The City of God: Book 1: Chapter Nineteen

Chapter 19

I affirm, therefore, that in case of violent rape and of an unshaken intention not to yield unchaste consent, the crime is attributable only to the ravisher and not at all to the ravished. To my cogent argument to this effect, some may venture to take exception. Against these I maintain the truth that not only the souls of Christian women who have been forcibly violated during their captivity, but also their bodies, remain holy.

Many recall, with high praise for her chastity, the noble and ancient Roman matron, Lucretia. Upon her body, overpowered by brute force, the son of King Tarquin inflicted his lust. She revealed the crime of the villainous youth to her husband Collatinus and her kinsman Brutus, both brave and distinguished men, and bound them to avenge it. Then, becoming deeply despondent and unable to bear the shame of the foul deed perpetrated on her body, she killed herself. What judgment is to be passed on her? Is she to be regarded as an adulterous or a chaste woman? Who will cudgel his brains in trying to resolve the question?

On this point someone has declared, admirably and with truth: ‘Wonderful to relate! Two persons were involved, yet only one committed the adultery!’ Nobly and truly said. Seeing, in this connection, only the foul passion of the one and the chaste will of the other, and regarding not so much the union of bodies as the opposition of wills, he declared: ‘Two persons, but only one adulterer.’

But, what are we to say of the heavy penalty paid by her who did not commit adultery? The adulterer was driven out of the country with his father, but she bore the extreme penalty of death. If to be the unwilling victim of violent rape is no unchastity, the punishing of a chaste woman is not justice. I appeal to you, laws and judges of Rome. After the commission of a crime, you have never wanted a criminal put to death without sentence of condemnation. If, therefore, anyone brought this crime before you for judgment and it were proved that the woman was slain not only unheard, but also chaste and innocent, would you not impose a duly severe penalty upon the perpetrator of such a deed?

This is the case of Lucretia. Yes, the much-lauded Lucretia took the life of the guiltless, chaste, coerced Lucretia. Pronounce your sentence. If you cannot, because the guilty party is not present in court, why do you shower so much praise on the slayer of a pure and innocent woman? In any case, you can in no way defend her before the judges of the lower regions; if they be of the kind of whom your poets sing, since she is to be placed among those

… who guiltless spoiled themselves through black despite,
And threw their souls to hell through hate of light.

And, should she crave to return to the upper world, ‘Justice and loveless fens forbid the passage thence.’ Could it be that she is not in the upper world because she slew herself, not without guilt, and with a bad conscience? What if—only she could know—notwithstanding the young villain’s violent advances, she was lured by her own lust to acquiesce and, stung with self-reproach, chose death as the way of atonement? Not even then should she have made an end to herself, if she could possibly do penance acceptable to the false gods.

However, if such be the case, and if the verdict, ‘two persons, but only one adulterer,’ be false—the truth being that both committed adultery, one by open aggression and the other by secret agreement—then, she did not kill herself with a clean conscience. That being so, her learned champions cannot affirm that in the lower regions she is not ranged with those ‘who guiltless spoiled themselves.’ Thus, the case is pinned down by both horns of a dilemma: If the suicide is condoned, the adultery is clear; if the adultery is disproved, the suicide is doubly clear. There is no way out of the dilemma. If she is an adulteress, why all the praise? If chaste, why did she kill herself?

In connection with the noble example of Lucretia, and to refute those who are incapable of grasping the idea of sanctity and make sport of the Christian women forcibly violated in captivity, I need only repeat what was said in her praise: ‘Two persons, but only one adulterer.’ In their eyes, she could not have stained her name with an adulterous consent.

The fact is that, though free from adulterous intent, she killed herself because she suffered an adulterer. She was not in love with chastity; she was a victim of her sense of shame. The act committed on her without her consent filled her with shame. Being a Roman with a passion for praise, she was afraid that, if she lived, men might think she did willingly what she had endured by violence. Hence, as witness of her intention, she decided to put that punishment before the eyes of men who could not read her conscience. She was ashamed to be thought a party to the deed if she bore with resignation the foul thing done to her by another.

It was not in this way that women acted who endured similar violation, yet are still alive. They did not avenge on themselves others’ wrongs, lest they add sins of their own to the crimes of others. This they would have done had they murdered themselves for shame because lustful enemies had made them victims of violence. They bear within them the glory of chastity, in the testimony of their conscience, and this they have in the eyes of their God. They ask for nothing more, since this is the best way not to depart from the authority of God’s law by any ill-advised attempt to avoid the humiliation of human suspicion

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

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