Shameful Acts Contrary to Nature (Augustine)

Confessions (Oxford World's Classics) - Augustine - 9780199537822 (1023753224239)

A few chapters into his Confessions, Augustine wrestled with ethics, truth, justice, law, and so on. In this section Augustine wrote that God is supreme over all and must be “unhesitatingly obeyed” because he’s the “governor of all his creation” (p. 46). Right before these statements he wrote this on sexual sin:

Can it be wrong at any time or place to love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 22:37-39)? Therefore, shameful acts which are contrary to nature, such as the acts of the Sodomites (Gen. 19:5ff), are everywhere and always to be detested and punished. Even if all peoples should do them, they would be liable to the same condemnation by divine law; for it [divine law] has not made men to use one another in this way. Indeed the social bond which should exist between God and us is violated when the nature of which he is the author is polluted by a perversion of sexual desire (p. 45-46).

I like the phrase, “even if all peoples should do them….” Augustine’s ethic here is legit. It’s always right to obey God, even if everyone else is doing the opposite. We might call it a “here I stand” or “contra mundum” moment: I will obey God no matter if everyone else disobeys him.

But Augustine would never point fingers at wickedness in an arrogant or self righteous way. Only a few paragraphs after writing the above, Augustine wrote this:

“That is the outcome when you are abandoned, fount of life and the one true Creator and Ruler of the entire universe…. Return to you is along the path of devout humility. You purify us of evil habit, and you are merciful to the sins we confess. You hear the groans of prisoners (Ps. 101:21) and release us from the chains we have made for ourselves….”

This balance is great. While Augustine wasn’t afraid to call sin what it is, he did so with humility rather than pride or arrogance. He knew that he too was in darkness and far from God before the Lord mercifully rescued him and brought him home.

The above quotes are found in Henry Chadwick’s translation of Augustine’s Confessions.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015