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The Seduction of Self-Control: Hermas and the Problem of Desire

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In both narrative passages and ethical precepts, the early Christian text The Shepherd of Hermas places great emphasis on the virtue of enkrateia, self-control or self-restraint. At the same time, surprisingly erotic elements appear, beginning with an opening scene in which Hermas observes a woman of beauty and character emerging from her bath. Epithumia, desire, is immediately problematized. Though the text?s continuing interplay between motifs of desire and self-restraint at times seems clumsy, one can argue that it is nevertheless coherent and linked to the text?s depiction of masculinity. In the end, The Shepherd of Hermas seems to narrate the key task in Christian self-formation not as the suppression or repression of desire, but as the exercise of techniques of self scrutiny that lead to the seductions of self-control, the luxuriousness of virtue, the manly surrender to holy desire.

Affiliations: 1: Wake Forest University Divinity School P.O. Box 7719, Reynolda Station Winston-Salem NC 27109-7719 United States of America


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