Ritual Kissing and Early Christianity

Performing Family: Ritual Kissing and the Construction of Early Christian Kinship*
Michael Penn
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Abstract: Early Christians described and performed the ritual kiss in ways that helped them create a cohesive,
family-like community. The kiss could include certain people in the church, exclude others, and help distinguish
Christian behavior. An investigation of the ritual kiss presents an opportunity to illustrate how performance theory's
emphasis on embodied action can help us better appreciate how practice, as well as rhetoric, affected early
Christian communities.
Among scholars of early Christianity, interest in the Greco-Roman family has reached an unprecedented level.
Recent studies from classics have enhanced our understanding of the Greco-Roman family and its use as a
metaphor in the politics of empire. 1 At the same time, crossdisciplinary [End Page 151] research in early Christian
studies has inherited from anthropology a focus on the family as a primary social and cultural unit. 2 The result is
an impressive list of scholarly monographs, articles, and anthologies analyzing the family's place in New Testament
and Patristic literature. 3
These works have come to a consensus, of sorts, that early Christian writers used familial rhetoric and fictive
kinship terms (e.g., "brothers and sisters in Christ") to strengthen the cohesion of early Christian groups. 4 Several
studies have suggested that the Greco-Roman family, especially the figure of the paterfamilias, also provided early
Christian writers with a useful metaphor of hierarchy. 5 Although these investigations have yielded important
insights regarding the ways Christian writers used models of family, because they center on the question of how
early Christians wrote or spoke of their communities, these scholars have limited themselves to [End Page 152]
exploring only the verbal and written rhetoric of kinship. Building on this scholarship, I want to examine a slightly
different dynamic—how early Christians used a specific ritual, that of ritual kissing, to help perform family.
Recent scholarship in ritual studies, performance studies, and queer theory has emphasized performance as a key
factor in identity formation. 6 What links such diverse fields is the belief that a focus on the performative and the
language of performativity offers a perspective otherwise lacking in our analysis. Performance theory is partly a
reaction against the expansion of the term text to include just about any human activity. 7 Performance theorists
often suggest that "texts may obscure what performance tends to reveal," and they try to reclaim the physical and
emphasize the kinesthetic. 8 As a metaphor, the very term performance changes our vocabulary and shifts our
analytic attention. Audience, script, participation, framing—all become central concerns. Performance also stresses
dynamism instead of simple expression. Cultural performances do not just reflect an abstract hidden cultural
system (they are not simply texts that describe), they also create, reproduce, or challenge that system. 9 [End Page
My own work employs insights from these fields to investigate how early Christians constructed the ritual kiss not
only as a means to talk about being a family but also as a way to act it out. I suggest that the adoption and
modification of a typical familial gesture into a decidedly Christian ritual helped early Christians redefine the
concept of family. This concentration on the kiss as ritual performance challenges scholars to view early Christian
discourse as denser and richer than if we limit ourselves to models that focus solely on the verbal or the written. It
looks at action as well as rhetoric, emphasizes the power of participation, raises questions of intended audience,
examines the importance of self-representation, and presents rituals as constitutive as well as expressive.
There remains, however, an important distinction between most work in performance studies and my exploration of
early Christianity. Scholarship of performance usually focuses on modern rituals where the author witnesses the
performance itself. In historical studies, however, we rarely have so thick a description as direct observation.
Instead, we are limited to what extant writing and iconography tell us about ancient rituals. Unlike other
investigations of the performative, scholarship of early Christianity does not have the luxury to move quite so far
away from the text.
In his work on performance and memory, Joseph Roach makes a similar point when he states: "The pursuit of
performance does not require historians to abandon the archive, but it does encourage them to spend more time in
the streets." 10 The difference, of course, is that the streets I walk down are not those of present-day New Orleans
but a reconstruction of ancient Rome. As a result, my own work does not discard texts as much as it moves in and
out of them. I analyze texts to approximate Christian and non-Christian kissing practices; I examine how Christians
modified these practices in their construction of the Christian ritual kiss; and I explore how Christian kissing praxis
(both the kiss's performance and its rhetorical framing—its staging and its scripting) may have affected early
Christian communities.
My investigation begins with a short chronological overview of ritual kissing in early Christianity. Next, I briefly
examine the kiss's use as a familial gesture among non-Christians. I then explore three ways early Christian
leaders combined the widespread familial connotations of kissing with the specifics of Christian ritual performance
to influence emerging Christian communities. I focus on: (1) how the act of exchanging a kiss helped early
Christians characterize their community as a family; (2) [End Page 154] how the exaltation of individuals who
refused to kiss non-Christian relatives modeled the use of religious affiliation instead of biological filiation as the
primary kinship marker; and (3) how the restraint shown in the ways Christians kissed reinforced early Christian
claims to moral superiority. In each of these cases, the kiss functioned as a performance both of inclusivity and
exclusivity; it helped define who was part of a new, familial community and it differentiated these family members
from everyone else.
Ritual Kissing and Early Christianity
As attested by the oldest known Christian writings, kissing was one of the most ubiquitous features of early
Christianity. It was practiced throughout the ancient world by both so-called orthodox and heretical Christians and
became a part of almost every major Christian ritual. In the first five centuries of the common era, Christians kissed
each other as part of prayer, Eucharist, baptism, and ordination and in connection with funerals, monastic vows,
martyrdom, and penitential practices. Yet despite the hundreds of ancient references to the Christian kiss, most
modern scholarship has ignored this important component of early Christian worship. 11
In the New Testament, commandments for Christians to exchange a [End Page 155] kiss appear at the end of 1
Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, and 1 Peter. All occur at the close of an epistle and are virtually
identical in their wording: "Greet one another" (or 1 Thessalonians, "Greet all the brethren") "with a holy kiss" (or 1
Peter, "with a kiss of love"). 12 The brevity of these references and their lack of specific details suggest that Paul
and the author of 1 Peter assumed that their audiences were already familiar with the kiss.
By the end of the second century, surviving sources witness early Christians ritually kissing each other in Asia
Minor, Rome, Athens, and Alexandria. 13 Justin presents the only specific example of the kiss's place in the
service order, and he puts the ritual kiss at the end of the common prayer and before the Eucharist. First- and
second-century sources do not limit the exchange of the kiss to same-sex participants, and late-second-century
works indicate that men and women kissed each other. 14 These works also show that, like most examples of
Greco-Roman kissing, 15 the Christian ritual kiss was a kiss on the lips.
Third-century sources further document the ritual kiss's ubiquity and present several important developments in its
practice. By C.E. 300, writings from Rome, Athens, Alexandria, Carthage, North Africa, Asia Minor, [End Page 156]
and Syria all speak of ritual kissing between Christians. 16 These writings link the kiss with prayer, Eucharist,
baptism, ordination, martyrdom, domestic devotions, greeting, and reconciliation. The works also show important
variations in how community members exchange the kiss, and show emerging ecclesiastical hierarchy's attempts
to regulate ritual kissing. Tertullian and The Apostolic Tradition limit the kiss to baptized Christians; Tertullian states
that some heretical Christians do not follow this distinction. 17 Although most early Christian sources indicate that
the kiss is on the lips, the Acts of Andrew and the Acts of John modify it to be a kiss of the feet or hands. 18 In
contrast to previous texts that allowed women and men to exchange the kiss with each other, The Apostolic
Tradition is the first source specifically to prohibit this practice. 19
Fourth-century works speak of the ritual kiss as part of prayer, Eucharist, baptism, ordination, penitence,
martyrdom, and epistolary salutations. 20 These sources also hint at geographic variations in the kiss's position in
the Eucharist liturgy and whether the bishop kisses the initiate [End Page 157] immediately after baptism. Similar to
The Apostolic Tradition, The Apostolic Constitutions limits the kiss to those of the same gender. 21 Like the
Apocryphal Acts, the pseudo-Clementine Second Letter on Virginity no longer has opposite-sexed Christians
exchange a labial kiss. 22 The Apostolic Constitutions specifies that clergy only kiss other clergy and laity other
laity. 23 The Testament of Our Lord also supports this division. 24
Fifth-century sources continue to display an increased diversity in early Christian kissing practices. They indicate
shifts in the kiss's position within the Eucharist service, differences between Eastern and Western liturgical
practices, and a proliferation of the kiss's connection to other rituals. By the century's end, the kiss appears as a
part of the closing of prayers, the Eucharist, baptism, ordination, martyrdom, the cult of martyrs, greetings,
monastic vows, home devotions, saluting the altar, epistolary conventions, and death rituals. 25
Although even a brief overview of the ritual kiss raises numerous questions regarding its practice and connections
with community identity and social boundaries, this article focuses on only one aspect of these relationships—the
kiss's performance as a way to define Christianity as family. Before further exploring the Christian ritual kiss,
however, it first is necessary to examine non-Christian use of the kiss as a familial gesture. The adoption and
modification of these contemporary kissing customs became a central concern for early Christian leaders. [End
Page 158]
Kissing and the Greco-Roman Family
The Greco-Roman world often associated kissing with familial relations. In a survey of almost nine hundred nonChristian Greek and Latin references to kissing, familial kisses constituted the second largest category, surpassed
only by kisses between unmarried lovers. 26 These familial kisses included those between parents and children
(60 percent), spouses (26 percent), siblings (9 percent), and more extended family (5 percent). Although the
surviving sources rarely speak of what body part was kissed, those that do suggest that the familial kiss most often
was a kiss on the lips. 27
According to classical literature, relatives not only were allowed to kiss each other, they were expected to do so.
Latin writers often refer to this as the ius osculi. In his elegies, Propertius lists the various people who have the right
to kiss his lover, including male and female relatives. 28 The narrator of Ovid's Amores complains that he has to
kiss his lover secretly, but her husband can demand these kisses as his right. 29 Ovid later shows this from the
opposite perspective, a husband proclaiming that his rights have been infringed when his wife kissed another man.
30 Ovid's Metamorphoses notes that siblings often kiss in public, a custom Byblis uses to conceal an incestuous
relationship with her brother. 31 Suetonius states that Agrippina seduced her uncle, "aided by the ius osculi." 32
[End Page 159]
Several writers justify a man's traditional right publicly to kiss female relatives as a "spot breath check": it ensures
that women are not stealing the family wine. 33 For example, Athenaeus states:
It is impossible for a women to drink wine unnoticed. For, first, a woman does not have control of [the store] of
wine. Next, she must kiss her and her husband's relatives down to the children of second cousins, and do this
every day whenever she first sees them. Finally, because it is unclear whom she will meet, she is on her guard for
if she only tastes [of the wine] there is no need of further accusation. 34
Gellius and Pliny present similar descriptions of this custom. 35 Tertullian also cites this tradition and laments that
in contrast to ancient Rome, in his day "on account of wine, there is no free kiss." 36 Of course it seems unlikely
that any of these authors knew the origins of the publicly exchanged familial kiss. Instead, they shape their
explanations of a contemporary practice to help forward their own narrative project, whether that project be
Athenaeus' discussion of the evils of excessive drink or Tertullian's depiction of declining Roman morals.
Non-Christian sources occasionally use the familial kiss to describe nonfamilial relationships. In Apuleius' The
Golden Ass, the narrator "embraced Mithras, the priest and now my father, clinging to his neck and kissing him
many times." 37 Unfortunately, the kiss's role in this text is far from clear. Although presented in Apuleius'
discussion of the Isis rites, the kiss does not occur during the initiation ritual itself but several days later and in the
context of expressing gratitude; most likely it is a kiss of thanksgiving, a well-attested Greco-Roman gesture. 38
The phrase "the priest and now my father" is also vague: Does the narrator interpret his kiss primarily as a familial
kiss (Mithras is now his father), a religious kiss [End Page 160] (Mithras is a priest), or as a combination of these?
Of course, there also remains the often raised question of how closely Apuleius' descriptions represent actual
practices. Nevertheless, Apuleius' narrative implies a connection between kissing and a religious group's use of
familial imagery. A less ambiguous example of the kiss's use in discussions of fictive kinship occurs in the
Satyricon when Circe calls Encolpius' lover his "brother" and offers herself as his new "sister" (that is, sexual
partner). Encolpius must only kiss her to recognize this new relationship, which comes with the same sort of sexual
benefits his "brother" currently provides. 39
Kissing in late antiquity was associated with many different circumstances and with many different relationships.
This larger cultural context becomes essential for understanding the ritual kiss's various roles in early Christian
communities. Because one of its most prominent meanings was a link with kinship (whether biological or fictive), it
is not surprising that the ritualized exchange of kisses between group members appeared in a community, like
early Christianity, that tried to emphasize a familial structure.
Creating a Christian Family
Although previous scholars have not explored Christianity's employment of familial gestures, many have analyzed
early Christians' use of familial nomenclature. Applying kinship terms not to biological relations but to those
connected by faith, early Christians tried to redefine family. As exemplified by Matthew 12.46-50, the family of
Christian fellowship superseded even biological ties. 40 For the ancient church, such analogies not only described
but also prescribed. Comparing the ancient Christian community to the family emphasized the group's strength and
unity; such a label could become self-fulfilling.
Early Christian descriptions of the ritual kiss became part of this larger project of constructing early Christians as
kin. Many Christian authors explicitly state that the Christian ritual kiss is like a kiss between relatives. Writing in the
second century, Athenagoras warns that, when kissing, "it [End Page 161] is of great importance to us that the
bodies of our brothers and sisters and the others called the names of relatives, remain not insulted and undefiled."
41 In the early third century, Tertullian suggests that, unlike the Christian husband who recognizes that kissing
fellow Christians is analogous to kissing blood relatives, a pagan husband would misinterpret his wife's attempts "to
crawl into prison to kiss the martyr's bonds" or "to meet any of the brethren to [give] the kiss." 42 In the early fifth
century, Augustine employs the language of kinship to proclaim, "your lips draw near the lips of your brother in the
same way that your heart does not withdraw from his heart." 43
In their alignment of the familial and the ritual kiss, these sources allude to many different types of relationships.
Nevertheless, there remains an intriguing silence when they do not mention an integral member of many ancient
households—the slave. Among non-Christian sources, there are many allusions to kissing slaves for sexual
pleasure, 44 yet a free person and slave kissing for nonsexual reasons was seen as extremely unusual. For
example, in the Satyricon, Encolpius is surprised when a slave he helped runs up to kiss him, 45 and in his
Epistles, Seneca notes that he purposefully flouts social expectations when he greets other people's slaves with a
kiss on the hands. 46 In contrast, Christian sources never place any restriction on exchanging the ritual kiss with a
Christian slave, 47 and the Martyrdom of Perpetua claims that, previous to their execution, the martyrs of Carthage
kissed each other, an exchange that would have included the slave Felicitas. 48 In other words, both in its
performance and its description, the ritual kiss temporarily erased status distinctions that [End Page 162] Christians
otherwise maintained in their household arrangements; at least when they exchanged the ritual kiss, slaves, too,
became full members of the Christian family.
This difference between everyday kissing practice (free and slaves generally not kissing each other) and Christian
ritual practice (Christian slaves being kissable) illustrates a larger tension underlying the ritual kiss. At the same
time that Christians drew on cultural analogies to make the kiss an intelligible practice, they also had to distinguish
the ritual kiss from its cultural analogs to make it a uniquely Christian ritual. This strain between appropriation and
differentiation becomes particularly apparent in the writings of John Chrysostom:
The kiss is given so that it may be the fuel of love, so that we may kindle the disposition, so that we may love each
other as brothers [love] brothers, as children [love] parents, as parents [love] children. But also far greater, because
those [are] by nature, these by grace. Thus our souls are bound to each other. 49
Chrysostom's choice of analogies is not accidental. Because of the kiss's cultural connection with family relations,
Chrysostom's audience would not be surprised by the kinship terms to describe the kiss. Linking the ritual kiss to
the familial kiss, Chrysostom also connects the magnitude of its result; the Christian kiss creates a bond as strong
as that between the closest family members. His presentation of this analogy also imposes certain parameters on
the love. By not comparing the ritual kiss to a kiss between spouses or between sisters and brothers, Chrysostom's
statement avoids possible erotic connotations. 50
Although linking the Christian ritual kiss to a common familial gesture is a highly effective rhetorical move, it is also
potentially problematic. By relating the Christian ritual kiss to everyday kissing practices, Chrysostom threatens to
make the kiss available outside the group's boundaries. If, as his analogy may suggest, the Christian kiss is so
similar to a kiss between family members, why would one have to join the Christian community to experience it? To
avoid this problem, Chrysostom differentiates the Christian kiss from the same familial kiss with which he earlier
identified it. Chrysostom first modifies his statement that the ritual kiss produces a love as strong as that between
family members—indeed, it creates a love even stronger than that experienced in a biological family. He then notes
[End Page 163] that the disposition created by the familial kiss is expected; nature implants love between relatives,
so the emotion is not extraordinary. Grace implants love between nonbiologically related Christians, which signifies
the much more remarkable quality of Christian love—it results in a bonding of souls.
According to Catherine Bell, such a discursive strategy becomes key to any ritual action. What defines ritualization
is its insistence on distinguishing its actions from that of nonritual activities. 51 In Bell's words, "Ritualization is a
way of acting that is designed and orchestrated to distinguish and privilege what is being done in comparison to
other [activities] . . . ritualization is a way of acting that specifically establishes a privileged contrast, differentiating
itself as more important or powerful." 52 From this perspective, as the analogy breaks down—the ritual kiss no
longer seems quite as similar to the familial kiss as initially supposed—Chrysostom no longer simply appropriates a
gesture, instead he creates a ritual.
At first glance, it may seem surprising that, while critiquing previous scholars' logocentrism, I, too, focus on the
rhetoric of ancient Christian writings to distinguish ritual from gesture. An obvious reason for this analytic strategy is
that an investigation of the early Christian kiss, like the investigation of any premodern ritual, does not have access
to the ritual itself, only to texts that describe the ritual. Such an approach, however, also keeps us from artificially
dividing ritual into separate discursive spheres of interpretation and practice—what leaders tell the community the
kiss signifies and how group members kiss. To avoid the mistake of suggesting that ritual action could ever exist
without interpretation or that interpretation could be unrelated to practice, we must view the exchange of the ritual
kiss as praxis—the combination of interpretation and action. In other words, to understand more fully the kiss's
performance, we need to look at the script and the stage directions as well as the acting and the action.
My investigation of ancient ritual praxis does not suggest that previous scholars have been wrong in emphasizing
the importance of rhetorical strategies in constructing communities, nor do I advocate ignoring the role of the oral
and written word in the performance of ritual. Rather, I argue that the lens of praxis provides a more holistic view of
ritual. When exploring praxis, analysis of a given ritual may very well begin with tools [End Page 164] from literary
and rhetorical criticisms, but we should not stop there. Examining ritual as praxis requires us also to investigate
physical aspects of a ritual. It is here that performance theory's emphasis on enactment become particularly useful.
In terms of the early Christian ritual kiss, we must recognize that the kiss was not just an object of discussion, it
was also a physical action. By appropriating a gesture common among family members and placing it in the
context of a nonbiologically related community, the very act of kissing helped Christians construct a new concept of
family. Every time Christians kissed, they engaged in an action routinely associated with a familial context. This
connection with kinship relationships became even stronger when kissing a member of the opposite sex, because
in the surrounding culture a nonerotic kiss between unrelated members of the opposite sex was extremely rare. 53
The dissonance between cultural norms (kissing primarily restricted to family members) and experienced reality
(periodically kissing unrelated persons during Christian rituals) could be resolved in one of two ways. Either the
parameters of kissing could be expanded regularly to include nonfamily members, or those whom one kissed
during Christian rituals could be redefined as family. As the above sources suggest, early Christian leaders
preferred the latter.
In their alignment of the kiss with the production and expression of kinship, Christian leaders emphasized the ritual
kiss's performative value. Many modern ritual observers agree that as performance, ritual helps create social
reality. For example, in her studies of modern Morocco, M. E. Combs-Schilling states:
Rituals share many qualities of great theatrical performances. . . [but t]hose who sincerely participate in ritual are
real performers in real-life dramas. . . . Rituals manufacture public and private experiences rich in sight, smell,
sound, taste, touch, and imaginative abstractions. At best, they are not simply experiences, but crystalline
experiences so vibrant in meaning and medium that they serve as counterpoint to other experiences built in daily
life. When persuasive, rituals are experienced by the participants as life at its most profound, and can cast
aspersions on the rest of experience as being less than essential . . . . That is culture's trump card. For rituals are
staged cultural expressions that at their best appear neither staged nor [End Page 165] cultural but rather evoke
life as it exists in its essence. . . . They are shadow plays in reverse: the performers and the performance become
real, while everything else becomes the shadow. 54
Unlike less participatory activities, the ritual kiss elicited the entire community's active involvement. In acting out a
particular interpretation of the kiss, participants were audience and actors. When they saw the exchange of the
kiss, Christians witnessed a specific scene that their behavior should model—joining together to form a family of
Christ. Church members also participated in this performance. Sociologist Joachim Knuf stresses the importance of
such ritual participation in the construction of social reality:
From the point of view of the enactor of a ritual, a ritual has a distinctively performative character and serves to
bring about changes in the world. . . . Participation in a ritual is tantamount to a subjection of its intent;
implementation of the ritual action plan therefore involves participants in behavior that not only symbolizes a certain
order of things (or of the world), it executes this order. Many elements of ritualized communication can hence be
regarded as signs that create the state they signify. 55
Christian rhetoric aligning the ritual kiss with concepts of kinship augmented an already strong cultural connection
between kissing and familial relations. When practiced, the kiss made concrete a particular social ideal; it became
the execution of a "ritual action plan." These ritual performances helped early Christianity produce a new kind of
family, a community formed not by biological relationship but by a kinship of faith.
All In the Family?
The kiss, however, not only created new families, it also disrupted old ones. Similar to their non-Christian
contemporaries, early Christians often [End Page 166] exchanged kisses as a form of greeting. 56 The greeting
kiss both reaffirmed membership in the community and functioned as a tool of exclusion. For example, Gregory
Nazianzen praised his mother, Nonna, because she allowed "never for her hand to touch [heathen] hands, nor her
lips to kiss heathen lips, not even those of a woman most respectable in all other matters, even a member of her
house." 57 Before becoming a Christian, a woman unquestionably would kiss her relatives. Yet once joining the
Christian community, Gregory's mother intentionally violates the ius osculi and no longer kisses a non-Christian, no
matter how closely related.
The strength of contemporary expectations for kissing family members as well as Gregory's decision to emphasize
this particular facet of his mother's behavior suggest that contemporaries would have viewed Nonna's actions as
extremely significant. In terms of group dynamics, it established a new in-group (a new Christian family whom she
kisses) as well as a new out-group (non-Christian relatives whom she formerly kissed but no longer does); the kiss
not only could define a new nonbiological family, it also could separate individuals from their biological families.
In depicting his mother's behavior as noteworthy, Gregory suggests that it was atypical. Nevertheless, she
presented an ideal. She was an exemplar of the ritual kiss taken to its logical end—if one only kisses kin and if
family now is defined by ties of faith, one should not kiss non-Christian relatives because they are no longer family.
Even if actual kissing practice rarely was as extreme as that of Nonna, Gregory's rhetoric suggests that Christian
authors would not have been upset if it were.
The late-second-century Martyrdom of Andrew presents another example of Christians constructing pagan relatives
as unkissable. The Martyrdom of Andrew is, of course, a very different source than Chrysostom's homilies or
Gregory Nazianzen's orations. It does not directly witness the ways early Christians actually kissed each other. It
does, however, show [End Page 167] that even in fictional narrative, the kiss still provided a performative answer to
the question, "as a Christian, who is my family?"
In the Martyrdom of Andrew, Aegeates, husband of the recently converted Maximilla, returns from a long journey.
He enters his bedroom, which only moments before housed an entire Christian congregation. The worshipers,
made invisible by the apostle Andrew, have just departed, leaving only the praying Maximilla. Aegeates hears
Maximilla utter his name, and he expects her enthusiastically to receive his kisses, but he soon discovers that this
is not the case:
But Aegeates pressed on to go into the bedroom thinking that Maximilla was still sleeping; for he loved her. But she
was praying. And when she saw him, she turned away and looked to the ground. And he said to her, "First, give me
your right hand and I will kiss it. Henceforth I will not address you as wife, but as lady, because I am refreshed by
your prudence and your love toward me." For, the poor man, when he caught her praying, he thought that she
prayed for him; when he heard his own name while she prayed, he was delighted. But, this was what was said by
Maximilla, "Save me henceforth from Aegeates' defiled intercourse and keep me pure and chaste serving only you
my God." And when, because he wanted to kiss it, [Aegeates] drew near to her mouth, she pushed him away
saying, "It is not right Aegeates, for a man's mouth to touch a woman's mouth after prayer." And the proconsul,
amazed at the harshness of her countenance, departed from her and stripping off his travel clothes he rested;
having finished his long journey, lying down, he slept. 58
Maximilla's refusal to kiss her husband radically challenges cultural expectations. She justifies her actions by
implying that Aegeates' kiss would pollute a mouth recently purified by prayer. 59
What makes Aegeates' kiss impure? Maximilla explicitly states one explanation: the gender difference between
Aegeates and Maximilla makes kissing each other after prayer polluting ("It is not right, Aegeates, for a [End Page
168] man's mouth to touch a woman's mouth after prayer"). This explanation, however, contradicts every other
second-century witness to Christian kissing practice. For example, Tertullian speaks of spouses as well as
nonrelated men and women exchanging a ritual kiss both in church and at home. Tertullian sees this kiss as a "seal
of prayer" and considers prayer without a kiss to be incomplete. 60 If Maximilla literally means that men and
women never should kiss after prayer, the Martyrdom of Andrew is the only second-century source prohibiting this
The ascetic nature of the Apocryphal Acts makes such a restriction plausible. I suggest, however, another possible
explanation for Maximilla's concern. Maximilla sees Aegeates' kiss as a purity violation less because of his gender
than because of his religion. Although she does not state it in these terms to her husband, such an interpretation is
consistent with the Apocryphal Acts' emphasis on how a woman's conversion to Christianity alienates her biological
family, but joins her to a larger religious community.
Whether it aims to divide men from women, Christian from non-Christian, or both, the Martyrdom of Andrew shows
how kissing can strengthen distinctions and solidify group boundaries. From the perspective of the Apocryphal
Acts, the marriage of Christian to non-Christian was particularly threatening, both because of its sexual implications
and the concern of divided loyalties. In the Apocryphal Acts, virtually all the protagonists must illustrate their
commitment to Christianity by abandoning their closest kin. Maximilla's refusal to kiss her husband was part of a
larger strategy to prioritize Christian community over biological ties. Like Gregory's mother, Maximilla's actions help
Christianity develop a successionary model of kinship. Joining Christianity does not just form a new family, it also
replaces the old.
The Kiss and "Family Values"
The ritual kiss not only raised the question of whom one should kiss but also the question of how one should kiss.
Here, too, the analogy of kinship affected the ways Christians exchanged the kiss. I am particularly interested in
how at least one early Christian leader could use the motif of family to refashion an act of potentially suspect
motivation (unrelated men and women kissing each other) into a performance of Christian virtue.
Despite general scholarly neglect of early Christian kissing, one aspect of the ritual kiss has attracted some
attention. Several scholars argue that [End Page 169] the ritual kiss was a major factor contributing to pagan
accusations of Christian immorality. 61 Either the kiss frequently became an excuse for inappropriate sexual
expression (which led to widespread reports of Christian impropriety) or, despite Christian restraint, non-Christian
observers misinterpreted the ritual kiss as sexual and used this to slander early Christian communities.
Surprisingly little evidence, however, supports a link between the ritual kiss and widespread rumors. Only a single
sentence from Christian writings mentions that the kiss could lead to slanderous reports, and no surviving nonChristian sources ever make this connection. 62 In fact, a close read of a work most often used to support the
"rumor hypothesis" suggests that, especially when placed in the context of familial gesture, the ritual kiss could
become a performance not of licentiousness but of sexual control.
Two chapters into defending Christians against charges of "godless banquets and sexual unions," 63 the secondcentury Athenagoras writes:
According to age, we call some sons and daughters and others we hold brothers and sisters and to the aged
assign the honor of fathers and mothers. Therefore, it is of great importance to us that the bodies of our brothers
and sisters and the others called the names of relatives remain not insulted and undefiled. Again the word says to
us: "If someone should kiss twice because it pleased him . . ." and it adds: "therefore it is necessary to be careful of
the kiss, or the salutation, because if our thoughts are the least bit stirred by it, it places us outside eternal life." 64
Proponents of the "rumor hypothesis" use this passage to argue that widespread slanders of Christian kissing
abuse forced Athenagoras to defend Christian kissing practices. Athenagoras' Plea for Christians, however, never
states this; the only rumors the author cites are slanders of sexual unions and cannibalism. The passage's context,
in fact, suggests just the opposite. Athenagoras is not reacting to widespread gossip of the ritual kiss's link to
promiscuity. Rather, Athenagoras uses the kiss as an example of Christian restraint to disprove the more general
rumors of sexual impropriety.
In the previous chapter of his apology, Athenagoras claims that because Christians believe that God continually
looks into believers' hearts, they [End Page 170] are particularly virtuous in thought, as well as deed. 65 Chapter 32
includes Athenagoras' paraphrase of Matthew 5.28—merely looking at a woman lustfully becomes an act of
adultery. When speaking of the kiss, Athenagoras' citation of an otherwise unattested logion makes the same point.
The quotation begins with a clear behavioral transgression—it condemns people who enjoy kissing so much that
they return for seconds. Like the Matthew passage, the latter half of the saying moves from outward action to inner
emotions. Even if Christians' apparent behavior seems proper (kissing only once), the participants must control the
thoughts about which only they and God know. Just as a wandering eye commits adultery, when Christians kiss
each other, a wandering mind can lead to damnation. According to Athenagoras, because the stakes are so high,
whenever they kiss, Christians regulate both their outward behavior and their inward thought. By his very emphasis
of the kiss's inherent danger, Athenagoras constructs the chaste exchange of a ritual kiss as a dramatic
performance of how faithful Christians keep their sexual desires under control even in the most tempting of
What immediately follows this passage also suggests that Athenagoras is not defending against allegations of
kissing impropriety, but rather himself brings up the matter of the kiss to illustrate Christian virtue. Chapter 33
presents several extended examples of Christian sexual restraint: married Christians have sex only for procreation,
many Christians remain lifelong virgins, and Christian widows and widowers never remarry. 66 No commentator
has ever suggested that these are reactions to widespread rumors of Christian remarriage. Instead, modern
scholars view them as part of Athenagoras' larger argument that because Christians follow such strict sexual
ethics, any claims of Christian orgiastic practices are completely unfounded. I contend that, like the passages
before and after it, Athenagoras' reference to Christian kissing is another example of Christian self-imposed sexual
Because Athenagoras sets his Plea as an oral delivery to the Roman emperor, many scholars have argued that he
designed it for a non-Christian audience. 67 Athenagoras directs his reference to the kiss toward outsiders [End
Page 171] either to defend Christians against external accusations of improper kissing or, as I have argued, to
illustrate Christian self-restraint. Whenever they heard or read this work, non-Christians would remain a level
removed from the actual practice and thus dependent on Athenagoras' report; they had no way of verifying how (or
how often) Christian men and women kissed each other. From this perspective, Athenagoras' passage becomes a
carefully constructed textual portrait.
But did Athenagoras really write the work primarily for non-Christians? It is difficult to imagine Marcus Aurelius,
Lucius Commodus, or any other nonsympathetic outsider either listening to or reading a forty-page treatise
delivered by a member of a highly suspicious religious cult. It seems particularly unlikely that Athenagoras directed
his references to Christian kissing toward a non-Christian audience. Athenagoras never provides any context for
the kiss, and to understand his arguments the Plea's recipients must have been surprisingly familiar with Christian
ritual practices. Instead of viewing the passage's primary audience as the Roman emperors themselves, I suggest
that the passage is more esoteric than exoteric; Athenagoras aimed his warnings against impure kissing primarily
toward other Christians to whom his threat of exclusion from eternal life had real currency.
If Athenagoras' account of the kiss is mainly for internal consumption, this substantially blurs the boundaries
between text and ritual. For early Christians, Athenagoras' work does not remain an apologetic description but
becomes a ritual script. By following his instructions, participants could perform Christian righteousness. Although
Athenagoras stages this performance before non-Christians, this implied viewership is almost certainly never
present. Instead, Christians become true participant-observers and the kiss becomes a form of double selfrepresentation; Christians perform the ritual kiss by themselves and for themselves. 68 By chastely exchanging the
kiss, they show other Christians their self-restraint, they show God the purity of their thoughts, and they show each
other the virtue of their community.
The kiss's connection to kinship becomes central to Athenagoras' project. By emphasizing the link between
Christianity, family, and kissing, he [End Page 172] suggests that an improper exchange of the ritual kiss is not just
overly sexual or adulterous, it also is incestuous. Although Athenagoras is not the first Greco-Roman writer to
correlate kissing with incest, 69 emphasizing this potential connection allows Athenagoras to construct the ritual
kiss as a way to distinguish Christians from non-Christians.
Athenagoras explicitly discusses incest in the beginning of chapter 32, in which he speaks of Zeus' incestuous
relations with his own mother, daughter, and sister and Thyestes' relationship with his daughter. Athenagoras uses
these familiar mythological stories as foils for Christians' relations with each other. Unlike non-Christian gods who
have sex with their biological relatives, Christians are careful not even to have lustful thoughts regarding their fictive
Athenagoras implies that if Christians should kiss each other "with the least defilement of thought," this distinction
between Christian and non-Christian behavior would break down. They, like the pagan gods, would be guilty of
incest. In the context of Christian ritual, what makes such a boundary violation particularly disturbing is the fine line
it crosses. As an act of inclusion, the kiss brings Christians closer to each other—they should be as intimate as the
most immediate of family. In response to the possibility of participants using the kiss to become a bit too close,
Athenagoras employs the same fictive kinship structure that initially decreased the social distance between
Christians to put parameters on appropriate kissing behavior; the ritual kiss is a kiss shared by siblings, not lovers.
Athenagoras' construction of the kiss is not so much an act of apology as an act of self-definition. His reference to
ritual kissing does not support the idea of the ritual kiss resulting in slander. Rather, it shows how Christian leaders
can emphasize the kiss's link to kinship to illustrate distinctiveness. In the context of the Christian family, the kiss
foregrounds the difference between Christian restraint and non-Christian licentiousness while simultaneously
marking a boundary between communal closeness and inappropriately erotic attraction. When properly performed,
the ritual kiss illustrates and reinforces Christian "family values" in contrast to pagan immorality. [End Page 173]
Despite thousands of ancient references to kissing, scholars rarely have explored the kiss either as a common
Greco-Roman practice or specifically as a Christian ritual. Given the growing interest in the late antique family, this
neglect becomes particularly surprising. Why have so many works on the ancient family ignored one of the most
widespread familial practices in the Greco-Roman world?
After the linguistic turn, numerous scholars have focused on the role of language in creating perceived reality. I
suspect that this emphasis on rhetoric occasionally has led to the neglect of an equally important facet of
poststructuralist thought—the body's role in systems of power and identity. In terms of early Christian studies,
although previous scholars have investigated how Christians write or speak of family, they have not yet asked how
ritual plays a role in constructions of kinship.
I argue that including ritual in our explorations of early Christians and the family gives us a much richer appreciation
for the dynamics of early Christianity. Such an approach emphasizes how the ritual kiss's performance both
illustrated and enacted a new model of community. It shows how a ritual could function not only as an act of
inclusion but also as a tool to create a supercessionary vision of family. It notes that Christians could stage the
ritual kiss as a display of Christian virtue and a reinforcement of Christian distinctiveness. The ritual kiss helped
early Christians perform family. I suggest it also can help modern scholars better appreciate the importance of ritual
as we perform our own analyses of early Christian communities.
Michael Penn is the Kraft-Hiatt Post-Doctoral Fellow in Early Christianity at Brandeis University
* A special thanks to Elizabeth Clark, Bart Ehrman, Dale Martin, Jean O'Barr, and Orval Wintermute who read
earlier versions of this work. I am also very grateful for the thoughtful and helpful feedback that I received from two
anonymous JECS reviewers whose insights greatly improved this article.
1. E.g., Keith R. Bradley, Discovering the Roman Family (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); S. J. D.
Cohen, ed. The Jewish Family in Antiquity, Brown Judaic Studies 289 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993); Suzanne
Dixon, The Roman Family (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992); Judith Evans Grubbs, Law and
Family in Late Antiquity: The Emperor Constantine's Marriage Legislation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995); Eva
Marie Lassen, "The Roman Family: Ideal and Metaphor," in Constructing Early Christian Families: Family as Social
Reality and Metaphor, ed. Halvor Moxnes (London: Routledge, 1997), 103-20; Dale Martin, "The Construction of
the Ancient Family: Methodological Considerations," Journal of Roman Studies 86 (1996): 40-60; Beryl Rawson,
ed. Marriage, Divorce, and Children in Ancient Rome (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991); Richard P. Saller,
Patriarchy, Property, and Death in the Roman Family (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Susan
Treggiari, Roman Marriage: Iusti Coniuges from the Time of Cicero to the Time of Ulpian (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
2. E.g., Adriana Destro and Mauro Pesce, "Kinship, Discipleship, and Movement: An Anthropological Study of
John's Gospel," Biblical Interpretation 3 (1995): 266-84; Bruce J. Malina, Christian Origins and Cultural
Anthropology (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1986); idem, Windows on the World of Jesus (Louisville: John Knox
Press, 1993); Jerome H. Neyrey, ed., The Social World of Luke-Acts: Models for Interpretation (Peabody:
Hendrickson, 1991).
3. E.g., Stephen C. Barton, Discipleship and Family Ties in Mark and Matthew, Society for New Testament Studies
Monograph 80 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); David L. Balch and Carolyn Osiek, Families in the
New Testament World: Households and House Churches (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997); Philip
F. Esler, The First Christians in their Social World (London: Routledge, 1994); idem, Modelling Early Christianity:
Social-Scientific Studies of the New Testament in its Context (London: Routledge, 1995); Stuart L. Love, "The
Household: A Major Social Component for Gender Analysis in the Gospel of Matthew," Biblical Theology Bulletin
23 (1993): 21-31; Moxnes, Constructing Early Christian Families; Carolyn Osiek, "The Family in Early Christianity:
'Family Values' Revisited," CBQ 58 (1996): 1-25; Karl Olav Sandnes, A New Family: Conversion and Ecclesiology
in the Early Church with Cross-Cultural Comparisons, Studies in the Intercultural History of Christianity 91 (Bern:
Peter Lang, 1994).
4. E.g., Reidar Aasgaard, "Brotherhood in Plutarch and Paul: Its Role and Character," in Constructing Early
Christian Families, 166-82; John H. Elliot, Home for the Homeless: A Sociological Exegesis of First Peter, Its
Situation, and Strategy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), 165-266; Wayne Meeks, The First Urban Christians
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), 85-94.
5. E.g., Denise Kimber Buell, Making Christians: Clement of Alexandria and the Rhetoric of Legitimacy (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1999); Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological
Reconstruction of Christian Origins (New York: Crossroad, 1983), 251-342; Ingvild Soelid Gilhus, "Family
Structures in Gnostic Religion," in Constructing Early Christian Families, 235-49; Karl Olav Sandnes, "Equality
Within Patriarchal Structures: Some New Testament Perspectives on the Christian Fellowship as a Brother- or
Sisterhood and a Family," in Constructing Early Christian Families, 150-65.
6. For useful overviews of performance theory see Catherine Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1992), 37-43; eadem, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions (New York: Oxford University Press,
1997), 72-76; and Mary Suydam, "Background: An Introduction to Performance Studies," in Performance and
Transformation: New Approaches to Late Medieval Spirituality, ed. Mary A. Suydam and Joanna E. Zeigler (New
York: St. Martin's Press, 1999), 1-26. Some of the foundational works in these fields' approaches to performance
include John Langshaw Austin, How to Do Things with Words, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
1975); Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990);
Ronald Grimes, Beginnings in Ritual Studies (Washington: University Press of America, 1982); Richard Schechner,
Essays in Performance Theory (New York: Routledge, 1988); and Victor Turner, The Anthropology of Performance
(New York: PAJ Publications, 1987).
7. In his now famous analysis of the Balinese cockfight Clifford Geertz provides a good illustration of expanding
text: "The culture of a people is an ensemble of texts, themselves ensembles, which the anthropologist strains to
read over the shoulders of those to whom they properly belong. . . . As in more familiar exercises in close reading,
one can start anywhere in a culture's repertoire of forms and end up anywhere else. . . . But whatever the level at
which one operates, and however intricately, the guiding principle is the same: societies, like lives, contain their
own interpretations. One has only to learn how to gain access to them" (Clifford Geertz, "Deep Play: Notes on the
Balinese Cockfight," Daedalus 102 [1972]: 29).
8. Joseph Roach, "Culture and Performance in the Circum-Atlantic World" in Performativity and Performance, ed.
Andrew Parker and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (New York: Routledge, 1995), 61.
9. Bell, Ritual: Perspectives, 73.
10. Joseph Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996),
11. For exceptions see Fernard Cabrol, "Baiser," in Dictionnaire d'Archéologie Chrétienne et de Liturgie, ed.
Fernard Cabrol and Henri Leclercq (Paris: Librairie Letouzey et Ané, 1925), 117-30; Gustav Stählin, "filew ktl," in
Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing,
1932; reprint, 1974), 118-27, 138-46; Karl-Martin Hofmann, Philema Hagion (Gütersloh: Der Rufer Evangelischer
Verlag, 1938); Johannes Quasten, "Der Kuss des Neugetauften in altchristlicher Taufliturgie," in Liturgie Gestalt
und Vollzug, ed. Walter Dürig (München: Max Hueber Verlag, 1963), 267-71; Klaus Thraede, "Ursprünge und
Formen des 'Heiligen Kusses' im frühen Christentum," JbAC 11-12 (1968-69): 124-80; N. J. Perella, The Kiss
Sacred and Profane (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 12-50; Klaus Thraede, "Friedenskuss," in RAC
505-19; G. W. Clarke, "Cyprian's Epistle 64 and the Kissing of Feet in Baptism," HTR 66 (1973): 147-52; Stephen
Benko, Pagan Rome and the Early Christians (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 79-102; Eleanor
Kreider, "Let the Faithful Greet Each Other: The Kiss of Peace," Conrad Grebel Review 5 (1987): 29-49; L. Edward
Phillips, "The Ritual Kiss in Early Christian Worship" (Ph.D diss., Notre Dame, 1992); idem, "The Kiss of Peace and
the Opening Greeting of the Pre-anaphoral Dialogue," Studia Liturgica 23 (1993): 177-86; idem, The Ritual Kiss in
Early Christian Worship (Cambridge: Grove Books, 1996); William Klassen, "The Sacred Kiss in the New
Testament: An Example of Social Boundary Lines," NTS 39 (1993): 122-35; Dominic E. Serra, "The Kiss of Peace:
A Suggestion from the Ritual Structure of the Missa," Ecclesia Orans 14 (1997): 79-94.
12. 1 Thess 5.26; 1 Cor 16.20; 2 Cor 13.12; Rom 16.16; 1 Pet 5.14.
13. 1 Thess 5.26; 1 Cor 16.20; 2 Cor 13.12; Rom 16.16; 1 Pet 5.14; a. Paul. et Thecl. 19 (Acta Pauli et Theclae,
ed. R. A. Lipsius, Acta apostolorum apocrypha 1,1 [Leipzig: Mendelsohn, 1891], 247);Just. I apol. 65.2 (Justin,
Apologia, ed. E. J. Goodspeed, Die ältesten Apologeten [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1915], 74);
Athenag. leg. 32.5.8 (Athenagoras, Legatio, ed. W. R. Schoedel, Athenagoras. Legatio and De resurrectione
[Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972], 48-50); Clem. paed. 3.11.81-82 (SC 158:157-58).
14. Neither Paul, 1 Peter, nor Justin articulates any gender boundaries. Paul and Thecla speaks of Thecla
sneaking into prison to kiss Paul's bonds (a. Paul. et Thecl. 19 [Lipsius, 247]). Athenagoras and Clement of
Alexandria note that "unchaste" or "shameless" kisses could corrupt the bodies of Christian brothers and sisters
(Athenag. leg. 32.5.8 [Schoedel, 48-50]; Clem. paed. 3.11.81-82 [SC 158:157-58]). In the early third century,
Tertullian talks of Christian men and women ritually kissing each other (Tert. ux. 2.4.3 [CCL 1:389]) as does The
Martyrdom of Perpetua (pass. Perp. 10.13, 12.5, 21.7 [SC 417:140, 148, 180]).
15. E.g., Apul. met. 7.11.16 (LCL 453:24); Ath. 10.440-41 (LCL 235:496); Catul. 9.9, 99.14-16 (LCL 6:12, 170); Cic.
ver. (LCL 293:398); Gel. (LCL 200:390); Long. 1.16 (LCL 69:34); Luc. 5.736 (LCL 220:294);
Luc. Alex. 41.12-13 (LCL 130:228); Luc. am. 53.25 (LCL 431:232); Mart. 11.22.2, 12.55.12, 13.18.2 (LCL 480:28,
38, 198); Nonn. 4.151 (LCL 344:144); Ov. ep. 2.94, 11.117 (LCL 41:26, 140); Ov. met. 2.357, 10.362 (LCL 232:84,
42:90); Petr. 20.8.3, 23.4.1, 85.6.2, 132.1.3 (LCL 15:28, 32, 168, 292); Prop. 2.13.29, 2.15.10 (LCL 18:156, 164);
Sen. con. (LCL 464:244); Sil. 6.420 (LCL 277:312); Stat. Silv. 3.2.57 (LCL 206:160); Verg. a. 1.256,
12.434 (LCL 63:258, 64:328).
16. Third-century examples include: a. Andr. Frag. 5 (Lipsius, 39); a. Jo. 62, 78, 24 (Acta Joannis, ed. M. Bonnet,
Acta apostolorum apocrypha 2,1 [Leipzig: Mendelssohn, 1898], 164, 181, 190); a. Petr. c. Sim. 3 (Lipsius, 48);
Cypr. laps. 2 (CCL 3:221); Cypr. ep. 6.1 (CSEL 3.2:480); Cypr. ep. 64.4 (CSEL 3.2:719-20); gosp. Phil. 58.30-59.6
(NHS 20:156); Or. comm. in Rom. 10.33 (PG 14:1282-83); Or. cant 1.1.1-1.1.15 (SC 375:177-86); pass. Perp.
10.13, 12.5, 21.7 (SC 417:140, 148, 180); Tert. ux. 2.4.3 (CCL 1:389); Tert. or. 18.1.6 (CCL 1:267); Tert. praescr.
41 (CCL 1:221-22); traditio apostolica 4, 21 (Apostolic Tradition, ed. Dom Bernard Botte, La Tradition Apostolique
de Saint Hippolyte (Münster [Westfalen: Aschendorffsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1963], 10, 54); traditio apostolica
19 (TU 58:12).
17. Tert. praescr. 41 (CCL 1:221-22); traditio apostolica 18 (TU 58:12).
18. A. Andr. frag. 5 (Lipsius, 39); a. Jo. 62 (Bonnet, 181).
19. Traditio apostolica 18 (TU 58:12).
20. Acts of John Son of Zebudee 61 (Acts of John Son of Zebudee, ed. W. Wright, Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles
[Amsterdam: Philo Press, 1871], 44); Ambr. ep. 1.14-18 (CSEL 82.3:153-55); Bas. ep. 45.1.47 (Basil, Epistulae,
ed. Y. Courtonne, Saint Basile: Lettres [Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1957], 114); Canons of Hippolytus 3.17 (PO
31.2:352); const. app. 2.57.17, 8.11.9 (Funk, 165, 494); Cyr. H. catech. 5.3 (SC 126:148-50); Eus. m.P. 11.20,
11.24 (GCS 2.2:942-44); Eus. e.h. 2.9.3 (SC 31:62); Eus. e.h. 6.3.4 (SC 41:87); Chrys. Thdr. I 1.17 (SC 117:18486); Chrys. catech. 11.32-34 (Chrysostom, Catechesis ultima ad baptizandos, ed. A. Papadopoulos-Kerameus,
Varia Graeca Sacra [St. Petersburg: Kirschbaum, 1909], 174-75); Chrys. catech. 2.27 (SC 50:148); Chrys. hom. in
Rom. 21.4 (PG 60:671); Chrys. hom. in I Cor. 44.4 (PG 61:376); Chrys. hom in I Thess. 11 (PG 62:464); Chrys.
hom in 2 Cor. 30.2 (PG 61:607); Prud. Peristephanon 2.517-21, 5.337-40 (CCL 126:275, 305); Pseudo-Clement,
Epistola II ad virgines 2 (PG 1:421); Ign. Ant. 13.2.5 (Pseudo-Ignatius, Ad Antiochenos, ed. Franciscus Diekamp,
Patres apostolici [Tübingen: Laupp, 1913], 222); Ign. Tars. 10.3.2 (Diekamp, 143-44).
21. Const. app. 2.57.17, 8.11.0 (Funk, 165, 494).
22. Pseudo-Clement, Epistola II ad virgines 2 (PG 1:421).
23. Const. app. 8.11.9 (Funk, 494).
24. T. dom. 1.23 (Testamentum domini, ed. I. E. Rahmani, Testamentum Domini Nostri Jesu Christi [Hildesheim:
G. Olms, 1899], 36).
25. Fifth-century witnesses include: Aug. c. litt. Petil. 1.12.13 (CSEL 52:12); Aug. civ. 22.8 (CCL 48:826); Aug.
Psal. (CCL 38:204); Aug. Psal. 94.8.20 (CCL 39:1337); Aug. serm. 6.3 (MiAg 1:31-32); Aug. serm. 204.2
(PL 38:1038); Aug. serm. 227 (SC 116:240); Aug. tract eu. Io. 6.3 (CCL 36:54); Innoc. 25.1 (PL 20:553); Hier. ep.
22.6 (CSEL54:151); Hier. ep. 82.3 (CSEL 55.2:110); Hier. Ruf. 23, 33 (CCL 79: 94, 103); Hier. vit. Paul. 10 (PL
23:25); Narsai, Homily 21 (Narsai, Homiliae, ed. Alphonsus Mingana, Narsai: Homiliae et Carmina [Mosul:
Dominican Press, 1905], 346); P. -Nol. carm. 18.127 (CSEL 30:103); P. -Nol. ep. 5.16 (CSEL 29:35); Dion. Ar. e.h.
3.3.8 (Pseudo-Dionysius, De Ecclesiastica Hierarchia, ed. Johannes Quasten, Monumenta eucharistica et liturgica
vetustissima Fasciculus VII Pars VI. [Bonnae: Sumptibus Petri Hanstein, 1936], 306-7); Dion. Ar. e.h. 5.2, 5.3.1,
6.2, 6.3.4 (PG 3:509, 533, 536); Dion. Ar. e.h. 6.3.4 (SC 41:87); t. dom. 1.23 (Rahmani, 36); Theodore of
Mopsuestia, On Eucharist and Liturgy 5 (Theodore, On Eucharist and Liturgy, ed. A. Mingana, Theodore of
Mopsuestia on the Lord's Prayer and Sacraments [Cambridge: W. Heffer, 1933], 230-32).
26. Three hundred and ninety occurences of kisses between unmarried lovers (45 percent), 236 between family
members (27 percent), 72 to the kissing of friends or peers (8 percent), 65 references to the kissing of rulers (7
percent), 24 to the kissing of slaves (3 percent), and 85 "other" references such as kissing a teacher, priest, animal,
or inanimate object (10 percent). If one excludes inanimate objects, animals and non-related lovers, the familial
kiss makes up 58 percent of the remaining references to kissing.
27. Ath. 10.440-41 (LCL 235:496); Luc. 5.736 (LCL 220:294); Ov. met. 2.357, 10.362 (LCL 232:84, LCL 42:90); Sil.
6.420 (LCL 277:312); Verg. a. 1.256, 12.434 (LCL 63:258, 64:328). Also see Gr. Naz. or. 18.10 (PG 35:996). Of the
other familiar kisses of a specific body part, three referred to the kissing of hands (Sil. 12.592 [LCL 278:190], Quint.
(sp) Decl. 4.5.12(Lewis Sussman, The Major Declamations Ascribed to Quintilian [Frankfurt: Verlag Peter Lang,
1987], 41), V. Fl. 7.123 [LCL 286:368]), one to the kissing of feet (Sil. 11.331 [LCL 278:124]), and one to the kissing
of eyes (Quint. (sp) Decl. 2.6.20 [Sussman 16]).
28. Prop. 2.6.8 (LCL 18:134).
29. Ov. am 1.4.63 (LCL 41:332). Cf. Ov. am. 1.4.39 (LCL 41:331) where he threatens publicly to lay claim to his
lover's kisses.
30. Ov. am. 2.5.23-30 (LCL 41:394). Also see Ov. ep. 20.145 (LCL 41:284).
31. Ov. met. 9.560 (LCL 43:42).
32. Suet. Cl. 26.3.5 (LCL 38:54).
33. Some modern scholars will translate ius osculi as the law of the kiss. For example, M. B. Pharr states: "By the
Ius Osculi also any man related within a certain degree had the right under the law to kiss his female relatives. This
law seems to have been derived from the custom of prohibition of marriage within certain degrees of relationship"
("The Kiss in Roman Law," CJ 42, no. 8 [1946-47]: 394). Although it is possible that the ius osculi may be a
reference to an existing law, none of the extant authors cite any specific legal authority. Instead, they seem to
present it simply as a customary practice.
34. Ath. 10.440-41 (LCL 235:496).
35. Gel. (LCL 195:278); Plin. nat. 14.90.2 (LCL 353:246).
36. Tert. ap. 6.4 (CCL 1:97).
37. Apul. met. 11.25.28 (LCL 453:346).
38. E.g., Mosch. eros. 4, 5 (LCL 28:422); Petr. 31.1.3 (LCL 15:46); Sen. ben. (LCL 254:70); Sen. con. (LCL 464: 270); Suet. Cal. 56.2.7 (LCL 31:490).
39. Petr. 127.4.3 (LCL 15:282).
40. "While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak
to him. Someone told him, 'Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.' But
to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, 'Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?' And pointing to his
disciples, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my
brother and sister and mother'" (NRSV).
41. Athenag. leg. 32.5.8 (Schoedel, 48-50).
42. Tert. ux. 2.4.3 (CCL 1:389).
43. Aug. serm. 227 (SC 116:240). There are numerous other examples of Chris-tians speaking about the ritual kiss
in terms of kinship, such as Aug. Psal. (CCL 38:204); gosp. Phil. 58.30-59.6 (NHS 20:156); Or. comm. in
Rom. 10.33 (PG 14:1282-83); P.-Nol. ep. 5.16 (CSEL 29:35); Tert. or. 18.1.6 (CCL 1:267).
44. Petr. 41.8.4, 64.11.1, 75.4.2, 85.6.2, 86.5.3, 110.3.2 (LCL 15:66, 120, 148, 168, 170, 228); Mart. 5.46.1 (LCL
94:396) 6.34.1 (LCL 95:24), 8.46.6 (LCL 95:196), 11.23.10 (LCL 480:24); Sen. ben. (LCL 254:178).
45. Petr. 31.1.3 (LCL 15:46).
46. Sen. Ep. 47.14.1 (LCL 310:308).
47. This silence is particularly telling in documents such as the Apostolic Tradi-tion, which clearly envision slaves
as part of the Christian community (e.g., Traditio Apostolica 16 argues that slaves can join the church as long as
they have their mas-ter's permission). Although the Apostolic Tradition prohibits Christians from kissing
catechumens and Christian women and men from kissing each other, there are no restrictions on slaves and free
kissing each other.
48. Pass. Perp. 21.7 (SC 417:180).
49. Chrys. hom in 2 Cor. 30.2 (PG 61:607).
50. For examples of erotic kisses between siblings see Luc. 10.365 (LCL 220:616); Ov. ep. 4.144 (LCL 41:54); Ov.
met. 9.458, 504, 539, 560 (LCL 42:34, 38, 40, 42); Stat. Ach 1.589 (LCL 207:552).
51. Bell, Ritual Theory, 75-91.
52. Ibid. 74, 90.
53. The kiss between Chloe and Dorco in Long. 1.30.1 (LCL 69:54) is the only example I found of a nonerotic kiss
between unrelated, opposite-sexed adults. But even here, there are erotic overtones. See also William Klassen,
"Kiss (NT)," in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 92, who
emphasizes the radicalness of early Christians kissing without regard to gender.
54. M. E. Combs-Schilling, Sacred Performances: Islam, Sexuality, and Sacrifice (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1989), 30-31. In distinguishing ritual from theater, Frederick Bird makes a similar observation, "ritual actors
reconstitute the world-view envisioned by their scripts. Unlike Thespians, though, ritual actors typically view the
world thus created . . . as fundamentally real—even 'more real,' in some cases, than the ordinary-workaday world"
("Ritual as Communicative Action," in Ritual and Ethnic Identity: A Comparative Study of the Social Meaning of
Liturgical Ritual in Synagogues [Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1995], 30).
55. Joachim Knuf, "Where Cultures Meet: Ritual Code and Organizational Boundary Management," Research on
Language and Social Interaction 23 (1989/90): 115.
56. See, for example, pass. Perp. 12.5 (SC 417:148); Tert. ux. 2.4.2 (CCL 1:389); a. Andr. frag. 5 (Lipsius, 39); a.
Jo. 62, 78, 24 (Bonnet, 181, 190, 164); a. Petr. c. Sim. 3 (Lipsius, 48); 1 apoc. Jas. 31 (NHS 11:81); 2 apoc. Jas.
56 (NHS 11:132); Hier. Ruf. 23 (CCL 79:94); Hier. vit. Paul. 10 (PL 23:25); Hier. ep. 22.6 (CSEL 54:151); Aug. civ.
22.8 (CCL 48:826);P.-Nol. ep. 5.16 (CSEL 29:35); Hom. Clem. 4.7 (GCS 42:86). The ritual use of the greeting kiss
also may have helped the kiss become a conventional epistolary salutation. Quite consciously following the Pauline
epistles, Christian authors occasionally conclude their letters with a commandment for the recipients to kiss one
another. See Cyrill. ep. 19.4 (Schwartz, 13); Ign. Ant. 13.2.5 (Diekamp, 222); Ign. Tars. 10.3.2 (Diekamp, 143-44).
57. Gr. Naz. or. 18.10 (PG 35:996).
58. A. (pass.) Andr. 177-94 (Detorakis, 338).
59. Although the text never makes this explicit, Maximilla may be basing this belief on 1 Cor 7.5 "Do not deprive
one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer." The Martyrdom of
Andrew, however, provides several reasons why Maximilla's statement is not just a way to avoid what she sees as
a possible precursor to "unclean union." The text suggests that, from Maximilla's perspective, kissing Aegeates
after prayer presents a legitimate purity concern. The narrator leaves unglossed Maximilla's own explanation of
why she refuses her husband's kisses. Aegeates accepts her explanation suggesting that it has at least some
credibility in their shared world-view. Although Aegeates enters claiming he will kiss Maximilla's hand, only when he
tries to kiss her mouth (and hence a purity concern arises) does she object.
60. Tert. or. 18.1.6 (CCL 1:267).
61. Benko, Pagan Rome and the Early Christians, 79-98; Cabrol, "Baiser," 118-19; Kreider, Let the Faithful Greet
Each Other, 31; Walter Lowrie, "The Kiss of Peace," Theology Today 12 (1955): 240; Perella, The Kiss Sacred and
Profane, 30.
62. Clem. paed. 3.11.81-82 (SC 158:157-58).
63. Athenag. leg. 31 (Schoedel, 76).
64. Athenag. leg. 32 (Schoedel, 78-80).
65. Athenag. leg. 31 (Schoedel, 77).
66. Athenag. leg. 33 (Schoedel, 80).
67. For example, Leslie W. Barnard, Athenagoras: A Study in Second Century Christian Apologetic (Paris: Éditions
Beauchesne, 1972), 22-24, T. D. Barnes, "Embassy of Athenagoras" JTS 26 (1975): 111-14, and Robert Grant,
Greek Apologists of the Second Century (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1988), 100, suggest that Athenagoras
did, in fact, recite his Plea before the emperor. Other scholars argue that this is implausible but suggest that
Athenagoras designed his Plea as a written petition for the emperor's officials (Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and
Christians [San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1986], 305-6) or as an open letter to both the emperor and the general
public (W. H. C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984], 234; Schoedel, Athenagoras,
xii-xiii; idem, "Apologetic Literature and Ambassadorial Activities," HTR 82:1 [1989]: 55-78).
68. For a more general discussion of ritual and self-representation see Bird, "Ritual as Communicative Action," 3031.
69. Between siblings: Luc. 10.3.65 (LCL 220:616); Ov. ep. 4.144 (LCL 41:54); Ov. met. 9.458, 504, 539, 560 (LCL
42:34, 38, 40, 42); Stat. Ach. 1.589 (LCL 207:552). Father and daughter: Ov. met. 10.344, 362 (LCL 42:88, 90).
Mother and son: Quint. (sp) Decl. 18.7.21 (Sussman, 221); Suet. Nero 34.2.13 (LCL 38:144); Tac. ann. 14.2.5 (LCL
322:108). Uncle and niece: D.C. Epitome 62.3.7 (LCL 175:60).