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SEXISM IS A SIN

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Chapter 12: Saint Augustine

By the year A.D. 150 there was a growing body of Christian writings in which the vilification of women was an ongoing theme. Written by those who became known as the Church Fathers, these men developed a sexist theology that became the foundation upon which western civilization based its judgment of the female.

Their theories were applied to every area of woman's being. Her physical, social, intellectual, and religious inferiority were proclaimed from the pulpit and preserved in numerous documents for the edification of posterity. By the fourth century A.D., the female principle that Christ embodied and made an active force in the world outside the home, had once again been banished to the domestic scene.

As the Christian Church became more structured and grew in power and wealth, the misogyny of its leaders rivaled that of their rabbinical predecessors. Women were called "the devil's gateway" and castigated as "a feeble race, untrustworthy and of mediocre intelligence."[1] And in a clear departure from the biblical record they were also blamed, unilaterally, for the death of Christ as well as for the Fall in Eden.

Women were told: "You are the Devil's gateway. "You are the unsealer of that forbidden tree. You are she who persuaded him whom the Devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image man. On account of your desert, that is death, even the Son of God had to die."[2]

St. Clement of Alexandria had this advice for the female: "Every woman ought to be overcome with shame at the thought that she is a woman." Still another church leader gave women a spiritual standard by which to measure their lives: "Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live, too."

The kind of unreasoning--and unscriptural--sexism on which such pronouncements were based is clearly demonstrated in the writings of St. Cyril. Because it was women who went to the sepulchre where Jesus had been buried, and first discovered that he had risen from the dead, Cyril deduced that ever since Eve, every woman is a minister of death--"death's" deaconess." And because her sex is "especially dishonored" by God,[3] it followed that the female should also be "especially dishonored" by men.[4]

The same kind of theology that led Cyril to denounce women led him to extol men for a very unchristlike reason: "The male sex is ever elect of God, because it is a warrior breed."[5] Cyril's approval of the warrior who does not stop at violence to achieve his goals is a continuing theme of the generation that came to power at the end of the fourth century. Foremost among that generation was Augustine, the bishop of Hippo. It was he who developed the theory of a just war. It was Augustine who sounded the death-knell for the pacifism that Jesus had died for; the pacifism that had been a moral imperative for the Christian Church.

For more than 200 years after the death of Christ, the female principle of nonviolence had guided the activity of all Christians. Pacifism was not only an ideal held by the church, it was a necessary practice for anyone who converted to Christianity. And this pacifism was a source of scandal and bewilderment to the Pagan world.

In A.D 180, the philosopher Celsus attacked Christianity because its adherents refused to bear arms. He complained that they were reaping the benefits of those who defended their country, yet were refusing to do their part. He said that if all men behaved as they did, the empire would be overrun by barbarians.

But Christian spokesmen justified their pacifism on the grounds that they were abiding by the "law of Christ," which was the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Latter Prophets--the prophecy that spoke of making swords into plowshares.[6] They held that this "law of Christ" called for doing good to one's enemies and dictated the refusal of military warfare.[7]

Early Christian leaders understood That it was a perversion of faith in Christ to imagine that it could "be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword."[8] The same spokesman went on to write that although soldiers could be received as converts there must be an "immediate abandonment"

of that profession once they entered the Church. Military service was forbidden under any circumstances.

But official church policy changed drastically after the conversion of the Emperor Constantine. The emperor became an ardent and generous Christian, giving land, wealth, and power to the church and its leaders. After his conversion, the church[9] increasingly accommodated itself to the world and began reaping the benefits that the world offers its own.

Church leaders could hardly condemn war when Constantine based his conversion on the belief that it was through Jesus that he had been able to defeat his enemies in battle. While still a pagan, Constantine had been engaged in warfare with various other claimants to the throne of the Roman Empire. But in A.D. 312 he defeated his major rival, and when the battle was over, Constantine revealed the secret of his success.

He had seen a flaming cross in the sky, and superimposed on that symbol were the words, "In this sign thou shalt conquer." This vision was followed by a dream in which he was instructed to have his soldiers mark their shields with the symbol of Christ.[10] And the king carried his own standard into battle: it was a banner emblazoned with the sign of the cross; the cross upon which Jesus had died rather than resort to violence.

For a time after warfare became acceptable, it was still necessary for a Christian to atone for killing another person on the battlefield. But eventually, that standard also passed away and clergymen began the tradition of blessing soldiers, and their weapons, as they marched off to battle.[11]

As the Church continued to grow in wealth and power, the male principle increasingly dictated the course of institutional Christianity. The input of the female principle had no place in a church involved in war, in power politics, and in continuing to amass the wealth that assures dominion.

It was at this juncture that St. Augustine appeared and gave Christianity its just war theory. It was a theological rationale that allowed a church founded on the pacifistic person and teachings of Jesus Christ, to kill, maim, and torture other human beings in his name. According to this theology, war in itself was neither evil nor contrary to divine law. However, Augustine was well aware that Jesus said you must "love your enemy," so he added a caveat to his approval of violence: The motive for going into battle must be love. It is wrong to kill your enemy because you hate him and what he stands for. You must kill or maim him out of concern for his immortal soul.

Thus spake St. Augustine, who thereby became the patron saint of Christian warfare. And his legacy of violence to the church went beyond his contribution of the just war theory. He also sanctified the use of force against Christian dissidents.

As a younger man, Augustine had piously written, "If God does not rule and guide our minds with his inward grace, no preaching of the truth is of any help to man." But later he changed his mind and enlisted the help of Roman troops to overcome those who opposed his beliefs. The persecution of heretics involved the confiscation of their lands, their money, and their homes--which were then given to the established Church. Others paid for their minority opinions with their lives.

Augustine's rationale for this violence was that the end justified the means. Those who opposed him were expendable, and even if they suffered death at the hands of the army, their suffering was an object lesson to those who might otherwise have been tempted to oppose the beliefs espoused by Augustine and his faction of the Church.

Augustine also excused his violent persecution of dissident Christians on the grounds that God would call him into judgment if he did not do everything in his power to compel his "erring brethren" to renounce their heretical beliefs.[12] Thus, heretics could be maimed and killed as long as they were tortured out of love for their immortal souls. No longer were Christians martyred by pagans. Instead, they began to kill each other in the name of Christ.

Augustine rejected the female principle of love, compassion, and nonviolence and based his actions and his theology on his faith in the efficacy of the male power principle. And to insure that his policies were implemented, he had to further denigrate women, symbol of the female principle. His theology reduced them to a state of being in which they, in themselves, do not image God. According to him, only when the woman is considered in relationship to the man does she image God. But men in and of themselves are in God's image.

...the woman together with her own husband, is the image of God, so that the whole substance may be one image, but when she is referred to separately in her quality as a helpmeet, which regards the woman alone, then she is not the image of God, but as regards the man alone, he is the image of God as fully and completely as when the woman too is joined with him in one.[13]

This was the gospel given by Augustine. There is no point here in trying to trace the reasoning that lead him to this conclusion; it is circuitous, illogical, and unchristian. But it is important to know that his theological stance represents the full-flowering of the sexism that was sown by St. Paul. What was implicit in the teaching of Paul became explicit doctrine in the writings of Augustine and other Church Fathers.

Of course, Augustine found no basis for his doctrines in the teachings of Christ, so he based his teaching of female subservience on passages from the Epistles of Paul. He particularly emphasized the letter to the Corinthians. "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God....A man...is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man."[14]

The passage quoted above, and developed into doctrine by the church leaders who came after Paul, is idolatrous. By definition, idolatry is giving to another creature, or thing, the honor and glory that belongs to God alone--and this is what institutional Christianity did, and continues to do. In relation to the woman, the man is given the place of God: "A man is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man." This is blatant idolatry and a pagan doctrine that has no place in a church that claims to be founded on the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Another idolatrous pronouncement, still enjoying widespread popularity in Christian theology, is a passage from Paul's Epistle to the Church at Ephesus. This Scripture gives the man the same position in relation to the woman that Christ is given in relation to the Church. "Wives should regard their husband as they regard the Lord, since as Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife."[15]

The Scripture quoted above, and the previous quotation from Paul's letter to the Corinthians, are the foundation upon which Christian sexism has been built. And because it is an idolatrous foundation, it reveals the strength and tenacity behind the battle to keep women segregated and the refusal to recognize them as the intellectual, moral, and spiritual equals of men.

The battle against recognition of female equality is a battle to retain the illusion that, at least in relation to women, men are god like. And rather than relinquish their claim to stand in God's stead. men will encourage other men, and women, to become idolaters.

One of the most-used weapons in this idolatrous war against God's sovereignty on earth, is the constant denigration of the female principle. Although Jesus liberated the qualities of compassion, care-giving, and nonviolence from their segregation in women, and in the domestic world of home and family, institutional Christianity has done its best to keep the female principle sealed off from the mainstream of life. The only challenge to this most unchristian form of Christianity survives in the history of the "heretics" who challenged the Church throughout the centuries.[16]

Those heretics kept reminding mainstream Christians that Jesus embraced pacifism, the equality of the female, and the elimination of any hierarchy that mediated between God and human beings. They tried to imitate Jesus by allowing men as well as women to manifest the qualities of the female principle, and to express that principle in the political, social and religious life of Christendom.[17]

The Church responded to their message by killing them in a variety of ways.


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