Treatise in Defense of Eunuchs
[Translated from Greek into French by Paul Gautier in Theophylacti Achridensis
Opera, Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae, vol. 16:1, Thessalonica, 1980.
Translated from French to English by me. The paragraph headings within
the treatise are present in the French, not in the Greek.]
Preface of the Treatise in Iambic Verse
My brother is the reason for this treatise.
He is a eunuch, a model of honest life,
but, irritated by the attacks against eunuchs
that some have inconsiderately launched,
he has asked for appropriate consolation.
In order to give it to him, I have composed this treatise,
the work of a man who loves purity, a very wise man,
who appreciates facts with justice,
who does not confuse their nature pell-mell,
and does not intend to criticize the excellent eunuchs
even if by chance one finds some bad ones.
For if one permits that one does not fail
to overshower even virile men with a thousand blames,
their virtue rests on a most solid base.
How many scoundrels are there among them, in fact?
As many as the sand of the sea, the dust of the earth.
If one would wish to compare them with the eunuchs,
Who until now have certainly appeared as scroundrels,
One would take them for lions compared to weasels and flies.
Even if certain laws and certain canons
forbid the removal of the testicles,
scrutinize carfeully the spirit of the texts,
examine the era of these laws,
and consider, in sum, the entirety of the circumstances
if you know thoroughly the laws of rhetoric.
For, in this examination, you will find a single practice
as a safety measure that, even beforehand, was not adopted.
It is not for the public that I have composed this treatise,
but rather its progenitor is a eunuch remarkable for his wisdom.
Although it is a favor reserved for by brother,
I extend it to all nonetheless.
In fact, I am a bit bothered by the gossip
and I want all to benefit by this favor.
May those who are displeased by my proposition
cherish the latter ones, and I the former ones.
Preface of the Treatise
The treatise is addressed to a eunuch brother who is irritated by simplistic attacks against eunuchs, and it shuts up those who accuse eunuchism as a whole for engendering vice, for it intends to examine vice or virtue as a function of each individual, and it shows that it is not eunuchism that is indeed the cause of the vice, but the free will that engenders evil, both among males and among eunuchs, but engenders a lesser and less virulent evil among the latter. It also produces the manifestation of the behavior of the two groups as an irrefutable testimony. Perhaps it will be charged with excess, because it treats eunuchism in minute detail, inquires about the era of the laws that concern it, does not skim the surface, but plunges into the depths of the intention and emerges after having picked up many an object of interest. But I do not see how this treatise could not condemn the judgment that holds itself only to the letter of the text and does not go deeper into the reality of things. The treatise, that takes up the defense of my brother, follows the design that was presented at the start, and it is for him, certainly, a very agreeable gift. If anyone else would like to benefit from the graces of this treatise, there is nothing to stop many people from benefiting from it along with my brother.
[Criticism of eunuchism]
I have found for you a benevolent advocate of eunuchism. In fact, I was at Thessalonica while the king was there as well. Hearing two persons discussing eunuchism intelligently, I inclined my ear sufficiently toward their conversation to capture it and I preserved it for your sake. One of them reproached the other, a eunuch, for having permitted his nephew to be castrated and for having thus opposed the Creator, by believing that it was better to fashion the human being in this way, and for having violated divine and human laws. And by citing the law of Moses, which is a powerful resource for the Church of the Lord against the crushed and the cut eunuchs, the canons of the apostles and of the Fathers, and moreover, a civil law issued by Justinian, not to resort to even older emperors who prohibited the removal of the testicles in the Roman empire. He also deemed that he had corrupted the nature of the child by predisposing him to easily forgo the passions, as numerous as they are severe. "For the cupidity," he said, "and the avarice that exist among such people, the miserliness and even absolute egotism, which are naturally the thorny offshoots of the license, ambition, jealousy, love of squabbling, treacherousness, spitefulness, oversensitiveness, and testiness, rule, alas, the heart of the eunuchs like a fortress. If, moreover, they haunt the palace, their passions are all the more resounding and entrenched. As for those who are the prime ministers of the emperors, I add the following: of those who are a part of the harem, eunuchism has, alas, made reservoirs of every kind of vice. In fact, any eunuch whatsoever, separated from males as he is, would be all the more prey to the passions of feminine oversensitivity since he lives in physical contact with women. For what gives weakness to the soul gives strength to the passions; therefore very great efforts are necessary not to succumb to them. If, in addition, women rub off on them and if he puts on their airs, their languor, and their general softness, examine the image that results and tell me it is not Astarte or Chamos, the idol of the Sidonians. There is still another group of eunuchs, which the theater casts the spotlight on, and which is well worthy of it, I mean to say these crooners and warblers who have disgracefully introduced into the church licentious songs that reek of luxury.
"Do you want yet another characteristic of this group, that is to say, its morals? They behave in general like comedians. In fact, among other peculiarities, these individuals are the champions of good food and heavy drinking, their deportment is indecent and improper, and their language tends toward all sorts of obscenity. It is also said that the majority of them practice abominable homosexuality [fasi de kai andrizesthai tous pleious ton aselgee andrismon]. The accuracy of this rumor is guaranteed moreover by many of them, above all by those who are in charge of the harem, and this rumor does not lack verisimilitude. In fact, some of them always frequent the people of the theater, as the bunch, says the proverb, ripens in contact with the bunch, and what's more they whisper songs with libertines, as the word is the reflection of the action. As for those who live always in the company of women, an ardor emanates from them that inflames those who approach them. Moreover, are not the eunuchs taken to be an evil omen, and are they not the target of innumerable insults?"
[Defense of eunuchism]
After these words, he was quiet a moment, and his face indicated that he was focusing and getting ready to continue. But the eunuch, smiling discreetly - he was the most charming and polite of people, a living refutation of the accusation - said: "It appears to me that you are going in search of the castrati that live among the Persians and Arabs and others, in order that, by heaping them upon us, you may crush us under their weight, and that we would not be able, having thrown our head back, to look you in the face, as if you did not have within easy reach the Archbishop of Thessalonica, the Bishop of Pydna, the Bishop of Petra, the Bishop of Edessa in Bulgaria, and some others of a different life style and rank. The fact is, as I see it, that, by mentioning them, you, like the goat, would have exposed the knife and, like Bellepheron, the letter. You wander about in foreign lands and like the suction cup you strive to draw the worst from everywhere. Come, O best of men, do not act this way, do not dupe your friend, and this, not a propos of bad things, but to show him to be the enemy of God and the laws and very hostile to his dearest ones, since he has taken this measure to counteract his passions.
[Castration not an offense against God]
If I, in fact, according to your judgment, oppose the Creator, why not judge yourself in the same way, since you have decided to remain a virgin and since you maintain continence with the help of God. Marriage is also the procreation that results from it. In consequence, if you do not use your sexual organs in view of their natural purpose, you oppose the design of the Creator and you defraud the cleverness of Wisdom, since it gave them to us not without reason or grace but on the contrary intelligently and in view of a certain utility, and that as for you, you consider your genital organs superfluous. It follows that one cannot blame a man who castrates himself. Likewise, a property owner for cutting down a fig tree that does not produce the fruit that it is supposed to give. Likewise, we are not reproached for cutting off a sixth finger, for you cannot say that someone who does that violates Nature. You, on the other hand, have modified the nature of your genital organs, since the formation of the seed is the natural function of the testicles which are created for the purpose of procreation, and you deplore, so say you, the production of seed because of your passion for marvelous virginity. Therefore, if you too, once in perfect possession of reason, had decided not to use your genital organs in view of their natural purpose and had then approved, when the moment came, their removal, you should not have deserved to be criticized. Do you not exhaust your body by means of diets, refraining from baths, and all forms of spiritual asceticism? Doesn't it make you thin rather than fat, pale rather than colored, weak rather than strong? Are we therefore going to say that this transformation of your person transgresses the laws of the Creator, because, created by Him to enjoy good health, you have transformed yourself in the opposite direction? If you reproach me for the removal of the testicles, I for my part reproach you for destroying your body, in such a way that, either you refrain from making accusations or you are condemned along with me, that your lips become for you a firm net and that the eagle that you are traps itself by its own wings, you who hasten to the divine body that sustains many people. Let a Hellene make these reproaches, he who prefers nothing above Nature and thinks that to live according to nature and its laws is the purpose of the present life. But as for you who have chosen to transcend nature, who exercise and practices it and succeed in it, equity does not allow you open your lips against eunuchs.
[The meaning of the law of Moses]
When you try to frighten me by referring to the laws, and when you mention above all others the law of Moses, I admire your goodness, since you accuse me of transgressing the law of Moses only on this point and not on all those that grace has abrogated and completed. But, my dear, to begin with, the words of the Law apply to those who are under the Law. Then, knowing that it too is spiritual and that it is the shadow of things to come, which are reserved for us, and having considered not only what is written on the surface of the tablets but also their content, do not receive it according to the letter that destroys, but make of it your delights with the spirit that enlivens, examining the meaning of the words that are presented to you on the bread table of the Law and interpreting the crushed and the cut in a manner worthy of the legislator. Otherwise, God would not have accorded to the eunuch of which Isaiah speaks all the honor that you are aware of, if he reviles him in Moses. What, in your opinion, was Daniel? What were the three children? What was Nehemiah? And before them, what was Ebedmelech? Will you therefore exclude, and why, from the assembly of the Lord those who far from being sterile and infertile in divine contemplation and actions, even have precedents and relatives in Jerusalem, whether you understand by this word the earthly Jerusalem where generally they engender children because of their love for them, or the celestial and and resplendent Jerusalem where there condition is higher than that of sons and daughters, where nothing can enter if it is insensitive to the virtues of the seeds of the Logos which is in us, seeds which procure for us a natural disposition to do good of any kind? Therefore we, you, me, and all of us who hope not to be banished from the assembly of the first-borns, must respect this eunuchism. Let the Hebrews condemn physical eunuchism, they who reduce the good to an abundant progeniture. This is how things are, and I hope that you too will share my sentiment.
[The canons of the apostles and the Fathers]
As for the laws of the apostles and the canons of the Fathers, I honor and venerate them and consider them truly as living laws, but I do not consent to be their prisoner. In fact, with respect to those who have already attained the age of adulthood and who mutilate themselves, that is, to be sure, those who castrate themselves, they have specified the moment after which there certainly exists a mortal danger and that those who take this step are their own murderers. Therefore, if you have knowledge that that is also our case, do not keep silent, but launch the same arrows against us and attack our mutilation. But, if we have not been the object of this mutilation, attenuate the force of your attacks against us. If you pretend that by mutilation must be understood the removal of the testicles and if you say that the canon punished this practice, I will show you the ones that are in need of being redressed. For, yes, there are people who suffer castration when they are already young adults, in order to seduce light-minded women who have fallen to sins and vices of all kinds, thinking that they will conquer them because of their castration and because they have become eunuchs in the prime of life, when the dangers certainly exist for the purpose of gratifying in all safety the passions of these women, and taking in contrast the legislation of Paul, for the purpose of having women as if they did not have them. That is why the Logos called them the enemies of God's creation, because they do not use their members according to the will of the Creator and do not consider ejaculation to be the purpose of coitus, definitely not, since they have deprived themselves in order to better satisfy even the most sensual women. By exposing themselves to evident dangers, they do not escape the grief of being their own murderers. On the other hand, if someone, while still a child or even adulescent, has their testicles amputated, because it is the object of all the zeal of his parents who are impassioned by chastity and purity, who have collaborated with his desire to be a eunuch so as to prevent all danger, how can you think to show that the canon sees even this measure in a bad light and vigorously reproves it?
[Historical justification of castration]
And fine, say we admit that eunuchism has been prohibited pure and simple, because the circumstances pushed the apostles to proscribe it because of the accursed Simon, and the Fathers, thereafter, because of the aftereffects of Manes and Marcion, whose doctrine seemed to be based on the removal of testicles, and perhaps also because many practiced it basing themselves on their preaching, in which the wretches removed themselves even from marriage, claiming it was evil because it was an institution of the Evil One. But now that there is no trend leading to such an opinion, we do not sin if we practice the removal for love of purity and for piety, just as you, in maintaining your virginity, do not include yourself among those who flee marriage as an abomination. If you order me not to scrutinize the intention of the law, I can say that you offend against the laws of rhetoric, and that by blocking us, not without elegance, and consequently that you strike your mother of whom you hold all power but to strike, because you have not forgotten that the letter and the intention are included among the issues of policy. But I am not worried about them: they can take care of themselves.
[Economics and legislation]
What astonishes me is that you wish that I too should become one of the Hebrews, and claim that he who believes that he has fulfilled all the science and all the wisdom of Christ, in whom the treasures of wisdom and science are found, is really poor. I, who know that the Church has admitted some accommodations that appear to damage a little the above-mentioned content of the divine laws, but which the wise ministers of the Logos have fixed and established, I naturally do not attach myself solely to the letter, but I free it by a great step which the Lord directs according to the word, I penetrate into the darkness and the intention concealed in the depths and I receive the law from it. For, answer me, you who impose these laws on us as if from the height of an acropolis, how is it that the Fathers of the fourth council approved the oath offered by the Egyptian bishops, since the Lord absolutely prohibited oaths, not to list for you the civil laws that you know allow us to make them often enough, us who glorify ourselves of the gospel. And how does it happen that we subject fornicating women to a severe inquest - in fact we repudiate them - but we do not treat men the same way - in fact we do not annul their union - and that although the declaration of the Lord is aimed at men as well as women when he forbids the breaking of marriage, except in the case of fornication, as the great Basil said? Is it not evident that it is by reviving the spirit of the precepts that those legislators, who have introduced them thereafter and who note in them a mysterious reality which is not easy for us to explain, have directed the members of the Church, and that those who understood this after them approved such accommodations? Therefore, I myself do nothing reprehensible if I explore the spirit of the letter and if I examine the time of the legislation as it has been taught to me.
[Tradition and eunuchs]
That it is well this way and that our interpretation of the laws is not false, but true to reality, is also guaranteed by the secular tradition that demonstrates the remarkable rank occupied by eunuchs in the State and the church. In fact, the doctors of the New Testament, the initiators and mystagogues of the mysteries of God, and the true bishops of the souls have noted that, among the people of earlier times, the faith and power that the church expressed and engendered were great enough to allow them to preserve purity, although they were not otherwise seconded by the constitution or complexion of their bodies, while, among those who are close to the end of the ages and are afflicted by the foreshadowing characteristics of the Rebel, implanted by the poison of unbelief, the weakness is great and predominant, by reason of which they are incapable of keeping the purity which is demanded of the altar of God and regarding the things holy to it. Also, far from diminishing the crowd of eunuchs for the Church, notably by reason of the disappearance of every perverse design, as already stated, they have left the great gates open to the practice of eunuchism because it contributes greatly and profoundly to sanctification. And this measure denotes a judicious thinking that wisely adapts to every circumstance. In fact, I observe that even physicians administer to the people of our times treatments very different from those recommended by physicians in the past to their contemporaries, and if you ask them the reason for the change, they answer you that the change takes into account people's strength and way of life. It is in the same way, consequently, that the physicians of the Churches have modified their conduct, taking into account the change in strength of those whose maladies they care for. Otherwise, in fact, how could you say that such a grave transgression could be ignored by all of the bishops, and this when it has free run of the Church? It is perhaps, in fact, normal for emperors to have closed their eyes to this practice, because it was in their interest for this type of man to be multiplied, always well disposed toward his master according to the etymological sense of the term. [Gautier's footnote: Popular and traditional explication encountered for example in a nearly contemporaneous text: the nomocanon of Nikon of the Black Mountains. Cf. V. N. Benesevic, Taktikon Nikona Cernogorca, Saint Petersburg, 1917, p. 99(32): eunouchon kaleisthai apo tou eunoein etoimologesthai. But Leo VI, in his New Constitution 98, proposes another etymology: eunee, echoo, keeper of the bed. Cf. P. Noailles - A. Dain, Les novelles de Leon VI le Sage, Paris, 1944, p. 325(25).] But we would not be able to believe that all the bishops had successively drunk so much mandrake that they never rose again in order to reject this violation in such a way as to show the pure and unblemished face at least of their own Church.
[The legislation of Justinian]
Nonetheless, the emperor Justinian, following the emperors of the past who had proscribed eunuchism, prohibited this practice by a law, you said. I absolutely laugh at the law of this brave emperor, who was unable to advise Theodora not to promote the eunuchs and not to honor them with the highest dignities. Moreover, he could not have been succeeded in this advice, since the empress treated this man no better than a slave, and he was not even concerned to avoid making Narses so blessed. He issued laws against those who castrated, but how could their text have been respected by those who saw it contradicted in practice? Treating them like spiders' webs, according to the saying of Anacharsis, did not he himself tear them up in the manner of hornets while using them like traps for the flies? To my mind, this law was one of the strategies of clever Tribonian, since I heard an ancient saying that the law was the result of one circumstance: that is the great mortality among those who were castrated in that way. But consider the extravagance of this decision. If castration is altogether lethal, whence do the eunuchs come who fill up your palace, and the head of the army, Narses, who extended the frontiers of the Roman Empire? If the danger of the operation is rare, why not proscribe as well the ingestion of drugs and all of the medical treatments, since they put people at risk? Either show me that eunuchs are not useful for your majesty who created this legislation, or else, if you cannot show that - because you are not such a skillful magician to deceive those who see so many all-powerful eunuchs at your sides - abolish these laws that you are the first to violate in practice. You must in fact necessarily choose one of two things: either abolish castration and never employ eunuchs, or give them the highest responsibilities and favor castration because it is very advantageous.
[Criticism of his legislation]
We cannot accept that, in order to justify yourself, you pretend that castration is a sin for others, but that as soon as you come across eunuchs you employ them for whatever purposes seem useful to you, nor even that all these people were allegedly castrated by reason of illness, which is obviously not condemnable - for you do not have the time to examine the causes of their castration. We cannot accept such arguments on your part, because a king must not neglect the bad conduct of his subjects, and if you fail to take an interest in the causes of the castration, even Melitides and even Koroibus will perceive, it seems to me, that you mock your legislation and that you endeavor to cheat us. If your decree had truly proscribed castration, it would have inspired fear in doctors about practicing the operation in front of witnesses. On the other hand, if you claim that these types of people are barbarians supplied to you by foreign countries, first of all, you demonstrate that the persons of your entourage and those who direct the affairs of your country are not such people. Second, how can a sensible man who chooses his magistrates intelligently go and confer such important posts right away to foreigners, where error would not mean endangering something worthless, but would bring about the destruction of the greatest goods? Therefore behold to whom you entrust the treasures of the Romans. And yes, it is not to estimable people that you entrust your palace, nor capable of receiving any sort of instruction, nor gifted by independent judgment or liberty. And the stupidity is great and very thick, if you do not believe the Tragedy that says: "The slave is nothing compared to the free man", and if you do not hear the song of the lyric muse: "The red fox and the roaring lion never swap natures." Thus the coin of your decision, no matter what side you strike it from, is false and has the sound of copper. That is certainly why it is rejected, following the example of rotten shoes, because it is judged to be appropriate for nothing and recognized to be absolutely useless both in your empire and in the Church of God.
[The older legislation]
Thus behold our feeling on the new constitution of this good emperor. If I examine the older laws, I discover a mundane and altogether vulgar motivation: they reflect only the inspirations of the princes of this world. It is in fact for the purpose of populating the empire, of maintaining a military force, of recruiting a crowd of soldiers and of attracting bloodthirsty men who will set up camp outside the laws of Christ, our peace, that these lion-hearted emperors prohibited castration. That this is not merely a conjecture on my part, but that I interpret the truth, is guaranteed by another Roman law, which deprives of great privileges and advantages those who at the age of marriage do not marry, in order, it says, that the city should be well populated. Was it humane to punish these people by half, because they were without children, or inhumane to punish them at all? It is still the fact that Constantine, who is at the origin of everything good and who is therefore called the Great, banned this practice from the empire: he brought the virgin from abroad and established her in the cities, she who, from the time of this law, had lived outside the empire because she was scorned. Do not recall to me these carnal laws whose voice comes from the earth and the depths of hell, but know that they have been condemned for their inutility by another more severe law of Constantine himself - in order that you do not find a pretext to reply by citing his predecessors and using likelihood as an advocate - and above all by his son Constantius and their successors down to our days, with the exception of the Apostate, whose hatred for the eunuchs was, in their eyes, an important gauge of the general sympathy towards them, because it was the same emperor who scorned both Christ and the eunuchs, since they greatly favored the rise of Christianity. Let us refrain from upholding the reasons put forward by him, lest we also be forced accept those of his persecution of the martyrs.
[The canon of the Photian Synod]
If I did not know that you do not include the canon of the Photian Synod among those that were, as you said, violated by us, I would have recounted what happened at that time, and I would have shown to you the mother of this canon, a mother with a truly deformed, hideous, and repulsive face, namely: the hatred of the great and very holy pontiff of God, Ignatius, and of his partisans. You have done well not to recall this canon, and, far from hawking about what happened, I ardently wish that that would be relegated to the land of oblivion like a pale leper and a shame unworthy of the beautiful wife of the charming Husband.
[The vices of the eunuchs]
Since you have once again asserted the existence of many passions among the eunuchs from the fact that they have been reduced to the state of a woman, I hesitate to reply on this point because it does not merit refutation. But, out of regard for you I will speak, in order that you will not deem it good to make such futile and simplistic reproaches. For you seem ready to pay attention to the straws that we have, we eunuchs, and to neglect all the beams that many virile men have in their eyes. In your opinion, in fact, in a spineless eunuch meanness is insignificant and feeble, just as the products of an exhausted soil lack quality and size. But the malice of the others, from the fact that they are stronger, is powerful and solid. Eunuchs, the pirates and brigands, eunuchs, the purse-stealers and highwaymen, eunuchs, those who install themselves in the bureaus of the State like lion cubs and roar and overturn everything with their cries in order to sniff out their nourishment. These stingy egotistical people, who are they? The ones who take care of widows, who raise and instruct orphans, who devote their existence to serve them and to love them in words and in acts, or rather the ones who seize the inheritance of orphans and kill the widow and the orphan? Who are the ones whose ambition, anger, and jealousy against their equals inspire them to murder their relatives or their neighboring villages and fields and overturn all of the laws in order to ensure themselves of the power to dictate their will to others? Behold, the conduct of eunuchs, you have the audacity to reply. And I refrain from enumerating the rapes of virgins, the adulteries and other abominations which they are so far from being ashamed of as they should be, that they even count them up as victories.
[The eunuchs of the palace]
Now matter how much you call us criminals, vice does not reach us. Even if we concede this to you, fine, examine the people who are now the most treacherous among the Greeks and the barbarians and whose gigantic perversity has perpetuated innumerable misfortunes: you will not see a single eunuch among them, and you will learn what a lizard is compared to a basil plant. If you object to me that the eunuchs living in the palace are champions of vice, and among them those who have chosen to serve the empresses, I do not hesitate to show you also empresses full of reserve, having the cult of the Logos and letting themselves be guiding by him, just like the majority of those to whom the charge was entrusted. If those who live in their entourage were to model themselves after them, they would receive the colors of the glory of the divine image and they would have become portraits of the Logos and of honesty, as I have heard it said and I believe that many are. If you do not know them, it is not surprising: no, even Elijah did not know the five thousand men who were spared by God.
[The eunuchs of the Church]
Even if all of the people of this type have consented, as you say, to
be evil, even so your indictment of us will not unfold without an obstacle.
First, they are no worse than the other people on the other side. Next,
what are they compared to those who are not interested in the palace, to
those who inhabit the current mother of Churches, that of Constantinople,
to those who reside in various monasteries, living practically emaciated
and bloodless, to those who belong to other Churches, some of whom are
the glory of the episcopate, others of the priesthood? The majority are
evil, the proverb assuredly says, even though it is to slander Christianity
because those who follow the broad path are more numerous here. But if
you also observe the crowd of the eunuchs and if you see how many among
them are evil, and next those of your group, and if you also note the same
thing among them, the slander against eunuchs will certainly leap to your
eyes based on the numerical comparison. But, in order that I should not
seem to demand the impossible of you and to take refuge in uncertainties,
rather examine the priests of one or two churches, taken from both sides
of the coin, mine and yours, and you will know which ones are those who
live in the greatest number in a manner in conformity with priestly purity.
You have also accused the singers, as a group, of being corrupted by the
theater, as if I could not distinguish those who prefer to charm God with
their morals from those who charm the lovers of song with their songs.
Nonetheless, I grant that all fall under your accusation. However, if I
examine which are the ones whom the theater has chosen as directors, I
confirm that this astonishing fraternity is composed of people of your
kind: let us be careful not to disparage our treasure. Moreover, it is
said, many eunuchs are weak, I even add: libertines and altogether debauch*s.
What does the fault of Demas have to do with Luke, and the fault of the
one who abandons Paul to do with the one who remains faithful to him? What
does the fault of Phygelle and Hermogene have to do with Silvain and Timothea?
And that of Judas have to do with John and the apostles who cried and moaned
over their Lord? I even add a more appropriate example: The prevarication
of Esau did not dishonor Jacob, nor did the incest of Ruben dishonor Joseph,
although they were the offspring of the same seed.
I even make this reflection and I do not believe it to be evil. If you criticize all eunuchs because of having noted a few debauch*s among them, how much more justly may I praise castration due to its vessels of purity, and above all when I triumph even by the number. Certainly you will vigorously oppose the judgments of God if you permit yourself to condemn eunuchism due to ten libertines and debauch*s and if you do not permit us to reject your opinions on account of thousands of eunuchs who are pure and friends of purity, to direct only against the sinners the sarcasms of Momos that must, by habit, harass them and not to aim them also at the irreproachable people when they hit them as well. For every person who sins will die, says the Scripture. As far as I am concerned, the vices that you reproach them with are more numerous than the insults of yours that I ignore.
No, those who made the calf were not a subject of shame for the Levites who kept to the Lord, nor the thousand of murmurers for Chaleb and Joshua. The latter showed themselves such as they were: servants of God. The worshippers of the calf were chastised: they left their bones in the desert, while Chaleb and Joshua went safely and soundly into the promised land and saved a new and docile people.
[Eunuchs and sacred music]
If the eunuchs hum even in the churches the melodies of licentious songs that sanctify holy thoughts, why this grief? Answer me, since the Spirit made David skillful in this art, who by healing our weariness for the good, makes divine things agreeable by song, so that we avail ourselves unwittingly, thanks to this honey, of the astringent or even bitter medication. And also, Ephraim of Osrhoene - it seems to me in fact that Ignatius Theophorus ordered the introduction at Antioch of odes in counterpoint because he had heard the angels sing in this manner - indeed, I say, Ephraim, who had observed that Harmonios the son of Bardesane, in composing graceful songs, through them rendered his impiety amiable and attracted crowds to it, did he not adapt to the melodies of Harmonios pious songs that he himself had composed and did he not present them as a delicious dish to the Churches of Syria? And John Chrysostomus, seeing that the Arians were snatching Constantinople away from him with their songs, himself composed melodious songs. Yet who was more austere than John? However, he knew him of whom the words breathe equity: David, who is glorified by the Spirit. Moreover, all the ancient songs in use in the Church, what pleasure do they not exceed, especially when they are sung with harmony and skill. Either erase it, or introduce it into the holy books: The scene was decorated with an Egyptian richness that belonged to the demons of God. Nonetheless, if we concede that it must be banned from the church, it is not the inventions of eunuchs that we are banning, but, I dare say, of people of your tribe, who have transmitted them to them in order to adorn them with harmony.
[Attitude of the Fathers]
Most of them criticize us and call us a bad omen. It is in the same way that imbeciles and silly people also treat monks, since like takes pleasure in its like. Even if certain Fathers have criticized the tyrannical eunuchs of their times, the same Fathers stigmatized even more and more severely all of the archons of their era. And to which group do the heresiarchs belong, against whom the Fathers made remarks that are beyond comparison with their remarks against eunuchs? Indeed, we do not criticize the males of today because of the impious heresiarchic archons of the past, but we assess vice as a function of the individual, and we do not say that the eunuchs of today are evil because of those who once supported the Arians. Moreover, why make a detour, when I can follow the straight line? Why go around the circumference, when I can go straight across the middle? Why not say it to you in fact? The most seductive ornament of the eunuchs, their reserve and their decency, all aspire to introduce it into their lives. Thus naturally they condemn those who neglect their duties, and they become irritated against those who deviate even slightly from the required line of conduct, as if against the greatly guilty. Just like the stains that are more visible on a luxurious garment, a Christian of whom one demands strict observation of the gospel, if he contravenes it, will be an easy prey for accusers. In fact, important people will be chastised importantly, and from him to whom little has been entrusted little will be expected. In sum, even your criticism of some eunuchs becomes a praise of their genus.
[Enumeration of holy eunuchs]
List for me all the cohorts of the Lord Jesus and you will not find one without a eunuch. Among the apostles, that is to say the heralds of the Word, you recall Candace who brought all of Ethiopia to Christ, not so much because of the importance and efficacy of his power and his function as a guardian and minister of the imperial treasury but because he was called the hand by the Spirit. Among the martyrs, you will find Indes, who intervened to present even Basilis to Christ, and before him Yacinthe, Protas and the companions in asceticism and battle of the valiant Eugenia, Usthazades and Azades, the companions of Sapor, who, initially his friends on account of the earth, became thereafter his enemies on account of heaven, and at the time of Licinius the valiant Theodorus, who by his firmness for Christ and his courageous resoluteness was rendered more celebrated than his companions. And there are many others whom one could list at leisure. And if you say that the whole of them make up only a small number, that is no surprise: compared to the crowd of the other type, the entire number of eunuchs appears to be but a drop of water compared to an immense ocean. They have likewise adorned patriarchal thrones by their instruction and their profession of faith, but also mere episcopal thrones: the first by their culture and their mores, the others, those who still today distinguish themselves in the churches, as bishops and priests. Do you not also see those who are good deacons, who acquire the celestial and evangelical rank? I think that even now you notice the monks, and how could you not, since they are so numerous, even if their piety urges them to hide, and among them there is even Symeon, originally from Athens, whom we have seen at the head of this city: you know this famous, agreeable, charming, and prudent monk, who has charge of monks according to a strict observance on Mount Athos and who has founded there a community of eunuch monks. And the world of politics, how much of them will it show who are full of knowledge and wisdom and enviable conduct?
Personally, I estime even higher the absence of seminal emission in
a man in love with purity and who does not even tolerate being soiled by
the involuntary and natural (extravasations). We who enjoy this advantage
avoid the splinter that conscience engenders while you, even if reason
persuades you not to consider that as soiling and not to make a fuss about
the [erection] of the penis [teen tou kurtou kauleesin(?)], which a straight
reason makes into a sort of honor, you will not deny that your conscience
is harassed by it, and especially if you let yourself be persuaded in this
regard by the words of the great Basil. It is certainly not unwillingly
that we are continent - our virtue will not be compensated - as I hear
many people assert; on the contrary, our purity proceeds from our will,
which is evidently seconded by this state of our body, and therefore it
receives a compensation. And I offer myself as a witness, since I have
shown that in the cases where, you yourself said, many eunuchs are indecent,
the continent ones are chaste by will. Would you like me to continue?"
"That is sufficient for now," the other says, "do not persuade me too to become a eunuch in time."
And he said: "Let me at least add this. I do not conclude from my exposition on eunuchism that one cannot maintain continence otherwise: the thing is possible with the aid of numerous struggles and a rigorous abstinence, which is encountered too rarely with respect to the crowd of those who promise to maintain priestly celibacy, but I show that this state is irreproachable, when it is found, and I reduce to silence those who condemn it outright, by proving that it does not deserve to be criticized. For in the eyes of an impartial judge, those who attack eunuchs right away seem to do it either recklessly and unconsiderately, or by sensuality and envy.
Separation of the interlocutors
After getting up, they embraced and kissed one another. The eunuch took
into his arms the child, his nephew, who was sitting nearby them and listening
attentively, and gave him numerous kisses, since he was happy about the
debate concerning the child, which had unfolded without harm, as his words
demonstrated. With that, they separated. As for myself, busy thinking of
a means to preserve for you the content of their conversation, I did not
ask them who they were or where they were from - they did not seem in fact
to come originally from Thessalonica - and it is true that I did not try
to let them know who I was, for fear of being bothered with being invited
to participate in their intellectual debate. For they were - as they showed
- fastidious: they would not have let me go, but would have seized me like
Behold the merchandise that I send to you from Thessalonica, not without trouble, for I am neither Simonide nor Hippias, even if my memory flourishes even in my old age.