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St. Augustine of Hippo (November 13, 354 – August 28, 430)

Although same-sex friendships played a more important role in his emotional and personal life than relationships with women, his hostility to all forms of nonprocreative sexuality caused Augustine to condemn homosexuality. (Picture: "St Augustine and Monica" (1846), by Ary Scheffer)

Augustine was born in Thagaste, Numidia (now Algeria), to a Romanized family of Berber origins. Much of his youth and early adulthood was dominated by his mother Monica, a pious and spirited Christian. Having received a traditional literary education, he embarked on the career of a Roman rhetorician.

At about nineteen, he was converted to the "love of wisdom" by reading Cicero's Hortensius. Henceforth the promotion of a career would be balanced by intellectual and spiritual pursuits. Being repelled by the Bible's apparent "barbarity," Augustine drifted into Manichaeism. After nine years' involvement with this religion, he became disillusioned of its truth-claims. He traveled to Rome and, after a brief liaison with academic skepticism, was appointed imperial rhetorician at Milan. There he was introduced to Bishop Ambrose, a man whose spiritual intensity was matched only by his political ability.

Ambrose's allegorical method of interpretation largely reconciled Augustine to the Christian Scriptures. In addition, he became deeply influenced by the philosophy of Plotinus and Porphyry, and also began an attentive reading of St. Paul's letters. It was in this intellectual-religious context that Augustine committed himself to Christianity.

Although he proposed to himself an ideal of the Christian life conceived in terms of retirement, prayer, and study, and even established a monastic community at Thagaste, in 391 Augustine was press-ganged into the priesthood at Hippo Regius on the North African coast. Within five years, he was made Bishop. His experience in pastoral ministry, as well as his conflicts with the Donatists, appear to have extinguished the humanism of his youth. His later writings are grimly pessimistic.

Augustine's influence on the Western church has been incalculable, especially during the Middle Ages and the Reformation.

Augustine's condemnation of homosexuality should be evaluated within the larger context of his general hostility to all forms of nonprocreative sexuality, including heterosexual eroticism, which he finds almost as, if not equally, reprehensible. "Passive" homosexuality receives special censure on misogynistic grounds: Men should not degrade their bodies by using them as women do. He rarely, if ever, conceives of natural libido in a favorable sense.

In his youth, Augustine may have shared the easy bisexuality common in the ancient Mediterranean, as is suggested in Confessions 3.1. Again, as was common in his culture, his same-sex friendships appear to have played a more important role in his emotional and personal life than his relationships with women, except his mother. He denied the heterosexual companionate marriage, arguing that, if marriage were intended for companionship, men would marry other men.

Augustine's lamentation for the death of an unnamed friend (Confessions 4:4-6) is among the most moving examples of this sort of writing to be found in antiquity. Although it is debatable to what extent, if any, these passionate friendships were homoerotic, they express a sensibility that today is probably to be found, at least in Western industrial societies, only among gay men.

Citation Information
Author: Walton, Brad
Entry Title: Augustine of Hippo
General Editor: Claude J. Summers
Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture
Publication Date: 2002
Date Last Updated January 30, 2006
Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/augustine.html
Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL 60607
Today's Date August 28, 2012
Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.
Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates

Further Readings:

Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault by Jonathan Dollimore
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (September 26, 1991)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0198112696
ISBN-13: 978-0198112693
Amazon: Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault

Why is homosexuality socially marginal yet symbolically central? Why is it so strangely integral to the very societies which obsessively denounce it, and why is it history--rather than human nature--that has produced this paradoxical position? These are just some of the questions explored in Sexual Dissidence.
Written by a leading critic in gender studies, this wide-ranging study returns to the early modern period in order to focus, question, and develop issues of postmodernity, and in the process brilliantly link writers as diverse as Shakespeare, André Gide, Oscar Wilde, and Jean Genet, and cultural critics as different as St. Augustine, Frantz Fanon, and Michel Foucault. In so doing, Dollimore discovers that Freud's theory of perversion is more challenging than either his critics or his advocates usually allow, especially when approached via the earlier period's archetypal perverts, the religious heretic and the wayward woman, Satan and Eve.
A path-breaking book in a rapidly expanding field of literary and cultural study, Sexual Dissidence shows how the literature, histories, and subcultures of sexual and gender dissidence prove remarkably illuminating for current debates in literary theory, psychoanalysis, and cultural materialism. It includes chapters on transgression and its containment, contemporary theories of sexual difference, homophobia, the gay sensibility, transvestite literature in the culture and theatre of Renaissance England, homosexuality, and race.

Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods: An Exploration into the Religious Significance of Male Homosexuality in World Perspective (Haworth Gay & Lesbian Studies) by Ronald Long
Paperback: 198 pages
Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (July 31, 2004)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1560231521
ISBN-13: 978-1560231523
Amazon: Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods: An Exploration into the Religious Significance of Male Homosexuality in World Perspective

Compare worldwide religious regulations involving gay sex and masculinity!

Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods: An Exploration into the Religious Significance of Male Homosexuality in World Perspective is an eye-opening look at the traditions of particular religions and their edicts concerning gay sex. This book examines the origins of holy directives involving homosexuality—whether forbidden, tolerated, or mandatory—and establishes a link between theology, sex roles, and the sensitive issue of masculinity. This text draws a parallel between homosexuality and the idea of religion, suggesting that gay rights can be understood as a freedom of religion issue.

While most readers are familiar with the traditional Islamic, Christian, and Hebrew prohibitions against sex between two males, this book also reveals other historic religions from around the world that neither opposed nor looked down on homosexuality. Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods argues that masculinity is the universal theme that formed historical interpretation—warriors and men of high status could not be sexually receptive or “feminine” and still be called “men.” This intriguing text shows how the modern homophile movements are in effect redefining masculinity to obliterate the stigma of being a sexually receptive man.

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Tags: author: st. augustine of hippo, gay 100, gay classics, literary heritage
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