Modern rhetoricians use sexually charged arguments to defame their opponents since favor is dependent on character. Similarly, early Christian authors found it useful to portray their opponents as sexual assailants who do not live a wholesome life. Sexual slander revealed to early Christians about the character of the opponents and created a fear behind sex that was associated with sexual deviants. Sexualized rhetoric is a potent rhetoric because for the early Christians, sexual morality was inseparable into Christian effort to live holistically and augment their relationship with God.
In terms of morality, divine judgement transcended that of Early Christians and shame gave way to the notion of sin. Clement in Christ the Educator asserts those who fornicate will not be granted access to the kingdom. Clement cites the Ephesians 5:5, “Away with all fornication…no fornicator or unclean person or covetous person (who is an idolator), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Clement 223). Early Christian authors criminalized sex through the relationship between sexual deviancy and the individual’s moral relationship with God. Early Christians urged self-control on the basis that physical pleasure was a distraction from a virtuous life. Sexuality broke the law of sexual nature, in which according to Epiphanius was to procreate. Epiphanius claimed the Gnostics, “have sex with each other [,but] they renounce procreation” (Epiphanius 94). The Gnostics violate nature by renouncing procreation and having sex for pleasure. The notion of sexual morality implying holistic morality caused fear to be associated with sexual deviants, since it was to be living nihilistically. Clement of Alexandria maintained the moral legitimacy of marriage and held that sex for the sake of pleasure, including in marriage, was contrary to faith in God. He states, “For continence is not merely a matter of sexual abstinence… sexual abstinence is self-control granted to us, since it is a divine power and grace” (Clement 492). Clement defends the dignity of marriage which was instituted by God and that sexuality was willed by God for the creation of humans. Marriage is participating in the creative work of God and part of his defense of the goodness of creation. Thus, to deviate from procreation and associate with sexual deviants is to reject participating in the creative work of God. Thus, morality and natural law endorsed the dualism between Christian spiritual love, which was the Christian vocation, and solely sexual love, which was seen as not moral.
Christian writers often portray their opponents as sexually aggressive and their opponent’s women as defenseless. Christian writers slandered their opponents as masculine women and feminine men, who could not enforce gender hierarchies in their communities. Early Christian authors invoked sexuality and gender to assert Christian differences since the opponents violate the nature of sex and gender norms. In Christ the Educator, Clement notes that the male opponents “have become the passive mate in sexual relations and women act as men; contrary to nature, women now are both wives and husbands” (Clement 217). Assigning gender roles allowed the church to utilize sexual slander to construct and reinforce customary understandings of gender roles to protect the morals of Christians. Contrary to Clement’s view of women as too masculine, Epiphanius views women as easily deceived, “[Borborites] deceive the womenfolk who put their trust in them” (Epiphanius 101). Epiphanius projects the idea of women as naïve in order for women to be protected from sexual prowess and thus women will be protected from the Borborite sexual immorality. Deviation from assumed gender norms defile the nature of sex. Sexualized rhetoric served as motivation to protect the Christian community to continually live holistically.
For Christians, sex defined what it meant to be in communion with God. Christians called on people to lives of sexual purity and proclaimed sexuality as a union between people and God. Modern day rhetoricians rely on accusations of deviant sexuality against their opponent’s character to arouse anger to prove that they have little concern for others or their community. For early Christian writers, the use of sexualized rhetoric proved their opponents lack of concern for their relationship with God and living holistically. Sexualized rhetoric vilifies the opponents and diminishes their character, which pushes opponents further away and defines sexual morality through Christian teachings.
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