Saint Augustine (354 – 430 AD) was born in North Africa. At first he led a rather dissolute life. For 9 years he belonged to the sect of Manicheans as a ‘hearer’. When he converted to Christianity he renounced the dualism of the Prophet Mani. He affirmed that the male and female sexes are not evil in themselves (On Continence, § 24). Also, children born from marriage, even though they result from a passionate embrace, are not evil on account of it (On Marriage, § 18). However, in his view, sex remained tainted with sin. Read more about his views on sexuality here.
Being a child of his time, Augustine shared all the prejudices against women that were then commonplace. As bishop of Hippo from 396 to his death in 430 AD, Augustine wrote many treatises. These writings were widely read and studied in later centuries. Through this – unfortunately! – his ideas, also his prejudices, became widely accepted. They became part of ‘sacred tradition’, of ‘the wisdom of the Fathers of the Church’. God help us!
We publish here some extracts of Augustine’s work that demonstrate his negative views about women.
Questions on the Heptateuch, Book I, § 153. “It is the natural order among people that women serve their husbands and children their parents, because the justice of this lies in (the principle that) the lesser serves the greater . . . This is the natural justice that the weaker brain serve the stronger. This therefore is the evident justice in the relationships between slaves and their masters, that they who excel in reason, excel in power.” (see also On the Sermon on the Mount, I, 34).
On Concupiscence, Book I, chap. 10. “ In the advance, however, of the human race, it came to pass that to certain good men were united a plurality of good wives,-many to each; and from this it would seem that moderation sought rather unity on one side for dignity, while nature permitted plurality on the other side for fecundity. For on natural principles it is more feasible for one to have dominion over many, than for many to have dominion over one. Nor can it be doubted, that it is more consonant with the order of nature that men should bear rule over women, than women over men. It is with this principle in view that the apostle says, “The head of the woman is the man;” and, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands.” So also the Apostle Peter writes: “Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.”Now, although the fact of the matter is, that while nature loves singleness in her dominations, but we may see plurality existing more readily in the subordinate portion of our race; yet for all that, it was at no time lawful for one man to have a plurality of wives, except for the purpose of a greater number of children springing from him. Wherefore, if one woman cohabits with several men inasmuch as no increase of offspring accrues to her therefrom, but only a more frequent gratification of lust, she cannot possibly be a wife, but only a harlot.”
On Continence, § 23. “The Apostle has made known to us certain three unions, Christ and the Church, husband and wife, spirit and flesh. Of these the former consult for the good of the latter, the latter wait upon the former. All the things are good, when, in them, certain set over by way of pre-eminence, certain made subject in a becoming manner, observe the beauty of order. Husband and wife receive command and pattern how they ought to be one with another. The command is, “Let wives be subject unto their own husbands, as unto the Lord; because the husband is the head of the wife;” and, “Husbands, love your wives.” But there is given a pattern, unto wives from the Church, unto husbands from Christ: “As the Church,” saith he, “is subject unto Christ, so also wives unto their own husbands in all things.” In like manner also, having given command to husbands to love their own wives, he added a pattern, “As Christ loved the Church.” But husbands he exhorted to it from a lower matter also, that is, from their own body: not only from a higher, that is, from their Lord. For he not only saith, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church,” which is from an higher: but he said also, “Husbands ought to love their own wives, as their own bodies,” which is from a lower: because both higher and lower are all good . . . .What is it, therefore, that with true madness ye both boast yourselves to be Christians, and with so great, perverseness contend against the Christian Scriptures, with eyes closed, or rather put out, asserting both that Christ hath appeared, unto mortals in false flesh, and that the Church in the soul pertains to Christ, in the body to the devil, and that the male and female sex are works of the devil, not of God,and that the flesh is joined unto the spirit, as an evil substance unto a good substance?
Augustine’s mother Monica obediently served her husband ever since the ‘matrimonial tablets’ had been read out to her
Confessions, Book IX, chap. 19. “Being thus modestly and soberly trained, and rather made subject by Thee to her parents, than by her parents to Thee, when she [Monica] had arrived at a marriageable age, she was given to a husband whom she served as her lord. And she busied herself to gain him to Thee, preaching Thee unto him by her behaviour; by which Thou madest her fair, and reverently amiable, and admirable unto her husband. For she so bore the wronging of her bed as never to have any dissension with her husband on account of it. For she waited for Thy mercy upon him, that by believing in Thee he might become chaste. And besides this, as he was earnest in friendship, so was he violent in anger; but she had learned that an angry husband should not be resisted, neither in deed, nor even in word. But so soon as he was grown calm and tranquil, and she saw a fitting moment, she would give him a reason for her conduct, should he have been excited without cause. In short, while many matrons, whose husbands were more gentle, carried the marks of blows on their dishonoured faces, and would in private conversation blame the lives of their husbands, she would blame their tongues, admonishing them gravely, as if in jest:“That from the hour they heard what are called the matrimonial tablets read to them, they should think of them as instruments whereby they were made servants; so, being always mindful of their condition, they ought not to set themselves in opposition to their lords.” And when they, knowing what a furious husband she endured, marvelled that it had never been reported, nor appeared by any indication, that Patricius had beaten his wife, or that there had been any domestic strife between them, even for a day, and asked her in confidence the reason of this, she taught them her rule, which I have mentioned above. They who observed it experienced the wisdom of it, and rejoiced; those who observed it not were kept in subjection, and suffered.”
Sermon on the Mount, Book I, § 34. “It is very difficult to overcome temptation; and yet even habit itself, if one does not prove untrue to himself, and does not shrink back in dread from the Christian warfare, he will get the better of under His (i.e. Christ’s) leadership and assistance; and thus, in accordance with primitive peace and order, both the man is subject to Christ, and the woman is subject to the man.”
On John, Tractate 2, § 14. “And how are they born? Because they become sons of God and brethren of Christ, they are certainly born. For if they are not born, how can they be sons? But the sons of men are born of flesh and blood . . . The apostle puts flesh for woman; because, when she was made of his rib, Adam said, “This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” And the apostle saith, “He that loveth his wife loveth himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh.” Flesh, then, is put for woman, in the same manner that spirit is sometimes put for husband. Wherefore? Because the one rules, the other is ruled; the one ought to command, the other to serve. For where the flesh commands and the spirit serves, the house is turned the wrong way. What can be worse than a house where the woman has the mastery over the man? But that house is rightly ordered where the man commands and the woman obeys. In like manner that man is rightly ordered where the spirit commands and the flesh serves.”