ancient Latin Christian hymns appreciate men’s sexuality

Saint Ambrose of Milan

In the fourth century, Ambrose of Milan composed a Latin hymn for the Christmas season. With sexual frankness nearly unspeakable today, Ambrose’s hymn “Redeemer of the Gentiles, come {Veni, redemptor gentium}” set Jesus’s conception and gestation in parallel with men’s sexual generosity:

Redeemer of the Gentiles, come;
show forth the birth from virgin’s womb;
let every age show wonderment;
such birth is fitting for our God.

Not issuing from husband’s seed,
but from the Spirit’s mystic breath,
God’s Word was fashioned into flesh,
and thrived as fruit of her womb.

The virgin’s womb begins to swell;
her chaste enclosure remains intact:
the banners of her virtues gleam;
God in his temple lives and stirs.

From wedding-chamber he comes forth,
from the royal court of chastity,
as giant of his twin natures,
eager to hasten on his way.

{ Veni, redemptor gentium;
ostende partum virginis:
miretur omne saeculum;
talis decet partus Deo.

Non ex virili semine
sed mystico spiramine
Verbum Dei factum est caro,
fructusque ventris floruit.

Alvus tumescit virginis,
claustrum pudoris permanet;
vexilla virtutum micant,
versatur in templo Deus.

Procedat e thalamo suo,
pudoris aula regia,
geminae gigas substantiae
alacris ut currat viam. } [1]

Why is birth from a woman who never had sex with a man fitting for God? Ambrose explains that God’s mystic breath did the work of a husband’s semen. Carrying forward the figure of displaced, near-divine masculine sexuality, Ambrose implicitly contrasts the swelling of the womb with the swelling of a man’s penis. The later commonly penetrates a beloved woman’s vagina, but Ambrose explicitly elaborates that “the chaste enclosure remains intact.” Abstractly celebrating the bodily reality of a woman’s genitals late in a pregnancy, Ambrose declares, “the banners of her virtue gleam.” The subsequent stanza associates God’s temple with a wedding chamber, again proclaims the mother’s chastity, and declares Jesus “a giant of his twin natures.” Given the bodily figuration of these four stanzas, that phrase plausibly carries the punning meaning, “a giant of testicular substance.”[2] The virgin mother set forth from her womb a wonderfully masculine son.

Translators seem to have lacked the good faith to read Ambrose’s hymn frankly. Bodily figuration is prevalent in Hebrew scripture, and the Hebrew psalms were the primary hymns of the nascent Christian church. Yet an influential mid-nineteenth-century British translation of Ambrose’s hymn rendered the bodily “not issuing from husband’s seed” as “with virgin honour all unstained.” A mid-nineteenth-century American translation is “Of the virgin undefiled!”[3] A man having licit, loving sex with a woman neither stains her nor defiles her. Womb, flesh, swelling, gleaming intact banners of the enclosure — all these are lost in lofty, pious abstractions of prominent English translations. They provide words not brought to life in the flesh.

Other early Christian hymns also show appreciation for men’s sexuality. A hymn entitled “O Christ, redeemer of all {Christe, redemptor omnium}” recognized both that Jesus was born of a woman who never had sex with a man and that Jesus was a fully masculine man:

Remember, our salvation’s author,
that long ago you took the form,
out of an untasted young woman,
of our own body, and were born.

{ Memento, salutis auctor,
quod nostri quondam corporis
ex illibata virgine
nascendo formam sumpseris. } [4]

Early Christian men understood, as all men should, that our bodies, our selves, was the form that God chose to be. Toxic masculinity is a demonic claim. Medieval literature described husbands’ sexual obligation to their wives as having life-saving importance. An ancient Christian hymn “O Jesus, our redemption {Iesu, nostra redemptio}” alluded to the salvific form of men’s sexuality:

The burning enclosure you penetrated,
your captives you redeemed,
victor in noble triumph,
on the Father’s right you sit.

{ Inferni claustra penetrans
tuos captivos redimens,
victor triumpho nobili
ad dextram Patris residens. } [5]

Most healthy women who don’t hate men find particular men captivating. Men redeem such women by penetrating their burning enclosures. From a burning bush Moses heard the voice of God.[6] Christians properly understand men’s sexuality as sacralizing.

While men should be appreciated in their romantic simplicity, men, like women, can become sexually corrupt. The early Christian hymn “Jesus, you are the virgins’ crown {Iesu, corona virginum}” shows poignant masculine self-consciousness. It includes the masculine fantasy of being surrounded and adored by young, devoted women:

You who among the lilies feast,
enclosed by bands of virgins there,
a bridegroom handsome in your fame,
and rendering prizes to your brides.

Wherever you advance,
the virgins follow you and race,
singing your praises, in your wake,
and make their sweet hymns to resound.

{ Qui pascis inter lilia
saeptus choreis virginum,
sponsus decorus gloria,
sponsisque reddens praemia.

Quocumque pergis, virgines
sequuntur, atque laudibus
post te canentes cursitant
hymnosque dulces personant. } [7]

Those praying the hymn then ask for greater vision and recognize the risk of becoming corrupt in love:

We pray you now, more generously
give added vision to our minds,
to have no truck with any wounds
inflicted by corruption’s dart.

{ Te deprecamur, largius
nostris adauge mentibus
nescire prorsus omnia
corruptionis vulnera. }

Corruption’s dart alludes to the arrow of the traditional Greco-Roman god Cupid. Paul of Tarsus explicitly denounced sexual failings among Christians. The goodness of men’s sexuality doesn’t prevent it from being used wrongly.

Christians have joyfully sung hymns since the birth of Christ. The hymns above are included in the Roman Breviary {Breviarium Romanum} and the Liturgy of the Hours {Liturgia Horarum} — books that church leaders and devoted faithful have long used for daily prayer.[8] With their frank appreciation for men’s sexuality, these hymns can guide all men and women to wonderful singing.

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[1] “Give ear, O king of Israel {Intende, qui regis Israel},” stanzas 2-5, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Walsh (2012) pp. 14-5. This hymn now commonly begins without the first stanza and thus is known as “Redeemer of the Gentiles, come {Veni, redemptor gentium}.” Here’s the full Latin text.

A fifth-century Latin Christian hymn similarly emphasizes Mary’s virginity:

Celestial grace does enter in
the enclosed belly of the girl;
the girl’s womb as burden bears
such mysteries are she knew not.

Directly is the dwelling of
her chaste bosom made God’s temple;
untouched and not knowing men,
she by the word a son conceived.

{ Clausae puellae viscera
caelestis intrat gratia;
venter puellae baiulat
secreta quae non noverat.

Domus pudici pectoris
templum repente fit Dei;
intacta nesciens virum
verbo concepit filium. }

“Away from sunrise’s hinge {A solis ortus cardine},” stanzas 3-4, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Walsh (2012) pp. 86-7. Walsh translated “intacta nesciens virum” as “untouched and innocent of men.” Men should not be essentially associated with guilt.

[2] Alan of Lille’s erudite twelfth-century poem Undoing the Knot {Vix nodosum valeo} uses geminus frater {twin brothers} in the sense of testicles. That straight-forward metaphor plausibly was used many centuries earlier.

[3] The mid-nineteenth-century British translator is John Mason Neale. The American translator is William M. Reynolds. The Clerk of Oxford provides both translations.

[4] “Christe, redemptor omnium,” stanza 3, Latin text and English trans. (modified) from Walsh (2012) pp. 170-1. This sixth-century hymn has long been song at Vespers on Christmas Day. Id. p. 446. This hymn and the subsequent two were part of the New Hymnal. That book of Christian liturgical hymns probably originated in tenth-century France. Id. p. xii.

Walsh exchanged the order of the third and fourth verses in translation. That seems to me to downplay the importance of Jesus being incarnate like other men. For “ex illibata virgine,” Walsh translated “out of a virgin without stain.” The Latin illibata is rooted in libatus, which can mean a drink poured out in honor of god or gods. A man having licit, loving sex with a woman doesn’t stain her.

[5] “O Jesus, our redemption {Iesu, nostra redemptio},” stanza 3,  Latin text and English trans. (modified) from Walsh (2012) pp. 178-9. The revised Roman Breviary has this hymn at First Vespers on Ascension Thursday. Id. p. 448. The first line of this stanza Walsh translated as “Hell’s gate you penetrated.” My translation, which is more literal, helps to bring out the inter-textuality with Tertullian’s On the Apparel of Women. The stanza refers most directly to the Harrowing of Hell. See Matthew 27:52-4.

[6] In medieval European thought and poetry, the burning bush was associated with Mary’s womb: “This {the burning bush not consumed with flames} prefigured the blessed Virgin, whom the fire of the Holy Ghost illuminated with offspring, yet defiled not with the flame of concupiscence.” Honorius Augustodunensis, Speculum ecclesiae, quoted in Raby (1953) p. 369.

Adam of Saint-Victor perceptively connected the burning bush with moistening:

The dew descends over the fleece,
and the flame glows in the bush,
yet neither is harmed.
It was Christ assuming the flesh,
yet not consuming
your purity {Mary’s purity} when he was born.

{ Super vellus ros descendens
et in rubo flamma splendens,
neutrum tamen laeditur.
Fuit Christus carnem sumens,
in te tamen non consumens
pudorem, dum gignitur. }

“Let us give solemn thanks on this day {Gratulemur in hac die},” st. 17-18, Latin text and English trans. Mousseau (2013) pp. 168-9.

[7] “Jesus, you are the virgins’ crown {Iesu, corona virginum},” stanzas 2-3, Latin text and English trans. (modified) from Walsh (2012) pp. 194-5. The subsequent quote is similarly from stanza 4 (the last stanza). Here’s the full Latin text. This hymn was composed for the Common of Virgins prayer day.

[8] The Magnificat and the Benedictus are Jewish hymns incorporated into Luke’s Gospel. Luke 1:46-55, 68-79. The Gospels of Mark and Matthew record a hymn sung in conjunction with the last supper with Jesus. Mark 14:26, Matthew 26:30.

[image] Mosaic of Ambrose of Milan (excerpt). Fifth-century mosaic in the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, Sacello di San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro. Image used under fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law.


Mousseau, Juliet, trans. 2013. Adam of Saint-Victor. Sequences. Leuven: Peeters.

Raby, Frederic James Edward. 1953. A History of Christian-Latin Poetry: from the Beginnings to the Close of the Middle Ages. 2nd Ed. (1st ed, 1927). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Walsh, Peter G., ed. and trans., with Christopher Husch. 2012. One hundred Latin hymns Ambrose to Aquinas. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, vol. 18. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Symeon the New Theologian overcame Christian gender disadvantage

Origen castrating himself, Empedocles throwing himself in fire

Christian men are gender-disadvantaged relative to Christian women. Mary, the first and preeminent Christian disciple, conceived and nurtured Jesus within herself, as all subsequent Christians, including men, were to do. Scripture and Christian tradition figure the Christian Church as feminine — the bride of Christ.[1] The fully masculine man Jesus calls both Christian women and men to love him personally and passionately. With gynocentrism and heterosexuality dominant in human societies, ordinary men tend to be marginalized in the Christian Church and struggle to understand personally God’s passionate love for them.

In eleventh-century Byzantium, Symeon the New Theologian understood personally the extreme abasement of God in becoming a male human being. As the revered Trojan epic cycle makes clear, thousands of men’s lives matter less than the life of one beautiful woman Helen. Gyno-idolatry has been prevalent throughout human history. Byzantine society, not surprisingly, was deeply gynocentric, and men’s sexuality was devalued. Symeon probably had his testicles cut off as a youth for career advantage in the Byzantine civil service.[2] Symeon surely understood that God became incarnate as a male, not a female, to unite the extremes of divinity and humanity as commonly perceived.[3]

Symeon the New Theologian had lived a dissolute life as a leading eunuch in the imperial court at Constantinople. Symeon confessed his evil acts:

I would like to tell them {my evils} here, but certainly not all, O Word,
for they are innumerable beyond the stars,
beyond the drops of rain, and the sand
of the sea, beyond the multitude of surging waves.

I had become a murderer — listen everyone
so that you may weep sympathetically — but the manner
of murder, I leave aside, on account of too long a speech.
Alas, I had also become an adulterer at heart,
and a sodomite in deed and by free choice.
I became a philanderer, a wizard, and a corrupter of boys,
a perjurer, a blasphemer, a money-grabber,
a thief, a liar, shameless and rapacious — woe is me!
abusive, brother-hating, exceedingly jealous
and money-loving, reckless, and also every
other form of wickedness I have committed.
Yes, trust me, I say these things truly,
and not in imagery, not in clever metaphor! [4]

Eunuch officials in Byzantium were commonly despised for their viciousness. At age 28, Symeon withdrew from his eminent position in the imperial court to become a monk.

Symeon understood that he needed God’s love to be saved from darkness, sorrow, and loneliness. Symeon proclaimed:

But if it is possible to be saved
without love, O my Christ,
how shall this be?


If we were separated from the light,
how shall we flee the darkness?
If we were deprived of the joy,
how would we be free from sorrow?
Having been found outside the bridal chamber,
how would we be completely happy?

Having fallen out of the Kingdom,
— I speak of seeing you, O Savior —
what other salvation,
and what sort of consolation,
or in what other kind of place
would we be able to find salvation?

Certainly, absolutely nowhere,
even if some foolishly perceive it so.

Symeon described God’s love as spiritual light and fire. He experienced himself united with God. That experience wasn’t outside of his body. Symeon’s experience of God involved the same senses as human erotic experience:

He is seen by me and he looks at me, he who looks upon all things.
Amazed, I am astonished at the shapeliness of his beauty,
and how the Creator stooped down when he opened the heavens
and displayed his unspeakable and strange glory to me.
Who therefore shall also come closer to him?
Or how shall one be carried up to the immeasurable heights?
When I considered this, he himself was found within me,
flashing forth within my wretched heart,
illuminating me from all directions with immortal radiance,
shining upon all my members with his rays,
folding his entire self around me, he tenderly kisses all of me.
He gives his whole self to me, the unworthy,
and I take my fill of his love and beauty,
and I am filled full of divine pleasure and sweetness.

Symeon understood that Jesus loves men as passionately as he loves women. That gift of love can be experienced right here on earth:

I revel in the unspeakable and divine joy;
I make merry in love’s beauty, I often embrace it,
I kiss it, and fall down in worship, I have great thankfulness
to those who have arranged for me to see what I was desiring,
to partake in the inexpressible light, and to become light,
and to share in the light’s gifts here on earth,
and to obtain the provider of all good things,
and to lack no spiritual gifts. [5]

Symeon urged others to partake of this joyful, divine eros. Far too many persons don’t experience this joy.

Hatred of men and demonization of men’s sexuality destroys human and divine eros. Scholars today are embarrassed that Jesus was a fully masculine human being. In service of dominant gynocentric ideology, they pontificate about “the mystery of the dual-gendered sexuality of the total Christ.”[6] In more enlightened eleventh-century Byzantium, Symeon recognized that Jesus had a penis, and that men shouldn’t be ashamed of their penises:

We were made members of Christ, and Christ becomes our members

and so thus you well know that both my finger and my penis are Christ.
Do you tremble or feel ashamed?
But God was not ashamed to become like you,
yet you are ashamed to become like him? [7]

Those who seek worldly status in our ignorant and bigoted age write lengthy discourses on the problematics of essentializing gender and the essential androgyny of non-hyper-masculinity. In reality, Christian men must develop the strength of love that Symeon knew:

Love put to flight a column of demons,
it chased away cowardice,
it introduced manliness.

Our time desperately needs Symeon’s witness of Christian manliness.

Christian Dionysos statuette from Hermitage

A Roman statuette of Dionysos, repurposed in eighth- or ninth-century Byzantium, illustrates possibilities for overcoming gynocentrism and men’s Christian gender disadvantage. The statuette’s display of male genitals wouldn’t have shocked Byzantines in Constantinople. They were accustomed to a monumental classical sculpture of a naked ass-driver and ass and a statue of Priapos holding in his left hand his erect penis.[8] Two cross-shaped monograms stamped on the statuette’s chest are pointed with Greek letters representing “Lord help me.”[9] That inscription obliterates Roman men’s pride in acquiring war wounds on their chests. Accentuating the statuette’s lithe waist is inscribed text of Psalm 29:3. In a medieval liturgy for Epiphany, that text generated words for consecrating water:

I have heard Your voice, Lord, crying in the wilderness, when You thundered over the mighty waters, bearing witness to Your son. [10]

A Byzantine crafts-person apparently repurposed the Roman statuette of Dionysos to be a personal receptacle for consecrated holy water. The figure of Dionysos may have been appropriately re-visioned as Jesus Christ. Symeon the New Theologian sought to bring the spiritually complacent to an epiphany of divine eros.[11] The Byzantine maker and owner of this statuette understood Symeon’s message before he proclaimed it. Even in our more ignorant and bigoted age, we too should be able to appreciate a masculine representation of divine eros.

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[1] Romanos the Melodist’s kontakion On Mary at the Cross characterizes Mary as a mother who nearly dominates Jesus. The Grottaferrata version of the early Byzantine epic Digenis Akritis poignantly addresses gynocentrism. Images of Mary were mass-produced in Crete in 1499. Milliner (2014) pp. 21-2. The same was probably true earlier and elsewhere. Among late twentieth-century Christian pilgrimage sites in Western Europe, about two-thirds primarily concern Mary. Nolan & Nolan (1989) pp. 116-7.

[2] Symeon lived from about 949 to 1022 GC. Niketas Stethatos’s eleventh-century hagiographic life of Symeon, entitled The Life and Conduct of Our Father among the Saints Symeon the New Theologian, Elder and Superior of the Monastery of Saint Mamas Xerokerkos, states:

Symeon, this man so renowned for his virtue, was born in the region of Paphlogonia …. His home was a village called Galati by the local inhabitants. His parents, who were of noble and rich stock, were Basil and Theophano, known by the surname Galatones. While still at a tender age, he was taken to Constantinople by his parents, like some precious object, and entrusted to his grandparents who were at that time well known at the imperial court. He was also handed over to a schoolteacher and taught the elementary curriculum.

Life of Saint Symeon, Ch. 2, from Greek trans. Greenfield (2013) p. 5. Symeon’s paternal uncle was a bed chamberlain (koitonites), an influential imperial position close to the Byzantine Emperor. The bed chamberlain was usually a eunuch. Undoubtedly with his uncle’s help, Symeon quickly earned the rank of spatharokoubikoularios (“Gentleman Sword-Bearer of the Imperial Bedchamber”), a position historically reserved for eunuchs, although not necessarily so in Symeon’s time. Life of Saint Symeon, Ch. 3; Greenfield (2013) p. 400, notes 1, 3, 4; McGuckin (2005) p. 199, n. 4; Tougher (2008) p. 62.

According to the Life of Saint Symeon, the pious man Philotheos helped to construct “a holy monastery for ascetics at Anaplous on the Byzantine Bosphorus.” Philotheos became a monk in that monastery. He then had a vision of Symeon as a “gray-haired man, a respectable and dignified-looking eunuch with a particularly angelic appearance and a face full of divine grace.” That eunuch identified himself to Philotheos as Symeon. Life of Saint Symeon, Chs. 145, 147, trans. Greenfield (2013) pp. 361, 365.

Given the evidence, Symeon almost surely was a eunuch. McGuckin in several places reasonably assumes that Symeon was a eunuch. McGuckin( 2005) p. 197; p. 197, n. 8; p. 200, n. 55. Above I also regard Symeon as a eunuch. On the specific form of Symeon’s castration, see note [7] below.

[3] Symeon, Τῶν θείων ὕμνων οἱ ἔροτες {Hymns of Divine Eros} 7.42 refers to God incarnate in Jesus as uniting two extremes.

[4] Symeon, Hymns of Divine Eros 24.64-67, 71-83, from Greek trans. Griggs (2010). All but the final quote are similarly from Hymns of Divine Eros, with citations (cited by beginning words of quote, hymn.lines): But if it is possible…, 17.426-42; He is seen by me…, 16.17-30; I revel in the unspeakable…, 18.116-24; We were made members of Christ…, 15.140, 160-3; Love put to flight…, 17.390-2. I’ve made some insubstantial changes to the translations. Koder (1969-73) provides a critical edition of the Greek text.

[5] Răducan (2011) analyzes the conflation of eros and agape in Symeon’s hymns. Symeon described what is known in Orthodox Christian thought as theosis. Krueger observed:

He {Symeon} cannot convey or understand the love of God independent of human emotions and experience. … This relationship between carnal desire and desire for God does not reduce to a “mere metaphor” or simple binary, one that might erase the metaphor’s referent by transferring its sense to another thing. Rather, knowledge of the experience of one contributes to the indescribable experience of the other. Under these conditions, carnal and spiritual eros engage in mutual constitution, shaping, defining, but not necessarily bounding each other.

Krueger (2018) pp. 318, 336 {references omitted}. Krueger shows that Symeon’s descriptions of love are similar to those in Byzantine romances.

[6] Milliner (2014) p. 26. In response to Steinberg’s seminal presentation of Renaissance ostentatio genitalium, Milliner used Byzantium to advance contemporary academic gender orthodoxy. Rachel Fulton Brown courageously and astutely responded:

Scandalous as it might be actually to agree with Steinberg, I have a rather different take on the matter. As I read it, it was never Steinberg’s main point that only Renaissance artists ever attempted to show Christ in his humanity, only that when they did, given their commitment to a certain style of naturalism, they found themselves obliged to represent the full humanity of Christ as a man, including his genitalia — and for good theological reasons.

Brown (2014) p. 2. Missing the obvious specificity of Renaissance naturalism, Robert Nelson in response to Milliner began with an ad hominen disparaging memory of Steinberg and then lamented Steinberg’s neglect of iconic presence. On the latter, Galbi (2003). Nelson cursorily dismissed “Steinberg’s flawed thesis that is now thankfully fading into the past.” Id. p. 1. Steinberg’s thesis is fading into the past only because academics are becoming more narrow-minded, bigoted, and doctrinaire.

[7] Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. In his original Greek text, Symeon unambiguously refers to his penis:

πάντως οὖν οὕτως ἔγνωκας καὶ δάκτυλόν μου Χριστὸν
καὶ βάλανον — οὐκ ἔφριξας, ἢ σὺ καὶ ἐπῃσχύνθης;
Άλλὰ Θεός σοι ὅμοιος οὐκ ᾐσχύνθη γενέσθαι,
σὺ δὲ ἐκείνῳ ὅμοιος αἰσχύνῃ γεγονέναι

Hymns of Divine Eros 15.160-3, Greek text from Hoder (1969-73) vol. 1, p. 290. Byzantine writers were willing to refer to genitals. John Tzetzes, perhaps the greatest classical of all time, recast a Homeric epithet to form an erudite allusion to women’s genitals. A fourteenth-century Byzantine poem compared the penises of a donkey and an ox. Unlike for today’s elite, for medieval elite the typical bodily reality of sexually dichotomous genitalia would not have been shocking or embarrassing.

D.T. Nguyen at Asian Orthodoxy aptly observed:

It’s too simplistic to say that Symeon has no patience for puritanical prudery and stop there. Really, these hymns are a slap to the face of those who demand the Divine to manifest itself only outside that which is deemed lowly (opposed to heavenly), impure (opposed to pure), or secular (opposed to sacred). … We are always expecting an apocalyptic enlightenment totally alienated from the mundane mediocrity of our daily lives. Instead, we receive the anti-climatic insight that this here and now – this really is it. However, we now see it as God sees it: and God saw that it was good.

Nguyen quotes the Outer Chapters of the Zhuangzi addressing the same fundamental issue.

Although Symeon was probably a eunuch, his confession of being a sodomite and his reference to his penis suggest that his testicles were excised, but his penis wasn’t cut off. That was a common form of castration. It is attested in Juvenal’s Satire 6. In missing Symeon’s point, Milliner assumed that Symeon lacked a penis:

But to isolate the penis in this hymn (Symeon was, after all, an eunuch) is to miss the larger point.{note 60: Among other reasons not to overly emphasize phallic imagery in this poem is because Symeon was probably castrated for court service as an eunuch when a boy.}

Milliner (2014) p. 15. Having a penis is personally relevant to Christian men in representing to oneself receiving the Eucharist, following Mary in incarnating Jesus, and having a passionately loving relationship with Jesus.

[8] On the statue of Priapos, Patria 2.12, referenced in note [21] of my post on the naked ass-driver.

[9] From Courtauld Institute of Art (2006) p. 171, which provides a catalog entry for the statuette. Peers (2014) draws attention to the Dionysos statuette, and asks with respect to Byzantine culture:

How did sex in art get activated, sublimated, accomplished in that culture? How did it serve devotion, assimilation and union with God’s own body?

Peers (2014) p. 2. In addition to Symeon’s Hymns on Divine Eros, the progymnasmata of Nikephoros Basilakes provide good insight into those questions.

[10] These words (in Greek) “form part of the liturgical reading of Kosmas the Melode, bishop of Maiuma, uttered during the consecration of water during the feast of the Epiphany.” Courtauld Institute of Art (2006) p. 171 (including quoted text above). Id. suggests the statuette’s use:

Liturgical ewers bearing this text are known, which were used to hold holy water. Ewers originating from excavations in Corinth and Vrap, in Albania, are usually dated to the period of iconoclasm, around the eight and ninth centuries. … It is possible that the statue {statuette} of Dionysos, reworked in the early Middle Ages, began to serve as a distinctive receptacle for consecrated oil or water: this is suggested by the opening in Dionysos’s head, similar to the neck of a jug, and also by the form and average dimensions of glass pilgrim vessels for unction oil and water. If this hypothesis is correct, a glass capsule would have been placed inside the figure through the opening of the head, and the opening would then have been sealed with wax.

Id. According to the Hermitage’s page for it, the statuette is 32 cm tall.

[11] In entitling Symeon’s hymns “Τῶν θείων ὕμνων οἱ ἔροτες {Hymns of Divine Eros},” Niketas Stethatos alluded to Dionysos:

The title {Hymns of Divine Eros} is meant to evoke the Erotikoi Hymnoi of Hierotheos, whom Dionysius speaks of as his mystical teacher in Divine Names 3.2.

McGuckin (2005) p. 199, n. 2.

[images] (1) Origen (at center) castrates himself to make himself more welcomed as a teacher for nuns (on the left). Empedocles (on right) throws himself into a fire in an attempt to establish his immortality. Illustration in Romance of the Rose, “manuscript made for Louise of Savoy, mother of Francis I, with many miniatures in the style of Robinet Testard, French, late 15th century.” Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 195, fol. 122v, via Wikimedia Commons. Romance of the Rose, manuscript created in Paris about 1405, MS. J. Paul Getty Museum, Ludwig XV7, f. 107, similarly contains an illustration of Origen castrating himself and Empedocles in a fire. According to the Romance of the Rose (Ch. 97), both Origen and Empedocles committed outrages against nature. (2) Statuette of Dionysus with a Text of a Psalm, made in Rome in the second-third century, Psalm 29:3 engraved in seventh-ninth century. Found fortuitously by the River Don in 1867. Preserved as item До.1864-2/2 in Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg, Russia), image used in accordance with permission for “interactive forms used for the presentation of scholarly works.” Catalog entry 139 in Courtauld Institute of Art (2006) p. 171.


Brown, Rachel Fulton. 2014. “Penisgate: Response to Matthew J. Milliner, ‘The Sexuality of Christ in Byzantine Art and in Hypermodern Oblivion.’” Religion and Culture Web Forum. University of Chicago Divinity School.

Courtauld Institute of Art. 2006. The Road to Byzantium: Luxury Arts of Antiquity. London: Fontanka.

Galbi, Douglas. 2003. “Sense in Communication.” Online.

Greenfield, Richard P. H., ed. and trans. 2013. Niketas Stethatos. The Life of Saint Symeon, the New Theologian. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library vol. 20. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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Arian Baptistry mosaic centered on Jesus’s navel

Jesus in the Arian Baptistry mosaic

Traditional Greco-Roman and Hebrew thought associated a navel with both the center of a man and the center of the cosmos. The Arian Baptistry mosaic, constructed in Ravenna, Italy, about the end of the fifth century, has a circular design. It shows John the Baptist baptizing Jesus in the River Jordan. At the center of the circular design is Jesus’s navel. That design figures Jesus as a divine man at the center of the cosmos.

Leonardo da Vinci’s late-fifteenth-century Vitruvian Man drawing shows a man’s penis at the center of a bounding square. That geometry represents that a man’s penis is at the center of his earthly being. In the Arian Baptistry mosaic, Jesus’s penis is clearly visible in the water of the River Jordan. That depiction emphasizes that Jesus was a fully masculine man like the man of the Vitruvian Man drawing and other earthly men.

Earthly men should not be shamed for having a penis. Nor should a man be forced to make large, arbitrary, and unreasonable financial payments simply because he served a woman with the wonderful functioning of his penis. Nor should men spreading their legs to create more room for the center of their being be judged a crime (“manspreading”). Meditate on the ancient Arian Baptistry mosaic, and you will understand.

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Writing about 20 BGC, the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius in his book De architectura (On architecture) described a man’s navel as at the center of a circle circumscribing him

The Gospels describe the baptism of Jesus. See Matthew 3:13-7, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-2, John 1:29-34. The figure on the left in the Arian Baptistry mosaic is a personification of the River Jordan.

The Ostrogoth King Theodoric the Great constructed the baptistry. He was an Arian Christian. Arianism represented an early split in Christian theology over Jesus’s status in time.

[image] Arian Baptistry mosaic (excerpt). Photo thanks to Petar Milošević, via Wikimedia Commons.