De Bono Coniugali: De Sancta Uirginitate

De Bono Coniugali: De Sancta Uirginitate

De Bono Coniugali: De Sancta Uirginitate

De Bono Coniugali: De Sancta Uirginitate


'A most welcome edition and translation... The introduction is clear and straightforward... The Latin is beautifully printed and the notes, though relatively spare in extent, are informative; the translation is formal but modern' -Journal of Theological StudiesDe bono coniugali and De sancta virginitate were written in the same year (AD 401). In them Augustine rebuffs the Manichees, who argued that marriage was evil, and the followers of Jovinian, who argued that the married state was as meritorious as that of virginity. The first work analyses why marriage is good, and the second why virginity is a higher good. Both are closely related to present-day controversies amongst theologians and social historians. This edition includes the Latin text, a new translation, an introduction, and explanatory notes.


The Christian era in which Augustine lived was happily free from the prudery reflected in Cicero's De officiis (1. 127): 'All persons of sound mind avoid references to the parts of the body which we use from necessity . . . it is indecent to speak of them.' In these treatises the sexual aspects of marriage are discussed without embarrassment in a manner which is conventional in our own age. In the nineteenth century, however, Christian sensibilities were deeply disturbed by such frank discussion. Witness the Introduction to the translation of De bono coniugali in The Library of the Fathers (1847): 'The Editors are of course aware of the danger there is in reading a treatise like the following in a spirit of idle curiosity, and they beg any reader who has not well assured himself that his aim is right and holy to abstain from perusing it.'

Similar misgivings are expressed by Harnack and other Church historians earlier in this century. It is doubtless for this reason that these treatises have until recently been so little translated or read. They have of course been the bedrock of Catholic moral theology from the Council of Trent ('It is better to remain in virginity or celibacy than to be bound by marriage') to the encyclicals of Pius XII (Casti Connubii) and Paul VI (Humanae Vitae), and they remain closely relevant to the current controversies in the areas of marriage, celibacy, and consecrated virginity; De bono coniugali is twice quoted in Vatican II's document, Gaudium et Spes, 48, 50.

I wish to thank the learned advisers to the Press for many helpful suggestions made at the outset of this enterprise, and in particular Professor Henry Chadwick, editor of this series, for his friendly support and advice.


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