Saint Augustine’s View on Sexuality
The famous bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine, is claimed as a cornerstone of Christian theology by both Catholics and Protestants. Many of his views are regarded by Christians as authoritative interpretations of the Bible because they have withstood heated debate throughout the centuries. Christians ought to ask, however, whether such allegiance is justifiable in all cases. Augustine's idea of sex after matrimony, for example, is very narrow, restricting actions and emotions married Christians today consider part of the beauty of intercourse. A logical assertion then, is that Augustine's view of sexuality, as delineated in many writings, is a response to his life of sensuality prior to salvation; therefore, his idea about the intent for sex within marriage stems more from his former sin than from Biblical perspective.
St. Augustine's sordid lifestyle as a young man, revealed in Confessions, serves as a logical explanation for his limited view of the purpose of sexuality in marriage. His life from adolescence to age thirty-one was so united to passionate desire and sensual pleasure, that he later avoided approval of such emotions even within the sanctity of holy union. From the age of sixteen until he was freed of promiscuity fifteen years later, Augustine's life was woven with a growing desire for illicit acts, until that desire finally became necessity and controlled his will. His lust for sex began in the bath houses of Tagaste, where he was idle without schooling and "was tossed about…and boiling over in…fornications" (2.2). Also during that time, young Augustine displayed his preoccupation with sexual experience by fabricating vulgarities simply to impress his peers. In description of his emotions during that season of life, Augustine records that he was "in love with love," so enamored with the feeling that he even reveled in the passionate scenes between lovers at the theater (3.1). As Augustine grew older and searched for truth and knowledge, his sexual habits turned his life into a contradiction. In Confessions he recalls, "on the one side of my life I pursued…the vanity of stage shows and untempered lusts; on the other side I was striving to be made clean of all this same filth [through Manichaeism]" (4.1). However, his embrace of the Manichees' complicated views could not dispel the allure of sexual satisfaction.
Although it urged men to be virtuous, it also attributed sin to a foreign power within them, freeing them of responsibility. Following such doctrine, Augustine soon took a mistress, with whom he was to live for fifteen years, and by whom he had an illegitimate son. In this way, his experimentation with casual coitus developed into a habitual practice, holding him captive until he became a Christian in Milan. While describing his life there, the nature of Augustine's narrative about his sin changes. Previously he simply described each event in succession, but his stay in...