“We Are Called to Monogamy”: Marriage, Virginity, and the Resurrection of the Fleshly Body in Tertullian of Carthage

Carly Daniel-Hughes


Tertullian’s four writings on marriage (two letters “To His Wife,” “Exhortation to Chastity,” and “On Monogamy”) have often disturbed his modern readers. In them, he does not applaud marital monogamy, but suggests that sexual intercourse and childbearing are ungodly, potentially damning enterprises. This paper aims to situate these treatises in conversation with his soteriology. It shows how these writings register tensions that emerge in his claim that the fleshly body will endure in the resurrection, but sexual desire will not. Sexual difference, it argues, is at once central to his soteriological equation, and yet one that exceeds his attempts to define it. Tracing Tertullian’s view of salvation of the flesh, this paper in particular illustrates how his persistent coding of the flesh as feminine works to retain sexual difference, and leads to his promotion of “monogamy,” and not as we might expect, virginity, as the figure of the resurrected life. The paper reveals that when early Christian theorizing about the resurrected body not only had to negotiate the complexities that the sexually differentiated body implied, but also had potentially broad implications to authorize or undermine particular conceptions of gender roles as well as social and familial arrangements. 

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Copyright (c) 2017 Carly Daniel-Hughes

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