The City of God: Book 1: Chapter Eighteen

Chapter 18

But, one may fear to be polluted by another’s lust. Such lust will not pollute, if it is another’s lust; if it sullies us, then it is not another’s. Since chastity is a virtue of the soul, and has as its companion fortitude, which is determined to undergo any evil rather than consent to wrong, and since, moreover, no man, be he ever so courageous and chaste, has it in his absolute power to protect his body physically, but only to consent or to resist with his will, what person of understanding will deem that one’s own chastity is lost if somebody else satisfies his lust on a body that has been forcibly seized and outraged?

For, if chastity is lost in that manner, then chastity certainly is not a virtue of the soul, nor can it be reckoned among those virtues which constitute a good life. Rather, it must be regarded as one of the physical endowments, such as strength, beauty, sound health, and the like, which, if diminished, in no way impair a good and righteous life. If chastity is no more than that, to what purpose should one strive to preserve it even at the body’s peril?

If, on the other hand, it is a virtue of the soul, then it is not lost even though the body be outraged by force. In fact, so long as the virtue of holy continence does not yield to the impurity of carnal lust, the body itself is made holy thereby. Hence, while the intention not to yield to the assaulters stands firm, the body retains its purity because the will retains its intention—and, so far as possible, the power—to use the body as a holy thing.

The body is not holy because its members are unimpaired, or because they are untouched, for they can through any accident suffer injury and violence, and oftentimes physicians, in the interest of health, resort to surgery that makes one shudder. Suppose a midwife, probing with her hand to ascertain a maiden’s virginity, either through malice or ignorance, or by accident, injures the virginal membrane. I do not imagine that anyone would be so foolish as to think that the maiden lost any of her bodily sanctity because of this broken membrane. So long, therefore, as the will’s resolution—the cause of the body’s sanctity—stands firm, an impure attack by another person does not deprive the body of its sanctity. This is preserved by its unshakeable continence.

On the contrary, take the case of a woman whose mind is corrupted, who has broken the vows she swore to God, and surrenders to her seducer to be dishonored by him. Considering her at the moment when she is on her way to accomplish her purpose, can we say that her body is still holy now that her soul’s holiness, on which that of her body depends, is utterly lost? Surely not. From this let us draw the lesson that the body’s holiness is never lost while the soul retains its sanctity, even though the body is outraged; yet, the body’s sanctity can be lost along with that of the soul, even though the body be untouched.

Thus, a woman has no reason to inflict death upon herself when, without consent on her part, she has been the victim of violence and the object of another’s outrage. How much less reason to do so before the deed. Why should certain homicide be committed while the actual commission of a crime by another is still in doubt?

Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VII

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