December 18, 2018

The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve (4)

Adam and Eve. Fuseli

On Fridays, we’re doing a series on Stephen Greenblatt’s The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve. In this book, he examines how “the story of Adam and Eve has over centuries decisively shaped conceptions of human origins and human destiny.”

The next two chapters explore the seminal (pun intended) impact of St. Augustine on how we have read and understood this story ever since.

In the end, for Augustine, it’s all about sex. Just as it was in the beginning.

If Greenblatt’s analysis of Augustine’s life and its important turns is correct, an emphasis upon (obsession with?) things sexual was a common thread through it all.

He begins with an experience Augustine never forgot: the day in 370 AD when he and his father went to a bathhouse in Thagaste, and while there, his father noticed “the signs of active virility coming to life in me, and this was enough to make him relish the thought of having grandchildren.” Though his father was delighted that the young man was awakening to sexual maturity, his pious mother Monica was alarmed.

And thus began St. Augustine’s lifelong struggle with concupiscence, the lust of the flesh understood in primarily sexual terms. Also, so began a way of thinking that led to a deeply theological distrust of sexual desire and its designation as the primary evidence of original sin, passed on from our first parents.

When the young man went away to Carthage to pursue his education, he wrote that he found himself “in a midst of a hissing cauldron of lust.” Within a couple of years, he had settled into a relationship with a woman with whom he lived for 13 years and had a child. This cohabitation was conventional at the time and did not deter his mother Monica from trying to get him married to a good Catholic girl somehow.

But Augustine was on a spiritual journey as well, eventually becoming an adherent of the Manichees, a dualistic, esoteric, and syncretistic religion that for a time satisfied his struggle with where evil in the world originated. However, his devout Catholic mother continued to pursue him, even at one point moving from North Africa to Milan to be with him when he took a teaching post. There, under the teaching of Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, Augustine warmed to the allegorical teaching of the Hebrew Bible, a book the Manicheans had despised as the dark story of a God who created an evil world. Eventually, his lover and partner left him, and not long afterward he was converted when reading these words from Romans: “Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries. Rather, arm yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ; spend no more thought on nature and nature’s appetites.”

Putting on Jesus, Augustine put off sex and made a vow of continence. His mother was ecstatic.

The autobiographical portion of Augustine’s Confessions ends with an account of the most intense spiritual experience of his life, one which he had together with his mother while they were conversing one day. As they were discussing “that no bodily pleasure, however great, could ever match or even remotely approach the happiness of the saints” (p. 95), they felt themselves caught up into heavenly realms, where they touched eternal Wisdom “for one fleeting moment.” A few days after this mystical experience, Monica died. She had been the love of his life upon this earth, and this final experience captures Augustine’s longing for what he saw as the blessings of pure love, spiritual love, love that can never be compared with base lust or erotic desire.

In the more than forty years that succeeded his moment of ecstasy — years of endless controversy and the wielding of power and feverish writing — Augustine, priest, leader of a community of monks, and bishop of the North African city of Hippo, spent an extraordinary amount of his time trying to understand the story of Adam and Eve. He thought about it when he sat, book in hand, on his bishop’s chair (his cathedra), when he addressed his clergy and congregation in solemn assembly, when he grappled with complex theological issues, and when he tirelessly dictated letter after letter to his network of friends and allies. He brooded on it through his bitter polemics against heretics. He continued to ponder its mysteries when he heard the terrible reports in 410 of the three-day sack of Rome by a Visigothic army led by Alaric. Over the decades, he had persuaded himself that it was not a story at all, at least not a story in the sense of a fable or myth. It was the literal truth, and, as such, it was the scientific key to the understanding of everything that happened. (p. 96f)

And the key was this: “The world as God made it was good, perfectly so, and it would have remained good, had it not been for the original, terrible act of human perversity. All the miseries that have followed — the endless succession of ghastly crimes, the horrors of tyranny and war, the seemingly natural disasters of earthquake, fire, and flood, and what Hamlet calls the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to — are just punishments meted out by a just God. Such is the meaning of being ‘in Adam.'” (p. 102)

And that brings us back to sex. For, how did every human being born after Adam come to share in this original sin?

The problem is that even the most legitimate form of sexual intercourse — between a husband and wife mutually bent on engendering a child — is also corrupt. The current of sinfulness that courses through it is precisely the mechanism that carries the stain of evil from one generation to the next and infects the dreams of those most determined to keep themselves pure and chaste. Human sinfulness is a sexually transmitted disease. (p. 108)

There’s more. After Adam and Eve, not only does humanity pass along sinfulness through sexual intercourse, but even the very act of intimacy itself has become corrupted. The act of sex (between a married couple intending to beget a child) is not sinful but even within the chaste, consecrated bounds of marriage it cannot be “performed without evil,” Augustine claimed. That “evil” is the overwhelming feeling of erotic desire. Originally, he thought, Adam and Eve somehow must have been created to “unite in the task of propagation as a deliberate act undisturbed by passion” (p. 118). Now, however, passion “disturbs” every act of intimacy. And the most clear evidence of the fact that we are “in Adam,” tainted by original sin, is that we cannot control when we are sexually aroused.

Augustine found further proof of this in the story of Adam and Eve.

In one of his first works, Augustine took an allegorical approach to the early chapters of Genesis. However, about a decade later, he began to work on a book about the literal truth of the story. Given the human condition as he had come to understand it, he concluded that it must be an “unvarnished representation of historical reality” (p. 111).

One of the texts he struggled with was Genesis 3:7, where it says that after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, “their eyes were opened.” Laboring to grasp this literally and refusing to accept any metaphorical reading, Augustine eventually concluded that it meant this: “They turned their eyes on their own genitals, and lusted after them with that stirring movement they had not previously known” (p. 114). Adam and Eve’s original sin led to the original proof that they had fallen — they saw that they had become sexually aroused apart from their own control. This was why they covered up — not simply because they were unclothed but because they felt the throes of passion involuntarily and exhibited the physical signs of that.

One of Augustine’s legacies — bolstered by his interpretation of Adam and Eve — is that Christians have had a intensified focus upon and conflicted relationship with sexuality ever since.

Comments

  1. Would be interesting to see how the Eastern Fathers viewed sex given their different take on original sin

    • Burro (Mule) says:

      There is quite a bit of misogyny among the Eastern Fathers, especially in the monastic literature. There is no concept of sex as the transmitter of ‘original sin’, true, but there is a lot of verbiage about ‘the sewer of womanhood’, etc.

      Marriage has always been problematic for traditional Christianity, which I think at its core is an ascetic religion. Protestantism broke the link with asceticism, made marriage almost obligatory, and solved nothing.

      • If Christianity is at its core an ascetic religion, isn’t there a disconnect between that and the claim that it is also a religion of incarnation? I mean, at least initially Buddhism is at its core an ascetic religion, but its project is escape from the wheel of birth and death, rather than embrace of it; the energies necessary for that escape are marshaled by asceticism. The same is true of Brahmanist Hinduism.

        • Burro (Mule) says:

          I think there’s a big difference between Christian asceticism and Hindu/Buddhist. I don’t know what it is with my brain yet, but I think the Incarnation is at the heart of it.

        • Marriage has always been problematic for traditional Christianity, which I think at its core is an ascetic religion. Protestantism broke the link with asceticism, made marriage almost obligatory, and solved nothing.

          What religion or society has ever “solved” the problems that marriage presents? Christianity is not different from the rest in this, and it is unremarkable that the Protestants were just as unsuccessful. To borrow a saying about a related subject: Marriage is mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.

          • Christianity IS different from the rest, in that wherever it has spread, the treatment of women has improved. The elevation of women to equal partnership in marriage is a distinctly Western development, and rooted in Christian teaching.

            • It seems to me that it is rooted in the Enlightenment and Modernism, which had to put up a mighty resistance to traditional Christianity to realize their goals, including the elevation of women to equals in society, and equal partnership in marriage.

              • The Enlightenment and Modernism could only have grown in the soil of Christendom. Everywhere these ideas were championed, you will find Christians carrying the torch, even if institutionalism resisted them. You simply do not see anything like this emerging outside Christendom.

                The church may have hemmed and hawed at the enlightenment, but she evidently went along with it eventually. You don’t see her fighting against it today, yet she is thriving in the countries that embraced it most.

                • It depends on what you mean by “embraced it most.” She is certainly not thriving in Europe, where it is arguable that the Enlightenment and Modernism have had the deepest, most widespread influence. I agree that Christianity had values to impart to both the Enlightenment and Modernism that were essential to both, but no more essential than the humanistic values that came down to them from the Classical Greco-Roman world. Remember that Western democracy did not get its start in the Ancient Near East, but in the city-states of ancient Greece.

                  • It also depends on how you define “thrive”. Perhaps God is happier with more faithful minority churches than churches in “majority Christian nations” that regularly flout His basic commands .

            • That Other Jean says:

              Miguel! Long time no see. Welcome back!

              The elevation of women to equal partnership in marriage has been one heck of a long time coming, and is still not found in many (especially Evangelical) marriages, which are still pushing “complementarianism,” and trying to call it Biblical. I don’t quite see how you can propose that it is rooted in Christianity.

              • Thanks! Wish I was able to pop in more often.

                You have to get your head out of American fundamentalist Evangelicalism, to whom “complementarianism” is historical oddity. The overwhelming majority of Christians, even in America, have little to do with that malarky. It’s a neo-puritan novelty, and neither it nor them are going very far. Just because somebody says “Biblical” does not necessarily mean it is a necessary consequence of Christ and his apostle’s teaching. In this case, we can consider it an aberration, and fringe at that. Sure, they get a lot of press, but it is certainly disproportionate to the number of people drinking that cool-aide.

                Sure, these ideas were overly slow in coming. But they did not come anywhere else. This suggests that humanity, rather than Christianity, was the one dragging their feet.

                • True recent story, like “this week” recent…

                  My daughter attends a Christian high school. She told me that on Thursday, apparently to counter any strange ideas the students might have regarding Valentine’s Day (POST-Valentine’s Day, oddly enough), her Bible teacher told the class that dating is not Biblical.

                  I asked her what he did consider “Biblical,” then: arranged marriages?

                  No, she replied. Apparently you are to just be friends, then go straight to marriage…according to “the Bible,” anyway.

                  We had a good laugh at that. She and most of her friends are wise enough to know that this use of the Bible by some Christians is mainly an attempt to make sure kids don’t engage in sex.

      • “’Marriage has always been problematic for traditional Christianity, which I think at its core is an ascetic religion. Protestantism broke the link with asceticism, made marriage almost obligatory, and solved nothing.”

        Trying to poke a hole in this summation…

        Nope. Can’t find one. :-/

        • Yep. I am impressed by this statement as well – so true!!! True Love Waits (TM).

        • I don’t see it at all. My experience with traditional Christianity is that it has always been very pro-marriage. We encourage and esteem it as much as possible, because it is good. Where is the problem with that?

      • If Christianity had kept its essential Jewishness with its sense of l’chaim, perhaps it would not have become such an ascetic religion. Pretty hard for that to happen however, with having to endure persecution and live in a world dominated by Greek philosophy.

        • Burro (Mule) says:

          CM –

          I am up to the gunwales with the meme of “Judaism wasn’t ascetic”. I think the evidence is coming in that 2nd Temple Judaism was far more diverse than the Pharisaic Mishnaic Judaism that replaced it after the fall of the temple.

          The impact of Hellenism on Judaism went farther back than New testament times. Ask Judas Maccabeus. And if the influence of ANE civilizations is overall considered to be a positive thing that doesn’t interfere with the transmission of revelation, I feel to see how the impact of Hellenism is any different.

          • Mule, you are certainly correct that there were ascetic groups in Judaism. I’m wrong in designating “Judaism” simplistically as having a singular perspective, but I think to say “Christianity” is an ascetic religion is just as reductionistic. Greenblatt himself notes that a majority of Christians have never really bought Augustine’s distorted (my word) view of sexuality, but have viewed it as good, healthy, and blessed within marriage and have not considered enjoying its pleasures sinful. There were certainly groups in Judaism that were separatistic and ascetical or, additionally, rigorously pious in terms of law-keeping, but as a whole, I think Jesus affirmed the lives of ordinary “sinners” above those groups, and that whatever asceticism he promoted was encouraged primarily in light of his contemporary situation when Israel was under Roman oppression and looking at imminent destruction.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              Augustine’s view of sexuality (and women) is what you get when a horndog flips one-eighty into Sexual Purity Celibate and tries to get as far away from “temptation to fall” as possible. Including denigrating anything connected with his pre-Conversion behavior. (When Seven Degrees of Separation isn’t enough…)

              To me, this just shows Auggie the Man, not Saint Augustine the Theologian. And the church got so stricken by his theological insights they took all the personal baggage that slipped through at face value.

              P.S. Hellenistic and Roman society would today be described as Highly Pornographic, and those who grew up immersed in that society would probably be similar to porn addicts today.

              In a lot of hagiographies about hermit saints, they describe incredible levels of sexual temptation and “demonic attack” with sexual imagery. I wonder how much of this (like Driscoll’s “I SEE Things” pornovisions) was actually forbidden sexual fantasy breaking through in “acceptable” forms.

              And said saint didn’t even need to have been a horndog like Auggie in his former life. As time went on, Celibacy was considered more Pure and Godly than those laity which had not taken The Vow; there would have been a LOT of “Don’t think about Forbidden Fruit, Don’t think about Forbidden Fruit, Don’t think about Forbidden Fruit” going on. Even some more normal type who’d “taken vows of celibacy at age six” would have Forbidden Fruit breaking through into his psyche. And in attempting to completely stamp out this SIN, an obvious side effect would be projection onto the Forbidden Fruit — i.e. Misogyny.

              It’s bandied about on other spiritual abuse whistleblower blogs that Bill Got Hard’s sexual development got arrested at an early age, and the above would have resulted in similar damage.

              • And the thing was, Augustine was not much of a “horndog”. He was pretty faithful to his mistress (more like what we would call ‘common law wife’ today) and was intensely attracted to her physically. But Wilt Chamberlain he was not.

                • It’s funny how often the more you see people “sin”, the more they are able to live like Christ, whereas the more they work at “not sinning”, the less they live like Christ.

              • Augustine would be a Nice Guy or Men’s Right Activist today. Or maybe a Reformed one.

                He was pretty faithful to his mistress (more like what we would call ‘common law wife’ today) and was intensely attracted to her physically. But Wilt Chamberlain he was not.

                And yet, religious people would say these are not Good Things. Who cares if he’s faithful and has kids and everything, he’s Not Married, therefore Living In Sin. So we convict, we guilt, we pray for, we convert…

                And look at what we end up with if we succeed.

                • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

                  And yet, religious people would say these are not Good Things. Who cares if he’s faithful and has kids and everything, he’s Not Married, therefore Living In Sin.

                  So why didn’t Auggie “make an honest woman of her” instead of throwing her out on the street?

                  Was it because Celibacy had become Next to Godliness in the surrounding Christian culture?
                  Was it theinfluence of Platonic Dualism iwhere only the immaterial archetypes were Good and the physical was Bad?
                  Was it a one-eighty flip such as you find with all-or-nothing Boolean mentality?
                  Or was there still more baggage at work?

            • CM, I think you hit the nail on the head with regard to the place of asceticism in Judaism and Christianity.

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

                And when “More Ascetic Than Thou” kicks in, you’ll end up scratching your face into a mass of scar tissue and gargling lye alongside St Rose of Lima.

        • live in a world dominated by Greek philosophy.

          I’ve started wondering lately why the NT was written in Greek…instead of Latin.

          • In the eastern Med of the first century, almost nobody spoke Latin and just about everyone spoke Greek. Greek was the lingua franca of the eastern Med, even common in places like Galilee. If the NT letters were written in Latin they would have to be translated into Greek as they were read aloud in the churches. In the western Med Latin was probably more common.

            • That Other Jean says:

              This. The Greeks got there first. Latin was the language of their conquerors.

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

                And speaking Greek meant you were an Educated Man.
                Much like speaking Latin during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

                • Christiane says:

                  Hello Headless,
                  I’m from an older generation that prayed in Latin before ‘the change’. I can still say the Lord’s Prayer in Latin and I can also pray the Kyrie in Greek. And when I do this, I remember that I am a part of a long line of Christians going back for milenia. It’s not an uncomfortable realization but rather, a ‘connection’ I find comforting, yes.

                  Have you ever heard the Lord’s Prayer as spoken in the vernacular a thousand years ago in England? I can understand some of the wording, but it is a very ancient form of Anglo-Saxon that fed into ‘English’:

                  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Wl-OZ3breE

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Pretty hard for that to happen however, with having to endure persecution and live in a world dominated by Greek philosophy.

          One of the books on the sidebar here — JMJ’s Butterflies in the Belfry, Serpents in the Cellar — goes into detail on just that influence.

  2. There’s almost too much weird stuff here to talk about (for instance, I wonder what Freud would’ve said about Augustine’s relationship with his mother), so I’ll pick just one…

    “One of the texts he struggled with was Genesis 3:7, where it says that after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, ‘their eyes were opened.’ Laboring to grasp this literally and refusing to accept any metaphorical reading, Augustine eventually concluded that it meant this: ‘They turned their eyes on their own genitals, and lusted after them with that stirring movement they had not previously known’ (p. 114). Adam and Eve’s original sin led to the original proof that they had fallen — they saw that they had become sexually aroused apart from their own control. This was why they covered up — not simply because they were unclothed but because they felt the throes of passion involuntarily and exhibited the physical signs of that.”

    So how did Augustine reconcile this with God’s original command/intent for them to be fruitful and multiply? Was there an original, pure, ideal sex, and then later only lustful, sinful sex? Did he believe that before “the Fall” sex between Adam and Eve didn’t involve arousal, and that the “passing of seed” didn’t require certain physical requirements for that to occur?

    Augustine’s story is certainly a cautionary tale not to obsess over particulars in the scriptures.

    • Burro (Mule) says:

      There is a sense in the Easterm Fathers that if man had retained his original standing, procreation would have been less frequent (with a race of immortals, that would have been necessary) and more noetic than carnal, so yes, a pure, ideal sex later corrupted is definitely a patristic theme.

      Think of Tahnee Welch and Steve Guttenberg in Cocoon.

      I was surprised to find that the Orthodox church has it as at least a majority opinion that Jesus didn’t break Mary’s hymen on His passage into the world at Bethlehem. I’m still chewing on that.

      • –> “…a majority opinion that Jesus didn’t break Mary’s hymen on His passage into the world at Bethlehem. I’m still chewing on that.”

        And now I’m chewing on the fact that the Orthodox Church felt the need to form a majority opinion on that!

        People are just strange, and reading about Augustine and reading this about the OC and factoring in all the other weirdness I hear about churches here at the IMonk… Well, maybe we religious folks are stranger than most.

      • Susan Dumbrell says:

        and, well, so what, get a different opinion. Too much detail of no consequence.

        Our Christian faith has too many good questions to consider.
        I once thought i was old and strict in my Christian facts. I am now too old to bother and I am sure Mary couldn’t give a fig now either.

        I could say sorry if I offend but I can’t see the relevance.

        Pour more coffee, enjoy the day, count the blackbirds eating the fallen apples. No pun intended. They devour my fallen apples today
        In other words, get a life.

        Susan

      • senecagriggs says:

        Mule; is it safe to google Tahnee Welch?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I was surprised to find that the Orthodox church has it as at least a majority opinion that Jesus didn’t break Mary’s hymen on His passage into the world at Bethlehem. I’m still chewing on that.

        To me, that says “people with too much time on their hands who badly need to connect with outside reality”.

        Like Medieval Angelology and Demonology, edifices of theoretical speculation built on top of theoretical speculation on a minimal actual foundation.

      • “Ever-virgin” isn’t about an intact flap of pseudo-skin. The hymen can get torn or broken without sexual intercourse. That is completely not the point.

        The point of Mary’s continued virginity after giving birth is the same as that of her virginity before giving birth: that Jesus was not conceived by any human male, and that it was fitting for Mary to have borne him and him alone, as the one in all of humanity who had been prepared to bear the Son of God, fulfilling all of the typology expressed in the Dormition feast.

        That one who had been prepared was a Woman. Even in Genesis, Woman was the crown of creation. Very consistently throughout the Fathers, even the early ones in the west, Mary was viewed as the new Eve. What is written about her is extremely beautiful, and also mitigates the more negative sentiments they expressed about Eve and her part in the fall. In the Orthodox Liturgy, Adam and Eve are looked on rather kindly as having been deceived, and being the first ones pulled out of Hell on Holy Saturday.

        I have a lunch appointment. I’ll be back later.

        Dana

    • “Augustine’s story is certainly a cautionary tale not to obsess over particulars in the scriptures.”

      I think it’s a cautionary tale that our theology (and our whole way of thinking) is fatally bound up in our own experience, personality and culture.

      (So humility is appropriate)

      • +1000. Lots of examples of this – the Protestant Reformation being prime example #2 (right behind Augustine).

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I’ve come to the conclusion that Augustine brought a lot of personal baggage into his theology, and the church accepted it ALL at face value.

        As for Original Sin (pause for sneers from the Net Orthodox), I think he was trying to work out some sort of mechanism why “sin nature” passed down from Adam to all humanity, and his theoretical concept was taken as Absolute Fact. Again, no discernment as to which was solid theology, which was more speculative, and which was personal baggage.

        • Quibble with his formulation and explanation of the mechanism, but the problem of why we are all sinful selfish bastards remains and must be dealt with.

        • That Other Jean says:

          Yep. A lot of Augustine’s personal hangups became those of the Church. Pity that so many of them were about sex.

      • Ronald Avra says:

        Definitely agree.

    • Augustine’s story is certainly a cautionary tale not to obsess over particulars in the scriptures.

      To what extend does Augustine’s hangups affect or influence his theology? It’s insane to think it didn’t. But people seem to somehow always mentally separate the two.

      “Of course he was a racist slave owner who thought blacks were inferior and less than whites, but his theology was sound…”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “Of course he was a racist slave owner who thought blacks were inferior and less than whites, but his theology was sound…”

        Christianese equivalent of “Purity of Ideology, Comrades”.

    • To put 2 and 2 together for you Rick, the idea is not that arousal did not ever happen, but rather, that our physical bodies accomplished the effect without it being involuntary. IOW, after you had made the decision to be intimate, possibly from the desire for a child, you could then control your genitalia to achieve the required status as easily as flexing your arm.

      TBH, this would, at the very least, be exceptionally convenient: To only desire sex when our wiser nature deems appropriate would eradicate a considerable portion of society’s ills. Not that I don’t enjoy being an animal from time to time, but imagine it this way: What if we did not need to eat to survive? What if we never felt hungry? How would that effect our enjoyment of food? I wager that it’d have to be quite a feast to be worth the time. We might do it less often, but when we did, it would be a feast. The “nutrition industry” would never have produced kale and its barbaric friends, and the culinary arts would quite fine indeed. Master chefs would become rock stars, and large religious institutions would patronize their services to commemorate high holy days.

      Now, I may have quite the imagination, but don’t ask me how those last few would translate to sex.

      • –> “Now, I may have quite the imagination, but don’t ask me how those last few would translate to sex.”

        Don’t ask me, either, but I can’t wait to read the book!

  3. senecagriggs says:

    “Concupiscence” – a word for the ages.

  4. In the end, for Augustine, it’s all about sex. Just as it was in the beginning.

    When this dawned on me a few years back, it made all his theology and hangups and arguments make so much sense.

    And thus the sand under the house of his theology fell, and took down all his theological descendants with it. How could I believe something anymore that was made up entirely to suit his own needs, unless I willingly chose to ignore and disregard reality and truth because it was more comforting than the alternative? I couldn’t; I’d had enough cognitive dissonance in my life.

    All who acknowledge the reality behind Augustine’s theology and disregard it and say “so what, it’s still true” are liars. And I’ve met several and heard those exact words from their lips. Not maliciously, graciously, but it’s still there.

    So be it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      i.e Christian obsession with Pelvic Issues(TM) goes WAY back.

      Many years ago, I came across an essay on the Web called “The Christian Sex Cult” by a “Mars Hill” (no further provenance). It claimed Augustine’s most lasting legacy was Christianese Purity Culture and a lot of hangups about Pelvic Issues.

      One observation re Augustine and women (above and beyond the male-superiority cultural baggage he’d have grown up with):

      Monica’s son Auggie was a real horndog in his younger days and a monastic celibate after his conversion. In neither case did he ever have a chance to interact with women as people — only (before) as Sex Objects and (after) as The Forbidden Fruit. Add the tendency to get as far away as possible from the former for personal atonement (like abandoning his mistress and bastard to stay pure) and what one blog commenter called “ex-smoker syndrome” and a lot falls into place. (Again, personal baggage creeping through into his theological ideas and being taken as dogma.)

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        One wonders exactly how different Christian theology would have been if he’d decided to atone for living in sin with a mistress by marrying her instead?
        Actually, in writing that, it occurred to me we may be blaming Augustine (and his particular personal hang ups) for too much. The very fact that abandoning her and his son was apparently already considered the pure and proper “Christian” thing to do suggests that the Christian problem with sex was already very alive and kicking.

        • It had already gotten a big kickstart with the Council of Elvira in 306, and was rapidly becoming the norm by Augustine’s day…

        • I don’t think Christianity is an ascetic religion, although there is room for asceticism in it. If I wear my Protestant heart on my sleeve by saying that Christianity is religion of grace, so be it. Grace in this context means that God in Jesus comes to be with us, rather than waiting for us to make our way to him. That’s why the choice to abandon a lover and child to follow the “purer” way of celibacy rather than get married is especially disturbing: it is an implicit denial of the way of the Incarnation, the way of coming to be with the world and human beings. This is one of the biggest mistakes made in the historic development of Christian spirituality.

          • “Asceticism” as it’s commonly used means extreme denial of normal pleasure because of restrictions by a religion. In eastern Christian monasticism particularly, it never went to the extremes it did in the west; there was a time when monastics restricted their food intake so much that they became ill, but that went by the wayside, because people knew that you can’t do the praying and serving of others called for in monastic life if your health is damaged. In eastern thought, the idea is to deny oneself in small ways, in order to learn bit by bit to rely on God for everything, and to learn how to prefer others instead of ourselves. Even in modern Greek, the word “askesis” means exercise or training.

            The point in eastern Christianity isn’t getting God to notice how righteous and pure we are; it’s to train ourselves to love. Even within the bounds of life in general, including married life – not just celibacy in a monastery – asceticism has its place. We readily recognize that if we give a child everything it wants, it becomes “spoiled” – unable to consider others; therefore, good parenting involves helping a child toward askesis, even if it’s no more than delayed gratification not based on the requirements of any particular religion. There’s all kinds of psychological evidence that it’s good for us, especially as we relate to others. And consider that it actually does fit in with the Incarnation as expressed in that hymn in Phil 2 about Christ emptying himself.

            Dana

            • Asceticism has its place, but Christianity is a religion of God coming to be with us in Jesus Christ. Choosing an ascetic life of celibacy over being with and taking care of ones own child is clearly an unwise and escapist form of asceticism, however many people have opted for it along with Augustine during the course of Christian history. In this case (and no doubt others) it is not the way more likely to train oneself in love.

              • Of course Christianity is about God coming to be with us in Jesus Christ.

                What I’m saying is that asceticism in the east didn’t go the way of asceticism in the west. In the east, celibacy is not the only form of asceticism there is. In EO, everyone – married and single, monastic or not – is called to live ascetically in the sense of being open and willing to undergo training to love, by small acts of denying ourselves in addition to prayer and caring for the poor. They’re all integrated toward that goal.

                Yes, from God’s side, he came to be with us. From our side, we need the training to learn to love like Christ did in that coming to be with us; we’re not automatically there upon confessing him, and I would think this is obvious.

                Please read what I wrote. I in no way condoned “choosing an ascetic life of celibacy over being with and taking care of ones own child”, and I tried to explain that in the east such a thing would indeed be viewed as “an unwise and escapist form of asceticism.”

                Dana

                • My original comment is about the wrong use of asceticism. In my reply to your comment I was merely restating what I’d said already, because your reply did not address the gist of my comment. I don’t see where we are disagreeing, only talking at cross purposes.

                  • Forgive me.

                    D.

                    • No forgiveness needed, Dana.

                      I hope St. Augustine will forgive me for badmouthing him without knowing the facts. He did not abandon his son, or his concubine. I was taking another comment’s brief reference to the matter as gospel; I should know to be more careful, and find things out for myself. There’s all kinds of misinformation going around, about everything, all the time.

        • Wait. According to what I’ve been reading, Augustine did not abandon his son, Adeodatus, or the boy’s mother. Adeodatus’ mother converted to Christianity before Augustine did. She then left the boy in the care of his father, and devoted herself to a life of prayer in a monastery in penance for her former sinful life. The boy lived with Augustine into adulthood and converted to Christianity himself. Augustine did not abandon his concubine or his son.

  5. I have been to the city of Saint Augustine several times. I must note that the namesake city has no strip clubs or any type of adult entertainment. I say it is due to the influence of St. Augustine where my wife says it is due to city zoning.
    The city has many first for N. America, jail, school house and other buildings but I think it would be a boon if somehow they could showcase the first original sin perhaps in a stage play as the original is usually the best and others just copycats.
    Mrs. Evans in fourth grade Sunday School taught us that the first sin was A and E did not do what God told them and look what happened. Since learning of the downfall I have tried to stay away from the tree of knowledge whether it is good or evil. .
    Ascertaining what the original is can be very hard. I went to at least 5 Original Ray’s Pizza in New York City was someone is not telling the truth. I did as much research as I could but ran out of dough.
    Not only do I stay away from original sin but also original thought.

    • I have been to the city of Saint Augustine several times. I must note that the namesake city has no strip clubs or any type of adult entertainment.

      You’ve researched this?

      • Google Maps immediately disproved the assertion with just two searches.

        • john barry says:

          Eeyore, I am deeply humbled and appreciative that you researched my claim. I was with my wife and she told me there no adult entertainment offerings or fast food restaurants so we actually ate a place with table clothes on the table. Maybe she misled me as she was tired of dining with nobility , the King of Burgers. Knowing St. Augustine , they would probably have the “World’s oldest stripper” .

          I wish the mainstream media was as quick and accurate as your good efforts. It only shows how inept the FBI has gotten , they could not even find NIkolas Cruz in a week and I am sure they have a good computer, maybe spelling it with a k threw them off. Now where is the original Ray’s Pizza?

          • john barry, You had to reach pretty far for that politicizing comment. I call that a cheap shot at the MSM and FBI.

            • john barry says:

              Robert F.Well, it did cost me nothing, so you are correct. It was a cheap ad lib as I never do a pricey ad lib. I am shooting from the hip and I need a hip replacement so bear with me.

          • And today’s headlines should make it very clear: MAGA (Mueller Ain’t Going Away).

    • hello J.B.

      love your sense of humor . . . . it’s SO original!

  6. Patriciamc says:

    I was wondering if anyone was going to bring up what has happened. I know none of us wants a big, ugly debate, but are we really going to ignore the latest tragedy? If so, then I’ll bite: how many Adam and Eves can dance on the head of a pin? Meanwhile, secular media is discussing how empty “thoughts and prayers” are.

    • That Other Jean says:

      Maybe this is a moment for quoting James. It’s past the time for thoughts and prayers, and time to do something:

      “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”

      James 2:18, KJV

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”
        — James 2:18, KJV

        Translation: “Put your money where your mouth is.”

    • john barry says:

      Patriciamc, Then the people who pray sincerely not pro forma need to express how empty and thoughtless the secular media. I am sure Chaplin Mike has comforted and given meaning to far more people than an talking head on the public airwaves who have gone from reporting to pontificating.
      People like Chaplin Mike should be given the public mikes at a time like this, when there are no words and the emotions are overwhelming.

      • Patriciamc says:

        John, the point is that sticking our head in the sand and pretending it didn’t happen isn’t helping anybody. Also, those who tend to say “we will pray for you” that means we’ll pray, maybe, and then do absolutely nothing. This is a particularly bad habit for evangelicals who are enthralled with the NRA. Secular media is at least trying to do something.

    • It’s not going to stop. America is armed to the teeth, and that isn’t going to change. America chooses the situation that exists now, because it loves guns, and because “violence is as American as cherry pie.” No meaningful gun control legislation will be passed, and in a few weeks the cameras will yet again focus on another mass shooting at a school or some public event, like a demonic version of the film Ground Hog Day. Not to mention all the other unspectacular gun violence that gets no media but takes lives to the tune of about a hundred a day.

  7. rhymeswithplague says:

    It seems to me that john barry is hilariously inventive and loves word play, and that Robert F ain’t got no sense of humor, although he probably does have a funny bone.

    I once intended to major in English. I choose my words carefully.

  8. john barry says:

    rhymeswithplague, usually I avoid you like the —–? However I do have a way with words but like the famous pilot Corrigan usually the wrong way as I go off course but I do it my way at home and at the dining hall of the Burger King.
    Is it Craig?

  9. Also, so began a way of thinking that led to a deeply theological distrust of sexual desire

    You mean mental sanity, right? Nothing wrong with that! I mean, it’s one thing to say “trust your heart,” but I sure as hell ain’t gonna trust my, um, ….”desire.” No way, senor! That sumabitch be crazy! Don’t listen to him!

    …and its designation as the primary evidence of original sin, passed on from our first parents.

    Listen, if the inner lives of teenage boys isn’t proof enough that something is profoundly wrong the race, pretty much nothing else that ever happens will open your mind to the possibility. Yeah, yeah, survival of the species and all, but seriously…. Can you imagine if even a small percentage of those thoughts were translated into reality? Pandemonium and utter chaos would look like a refuge of safety by comparison!

  10. One of Augustine’s legacies — bolstered by his interpretation of Adam and Eve — is that Christians have had a intensified focus upon and conflicted relationship with sexuality ever since.

    I can kinda see this. Sometimes I wonder how Oedipus was awarded the namesake of the psychological complex over this guy. However, have you read the book of Leviticus? Augustine has nothing on such theocratic government regulation of bedroom antics. Seriously, you don’t typically make laws against things that nobody ever does. Those ancient Hebrews must have been into some 50 shades of crazy!

    I don’t think Augustine would have survived in that society. If anything, his legacy gives rise to a more puritanical sexual ethic, which, practiced consistently, reduces to self control and chastity. Against these, there is no law, and they never hurt anyone!

  11. One of the more lively (without drifting towards mean) discussions we’ve had in a long time. Fun to read the comments.