God, Adam, and Eve
 The Tres Riches Heures of John, Duke of Berry

§ 1. General Reflections on Lust and Chastity

THE question how Christians should properly employ the powerful “energy for union” that is experienced as sexual desire is obviously a vast one, spanning the whole breadth of Christian tradition, and occupying some of her finest minds.  Here we will necessarily be forced to restrict our focus to a few select sources and resources that will help us understand and apply the insights that come to us from the early monastic tradition.

THE term Evagrius and the Eastern fathers use for the second logismos (tempting-thought) of the epithumetikon (concupiscible or desiring faculty) is πορνεία /porneia. This word, usually rendered sexual immorality, resists easy translation into English.  It does not refer so much to disordered sexual desire, or lust per se, as to an act or course of action; even to a lifestyle. In the definitions below note in particular how it's archaic origins describe power and control exercised for self-gratification: this control (abuse might be a better word) was exerted chiefly over women who were culturally and economically disadvantaged.

THE Greek virtues σωφροσύνη /sōphrosunē (moderation, temperance) and  ἐγκράτεια /enkrateia (self-control) describe the effort to transform a potentially-dominating energy into the power of self-mastery; and even, in an extended sense, into zeal or desire (ἐπιθυμία /epithumia) for self-giving.


§ 2. Πορνεία / enkrateia = SEXUAL IMMORALITY, UNFAITHFULNESS [Latin: fornicatio  

SOURCES: 1Kittel, The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, (Eerdmans, 2000, c1964).   2 ) H.G.Liddell, R. Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. rev. H.S.Jones & R.McKenzie, (Oxford, 1940).

1. In ancient Greece: πόρνη/ pornē means “to sell,” especially. of slaves.  The term means literally “harlot for hire,” “prostitute”; Greek prostitutes were usually bought slaves. Thus πορνεία / porneia refers in Homer to having casual intercourse with female slaves, who were mostly carried off in war.

2. In the Old testament πορνεία / porneia means “prostitution” but it can also mean adultery by the wife in a marriage.  From the time of the prophet Hosea onwards it allegorically refers to Israel's unfaithfulness to her covenant with the Lord.

3. In the New Testament πορνεία / porneia refers to prostitution, adultery, or any other sexual behavior forbidden to Christians.  It is usually translated as “sexual uncleanness” or “sexual immorality.”


§ 3. Ἐγκράτεια / enkrateia = SELFCONTROL
Σωφροσύνη / sōphrosunē = MODERATION, TEMPERANCE

    In the later Greek philosophical tradition σωφροσύνη / sōphrosunē is generally the broader cardinal virtue of the epithumetikon (concupiscible or desiring faculty). It can mean both [1] “soundness of mind, prudence, discretion, and [2] “moderation in sensual desires, self-control, temperance.” In the New Testament Epistles it generally denotes moderation and balance as opposed to frenzy (Rom. 12:13 & 16; 2Cor 5:13; 1Tim 6:6-19)

    However, in regard to the psychological struggle with desire, the term ἐγκράτεια / enkrateia is generally employed (both in the philosophical literature and to a lesser extent in the New Testament) to describe the self-restraint required when one is tempted by carnal pleasure.

1. In classical Greek ἐγκράτεια / enkrateia  refers to “mastery over self or desires.” It takes its sense from the stem κρατ—, which denotes power or lordship, and which expresses the power or lordship which one has either over oneself or over something. [...]  ). It thus means “to have power or dominion over all things and over oneself,” i.e., “to be inwardly strong,” Behind [this concept] stands the ideal of the free and independent man, of the man who is under no control but who freely controls all things and who in self-restraint maintains his freedom in face of the base pleasures which would deprive him of his self-mastery.

2. Philo adapts the Greek philosophical notion of ἐγκράτεια / enkrateia and describes it as a Jewish ascetical virtue.  For him it means superiority to every desire. This superiority is expressed in  restraint. It relates to food, sex and the use of the tongue.

2. In the New Testament ἐγκράτεια / enkrateia is not found in the Gospels.  In the Epistles it is used in the sense of self-restraint in general (1 Cor:9:25) and sometimes of chastity in particular (Gal 5:23; 1Cor, 7:9)

§ 4. Ἐπιθυμία / epithumia = DESIRE, LONGING, LUST
[Latin: desiderio  

1. In classical Greek: In Homer and the pre-Socratics ἐπιθυμία / epithumia denotes the direct impulse towards food, sexual satisfaction etc., and also desire in general. In the first instance there is nothing morally objectionable or even suspicious about it. Plato and Aristotle still use the term in a neutral sense; however, they encourage theoretical and practical aloofness from the sensual world. Thus from the Stoics onwards ἐπιθυμία / epithumia acquires a negative connotion in philosophical circles.

2. In the Old Testament (Septuagint) ἐπιθυμία / epithumia is generally used of unlawful desire; that is, covetousness or lust.

 3. In the New Testament ἐπιθυμία / epithumia is sometimes used in a neutral sense to describe desire in general (Luke 16:21; 17:22); but it most frequently refers to disordered or sinful desire, and in the Pauline Epistles it can usually be translated as “lust”.

One very notable exception to this generalization is Christ's double use of forms of epithumia  to describe his desire to institute the Eucharist (Luke 22:15):


With [ardent] desire (epithumia)


I have [eagerly] desired (epethumēsa)


to eat this paschal meal with you before I suffer.

τοῦτο τὸ πάσχα φαγεῖν μεθ΄ ὑμῶν πρὸ τοῦ με παθεῖν·


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