How St Augustine made Sex Evil


St Augustine and his mother, Monica

I recently read an article by Stephen Greenblatt in the New Yorker about St Augustine, who fomented the worst turn in Christianity. He came up with the idea that all sexual urges are sinful, all sex is somewhat sinful, and the only people who were born without sin were the two who were born without sexual intercourse: Adam (and Eve) and Jesus. Along the way he had to invent original sin and predestination to make his theology work.

St Augustine has probably done more to tear down real Christianity than any other church father.

St Augustine was born to Patricius, a pagan father, and Monica, a Christian mother, about 300 years after Jesus. His father was unfaithful and sometimes mocked Monica’s belief. Patricius took Augustine to the public baths one day when Augustine was around 16 years old, and was thrilled to see his son’s boner. He brought his son home and announced to his wife that his son had a wonderful man’s boner and would soon be using that boner to produce children, and wouldn’t they be proud of their grandchildren? (First of all, was Augustine traumatized by his Dad pointing out his boner at the public baths?) Augustine’s mother was horrified by the prospect of her darling son having carnal sex. Augustine writes that his mother, “in whose breast God had already started to build his temple…endured a violent spasm of reverent, tremulous trepidation.” (Augustine seems unaware of how much sexual energy he attributes to his mother’s chaste attitudes toward sex.)

Monica impressed upon her son that sex was evil, carnal and ungodly. “She made a considerable bustle,” Augustine writes in his Confessions to God, “to insure that you, my God, were my father rather than him.”  Patricius died the following year, and Augustine does not sound sad when he records his passing, even though his father and his father’s mother had converted to Christianity that year.

Augustine was split between his mother’s view of sex and his father’s view of sex. He began studying to be a lawyer at the university of Carthage, had a series of affairs (he describes as “putrid rutting”), and took a mistress. For the next 14 years he remained faithful to his mistress, and had a son, Adeodatus.

His mother Monica, was upset that he had studied Manichaeanism, the belief that there are two opposing forces in the world: good and evil. She cried and wept as if Augustine had died. When he prepared to leave for Rome and Milan for a promotion as a university lecturer in philosophy, she wept: “She was hanging onto me coercively, trying to stop my journey or come along with me on it.” He told her a lie to get away from her. Augustine describes her longing as “carnal desire” or “physical longing”, the curse that Eve had to bear after tempting Adam with the fruit in the Garden of Eden.

In Milan Augustine listened to the sermons of Ambrose and began to soften in his view of the Biblical stories, beginning to see them as stories of profound mysteries. And his mother moved in with him. She arranged a marriage to a suitable girl of status, who would be marriageable age in two years, and arranged for Augustine to send his mistress and son away.

Augustine writes, “My heart, which had been fused with hers, was mutilated by the wound, and I limped along trailing blood.” His mistress vowed never to take another man. He sent the mistress and son back to Africa where she came from, never to support them or hear from them again, and quickly took another mistress as he waited for his fiancee to become old enough to marry. He expects the reader to understand the difference between a legal marriage for the purpose of bearing children, and “a deal arising from lustful infatuation.”

Within a year he converted to Catholicism, broke off his engagement, took a vow of chastity and determined to go back home and found a monastic community. He was diving headlong into his mother’s dreams.

The day before Augustine and Monica sailed for Africa they concluded that their joy was much greater than anything carnal, this was the joy of the saints and nothing carnal could compare with it. Then they experienced a physical feeling of climbing higher and higher, “stretching upward with a more fiery emotion,” “while we were speaking and panting for it, with a thrust that required all the heart’s strength, we brushed against it slightly.” When the 32 year old Augustine and his 55 year old mother were done, they sighed. (Notice the sexual wording Augustine uses in this description.)

A few days later, Monica died. Augustine’s Confessions then move on to discussing how evil sex is, and how everyone is born with the original sin that sexual intercourse implants in each one of us. Augustine dissects and re-dissects the story of Adam and Eve until he can get it to say that sex is evil, and no sex happened before the Fall.

Augustine broods for decades over the fact that we don’t have logical power over our sexual desires, and we can’t just command our sexual parts to procreate at appropriate times. He acknowledges that sex is the greatest physical pleasure, but insists, “surely any friend of wisdom and holy joys…would prefer, if possible, to beget children without lust.”

Augustine is horrified by the “very movements which it causes, to our sorrow, even in sleep, and even in the bodies of chaste men”.

The biggest voice that disagreed with Augustine was the British born monk, Pelagius, who believed that we are all born innocent. We are free to serve God or serve Satan.

Augustine said that was hopelessly naive. that we are in a mass of sin.

Pelagius countered that Augustine was just repeating the old Manichaean belief that the flesh was evil. This could not be, because clearly Christ had become flesh and dwelt among us, yet without sin.

Detractors of Pelagius said he was teaching salvation by works, or earning one’s salvation. Salvation by grace and forgiveness are the cornerstones of Christianity. Pelagius maintained that he was in no way teaching salvation by works, but his detractors won the battle.

Augustine said that Christ was born of a virgin, conceived of “not flesh but spirit, not lust but faith,” therefore without the original sin of Adam stamped upon his spirit, “lust being utterly absent.”

AdamEveSo Augustine delved deep into the story of Adam and Eve. After the fall they knew that they were naked and felt ashamed. That was the dawn of lust, as far as Augustine was concerned. That is when the first sinful boner occurred. His mother had been proved right and his father had been proved wrong.

Pelagius was eventually excommunicated for heresy, believing that we have the power to obey God of our own free will. This “heretical” doctrine is still in practice with the Churches of Christ, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Eastern Orthodox, the Coptic Church, Judaism, and others.


Illustration from John Milton’s Paradise Lost

Augustine shows all the signs of emotional incest. Parents who are split in their childrearing. A mother who is horrified by sex (probably having been sexually traumatized as a child). A son who tries to rescue his mother from her trauma, but who only reinforces it. A son who is taken over by his mother as an emotional spouse, sending his mistress and his son, whom he loved dearly, away, and vowing never to have sex again.

Augustine is histrionic: overly dramatic and easily influenced by his mother. Histrionics usually are ignored by the same-sex parent and made into a mini-spouse by the opposite sex parent.

The Christian world has been duped by sexually traumatized people. John Calvin based his theories of predestination on St Augustine’s: Humans, born in sin, cannot of their own free will choose God, they have to wait  for God to choose them. God knows who he will choose before they are born, therefore we have been predestined to heaven or hell before we are born. Nobody can complain about this because we all have fallen short of the glory of God through our progenitors, Adam and Eve.  Truly one of the most evil doctrines ever foisted upon Christianity.

Sex is exactly the way God designed it. (Yes, we live in a fallen world. Yes, nobody has a perfect sexuality). But to decide that sexual desire itself is evil? Only a traumatized person could come up with that theory.

Our spirits are housed in a physical body. We have only to look at animals to see what natural human bodies function like. We have spirits that live inside animal bodies.


“You will realise that doctrines are the invention of the human mind, as it tries to penetrate the mystery of God. You will realise that scripture itself is the work of human recording the example and teaching of Jesus. Thus it is not what you believe (in your head) that matters; it is how you respond with your heart and your actions. It is not believing in Christ that matters, but becoming like him.”


About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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8 Responses to How St Augustine made Sex Evil

  1. garycummings says:

    Well Mark,
    I have followed Pelagius’ view my entire Christian life, since 1964 when I was saved.
    Since then, I have studied the writings of Augustine and Calvin. I found them both morally and theologically reprehensible. The doctrine of original sin was sex in Augustine’s view and was evil. Per Paul Johnson, the eminent British historian, in his great book THE HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY, quoted Augustine: “There it is-the penis! That is the source of original sin!” (my paraphrase). Augustine concocted the doctrine of original sin and from that everything else: predestination, just war, the church-state called Christendom and Christian approval of torture.
    Augustine called upon Rome to wage war on the Donatists in North Africa, for their refusal to tkae back apostate lasped clerics . He condoned the use of torture against heretics because of the Scripture “Compel them to come in.” These are the words of Jesus about inviting people to come to the Kingdom of Christ. Augustine took this as permission to torture heretics.

    Back to Augustine and sex. Augustine was a Manichae and brought that into the Christian faith. He held the view, through enmeshment with his mother, that all sex was evil.My first wife was like that. She thought that sex was something “men had to have”., rather than a living giving of each to the other. Being naked in the Garden of Eden was not the original sin, as previously the text says that God created men and women naked, and that was good. That is how it was meant to be. The sex urge of both men and women was normal, as was the fulfillment of that desire. So nudity was not sinful and the sexual desire was not evil and certainly the sex act was not sinful. God made us to be fulfilled in that way. I think it is time to accept nudity and human sexuality as normal and desirable. Lust is wrong, but that is not caused by nudity or sex. It it the illicit desire to wrong have sex with someone not yours and planning to act upon that. Just my two cents.

  2. Mark says:

    The idea that any and all sexual desire was evil permeated the cofC and led to many younger people being condemned to hell from the pulpit. I heard this and wondered what special line to God the men preaching had but presumed they did. This led to many people leaving the cofC and some gave up the faith. Meanwhile, some of the condemned, still attempting to avoid hell, wished they did not have any normal desires and suppressed to an extreme any feelings they did have which was not healthy and led to bad relationships and likely doomed marriages. Still others wondered why God would give them something only to send them to hell for merely having it. Even the forced separation of the two genders (think cofC colleges) did a lot to hurt people.

    • garycummings says:

      Yep, I agree with that. My COC raised wife thought only men wanted sex because they had to have it. Her view of sex was very weird. I was raised in a normal semi-pagan military home. My parents were not that affectionate before us kids, but we knew things happened. My COC wife would only let me see her naked just long enough to “do the deed”. Then she covered back up. When I tried to hold her, my hand was usually slapped.
      I thought if God gave me this desire, why did He not give it to her? All I wanted was a normal sexual relationship. I was a virgin till the honeymoon, which was a disaster. That night she told me to just roll over and go to sleep and I would get what I wanted in the morning. She went to the bathroom, and came out naked. She flopped on the bed and said let’s get this done. I tried, but to no avail. I thought it would be more romantic and loving. It was none of that. Our whole marriage was one of sexual rejection till she left for the last time. I was devastated and felt rejected. Why did God do this to me? It took me years to get sexually healed. I married a woman later who was sensual in the Godly sense of the word, and our sex-life was normal and great. She is a devout Christian as well. That was 36 years ago. I always wondered what happened to her. I do not believe she remarried. Probably a good thing.

  3. It’s not just CoC women and men who have sexual stigma. The conservative evangelical denominations have done a number on it. It is good to see why sexual desire has been vilified in church history. However, to move forward I look to the Song of Solomon as a guideline in how God views sexual relations. It is celebrated. It is sensual. God creates boundaries for our sexual response to be within marriage. Obviously, that is the healthiest and holiest way to show sexual expression, but there is a whole lot of leeway in the marriage bed. There are a handful of women writers (myself included) within the Christian world who are trying to help undo the negative notions of sex and reveal God’s sexual theology, not Augustine’s.

    • garycummings says:

      A great book by Ed Wheat is great, per my wife, INTENDED FOR PLEASURE. It is about the the purpose of the clitoris and sexuality. My wife really likes sex, and she says this book helped her a lot. I read it as well, and it is liberating to think that God actually meant for men and women to experience sexual desire and pleasure.

      • Yes, that is an excellent book! There are a whole slew of Christian sexual intimacy books and blogs out there now. It’s an exciting revolution to watch, a godly sexual revolution. 🙂

    • Germán says:

      According to Augustine we will be resurrected with our sexual organs intact and they will be, if possible, more beautiful there than they are here. But our sexual organs will no longer serve a reproductive purpose. Penises and vaginas—all these body parts will be immortal but supernumerary. Some might argue that such anatomical impedimenta will be carried into eternity only by aesthetics like trophies. But even so the prospect of having organs that are both eternal and eternally useless is a rather peculiar one.
      Because even without procreation genital intercourse is unitive. The Song of Songs contains no reference to the procreative function of sexuality. The pleasure of the bedroom rather than the results for the nursery occupies the poet’s concern here. Lovemaking for the sake of love, not procreation, is the message of the Song. This is not to imply that the Song is hostile to the procreative aspect of sexuality: The lovers allude to the beauty of their own conception and birth. But in the Song sexual union is given independent meaning and value; it does not need to be justified as a means to a superior (i.e., procreative) end. It seems odd that penile-vaginal intercourse is automatically excluded from the new creation.
      Might not a part of the reason for Jesus’ response be the way that the woman was being treated like a possession, passed around from man to man as an inheritance? We need to be careful, I think, about projecting too much of our understanding of how marriage works back onto a very different time and culture. Jesus’ response could have simply been about marriage as a contract, a contract which terminates on death. Relationships are a different matter, whether sexual or otherwise. There would be the possibility that physical/genital acts continue in Heaven but it will serve a unitive purpose and mutual delightamong the blessed with no reproduction?

    • Germán says:

      The Song of Songs invites us to intensify our desire for sex and play. The by-product is to increase our desire for an Edenic sexuality that will only be fully possible in the new heavens and earth.
      This of course brings up the question of whether there will be sex in heaven. Why would we think that a divine gift as enjoyable and pleasurable as sex would be lacking in heaven? Thinking about sex in heaven may be just what Christians need to love passionately and well here on Earth. it could be so should inspire Christians in this world to make pursuing virtuous and pleasurable sex a priority. If sex is so central to who humans are as embodied, loving beings that it continues in heaven, then it follows that believers have an obligation to cultivate sexual desire and churches should be helping them do that. Then the practice of sex would, like prayer, become something to pursue. By practicing well, we become more of the kind of people we are called to be.

      God created paradise with humanity ordered in pairs, then paradise restored must also include this fundamental unit.

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