Augustine 2 Essay, Research Paper
Saint Augustine was born in North Africa (then a province of the Roman Empire), in 354 AD. He became a teacher of rhetoric, was converted to a religious life, and became bishop of Hippo in 395. Saint Augustine’s writings were one of the most influential and widely consulted doctrines of his time and even today his works The City Of God and The Confessions are widely read. Augustine’s life before converting was filled with turmoil, sin and confusion, but in the end he willingly succumbed to God’s will and became a Christian. Perhaps it was due to his immoral life that was filled with sexual sin that caused Augustine to have a very conservative view on woman. In both The City Of God and The Confessions, there are many different images of women; Augustine believes women should be subordinate (men are to care for and protect a woman) and his ideals of feminine virtue are conservative and religious.
After his conversion to Christianity, Augustine’s position on sexuality and women turned extreme. “Since it was not until two years’ time I was to obtain her I sought, — being not so much a lover of marriage as a slave to lust, — procured another women” (Confessions Book VI). Before being converted, Augustine would engage in sinful acts such as sex with other women when he was married and joining different religious cults. Augustine’s image of women is one that is very male-orientated. Augustine believes completely in the ideas of male domination and superiority. “Thou hast granted to man that from others he should come to conclusions as to himself, and that he should believe many things concerning himself on the authority of feeble women” (Confessions Book I). Feeble women this is Augustine’s image of women, that they are weak and frail and incapable of anything. Augustine believes that men have absolute authority over everyone and that they are naturally given authority over women from God. “Woman, who is simple and knoweth nothing” (Confessions Book III). Women know nothing, and are simple minded to Augustine. A woman’s role should be one that is secondary to the man, and they should be submissive and obey all that a man commands. The entire concept of sin and original sin is important to Augustine and this is another reason why his view of women is so low; that although man could be forgiven for original sin, he could never escape it’s consequences. For Augustine, sin is something that is impossible to escape, and that ever since Eve ate the apple in the Garden of Eden, mankind will forever continue to sin, unable to escape from this deadly circle. Because Eve ate the apple of knowledge, she inherently received the curse of sin, this is why women must forever listen to the will of man, for if not, this sort of disaster may happen again. “Woman, naturally of the weaker sex; I (Augustine) cannot think of any reason for a woman’s being made as the man’s helper, if we dismiss this reason of procreation” (City Of God Book VI). Women to Augustine are the weaker sex, they know nothing, they’re feeble and he believes women are simply made for the reason of procreation. Augustine’s image of women are so useless that he believes that if it weren’t for reproduction, there simply would be no need for women. “Never commit fornication; but above all things never to defile another man’s wife. These appeared to me but womanish counsels” (Confessions Book II). This advice from The Confessions is from his mother, to never commit fornication, but once again this shows his opinion towards women as inferior once again come through as he dismissed his mothers advice as “womanish counsels”. For Augustine, women are to be naturally submissive and obedient to men, and much like the other people of his time, his views of women are conservative (for our time). Despite Saint Augustine’s belief that women are weak and should not have a central role in society, he stresses the importance of a man’s duty to protect and take care of a woman (that is why women are to be obedient to men).
Saint Augustine has a very conservative image of women in both The City Of God and The Confessions, but at the same time he stresses that it is of the utmost importance the way in which men treat and protect women. Firstly, Augustine stresses the method of removing sin and lust for women by treating women as methods of reproduction only. Saint Augustine wrote, “nothing so casts down the manly mind from its heavenly heights as the fondling of woman and those bodily contacts which belong to the married state.” He professed that “good” Christians should love a woman’s personality and hate the unwholesome and conjugal connection and all that applies to her as a wife. Saint Augustine believed that women, in a subordinate role, had no personal rights over their own body. Just as he believed in a woman’s subordinate role, he also believed that the man should engage in intercourse solely for the purpose of procreation and should derive no pleasure from the act. Saint Augustine believed that it is best for a man to not even touch a women, unless for the sole purposes of procreation because this would limit sin. For Augustine, there is constant sin and temptation for women and the best way to avoid this is to not touch them, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (Confessions Book II). Even though Augustine claims that the best way men should treat women is to not touch them and to not lust for them, even he admits he had problems adhering to these principles. “I conceived that I should be too unhappy were I deprived of the embracements of a woman that none can be continent unless Thou give it” (Confessions Book VI). The difference though, between Augustine’s and perhaps normal male behavior is that Augustine is aware of his sin and lust, and realized that no one can satisfy their needs unless God Himself gives it and allows it. This is an extremely important concept that men are to treat women as tools for procreation only, and more importantly must remember that only God can provide them the right women for this act. The care and protection of women are also very important to Augustine as is evident in both his books. Saint Augustine may have a “male chauvinist” point of view towards women, but this is partly because of the time period with which he was living in and also because he believed that men should take care of women. “He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord” (Confessions Book II). To Augustine, women are unable to care for themselves, therefore men should understand their duty to protect and care for them. In this sense, Augustine makes it clear to the men that their gift of power has good and bad sides; the good part about this is men are given natural authority by God, while the bad part is that with authority, comes responsibility, which is that of taking care of women. The treatment and caring of women are emphasized in both the City of God and The Confessions, but a very important image of women is given in Augustine’s sermon to the men of Chusa during his later years.
Another important image of women is that they should be treated well and that men should avoid adultery at all costs. On the subject of marital infidelity and adultery, Augustine excoriates the men much more severely than the women – because they behaved much worse. In a sermon preached to the men of Chusa (a large village), Augustine explains the importance of treating women well and setting a good example for the women to follow:
“You are told, ‘You shall not commit adultery’ (Ex 20:14); that is, do not go to any other woman except your wife. But what you do is demand this duty from your wife, while declining to pay this duty to your wife. And while you ought to lead your wife in virtue – chastity is a virtue, you know – you collapse under one assault of lust. You want your wife to conquer; you yourself lie there, conquered. And while you are the head of your wife, she goes ahead of you to God, she whose head you are. Do you want your household to hang head downwards? ‘The husband is the head of the wife’ (Eph 5:23); but where the wife leads a better life than the husband, the household hangs head downwards.” (Augustine Sermon 9)
As is quite obvious in the sermon itself, Augustine explains the necessity of the male’s role as the leader of the house. A man must respect and treat his wife well, and must never commit adultery, for if they do they “demand this duty, while declining to pay this duty “. Men must learn to lead their wife in virtue and must never fall to sin and lust, for if this happens, you can not expect your wife, or women to follow when “you yourself lie there, conquered”. The most important thing though is the man must lead by example; everything they do must reaffirm their authoritative role in society and in life for “the husband is the head of the wife”. From this paragraph, and the previous one, it is possible to conclude that Saint Augustine believes that women are subordinate and inferior to males, but at the same time they should be protected, cared for and treated with respect.
Many images of women appear throughout The City Of God and The Confessions, but one of the key images of women in The City Of God is the idea of women as victims. During Augustine’s time, the rape of women was a very controversial topic for it brought about many ill feelings. First and foremost, the most famous victim of rape was that of Lucretia, who committed suicide in front of the Roman senate to help avenge her. It was during this time period, that many Romans were against Christianity, for they would constantly question God’s power during the rape of many Roman women. Augustine though, reminds his fellow Romans of how Rome came to be (through the rape of the Sabine women). Augustine is disgusted and horrified when he recounts the history of how Rome was created through the raping of the Sabine women to have the first children of Rome. “If the Sabines were wrong to deny their daughters when the Romans asked for them, was it not a greater wrong in the Romans to carry them off after that denial?” (The City Of God Book II). As Augustine tells the Romans in his persuasive speech that God is not to blame, he reminds them about how the Romans carried off the Sabine women and raped them. “If one would find fault with the results of this act, it must rather be on the ground that the Romans made Romulus a god in spite of his perpetrating this iniquity; for one cannot reproach them with making this deed any kind of precedent for the rape of women” (The City Of God Book II). Augustine tells the Roman people that if they can blame God for the raping of numerous Roman women, then they should not forget to blame themselves; for the Romans placed Romulus on a pedestal, worshipping him as a god despite his sinful deed of the raping of many women.
Augustine has a very conservative and submissive view of women, and his ideals of feminine virtue are also very closely related. Firstly and most importantly, the most important virtue of a woman is that she should be a submissive Christian, totally willing to devote her life to God. The most important virtue for any women is to be Christian, simply because as most people during that time period believed, Christianity is not only a religion, but a form of guidance. Besides being a Christian, one of the most important virtues of being a Christian woman is that they understand that life is full of hardships, and that they are ready to endure any tests from God; it is most important that any true Christian woman never commits suicide and remains faithful. Faith is the most key feminine virtue, for without faith, women will be forever lost. By being faithful to God, women are learning to accept God’s power and authority and that is the only way women are to live life in Augustine’s view (The Confessions Book VI). Life is a gift from God, and if a woman takes her own life she is refuting the authority of God Himself by assuming her role as God, for this women believes that she has the right to take her own life. The most important virtue that Augustine mentions for women (other then accepting men and God’s authority) is the ability to live through whatever hardships they are given and be faithful to god no matter what. “Not such was the decision of the Christian women who suffered as she did, and yet survive. They declined to avenge upon themselves the guilt of others, and so add crimes of their own to those crimes in which they had no share” (The City Of God Book I). As Augustine writes, he importantly shows the difference between Christian women, and normal women. During the fall of Rome, many Roman women were taken captive and ruthlessly raped. Yet Augustine clearly emphasizes the importance of continuing to live, and accepting what has happened to your life. Rape “involves two, but is the crime of only one”, but if you involve others, it becomes a crime that involves everyone. Lucretia committed a great sin when she committed suicide in the Roman senate because she involved other people in a crime that did not involve them. This is by far one of the most important feminine virtues in both of Augustine’s works, that a woman be faithful to God and never should never take her own life because they should understand life is a test from God, filled with hardships and that life itself is a blessing from God. Women that are good Christians accept their life the way it is, and even though they went under the same tortures and adversity that other women went under, they survived.
Augustine’s ideals of feminine virtue are that a woman should always be Christian, they should never commit suicide and should always be faithful to God. Yet in all his writings, perhaps the perfect example of a woman with all of Augustine’s ideals of feminine virtue is his mother, whom he adores and worships. The first thing that Augustine admires most about his mother is the fact that she was willing to travel wherever he went to try and convert him. Augustine’s mother’s faith brought her to wherever he would go, following him in all his perils to try and help him see the grace of God. “By this time my mother, made strong by her piety, had come to me, following me over sea and land, in all perils” (The Confessions Book VI). Augustine was also most impressed with his mother’s faithfulness towards God, and how she would always tell him that she would not die before seeing him as a Roman Catholic. “She believed in Christ, that before she departed this life, she would see me a Catholic believer” (The Confessions Book VI). It is very important that his mother constantly tried to convert Augustine, because this is undoubtedly an ideal feminine virtue in that all Christian women should possess motherly love and being good faithful Christian’s, should never forget to help all those around them come to realize God’s grace. Finally, in Book IX, Augustine sums up everything that is amazing about his mother. “[My Mother] in woman’s garb truly, but with a man’s faith, with the peacefulness of age, full of motherly love and Christian piety!” (The Confessions Book IX). Augustine pays her mother the highest compliment during his times, by saying that although his mother in appearance was a woman, her strong faith and Christian piety resembled that of a man’s. In conclusion, Augustine supplied many different images of women in both The City Of God and The Confessions. Augustine viewed women as weak, feeble, inferior and that they should have nothing more but secondary roles in society. Augustine believes that women should accept the natural authority of men, and men should always protect and care for women; at the same time men should treat women with respect and never have lust for them. Augustine believed that women were weak, feeble, unintelligent and inferior to men. As for Augustine’s ideals of feminine virtue, he emphasizes that women should never lose sight of the wonderful grace of god; they should always have great faith and obviously they must all be Christians. Also, it is important that women never commit suicide or take their own life for they must follow God’s plan and understand that God has blessed them with the gift of life, and they have no authority to end their life. Finally, one of the most important feminine virtues is the idea of motherly love, that a mother must always love their child, and that they must always make sure their children and everyone around them adheres to God’s path.
In my opinion, I find that Augustine is a bit of a male chauvinist. I readily accept the fact that during the time period with which Augustine resided in was a male dominated period, I still find much of his writings rather appalling and sexist. Firstly, his entire concept that women are inferior to men strikes me as rather odd, and the idea that women “knoweth nothing” seems rather absurd! Another thing that I found rather biased was the fact that Augustine believed that women should readily accept the natural authority of men. The one thing that struck me as most absurd though is that Augustine can blame Lucretia for taking her life after being raped. Augustine gives an image of women as being victims in the rapes, but it seems he fails to understand how horrifying rape really is. More importantly, I, being a Christian, admit that life is definitely a gift from God and we should be happy to receive it; but I believe that Augustine is too harsh on the women that committed suicide after being raped. But, despite all these comments, I must admit there are some principles and concepts of Augustine’s that I do agree with. Firstly, I believe that even in present times, men should always take care of women. But unlike Augustine, I do not believe that this should be the standard of life, this is just the best possible situation. Also, I agree completely with Augustine’s ideal feminine virtue being that a mother should have strong faith and be a good Christian. I think that in today’s society, people that have a “higher power” to turn to are able to deal with life better, thus better equipping them for any disaster that may happen. Finally, the one image of women that I admire most that Augustine gives is that women should be respected and treated well. Augustine’s “lecture” or sermon at Chusa is very powerful indeed because his concept that the leader(the man) must always have a good reputation and untarnished image to follow after is very true. This concept that the man should not commit adultery for the purpose that he would not want his wife to follow after this example is excellent. This idea can even be applied to a larger scale in that rulers, if they want their people to follow them, must show responsibility, maturity and a dedication to what is right.
Augustine. The City of God. Image: New York, 1958.
Augustine. The Confessions. Penguin Classics: New York, 1961.
Augustine. Sermon 9. Internet.