Captive Virgins: St Gregory of Nyssa vs. … Well… Vs. Me, I Guess

Captive Virgins: St Gregory of Nyssa vs. … Well… Vs. Me, I Guess September 13, 2014

and let’s see what that title does for my search requests.

Wesley Hill truffled up a really fine short article on Gregory of Nyssa’s “On Virginity,” which offers a much-needed corrective to the way I usually talk about vocations for celibate queer people. Here’s an excerpt, but the whole thing is worth your time:

…Adults are single in greater numbers than ever before, but the singles who usually speak in public discussions are sexually active. Why is it that Christian adults who are single tend to be silent about their virginity? Perhaps it is partly because unless one is in that rare category of being “called to be single” (a phrase that evokes the image of a missionary in a pith helmet), they are very frequently deeply ambivalent about their status. Life is good, but there are many unfulfilled longings. A sense of absence, loss, and shame all come along with virginal sexuality at one time or another.

But is that all there is? Does the church have more positive ways of viewing the increasing phenomenon of single, virginal sexuality?

In the essay On Virginity, by the Greek church father Gregory of Nyssa, it is the virginal body that is productive and fruitful. The virginal life is one of fullness and presence rather than absence. Although Gregory thinks that it is possible to become married and still remain a “virgin” in one’s soul, it is only for those who are especially strong. To be a virgin in one’s soul is to be set apart for God, undistracted by other great passions, which may push aside our passion for God.

more–2nd and 3rd to last paragraphs are really lovely.

The essay also notes, “For the Christian, virginity is not about loneliness. Indeed, for the Christian, it is impossible to be a virgin alone,” because virginity, understood as offering oneself in body and soul to God alone, offers unique closeness to God.

And yet… like ninety percent of what I write is about how to divide your love. How to have the human intimacies which will be transformed in Heaven, rather than the foretaste of that transformation which undivided “virginal” love offers. If you have truly close friendships, you will worry about them; you will be enmeshed in nets of care. You will think about your friend sometimes when maybe you should be thinking about God. You will fear the loss of the friendship, or the loss of the friend, and you will take on extra burdens so that your friend can have a better life.

If you care for those in need, sometimes they’ll call while you’re praying. But more than that–your whole being will be turned toward these particular people, and not turned solely, uniquely to God.

I really liked this essay because it reminded me of how much I’ve been affected by the cultural disdain for virginity; even if we expand our definition of familial love, we still need to honor devotion to God alone, and I pretty much never write about that.

I don’t have much to add because I am actually super distracted and divided. I pretty much do try to fit God in among my daily cares and responsibilities, my little loves for other people, squooshing Him around like Barbapapa. I don’t think I should love other people less! Most of us, I think, need the little human loves, the little vocations, with all their worldly cares and distractions. But this essay was convicting, as the Protestants say. Mary has chosen the better part.


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