Redeeming Augustine, Redeeming the Body: Critiquing Popular Readings of Augustine’s Theology of the Body and their Historical Consequences
Fourth-century bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine, formed a theology of the body that has a profound influence on Church history and modern Catholic thought. Much of his influence, however, is muddied by the receptive history of his work. Later theologians, such as John Calvin, used Augustine’s theology to form their own thought without regard for Augustine’s inner turmoil as a particular and conflicted man experiencing his place in time: living with intersectional identities during the waning of the Western Roman Empire. Without a careful, methodical approach to treating Augustine as both singular and universal, we become potential subscribers to damaging derivatives of his theology. The consequences of Augustine’s receptive theology, namely in Reformist thought, manifests in the colonization both of South Africa and North America. Contemporarily, the veins of ascetically influenced conceptions of morality impact how we regard women as ethical and dignified beings. However, Augustine did not only form bodily theology, and that his influence is most obvious in regard to the body is reflective of cultural preoccupations with sex and lust. Augustine’s work on the Eucharist and the Trinity may serve as correctives to his bodily theology and its derivatives—both emphasize wholeness and relationship, rather than shame and sin. In order for Augustine to be meaningfully evaluated as both a Church Doctor and a contributor to formative Western thought, he must be taken holistically.