Agapetae

(Gr. = “beloved”) or Syneisaktoi (“brought in together”; Lat. subintroductae), women who lived with men (or men with women) under vows of continence in “spiritual marriages” (which otherwise resulted from the “conversion” of ordinary marriages). First condemned, mostly for its actual or potential abuse, about 250-60 in Syria and Africa, and regularly in canons dealing with clergy from the early fourth century, the practice remained widespread and was repeatedly censured, notably by Chrysostom. Its original inspiration was union in asceticism,* but the setting determined the form: the anchorite and his female servant; a wealthy lady keeping a steward-cum-chaplain; the cleric and his housekeeper (especially as clerical celibacy became normative). It was common in monastic circles, even on a communal basis (with a precedent among the Jewish Therapeutae described by Philo). Its prevalence prior to the third century is variously estimated. Many discern it in 1 Corinthians 7:36-38 (cf. NEB) and in Hermas's symbolism. The first unambiguous reference is Irenaeus's rebuke of the Valentinians (Against Heresies 1:6:3). The Montanist Tertullian favored it.