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The Measure of MultitudePopulation in Medieval Thought$
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Peter Biller

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780199265596

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199265596.001.0001

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The Precept of Marriage and Sufficient Multiplication

The Precept of Marriage and Sufficient Multiplication

(p.111) 5 The Precept of Marriage and Sufficient Multiplication
The Measure of Multitude

Peter Biller

Oxford University Press

Peter Brown's The Body and Society delineates the ideal of sexual renunciation in early Christianity, traced through the writings of the Greek and Latin fathers. Interwoven with this theme is the human race in biblical and post-biblical history. In the beginning there was the injunction to multiply. After expansion there was reduction to Noah and his wife, and then after the flood expansion again. Now that the world is sufficiently populated, the injunction to multiply no longer binds, and celibacy and virginity have become more praiseworthy than marriage. Brown quotes passages from Jerome, Augustine, and others which express their sense of a world packed and teeming with people. In Brown's subtle account this sense is not an alternative to meditation on the end of time and the completion of the number of the elect. It goes hand in hand with these themes, intertwines with the practice of celibacy, and is set in a specific demographic context. The celibacy of the Encratite communities is evoked against a background of the mountainous areas of Syria and Asia Minor, where ‘the population always exceeded the scarce resources of the highlands’ and John Chrysostom's praise of virginity is set against the quarter of a million inhabitants and three thousand widows and virgins who were under the Church's protection in late 4th-century Antioch. This chapter addresses similar texts and themes.

Keywords:   population, human race, celibacy, marriage, multitude, medieval demographic thought

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