.”84 Desire,
ἐπιθυμία, stood in for the feminine, and anger, θυμός, stood in for the
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masculine. Both should be abolished.

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Feminist scholars have pointed out a key tension in Clement’s expla-

nation of an eschatological future without sexual difference. For instance,
he explains, “in this way, is not woman translated into man, having become
equally unfeminine and manly and perfect?”85 In this version, Clement
does not state that there is a single ἄνθρωπος that is without sexual dif-
ference, but that in the eschatological future women are transformed into
men. Denise Kimber Buell has remarked on this “ambiguous legacy” in
Clement’s thought.86 One way of resolving this apparent contradiction is to
suggest that the eschatological androgyne is thoroughly male.87 More re-
cently, Benjamin Dunning’s useful treatment of this topic has pointed to
this tension in Clement’s thought as arising out of Clement’s link between
ἐπιθυμία and the feminine. Dunning focuses on Protr. 11 where Clement

81 Strom. 6.12.100.
82 Strom. 3.9.63.
83 Strom. 3.13.92.
84 Strom. 3.13.93.
85 Strom. 6.12.100.
86 D.K. Buell, “Ambiguous Legacy: A Feminist Commentary on Clement of Alexandria’s
Works,” in A Feminist Companion to Patristic Literature, ed. A.-J. Levine with M.M.
Robbins (London: T&T Clark, 2008), 26–55.
87 D. Boyarin, “Gender,” in Critical Terms for Religious Studies, ed. M.C. Taylor (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1998), 117–136, here 125.
340 Taylor G. Petrey

personifies “desire” and alludes to Gal 3:28 about the redeemed ἄνθρωπος
as “neither male nor female.” But, Dunning notes, that desire is never fully
“other” to the male, implicating and embroiling the male along with it,
creating a “fissure” in the drama of creation and salvation, “that cannot be
straightforwardly closed up.”88 Sexual difference, like the faithful Christian,
exists in a liminal state between this world and the next.
In this now familiar failure to transcend or eliminate sexual difference,
we can see just what was at stake in Clement’s opposition to Epiphanes’s
proposal and clarify both of their positions on sexual difference in the
history of sexuality. First, let us consider how the history of sexuality
discourse has used essentializing categories to obscure both of these figures.
Instead, Clement and Epiphanes are Christians set to the task of articu-
lating their positions within the broader intellectual and cultural milieu.
Neither is “purely Christian” nor more in harmony with the pure philo-
sophical tradition – these binaries do not work here. Instead, we might say
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that one shows more interest in locative values and the other in more
utopian values of social structure in the present age.
With these non-essentialist categories, we can see more clearly how
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Clement’s opposition to Epiphanes’s utopian themes was deeply connected

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to his views on gender performance. In his view, sexual communalism

feminized the male in at least two ways. First, the natural and created
position for the male was as the head of the household. Without the
household, the male cannot acquire the various virtues that he must
possess. Second, sexual communalism inverted the value of desire by
treating it as a masculine quality instead of a feminine one. Their dis-
agreement in the context of the history of sexuality was not that masculine
virtues should be pursued, but whether desire was a masculine virtue or not.
Seeing this dispute of sexuality as also a dispute about sexual difference,
we might also puzzle over their shared value of the end of sexual difference
itself. Both Clement and Epiphanes stumble, in their own ways, over the
conflict between their imagined androgynous ideal and their imagined
masculine ideal. In their pursuit of masculinity, both Clement and
Epiphanes falter in their different imaginings of a world without sexual
difference. Clement’s locative interests in the household, masculinity, and
the extirpation of desire reduplicate a gendered hierarchy in his outline for
virtuous practices. Epiphanes too is unable to fully imagine a world without

88 B.H. Dunning, Specters of Paul: Sexual Difference in Early Christian Thought (Phila-
delphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 55. I have found Dunning’s treatment
particularly useful.
Gender and the History of Sexuality 341

sexual difference. He simply inverts desire from a feminine to a masculine

trait, reversing the problems of that position along with it. The competing
interpretations of the gender of desire forced each thinker to associate it
with either the male or the female. Their divergent gendering of desire not
only led them to competing sexual ideals, but also affected how each de-
fined sexual difference. The irruptibility of sexual difference that privileged
maleness – however conceived – in the very logic of virtue continually
undermined their egalitarian impulses, putting those continually out of

Taylor G. Petrey
Kalamazoo College
1200 Academy St.
Kalamazoo, MI 49006
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