The following has been adapted from a much longer essay in a forthcoming book by Theotokospress.
Augustine of Hippo infamously declared that sex was sinful even within loving marriages. It can be tempting for we anachronistic Illuminati to wag our fingers and scold his memory for being such a “prude,” but, as John Cavadini pointed out, “To fault Augustine in this context for not realizing that ‘sexual pleasure’ can enrich a couple’s relationship, or to assess Augustine’s views against our own more ‘positive’ view, may be, with all due respect, to beg the question.” In other words, before we dismiss Augustine, we should ask ourselves in what way he might have been right. Who is to say that sex – even within the confines of marriage – is always, or even mostly, a good thing? Perhaps Augustine was wrong. Or perhaps we like sex and prefer not to think too much about its spiritual consequences. Cavadini continues, “For Augustine, the question would not be whether sexual pleasure can enrich a couple’s relationship, but whether there is any sexual pleasure possible without a taint of violence or complacency (’self-pleasing’) in it.” The fact that Augustine thought there was sin in sex means that he thought of sex fundamentally in spiritual terms. He charted a middle way between the naïve Pelagianism of Julian of Eclanum, who saw conjugal sex as something innocent and harmless, and rigorist ascetics who would have every Christian don the black. These perspectives (the Pelagian and ascetic) only seem disparate, but they both share an anthropology which sees sex as something belonging merely to the flesh. For Augustine, sexual intercourse was a spiritual event with spiritual implications. In sex, Christian charity, sinful lust, the weakened will, and our divided loves meet in a moment of intense bodily pleasure. This makes sex, in a word, complicated.
Augustine did not think sex was inherently sinful. For Augustine, God create Adam and Eve male and female, and thus God intended our different sexual organs to serve a divine purpose. It is only lust that makes sex sinful. In our fallen state, our sexual desires, and thus our bodies, are never fully under our control. Eden was different: Continue reading “Augustine on Sin and Sex”
Let me start off by saying that it is not entirely accurate for me to say that Augustine mysteriously disappears from Bulgakov’s theology. He is more like a ghost, occasionally manifesting himself in the open, but most of the time he lurks in the dark corners of Bulgakov’s books, leaving his slimy ectoplasm between esoteric lines of prose. But “Mysterious Disappearance” sounds more intriguing than “the Invisible Augustine,” and I cannot resist the opportunity to plagiarize the wit of Tony Baker (who crafted possibly the best title for any paper I have ever heard presented anywhere).
I recently wrote that a Christian should not carry a concealed weapon because it violated the spirit of martyrdom and self-sacrifice the church tries to teach us. One common objection to this point was that to choose not to kill in the defense of another human being would be unloving. I agree. It would be unloving to the potential victim, and it would be unloving to the potential victimizer. In the Orthodox Church, killing in defense of self and country is still a sin. Continue reading “Why Killing in Self-Defense is Still a Sin”
When I was 13, I read This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti. The story is about the spiritual warfare that takes place between angels and demons in a small town. I was riveted. Only later did I realize how Manichean the whole thing was. In college, I questioned the very existence of angels. I asked myself, “Why does God need them?” If my flirtations with partial unbelief shock you, I just want to remind you: Frank Peretti! According to Joel Miller, the way angels have been packaged and marketed and, consequently, misrepresented in popular media is one reason people abandon belief in them (I do feel obliged to note the irony of the author’s statement juxtaposed against other products from his publisher.Continue reading “Review: Lifted by Angels”
Some evangelical Christians and black church leaders say we should not vote this election season because the choice is between a Mormon and a man who supports gay marriage. For them, “The lesser of two evils is still evil.” This saying implies that voting a candidate who is not Christian or moral enough would be sinful. This argument is straightforward, but it is also a modern version of the Manichean heresy.
The other day, my friend Joel Miller tweeted me about a blog post by Bart Gingerich on why progressives don’t like Augustine. I still haven’t figured out if Joel asked because I like Augustine and he sees me as “progressive” (I guess) or if he is in it for the entertainment value. Few things “get my nanny” like shallow analyses of politics or Augustine, and this article does both at once.