Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Holy Penis: The Full Humanity of Christ and European Scruples

My particular, professional, interest involves the Moravians, an oft overlooked group of radical Christian missionaries who transgressed many boundaries, considered sacrosanct by Anglo-Protestants, in the pursuit of mission. The Moravians came from the old proto-Protestant group known as the Unitas Fratrum, or the Unity, which spawned in the Hussite Wars of the 15th century. The Moravians were reconstituted and given a particular energy by the eccentric, and profound, Christian preacher and prince, Count von Zinzendorf. His theology, connections, and drive were apart of the Moravian evangelical zeal that took the world by storm in the 18th century.

Zinzendorf was a Pietist and a Lutheran, of sorts, but he differed significantly. This shift originally started with Zinzendorf's disagreement with the Pietist establishment at Halle over the nature of conversion. Unlike other Pietists, Zinzendorf did not believe one needed to feel despair and the conviction of sin. Instead, as he himself testified, one might be enclosed by grace before one recognizes sins. While some may feel despair before they are lifted up by grace, this was not universally applicable. One was a Christian whether or not one felt agony and pain over their state of abandon. What was more important was the force of grace, the knowledge that God, in Christ, was indeed the Savior of all mankind.

This break was furthered by other developments. Zinzendorf possessed a different kind of anthropology than most of the Protestant establishment at the time. In a kind of Eastern twist, Zinzendorf believed in a kind of recapitulation, where Christ restored the honor and health of all stations of life through His Incarnation. As per Gregory Nazianzen, what was not assumed was not healed, thus Christ took up all of Human nature. Zinzendorf rejected Original Guilt, as infants were restored to grace through the life of Christ in His own infancy.

What this produced was a more "fleshy" anthropology that valued the Human body and did not devalue it as hopelessly corrupt. Life in the flesh could be the conduit for life in the Spirit, and one did not deny one's Humanity in order to be a Christian. Thus, in Zinzendorf's interpretation of Christ's incarnation as a male and His circumcision, we ought to value the Human penis as something that is redeemed. Contrary to some Eastern fathers who thought sex organs were a concession to weakness (pace Gregory of Nyssa), Zinzendorf promulgated a fully sexed Humanity as part of God's good creation.

Before continuing with the theme of the title of this post, let me elaborate upon Zinzendorf's, and subsequent Moravian, theology. Zinzendorf argued for a sanctification of Humanity, which included our body. But he was no hedonist or one who argued for love of worldly pleasures. As per his theology, Moravians maintained sexual segregation as a means to stay focused on mission. The Moravians appreciated the full Humanness of God in the flesh, but did not mistake this as a means to indulge. The Moravians subjugated their bodies for the purposes of preaching the Gospel. Unlike most other Protestants at the time, the Moravians gave value to singleness, but, like other Protestants, also emphasized the good of marriage. In both cases, Moravian doctrine contextualized both as means for mission. Marriage was a kind of partnership in order to reach more peoples, both male and female. This empowered women as ministers to other women, where men would mostly keep to other men. This gendered segregation of mission was quite effective in the Americas.

Anyway, Zinzendorf promoted a kind of reverence of the maleness of Christ through His male organ. While this might sound disturbing or a like a phallus cult, that is only our own Anglo sensibilities speaking. What Zinzendorf did was only recover a most developed anthropology that we see burgeoning, in some ways, during the Renaissance. In that period, art and statuary of the crucifixion depicted Christ, naked, with an erection. This was not blasphemy or profanation. The point of the art was to proclaim that Christ possessed full control and full virility. Even in what might be considered His most humiliating moment, Christ was victorious. His erection was a sign that the powers of evil could not emasculate Him (as the cross could be construed as a phallic symbol). Rather, Christ was the conqueror of all the evils behind the Romans and Jewish elite, yea, even Death.

We ought to cultivate a kind of appreciation for the penis of Christ in the same way. It ought not shame us that our God took upon the fullness of Human nature, including our sexed identity. Too often, the Christ we are presented is a kind of de-sexed, ethereal individual. This is akin to how modern German theology described Christ as a kind of "beautiful soul", beyond the dirt and sweat of normal Human existence. To some this was a mark of praise, to others (Nietzsche) this was a mark of scorn. But the truth is beyond such.

While there are quite a few preachers who have emphasized, to an idiotic degree, Jesus' manliness by confusing it with cultural visions, they are not completely blameworthy. Rather, they are merely the resultant pendulum swing that made Jesus into some de-sexed, yea, even feminized, individual, reflecting a deficient piety that disinclined men towards kneeling before the King of Kings. Lest we be swept away by emasulated masculinity per our age, or be taken into the machismo of "punch you in the nose" UFC pseudo-piety, hopefully the very fact of our Lord's penis keeps us grounded. This is a strange thought, I admit as much, but it is necessary for us to preserve a healthy understanding of both the Incarnation of God and ourselves.

Yes, in Paradise, we will be as the angels, and we will no longer be given in marriage. Heaven will not be an orgy of any kind. However, nowhere in that passage does it say we cease to be the sexed beings that we are in the present. In the drama of the full Incarnation (which includes crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension), both men and women are redeemed. May we see as such as we continue our pilgrimage through this life.


  1. Interesting. How did the Moravians view nudity (in light of MyChainsAreGone)?

    1. I'm not sure. They still maintained pretty rigid gender segregation, yet had a very sensual understanding of worship and the body in worship. They had particular prayers constructed around the wounds of Christ, particularly the side-wound. So they had a high view of the Human body, but I don't know if that translated to nudity for them. Probably not.

  2. I'm re-reading Rican's The History of the Unity of the Brethren. The amazing thing about said group is the number of re-castings and transformations they went through. They came out of Utraquism but were influence by Chelcicky. They then went in the Reformation era Lutheran direction, then later they leaned Calvinist.... then they became Lutheran Pietist as the Moravians.

    Speaking of the male organ, there was that period... I can't remember right now exactly which century but there was a massive emphasis in Catholic art on portraying Christ's genitals, and everyone is always pointing to them in the paintings. It's a bit odd. Nevertheless the explanation is that the pendulum had swung (so to speak) and there was a great need to place emphasis on his humanity. That sure sounds like Renaissance to me. I'll have to look it up.

  3. I didn't know that about Zinzendorf. Where did you encounter that? Do you remember?

    I must say reading the piece again... very odd indeed.

  4. Yes, the Moravians were hardly the same group as the Unity of Brothers during the era of Gregory or even after Lukas' reforms. W.R. Ward is a historian of Pietists, and one of his arguments is that the crackdown on disparate Reformational groups in Eastern Europe created the psycho-social tension for Revivalism to become a thing. This spread across Europe, eventually creating the foundations for British Evangelicalism.

    Zinzendorf was a part of this wave, though he was also uniquely charismatic, well-placed socially, and had an incredible zeal. The Unitas Fratrum who he invited into his estate melded with the other Lutheran inhabitants of Herrnhut. He was a very strange man, with biographers who praise him and despise him. He was fan of Pierre Bayle, an early modern philosopher who preceded many of Hume's criticisms of Rationalism and Enlightenment universalism. He hated "reason", which bordered on a rejection of philosophy and an embrace of irrationality as litmus test; this is how he understood Christ's command to become as children (literally, "headless").

    His ecclectictivity (he was friends with Pietist Lutherans, Quietist Catholics, Anglicans, he even wrote to Greek Orthodox patriarchs) and creativity ends him up in some really profound theological positions for his era, and some really disturbing and, dare I say, evil positions. He was a great missions organizer and his theology of the incarnation is better than many other Protestants. But his Lutheran commitment to crucicentrism combined with an embrace of irrationality, combined with a Bridal Mysticism, led him to eroticize worship. Jesus' side-wound become more than an allegorical womb of the Church, but becomes sensualized. It becomes very strange and the Sifting Time becomes greatly disturbing to many Christisn who were sympathetic.

    Personally, I find Zinzendorf as someone to pity. He had such passion and yet was so confused, a naive aristocrat drunk with his own privileges. He had immense influence as the first generation of Moravians looked to him as a kind of father. But like a lot of youthful movements, there is little preparation for old age and wisdom is rejected for vigor. The explosion and implosion of the Moravians is a sad warning for me.

    It was the Renaissance where the artwork came into vogue. Zinzendorf revived the idea of this, but the remains of this is obscured by later generations of Moravians removing it due to embarrassment.

    You can find a lot of Zinzendorf's theology and its impact in Craig Atwood's "Community of the Cross". He is clearly sympathetic to Zinzendorf, but is a great scholar nonetheless.

    1. I should note here, though I commented in a later post, my appreciation for the Moravians has waned considerably. I marvel at their missions, but I kept hoping to find a vitality that extended beyond the genius of Zinzendorf and his aristocratic connections. I kept hoping to find a concurrent peasant spirituality, Chelcickian suspicion about secular hierarchy and trusting the universities as a font of godliness. But the gains of the Moravians dried up pretty quickly, though a few holdovers remained (e.g. Zeisberger) who maintained their sense of calling by remaining among the Indians. Elsewhere, the Moravians were just one more strange German community in North America.

      I believe the Holy Spirit was with many of the missionaries who preached the gospel fearlessly. But the Moravians ought to present a warning story, and are a tragic group.

    2. It will of course be no shock to you that I'm not a fan of Lukas.

      Bayle is a very interesting figure. I wish I had more time to dive into the 17th century context of Amyraldianism and the Jansenists. It's a really fertile and interesting period.

      Yeah I remember Zinzendorf's childlike take... even to the point of baby talk. Weird guy.

      Fideism is one thing... if wed to Biblicism. Otherwise you end up going down the mystic road.

      Pietism is complicated. I'm very frustrated by the modern Reformed take on it. They try to pin many evils on the movement, in many ways trying to blame them for theological liberalism. I think that's a dishonest assessment.

    3. I'm on the fence about Lukas. He tried to correct the moralism of Gregory, but both of them missed the more Scriptural warrant of Chelcicky's original protest. This is a major problem with the Anabaptists, they many times become sectarians, as they miss the heart of the original criticism.

      Ephraim Radner has an interesting book on Jansenist theology and scriptural interpretation ("Nature and Spirit"). He tries to get at the heart of their battle with the Jesuits and the French Church more broadly.

      The thing is, Zinzendorf was trying to read his Bible. But, like Luther, he wasn't self-disciplined in his appeal to biblicism. He thought he was inspired and dictated the "truth" of the Scripture. Thus, he ended up with baby-talk, worshiping the side-wound, gender-bending, eroticized worship, and his irreplaceable place in Moravian ecclesiology (as its prophet, teacher, bishop, and civic authority). He represents a biblicism without Church or respect for tradition. Thus his obscure readings lack any sense of self-skepticism.

      I think Pietism did result in many currents of liberal theology, but its original raison d'etre was due to the inbeddedness of Protestant Churches with the State. Pietism's original attack was quickly subverted into the State apparatus Church. Schliermacher was a Pietist, but he was a rabid proponent of Prussia. Modern Reform don't see the connections between Magisterial Protestantism and subsequent transfigurations. This is what happens when Christianity is a function of social control by the state.

  5. I think their history is one long story of slow theological decline. That said in the 18th century they were a vibrant group with a pretty impressive testimony. If I have heroes Zeisberger is certainly one of them. I just finished a great book on him... Blackcoats Among the Delaware.