Methodius of Olympus’s writings

Some years ago a gnostic magus on Puritanboard attacked me for criticizing Methodius’s gnostic views on sexuality and marriage.  So basically I got attacked on a Puritan forum for upholding the Puritan view of marriage.  Sounds about right.

All citations taken from Schaff’s Ante-Nicene Fathers volume 6

Pros of Methodius

His prose often exquisite and always lyrical. He occasionally approaches the talent of Gregory Nazianzus, the Christian Pindar.
While he often gets off track of his topic, his “wanderings” are very interesting and usually more sound than his main point.

Cons
I do not believe Methodius lost the gospel. I do think he came within a razor’s edge of losing it.
His use of excessive allegory is subject to the critiques of that position. If allegory is true, it is impossible to falsify since there is no permanent standard to say “X is wrong.”

Banquet of the Ten Virgins

Like many ancient Christians, Methodius held perpetual virginity to be the summum bonum. Unlike other ancient Christians, his defense of it, while suffering in terms of exegesis and argument, is the best-written defense (Augustine’s is confused and he knows it; Tertullian’s ranks as the worst treatise in the history of written thought).

“Virginity mediates between heaven and earth” (312-313).
Methodius bases much of his argument on legal analogies from Old Testament shadows: 327-329; 344. Even though this is a form of the Galatian heresy, even here he is not consistent, for he knows that people can bring up another OT text: Genesis 1:27ff about procreating (and even worse, maybe enjoying it). Indeed, he calls such men “incontinent and uncontrolled in sensuality” (320).

“The likeness of God is the avoidance of corruption.” A problematic statement, but not too bad. It gets worse when he adds another premise: virgins have this likeness (313). This brings up a troubling conclusion: can married people have the likeness of God?

Indeed, if you are married you need to work towards the goal of never having sex again. Methodius writes, “Until it removed entirely the inclination for sexual intercourse engendered by habit” (312). It gets worse: if married people enjoy sex, “how shall they celebrate the feast” (347)? What does Methodius mean by feast? Probably not the liturgy in this section (though of course he would draw that same application; you cannot have sex the night before Eucharist, nor can you eat or drink anything that morning); it could be either “the kingdom of God” or the “proper Christian life.” The narrative isn’t clear.

He knows the prohibition against marriage is a demonic doctrine, so he hedges his bets: marriage is to produce martyrs (314).
He has a fascinating discussion on numerology (339) and his commentary on the Apocalypse, while wild and fanciful, is no less arbitrary than any other “spiritual” interpretation of it

Evaluation

It is not accidental that Methodius used OT legal shadows to buttress his argument. He picked and chose from God’s law and supplemented it with the doctrines of man. Gone is the freedom of the Christian life. Indeed, the Gospel has become a New Law (348-349).

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About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
This entry was posted in Book Review, Church History, Fathers, theology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Methodius of Olympus’s writings

  1. cal says:

    What frustrates me is how people will defend Augustine along the lines of at least he took concupiscense seriously (unlike the East). But that begs the question of whether his view of it makes any sense. I use to buy into Augustine more readily when I was more of an existential emo, but that requires me to find all passion as ultimately evil. His moral psychology is only persuasive to manichaeans, of which there are many today.

    Like

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