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The Body and Society: Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity

(Columbia Classics in Religion)

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  341 ratings  ·  28 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.
Paperback, 504 pages
Published April 25th 1990 by Columbia University Press (first published January 1st 1988)
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Samuel Brown
Jun 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Katherine Addison
Read long ago for an undergraduate course on the history of the body. Excellent.
Oct 21, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
biased and sloppy. very overrated.
Peter Brown's THE BODY AND SOCIETY is a commendable, historical puzzling-out of Early Christian concepts of sexuality, sexual continence, and the role of renunciation/asceticism in the first five centuries of the common era.

While a considerable proportion of Brown's analysis is reserved for his discernment of the Desert Fathers, their contemporaries, and those who followed them, perhaps equally fascinating are the author's tidy and resolute interpretations of the moral indices localized to Asia
sam tannehill
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved reading this book. I have loved reading any book by Peter Brown, so far. This book is a very interesting look at not just sexual mores of early Christians, but even more so the idea of how the physical body fit into creation. If you have never read a book about the history of the Christian church, first read a good history book, like "The History of the Christian Church," by Philip Schaff, or "2,000 Years of Christ's Power," Nicholas Needham. Then read this book or a book like it to fill ...more
Sep 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"El cuerpo y la sociedad" es un libro que tenía pendiente desde hace algunos años, se trata de un muy riguroso análisis de la literatura de los primeros cristianos respecto a la sexualidad. Los múltiples debates entre las distintas sectas cristianas entre los siglos II - IV nos muestran una religión férreamente fraccionada, y cuyos líderes moldeaban su pensamiento a comunidades específicas. Sin duda alguna es un libro maravilloso, brillantemente escrito y con un rigor literario muy bien cimentad ...more
Aug 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you are serious about the study of Christian theology with regards to sexuality, you cannot ignore reading this book. It is an amazing study of early church history with regards to how celibacy came to be held as the ideal spiritual state in both the East and the West. It is done with thoroughness and compassion at truly trying to understand the basis and the logic of such opinions. Absolutely brilliant
Jeremy Meeks
Jan 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-library
An in depth look at the first few centuries of Church history, revealing the ways Christians helpful, unhelpfully, and definitely imperfectly thought and taught about the body, mostly in reaction to the cultures around them.
N.W. Martin
Jan 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Need to re-read
Adam Loft
Jul 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating study of early Christian culture and the late Roman Empire through the lens of its attitudes to celibacy.
Feb 17, 2013 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
Oct 09, 2013 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 distantly ...more
Mar 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 09, 2012 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 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 rated it it was amazing
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.
Kathryn Mattern
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.
Katie Marquette
Sep 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
A very insightful and interesting look into the history and origins of asceticism in Christianity.
What it says on the tin. An examination of perceptions of the body in Late Antiquity.
Apr 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: phd
clear, great resource. wonderful writing.
Nov 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Car salesmen
Shelves: religion
This is a pretty good historical account of issues of body and sexual ethics in early Christianity.
Feb 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely fascinating. One of the best books written on early Christianity.
Darrick Taylor
Nov 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Logan Robertson
rated it it was amazing
Feb 05, 2019
rated it it was amazing
Feb 01, 2014
Desiree Smelcer
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Jan 02, 2019
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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.

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