How can this apparent clash of principle and attitude be reconciled?
It would be a complicated and possibly useless matter to cross-examine Augustine in terms of any understanding of gender relationships and of sexism today, because his cultural world was so different to ours.
Even the term and concept of sexism was not current in his time.
To give a few examples of the difference between the fourth century of Augustine and the Western culture of today: firstly, marriage of a man to a woman of a lower social class was not legal in the time of Augustine.
This probably meant that the cohabitation of Augustine with his concubine
of over twelve years was as far as that relationship could have legally proceeded.
Furthermore, the sharing of heart and soul that today is considered as a loving relationship between the sexes was in the time of Augustine thought best to be realised between two male friends.
A male did not socialise with a female, or expect sensitive or intelligent conversation from one.
A close relationship of Augustine with another male involved his unnamed friend from his years of childhood in Tagaste, who died when Augustine was back in his native town at the age of nineteen years in 375.
Augustine said that this was "a friendship sweeter to me than all the joys of life." (Confessions 4, 4-7)
Jesus envisioned eternal life for every human being regardless of their gender. He recognised a partnership of equality between women and men in the New Covenant.
In practice, women were among the closest associates of Jesus. After his death on Calvary they continued to preach and furnish material support to the mission that was continued in His Name.
The early history of the Christian church demonstrates the active role women played in sustaining and disseminating the faith.
Even so, numerous apostolic letters exhibit the ambiguity of early attitudes toward women (e.g., 1 Corinthians 11:3, 5; 1 Timothy 2:12; Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 5:22-33).
In later generations, certainly by the time of Augustine, women preachers were viewed with extreme suspicion and the role of women in the church had been minimised to their care and instruction of women and girls.
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