In the year 312, the Roman Emperor Constantine saw some kind of a religious vision at some time before a battle in which he defeated his major rival at the time, Maxentius (1). Just what the nature of the vision was is unclear, but it did lead to Constantine’s conversion to what became Roman Catholicism. This event functionally ended close to 300 years of an often underground existence of the early Christian religion, which had previously suffered major episodes of violent persecution from a succession of Roman emperors. Now the Church could exist out-in-the-open. Constantine’s conversion led to the calling of a grand Council of Church leaders under the direction of the Emperor himself. (No separation of church-and-state back then. Rick “JFK’s-separation-of-church-and-state-speech-made-me-want-to-vomit” Santorum would have fit right in.) It was held in the lake-side town of Nicea (now Iznik, in Turkey). It produced what came to be known as the First Nicean Creed, the first coordinated statement of Catholic doctrine.
Nevertheless, the bishops were hardly unchallenged in the field of competitive religion. There still were a wide variety of both polytheistic and competing monotheistic religions within both the Eastern and the Western sectors of the Empire. As well, there were major schisms (sometimes leading to violent struggles) within their own house over such issues as the true nature of Jesus: human, divine, or both. Nevertheless, over time those conflicts were resolved, sometimes through the use of force (yes, even over such matters as the nature of Jesus.) Then the bishops struggled with what they could do to enlarge their flock and retain their allegiance. They developed a variety of approaches to solving this problem. One major initiative was to focus on sex.
Well before the advent of Freudian psychology, the bishops figured out that humans really liked having sex, well beyond its absolutely necessary role in procreation. Sex, after all, is for many folks just plain fun. The sex drive, as Dr. Freud told us in modern times, is a very strong one. What better way to cement adherence to the Church and its doctrines than to make sex, other than for procreation, somehow “dirty,” leading to “sinful.” Then of course, in Confession, one could get an excuse for non-procreative sex, but condemnation to hellfire and damnation for having it always lurked in the background. This doctrine was eventually codified by the former libertine St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430). As a scholar of the period tells us, according to St. Augustine, “sin is passed on through sexual intercourse; so once again sexual desire is woven into evil, this through its very transmission.” … Read More