Original Research

Michel Foucault on Methodius of Olympus (d.ca.311) in Les aveux de la chair: Patrick Vandermeersch’s analysis contextualised

Johann Beukes
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 77, No 4 | a6912 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i4.6912 | © 2021 Johann Beukes | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 June 2021 | Published: 28 October 2021

About the author(s)

Johann Beukes, Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa; CHPS, Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies, Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands


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Abstract

This article presents a contextualisation of Belgian philosopher and historian of psychiatry and sexuality, Patrick Vandermeersch’s (1946–), unpublished analysis of French philosopher Michel Foucault’s (1926–1984) interpretation of Methodius of Olympus’ (d.ca.311) views on virginity and chastity, in Histoire de la sexualité 4 (Les aveux de la chair), published in February 2018 at Gallimard in Paris under the editorship of Frédéric Gros. The article contributes to the reception and the ongoing analyses of Les aveux de la chair by exploring Foucault’s reading while highlighting both the importance of Vandermeersch’s analysis and the sexological-historiographical significance of his broader oeuvre that spans over four decades. Vandermeersch shows that Foucault, as many other commentators of Methodius, did not substantially engage Methodius’ explicit indebtedness and persistent references to Plato (already evident in the title Symposium but especially regarding the Phaedrus). Platonic homoeroticism is, according to Vandermeersch, as a consequence often too hastily, and therefore problematically, transposed on contexts of female virginity. Likewise, Foucault, when indicating already at the end of Histoire de la sexualité 2 (L’usage des plaisirs 1984), the particular relevance of homoeroticism in the development of Western sexuality, seemed to adhere to this transposition. Could ‘beautiful boys’ truly be transposed onto ‘female virgins’ without severe sexual-discursive complications? And could Methodius’ encomium of virginity in any way be understood independent of his understanding of the ‘resurrection of the body’, with the integrity of its (virginised) sexual desire intact? These are among Vandermeersch’s valid and challenging questions to both Foucault and his contemporary readership.

Contribution: Foucault’s reading of the church- and desert fathers in Histoire de la sexualité 4 (Les aveux de la chair) impacts early Medieval philosophy, early Medieval history, church history, patristics, philosophy of religion, psychology of religion and sociology of religion. Since these proximate disciplines are drawn towards Foucault’s text, they may well note its ongoing examinations. Foucault’s direct impact on these disciplines is illustrated in Vandermeersch’s significant analysis of Foucault’s reading of Methodius in Les aveux de la chair. Vandermeersch’s broader oeuvre in philosophy, theology, psychiatry, psychology, psychology of religion and the history of sexuality is concurrently contextualised as of ongoing contemporary importance for these disciplines.


Keywords

Katharina Bracht (1967–); Michel Foucault (1926–1984); Simon Goldhill (1957–); Histoire de la sexualité 4; Les aveux de la chair; Methodius of Olympus (d.ca.311); Phaedrus; Symposium; Patrick Vandermeersch (1946–); Jos van Ussel (1918–1976)

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