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literature

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Augustine of Hippo (354-430)  

Although same-sex friendships played a more important role in his emotional and personal life than relationships with women, his hostility to all forms of nonprocreative sexuality caused Augustine to condemn homosexuality.

Augustine was born in Thagaste, Numidia (now Algeria), to a Romanized family of Berber origins. Much of his youth and early adulthood was dominated by his mother Monica, a pious and spirited Christian. Having received a traditional literary education, he embarked on the career of a Roman rhetorician.

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At about nineteen, he was converted to the "love of wisdom" by reading Cicero's Hortensius. Henceforth the promotion of a career would be balanced by intellectual and spiritual pursuits. Being repelled by the Bible's apparent "barbarity," Augustine drifted into Manichaeism. After nine years' involvement with this religion, he became disillusioned of its truth-claims. He traveled to Rome and, after a brief liaison with academic skepticism, was appointed imperial rhetorician at Milan. There he was introduced to Bishop Ambrose, a man whose spiritual intensity was matched only by his political ability.

Ambrose's allegorical method of interpretation largely reconciled Augustine to the Christian Scriptures. In addition, he became deeply influenced by the philosophy of Plotinus and Porphyry, and also began an attentive reading of St. Paul's letters. It was in this intellectual-religious context that Augustine committed himself to Christianity.

Although he proposed to himself an ideal of the Christian life conceived in terms of retirement, prayer, and study, and even established a monastic community at Thagaste, in 391 Augustine was press-ganged into the priesthood at Hippo Regius on the North African coast. Within five years, he was made Bishop. His experience in pastoral ministry, as well as his conflicts with the Donatists, appear to have extinguished the humanism of his youth. His later writings are grimly pessimistic.

Augustine's influence on the Western church has been incalculable, especially during the Middle Ages and the Reformation.

Augustine's condemnation of homosexuality should be evaluated within the larger context of his general hostility to all forms of nonprocreative sexuality, including heterosexual eroticism, which he finds almost as, if not equally, reprehensible. "Passive" homosexuality receives special censure on misogynistic grounds: Men should not degrade their bodies by using them as women do. He rarely, if ever, conceives of natural libido in a favorable sense.

In his youth, Augustine may have shared the easy bisexuality common in the ancient Mediterranean, as is suggested in Confessions 3.1. Again, as was common in his culture, his same-sex friendships appear to have played a more important role in his emotional and personal life than his relationships with women, except his mother. He denied the heterosexual companionate marriage, arguing that, if marriage were intended for companionship, men would marry other men.

Augustine's lamentation for the death of an unnamed friend (Confessions 4:4-6) is among the most moving examples of this sort of writing to be found in antiquity. Although it is debatable to what extent, if any, these passionate friendships were , they express a sensibility that today is probably to be found, at least in Western industrial societies, only among gay men.

Brad Walton

     

 
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The Coronation of St. Augustine as imagined by Spanish Painter Pau Vergós (d. 1495).
  
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    Bibliography
   

Boswell, John. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Brown, Peter. Augustine of Hippo. London: Faber and Faber, 1967.

Chadwick, Henry. Augustine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Walton, Brad  
    Entry Title: Augustine of Hippo  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated January 30, 2006  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/augustine.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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