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Austin Cline

Self-Castration in Early Christianity

By June 5, 2004

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In the New Testament, Jesus is quoted as saying that his followers should "make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” What did he mean by that? Many Christians have taken it literally and castrated themselves. Why don’t they do this anymore?

Dr. Matt Kuefler writes:

Every one of the Church fathers who spoke on self-castration spoke to condemn it. As I argue in my book, they were working hard to demonstrate the manliness of Christianity within a traditional Roman framework, for the purpose of attracting converts from the male aristocracy, and self-castration did not support that agenda. Nonetheless, most betray a begrudging admiration for the goals of self-made eunuchs: after all, virtually all of the Church fathers were also encouraging men to renounce sex, even while they preferred that it was done, as Ambrose said, "by will" rather than "by necessity." Tertullian, in the same treatise, could both ridicule self-castration by saying: "Can anyone ... be called abstinent when deprived of that which he is called to abstain from?" but also praise those persons, "both men and women, whom nature has made sterile, with a structure which cannot procreate," seeing them as a foretaste of the absence of sexual desire in Heaven. Jerome, while discounting the "girding of the loins" as support for castration, also wrote that "all the Devil's strength is in the loins." In each, an awkward support for the end of castration is joined to a condemnation of the means.
Even through the universal disapproval of self-castration, glimpses can be seen of what might have been an articulated defence of the practice. By reassembling these fragments, I believe that it might be possible to reconstruct a "eunuch theology" of sorts. Certainly such a theology would have made frequent appeal to the Biblical passages that presented eunuchs in a positive light: Matthew and Isaiah, foremost, but perhaps also the "girding of the loins" of John the Baptist and Elijah, and the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. Beyond that, advocates of Christian self-castration might have relied on a range of metaphors, drawn from their contemporary society, to augment that positive image. ... Even after the Middle Ages, self-castration returned from time to time. Men of the skoptzy movement of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russia castrated themselves, believing still to fulfill the command of Jesus. And most of the male members of the Heaven's Gate cult, found dead in their San Diego home in 1995, had been surgically castrated. Their leaders seem with clothing and hairstyles to have encouraged a genderless existence.

This is just a bit of the historical exploration of the place of eunuchs and “eunuch theology” in Christianity from Kuefler. Christianity today is certainly more “manly” and “masculine,” such that self-castration wouldn’t be very likely. It’s worth reading.

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Comments
July 6, 2010 at 8:04 pm
(1) Juan says:

The way I see it is that the bible is an incredible book. It has a lot of truth but at the same time is a book that is open to interpretation. One person can tell you one thing and then someone else comes along and contradicts the other. The funny thing is that both can “prove” to you that what they are saying is true by showing you what the bible says.

I believe in God, NOT in religion. Your relationship with God is a one on one relationship. It’s not you, God, your pastor, your girl/boyfriends, and so on. Therefore I read the bible and I ask God to help me interpret the bible in the way he wants me to. In a way that will benefit my life and improve my relationship with him. In a way that will help me follow the path that He wants me to.

If God ever puts in my heart that castration is right for me, then let be so. If not, then I let it be. I don’t care if others would tell me that doing so would be wrong. Because again, their opinion is based on their own interpretation of the bible and not mine. I’m not here to please others, but to please God.

For those who would think that I was wrong and that I would be going to hell (like some christians are quick to tell you), I would tell them some thing that I once hear a transsexual tell a Pastor of a church, after the pastor told him that he (the transsexual) would be going to hell for being what he is…”you worry about you get into heaven, and I’ll worry about I get into heaven!” It was beautiful! The Pastor shut up and had nothing else to say.

So to answer your question, may be those who have castrated themselves feel that God as put it in their hearts. And who are we to tell them that they are wrong? How about if God actually did put it in his heart to do so?

I find it ironic that many christians will tell you that God “put it” in there hearts to do something in particular, but if you were to tell them that God put it in your heart to become a eunuch for him, they would think that you have gone mad.

May be those Christians need to learn that God has a special purpose for each of us. Therefore they need to stay out of someone else’s relationship with God.

July 6, 2010 at 9:41 pm
(2) Austin Cline says:

The way I see it is that the bible is an incredible book. It has a lot of truth

More so than any other religious scripture? If so, how? If not, why focus on just this one?

but at the same time is a book that is open to interpretation.

If it’s “truth,” how can there be so much interpretation?

I believe in God, NOT in religion. Your relationship with God is a one on one relationship.

And how do you know that?

Therefore I read the bible and I ask God to help me interpret the bible in the way he wants me to.

If there were a god and it cared how people interpreted some text, then the text wouldn’t be open to so many different interpretations. No one is stopping any deity from creating a text that is unambiguous.

In a way that will benefit my life and improve my relationship with him.

So… you want an interpretation that will benefit you? What if the “right” interpretation doesn’t benefit you? Aren’t you doing what you criticize in all the others who keep finding convenient interpretations: reading into the text whatever is personally helpful?

If God ever puts in my heart that castration is right for me, then let be so.

And how often has it ever happened that your god has put before you an interpretation that you didn’t like and/or was inconvenient?

So to answer your question, may be those who have castrated themselves feel that God as put it in their hearts. And who are we to tell them that they are wrong?

Functional adults with minds and morals. That’s all that’s necessary to render a judgment about whether someone is acting reasonably, rationally, sensibly, or morally.

How about if God actually did put it in his heart to do so?

How about if someone says that a god put it into their heart to sacrifice their child on a stone altar? Would you refrain from judging then, too?

July 24, 2012 at 11:41 pm
(3) J says:

Castration is a means to escape fleshly desire of lust. It is a method that worked for Christians and kept their minds pure and away from carnal influence.

There are demons of the flesh that control human mental processes. Castration blocks their influence rendering the person to have a clear mind with no interruption.

August 3, 2012 at 10:22 pm
(4) OZAtheist says:

So you are not religious Juan…. you just believe in God. I suppose the Muslims can say the same about just believing in Allah, and the Buddhists and Hindus and all the rest can say the same thing. So we have no religions at all then. That’s a step in the right direction.

I’m all for castration of Christians J. Anything that improves the gen pool should be considered on its merits.

August 4, 2012 at 6:31 am
(5) Grandpa_In_The_East says:

J,

Are you speaking from experience? If not, why not? Why go on being what you are believing you could be better?

Grandpa

October 14, 2012 at 3:08 pm
(6) Jon says:

Castration and even penectomies were done in early Christianity and even now because it allowed men to remove the sexual temptations of the flesh. Masturbation being a sin would cause Christians to slip over and over. This is one sin that is very hard to control so that is why they did that.

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