I got behind, so I’m blogging the bulk of book 14 today. There is a lot here.
First, Augustine talks about the Stoics and their view of the emotions. For the Stoics, a wise man can only feel positive emotions because he has achieved a proper perspective on everything. A wise man will not experience grief, for example, because grief requires evil, and evil never falls on him (as long as he is properly wise and understands how to seek the good in the midst of what could look like a variety of evils). The Christian, says Augustine, sees emotions differently. The Christian will rightly order her loves so that she feels emotions, but righteously. They do not overwhelm her; instead she directs her emotions toward proper ends. The Christian experiences grief and pain and fear but she funnels these emotions into and checks them against her love of God and neighbor. As Augustine says, “if we felt no such emotions [negative emotions like pain and grief and fear] at all while subject to the infirmity of this life, we should then certainly not be living righteously.” Instead, “a righteous life will exhibit all these emotions righteously, whereas a perverse life exhibits them perversely.”
Second, Augustine moves on to examine the original state of Adam and Eve and God’s design for creation. He wonders what emotions Adam felt and whether Adam ever experienced before the Fall. Nakedness and sex became shameful after Adam and Eve ate the fruit, when they had not been shameful before. Sex had been rightly ordered prior to the Fall, so that it was not a result of lust but of love toward spouse and fulfilling God’s command to be fruitful and multiply. Augustine makes an interesting suggestion that felt new to me (even though I had apparently read that chapter of the book before) – that in Paradise, Adam and Eve were superhuman in the sense that they could consciously control all their members, including their sexual organs. Unlike men today, who seem to be either dragged around by our members or we fight against them constantly, Adam was able to righteously and willfully tell his parts how and when to work, as we can control our hands. That sounds awesome. I hope that we have something like that in Eternity.
Third, Augustine gives a fair amount of space to his discussion of procreation toward the end of book 14. Procreation, he says, continues after the Fall because it fulfills God’s command to fill the earth. While human procreation could have filled the earth in righteousness before the Fall, afterwards we fill the earth through our lustful sex. In marriage, we at least have proper expression for our sexual urges but lust is still an important feature of sex, even in marriage. I wonder if Augustine has any place for sexual pleasure – he doesn’t seem to give pleasure any value in this discussion of sex. Our theological and practical conversations on sex today emphasize the pleasure, and so this feels like an important missing piece to me but maybe I’m just too influenced by my culture. I’m not sure, though, since God could have made us experience sex without pleasure; instead, He set things up so that it is a pleasurable experience. We need to order our pleasures and see sex properly as a good and not an ultimate good, but it is a pleasure. I’m not sure that Augustine sees that, or at least he doesn’t seem to talk about that here.