Virginity and the Narrative of Progress
Chapter 7 is the first chapter in part C of the book, “Erotic Intimacy with Christ and the Maturation of Desire,” which sees the aging bishop, in the late phase of his literary career, retreat from ecclesiastical affairs and focus more intensely than ever before on the implications of diachronic progress in the spiritual life. Chapter 7 examines the expanded meaning of virginity: it now denotes purity of heart in a general moral sense and can therefore be applied to Christians who are married—as long as their desires are chastened and transformed through the practices of prayer and virtue. Gregory, at this point in his literary career, regards any form of sin (hamartia) as an act of spiritual infidelity against Christ, the incorruptible Bridegroom. The parthenia/porneia disjunction is therefore used to contrast the life of virtue and the life of vice (more generally understood), not simply sexual abstinence and sexual vice. Gregory also applies the theme of maturation to the conjugal life—a point so far overlooked in the secondary literature—which provides new insights into his understanding of the order (taxis) of love in the life of virtue. The chapter ends with a detailed elucidation of Gregory’s diachronically theorized account of spiritual maturation (which highlights the essential incorporation of erotic desire in the practice of contemplation) and examines his on bodily development (especially enfeeblement in old age).
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