St. Augustine was one of the renowned early Christian theologians whose works have worked greatly to influence the modern literature and interpretations of the Bible. He lived in the years between 354 and 430 C.E., and his biography shows that he held the position of a bishop in the ancient Rome. His literal works have been widely read and debated. Among the most controversial position that has been widely evaluated was on the interpretation of Eve as presented in the third chapter of the book of Genesis. In his various interpretations of the chapter, Augustine points that gender equity has never been possible since the creation.
He argued that although rationality in the creation story showed that Adam and Eve were equal, they had the physical difference that dictated the gender. The inferiority of the woman could then be justified by way of creation from the man’s rib and the biblical teaching of subjectivity to the man. Accordingly, he has been perceived by the majority of his leaders as a chauvinistic theologian and one who blamed Eve and, in extension, women for the fall of man. For instance, Barrett notes that St Augustine’s writings could have played a significant role in informing the practices of the Western Christianity, which is accused of the denigration of women and sexuality. Therefore, it is imperative to evaluate the position of St Augustine in associating the gender differentiation with the fall into sin as noted in Genesis and commenting on the third chapter of Genesis where the Augustine associated Eve with the “carnal lust.”
The general discussion of Augustine’s work portrays the indifferences in genders during the creation story and the subsequent inferiority that arose through sin. His work could be shown to support the ideology that the Bible portrays one gender as inferior to the other. Although he argues that during creation, both the man and the woman were not the same, he points to a basic difference in the physical aspects. The respective bodies were created with the idea of procreation at the center of the union between man and woman (Saint Augustine 9). Consequently, the differences between the genders could be confirmed by the intention of God that human beings became sexual for the purpose of procreation. On the contrary, St Augustine furthers the argument that sin did not create the differences but exposed the inferiority of the woman to the man in various aspects.
In his book, The City of God, 12-14, Augustine uses the illustration of Eve as an archetype of God’s original intention of the character of women before the fall. He particularly acknowledges the character of Eve and her spiritual equality with the man Adam before the eventual fall. He indicates that the rational soul before the fall of man was based on the original plan to the people to have God’s image. The essence of rationality, as noted in writing, was about the ability of the two to perform the logical operations but with the ability to conceptualize the mind of God and eternal things (Saint Augustine 9). Accordingly, the two genders were equal before God, and none of the major differences noted today were experienced between the genders, befall the sin. Nevertheless, the same literature contrasts the character with the resultant personality after the two committed the sin. In the life after the fall, Augustine affirms that Eve and the women at large lost the Edenic equality with men and thus assumed the subordinate status. Consequently, the early writings of the theologian emphasized on the inferiority of women towards men (Ryan 721). Accordingly, women resulted in being under the authority of the men, giving birth in pain, and by extension, the lesser party in a marriage union. The theological expectation that women should honor and obey the men could be interpreted as an indicator of the woman’s inferior status to a man. In fact, that aspect of inferiority has been construed widely to invoke male chauvinistic practices even in the religious circles.
In the explanation, Augustine was careful while articulating God’s original intention in the physical attributes of Adam and Eve. Therefore, he asserts that God’s primal constitution of the human body included the differentiation of the genders into male and female. At the same point, Augustine would note on the goodness of the physical body of the humans as created by God; hence, the assertion held that the female body was equal in goodness as the male one (Murphy 367). God created the two for the purposes of procreation and in regard to the making of the human race. Consequently, the corruptible bodies of the two could become incorruptible through the process of spiritual maturation as Augustine puts it. Therefore, in his book The City of God, Augustine emphasized that God had the intention of procreation in differentiating the genders, even in Aden. As such, one can note that sexuality existed before man’s fall. Furthermore, the Edenic life portrays that God had both genders being spiritually equal and with an eternal purpose.
Therefore, Augustine emphasized that if sin did not occur in Aden, Eve’s rationality could have remained the subject of her rational love for God. Again, Augustine argues that the painful experiences during childbirth could not have been part of the life of women (Murphy 367). Finally, he avers that patriarchal coercion in marriage union would not be until the people sinned. However, in a different perspective, Augustine could argue that Eve was ontologically inferior to Adam and that she was not as rational as the man was. The explanation of the supposed inferiority was that the woman was created from the man’s rib, as recorded in the first and second chapters of Genesis.
Evidently, Augustine portrays the women as the inferior gender. However, he held the opinion that although the fall exhibited the differences between the man and the woman, the rational people that Adam and Eve were before the fall made them equal (Murphy 367). Accordingly, although he notes the inferiority of Eve to Adam, her lasciviousness was not to blame for the sin. On the contrary, he argued that because Eve was made relatively weaker physically, then her will was more susceptible to the serpent and hence the fall. Therefore, she was mistaken to believe that if she and Adam ate the forbidden fruit, they could secure an internal pleasure as supposed by the serpent. Again, the explanation points to another difference in Augustine’s exposition of the creation story (Ryan 721). He asserts that the desire for control and autonomy by Eve and Adam was more effective in explaining the sin as against the sexual sin as otherwise supposed. Consequently, Augustine reasoned that the greed for autonomy and power initiated sin. Moreover, he interpreted the desire of the authority to have been the main cause of the alienation of the soul and body and the lustful passions leading to death. Consequently, the inability of the human beings to control sexual passion resulted from sin as against causing the iniquity, as often said. Therefore, Augustine is shown to have a diverse perception of the differences between the male and female genders based on the scriptural reference of the first three chapters of the book of Genesis.
As evidenced by the analysis, Augustine is among the early commentators of the creation story whose contribution has influenced theological perceptions. For instance, he critically reviewed the scripture reference in the third chapter of Genesis. From his perspective, the woman was not initially weak as portrayed but rather equal to the man in sharing the eternal responsibility. The only difference that could be pointed out before the sin was the physical difference in the form of genders. However, Augustine argued that the woman was weak as she was created from the man’s rib. Again, after the sin, God pronounced judgments against Adam and Eve. Therefore, the woman has been portrayed as a weaker gender to the man, who must honor and be answerable to the man. However, the perceived inferiority has been criticized on informing chauvinism. In essence, although Augustine’s arguments could have equal opposition to the support of the women’s inferiority, he held to the position that equality can never be realized and that the woman can only be inferior.
Murphy, Francis X. “The Fathers of the Church.” Thought, vol. 23, no. 2, 1948, pp. 367-368.
Ryan, Edward A. “The Fathers of the Church.” Thought, vol. 25, no.4, 1950, pp. 721-723.
Saint Augustine. The City of God. Vol. 1. New City Press, 2012.