published on October 11, 2017
John C. Cavadini
Reconsidering Augustine on Marriage and Concupiscence
In the spirit of Augustine’s own “Reconsiderations,” and inspired by Peter Brown’s act of “reconsidering” in the Epilogue to Augustine of Hippo (new edition), this essay offers a reconsideration of Augustine’s work On Marriage and Concupiscence. Key to the reconsideration of this text is a reconsideration of the role of the “sacrament” of marriage in Augustine’s articulation and defense of the goods of marriage and of human sexuality. For Augustine, Julian’s advocacy of concupiscence as an innocent natural desire amounts to a dangerous sentimentalization of fallen human freedom. Such sentimentalization masks the investments of the fallen will in the will to power or, in Augustinian terms, the preference for power over justice. Because sexual concupiscence, as Augustine famously argued, has no natural object, but, rather, is invested only in its own gratification, it is therefore a function of the preference for power over justice without remainder. It is a mark of the Fall that the procreative increase in human community willed by God is now ineluctably linked to the will to power, as though the will to power were the true source of social solidarity. The sacramental good of marriage enables married couples to “use” concupiscence in such a way that all of the goods associated with human sexuality can be experienced as true goods instead of as realities constitutively defined by the will to power.