Saturday, March 29, 2008

Rape Counselor of Hippo, 413 C.E.

I've been reading Saint Augustine of Hippo's City of God. It is a rip-roarin' good time. Augustine has been very much maligned by some contemporary scholars, and I'm beginning to see how very wrong they are about him. For example: Augustine is said to have hated the body, sex, and women.

In City of God, I have noticed a remarkable sensitivity to the experiences of women, particularly the suffering of women due to Rome's war-mongering. Augustine devotes a significant portion of Book I to consoling Christian women who were raped during the sack of Rome, reassuring them that they have nothing to be ashamed of and that their chastity has not been compromised. He also tells them not to commit suicide, but is sympathetic toward women who have taken their own lives in grief.


Book III, chapter 21: Augustine is describing the depths of moral deterioration to which Rome sank in the period between the Second and Third Punic Wars. "In that very period," he writes, "the law called the Lex Voconia was passed, forbidding the appointment of a woman, even an only daughter, as heir. I cannot quote, or even imagine, a more inequitable law."

By his words may he be aquitted.

The quotation is from the Penguin Classics 1984 edition, translated by John O'Meara.

1 comment:

kellishares said...

I always thought that Augustine's issue was that, during his youth, he objectified and used women, and then when he realized it was wrong, he recoiled against contact with women altogether. I thought that he had difficulty in having relationships with women, other than his mother, but he worshipped her rather than finding companionship with her. However, I'm glad to know that the old boy found sympathy in his heart for rape victims, and it sounds as if he did actually know them and relate to them as human beings.

On the inheritance question, though, did he mean that women should be allowed to own property in their own right, or that the property should pass to their husbands, who were more closely related than some distant male cousin? Just wondering, not that it really matters, as the world was quite different at that time, and I don't expect the same sort of omniscience from Augie as I would from God.