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Augustine, Manichaeism, and the Allegorical Interpretation of Creation: Foundations of an Androcentric Anthropology.

David Morphew

University of Michigan

Abstract: 

Many have described Augustine as deeply misogynistic and as the most influential writer

to propagate misogynistic thinking in the Western world (Daly 1968, Boullough 1973, Ruether

1983 & Pagels 1988). Some have suggested that Augustine’s Manichaean background is to

blame for his androcentric / misognystic views, even after his rejection of Manichaeism and

conversion to Catholic Christianity (Boullough 1973, van Oort 1987, Pagels 1988, Bloch 1991 &

Gilmore 2001). This is wrong. Manichaeism denounces sexuality and marriage and denigrates

the status of women because of their role in reproduction. However, Augustine’s androcentric

anthropology provides the theoretical justification for the subordination of women to men, and

Augustine’s anthropology is most influenced by his allegorical interpretation of Genesis, drawn

from the dualism of Neo-Platonism, not Manichaeism.

Augustine, adopting the hermeneutic method of allegoresis through the influence of Neo-

Platonism, reads the story of Adam and Eve’s creation within a dualistic framework. The

creation of Adam and Eve describes the creation of both “spirit,” the higher category of being,

and “body,” the lower category associated with flesh and, in the later fallen condition, with sin

and temptation. In ways similar to some of his near contemporaries, such as Origen and Gregory

of Nyssa, as well as to his predecessor Philo of Judea, all of whom adopt allegorical interpretive

methods under the influence of Platonism, Augustine reads into the creation story of Adam the

spiritual creation of humanity as prototypically male. Adam and Eve are made in the imago Dei

as spiritual creatures insofar as they imitate the perfect rationality typical of man. Eve partakes of

this spiritual essence in her unity with Adam insofar as she is human, but Eve qua woman is

described as an imperfect and subordinate creation (De trinitate 12.7). Her helpmate status in

service to Adam is associated with “body” through her sexuality and capacity for procreation (De

Genesi ad literram 9.5 & 9.9). She must be assimilated to man apart from her distinctly

embodied characteristics of womanhood to be raised from her inferior status to unity in spirit

with Adam (De Genesi contra Manichaeos 2.7.9, De Genesi ad Litteram 8.23, Confessiones

13.22).

Augustine’s use of allegoresis in developing his anthropology is not drawn from his

Manichaean past. Mani, the founder of the Manichees, rejected the story of Genesis, the Old

Testament scriptures, and allegorical interpretation itself. Augustine rejected Manichaeism partly

for its lack of the more sophisticated method of allegoresis, which he found in Neo-Platonic

philosophy. He also later made use of allegoresis of the Christian scriptures to argue against

prominent Manichees.

Why have some thought Augustine’s Manichaean past to be the main culprit for his

androcentric views? In short, many focus on Manichaean extreme asceticism. Manichees

emphasize the renunciation of sexuality to avoid procreation, which they consider to be a process

of trapping light in darkened matter. Ascetic practices and the emphasis on renouncing

womanhood to become “like a man” through virginity, however, are pervasive in early

Christianity apart from Manichaean influence. Philo, Origen, and Gregory of Nyssa, like

Augustine, also formulate their views on asceticism by drawing on a theoretical, Platonic

framework in their allegorical interpretation of Genesis.

While Augustine’s view of women, like Philo’s, Origen’s, and Gregory of Nyssa’s, is

largely influenced by the hermeneutical practice of reading the creation story of Genesis

allegorically, Augustine is far more moderate than his contemporaries in his attempts to include

women as also made in the image of God (De trinitate 12.7). Augustine holds the view that

women will not be resurrected as perfected men but will be raised in glory as women (De civitate

Dei 22.17–18). He also affirms the goodness of procreation, though he continues to consider

sexuality and sexual desire apart from the purposes of child-bearing to be sinful (De sermone

Domini in monte 1.15.41).

Session/Panel Title

Allegory Poetics and Symbol in Neoplatonic Texts

Session/Paper Number

28.6

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