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St. Jerome, the Puritan.

April 16, 2018

In his post Obeying Your Double Helix Pastor Doug Wilson recommends the book The Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken.  This is a book I read when I originally wrote about Courtly Love back in December of 2016.  At the time I decided not to post on the book because Ryken muddies the waters by attributing a quote from St Jerome to a Puritan.  Ryken does this while explaining that Puritans believed that married sex was dirty unless consecrated by romantic love (emphasis mine):

If the main purpose of married sex is the expression of mutual love and companionship, it is a perversion of sex to reduce it to a merely physical act. “How can two…become one flesh lawfully,” asked Cleaver, “when as there wanteth the union and conjunction of the heart, the true and natural mother of all marriage duties?” 60 Perkins had something similar in mind when he wrote, “Nothing is more shameless than to love a wife as though she were a strumpet.” 61 And Milton wrote,

Although copulation be considered among the ends of marriage, yet the act thereof in a right esteem can no longer be matrimonial than it is an effect of conjugal love. When love… vanishes,… the fleshly act indeed may continue, but not holy, not pure, not beseeming the sacred bond of marriage, being at best an animal excretion.62

I can’t find an online reference at the moment, but the work from Perkins that Ryken quotes* is actually Perkins quoting St Jerome**.  Here is an alternate translation of the same quote from Against Jovinianus (Book I), with a bit more context:

Hence Xystus in his Sentences tells us that “He who too ardently loves his own wife is an adulterer.” It is disgraceful to love another man’s wife at all, or one’s own too much. A wise man ought to love his wife with judgment, not with passion. Let a man govern his voluptuous impulses, and not rush headlong into intercourse. There is nothing blacker than to love a wife as if she were an adulteress.

In the same piece Jerome offers his striking interpretation of 1 Cor 7:1, explaining that Paul is saying sex in marriage is evil, albeit a lesser evil than sex outside of marriage (all emphasis mine).

“It is good,” he says, “for a man not to touch a woman.” If it is good not to touch a woman, it is bad to touch one: for there is no opposite to goodness but badness. But if it be bad and the evil is pardoned, the reason for the concession is to prevent worse evil. But surely a thing which is only allowed because there may be something worse has only a slight degree of goodness.

At any rate, I believe that Ryken is right in general;  Puritans (falsely) believed that romantic love was required to sanctify married sex.  After all, the quote from Milton is correct, even though Ryken failed to note that Milton made the argument in an essay arguing for the adoption of no fault divorce!

What is striking is that Ryken’s error in mistaking Jerome for a Puritan is an understandable error.  Both viewed married sex as something dirty.  The only difference is the Puritans decided that married sex could be made clean, sanctified, through feelings of romantic love, an idea that doesn’t come from the Bible.

*Ryken’s note for this says “61 A Godly and Learned Exposition of Christ’s Sermon in the Mount [Schnucker, p. 360]”.  When writing this post I found an online version of the text:   A GODLY AND LEARNED EXPOSITION of CHRISTS Sermon in the Mount, but cannot find the quote in question.  If you find the quote please let me know in the comments.

**See my post St. Jerome on marriage for more detail.

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Title St. Jerome, the Puritan.
Author Dalrock
Date April 16, 2018 7:01 PM UTC (5 years ago)
Blog Dalrock
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