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Peter R.L. Brown
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The Body & Society: Men, Women & Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (Columbia Classics in Religion)

4.24  ·  Rating Details ·  246 Ratings  ·  21 Reviews
Addresses the practice of permanent sexual renunciation that developed in Christian circles from the first to the fifth centuries AD. This book describes the early Christians and their preoccupations. It follows the reflection and controversy these notions generated among Christian writers. It is intended for classicists and medievalists.
cloth, 504 pages
Published October 19th 1988 by Columbia University Press (first published January 1st 1988)
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Feb 01, 2010 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theology, gender
One reader commented that Brown's work here is 'biased and sloppy,' and while that may be their take, I respectfully disagree.
For those who don't know who Brown is, he is usually known as the imminent living expert on all things Augustine. Nice work if you can get it; while that's a neat thing to put on a business card, very few people can make a living tossing such a title around. Brown is no slouch, and I think he is a fair and judicious expert on Augustine. Especially being a female, I must
Samuel Brown
Jun 15, 2014 Samuel Brown rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book a few years ago and just realized that I never reviewed it. Brown is everything one could desire from a scholar of Mediterranean culture in the several centuries after Christ. He founded the field of Late Antique studies as such, and this book is one of the key contributions he made earlier in his career. (He's still writing magnificent books at a staggering rate from his retirement.) It's probably one of the most insightful, interesting, and illuminating texts I've read on earl ...more
Apr 03, 2014 Jessica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jessica by: Leah on 3BoT Vol. 7
This was an interesting book. I wouldn't recommend unless someone is really interested in the interplay between religion and sexuality because it's fairly dry and academic, but the scope it covers is fascinating. Brown illustrates how various groups within early Christianity embraced celibacy for a multitude of different reasons based on their particular theology surrounding the body, the soul, life, God, marriage, asceticism, etc. He does tend to name-drop theologians, philosophers, and other e ...more
Brian Hohmeier
Dec 03, 2013 Brian Hohmeier rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'The Body & Society' is an excellently written survey, loosely bound around its titular theme. While perhaps wanting for a central argument, it tracks well with the development of views of body and sexuality by the Church in its various temporal and imperial-geographical contexts. It lacks no depth of insight or personality; unlike many survey texts of Church history, Brown does not merely report but performs intelligent and insightful synthesis, bringing with comment contemporary and distan ...more
You will be hard-pressed to find a more detailed and thorough exploration of the rise of Christian sexual mores. Brown is the foremost authority on the history of early Christendom. If you're interested in and devoted to studying the history of mores and conventions about the human body in Western society, this is the foundational work for understanding the Christian perspective. With that in mind, however, this book is an absolute brick. It reads like a textbook, and in some places Brown is giv ...more
Mar 10, 2012 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thought-religion
A masterpiece of graceful scholarship! Beautifully written, elegantly footnoted, and rich with excerpts that capture the subject at hand. The author is careful not to draw conclusions that stretch the evidence. The transformation of sexual ethics through these early centuries is fascinating, and modern readers will note that the human mind does not rise very far from generation to generation, as the level of discourse today seems juvenile in comparison. The arguments here frequently begin with t ...more
Jul 06, 2014 Myc rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Without question the most poetic, unsettling, and strangely beautiful book you will ever read on early Christian sexuality and celibacy. Just a taste: "through the abrupt cessation of married intercourse, married couples believed that they had cut the demonic current that powered the loud whir of the world--to bring about a vast silence in which the music of the Holy Spirit might, at last, be heard again."
Benjamin Fry
Aug 02, 2012 Benjamin Fry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read many historical books in my time, and I must say that I found Browne's book to be faultless. His style of writing grips the reader from the start which continues until the end. Considering the complexity of the subject Browne manages to cover the sexual history of the early church with skill and grace, combining thoroughly researched academic information with the literary style of a seasoned novelist.
Karen Whittingham
Again, this book helped me to better understand the development of christian culture in the west, with is ruthless insistence on the superiority of virginity which has carried down, within catholicism, until my own day - although 'my day' now seems to be quite firmly in the past, and perhaps we were the last generation to be inculcated with this model.
Stepping into late antiquity is to step into a wholly other world(view). The material world, including the body was seen as fallen. The renunciation of the body wasn't a new idea or unique to emerging Christianity, but it took on another dimension, with ripple effects to the present day.

This is long and detailed. The chapter at the end on Augustine is very useful. Over all the view of sexuality and the body in the early church was tarnished by Greek and pagan elements, that were expunged at the Reformation.
Peter Brown is pretty badass. This book is, as they say, magisterial. I'm sure I have some bones I could pick with it; and his prose is so beguiling that I find myself rather mistrusting it...but for now, I just lament that every book on my comps list won't likely be such a pleasure to read.
Nov 05, 2007 Aeisele rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Car salesmen
Shelves: religion
This is a pretty good historical account of issues of body and sexual ethics in early Christianity.
Darrick Taylor
Nov 02, 2012 Darrick Taylor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, religion
Wonderful description of how Christian attitudes toward the body reshaped the ancient world. Will write more when I have time, but Brown's history is magnificent.
A.J. rated it it was amazing
Feb 01, 2014
Jean Rabinowitz
Jean Rabinowitz rated it it was amazing
Dec 05, 2012
Tdr85 rated it it was amazing
Dec 13, 2013
Kenneth rated it really liked it
Dec 15, 2008
Katherine Addison
Read long ago for an undergraduate course on the history of the body. Excellent.
Magenmorse rated it really liked it
May 29, 2012
Ross Douglas
Ross Douglas rated it really liked it
Feb 02, 2016
Samuel Brown
Samuel Brown rated it it was amazing
Aug 14, 2007
Fr. Maximos
Fr. Maximos rated it really liked it
Dec 12, 2012
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Oct 05, 2008
Tanya rated it it was amazing
Apr 05, 2016
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Mar 16, 2009
Petronia rated it it was amazing
Feb 17, 2016
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May 05, 2008
Bry Jensen
Bry Jensen rated it really liked it
Dec 05, 2013
Casey Taylor
Casey Taylor rated it really liked it
Jul 05, 2014
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There is more than one author with this name

Peter Robert Lamont Brown FBA is Rollins Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. His principal contributions to the discipline have been in the field of Late Antiquity. His work has concerned, in particular, the religious culture of the later Roman Empire and early medieval Europe, and the relation between religion and society.
More about Peter R.L. Brown...

Other Books in the Series

Columbia Classics in Religion (2 books)
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