This is based mostly on an article by Prof. Elizabeth A. Clark, named VITIATED SEEDS AND HOLY VESSELS. It was published in ASCETIC PIETY AND WOMEN'S FAITH, Mellen Press, 1986. This same article is also available in another collection of essays: IMAGES OF THE FEMININE IN GNOSTICISM, Karen King, ed., published at Claremont at about the same time.Click here to go up one level in the directory.
ST. AUGUSTINE AND JULIAN OF ECLANUM: Manichean influence?
by Yuri KuchinskyAugustine (b. 354) was a Manichee for 9 years in his younger years (although his mother, Monica, raised him as a Christian). He was a philosopher (a teacher of rhetoric) in Rome and, later, in Milan during these years. In Milan he came to know St. Ambrose, who was the Bishop of Milan at the time. Under the influence of Ambrose, Augustine was baptised a Christian on Easter, 387. Julian of Eclanum was a generation younger than Augustine. Coming from an aristocratic Christian Roman family, he served as a Bishop of Eclanum, in Southern Italy, until about 419, when he was forced to leave for Asia Minor because of his support for Pelagius, whose teachings were officially condemned at this time. (Pelagius was a British monk active in Italy who asserted that men had been endowed by God with free will, so that they should follow God's law and live perfect Christian lives. Pelagius also cast doubt on the doctrines of the Fall from Grace and the Original Sin). Augustine certainly spent considerable time debating Pelagius and his ideas earlier in his career. Augustine's debate with Julian came late in the life of Augustine, as Julian developed further many of the ideas of Pelagius. The debate, as we know it, is one-sided, as none of the writings of Julian survived. Yet the contents of Anti-Julian writings of Augustine that include large citations of Julian allow us, to a considerable extent, to reconstruct Julian's arguments. The last large work of Augustine _Contra secundam Juliani responsionem opus imperfectum_ was devoted to that controversy. To be sure, Augustine, himself, devoted a considerable part of his early writings to refuting the teachings of the Manicheans. Such writings of his are extensive, are extant, and provide plenty of material for the analysis of his intellectual evolution. He seemed to refute thoroughly the teachings of the Manicheans that were quite pessimistic and negative about the human nature. (The Manicheans, of course, believed that the Creation was the work of an evil Demiurge, and that all Creation, including the world of Nature, the human body, and sexuality, is tainted with sin and the evil.) In his anti- Manichean polemics, Augustine praised the goodness of God's Creation and ridiculed some of the contradictions he believed he identified in the Manichean theology in this area. It seems rather ironic, therefore, that Augustine, himself, should have been accused of Manichean leanings after he became the influential Bishop of Hippo. Such accusations were levelled against him as early as 400 by the Donatists, an ascetic movement within the Church. Julian's critique of Augustine came later and on somewhat different grounds. It is generally believed that the theology of Augustine evolved towards a more pessimistic world view as he was getting older. So one could say, perhaps, that his old Manichean past was catching up on him as the years went by. Be it as it may, Julian focused on this growing pessimism of Augustine in his critique. The debate between Augustine and Julian is analyzed in some detail in ASCETIC PIETY AND WOMEN'S FAITH, by Elizabeth A. Clark, 1986, in the article "VITIATED SEEDS AND HOLY VESSELS: Augustine's Manichean Past". In her article, Clark provides and extensive summary of the debate between Augustine and Julian as it unfolded over a few years. The charges that Julian levelled against Augustine can be briefly summarised as follows: "[Julian]...pinpointed some problematic aspects of Augustine's theology of reproduction that kindled his suspicions of Augustine's orthodoxy:  that ideal marriage might not involve sexual relations,  that sexual intercourse transmits original sin,  that Jesus does not share all our human qualities." (op. cit. p. 306) The first charge referred to the fact that Augustine, although not opposing the institution of Christian marriage as such, advocated a chaste (sexless) marriage to those strong enough in the faith to endure it. The endorsement of such a marriage was not new, of course. St. Paul also advocated it, but on completely different grounds: for Paul it was the expectation of the imminent eschaton that made marriage without procreation advisable. (There simply wasn't enough time to worry about kids.) For Augustine, it was his notion of "concupiscence" that provided the grounds. While Julian affirmed the sexual desire within marriage as entirely good, for Augustine, the human sexuality itself was an irredeemable curse. The Manicheans of course, also strongly advocated asceticism of this type. "Augustine was gradually abandoning a sexual understanding of marriage and stressing more centrally the bond between partners. To Julian, this movement betokened "Manicheanism". (p. 305) The third charge against Augustine addressed some areas of Augustine's theology that put him in troubling proximity to Docetism that was, again, common amongst both the Gnostics and the Manicheans. Augustine quoted Romans 8:3: "...Jesus did not have our "sinful flesh," but only the "likeness of sinful flesh", nor as an infant did he suffer "weakness of mind". (p. 293) "...since Augustine does not hesitate to assert that Christ's body was of a "different purity" from the bodies of other humans because of the lack of concupiscence (and hence original sin) involved in his conception, Julian suspects him of harbouring a Docetic i.e., "Manichean," view of Jesus." (p. 306) But it is on the second accusation against Augustine (Augustine's belief that sexual intercourse transmits original sin) that Clark focuses the bulk of her article. (This was a complex and prolonged argument between the two, not easy to summarize. But I'll try.) The belief at the time held it that conception occurs from the male and female "seeds". These "human seeds", according to Augustine were "vitiated" by the Original sin of Adam. Julian disputed this notion and he believed that by focusing on Augustine's "vitiated seeds" he identified the source of Augustine's Manichean error. "Although the mixing of seeds with evil is given a very different--indeed, contrasting--evaluation in Augustine's myth of Eden than in the Manichean foundation myth (and thus arguably is "anti-Manichean"), the very fact that the mixing of seeds with evil is the key to _both_ myths suggests that Julian had ferreted out in Augustine's theology of reproduction a carry-over from Manicheanism." (p. 292) "...Julian claims that he knows Augustine's position, even if Augustine doesn't: since Augustine believes that sin becomes mixed with the seeds and makes the _conceptus_ guilty, he is a Traducian, and Traducians are to be equated with Manicheans. Both Traducians and Manicheans asserted that evil contracted from some ancient and unfortunate event is passed down by reproduction throughout the ages." (p. 308) Julian refused to believe that sin was inherent in the human condition. He said: "...if, as Augustine claims, sin is a condition of the flesh, Christ should have contracted sin from his mother... Augustine admits in reply that Mary, by condition of her own birth, would have been "submitted to the Devil" (i.e., under the sway of original sin) if the grace of regeneration had not loosed that condition. This is as close as Augustine comes to espousing the later doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, a doctrine necessary if Augustine and others want to avoid the conclusion that Mary could have transmitted to Christ the sin present in her from her own birth." (pp. 312- 313) Clark goes on to this interesting observation: "Julian here emerges as an important contributor to the development of the argument regarding the Immaculate Conception." (p. 313) Augustine and Julian also discussed the role and importance of clothing in the Genesis Eden story. Did Adam and Eve first put on clothing because of the shame they felt? "...for Julian, the use of clothing was not related to sin's entrance to the world and the desire to cover the unruly genitals, as it was in Augustine's interpretation." (p. 307) Peter Brown in his THE BODY AND SOCIETY, 1988, gives an interesting sociological angle on this debate between Augustine and Julian: "His [Julian's] polemics, written in vivid Latin, assumed an upper-class Italian audience whose experiences differed markedly from those of Augustine in Africa. In the debate on marriage and sexuality between Augustine and Julian, we can witness the confrontation of two worlds." (op. cit. p. 409) "Sexuality remained unproblematic among such persons [of Julian's class]. For a continent aristocrat ... sexual needs had proved easy enough to forgo. They may never have bulked large in his life." (p. 409) "Unlike Augustine, no mighty earthquake on the ocean-bed of the self need have accompanied Julian's dignified resolve to abandon sex." (p. 410) Brown also suggests that Julian's stay in Cilicia, close to Asia Minor and to Syria, where an extremely ascetic Messalian movement was causing much disquiet (Messalians were often linked with Manicheans at the time) had given him some important perspective on the teachings of such sects that Roman audience was not aware of to the same extent (p. 414). Clark notes that "Despite the fact that Augustine won the controversy in terms of the later course of Catholic theology, it is not so clear that he won the debate with Julian. Had Julian responded to the _Contra Julianum_ and the _Opus imperfectum_, we suspect he would have faulted Augustine for becoming progressively more "Manichean" as the controversy unfolded." (p. 314) She looks at the question of how well was Julian acquainted with the Manichean writings in general, and comes to the conclusion that he knew only a limited number of Manichean texts. One Manichean myth that Julian didn't seem to know was the myth of the "seduction of the archons". (p. 315) Clark believes that this myth could have come in very handy for Julian because it provides a very interesting parallel to Augustine's theories: "Although it was _against_ this myth--and its real-life consequences--that Augustine had constructed his sexual and marital ethics, yet, I posit, it was this myth that gave Augustine his first explanation of how seeds became corrupted." (p. 315) At this point, Clark goes into a discussion of the somewhat unusual sexual practices of the Manicheans which Augustine, himself, described extensively (although in a somewhat veiled language) in his critique of the Manicheans. They, apparently, defined two types of sexual behaviour. For the Elect elite, total abstinence was required. For the Auditors, to which Augustine belonged, sex was allowed, but procreation was discouraged. Hence, the Manicheans advocated the use of birth-control methods. This prompted accusations of libertinism from Augustine (and from others). I will not go into the analysis of the "seduction of the archons" myth here (Clark does). Suffice it to say that this myth seemed to have been the basis for some sacramental rituals of the Manicheans that may have involved sexual acts. Also, this myth provided a parallel for "seeds" "getting mixed up with Evil". In conclusion, Clark writes: "...we could assert that the half-century from 380 to 430 A.D. was of world-historical importance not only because of the battle of the Frigidus or the sack of Rome, but also because in those years were firmed up the doctrines that for twelve centuries and more would ensure an ambiguous theological evaluation of reproduction, the "career" followed by the vast majority of women." (p. 325) +++++++++++++++++++++++++ [The following addition was in response to a discussion of this matter on the Early Church history academic discussion list. I omit the name of the contributor.] Here are a couple of quotations from Clark in reply to an objection raised against an earlier post of mine (a couple of days ago) by Prof. xxx. On Tue, 9 Apr 1996, xxx wrote: > ... Augustine finally came to the view that prelapsarian man, that is, > human nature as originally intended by God, was created male and female > and would have procreated through sexual intercourse. This means that > human sexuality [for Augustine] has a meaning that transcends the > fallen historical order which is conditioned by the ubiquity of > death and sin. It is true that Augustine said that God planned some kind of a "perfect" sexual reproduction in Paradise (but that was thwarted by "man's disobedience"). But the point that Clark makes is that that was the position that Augustine was _forced_ to adapt under pressure from Julian. "Although in the face of Julian's assault, Augustine grudgingly and belatedly allowed that there _might_ have been sexual desire in a sinless Eden (albeit very different from the raging lust we now feel), his attempt to explain his theory of vitiated seeds succeeded only in leaving him more liable to charges of "Manicheanism."" (p. 296) "Julian has forced Augustine to make plain the anti-sexual and anti-scientific roots of his theology of sin. Yet Augustine has conceded only one point: that in a sinless Eden, there might have been _libido_, although one controlled by the will, not the unruly and disobedient _libido_ we know today." (p. 313) Best wishes to all, Yuri.