Submitted by Bewell on
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Hello Marnia and others,

Possible allusions to non-orgasmic sex in the writings of St. Paul have been noted here at Reuniting. This evening I found a Pauline text that supports this point of view, and that I have not noticed before:

That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification
and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know
not God.... 1 Thessalonians 4:4

Here is one scholarly exploration of the text:

Marnia, I'm curious if you have seen this one before.

Best regards,


Thanks for dropping by

No, I wasn't aware of this phrase. Fascinating. I added it to the Wisdom section of the site:

It almost sounds like he's talking about karezza, eh? I've always wondered about the Agapetae tradition, and whether it was another variation on the same theme...or somehow linked to the Sacrament of the Bridal Chamber. I love hearing about historical footprints like these.

St. Paul

[quote=Marnia]...sounds like he's talking about karezza, eh? I've always wondered about the Agapetae tradition, and whether it was another variation on the same theme...or somehow linked to the Sacrament of the Bridal Chamber. [/quote]

Yes, Marnia! That saying can be translated, and interpreted within the larger literary and philosophical context as veritable karezza teaching without strain. The scholarly article that I linked to points in that direction, and makes room for that interpretation, apparently without the researcher knowing anything about karezza. A few paragraphs later in Paul's letter, we have this passage that likewise fits with karezza:

"...let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night , and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation..." (1 Thess. 5:6-8)

Here I see an allusion to, on one hand, drunken, orgasm-driven sex that leaves a person passed out; and on the other hand, sober, non-orgasmic sex, that leaves a person floating in a kind of luminous, lucid, blissful, loving, watchful rest all through the night, turning outer night into inner day. (The sort of rest I enjoyed Tuesday night, subsequent to starting this thread!)


St. Paul

In Marnia's fine article "Spiritual Brides in Early Christianity," she wrote:

"Agapetae... apparently had an otherworldly, spiritual function. There is an allusion to the agapetae in the New Testament:

1 Corinthians 7:36 - But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. 37 Nevertheless he that standeth steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.

We know few details, and most of those come from polemics against the agapetae custom. However, it appears that the practice of a man and woman sleeping together in a lust-free manner represented practical application of one of Christianity's loftiest aims — overcoming lust and thereby freeing oneself of the pull of earthly desires."

That particular teaching by St. Paul is part of a series in which he advises people in various situations vis-a-vis marriage or singleness to "remain as you are." To married couples he writes:

"The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. This is by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God..." (1 Cor. 7:3-7)

It is not clear exactly what Paul means by "I wish you all were as I am," but earlier in the letter, he said that he was speaking to the Corinthians as immature, and fleshy rather than spiritual (2:14). I take it to mean that he wishes they could gain sufficient "self-control" so that they could devote themselves to "prayer" constantly, and not need to "come together again" merely for the sake of avoiding temptation. Paul also writes: ".. those who marry will experience distress in the flesh, and I wold spare you that.... from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none..." (1 Cor. 7:29)

Reading between the lines, I hear Paul inviting married couples to go back to being like they were when they were engaged, and that includes the option of the agapetae -- cuddling without ejaculation -- self-control for the sake of freedom of a life of "prayer." I do not understand "prayer" here as some Church ritual, but rather as setting the stage for inner transformation and cultivation of spiritual love. Or to put it in an even more positive sense, they were preparing for paradise on earth! Paul did say later in the letter (in 2 Cor. 12) that he "knows a man... in Paradise." He was being modest, speaking in third person about a personal gift. He had been initiated into the mysteries, and he knew the present joys of "Paradise now." (I think Tolle really gets Paul) While it is not the only way of responding to Paul, his teaching certainly makes room for Karezza. The hidden inner apocalypse that Paul wants for his readers is the discovery of spiritual embodiment where "fleshy" orgasm-driven desire is transmuted into the stable experience of "spiritual," loving pre-orgasmic bliss.