St. Augustine is Totally Unreal

Over at the Two-Cent woman the hostess makes some comments about St. Maria Goretti, quoting St. Augustine.

It struck me in the thread that Augustine’s quotes were rather odd. I actually think the Saint was incorrect.

The Two-Cent Woman quotes him here:

St. Augustine taught this very clearly in The City of God, Chapter 18.  He wrote, “…purity is a virtue of the soul…what sane man can suppose that, if his body be seized and forcibly made use of to satisfy the lust of another, he thereby loses his purity? For if purity can be thus destroyed, then assuredly purity is no virtue of the soul; nor can it be numbered among those good things by which the life is made good.”  He goes on “I suppose no one is so foolish as to believe that, by this destruction of the integrity of one organ, the virgin has lost anything even of her bodily sanctity. And thus, so long as the soul keeps this firmness of purpose which sanctifies even the body, the violence done by another’s lust makes no impression on this bodily sanctity, which is preserved intact by one’s own persistent continence. ”

But the Saint is totally contradicted by Pope Pius XII:

Without warning a vicious stranger burst upon her, bent on raping her and destroying her childlike purity. In that moment of crisis she could have spoken to her Redeemer in the words of that classic, The Imitation of Christ: “Though tested and plagued by a host of misfortunes, I have no fear so long as your grace is with me. It is my strength, stronger than any adversary; it helps me and gives me guidance.” With splendid courage she surrendered herself to God and his grace and so gave her life to protect her virginity

The Pope is clear: St. Maria Goretti could have lost her virginity and her purity to a rapist. St. Augustine is wrong; virginity is a physical state that can be taken by force.

Later, Two-Cent Woman quotes the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Another question comes to mind as well, “Is a virgin still a virgin, if she is raped against her will?”  Yes, she is, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Virginity.  The entry explains in the very first two sentences, “Morally, virginity signifies the reverence for bodily integrity which is suggested by a virtuous motive. Thus understood, it is common to both sexes, and may exist in a women even after bodily violation committed upon her against her will. ”

The Catholic Encyclopedia is contradicted, again, by Pope Pius XII (and it’s talk of being a virgin “morally” is just nonsense):

Never has there been a time when the palm of martyrdom was missing from the shining robes of the Spouse of Christ [the Church]. Even today in our very degraded and unclean world there are brief examples of unearthly beauty. The greatest of all triumphs is surely the one which is gained by the sacrifice of one’s life, a victory made holy by the blood-red garments of martyrdom. When, however, the martyr is a child of tender age with the natural timidity of the weaker sex such a martyrdom rises to the sublime heights of glory.

This is what happened in the case of Maria Goretti, a poor little girl and yet very wonderful. She was a Roman country maid who did not hesitate to struggle and to suffer, to shed her life’s blood and to die with heroic courage in order to keep herself pure and to preserve the lily-white flowers of her virginity.

Once again, Pius XII is clear: St. Maria Goretti was at risk of losing her purity and Virginity. It is not just a state dependent on one’s will.

I think the problem is that people are conflating pure and impure, virgin and non-virgin, and moral and immoral. To be pure, to be a virgin, is to be in a holy state.

To be raped is not a sin, but it DOES mean – horrible as it is – that one is no longer pure and no longer a virgin.

Think about how absurd this is. If Virginity and Purity are actually dependent on the Will, it is also the case that anybody who intends to have sex but is interrupted and then regains self-control is no longer a virgin and no longer pure. But that’s not true. The state is physical.

This is very difficult stuff, but we were never told it wouldn’t be. After all, Aslan is not a tame lion.

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16 Responses to St. Augustine is Totally Unreal

  1. John says:

    Why exactly is this difficult for you, other than fully grasping it theoretically?

    You are a male after all which means you will never be in this situation.

    This doesn’t really concern you in practice.

    But I get that you are having difficulty accepting this idea.

    I myself find it difficult after learning about this, but if this is not a completely alien idea.

    Victorian era sexual morality is very similar, as is puritanism when we ignore its excesses.

  2. John says:

    And I nearly forgot to add:

    There is another reason why I dont think you should worry about it.

    You mention it is difficult, and it is sometimes, to grasp and accept some things.

    But you should always keep in mind that this doesnt affect personal salvation much.

    The very event of losing your purity due to rape would be such a mitigating circumstance that you wouldnt actually lose your salvation at all.

    Even Saint Augustine didnt accept this idea, let alone modern day people living in a modern world (which is also be a mitigating element) so its understandable people would have trouble with it.

    Aslan isn’t a tame lion, but he isn’t a hungry one either.

  3. Think about how absurd this is. If Virginity and Purity are actually dependent on the Will, it is also the case that anybody who intends to have sex but is interrupted and then regains self-control is no longer a virgin and no longer pure.

    I don’t think that sounds inherently more absurd than saying that lust is a form of adultery (Mat. 5.28).

  4. verbosestoic says:

    I am convinced that the best way to interpret Catholicism is through Stoicism and the Stoic idea of virtue. Let’s assume that Purity is indeed a virtue. Then it is to be valued more than your life, because that’s an indifferent, not a virtue. So you definitely, if given the choice, should sacrifice your life to preserve your purity, and thus your virginity. But if you are, in fact, overpowered, or drugged in such a way that there is no way to prevent the rape, then you are not responsible for the action. It is not a failure of will, and is not a case of you choosing an indifferent — or a vice — over a virtue. Thus, in those cases of rape, the person would not lose their purity.

    If we look at the case of St. Maria Goretti, she clearly resisted and was explicit in choosing purity over her life, and her attacker chose to take her life. If she had chosen to give in to the threats to her life, she would have lost purity. However, if her attacker had merely managed to overpower her — knock her out or immobilize her, for example — then she would not have. So there is no necessary contradiction here.

  5. Arinter says:

    I feel kind of horrible for even suggesting this, but maybe Augustine was right, and its less that St Maria Gorreti had to fight to maintain her virginity, and more that she had an obligation to fight. Like I said, I feel a little bit bad for suggesting this, but perhaps the passive act of allowing such evils to occur without complete resistance is an act of impurity. A venial sin at the very most of course, but maybe still a sin that would make someone no longer a virgin. This would still be consistant with Augustine’s claims, as it would mean that someone who offered absolute resistance would still be a virgin even if they were violated, while still making St Maria Gorreti’s sacrifice a noble one, as she chose to die rather than even commit a minor sin.

  6. Zippy says:

    Modern people breathe Cartesian dualism like air. I haven’t done due diligence, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find problems with modern English translations of Augustine, especially when they appear to take a kind of Cartesian dualism for granted. Translation is never perfect, and is often like playing a game of metaphysical ‘telephone’ across centuries, language barriers, and cultural barriers. And Augustine might be wrong, even properly understood. But the ‘properly understood’ part is far from a given.

    In any event Cartesian dualism is false. The soul is the form of the body, not a ghost in the machine which lives in an untouchable and entirely distinct universe from the body, an interior universe over which we have omnipotent personal power. That God grants us all the opportunity to repent for the forgiveness of our sins, and makes all things new, healing all hurts and comforting all sadness in the world after this one for those who have faith and act on that faith (ordinarily through sacramental grace), does not imply that real spiritual harm – call it what you will – cannot be caused through physical means.

    • John says:

      ” an interior universe over which we have omnipotent personal power. ”

      Where did you get the idea that Cartesian Dualism implies omnipotent control of the soul substance?

      I’ve never heard nor have known of such consequences of accepting substance dualism.

      Maybe monistic idealism, but not substance dualism.

      • Zippy says:


        That could be an interesting line of discussion in its own right, I guess, but it seems to be a distraction from the present subject. The important thing here is the dualist notion of entirely distinct realms, body versus spirit/soul/mind. (One might even argue that dualism is implicitly a multiverse theory as opposed to a dualist theory, once the implications are fleshed out).

        So I’ll just retract the bit about what powers obtain in each realm, since it is basically irrelevant to the present subject.

      • Mostly what I’m trying to do is reconcile the Pope’s claims that St. Maria Goretti died to protect her virginity and purity with the counterpoint that her virginity and purity were never actually at risk in the first place.

        The best interpretation I can think of that encompasses both Augustine and the Pope is Verbose Stoic’s, but even that would mean that gives up a LOT of ground – essentially you would be saying that anybody who didn’t resist because they were worried about being killed is no longer pure and no longer a virgin.

        Which seems to work.

  7. Two-Cent Woman says:

    If the soul sanctifies the body due to the interior disposition of the person -they posses the virtue of purity-then any violence done to the body does not render them impure. Their purity or virginity has been violated. (Not taken away. not stolen) That is the damage done. The violation does not take away purity or virginity because it lacked both intent and “sexual pleasure, voluntarily and completely experienced.” The matter in virginity is the experience of sexual pleasure. The form is the intent of the will. The matter is not the emission of semen or vagina/hymen. Those are a accidental to virginity. The seeking of or intention to experience sexual pleasure comes from the soul. The intention of the soul is where purity resides.

    If a virgin has an impure thought, they are impure. If they confess, they are pure again and their purity is restored. If a virgin, by their impure thought resolves and suceeds in partaking of sexual pleasure (has intercourse), then their virginity is lost forever but through confession they can regain purity. If a virgin is raped, their purity and virginity has suffered violation. This violation can do great damage to the body, mind and soul. They will need medical attention, psychological care and spiritual care and direction. Spritiual direction will help with things like a decreased ability to love and trust both God and man and help them to see that they can be healed eventually.

    A lot of the hoopla around virginity in the early Church is due to consecrated virgins because their virginity is set aside as a sacred offering to God. Because they were consecrated to God, the violation of their body was particularly grevious. Think of violation of sacred vessels for Mass or of the Host itselt. Virginity for those who are not consecrated nor married is important for the sake of maintaining the virtue of chastity but isn’t any more special than the chastity required of those who are married.

    There is no dualism here. The body and soul are affected but it’s how they are affected in relation to each other under given circumstances is what needs to be understood.

    Semen / hymen – accidental to virginity (related to virginity only by it’s integrity due to absence of sexual experience by intent of the will. If integrity is lost by accident, violence, unintentional emissions, it does not affect virginity.)

    Complete experience of sexual pleasure with intent of the will outside marriage – virginity lost/impure

    Complete experience of sexual pleasure with intent of the will within marriage – virginity lost/purity retained

    Violation of the body due to rape – does not take away virginity or purity or chastity of the victim. It does violate them and they can cause physical, mental or spiritual harm which is why victims should be treated with utmost respect and care to heal them from the damage, which can take years.

    St. Maria protected and preserved her purity and virginity from violation because she recognized their God-given dignity and worth with a high degree of Christian perfection. Although not morally obligated to fight to the death, her heroic defense of virtue has earned her canonization and the title virgin martyr.

  8. Scholar-at-Arms says:

    In that section of the City of God (which is quite extensive, lasting IIRC over a full book), Augustine is arguing against the Roman attitude that being raped was a sin. The fiercest parts are devoted to attacking the myth of the Rape of Lucrece, which was Rome’s true founding myth (the Aeneid being a sewn-on, much later work). Augustine says that Lucrece was either an adultress who consented in her seduction, or a murderess who killed (herself) unjustly. He is arguing about the nature of guilt, and so IMO “purity” is a much weaker translation than “innocence.” In a different section of the part of City of God concerned with sexual morality, he states that a rape victim who orgasms is still not guilty, since her consent was not granted, even if she feels guilty afterwards. He does not say that she is unchanged from her prior state, only that she bears no complicity in what was done to her. I think that Augustine, in context, is doing a much better job of distinguishing between innocence and purity than you give him credit for by examining only this passage.

  9. Chad says:

    Just a note – keep in mind that Augustine’s metaphysics were closer to Platos than Aristotle/Thomistic. Then factor in translation by moderns and you are bound to come up with issues

    • Aquinas SEEMS to hold with him, but again, I’m not convinced of the translation.

      • Two-Cent Woman says:

        Why not pick out the words and phrases you are questioning and look up their Latin meanings and see how they square with the English? The original text was in Latin. The source I quoted was (as far as I can tell) the earliest English translation by Marcus Dods as used by the New Advent website.

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