29 November, 2005

The dignity of pleasures of the body

It's not enough that Millinerd has an excellent post on how Christianity does not, in fact, hate the body or its pleasures. Noooooo, he has to go and link to an excellent article by David Hunter that presents St. Augustine, of all people, as one of the most insightful Christian lovers of the body. You might not be convinced by the following quote:

For a kind of dignity attaches to the ardor of the pleasure, when in the act whereby man and woman come together with each other, they have the thought of being father and mother.
Surely, however, you can be intrigued by Dr. Hunter's commentary that
Here Augustine has stated a theme that is often overlooked by those who see him as entirely hostile to pleasure or sexual activity. He clearly regards sexual intercourse between married persons, when engaged in for the sake of procreation, as something good. The good consists not only in the production of children, but also in a change that occurs within desire itself. The evil of unrestrained sexual desire - that is, the lust or concupiscence of the flesh - can be directed towards a good purpose and even transformed, so to speak, when it is utilized for procreation.
(emphasis added)

One of the interesting aspects of this article is that it refers to a sermon of St. Augustine's that was discovered only in the last 20 years. Here's an interesting observation:
The main theme of this sermon, which was composed around the same time as The Good of Marriage, was to dissuade married persons from undertaking vows of celibacy without the consent of their partners. It might seem surprising that Augustine had to face the problem of too many people avoiding sex, but this was not an uncommon phenomenon in his day and he had to deal with it in several letters, as well as in his sermons. ...It is significant that Augustine chose to portray sexual activity in marriage, when motivated by the virtue of fidelity, as an act of love, mercy, and even self-control.

I'm cherry-picking here, and Dr. Hunter certainly doesn't mean to imply that Augustine's view of sexuality was all roses. However, this is certainly a more enlightening picture than I have seen presented before, even from those who aren't among St. Augustine's numerous modern critics.

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