Willemien Otten,


Department of Theology, University of Utrecht, the Netherlands




I -- Augustine: Saint or Sinner?

            When today's professional theologians find themselves turning to Augustine, they do so most likely because he is a central figure in the history of Christianity.  Whatever contemporary cause may have captured their interest enough so as to point them back to Augustine, it is this central role which more often than not determines how he is remembered: as a father and a saint of the church.  Yet this saintly image seems clearly at odds with how the historical Augustine regarded himself.  For there can be little doubt that, if given the choice, he would have preferred the epithet of sinner to that of a saint.  For Augustine, sin is that which has stained the human race ever since Adam and Eve were forced to leave paradise.  In fact, sin is what got them ejected in the first place.  There is little need for further details, since nobody ever returned to paradise.  Because it is thus a defining aspect of the human condition, the notion of sin naturally permeates all Augustine's theological statements.  In his view, life on earth is marked by a tragic sense of falling short, expressed most poignantly by the inability of humans to be fully in touch with themselves, let alone with God.  For a statement of this one does best to turn to the famous lines from the opening paragraph of the Confessions: "...and our heart is restless until it rests in you."[1]

            The inability of the human heart to find rest in God is a fact of crucial theological importance, because it colors how Augustine comes to interpret many symbols of the Christian faith.  Whatever the specific aim of his individual treatises, he is always ready to warn Christians against a false sense of complacency.  Although Christians have direct access to divine revelation in the Scriptures, which contain the record of how Christ himself preached salvation, for Augustine all human attempts to turn the word of God from thought into action are inevitably bound to fail.  Its theoretical hold on perfection notwithstanding, it is as a practical religion that Christianity contains the principles of its own undoing.  Thus one may summarize the status of Christians in society as "possessing everything, yet not having anything."  For while it is indeed true that in the gospel of Christ's resurrection Christians possess the highest good, it is no less true that what they collectively strive for, i.e., eternal rest in God, continues to elude them.


II -- Augustine on Sin and Sexuality

            If we step back from our reflections on sin as a general sense of human failure associated with Adam's exile from paradise, we can then embark on an analysis of the Confessions as a text which contains the most intimate self-portrait of Augustine the sinner.  When doing so, we quickly notice how throughout his captivating autobiography Augustine evokes a suggestive link between the general experience of human life as sinful and his own personal experiences of sexual love.  Thus in Confessions II.II.2 we find him telling us how he was "in love with being in love," whereby it is clear that his girlfriends are seen more as objects of erotic passion than as persons whose self-worth needed to be treasured.[2]  A similar conflicted attachment to, if not dependence on, physical and sexual love may also explain his reluctance in becoming a full-blown Manichee instead of a mere auditor, as the status of elect required celibacy.  It further informs his paradoxical move to claim that he sincerely loved his concubine, who was also the mother of his son Adeodatus, but to leave out her name altogether.[3]  When he finally gave in to his mother's matchmaking by becoming engaged, he had no choice but to dismiss his former partner.  Still, his dependence on sexual relationships was such that he took up life with another concubine until his betrothed would come of age.[4]  It was only after his conversion to Christianity that he felt either confident enough or sufficiently compelled to renounce his sexual activities once and for all.

            If we read the narrative of the Confessions as I did just now, emphasizing how Augustine seemed addicted to sexual love until his conversion to Christianity, we get the picture of a man who was unable to resist his physical impulses until his mind finally got the better of him.[5]  It is tempting to accept such a hierarchy of soul over body and Western theologians have often been culpable in this regard.  Moreover, in the case of Augustine this scenario might even seem to apply.  But does it really?  In this article I want to advocate a different reading of the Confessions.  In my opinion, Augustine does not mean to play up his sexual tensions in order to downplay the life of the body as inferior to that of the soul.  This leaves undisputed that he may well have employed such a body-soul dualism during the writing of the Cassiciacum-dialogues, that is, in his earlier Neoplatonic phase.  In the Confessions, however, Augustine appears to recount his sexual experiences primarily because they allow him to sketch out the sinfulness of human nature as a deep-seated problem with ramifications that are both intimately personal and recognizably universal.  It is the volatile complexity of human sexuality which makes it eminently suitable to demonstrate the problem of sin as a permanent destabilizing human force. 

            Insofar as Augustine's deft use of sexual imagery can lead one easily to regard his life's story as a drawn-out conflict between physical/sexual sin and spiritual conversion, a problem of interpretation will always remain.  It is important, therefore, not to obliterate the necessary nuances by suggesting too black-and-white a contrast between sexual pollution and spiritual purity.[6]  This is especially important since in his capacity as literary genius Augustine himself tends to accentuate his sexual tensions to prepare his readers for the dramatic climax of his conversion.  But to see this divide as in any way permanent can only be rejected in the case of this former Manichee.  In addition, on a more practical level it would have been totally unfit for a prominent Christian like Augustine who had been made bishop just a few years before.  Instead, it is much more likely that he seized on the volatile complexity of human sexuality, because it could provide him with a particularly apt lense through which to approach the contortions and distortions that make up human motivation.  In short, can we not see sexuality as a perfect mirror for the human self?

            If this hypothesis has any plausibility at all, then it is important to regard Augustine's reflections on sexuality and sexual sin, not as separate from his theological and doctrinal reflections but rather as preceding, or perhaps even underlying them.  But there is a more important consequence which interests me here.  For if we accept the hypothesis that Augustine's own sexual reflections -whether to engage in sexual activity as he did in his early life, or to abstain from it, as he did after he converted to Christianity to become first priest and then bishop-, are before all meant to give us a general view of human sinfulness, then their relevance does not halt at a diagnosis of individual accomplishments or defeats.  If Augustine recounts these experiences indeed to point to a deeper, more general human vulnerability, we should be able to extrapolate from them to find out how he regards the role of the Christian community.  It is for this reason that I chose to give my article its current title: Augustine on marriage, monasticism and the community of the church.

            In what follows I shall analyze how Augustine came to develop a particular model of the church in which different modes of life, that of sexual activity and of abstinence, that of marriage alongside virginity and even the monastic life, each have their separate place.  To my mind Augustine's opinions are unique in the history of the early church precisely because he does not feel compelled to set the one off against the other in a stale hierarchy of lifestyles.  Building on this insight, I shall attempt to demonstrate where Augustine's real contribution lies.  It will be shown how Augustine develops what is not only a synthetic, but also a newly constructive vision of the church as an earthly community called to holiness by evaluating each lifestyle on the point of its strengths as well as its weaknesses.  As we will see, his aim to integrate these widely diverging lifestyles leads him to value and define their total contribution to the life of the church as a sinful, i.e., imperfect community, before judging on the importance of any single lifestyle.

            My concrete approach will be as follows.  To put his views in perspective I shall begin by discussing two contemporaneous views on marriage and virginity that differ substantially from Augustine's.  I shall draw attention first to Gregory of Nyssa's treatise on virginity (written in Asia Minor in the late 390s) and then to John Cassian's Conferences regarding the role of the monastic life in the church (written in Gaul around 425).  Next I shall turn to the situation around the year 400, approximately three years after Augustine had started to write his Confessions, in order to see what triggered his specific interest in writing on such themes.  Finally, I will discuss his Rule, which reflects his attempt to give the life of celibacy a meaningful role inside the church as a whole, and his tractate on the work of monks.  It is by tackling the problem of human sexuality head on, more specifically by implementing a view of the church that aims at uniting rather than dividing married people and virgins and/or monks, that Augustine begins to transform what seemed a potential liability: sexuality as indicative of human sin, into a concrete asset: marriage and virginity as cornerstones of the Christian community.  As we follow this process, we will see how the former Manichee and present sinner begins to transmogrify into an ecclesially astute bishop, if not yet a true saint of the church.


III -- Gregory of Nyssa on Marriage and Virginity

            To put Augustine's view of marriage in context, I shall briefly describe the view of a distinctive fourth-century contemporary of Augustine's: Gregory, bishop of Nyssa and one of the so-called Cappadocian fathers.  The first treatise ever written by Gregory, who is probably best known for his Christian-Platonic mysticism, was a treatise on virginity.[7]  He had been commissioned to write this work by his brother Basil, bishop of Caesarea.[8]  Basil had decided to use the monastic ideal as a weapon against the Arians in the controversy that had erupted after the council of Nicea (325 CE), but so far his strategy had yielded little success among his countrymen.  Although Gregory meant to devote his treatise to the theme of virginity, it is significant that its opening chapters deal especially with marriage.  Here we hit on a pivotal point: in many early-Christian writings on virginity, it seems as if the authors can only promote the ascetic lifestyle by contrasting it to married life.  It seems apparent that this contrast has its historical origin in the fact that, by the fourth century, marriage was seen as an age-old Roman institution representing a universal norm, while virginity embodied a new and appealing, but still somewhat controversial Christian alternative. More important in Gregory's case than the problem of societal status, however, is the question whether this contrast is merely a rhetorical strategy or whether it bespeaks a negative theology of Christian marriage.[9]

            In the treatise on virginity Gregory argues that the ascetic life must be preferred to the married state, because only a life of virtue can elevate one above the fragility that characterizes married life.[10]  As a footnote it is interesting to mention that Gregory himself was most married to Theosebeia.  When he movingly evokes all the mishaps that can actually befall married partners, the picture of marriage he presents is indeed a bleak one.  Thus he mentions as one of the dangers that a man may lose his wife in childbirth.  On the other hand, there is also the chance that the wife may lose her husband, who in fourth century society would be considerably older.  In that case the young widow, left without guidance and direction, could easily become the target of vile gossip.  Or she might rush headlong into an unhappy second marriage.  Yet even if husband and wife both live to see their children, there is always the danger that these might not survive their first few years.[11]  From statements such as these Peter Brown rightfully infers that Gregory ranks marriage beneath virginity, as the married state signals how on account of sin humanity has been inflicted with a physical and mortal body.  This may well be true, yet on a more basic level Gregory's remarks simply highlight the facts of married life in the fourth century and beyond.  Underneath the overlay of any theological interpretation, is it not obvious that the emotional bond of marriage makes the partners twice as vulnerable, after which their frailty increases exponentially with the birth of each child?[12]

            Even though it is a fact -and one most convincingly argued by Brown himself- that Gregory puts virginity over marriage because it avoids the dance with mortality in which married partners engage, I disagree with his implication that Gregory's judgement on married life is in the end a negative one.  With this suggestion, even if only implied, Brown seems to narrow the parameters of the fourth century theological debate.  This debate involved body and soul, incarnation and redemption, in a total package for which the life of virginity was ultimately deemed better suited because it offered a better focus on the resurrected life.  But it did not thereby embody it.  Since the resurrected life would again be a total one, involving body and soul, a disapproving judgement of marriage as an institution would not further Gregory's cause.  Thus his concrete criticisms must be explained differently.  I would here like to suggest that the association of married life with the experience of serious emotional pain was so natural for him that, as a trained rhetorician, he was simply unable to sing the praises of virginity without pointing these out at the same time. 

            It is a very similar situation which Augustine encounters around the year 400 in the West, where a controversy had erupted regarding the ideal state of life befitting a Christian.  But before addressing that, let me first discuss the theological views of another of Augustine's contemporaries, which will put a different spin on the debate.  I shall comment on John Cassian who, like Gregory, tended to see ascetic life als a remedy.  In his case the ascetic life was a cure not so much for the fallenness of human nature, as for the fallenness of the church.



IV -- John Cassian on the Role of Monks in the Church

            In John Cassian we meet another contemporary of Augustine's, one whose chief role lay in his ability to transfer the monastic life from East to West.  Although we have little information about his precise roots, it seems clear that by 415 CE John Cassian, whose origins may well lie in the area of the Black Sea, had settled in the south of France, where he founded two monasteries in the area around Marseille.  Like other defenders of the ascetic life in the same period, such as Sulpicius Severus and Jerome, he faced the difficult question of how to adapt the ascetic ideal, which seemed to have arisen spontaneously in the deserts of Egypt, to the landscape of the West, while preserving the identity of its original outlook.  One of the specific problems Cassian attempted to solve was that of the contrast between the eremitical life on the one hand, that is the life of isolated monks like saint Antony (251-356 CE), and that of the coenobitic or community life whose main representative is traditionally held to be Pachomius, on the other.[13]

            In his famous Conferences, which became standard reading in the monasteries of the Middle Ages as Benedict was to mention them in his Rule, Cassian suggests a hierarchy in which the coenobitic life is ranked beneath that of the lone hermit.  Yet he applies this hierarchy with some measure of flexibility, for at times he expresses a slight preference for life inside a community.  The element of social pressure keeps monks after all alert, forcing them to execute their monastic duties with sufficient diligence and care.  At other times, however, Cassian seems to regard the eremitical and coenobitical lifestyles not so much as constitutive of actually existing groups but as reflecting the consecutive spiritual stages of the individual monk's life.  Still, when reading Cassian's Conferences one can hardly escape the impression that, on the whole, he favors the hermit over the monk who lives in community.[14]  The question thus arises why this is so?

            As has been argued by Robert Markus, the reason may well lie in Cassian's larger view of the church, which can be reconstructed from his various works.  Cassian's model of the Christian community, like that of many early Christians including Augustine, was shaped by Acts ch. 4, where Luke comments on the life of the first congregation in Jerusalem.  Entering a new phase after Christ's resurrection and ascension, the first Christians in the Jerusalem community were united by a unique and spontaneous bond of charity.  Compared to those exhilarating times, the Church in Cassian's day found itself on the verge of a steep decline, as its original perfection had become eroded over time.  Marked by a sense of community which was at best lukewarm, the church of Cassian's day thus seemed far removed from that ideal model.  As a result, the story of the church's apostolic making took on the function of myth rather than history, for the contemporary church no longer felt the urge to embody this ideal.  For Cassian then, the question which came to drive his ascetic enterprise was how the monastic life could be of help in restoring the original sense of community, so as to show the world concretely what the church had looked like at its beginning.  This is probably also the reason why he puts such emphasis on the need for rigorous discipline among his monks.  The community of monks must make up in perfection what the world at large, even when fully Christianized, must always lack.  It is only by adhering to a strict disciplinary regimen that the church can hope to regain its apostolic perfection, even though the love that it might radiate will always be a faint semblance of the unique charity that characterized the original Jerusalem community.[15]

            Since Cassian and his western monks had no desert at their disposal in which to retreat, they did not have the possibility of a physical withdrawal from the world.  Their separation, therefore, was not one of place but of spiritual attitude, as the desert gave way to the inner soul as the new laboratory of the monastic experiment.  For this reason Cassian does not even trust monastic communities to reach apostolic perfection.  There are simply too many seams that can unravel for any community to claim a tight seal on perfection.  Only an individual soul can perhaps -and question marks will always remain- aspire to the perfection of the original desert fathers, for whom perfection had become habit.  Hence it is not surprising that Cassian did not write a Rule, as Benedict did approximately two centuries later.  Instead, he left us with a series of instructive dialogues, the so-called Conferences, in which an experienced senior ascetic mentors a younger colleague.[16]

            However inspirational his goal, Cassian's view of the ascetic life remains a troubled one at best, marked as it is by a state of permanent confusion.  Its integrity is compromised most of all by the author's contrived attempts to steer a middle course: between the Egyptian desert and the western landscape, between the eremitical life and that of a monastic community, between a return to the spontaneous perfection of the apostles in the old Jerusalem and the artificial perfection commanded by a newly instituted set of harsh, rigorous principles.  On a larger scale, however, this confusion may well be typical of the state of western monasticism in the late fourth and early fifth century.  When after his conversion Augustine decided to embrace the life of celibacy, he came to face a very similar set of questions.  Yet before we go into what he has to say on these matters, let us take a closer look at the circumstances which forced him to take a stand in the first place.  As so often in the case of this formidable theologian, this stand would come to define the theological landscape for centuries.


V -- Augustine's Development in the Controversial Years around 400:

            The years around 400 marked a turbulent period for Augustine.  He had more or less finished the Confessions, which was to become what is perhaps the most famous Christian writing of all time, but he had also embarked on the composition of On Christian Doctrine, which would be among his books that were most widely read during the Middle Ages.  Not only in terms of success but also of content, these works are of singular importance.  In the Confessions, as we already noted, Augustine chose to paint his own past as one of sexual license.  In On Christian Doctrine, on the other hand, he is eager to try his hand at a theory of scriptural interpretation, as he would become more and more involved in the study of Scripture.  It is in these same years so full of literary activity that Augustine also made what was without a doubt the most pivotal transition of his long career, surpassing in impact even his conversion, when from a newly baptized Christian he became a bishop with grave leadership responsibilities.[17]

            Because of his global and ecclesial outlook as bishop, Augustine may have felt compelled to intervene in the controversy that had erupted between Jovinian and Jerome.  Centering around the role of virginity in the Christian church, this controversy hit particularly close to home for Augustine, as the issue of celibacy had been a stumbling-block in his own slow growth to Christianity.  Now it came back to haunt him with full force, but this time he found himself at the other side of the fence.  Whereas before he had done his utmost to resist the call to celibacy, he now felt compelled to defend and even promote it, though not without launching some serious attacks at the way in which many ascetics conducted themselves.  But let us review the controversy to see what was at stake.

            Although the texts of Gregory of Nyssa and John Cassian have only given us a glimpse of the full spectrum of early Christian positions on the ascetic life, my point in reviewing them was to show how by the time of Augustine virginity had become a serious rival to marriage as the prime model of Christian life.  While much of the credit for placing virginity above marriage goes ultimately back to St. Paul and his famous statement that "it is better to marry than to burn" (1 Cor. 7:9), it had taken until the end of the fourth century before virginity had become a prominent ideal.  During the age of persecutions Christians were so clearly separated from their pagan counterparts that they did not need to emphasize their otherness through a special mode of life.  They often signalled their otherness through death, as the martyr's fate introduced them to eternal life in a kind of baptism of blood.  After the Constantinian revolution, however, the empire itself had become Christian, as a result of which a new contrast began to emerge; not between Christians and pagans (although that contrast would continue to exist for the time being) but between Christians and Christians.  The distinction that was especially prevalent, to the extent that it differentiated the unity of Christianity to the point of breaking it up entirely, was that between the ascetic elite and the multitude of married Christians.  Now that the prospect of a martyr's death could no longer unite Christians as potential victims, with earthly differences fading away before a common eschatological triumph, the difference between the ascetic elite and the flock of married persons threatened to leave permanent marks in the fourth century ecclesiastical landscape.[18]

            To prevent this division from becoming an unbridgable one a certain Jovinian, who was himself a monk, advocated a remarkable position.  He deemed the leading of an ascetic life ultimately a supererogatory act, since baptism was the sole criterion by which one's Christian identity could be defined.  Leading an ascetic life did not make one a superior Christian, but added to one's public commitment.  Through his position Jovinian broke ranks with many early Christian theologians, most of whom themselves ascetics, who had come to define virginity/asceticism over time as closer to the state of paradisical purity.  In doing so, however, they severely undermined the theological importance of marriage.  We already noted how difficult it was for Gregory of Nyssa to give a meaningful definition of virginity without indulging in a negative attack on marriage.  To ward off Jovinian's attacks, it was Jerome who rose to the defense of the ascetic life and its proponents.  In typical Jerome fashion, he did so with such aggressiveness that he completely demolished marriage in the process.[19] 

            It is at this point that we find Augustine stepping into the debate.  Contrary to Jerome he holds that it must be possible to answer Jovinian, that is to defend virginity, without denigrating marriage.  In the year 401 we find him writing two parallel works, therefore, one treatise entitled On the Good of Marriage, and the other On Holy Virginity.  Below I shall explain Augustine's position in these two treatises to see how he judges marriage and virginity by comparison.  Yet this is not all.  In the years 400-401 Augustine also writes a treatise called On the Work of Monks, in which he recommends that monks, like other Christians, should live by St. Paul's precept that "if any man will not work, neither let him eat" (2 Thess. 3:10).  Although this treatise has mostly been left out of the discussion, I want to address it here as well.[20]  The reason is that it also touches on the central relation of sin and sexuality, or rather conversely, on the relation of abstinence and sinlessness.  Some of the monks whom Augustine rebukes here at the request of Aurelius, bishop of Carthage, apparently considered their continence not just as elevating them above ordinary sinners but also as exempting them from St. Paul's injunction.  As one might expect, Augustine will go far to deny that claim.  Although On the Work of Monks appears to have been local in scope, and may well lack the substance of the treatises on marriage and virginity composed in those same years, it nevertheless points to an aspect of Augustine's celibate life that is often left out of the debate: that it was mostly lived out in community.  It seems very likely that from 388 onwards Augustine lived inside a monastic community in his native Thagaste, i.e., before he became priest and bishop.  Although things are not entirely clear after that time, it is probable that he continued some form of community living.[21]  From this it can be inferred that Augustine was particularly aware of the responsibility of monastic communities vis-à-vis the larger community of the Church.  After the discussion of marriage and virginity, therefore, I shall analyze Augustine's position on monasticism and its meaning for the church as it can be inferred not only from On the Work of Monks, but also from his famous Rule written a few years earlier in 397.[22]  This may allow us to relate his occasional admonitions to a band of renegade monks with his own structural insight in the monastic life, as elaborated in a Rule which was to become very popular in the later Middle Ages but goes all the way back to his own experience.

            Around the year 400 then, when he was assuming more and more the teaching authority of a bishop, Augustine became engaged in the writing of various disciplinary works: On the good of marriage, On holy virginity, On the work of monks.  In one way or another, these all seem to touch on the complex relation between sin and sexuality.  Since in the Confessions Augustine had made such eloquent use of his own sexual background to express the pervasiveness of human sin, our guiding question will be to see how these treatises concretely advance Augustine's thought on this matter.  When called upon to defend virginity, how can he do so while avoiding the simple solution that celibacy makes one sinless?  When placing virginity above marriage, how can he avoid indicting marriage as an institution infected by human corruption?  When asked to rebuke idle monks, as the bishop meets the monk, how can he avoid discrediting the positive and collegial description of monastic life in his Rule, thereby sowing further discord in the church?

            Before I will try to answer these questions, one final comment is necessary.  We noted before how Augustine wrote all these works in his capacity as bishop.  As such he was used to teaching and preaching ex cathedra, in preparation for which he had become increasingly involved in the study of Scripture.  A deep scriptural foundation, therefore, underlies many of his arguments.  Scripture colors both Augustine's theology and his ecclesiology, as incidental pieces of disciplinary writing turn out to be veritable tapestries of exegetical skill.[23]  It is not only to Augustine's strategies of persuasion, then, but also to his scriptural examples that we must look to get at the heart of his position.


VI -- Augustine on Marriage and Virginity[24]

            When Gregory of Nyssa wrote his On virginity, the positions he came to develop were in large part inspired by his allegorical reading of the opening chapters of the book of Genesis.  According to his exegesis humanity lived in Eden, i.e., the state of paradisical bliss until the fall.  While in this blessed state humans would procreate like the angels, that is without sexual intercourse.  After they forfeited their angelic nature because of the fall, however, God decided in an act of grace to give them the possibility of physical procreation.  In this way humanity could still arrive at the final number of souls, while God's plan of salvation for the fullness of the human race would still be fulfilled.  If Gregory seems to deprecate marriage at times, therefore, he does so largely because of the vulnerabilities to which married partners expose themselves.  Underneath his criticism, he remains well aware that marriage and physical procreation both are a sign of God's grace.

            When Augustine set out to write his treatise on marriage, it was also to the story of paradise that his thoughts turned, but his preference was for a literal rather than an allegorical interpretation.  For Augustine, who had also embarked on his literal commentary on Genesis at this time, the paradise story marked the beginning of human history.[25]  In paradise there had been a natural bond between the first man and the first woman.  There is thus a historic reason why contemporary society should treasure that bond and forge its relationships accordingly.  But there is also a sociological dimension.  The bond between the first couple was characterized by friendship, a friendship which was closer and more intimate still, because God had made woman out of man.  Thus the two originated in one, as does therefore all of society.  Although Augustine briefly reflects on life in paradise without sin, -whether the first couple would have had children through sexual intercourse-, he quickly dismisses such questions as idle speculation.[26]  While sin brought on humanity's present condition of birth and death, it is clear that for him the union of man and woman has always been a good thing.  Furthermore, it is not only a good thing because of its expected net result: progeny.  For Augustine the bond of friendship that lies at the heart of marriage overrides the importance of procreation.  Thus, in the case of older people or sterile ones the marriage remains equally valid.[27]

            The picture which Augustine sketches for us shows Adam and Eve as two historical persons, made from one, who had a natural capacity for the good of friendship, a friendship which was all the closer because Eve was created out of Adam.  Their union intensified because of their offspring, which Augustine regarded as the only worthy fruit not of marriage, but of sexual intercourse.  Augustine thus shows us a view of society as united at its inception.  Sin may have conditioned the way in which humans get offspring, and through concupiscence it may have added an explosive element to the sexual relationship between the partners, but it cannot fundamentally undermine their bond of friendship.  To mitigate its utopian character, however, it may be good to mention that for Augustine the friendship between man and woman involves a definite hierarchy: of one ruling and the other obeying.[28]

            Elsewhere in the same treatise Augustine describes the three goods of marriage: fides, proles and sacramentum.  While the first two: the loyalty between the partners and the begetting of offspring, are universally valid, the notion of sacramentum applies exclusively to Christians, as for them marriage is indissoluble.[29]

            Still, Augustine's position on marriage is not wholly without contradictions.  While he generally emphasizes friendship, he does at times say that "marriage itself among all races is for the one purpose of procreating that they may be born properly and decently."[30]  In one instance, he says not just that marriage but even that sexual intercourse takes place for the sake of friendship: "Surely we must see that God gives us some goods which are to be sought for their own sake, such as wisdom, health, friendship; others, which are necessary for something else, such as learning, food, drink, sleep, marriage, sexual intercourse.  Certain of these are necessary for the sake of wisdom, such as learning; others for the sake of health, such as food and drink and sleep; others for the sake of friendship, such as marriage or intercourse, for from this comes the propagation of the human race in which friendly association is a great good."[31]

            These contradictions in Augustine's position go back in part to the position of St. Paul, whose statement that "it is better to marry than to burn" (1 Cor. 7) was not exactly a ringing endorsement of marriage, thus setting in motion a whole series of problems regarding the interpretation of marriage in the Christian tradition.  Yet they point above all to the difficult taxonomy which Augustine tries to sketch out for us.  While marriage is seen as a good, virginity is still better.[32]  In this taxonomy marriage is contrasted positively with fornication and adultery or with concubinage, but negatively with continence, as a chaste marriage is undoubtedly better than one in which the partners are sexually active.

            Still, Augustine goes to great lengths to clarify that virgins should not pride themselves on being superior to married people.  They are not even better than the patriarchs, who engaged in polygamy.  Although the chastity of continence is better than that of marriage, when one engages in a comparison of individuals he or she that possesses the greater good is better.[33]  Therefore, if the virgins of Augustine's days think themselves better than the patriarchs of old, then they are dreadfully mistaken, for by not being obedient and by being proud, they show themselves far inferior to Abraham, whose obedience was so great that he was even willing to sacrifice his only son.[34]

            The ultimate reason why Augustine condones the polygamy of the patriarchs is that at that time there was need to populate the earth so as for Christ to be born among us.  The patriarchs possessed continence only as a habit of the soul, and not of the body, for it was not yet requested of them to be continent.[35]  But in Augustine's own days there is no longer need for procreation, because after Christ's birth and resurrection all is fulfilled.  If there are no more marriages, then so much the better.  It only means that Christ will come back sooner![36]

            The argument that the need to marry and be married has ceased serves as a first indication that Augustine's thought is deeply influenced by eschatological motives.  This explains also why he resorts to the New Testament and especially to St. Paul here, rather than to Genesis and its stories of creation or the patriarchs.  For Augustine, the ultimate importance of one's lifestyle depends on the contribution it makes to the City of God.[37]  This same attitude also permeates On holy virginity (as well as On the work of monks), as he makes clear that continence is necessary for the kingdom of heaven and virginity is called the portion of angels.[38]

            Since it is with an eye on the future, namely life in the City of God, that virginity gains importance, Augustine boldly relativizes its importance here on earth, even though he takes care not to undercut it completely.  Thus he stresses repeatedly that virginity is of counsel, not precept.[39]  In fact, he seems so eager to admonish the virgins that he almost changes the subject of his treatise, as the second half of it could well be called "on pride and humility."[40]  Again, his eschatological outlook is responsible for this, because for Augustine martyrs still rank higher than virgins.  But martyrdom is a hidden gift, since one cannot know whether one will be chosen to sacrifice one's life until the moment has arrived.  As long as married persons can become martyrs, however, virgins are wrong to pride themselves on their chastity as if a superior state.[41]  Moreover, from the fact that these virgins must pray the Lord's prayer, it can also be inferred that they are not totally free from sin.[42]

            But what then is there to gain by remaining a virgin?  To that end Augustine devotes some of the most beautiful passages in his entire treatise on virginity, chs. 27 to 29.  Virgins can go where married persons cannot go; they can imitate Christ as the Son of Man in the flesh as well as in the heart.  But in accordance with his own balanced taxonomy, themes such as the imitation of Christ apply also to married people.  Still, there remains a crucial difference.  As Augustine so eloquently states: they can walk the same paths, even though they cannot set their foot perfectly in the same print.[43]

            As far as the presence of virgins and married persons in the church goes, Augustine seems confident that when the multitude of the faithful sees these modest virgins, it will ultimately rejoice in and with them.  Thus his view of the unity of married persons and virgins is one of difference with concord, of a variety which is harmonious.[44]  In this he successfully refines the thought of both Gregory of Nyssa, for whom virginity was to be preferred because it shut out the pains of marriage, and of Jerome, who saw marriage as crudely inferior to virginity.


VII -- Augustine on the Role of Monks in the Church.

            We have seen how Augustine integrated marriage and virginity by elevating both to a higher use: namely the kingdom of heaven, or in Augustinian terms: the City of God.  But what about life in a monastic community?  Does he have reason to position this life above that of his married flock?  I will comment briefly on his treatise On the Work of Monks as well as on his Rule.  In his treatise On the Work of Monks Augustine strikes a tone that is very similar to that of On holy virginity.  He admonishes the monks and wants to teach them humility.  He does so primarily by emphasizing that for them also the apostolic precept holds that whosoever does not work, he shall not eat.  While stressing the familiar point that monastic life is for the kingdom of heaven, he makes clear that it is not up to us humans to decide when we have arrived there.  The treatise On the Work of Monks is especially interesting because of the clever arguments by which Augustine debunks some of the false eschatological motives put forth by the idle monks.  Apparently they refuse to work because they already deem themselves inhabitants of the City of God.  In support of their position they quote Matth. 6: 25-34 about the lilies of the field and the birds in the air, who do not worry about their supplies but trust the heavenly father to feed them.[45]  Contrary to what one might perhaps expect, Augustine is eager to ridicule this position as he directs the monks back to their earthly reality.  Sure, they may not work themselves, like the birds in the air, but how then do they want to eat?  Will they go into the fields of others to do so, as the birds do?  And why then do they wear their hair long?  Do they not want the barbers to work either, or do they expect to be plucked, like the birds?[46]  For Augustine saying one's prayers, singing the psalms and reading the Word of God does not quite fill the monk's day.[47]  The monks also need to work so as not to isolate themselves too much from the multitude of Christians.  Besides, they can sing the psalms while they work, a recommendation with which Augustine seems to put himself in the Pachomian tradition.[48]  Yet even if they work, it remains true that God cares for them, just as he does for the birds in the air.[49]  On a surprising personal note Augustine confides that he would much prefer monastic chores over his episcopal duties which included involvement in many juridical and administrative matters such as the arbitration of lawsuits.[50]

            This personal note through which Augustine expresses his own attachment to the monastic life allows us to get a better view of what he sees as its main goals.  To get a concrete indication, we can also look to the Rule, which he had written just a few years earlier, around 397.  If we compare Augustine's stand on the monastic life with Cassian's, so thoroughly influenced by the desert mentality, it is striking how his focus is not on the monk's lack of perfection, but on the community's love and concord.  For him, what is central in the functioning of any monastic community is that the members are of one mind and one heart.  It is this concord from which all the other tasks of monastic life follow, be it the common sharing of all things, the relinquishing of personal property, or the perseverance in prayer.  While Cassian seemed to value community primarily because of the social pressures which would force the monk to work on his personal perfection, for Augustine the community rather than the individual soul is the perfect locus to attain a life of charity guided by a unity of the heart.[51]  Thus he focuses on the responsibility individual monks have for each other in a community.  Even the attitude towards their superior, who is mentioned only in the penultimate chapter, should be one of love rather than fear.[52]

            Unity, friendship and concord is what marks a monastic community, as it tries to relive the experience of the first apostolic community in Jerusalem.  With statements like these we are a far stretch from the ladder towards perfection that Cassian offered us.  The risk of falling down is simply too great for Augustine.  What use is it to climb in isolation towards perfection, as in the case of Cassian's hermits?  As recent disasters on Mt. Everest have shown, the joy of the few who triumph cannot make up for the loss of the many who tumble, and in their fall may take others down with them.  Unlike for Cassian, monastic life for Augustine is not a remedy for the ills of the church in the world for, as On the work of monks shows, monastic communities experience many of the same ills.  If monastic life is at all successful in giving us a greater share in the life of charity that so characterized the first community in Jerusalem, its primary purpose should not be to correct others but to teach them how to do the same.


VIII -- Conclusion: Sin, Sexuality and Sanctity in Augustine

            If one accepts that in his Confessions Augustine establishes a close connection between the sinful condition of humanity and his own sexual experiences, then the works which he contemporaneously wrote on marriage, virginity and the monastic life are given new meaning.  In contrast to the autobiographical nature of the Confessions, Augustine's focus in these works is on how the relationship between sin and sexuality can be redirected so as to add to the sanctity of the church.  It is with this in mind that I want to draw some tentative conclusions from my analysis.

            Although at the time he wrote On the Good of Marriage and On Holy Virginity Augustine had not yet completed his literal reevaluation of the book of Genesis (especially the role of the fall), it is clear that the association of marriage with sexual intercourse and procreation does not invalidate it as an institution for him.  Rather, the fact that through marriage the partners' sexual impulses can be channelled so as to enhance the unity of the human race by producing children adds for him to the dignity of the institution, an institution that was both a fixture of Roman and of Old Testament law.  Yet the single most striking feature of Augustine's view of marriage is no doubt his stress on friendship, for the sake of which marriage should ultimately be used.

            Marriage is a good according to Augustine, but it remains a fact for him and for the medieval Christian tradition after him, that virginity is better.  Yet unlike Jerome, Augustine does not laud virginity at the expense of marriage.  Virgins should above all take care to exercise humility.  A humble married woman is better than a proud virgin.  Moreover, because married persons can receive the hidden gift of martyrdom, which he places above virginity, it is not under all circumstances true that virginity is better than marriage.  What is most important, however, is that the relationship between virgins and married persons should be one of harmonious variation.  It is this notion of harmonious variation or difference with concord which allows Augustine to avoid the simple conclusion that abstinence equals sinlessness, or conversely, that intercourse implies sin.  After all, intercourse can be used for the sake of friendship, while abstinence can lead to misplaced pride.  Because for Augustine right order will always involve hierarchy, virginity remains superior to marriage.  When stressing the importance of friendship in marriage, Augustine likewise maintains that the man rules and the woman obeys.  Still, what is crucial is that in both cases he stresses the need for a hierarchy without envy, a difference with concord.

            The same theme of harmonious variation can also be used to characterize the relation between monks and the Christian community at large.  For Augustine, monks have the special task to represent the practise of the first community in Jerusalem, but this is something that should ultimately inspire all Christians.  What else is the City of God than a reawakening of that glorious Jerusalem with all the prophets, apostles and martyrs in it?  Thus, just as virgins should not be proud, so monks should not be lazy, as the unity of their hearts and minds should be played out in the activity of their hands.  The responsibility that brethren (or sisters) have for each other according to the Rule must on a larger scale be replicated in the responsibility that each Christian has for his or her neighbor.

            To sum up my conclusions I want to use another quote from St. Paul which Augustine cites in ch. 25.32 of On the work of monks. Here he quotes from 2 Cor. 6:10, as he characterizes the monastic life as "having nothing yet possessing all things."  This text could well serve as the motto of all Christians: married ones, virgins and monks alike, who are with Augustine on a pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem.  Their status in life counts only inasmuch as it helps them to make progress on their journey, but it should not be counted as their personal achievement and/or property.  As Augustine goes on to say in the very next paragraph: "there is one commonwealth of all Christians."[53]

            Augustine had the eschatological unity of this commonwealth very much in mind when writing on marriage, virginity and the monastic life.  It is with an eye on this Christian commonwealth that the same person, who as an adolescent was so in love with being in love, was able to broaden his personal experience of sexual activity and abstinence into a workable picture for the church of his days: including all and excluding none.  If we accept that sexuality functions as an expression of the universality of human sin in Augustine, then his pastoral prudence in dealing with such matters as marriage, virginity and monasticism shows us even today how the sinner could become a saint.


     * Earlier versions of the text of this article were read in New York (lecture in St. Augustine's parish, Brooklyn, New York, May 19, 1996) and in Utrecht, the Netherlands (inaugural lecture, Utrecht University, November 13, 1997).  The Dutch text has recently been published under the title Huwelijk en Ascese in de Vroege Kerk, met name bij Augustinus (Utrecht: Faculteit der Godgeleerdheid, 1997).

[1]. See Conf. I.1: inquietum est cor nostrum, donec requiescat in te.  The critical text of the Confessiones is found in L. Verheijen (ed.), Confessionum libri XIII. Corpus christianorum series latina 27 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1981).  In addition to the Latin chapters I will quote the pagenumbers from the translation by Henry Chadwick, Saint Augustine. Confessions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991).

[2]. See Conf. II.II.2: Et quid erat, quod me delectabat, nisi amare et amari?  In Conf. III.I.1 the erotic tension increases, as Augustine connects his sexual passion with his inability to seek God: Veni Carthaginem, et circumstrepebat me undique sartago flagitiosorum amorum. nondum amabam et amare amabam et secretiore indigentia oderam me minus indigentem. quaerebam quid amarem, amans amare, et oderam securitatem et uiam sine muscipulis, quoniam fames mihi erat intus ab interiore cibo, te ipso, deus meus, et ea fame non esuriebam, sed eram sine desiderio alimentorum incorruptibilium, non quia plenus eis eram, sed quo inanior, fastidiosior....amare et amari dulce mihi erat magis, si et amantis corpore fruerer (Chadwick 35: "I came to Carthage and all around me hissed a cauldron of illicit loves.  As yet I had never been in love and I longed to love; and from a subconscious poverty of mind I hated the thought of being less inwardly destitute.  I sought an object for my love; I was in love with love, and I hated safety and a path free of snares (Wisd. 14:11; Ps. 90:3).  My hunger was internal, deprived of inward food, that is, of you yourself, my God.  But that was not the kind of hunger I felt.  I was without any desire for incorruptible nourishment, not because I was replete with it, but the emptier I was, the more unappetizing such food became .....  To me it was sweet to love and to be loved, the more so if I could also enjoy the body of beloved").

[3]. In Conf. IV.II.2 Augustinus describes their relationship and in Conf. VI.XV.25 he tells how her departure left his heart bleeding: Interea mea peccata multiplicabantur, et auulsa a latere meo tamquam impedimento coniugii cum qua cubare solitus eram, cor, ubi adhaerebat, concisum et uulneratum mihi erat et trahebat sanguinem (Chadwick 109: "Meanwhile my sins multiplied.  The woman with whom I habitually slept was torn away from my side because she was a hindrance to my marriage.  My heart which was deeply attached was cut and wounded, and left a trail of blood.").

[4]. In Conf. VI.XV.25 Augustine says that he is non amator coniugii, sed libidinis seruus (Chadwick 109: "not a lover of marriage but a slave of lust").

[5]. Augustine recounts the moment of his conversion in VIII.XII.28.  This moment is preceded by a conflict between habit (consuetudo: associated with sexual love) and continence, as Lady Continence (casta dignitas continentiae) reaches out to Augustine with semi-divine authority (see Conf. VIII.XI.26-27).

[6]. In this respect it is important to note that the locus of the conflict between (sexual) habit and continence is Augustine's own heart, where both apparently have their natural place.  See Conf. VIII.XI.27: ista controversia in corde meo non nisi de me ipso aduersus me ipsum (Chadwick 152: "This debate in my heart was a struggle of myself against myself").

[7]. According to Michel Aubineau this work of Gregory's is to be dated around 371, but Peter Brown dates it between 370 and 379. For the text of Gregory's treatise, see M. Aubineau (ed.), Grégoire de Nysse: Traité de la Virginité. Sources chrétiennes 119 (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1961).  For an English translation, see V. Woods Callahan (transl.), Saint Gregory of Nyssa. Ascetical Works (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1965), 6-75, esp. 12-20 (ch. 3).  For the critical edition of De virginitate and Vita S. Macrinae, see W. Jaeger (ed.), Gregorii Nysseni Opera, Vol. 8/1 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1952).

[8]. For a new interpretation of Basil of Caesarea, see Philip Rousseau, Basil of Caesarea (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994) 1-26.  Rousseau argues that, after some initial friction, Basil grew increasingly close to his siblings.  The portrait he presents to his readers of a close-knit family jointly dedicated to the ascetic life reflects a well-thought out strategy to use his family relations in support of his orthodox agenda in the anti-Arian struggle.

[9]. For a lucid exposition of Gregory's view of marriage and virginity, see Peter R.L. Brown, The Body and Society. Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988) 285-304, especially 293-298.

[10]. It is important that in the introduction to De virginitate Gregory describes the ascetic life as a life of virtue rather than a celibate life (see SC 119, proëmium 1; Woods Callahan, 6).

[11]. See De virginitate III (Woods Callahan, 12-20).  While Brown emphasizes Gregory's Christian-Neoplatonic influence, Aubineau argues that this "strange" chapter bears above all the marks of rhetorical inspiration on the heels of the second sophistic movement (SC 119, 45-46).

[12]. Although Brown focuses on the connection between marriage and mortality, it appears Gregory considers virginity not so much a protection against death itself as against the wounding emotions that accompany the approaching of death, such as fear and sadness.  One may compare how Gregory shows signs of weakness at the deathbed of his sister Macrina, while she herself maintains a stoic composure, and his emotional release after her death.  See Gregory's life of his sister Macrina (ong. 380) as edited by P. Maraval, Grégoire de Nysse: Vie de Saint Macrine. Sources chrétiennes 178 (Paris: Cerf, 1971), chs. 17,19,22,23,26,27.  See also their conversation on her deathbed as found in De anima et resurrectione dialogus, PG 46, 12-17.

[13]. For a study of Cassian, see Owen Chadwick, John Cassian (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968) and especially Philip Rousseau, Ascetics, Authority, and the Church in the Age of Jerome and Cassian (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978) 79-95.

[14]. See on this point especially Rousseau, Ascetics, Authority and the Church, 177-198.  The text of the Conlationes can be found in E. Pichery (ed.), Jean Cassien: Les Conférences. Sources chrétiennes 42, 54, 64 (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1953, 1958, 1959).  For a partial translation, see Owen Chadwick, Western Asceticism (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958), 183-289.  Rousseau points to the praefatio of Conl. I (SC 42, 75) for the view that the heremitic life is superior, while an example of the progression from coenobitic to eremitic life is found in the life of Paphnutius in Conl. III.I (SC 42, 139-140).  See also Cassian's interest in the monastic virtue of discretio in Conl. I.XXIII (SC 42, 107) and Conl. II.II (SC 42, 112-4).  Rousseau holds that from the third series of Conlationes Cassian advocates a more social ascetism, see Conl. XIX (SC 64, 37ff).  In Conl. XIX.XVI (SC 64, 54) Cassian says that human communities can be an effective remedy against vices: Itaque remediis quidem illorum quae supra diximus uitiorum non solum nihil officiunt, uerum etiam multum conferunt humana consortia (Chadwick 288: "For curing the faults which I have been talking about, human society, so far from being a hindrance, is beneficial").

[15]. For the contrast between Cassian's and Augustine's view on the monastic life, see especially Robert A. Markus, The End of Ancient Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) 157-197.

[16]. For the relation between the desert fathers and their students, see Graham Gould, The Desert Fathers on Monastic Community (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993) 26-87.  Prior to his Conlationes Cassian wrote the so-called Institutiones, in which he gave an interpretation of the communal life.  Both works are dated around 425.

[17]. After his baptism in 387 Augustine was ordained a priest in 391 and a bishop in 395.  In a lecture at Harvard University on 27 september 1996 James O'Donnell suggested that from 391 to 397 Augustine suffered from so-called writer's block.  According to O'Donnell, Augustine experienced considerable difficulty in creating a new "writerly persona" for himself as a cleric.  For Augustine's activities as bishop, see the classic study by F. van der Meer, Augustine the Bishop: The Life and Work of a Father of the Church, English translation by B. Battershaw and G.R. Lamb (London and New York, 1961).

[18]. See Brown, Body and Society, 205-209, as he observes a similar discrepancy in Eusebius van Caesarea's Demonstratio evangelica.

[19]. For the Jovinian controversy and Augustine's response, see especially Markus, End of Ancient Christianity, 45-62.  Whereas Jerome wrote his Ad Jovinianum, Markus sees Augustine's De bono conjugali as a kind of Ad Hieronymum (45).  See also Elaine Pagels, Adam, Eve and the Serpent (New York: Random House, 1988), ch. 4 "The paradise of virginity regained" (78-97), and Dyan Elliott, Spiritual Marriage. Sexual Abstinence in Medieval Wedlock (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 38-50.

[20].  For De bono conjugali I have consulted the text with French translation from G. Combès (ed.), Oeuvres de Saint Augustin 2. 1e série: opuscules. II Problèmes moraux (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1948).  For text and French translation of De sancta virginitate and De opere monachorum, see J. Saint-Martin (ed.), Oeuvres de saint Augustin 3. 1e série: opuscules. III L'Ascétisme chrétien (1938; 2e ed., Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1949).  See further for the standard Latin edition of all three treatises Iosephus Zycha (ed.), Sancti Aureli Augustini Opera. Sect. 5. Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 41 (Leipzig: Tempsky, 1900).  English translations of De bono conjugali and De sancta virginitate can be found in Saint Augustine. Treatises on Marriage and Other Subjects, edited by Roy Deferrari (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1955) 9-51 and 143-212.  For the English translation of On the Work of Monks, see Saint Augustine. Treatises on various subjects, ed. by Roy Deferrari (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1952), 331-422.

[21]. For Augustine's view of monastic life and his own role in it, see George Lawless, OSA, Augustine of Hippo and his Monastic Rule (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987) 3-62 en 155-161.  Lawless calls Augustine in the words of André Mandouze "un moine malgré tout" (62).

[22]. I have used the Latin text of the Rule with English translation found in Lawless, Augustine of Hippo and his Monastic Rule, 65-118.  For an English translation and commentary, see The Rule of Saint Augustine. Masculine and Feminine Versions. With Introduction and Commentary by Tarsicius J. van Bavel, OSA, transl. by R. Canning, OSA (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1984).

[23]. For an example of his effective exegetical allusions, one may turn to De sancta virg. LVI.57.  Making a general reference to the fire of this world, Augustine quotes from the song of the three men in the oven who received coolness (refrigerium) from Him whom they loved with a most fervent heart (corde ferventissimo; cf. Dan. 3:87).  To an audience of virgins Augustine thus hints subtly that it is not the ascetic life as a human achievement that saves from the burning passion of sexual desire (cf. 1 Cor. 7:9) but only God.  In De op. mon. XXVII.35 Augustine also makes a passing reference to God's liberation of the three men.  Although my article cannot elaborate on this, I would like to suggest here that Augustine's so-called writer's block may in part be blamed on his difficulty in trying to appropriate a new, exegetical-theological style of intellectual reasoning.

[24]. I have made a conscious choice to study marriage and virginity/asceticism in tandem through a synchronic approach of the years around 400.  Thus I want to nuance the trend of recent studies to isolate certain Augustinian themes in order to study them in diachronic fashion.  One may compare various studies along this line on Augustine's view of the body, his theology of marriage or his views of women.  For Augustine on women: see Brresen, Subordination and Equivalence. The Nature and Role of Woman in Augustine and Thomas Aquinas (1968; repr. Kok Pharos: Kampen, 1995) and Kim Power, Veiled Desire. Augustine on Women (New York: Continuum, 1996).  For Augustine on the body: see Margaret R. Miles, Augustine on the Body (Missoula: Scholar's Press, 1979).  For Augustine on marriage: see Emile Schmitt, Le mariage chrétien dans l'oeuvre de saint Augustin. Une théologie baptismale de la vie conjugale (Paris: Etudes augustiniennes, 1983); Philip L. Reynolds, Marriage in the Western Church. The Christianization of Marriage During the Patristic and Early Medieval Periods (Leiden: E.J.Brill, 1994), 241-311 and Elizabeth Clark (ed.), St. Augustine on Marriage and Sexuality (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1996).  In my opinion the evaluation of Augustine's views benefits from a more contextualized historical approach.  In this case, this means one has to focus on how, as a new bishop, Augustine was especially interested in evaluating marriage and asceticism on the point of their contribution to church and society.  See also Brown, Body and Society, 387-427.  For an excellent systematic study of Augustine's thought, see John M. Rist, Augustine. Ancient Thought Baptized (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 92-147 en 203-255, esp. 246-252.

[25]. The main text of this paragraph paraphrases De bono conj. I.1: Quoniam unusquisque homo humani generis pars est et sociale quiddam est humana natura, magnum habet et naturale bonum, vim quoque amicitiae: ob hoc ex uno Deus voluit omnes homines condere ut in sua societate non sola similitudine generis sed etiam cognationis vinculo tenerentur.  Prima itaque naturalis humanae societatis copula vir et uxor est.  Quos nec ipsos singulos condidit Deus et tanquam alienigenas junxit: sed alteram creavit ex altero signans etiam vim conjunctionis in latere, unde illa detracta formata est.  Lateribus enim sibi junguntur qui pariter ambulant et pariter quo ambulant intuentur.  Consequens est connexio societatis in filiis, qui unus honestus fructus est non conjunctionis maris et feminae sed concubitus.  Poterat enim esse in utroque sexu, etiam sine tali commixtione, alterius regentis, alterius obsequentis, amicalis quaedam et germana conjunctio (Deferrari 9: "Since every man is a part of the human race, and human nature is something social and possesses the capacity for friendship as a great and natural good, for this reason God wished to create all men from one, so that they might be held together in their society, not only by the similarity of race, but also by the bond of blood relationship.  And so it is that the first natural tie of human society is man and wife.  Even those God did not create separately and join them as if strangers, but He made the one from the other, indicating also the power of union in the side where she was drawn and formed.  A consequence is the union of society in the children who are the only worthy fruit, not of the joining of male and female, but of sexual intercourse.  For there could have been in both sexes, even without such intercourse, a kind of friendly and genuine union of the one ruling and the other obeying.")

[26]. See De bono conj. II.2.

[27]. See De bono conj. III.3: Quod (scil. bonum est conjugium) mihi non videtur propter solam filiorum procreationem sed propter ipsam etiam naturalem in diverso sexu societatem (Deferrari 12: "This does not seem to me to be a good solely because of the procreation of children, but also because of the natural companionship between the two sexes").  Notice how for Augustine amicitia (friendship) and societas (company, society) are closely related.

[28]. See De bono conj.I.1.  In De Genesi ad litteram (IX.V.9) Augustine elaborates on the hierarchy of man and woman as implied by the order of creation, whereby he emphasizes procreation at the expense of friendship.  See Brown, Body and Society, 399-403.  I do not think that this change of opinion is the result of a negative evaluation of friendship with women on his part or a lack of personal experience (cf. Elizabeth A. Clark, "'Adam's Only Companion': Augustine and the Early Christian Debate on Marriage," Recherches Augustiniennes 21 (1986), 157-8; Brown, Body and Society, 402; Reynolds, Marriage in the Western Church, 258) but is caused instead by his changed view of society.  For the late Augustine the pax cohabitantium (peace of those who live together) is no longer an extension of the ordo caritatis (order of love cf. De bono conj. III.3) that binds man and woman, but is at permanent risk of derailment on account of their contrariae uoluntates (opposing wills).

[29]. See De bono conj. XXIV.32.  In his interpretation of the sacramental character of marriage Augustine draws a parallel with the sacrament of ordination which remains valid even if a priest is removed from office.  By doing so Augustine appears to lend this treatise next to an anti-Manichean also an anti-Donatist character.  For an anti-Donatist subtext of the Confessiones, see Karl F. Morrison, Conversion and Text. The Cases of Augustine of Hippo, Herman-Judah, and Constantine Tsatsos (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992), 1-38.

[30]. See De bono conj. XVII.19: Ipsae quidem nuptiae in omnibus gentibus eadem sunt filiorum procreandorum causa qui qualescumque postea fuerint, ad hoc tamen institutae sunt nuptiae, ut ordinate honesteque nascantur (Deferrari 33: "Marriage itself among all races is for the one purpose of procreating children, whatever will be their station and character afterwards; marriage was instituted for this purpose, so that children might be born properly and decently").

[31]. See De bono conj. IX.9 (Deferrari, 21-22): Sane videndum est, alia bona nobis Deum dare quae propter se ipsa expetenda sunt, sicut est sapientia, salus, amicitia; alia quae propter aliquid sunt necessaria, sicut doctrina, cibus, potus, somnus, conjugium, concubitus. Horum enim quaedam necessaria sunt propter sapientiam, sicut doctrina; quaedam propter salutem sicut cibus et potus et somnus; quaedam propter amicitiam sicut nuptiae vel concubitus; hinc enim subsistit propagatio generis humani in quo societas amicalis magnum bonum est.  This passage has been noted by Elizabeth Clark.  Her observation that "a close reading of the passage shows he means that a large population gained through reproduction will give more opportunity for friendship, rather than that sexual intercourse builds "marital friendship", as modern readers might conclude" (Clark, "Adam's Only Companion," 153) appears to disregard how in ch. I.1 Augustine established a direct link between the friendship (amicitia) of Adam and Eve in paradise and the societal bond between humans (societas) in his own days.  See above n. 25.  Her remark further contradicts her earlier observation that in De bono conj. and De sancta virg. Augustine approaches marriage "from a non-reproductive viewpoint" (152).

[32]. See De bono conj. VIII.8: ...sed duo bona sunt connubium et continentia, quorum alterum est melius (Deferrari 20: "...but marriage and continence are two goods, the second of which is better").

[33]. See De bono conj. XXIII.28: Res ergo ipsas si comparemus nullo modo dubitandum est meliorem esse castitatem continentiae quam castitatem nuptialem, cum tamen utrumque sit bonum: homines vero cum comparamus ille est melior qui bonum amplius quam alius habet (Deferrari 44-45: "Therefore, if we compare the things themselves, in no way can it be doubted that the chastity of continence is better than the chastity of marriage.  Although both, indeed, are a good, when we compare the men, the one who has the greater good than the other is the better").  In XXIII.29 Augustine states that we should not compare individuals "in some one good."  Sometimes one person possesses some good or a positive quality that the other lacks, but the other may well possess a different good.

[34]. See De bono conj. XXIII.29 and 30, where Augustine ranks bonum obedientiae above the bonum continentiae (29), and calls obedience the mother of all virtues (30).

[35]. See De bono conj. XXI.25: Continentia quippe non corporis sed animi virtus est.  Augustine says that not even Christ had perfect continence of body, but of course he did have continence of soul.  In contrast to John the Baptist, for example, he did not abstain from food and drink (XXI.26).

[36]. See De bono conj. IX.9: Ex quo colligitur, primis temporibus generis humani, maxime propter Dei populum propagandum, per quem et prophetaretur et nasceretur Princeps et Salvator omnium populorum, uti debuisse sanctos isto, non propter se expetendo sed propter aliud necessario, bono nuptiarum; nunc vero cum ad ineundam sanctam et sinceram societatem undique ex omnibus gentibus copia spiritalis cognationis exuberet, etiam propter solos filios connubia copulare cupientes, ut ampliore continentiae bono potius utantur admonendi sunt (Deferrari 22: "In this regard it is gathered that in the earliest times of the human race, especially to propagate the people of God, through whom the Prince and Savior of all peoples might both be prophesied and be born, the saints were obliged to make use of this good of marriage, to be sought not for its own sake but as necessary for something else. But now, since the opportunity for spiritual relationship abounds on all sides and for all peoples for entering into a holy and pure association, even they who wish to contract marriage only to have children are to be admonished that they practice the greater good of continence").  Augustine makes similar remarks in XV.17: Non est enim nunc propagandi necessitas, quae tunc fuit; XXIV.32: Nec prolem autem carnalem jam hoc tempore quaerere....melius est utique et sanctius.

[37]. On this point my interpretation differs from that put forth by Pagels and Elliott.  Although they are sensitive to the element of projection in Augustine's view of the City of God, they see it as a temporal or political instead of an eschatological one.  See Pagels, Adam, Eve and the Serpent, ch. 5 "The politics of paradise" (98-126) and Elliott, Spiritual Marriage, 43-50.  Augustine refers to the City of God in De bono conj. XV.17 and especially XVIII.21: una civitas futura est habentium animam unam et cor unum in Deum with reference to Acts 4.

[38]. See De sancta virg. XIII.12: angelica portio.

[39]. See 1 Cor. 7:25, cited e.g. in De bono conj. XXIII.30 and De sancta virg. XIII.13.  In De sancta virg. XV.15 Augustine uses this same motto to interpret St. Paul's words in 1 Cor. 7:27 that it is better not to remarry when one is widowed.

[40]. In De sancta virg. XXXI.31 Augustine wants to speak not only about gloriossissima castitas but also about tutissima humilitas.

[41]. See De sancta virg. XLVI.47.

[42]. See De sancta virg. XLVIII.48.

[43]. See especially De sancta virg. XXVII.27: Gaudium virginum Christi, de Christo, in Christo, cum Christo, post Christum, per Christum, propter Christum.  Gaudia propria virginum Christi, non sunt eadem non virginum, quamvis Christi (Deferrari 174: "The delight of the virgins of Christ, from Christ, in Christ, with Christ, after Christ, through Christ, because of Christ.  The special delights of the virgins of Christ are not the same as those of non-virgins, although these be Christ's").  Here one encounters a new distinction between marriage and virginity, i.e., that between uti and frui which is so well-known from De doctrina christiana.  Whereas in De bono conj. XX.24 Augustine speaks about the use (usus) of marriage, it appears he only sees virginity as directly leading to the enjoyment (gaudium cf. frui) of Christ.

[44]. See De sancta virg. XXIX.29: Ubi enim nulla est invidentia, concors est differentia (Deferrari 177: "For, where there is no envy, variety is harmonious.")

[45]. See De op.mon. I.2.

[46]. See De op. mon. XXXI.39 and XXIII.28-29.

[47]. See De op. mon. XVII.20.

[48]. According to Rousseau Pachomius does not want the monks to interrupt their work during the synaxis.  See Philip Rousseau, Pachomius. The Making of a Community in Fourth-Century Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 80.

[49]. See De op. mon. XXVI.35.

[50]. See De op.mon. XXIX.37.

[51]. See Regula sancti Augustini I.8: Omnes ergo unianimiter et concorditer uiuite, et honorate in uobis inuicem deum cuius templa facti estis (Lawless 83:" Live then, all of you, in harmony and concord; honor God mutually in each other; you have become his temples").

[52]. See Regula VII.3: Disciplinam libens habeat (scil. praepositus), metum inponat. Et quamuis utrumque sit necessarium, tamen plus a uobis amari adpetat quam timeri, semper cogitans deo se pro uobis redditurum esse rationem (Lawless 101: "He shall willingly embrace discipline and instil fear.  While both are necessary, he shall strive, nevertheless, to be loved by you rather than feared, mindful always that he will be accountable to God for you").

[53]. See De op. mon. XXV.33: Nec attendendum est in quibus monasteriis, vel in quo loco, indigentibus fratribus quisque id quod habebat impenderit.  Omnium enim Christianorum una respublica est (Deferrari 378: "Nor must attention be paid to which monasteries or in what place the rich man has given to the needy brethren that which he possessed, for there is one commonwealth of all Christians").  But notice the comment by Rist, Augustine, 253, that Augustine has the tendency "to confuse the ideal with the actual."