You are here

26: Augustine on Lust and the Will

PART IV: From Stoic Agitations to Christian Temptations
26: Augustine on Lust and the Will
Augustine's views on sexual desire have been very well studied and on them I shall do little more than convey what others have said. But beyond that I should like to draw attention to some of the replies by Bishop Julian of Eclanum. Augustine's case against lust centred on the idea of the will. I believe Julian won the philosophical argument and showed that Augustine's objections failed. But he lost the political battle.

There is a contrast between Augustine and Evagrius for whom sexual thoughts we saw in Chapter 23 were not one of the more dangerous temptations.

Augustine tells his own story in the Confessions. At the age of 17 he took as a concubine or partner for fifteen years someone of a class that made marriage legally impossible. In the second year 472 contrary to intention they had a son1 much loved by Augustine. After that Augustine joined the Manichaeans for nine or ten years had no further children and is likely to have practised contraception. The Manichaeans thought the worst thing was procreation because it trapped divine soul in matter.2 Although they recommended chastity they allowed marriage to the second rank among their followers requiring only that contraceptive measures be taken through the rhythm method3 or through coitus interruptus.4
After fifteen years Augustine was a professor of rhetoric in Milan but wanted a loftier career with public office which would need to be purchased. So he needed to find an heiress to marry and with mutual pain sent his concubine back to Carthage keeping his son.5 His mother as a Christian wanted Augustine to marry and found a fiancee under the legal age of 12 for whom he needed to wait.6
So far Augustine had done nothing unusual. In Roman law (although local laws differed) long-term concubinage was a widely accepted and legally defined relationship enshrined in the sixth-century Digest of Justinian which draws mostly on pre-fourth-century Roman law. The relationship could be terminated by either party. The point of marriage for those classes to whom it was permitted was to secure property. Christians however demanded more than Roman law. A text of Hippolytus shows what the Roman Church required in the early third century. In some circumstances faithful concubines could be baptized. But a free man would have to give up a concubine whom he was not free to marry and find a wife.7 This was exactly what Augustine planned to do although he was not at this stage a Christian.
Although Augustine's behaviour conformed with what was expected both by Roman law and by Christianity he felt disgusted at himself and particularly at his captivation by lust. Before he joined his partner he was in a seething cauldron of lust.8 His life with her was ‘a bargain struck for lust’.9 When he left her he could not wait for marriage but took another mistress.10 He was deterred from becoming a Christian by the thought that he would have to give up sex11 and he describes his sexual torment.12
In the year 386 he converted to Christianity and decided not to go through with his marriage.13 He arranged to leave his teaching post in Milan and it is interesting that he did so in a perfect Stoic manner leaving quietly by choosing the summer vacation pleading ill health and doing so in order to lead a life of leisure (otium) and philosophy with companions in Cassiacum.14 This exactly conformed to the recommendation of Seneca in his Letters not only to retire to a life of leisure and philosophy but to make the move in an unostentatious way citing ill health.15 A similar earlier plan had foundered because of its incompatibility with marriage or in Augustine's case prospective marriage.16 Augustine was baptized with his son in 387.17 But instead of remaining in Cassiacum he returned to Africa in 391 becoming assistant bishop in Hippo in 396 and sole bishop in 397.
Defence of marriage against Manichaeans and Jerome
In 401 Augustine wrote On the Good of Marriage which he saw as a defence of marriage against the Manichaeans and against his ascetic fellow Christian Jerome even though he expressed the view which he held for the rest of his life that in sex marriage puts a bad thing to a good use. In thus favouring procreation he was certainly repudiating the Manichaeans in favour of family life.
At one point he struggles with the degree of sin incurred by a man and a woman who live together unmarried as he had until such time as he takes a wife. Although he does not excuse either it has been pointed out that he clearly seeks to mitigate his condemnation of a woman who like his own partner had subsequently remained unmarried and in that sense faithful:
There is a standard question whether this case should be called a marriage (nuptiae): when an unmarried man and a woman who is not the wife of another have sex (copulari) with each other not for the sake of producing children but for the sake only of intercourse itself (concubitus) on account of incontinence with this pact between them that neither will he do it with another woman nor she with another man. And perhaps indeed it is not absurd for this to be called marriage (conubium) if that has been decided between them until the death of either and if although not joined for the sake of producing offspring they have not avoided that either by being unwilling to have children born to them or by taking evil action to prevent their being born. But if both or one of these conditions is missing I do not see how we can call it a marriage. For if a man takes some woman to himself for a time until he can find another woman worthy of his position or capacities to marry as his equal he is an adulterer in his mind not with the woman he wishes to find but with the woman with whom he sleeps in such a way as not to be a married companion to her. The same is true of the woman who knows this and is willingly and impudently conjoined anyhow with a man with whom she has no conjugal treaty. None the less if she keeps faith with him and when he takes a wife does not contemplate marrying herself and prepares to withhold herself from any such act perhaps I would not easily dare to call her an adulteress. But who would say that she did not sin when he knows that she was conjoined with a man to whom she was not a wife?18
Augustine in this treatise celebrated as the three goods in marriage children fidelity and something uniquely Christian the sacramental bond. In addition it has been shown by others that Augustine repeatedly praises the companionship in marriage of which he found a star example in the supposedly sexless marriage of the Virgin Mary and Joseph. At the same time it has been brought out how this view is in tension with his belief that the best intellectual companionship was between males.19
Counter-attack on Augustine's view by the Pelagians
Given his defence of marriage Augustine must have felt himself infuriatingly wrong-footed when much later he found himself accused by Pelagians as an opponent of marriage and Manichaean sympathizer. The Pelagian controversy developed gradually. Pelagius was a Briton who had come to Rome. By AD 410 his views were reaching Africa. He denied the doctrine which Augustine championed of original sin. According to this doctrine original sin was transmitted from Adam the first human to all humans through the lust of sexual union so that infants can be saved from guilt only by the unmerited grace of baptism. Augustine began replying in 412 with his On the Deserts of Sinners although the issue of lust took centre stage only when the controversy with Julian started.
Pelagius himself visited Carthage in 410. So later did his follower Julian before he became bishop of Eclanum in 416. In 418 the Pelagians were not for the first time but still more decisively condemned and Julian went into exile in Cilicia. But then the controversy between Julian and Augustine began. Already by 419 Pelagius had complained that Augustine's doctrine of original sin represented marriage as a bad thing and Augustine had replied.20 In 418 the condemned Pelagian bishops wrote to Count Valerius at the imperial court in Ravenna alleging inter alia that the views of Augustine on marriage were Manichaean. In 419 Augustine defended his views in book 1 of On Marriage and Concupiscence and sent a copy to Count Valerius. Julian wrote a reply probably in 419 in four books now lost apart from Augustine's reports and quotations. The reply was addressed to Turbantius and extracts were sent to Count Valerius and forwarded to Augustine. Augustine replied to the extracts with book 2 of On Marriage and Concupiscence around 421 and in Contra duas epistolas Pelagianorum (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians) around 420 and to the full text in his Contra Julianum (Against Julian) around 421. Julian extended his attack in eight books To Florus written around 421–3 again lost apart from Augustine's extensive quotations. Augustine was still replying when he died in 430 in his Contra secundam Juliani responsionem opus imperfectum (Unfinished Work against the Second Response of Julian) which is still surprisingly not available in English translation.21
Augustine was in a curious position. He thought he had decisively rejected Manichaeanism with its disapproval of procreation and marriage. Yet he was also opposed to the Pelagian view that lust (libido concupiscentia carnis—the terms are interchanged with carnis omitted when the context makes it redundant) is perfectly natural and calls only for moderation. On the contrary Augustine considered that lust as we know it is a punishment inherited through original sin from the time that Adam and Eve committed the sin of disobedience. He had then to explain right up to the end of the controversy how he differed from the Manichaeans.
Julian's view that lust calls only for moderation22 was the view that Augustine himself took about many other emotions.23 He had therefore to treat lust as one of the exceptions and he tries to distinguish it from other emotions24 as was seen in Chapters 24 and 25.
Lust's disobedience to the will as the ground for condemning it
The centre-piece of Augustine's attack on lust concerns its relation to the will the concept which he did more than anyone to crystallize. His complaint is that lust is not under the control of the will in at least two different ways. First thinking of the male's physical reactions Augustine objects that the organ's movements in lust are not under the control of the will. They are not moved by (moveri agi) nor under the power (potestas) or command (imperium iubere) of the will and do not serve it (servire) but are disobedient (inobediens) to it since they happen contrary to the will or fail to happen in response to it.25 One of the relevant passages was quoted in Chapter 24. It comes from City of God 14. 19 which was written in the same period as Julian's first attack on Augustine (AD 418–20). The point was made that Augustine failed to notice that the same is true of the physical reactions in anger (the reddening or bristling) because he did not appreciate the Stoic view that all these reactions are merely ‘first movements’ and do not yet imply the occurrence of the emotion itself. Conversely the actual behaviour of going after one's objective is under the control of the will in lust as much as in anger.
Augustine makes his points not only about the bodily movements but secondly about lust itself. It is not subject (subdita) to the will or to its approval (nutus) nor is it the servant of (servire) the will or commanded (imperari) by it.26 Indeed it actually fights against (repugnare) reason27 and is moved contrary to (contra) the will.28
The other complaints against lust tend merely to pick on symptoms of the central fact of its disobedience to the will. Thus the ultimate pleasure of orgasm excludes all thought including prayer.29 Other forms of disobedience are brought out in Augustine's newly discovered Letter 6 probably written at about this same time 420–1 or a little later to Atticus Bishop of Constantinople.30 Lust is importunate: molestful (molestissima) it intrudes itself (ingerit se) when not needed and tugs at (sollicitat) the hearts of the faithful and holy with desires that are untimely (importunis) or even wicked (nefariis). Again it leads a man to coveting other women indifferently. Augustine uses here and in many other places the word inordinata to say that lust is something unruly.31 The power of music over lust is another manifestation of the failure of the will to command it.32 Here Augustine cites the story of the Greek oboe-player and the youths which we saw in Chapter 5 used by Posidonius for the quite different purpose of arguing that the emotions are not judgements. Augustine's argument is in danger of proving too much that other emotions besides lust are independent of the will since music can control others too.
Augustine thinks that our shame at being seen by third parties when having sex is simply a consequence of the disobedience of lust and the male organ to the will. That is what shames us. The disobedience and the resulting shame are part of the punishment inherited from Adam's sin.33 Adam's sin was not lust but was itself an act of disobedience so that the punishment is a fitting one. Another part of the punishment is the pain endured by women in childbirth.
That Augustine's complaint against lust depends on its disobedience to the will emerges again in his treatment of animals. In the contrasting view of Julian God gave lust both to humans and to animals but to humans alone he gave the power of moderation (modus) and so in humans God blames not lust in moderation but only lust in excess.34 But Augustine's view rather like Proclus’ later is that lust in animals is all right in humans not because in animals there is no reason for lust to fight against whereas in humans lust does fight against reason.35 When Thomas Aquinas discusses the same issue he agrees with neither side: animals and after the Fall humans are inferior because neither can moderate lust by reason.36
Obedience to will before the Fall
It becomes still clearer that Augustine's objection to lust turns on its relation to the will when we consider his evolving opinions on the situation of Adam and Eve in paradise before they sinned and fell. Three stages in this evolution have been distinguished.37
First in De Genesi contra Manichaeos (On Genesis against the Manichaeans) of 388–9 Augustine thought of Adam and Eve as having had spiritual bodies not designed for procreation.38
Secondly in De Genesi ad litteram (Literal Interpretation of Genesis) written over the period 401–14 and in City of God 14 written in 418–20 Augustine ascribes to Adam and Eve sexual bodies designed for procreation although not in fact used before the Fall.39 If they had used their bodies then they would have felt neither lust nor pleasure.40 Their bodily movements would have been as much under the control of the will as are our hands or feet.41 In case this seems impossible Augustine gives examples of exceptional physical control including that of the musical farter.42
A third stage is found in the newly discovered Letter 6 of perhaps 420–1. Here Augustine introduces an ‘if’. If there was lust (concupiscentia carnis) in paradise he says twice at least the flesh did not lust against the spirit nor did it ever go beyond the approval (nutus) of the will. It was never present except when needed and never intruded itself on the mind with disorderly or illicit pleasure but followed the will with an easy and harmonious obedience.43
This letter also introduces the idea of a concupiscence of marriage (concupiscentia nuptiarum) which is distinct from concupiscence of the flesh (concupiscentia carnis) or lust since it is an appetite for legitimate offspring.44
In the treatise Against Julian of 421 the ‘if’ is replaced under pressure from Julian by an ‘either-or’:
[Marriage in paradise] had been going to exist through the genitals being moved like other parts of the body by the will not excited by lust or else through their being moved admittedly (certe) even by lust (libido) itself (so as not to depress you too much about it) but lust not as it now is but serving the approval (nutus) of the will.45
It remains therefore that either there was no lust (carnalis concupiscentia) there but their way of life was such that all necessities were fulfilled by the appropriate actions of their parts without the movement of any lust (libido)… or so that we may not seem to give too much offence to people who defend the body's pleasure in any way let it be believed that there was lust (libido) of the carnal senses there but such as to be subject (subdita) in every way to the rational will and not to be present except when the health of the body or the propagation of offspring was to be taken care of by it and to be present only in such strength that it would not in any degree bring the mind down from the pleasure of lofty thoughts and that no superfluous or untimely movement would come from it nor would anything happen through it that was not beneficial nor would anything at all be done for its sake.46
In the ‘or’ clause here the health of the body as well as procreation is allowed as a legitimate purpose.
In Against Two Letters of the Pelagians around 420 Augustine offers the Pelagians four alternatives believing they will choose the third which he says he will not resist (repugnare). According to this third option
That lust (carnalis concupiscentia) whose movement attains the final pleasure which delights you so much never arose in paradise except when it was necessary for procreating upon the approval (nutus) of the will. If it pleases you to locate this in paradise and you think that in that happy state children could have been generated through a lust (concupiscentia carnis) which did not anticipate nor delay nor go beyond the command (imperium) of the will we do not resist.47
A similar choice is offered in Augustine's last work the Opus imperfectum:
This evil did not exist in the body of that life where either there was no lust but even the genitals served the will or lust absolutely never moved itself against the choice of the will.48
It remains therefore that if there was lust there it was subjected (subdita) to the will in such a way as neither to draw the mind into sin nor provoke it into a struggle but to leave it upright and calm.49
Either therefore there was no lust there [in paradise] or it neither preceded nor exceeded the mind's will.50
Hence there was either no lust there or none such as there now is by which the flesh lusts against the spirit.51
The evolution of Augustine's view makes it still clearer that his objection is not to lust as such but to lust as it has inevitably and universally manifested itself since the Fall that is to lust disobedient to the will.
Thomas Aquinas is far more relaxed about the whole subject. He says that in paradise our nature and bodily state would actually have made the pleasure (delectatio) of sense greater. He compares how moderation by reason prevents us gulping our food without in any way reducing the pleasure of eating. So with paradisal bodies we would have enjoyed more pleasure through not gulping our sex. Thomas then says rather charitably that this is what Augustine himself had in mind.52
Julian's comparison of lust to hunger thirst digestion and sleep
Julian I believe located a very serious difficulty for Augustine which makes one wonder whether Augustine can correctly have identified what he found so objectionable about lust. In Against Julian 5. 5. 20 Julian is reported as having made an important distinction which I have not noticed in earlier thinkers between the command (imperium) and the consent (consensus) of the will. The male's physical movements admittedly are not under the command of the will but they have its consent. Moreover this makes them like hunger thirst and digestion.
The comparison is important although we must compare like with like. We must think of hunger and thirst not merely as needs of the body but as actual wants.53 For what we should compare with lust is the desire to eat and drink. Correspondingly what we should compare with the male movements is salivation and the subsequent digestion. The desire to eat or drink the salivation and the digestion are not commanded by the will although in healthy cases they may have the consent of the will. In unhealthy cases we shall see they may fight against the will. Why we may ask and perhaps Julian intended to ask does not this make them as bad as Augustine believes lust to be?
In the next section 5. 5. 21 it becomes apparent that Julian had discussed sleep as impeding the will's power over bodily movements. Eating and digestion of course can lead to sleep. Augustine sees no significance in his acknowledgement that sleep presses on men against their will (invitos premit) and impedes the will's power over the body. But why again does this not make sleep as bad as lust?
The subject of sleep comes up again in 5. 10. 42 where Augustine concedes to Julian that sleep extinguishes thought about its restorative purpose just as lust in sexual intercourse extinguishes thought about its procreative purpose. Thus sleep shares yet another of the characteristics for which Augustine condemned lust. Julian's point that sleep extinguishes thought is repeated by Thomas Aquinas.54 What Augustine says in reply is that sleep does not make the parts of the body disobedient (inobediens) to the will because it rather divorces the will from that kind of command (imperium). The point is presumably that sleep does not oppose the will. But Julian had already provided the answer that lust need not oppose the will. It normally has the will's consent even if (like sleep) it lacks the will's command.
Augustine concedes in 5. 5. 22 that hunger and thirst are an evil (malum) that we would not have had to endure in paradise. But he means that they are a disadvantage not that they are reprehensible. Furthermore he pleads that they are needs (indigentiae) which we must satisfy to prevent injury or death. Lust is not necessary in this sense. This point as we saw in Chapter 18 had already been made by Epicurus. But Epicurus drew the reasonable conclusion that the appetite for sex unlike the appetite for food is not necessary.55 This falls a long way short of explaining why one should be condemned the other not.
It could be added to Julian's case that lust is not alone in being importunate. The desire to eat and drink is more so coming on as it does at least three times a day and allowing less choice of postponement. Augustine himself acknowledges this in his description of a baby bawling for its wet-nurse.56 Sleep is not dissimilar. Moreover the desire to eat drink or sleep spreads even more than lust far beyond the act itself to control the daily timetable and the opportunities left free for work or social interaction. Augustine found lust particularly importunate but that is as I shall say below because he had other reasons not articulated for thinking it bad.
Lust may lead people to covet indifferently. But given models of marriage more favourable than Augustine's for example Plutarch's that may be a matter not of constant but of occasional struggle or none. Moreover it too has its parallels since cooking can tempt us to overeat or hunger to steal.
There is worse to come. There are such modern eating disorders as anorexia which can lead to death through voluntary starvation and bulimia the disease of binge-eating. Ancient eating disorders were differently conceived from these modern ones but were equally out of control. Starvation had actually been encouraged by Augustine's contemporary Jerome in the case of Blaesilla the widowed daughter of Paula. Jerome had encouraged her to starve to prevent sexual temptation in a widow and was anxious to defend himself when as a result she died.57 It is not only the desire for sex that can get out of hand. Here aversion from food does so because of aversion from sex. We have also seen in Chapter 23 Evagrius warning against the temptation to engage in excessive fasting and coupling this with a warning against its concomitant excessive vigils.58
There are parallels in nutrition for Augustine's complaint that the male's movements are present or absent independently of the will. That digestion can fail or salivation occur independently of the will hardly needs to be pointed out. It is also true that in fasting some people claimed they were unable to eat in some cases to their own regret while others experienced hunger alternating with revulsion.59
The only remaining feature of lust60 among those mentioned which has no parallel in the sphere of eating is the universal desire for privacy. Though fasters are sometimes ashamed of eating and do not want to be seen61 this is not a universal phenomenon. Admittedly in the context of sex the Cynic Crates had argued that the desire for privacy was misplaced and insisted that his wife should not cover herself when engaging in sex in public. And Julian cites the case of Crates and of animals in order to challenge the universality of the desire for privacy. He also gives many examples to show that shame at nakedness is not universal including the Apostle Peter and the Scots. Indeed he takes it and modern anthropologists agree that some races are not only naked but have sex in public.62 Augustine answers that the Cynics are a single perverse instance. In the City of God Augustine had even questioned whether the Cynic Diogenes would have been able to have sex publicly and whether he was not merely acting.63 As for animals they have no shame but Augustine would not expect them to since their lust does not war against reason. The test case for Augustine is that of Adam and Eve who we are told had no shame before their disobedience but only after. This calls out for explanation he thinks. His explanation is that it was because as a punishment for their disobedience their bodies or rather the male body no longer obeyed the will. Augustine might have tried to answer Julian's comparison of hunger thirst digestion and sleep by pinning his whole argument on the one point about shame. It is not after all the will's lack of control he might have conceded but our shame at that lack of control which reveals lust to be an evil. Since that shame started only after Adam and Eve's disobedience the only explanation is that it is a punishment transmitted to us for that disobedience. Augustine has set a challenge in asking us to explain the desire for privacy. Is it (I owe the question to Alex Rosenberg) because orgasm distracted our ancestors from predators? But whatever the explanation Augustine's is not satisfactory. It leaves female shame underexplained. It depends on a literal interpretation of Genesis. It offers as we shall see Julian complaining on a related issue no genetic explanation of transmission. In any case Augustine is not willing to abandon his appeal to the will's lack of control as itself already showing lust to be an evil. That leaves him exposed both to the complaint that other emotions too like anger involve unruly first movements and to Julian's objection that lust has the consent of the will as much and heeds the command of the will as little as hunger thirst digestion and sleep.
The will's opposition presupposes rather than grounding evil
There is a more general reason why disobedience to the will cannot provide an ultimate ground for regarding lust as evil. Augustine's Letter 6 brings out vividly the importunate disturbance that he felt as a result of lust being against his will. But I think it must be wrong to take the fact of its being against the will as the reason for its badness. For it is against one's will only if one thinks it bad for other reasons. If one thinks it bad for other reasons then the importunity will indeed be an extra evil. But it remains to be seen what those other reasons are and whether they are universally applicable to everybody.
I sympathize with the Stoic view that what can be wrong for one person can be right for another—suicide for Cato in Cicero's example.64 Lust was surely wrong for Augustine given his unique history but what he was seeking was a reason for its being wrong for everyone.
An other-worldly rationale for Augustine
There is a strand of thought in Augustine which would provide an alternative and independent rationale for his attack on lust. If one's goal is that revealed in Confessions books 12 and 13 to be like those in the heaven of heaven wrapped in the contemplation of God shedding both memory and expectation then anything sensory can be a distraction. In this mood Augustine criticizes himself for enjoying the tunes of the Psalms or for still stopping to watch dogs chasing a hare in the countryside.65 Much more consuming and riveting is the sexual act which he condemns for distracting us from everything including prayer.66 Augustine says something parallel about marriage when he says that chastity is better because a married man must devote himself to his wife and for this he quotes Saint Paul.67 That is a perspective entirely different from what motivates Stoic belief in freedom from emotion. It is rather the perspective of Neoplatonism.
Consent of the will in dreams
So far we have seen Augustine focus on the absence of the will's consent. But in another context he had earlier stressed the presence of consent. Both can occur in lust but at different stages and both can make lust objectionable but in different ways. Augustine's question is whether the will's consent in a lustful dream constitutes a sin. The subject troubled Augustine far more than it had the pagan philosophers.
Plato had mentioned dreaming of sleeping with your mother as a sign of the beast within68 and there is some echo in Aristotle.69 Zeno the founder of Stoicism made the absence of shameful dreams a way of testing your moral progress70 and Epictetus thought that even in dreams the invincible person will leave no appearance untested.71 Porphyry however expects sexual dreams will still linger after you have abandoned all other sex in your progress from moderating the emotions to eradicating them.72
In Confessions 10. 3073 Augustine acknowledges that he still has sexual dreams and he implies that in them he sometimes gives consent (adsensus consentire consensio). For he contrasts the cases in which he gives no consent with the cases where ‘it happens otherwise’ (aliter accidit) and he looks forward to the time when through God's grace his soul will no longer so much as consent.
There has been at least one admirable study of how Augustine did or might reduce the culpability of sexual dreams.74 But Augustine's acknowledgement that he sometimes consents still remains a difficulty. For elsewhere we have seen he discusses Christ's saying that he who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.75 Part of Augustine's explanation is that it is the consent (consensus consentire) to the desire which makes looking a sin. How then does consent in dreams differ?
I think Augustine may have a solution to offer although he is not discussing the present question when he adds a gloss which he also repeats elsewhere.76 The consent condemned by Christ he says is so complete (plene) that it would be acted on if opportunity arose. Presumably consent in a dream might be acted on if a dream opportunity arose but not necessarily if a real opportunity arose.
The other part of Augustine's explanation of looking at a woman to lust after her was noticed in Chapter 24. To look at a woman in this way is to look at her precisely in order to arouse lust where none necessarily existed before.77 It is much more obvious why this might be considered culpable. Augustine contrasts mere titillation (titillare).
A fuller answer for Augustine to the problem of dreams would have been to say that sleep is like a drug.78 It impairs the will's ability to reflect and withhold assent while taking stock of the relevant considerations. This in fact is precisely why consent in a dream is not an indication that there would be corresponding action if a real opportunity arose. I doubt if Augustine articulates this idea. We have seen him saying that sleep divorces the will from command79 but he does not apply the point to this context. It is Thomas Aquinas who comes closer to this sort of answer. In conformity with Seneca he calls the male nocturnal emission a ‘first movement’ of sensuality and he says that it is sinless because reason is removed in sleep and cannot restrain it.80
Augustine attempts another explanation elsewhere81 that neither the images in dreams nor the resulting male movements can be helped. But here as we saw in Chapter 24 he fails to draw the sharp Stoic distinction between the involuntary male movements and the consent. What we want to know is why the consent is not culpable.
Consent to bypassing the will's consent
It might be asked how it can be the will's consent which makes looking at a woman a sin if we are later told that it is precisely the will's lack of consent that makes lust an evil. I think there is no inconsistency here for two reasons. First Augustine can say that in the case in question both features are present consent and lack of consent. The consent of the will is consent to a train of events that increasingly bypasses the will. We have seen Julian and Augustine discussing some cases with a rather similar structure. Thinking about procreation can lead to the act which prevents you thinking about procreation and thinking about restoring your body can lead to sleep which prevents you thinking about restoring it.
The second point is that the question what makes lust an evil is different from the question why looking at a woman in Christ's example is a sin. It is a sin because as Christ's reference to adultery shows it is presupposed that the sex consented to is illicit sex that is sex not with one's lawful partner. The same is true in Augustine's example of a lustful dream. This is quite different from the further insistence that lust is in any case evil because of its shaming disobedience to the will.
The male perspective on will
In the course of discussing Augustine's treatment of the will in lust one objection I have made concerns his preoccupation with male physical reactions in explaining shame. The objection was that this leaves female shame underexplained. But a much more devastating point has been made about Augustine's male perspective.82 Lust for him is the mechanism by which original sin is transmitted.83 Yet he admits that a woman can sleep with (concumbere) a man through her will (voluntas) even in the absence of lust84 as Julian would agree.85 So it seems that it is due to males and not essentially to females that original sin is transmitted. This is not the interpretation that Augustine wants to give of Paul's remark that sin came into the world through one person (unus homo).86 Augustine holds Eve also responsible and takes Adam to be singled out merely because the male seed initiates procreation.87
Genetics and the will
I have focused on problems concerning the will. One last point of Julian's on this subject deserves mention. He asks Augustine how original sin can be in the seed for
how can it come about that a matter of choice (arbitrium) should be mixed with the creation of seeds?88
Julian is referring to Adam and Eve's choice of the will in their disobedience to God. The question is how an act of will can have genetic consequences. Augustine's answer unfortunately does not tackle genetics but presupposes the point at issue the existence of original sin.
Julian versus Augustine: assessment
I am inclined to say that Julian won the philosophical but Augustine the political battle. A factor in that victory I think must have been the immense skill with which Augustine invoked the authority of other Fathers of the Church for the view he is offering as seen in book 1 of Against Julian. This alone would have made it hard for Julian to get his case reconsidered. But to a philosopher that may be a matter of regret.
The situation is not unlike that which I have described elsewhere on our attitudes to killing animals.89 Augustine is a philosopher for whose genius I have repeatedly expressed my admiration.90 I know of no subtler treatment of the emotions than his Confessions nor a better introduction to Western philosophy. It is no part of my interest to attempt any futile disparagement. But even his weaker positions have been accorded authority and he deliberately sought authority for his views on lust. It is a good thing to know the weakness of his case against lust just as it is to know the weakness of his case for killing animals precisely because the Western tradition has been so influenced by it. With regard to lust his influence may help to account for our obsession with it. Just as in his case against animals so here he selected one view from the very wide range available in pagan philosophy. We have in Chapter 18 seen this range extending from Epicurus’ casual acceptance of lust and rejection of being in love to Plato's endorsement in the homosexual context of being in love and rejection of sex. To many myself included the Pelagian view that lust is a good thing which may be put to bad use is far more attractive than Augustine's view that lust is a bad thing which may in marriage be put to a good use. If Pelagius had prevailed on this and more generally on original sin a British theologian would have been at the centre of Western theology and Western attitudes to sexuality and to much else besides might have been very different.