Origen learned: men shouldn’t castrate themselves to appear righteous

Castration historically has been forced upon men, usually enemy men or men accused of sexual offenses. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus refers to men who have castrated themselves for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.[1] That’s best interpreted as Jesus referring figuratively to men who have vowed celibacy to serve God, as well as serve the community non-sexually. Yet amid social disparagement of men’s sexuality and castration culture, some men wrongly seek to be righteous by castrating themselves. A medieval story of two brothers who castrated themselves to be righteous follows the ancient Christian scholar Origen’s mature thought and universally, authoritatively condemns such self-castration.

The threat of castration of the usual type for a religious man is well-represented in the medieval story of Parson John. He was having sex with another man’s wife. Her husband, like many husbands, was completely subservient to her and ignorant of women’s wiles. But his brother, another parson, was a sensible, no-nonsense man. He instructed his brother to replace the chamber-pot under the marital bed with another, special pot, and then leave for an overnight business trip. So the husband did. Then the wife prepared a lavish meal and invited Parson John over for dinner and to spend the night with her.

Naked in bed that night with the naked wife, Parson John felt the need to urinate. He got up and reached under the bed for the chamber-pot. After he finished urinating, he tried to put the pot away. He discovered that his hands were stuck to it. Naked and shivering, he called out to the wife for help. She sprang out of bed naked and grabbed the pot. Then she also became stuck to it. She called out to her maid for help. The maid jumped out of bed naked and ran to help. She too got her hands stuck to the pot. The threesome danced a miserable jig all night long. The next morning the husband and his brother found them naked and miserable, still bound together to the chamber-pot.

Punishment for adultery has long been gender-biased toward punishing men more harshly. While not criticizing his wife, the husband threatened to castrate Parson John:

The good man said to Parson John, “By the cock’s sweet wound,
you shall lose your balls or a hundred pounds.
Truly you shall have no other choice.”
Parson John said, “In good faith,
help that this pot from me were taken away
and that money I will pay
before I lose my balls.”

{ The godeman seid to Sir John, “Be cockis swete wounde,
Thou shalle lese thine harnesse or a hundred pounde.
Truly thou shalle not chese.”
Sir John seid, “In gode fay,
Helpe this basyn were awey
And that moné will I pay
Er I this harnes lese.” }[2]

Parson John was fortunate. Other men aren’t given the opportunity to pay money to maintain their genitals.

Rather than paying to avoid castration, some men have gone so far as to castrate themselves to appear righteous. A prominent ancient example was reportedly the great Christian scholar Origen of Alexandria at the beginning of the third century. Writing about a century after Origen castrated himself, the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea reported:

When Origen was performing the work of catechetical instruction at Alexandria, he did a thing that gave abundant proof of an immature and youthful mind, yet also of faith and self-control. For he took the saying, “There are eunuchs which made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake,” in too literal and extreme a sense. Thinking both to fulfill the Savior’s saying and to prevent all suspicion from unbelievers’ shameful slander (for, young as he was, he used to discourse on divine things with women as well as men), he hastened to put into effect the Savior’s saying. He took care to escape the notice of the greater number of his pupils. But, wishful though he might be, it was not possible to hide a deed of this nature.

{ Ἐν τούτῳ δὲ τῆς κατηχήσεως ἐπὶ τῆς Ἀλεξανδρείας τοὔργον ἐπιτελοῦντι τῷ Ὠριγένει πρᾶγμά τι πέπρακται φρενὸς μὲν ἀτελοῦς καὶ νεανικῆς, πίστεώς γε μὴν ὁμοῦ καὶ σωφροσύνης μέγιστον δεῖγμα περιέχον. τὸ γὰρ “εἰσὶν εὐνοῦχοι οἵτινες εὐνούχισαν ἑαυτοὺς διὰ τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν” ἁπλούστερον καὶ νεανικώτερον ἐκλαβών, ὁμοῦ μὲν σωτήριον φωνὴν ἀποπληροῦν οἰόμενος, ὁμοῦ δὲ καὶ διὰ τὸ νέον τὴν ἡλικίαν ὄντα μὴ ἀνδράσι μόνον, καὶ γυναιξὶ δὲ τὰ θεῖα προσομιλεῖν, ὡς ἂν πᾶσαν τὴν παρὰ τοῖς ἀπίστοις αἰσχρᾶς διαβολῆς ὑπόνοιαν ἀποκλείσειεν, τὴν σωτήριον φωνὴν ἔργοις ἐπιτελέσαι ὡρμήθη, τοὺς πολλοὺς τῶν ἀμφ᾿ αὐτὸν γνωρίμων διαλαθεῖν φροντίσας. οὐκ ἦν δὲ ἄρα δυνατὸν αὐτῷ καίπερ βουλομένῳ τοσοῦτον ἔργον ἐπικρύψασθαι. }[3]

Self-castration is a terrible response to the danger of false sexual accusations against men. Self-castration shouldn’t be required for a man to appear righteous if he works with women.[4] Demetrius, the Bishop of Alexandria, initially did not condemn Origen’s self-castration. After much time passed, the distinguished Alexander, Bishop of Jerusalem, and the eminent Theoctistus, Bishop of Caesaerea, personally ordained Origen as a presbyter. Then Demetrius caused grave scandal by publicly condemning Origen for castrating himself. Demestrius’s move against Origen at least highlighted the terrible wrong of self-castration. Origen subsequently argued against men castrating themselves.[5]

eunuch acolytes honor the great mother goddess Cybele

Nonetheless, two brothers among the desert fathers near Alexandria in the fourth century apparently didn’t learn from Origen’s mistake. These two brothers castrated themselves after similarly misinterpreting the Gospel of Matthew:

Two brothers, who considered themselves very religious,
conversed about the matter together and became monks.
After they’d received the monastic habit,
they took heed of what the gospel says
— that all those men shall be blessed
who have themselves castrated for the Kingdom of Heaven —
and therefore, these two of whom I’ve spoken to you, they castrated themselves.

{ Deus freres, ke mult religius se tindrent,
Ensemble parlerent e moines devindrent.
Cum il aveient receu monial habit,
Garde pristrent de çoe ke l’evangelie dit,
Ke tuz icels homes bonurez serrunt
Ki pur le regne del ciel espaier se funt,
E, pur çoe, s’espaierent ces dous dunt joe vus dis. }[6]

The brothers’ zeal to be “very religious {mult religius}” was utterly mistargeted. The thoughtful Christian brother who told this instructive story declared:

So they didn’t do wisely, in my opinion,
for God didn’t say it in that sense. Don’t believe it —
that a man should emasculate himself in this life.
But God orders everyone uniformly
to conduct themselves in this life chastely
and strive to restrain lust
so that the testicles cannot make anything.
But these two brothers didn’t take it in that sense.
Instead they castrated themselves, so becoming worse than miserable,
for the archbishop who was of this land
excommunicated both for this misdeed.

{ Si ne firent pas ke sage, çoe m’est avis,
Kar Deus nel dist pas en tel sen, ne quidez mie,
Ke l’em se face demembrer en ceste vie,
Mes il comande ke trestuz uniement
Se contengent en ceste vie chastement
E s’efforcent de lecherie a retraire
E les escoilles ke pas nel pount faire.
Mes ces dous frerez en tel sen nel pristrent pas.
Enz s’espaierent, si firent mut ke las,
Kar l’ercevesque ke del pais esteit
Les escomenge andous pur cel mesfait. }[7]

These two brother monks castrated themselves because they wrongly sought to be regarded as very righteous. Many centuries later, the rich young medieval gentleman Castorio had himself castrated in order to become plump and smooth. Castorio should have learned from Origen’s mature thought or the exemplum of the two brother monks who castrated themselves. Men’s genitals bear the seminal blessing. Men’s genitals should be regarded as godly organs. They should not be cut off for no good reason.

The two brother monks arrogantly claimed to be righteous through their self-castration. They didn’t accept that their archbishop, the Archbishop of Alexandria, had rightly excommunicated them:

And the brothers still thought that they’d done well,
so they held their archbishop in disdain and gave him no regard.
Instead, they complained, saying between themselves:
“For the Kingdom of Heaven we castrated our desire,
and he who excommunicated us acted quite wrongly.
Now let’s go quickly to Jerusalem
and denounce the archbishop, as God sends us there.”

{ E les freres quiderent k’il eusent fet ben,
Sil tindrent del dedeing, e ne lur fut a ren.
Ainz, grundillerent, e distrent entre els memes:
“Pur le regne del ciel espaier nus feimes,
E cil qui nus escomengat il ad mut mesfait.
Ore alum a Jerusalem a grant esplait
Si encusum l’ercevesque, si Deu nus la enveit.” }

Only brothers sure of their righteousness would denounce the Archbishop of Alexandria to the Patriarch of Jerusalem:

What can I say? They went there right away
and showed everything to the patriarch —
that for which the archbishop had excommunicated them outright.
Then the patriarch responded to the brothers in this way,
saying to them: “I excommunicate you as well.”

{ Ke vus dirrai joe? E la s’en alerent tut dreit
Si demustrerent al patriarche trestut,
Cum l’erceveske les escomigout de but.
E si respondi sifaitement as freres,
Si lur dist: “E joe vus escomenge regeres.” }

These brothers still didn’t seriously reconsider whether castrating themselves was wrong. They appealed their excommunication to the Archbishop of Antioch. He also excommunicated them. They subsequently went to Rome and appealed to the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church. The pope also excommunicated them. The brothers nonetheless remained morally sure of themselves:

Then they said: “These people fail us completely,
and they stick together all to the end!
Therefore it’s necessary for us, rather than staying here,
to go to the Archbishop of Cyprus, Master Epiphanius.
He’s a prophet and conducts himself wholly according to God.
He’ll do right for us. Of that, we don’t doubt at all,
for he’s a holy man of such custom
that he doesn’t take a man’s status into account.
Instead, he’s loyal to everyone and very just,
so he’ll never lie for the sake of a mortal man.”

{ Dunc diseint: “Iceste gent nus faillunt del tut,
E ensemble se tenent tut de but!
Pur çoe, nus estoverat, ainz ke issi remainge,
A l’ercevesque de Cypre aler, DANZ EPIPHAINE.
Il est prophete e tut sulunc Deu se content;
Il nus fra dreiture, de çoe ne dotum nient,
Kar il est seinz hom d’itele custume
K’il ne garde pas a la persone de home;
Einz, est feel vers chascun e mut dreiturel,
Si ne menterat ja pur home mortel.” }[8]

As the brothers approached Cyprus, God told Archbishop Epiphanius about them. Epiphanius then sent a message to the brothers. He ordered them not even to enter Cyprus.

Archbishop Epiphanius’s decisive action against the brothers served to reform them. The brothers recognized that they were “wretched and guilty {chatif e copables}” of having self-righteously castrated themselves. Repentance was all that was necessary for them to be welcomed back into the community:

When God, who knows and sees the hearts of all, saw
that they’d repented of their doing,
he revealed their repentance to the bishop,
and the bishop quickly sent for them
and had them brought before him at once,
and he very gently comforted both of them.
Then by him they were made absolved of their sin.
So he reported back to the bishop of Alexandria
with these words, saying in this manner:
“Receive your sons into your authority,
for, in truth, they’ve done their penance.”

{ Lores vit Dex, ke les quors de tuz conuist e veit,
K’il se repentirent de la fesance,
Si mustrat a l’evesque lur repentance.
E l’evesque enveiat pur els hastivement,
Si fist mener devant lui tut en present,
Si confortat mult dulcement ambodous.
E puis furent il par lui de lur pecchié assous.
Si tramist a l’evesque de Alexandre arere
Par ses lettres, disant en tele manere:
“Recevez voz fiz en vostre obedience,
Kar, en verité, il unt faite lur penitence.” }

These brothers didn’t miraculously regain the masculine genitals that they wrongly castrated. Being reformed in that physical sense wasn’t necessary. The brothers were healed of their self-righteous contempt for masculine genitals and the seminal blessing. That’s ultimately sufficient for redeeming everyone of whatever gender.

Affirming the goodness of men’s sexuality requires continual application. About two millennia ago, the classically learned Jewish scholar Philo of Alexandria recorded Jewish perception that Ham laughed when he saw exposed the genitals of his sleeping father Noah.[9] About four centuries later, the classically learned Christian poet Claudius Marius Victor conveyed the moral sense of that Jewish interpretation:

One day Noah, while he celebrated joyfully the Lord’s honors,
indulging in feasts and tasting sweet drinks,
felt the strong wine and, by heavy sleep
overcome, carelessly laid down his limbs on his faithful bed.
Simultaneously his clothing, rolled back, revealed the hidden places
of his body and moved you to laugh, most worthless Ham,
your very font and origin did!

{ Forte Noë domini celebrat dum laetus honores
indulgens epulis et dulcia pocula libans,
persensit vivos latices somnoque gravante
victus membra toro posuit neglecta fideli:
et revoluta simul vestis secreta retexit
corporis et risum tibi, Cham deterrime, movit
fons et origo tui }[10]

Human genitals, including men’s genitals, are a font and origin of human life. Men’s genitals deserve respect. All should recite with reverence early sixth-century verses by the prisoner Boethius:

O father, grant my mind to climb to your majestic seat,
grant me to circle your font of goodness, grant light of being discovered,
light to focus on you the clear sight of my spirit.
Disperse the clouds of heavy, earthly labor
and shine forth in your splendor! You are thus serene
and quiet rest for the blessed. To discern you is their goal.
Beginning, carrier, leader, pathway, end — are you alone.

{ Da pater augustam menti conscendere sedem,
Da fontem lustrare boni, da luce reperta
In te conspicuos animi defigere visus.
Dissice terrenae nebulas et pondera molis
Atque tuo splendore mica! Tu namque serenum,
Tu requies tranquilla piis, te cernere finis,
Principium, vector, dux, semita, terminus idem. }[11]

Men with functioning genitals literally propagate the seminal blessing. Their genitals should be honored as a font of goodness.

Hrabanus Maurus and abbot Alcuin present book to Archbishop Otgar of Mainz

In a figurative sense, all persons can send forth seeds of new life. The scholar and abbot Alcuin of York about 803 urged the Archbishop Aethelhard of Canterbury:

Sow living seeds of truthful words
so that then faith would grow in human hearts.

{ Insere veridicis vitalia semina verbis
Cordibus humanis crescat ut inde fides. }[12]

That’s not merely the task of an early ninth-century celibate archbishop. All persons, even if they have wrongly castrated themselves, can figuratively engage in the worthy work of sowing such seeds.

Men choose castration within structures of righteousness misconstructed according to entrenched disparagement of men’s sexuality. We must collectively repent of castration culture and its historical injustices. Education is essential. Students should learn about the castration in Hesiod’s Theogony and the classical circle of castration and cuckolding. They should study Jerome’s and Augustine’s condemnations of the castrated Galli servants of the great mother goddess Cybele. They should be taught about Origen’s foolish self-castration and about the vicious penal punishment of Peter Abelard. Most of all, everyone should understand that self-castration is a foolish way for men to seek to appear righteous.

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Matthew 19:12. Concerning this passage, see my post on vicious eunuch officials.

[2] The Tale of the Basin, vv. 208-14, Middle English text from Furrow (2013), my English modernization. For a English modernization of the full tale, Brewer (1996) pp. 55-8, where it’s called The Tale of the Pot. This tale belongs to folktale type ATU 571B, “All Stick Together; Lover Exposed.”

The Tale of the Basin survives only in one late-fifteenth century manuscript: Cambridge University Library MS Ff.5.48, folios 58r–61v. The scribe, Gilbert Pylkyngton, apparently was from West Derbyshire. The introduction to this tale in Furrow (2013) provides additional manuscript details and lists printed editions.

A parson is a parish priest. Brewer observed:

Priests were conventionally titled ‘Sir’, better rendered in modern English as ‘Parson’.

Brewer (1996) p. 183, note to tale 3.

With respect to “Be cockis swete wounde” (v. 208), Furrow noted:

A euphemistic swearing by the wounds of Christ, with cock standing in for God as modern gosh does. In medieval Christian theology all three members of the Trinity are equally God, so Christ can be referred to as God just as God the Father can. It is not until 1618 that OED cites the word cock used with the meaning “penis” (see cock n.1, sense 20), but the often anthol­ogized early fifteenth-century lyric “I have a gentil cok” from London, British Library MS Sloane 2393 plays upon the reader’s dawning recognition that the cock in question is not avian. The lyric may mark the early stages of the use of the term for the penis. Given that medieval poets liked to pick oaths with particular significance, cock may well be a pun here, with the sense “penis” playing into the following line in which the philandering priest is threatened with loss of his “harnesse.”

Furrow glosses “harnesse” as “equipment.” It context that word clearly refers to the parson’s testicles. Brewer (1996), p. 58, uses “balls,” which I followed above.

In fifteenth-century England, a hundred pounds was about four times the annualized wages of a laborer or about twice that of a chantry priest. Lorenz (2022). Extorting a hundred pounds from Parson John would have significantly affected his wealth.

[3] Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History {Historia Ecclesiastica / Ἐκκλησιαστικὴ ἱστορία} 6.8, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from Oulton (1932). The controversy among Demetirus, Alexander, and Theoctistus, bishops of Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Caesaerea, respectively, is subsequently recounted in Historia Ecclesiastica 6.8.

Origen’s self-castration refers to Origen castrating himself, or Origen having someone else castrate him at his request. Who actually does the castration matters relatively little. The point is seeking to have oneself castrated to be righteous.

Origen was born about 185 GC. He became a catechist at the catechetical school of Alexandria at age eighteen, meaning about 203. He was ordained as a presbyter in 231. Assuming he actually did have himself castrated, Origen probably had himself castrated in the first decade of the third century.

Eusebius apparently disseminated his Historia Ecclesiastica in four editions. Books 1-7 were disseminated circa 295. Barnes (1980) p. 201. Eusebius thus probably composed his account of Origen’s castation only about 90 years after it occurred. Eusebus disseminated the fourth and final edition of his Historia Ecclesiastica in 325.

Whether Origen actually had himself castrated is a matter of scholarly controversy. Eusebius, who became bishop of Caesarea about 314, probably had good textual and personal sources about Origen. Theoctistus, the Archbishop of Caesarea, ordained Origen as a priest. Origen founded a Christian school at Caesarea and became a famous teacher there. Eusebius greatly admired Origen and had no reason to besmirch Origen with a false claim that he castrated himself. Eusebius’s Historia Ecclesiastica devotes more attention to Origen than to any other person.

Eusebius’s account of Origen’s castration has been generally accepted historically. Writing about 399 GC and possibly with additional historicals sources, Jerome declared of Origen:

He so fled from pleasures that in zeal for God, but not according to true knowlege, he cut off his genitals with a knife.

{ voluptates in tantum fugiit, ut zelo dei, sed non secundum scientiam ferro truncaret genitalia }

Jerome, Letter 84, “To Pammachius and Oceanus {Pammachio et Oceano},” section 8, Latin text from Hilberg (1910-18), my English translation, benefitting from that of Freemantle (1892). Dates for this letter range from 398-400 GC. Most authorities in the medieval and early modern period believed that Origen castrated himself. Skuse (2020) p. 379.

Evidence exists that other early Christian men castrated themselves. According to Justin Martyr’s First Apology, which he wrote about 156 GC, a young Christian man had recently petitioned Felix the governor of Alexandria. The young man petitioned for permission to have a surgeon castrate him (the surgeon refused to do the operation without gubenatorial permission). Governor Felix refused to grant permission for the young man’s castration. The young man accepted Felix’s decision and didn’t attempt to castrate himself physically. Justin Martyr, First Apology, section 29.

Writing about 375 GC, Epiphanius of Salamis contemptuously described a sect (“Valesians”) that imposed castration on its members:

Most of them were members of the church until a certain time, when their foolishness became widely known and they were expelled from the church. All but a few are eunuchs, and they have the same beliefs about principalities and authorities that the Sethians, Archontics, and others do. When they take a man as a disciple, as long as he is still un-castrated he does not eat meat. When they convince him to be castrated, or they castrate him by force, he may eat anything, because he has retired from the contest and runs no more risk of being aroused to the pleasure of lust by the things he eats. They do not only impose this discipline on their own disciples. It is widely rumored that they have often made this disposition of strangers when they were passing through and accepted their hospitality. They seize them when they enter, bind them on their backs to boards, and perform the castration by force.

{ Ἐν μὲν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ οἱ πλείους συνήγοντο ἕως καιροῦ τινος, ἕως εἰς πλάτος ἦλθεν ἡ αὐτῶν ἄνοια καὶ ἀπεβλήθησαν τῆς ἐκκλησίας. εἰσὶ δὲ πάντες ἀπόκοποι πλὴν ὀλίγων, καὶ αὐτοὶ δὲ περὶ ἀρχῶν καὶ ἐξουσιῶν καὶ ἄλλων οὕτως δοξάζουσι. Ἐν μὲν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ οἱ πλείους συνήγοντο ἕως καιροῦ τινος, ἕως εἰς πλάτος ἦλθεν ἡ αὐτῶν ἄνοια καὶ ἀπεβλήθησαν τῆς ἐκκλησίας. εἰσὶ δὲ πάντες ἀπόκοποι πλὴν ὀλίγων, καὶ αὐτοὶ δὲ περὶ ἀρχῶν καὶ ἐξουσιῶν καὶ ἄλλων οὕτως δοξάζουσι. καὶ ὅταν λάβωσιν ἄνθρωπον εἰς μαθητείαν, καθ ὅσον μὲν χρόνον οὔπω τῶν μορίων ἀπετμήθη. ἐμψύχωι τὐ μεταλαμβάιει· ὅταν δὲ πείσωσι τὸν τοιοῦτον ἤ μετὰ ἀνάγκης αὐτὸν ἀποτέμωσι, τότε πᾶν ὁτιοῦ μεταλαμβάνει ὡς ἤδη πεπαυμέιος ἀγῶιος καὶ μηκέτι ἐπικίνδυνος ὤν εἰς τὸ ἐποτρύνεσθαι διὰ τῶν ἐδεσμάτων εἰς ἡδονὴν ἥκειν ἐπιθυμίας. οὐ μόνον δὲ τοὺς ἰδίους τοῦτον ἀπαρτίζουσι τὸν τρόπον, ἀλλὰ πολλάκις καὶ ξέιους παρερχομένους καὶ παρ αὐτοῖς ἐπιξενωθέντα ταύτῃ διέθεντο τῇ ἀγωγῇ. ὡς πολὺς περὶ τούτου θρυλεῖται λόγος. ἀρπάζουσι γὰρ τοὺς τοιούτους ἔνδον καὶ ὀπίσω ἐπὶ συμψελίοις δήσαντες μετὰ ἀνάγκης τὸ χειρότευκτον ἐργάζονται τῆς τῶν μελῶν ἀφαιρέσεως. }

Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion {Πανάριον} 58, sections 4-7, ancient Greek text from Holl (1915-1933) via Perseus, English translation (modified slightly for ease of reading) from Williams (2013) pp. 100-1.

[4] Men’s sexuality to this day is subject to criminal suspicion. Such criminal suspicion supports castration culture. Caner observed:

self-castration was sometimes adopted by male ascetics to allay suspicion which might otherwise arise from their living with female ascetics.

Caner (1997) p. 398. Advocating for castration helps a man to appear righteous in gynocentric academia today. See, e.g. Keufler (2003), Keufler (2022). Cf. Matthew 6:1.

Advocating for castration in gynocentric academia today works through anxieties, conceptual crises, ambiguities, contradictions, abstractions, and the motive force of opportunities for discussion. The implications are straight-forward:

paradoxes, contradictions, and condemnations — in the context of the crisis of masculinity in the later Roman Empire — enabled Christianity to attract adherents, not only in late antiquity but well beyond that period.

Keufler (2003) p. 297. But irrespective of any historical-conceptual developments, male privilege and the marginalization of women are unquestionable, objective truths with no ambiguity whatsoever:

Whether condoned or condemned, and even for those who saw it as an abdication of masculine identity, castration served as an opportunity to discuss the progress toward spiritual perfection in men. Christian writings of all stripes identified the masculine with the spiritual and the feminine with bodily realities, a logic according to which even incapacitated men stood above all women. Regardless, it reinforced the assumptions of male privilege that were so much a part of the ancient world. As many scholars have reminded us, even the genderless ideal of the early Christians proved all too often to be a universe imagined without women.

Keufler (2022) p. 137. That’s how dominant gynocentric ideology is now socially performed.

[5] Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew 15.1-6. For the ancient Greek text and an English translation, Gohl (2019). For some analysis concerning Origen’s commentary on Matthew 19:12, Caner (1997) pp. 402-3. Origen’s commentary is extensive and recognizes “somatic” interpretations of “eunuch” in Matthew 19:12. He also describes a physical effect of castration: no growth of facial hair.

Origen wrote his Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew in 244 GC or later. He thus wrote it more than forty years after he reportedly had himself castrated. That’s surely enough time to change one’s mind about a youthful act. Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew argues for a spiritual interpretation of all three types of eunuchs in Matthew 19:12. Origen as a mature thinker was known for allegorical interpretation of scripture, not literal interpretation.

Ancient scholars were capable of learning and changing their judgments. Keufler ignored Origen’s recusatio on self-castration, ignored the fundamental seminal blessing in Hebrew scripture, and imagined self-castration to have righteous, abstract significance:

So his self-castration was probably not the result of an “immature mind,” as Eusebius claimed, or an excessive literalism, but an embodiment of his beliefs about human existence, the nature of the universe, and his hope for the future of all things – like the actions of the other self-castrating Christians.

Keufler (2022) p. 138. Is such academic analysis a triumph of the human spirit, or an embodiment of man’s inhumanity to man, or merely a string of banalities less real than farting?

[6] Harley 2253 Manuscript, Booklet 1, Lives of the Fathers {Vitas patrum}, Words of the Elders {Verba seniorum} vv. 3279-85, Old French (Anglo-Norman) text and English translation (modified) from Fein, Raybin & Ziolkowski (2015). Id. associates this exemplum with Matthew 5:28–30. However, Matthew 19:12 is more directly relevant. The two passages are related through harsh regultion of men’s sexuality. On interpreting and translating Matthew 19:10-12, Van Tine (2018).

The Templar Henri d’Arci apparently commissioned this Vitas patrum translation from a priest in London, probably an Austin canon, for the moral and spiritual instruction of Templars of the Temple Bruer near Lincoln. Sinclair (1997). The translation seems to have been made between 1170 and 1180. Fein, Raybin & Ziolkowski (2015), “Art. 1, Vitas Patrum: Introduction.” Another surviving copy of the Verba seniorum translation for Henri d’Arci is in Paris, BnF MS français 24862. For a critical edition of the Verba seniorum of that manuscript and MS Harley 2253, Poureshagh (1976).

The story of the two monks castrating themselves is an exemplum under the theme of humility in admitting one’s own guilt. That’s consistent with Origen’s implicit repentance for his self-castration in his interpretation of Matthew 19:12 in his Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.

This exemplum survives in the ancient Greek Anonymous Sayings of the Desert Fathers / Apophthegmata Patrum {ἀποφθέγματα τῶν πατέρων}. See N.334/15.111 lines 11-47 in Wortley (2013) pp. 217-19. It was incorporated into the ancient Greek systematic collection of sayings of the desert fathers. Wortley (2012) p. 273. It was translated into Latin as section 5.15.88 of the systemic sayings among Verba seniorum in Vitas patrum. For an edition, Patrologia Latina 73.968-9. Benedict Baker provided a translation / summary of Vitas patrum 5.15.88 in English. Vitas patrum / Vitae patrum has a complex textual history. On that history, Studer (2012) and Baker’s introduction.

Subsequent quotes above from this exemplum are similarly sourced. Those quotes are vv. 3286-96 (So they didn’t do wisely…), 3297-3303 (And the brothers still thought that they’d done well…), 3304-8 (What can I say?…), 3325-34 (Then they said…), 3342 (wretched and guilty), 3350-60 (When God, who knows and sees the hearts of all…).

[7] In the Anglo-Norman translation, the brother citing the exemplum includes his own opinion of the two brothers’ self-castration. Neither the ancient Greek source nor the Vitas patrum recension of Patrologia Latina includes that extradiegetic perspective. Here’s the beginning of the exemplum in the Patrologia Latina recension:

Two worldly men were pious, and after conversing, went out and made themselves monks. Having as a model for themselves the evangelical voice, but not according to true knowledge, castrated themselves as if doing so was fitting for the Kingdom of Heaven. Hearing of this, the archbishop excommunicated them.

{ Duo quidam erant saeculares religiosi, et colloquentes secum egressi sunt, et facti sunt monachi: aemulationem autem habentes vocis evangelicae, sed non secundum scientiam, castraverunt se quasi propter regna coelorum. Audiens autem archiepiscopus, excommunicavit eos }

Latin text of Vitas patrum / De vitis patrum from Patrologia Latina 73.968, my English translation.

[8] Epiphanius of Salamis was Bishop of Cyprus from about 366 to his death in 403. He was honored as a saint and famed as a vigorous defender of Christian orthodoxy. In the exemplum of the two self-castrating brothers, Epiphanius is positioned as the ultimate pious hero. The Anglo-Norman text transmits his prominence in the exemplum by capitalizing his name and giving him the additional title of Master. Master was a medieval address for a learned teacher.

[9] On Ham laughing upon seeing Noah’s genitals, Philo of Alexandria, Questions on Genesis {Quaestiones in Genesim} 2.71 and On Sobriety {De sobrietate} 32. Philo nonetheless favored brutal regulation of men’s sexuality:

It is better to be made a eunuch than to seek insanely illicit unions.

{ ἐξευνουχισθῆναί γε μὴν ἄμεινον ἢ πρὸς συνουσίας ἐκνόμους λυττᾶν. }

Philo, That the Worse is Wont to Attack the Better {Quod deterius potiori insidiari soleat / Περί του το χείρον τω κρείττονι φιλείν επιτίθεσθαι} 48, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from Colson & Whitaker (1929). For the context in Philo, cf. Matthew 5:27-32.

[10] Claudius Marius Victor, Truth {Alethia} 3.71-77 (only part of v. 77), Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Abosso (2015) pp. 74, 75. Alethia is a 1020-verse hexameter paraphrase of Genesis. Claudius Marius Victor of Marseille composed it in Gaul in the first half of the fifth century. Alethia apparently was meant to instruct students. It survives in one manuscript, BnF Paris, latin 7558. That manuscript was written in the ninth century. For additional text and English translation from Alethia, Kuhnmuench (1929) pp. 331-46.

[11] Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy {De consolatione philosophiae} 3.9M.22-8, Latin text from Stewart, Rand & Tester (1973), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. James O’Donnell has made freely available a helpful commentary. Boethius composed De consolatione philosophiae in 523 while imprisoned by King Theodoric of the Ostrogoths.

[12] Alcuin of York, Letter 311, To Aethelhard, Archbishop of Canterbury, appended poem, vv. 11-2, Latin text from Dümmler (1895) p. 481, my English translation, benefitting from that of Waddell & Corrigan (1976) p. 189. Alcuin’s poem appended to this letter is poem 50 in Poetarum Latinorum Medii Aevi (1881), vol. 1, pp. 262-3. Here’s more on Alcuin’s writings.

While Alcuin was merely a deacon, his vast learning and his status as an advisor to the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne made him an important advisor to bishops. On Alcuin’s relationship to English bishops, Coates (1996).

[images] (1) Eunuch acolytes honor the great mother goddess Cybele. Illumination that Maïtre François made in Paris. c. 1475 in an instance of Raoul de Presles’s French translation of Augustine’s The City of God {La Cité de Dieu}. From folio 341v of manuscript The Hague, MMW, 10 A 11. (2) Hrabanus Maurus and Alcuin of York, Abbot of Tours, present to Archbishop Otgar of Mainz (on right) Hrabanus Maurus’s book, On praise of the holy cross {De laudibus sanctae crucis}. From folio 2v of manuscript Wien, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, cod.652, made in Mainz or Fulda between 830 and 840. Hrabanus Maurus, who was Alcuin’s student, greatly honored Jesus’s masculinity and the biblical seminal blessing.


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