Posted by: rogermitchell | July 5, 2010

created out of passion!

The last post on “created out of nothing” received some very helpful comments. I really like Cheryl’s creative thinking on the creation being God’s phenotype. That’s a new one on me, and I do want to explore it in due course. Before then however I would like to take a post or two over the impact of Augustine’s theology on the subject of God’s relationship to his creation, and to venture into the topic of sexuality as Stephen’s comment suggests.

According to Augustine in his book City of God, which is the piece of his work I know best having studied it and written on it, God must have created out of nothing [ex nihilo] and not out of himself, because God is immutable, in other words, he cannot change. So the creation of the world cannot have altered him in any way. If we were created out of God’s being [ex deo], then some of God would have passed to us and God would be changed. Therefore God must have created us out of nothing. However this makes our separation from God and need of salvation something that predates the fall. As well as any moral sin, we also are alienated from God by our mortality which is rooted in our nothingness of being. From this perspective Jesus came to save us not only from our sin but our inadequacy of being. This is the root understanding of original sin in Augustine, a kind of pre-sinful defect in being. “For man is rightly understood – or, if this passes understanding is believed – to be ‘made in the image of God’. And his nearness to God who is above him is certainly found in that part of man in which he rises superior to the lower parts of his nature which he shares with the brute creation.” It is clear here that Augustine struggles with the concept of humans being in God’s image, or the material world being essentially good and certainly with the idea that the creation changed God forever. For the life of me I can’t see why these things are problematic for him, or indeed how he can regard God as loving us  if he is unchanged by our existence. The bigger problem is how Jesus can be God in human flesh, how he can take our sinful humanity to death, resurrect it and take it back into the heart of God. And Augustine is generally regarded as a serious and foundational Christian theologian! But it gets worse when you consider his thinking on sexuality.

In Book 14 of the City of God Augustine makes clear that he regards sexual passion as inseparable from lust and sexual intercourse as essentially impure.  Given that we all come into the world this way, his view carries with it the implicit assumption that we are all rendered impure by it. As he puts it “Now the intercourse of male and female is the seedbed, as it were, of a city, as far as the race of mortals is concerned. But the earthly city needs only generation, whereas the Heavenly City needs regeneration also, to escape the guilt connected with generation.” He struggles to imagine, how sexual intercourse, even reserved only for the purposes of procreation, could possibly have taken place in the pre-fall state of Eden and attempts a truly sad little description of how it might perhaps have happened without any passion or actual penetration. It’s such a sad little passage in my view that I decided not to repeat it here. I thought it better to quote the Bible instead!

“How beautiful you are, my darling, How beautiful you are! Your eyes are like doves behind your veil; Your hair is like a flock of goats that have descended from Mount Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of newly shorn ewes which have come up from their washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them has lost her young. Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your temples are like a slice of a pomegranate behind your veil. Your neck is like the tower of David, built with rows of stones on which are hung a thousand shields, all the round shields of the mighty men. Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle which feed among the lilies.Until the cool of the day when the shadows flee away, I will go my way to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense …. I have taken off my dress, how can I put it on again? I have washed my feet, how can I dirty them again? My beloved extended his hand through the opening, and my feelings were aroused for him. I arose to open to my beloved; and my hands dripped with myrrh, and my fingers with liquid myrrh, on the handles of the bolt.” (Song of Songs 4: 1-6; 5:3-5)

The question of which came first in Augustines’ sad conclusions about God’s immutability and and the subject of sexuality is a matter of debate. But taken together they constitute a dire perspective on God and humanity that needs to be disclosed and rejected by serious lovers of God and his creation. It is much more likely that it was precisely because Father, Son and Holy Spirit were so passionate  about changing their lives for ever by creating  in their own image that procreation was made so passionate and so pleasurable.



  1. Roger:

    Bravo. Continue on. I know I’ve always had a problem with Augustine on several issues. And yup, its time we rethought a whole bunch of this stuff – the well-being of the world depends on it. c.

  2. And to add to the excitement of a new way of relating to God, each other and creation (post-Augustinian?), here is the URL for the latest Bill McKibben article on HuffPost – he is intent on using art as a way of making a movement that addresses how we relate to the earth and notes that many of the people who participate are the poor and of color – ie. most of the world. Sounds like Kingdom stuff to me . . .

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