Walsh, P.G.

Augustine: De Bono Coniugali De Sancta Virginitate


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St. Augustine of Hippo; Edited and Translated by P. G. Walsh, University of Glasgow (Emeritus), Oxford Early Christian Texts Series, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001, cloth hardbound, 200 pages.

De bono coniugali and De sancta Virginitate were written in the same year (AD 401). In them Augustine rebuffs the Manichees, who argued that marriage was evil, and the followers of Jovinian, who argued that the married state was as meritorious as that of virginity. The first work analyses why marriage is good, and the second why virginity is a higher good. Both are closely related to present-day controversies amongst theologians and social historians.

These two treatises have been neglected until recently, but lately there has been an outpouring of books and articles on the role of women in the societies of Rome and early Christianity. Moreover, Augustine has received and is continuing to receive enhanced attention in the English-speaking world. No new edition of these works has been published since 1900, and there is no contemporary English translation in print. This new translation and edition of the text will be of value both to readers who wish to consult the original Latin, and to those interested in the social history of early Christianity, and in the intellectual development of Augustine in his early years as bishop of Hippo.

In De bono conjugali (On the Good of Marriage) Augustine attempted to find a middle ground in the debate between Jerome and Jovinian concerning the virtues of celibacy and marriage. In the 380s and 390s Jerome had been the main advocate of an ascetic movement in Western Christianity that extolled the virtues of celibacy. He believed that marriage was simply a lower way of life. Jovinian, however, argued against these ideas. He believed that marriage was “equal in status with virginity if the married person led a virtuous life.” (Clark, p. 42) In response to these opposing views, Augustine conceded the superiority of virginity, while at the same time admitting the goodness of marriage. (Clark, p. 43)

In De sancta virginitate (On Holy Virginity) Augustine continued his search for a middle ground in the above mentioned debate between Jerome and Jovinian. Again, he upheld the superiority of virginity, but he also admonished those leading the celibate life not to consider marriage an evil or a sin. (Clark, p. 61)

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