The links between sexuality and original sin in the writings of John Chrysostom and Augustine

Jo Ann Catherine Heaney-Hunter, Fordham University


The history of church teaching on the relative goodness of sexuality and marriage is filled with inconsistencies. Many early writers, including Chrysostom and Augustine, assert that while sexuality and marriage are good gifts from God, virginity is a superior way of life, especially for females, and sexual activity, particularly sexual intercourse, is linked to human weakness. Both authors assert also that women, who are inferior to men in many aspects of life, can utilize the superior calling of virginity to transcend their limitations, and become more "manly" in their demeanor. While the two authors frequently draw similar conclusions on the subjects of sexuality and particularly the role of women in church and society, their reasoning behind the conclusions is often dissimilar. One of the most significant differences occurs as a result of their views on the reality of original sin. Chrysostom declares that original sin results simply in the liabilities of death and suffering, while Augustine insists that the guilt of the first sin is transmitted, through sexual intercourse, to all generations. The consequence of Augustine's view is that every act of sexual intercourse is somehow tainted, and therefore needs legitimation--which is achieved primarily by procreation. This study examines Chrysostom's and Augustine's views of sexuality and marriage in light of their notions of original sin. It also provides background by viewing earliest church traditions on sexuality and the first sin for their possible influences on Chrysostom and Augustine. Finally, it draws conclusions regarding the similarities and differences between the positions of these two important late fourth century writers. By undertaking this work, it is hoped that a greater understanding of the links between sexuality and original sin in Chrysostom and Augustine will be achieved. Perhaps it also will serve as a springboard for further discussion on the historical influences which helped formulate the view of marriage and the role of women in church and society.

Subject Area

Theology|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Romance literature

Recommended Citation

Heaney-Hunter, Jo Ann Catherine, "The links between sexuality and original sin in the writings of John Chrysostom and Augustine" (1988). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8904648.