To summarise fairly the views of Augustine on sexuality in a few paragraphs is at best a difficult task, and at worst an impossible one.
Even a cursory reading of his Confessions
allows a reader to marvel at his frank references to the sexual challenges in his life.
These references are all the more marvellous when we consider the era in which he was writing.
Then there is the deeper question of whether he is painting himself more harshly than he needs to.
For a writer who went so far as to describe his adolescent self
as a "bubbling cauldron of vice", Augustine provides little in the way of serious evidence that he was an utter libertine.
In the Confessions
he revealed his adolescent sexual activity, and then his de facto relationship
with an unnamed woman of Carthage, but then he showed complete fidelity to this concubine for many years.
At that time his relationship would have been socially accepted, and even which the Christian church of his day would not have been absolutely condemned.
Certainly, his sexual impulses were a great source of anxiety to him. This is seen in his Confessions by the negative imagery he uses for them.
He describes his sexual impulses by the images of disease, disorder, and corruption. Desire is mud (2.2, 3.1), a whirlpool (2.2), chains (2.2, 3.1) thorns (2.3), a bubbling cauldron (3.1), and an open sore that must be scratched (3.1).
His negative views about sexual matters influences his equating of them with original sin.
This identifies Augustine as a major source of the negative attitudes on this subject in Western society.
Rather than talking about sexuality as an act, he talked about it as an interior state, a triumph of the carnal will over the spiritual will.
He proposed that all sexuality, all sensual pleasure involved the triumph of the carnal will.
Since sin was located in the carnal will and not the act, Augustine developed a rigorous puritanical attitude towards sexuality that would fixate European culture until the present day.
(Continued on the next page.)