Form: Short academic thesis
Written: Fall 2013 – Summer 2014
For centuries, St. Augustine’s perspective on desire and sexuality were taken for granted: that lust was a cardinal sin, that babies born of any sexual act (marital or otherwise) were damned, carrying within them the sin of Adam until baptized. Beginning in the mid-20th century, however, theologians in and outside the Church began wondering if Augustine had been wrong on one or two of these accounts. Joining this conversation in the late 1970s, Pulitzer Prize winning author John Updike critiques and reimagines Augustine’s theology of desire in his short story “Augustine’s Concubine,” a retelling of Confessions. Updike offers a way into understanding Augustine’s theology of desire that avoids oversimplifying, as others have done. This paper analyzes Updike’s criticism of both the Augustinian tradition and its modern opposite, the Freudian tradition, and considers “Augustine’s Concubine” as an embodied critique of these traditions. It then looks at St. Augustine’s theology of desire, as explicated in his Confessions, to show how it deepens the meaning of Updike’s story. Finally, this paper explores the recent work of theologian Sarah Coakley in forming a theology of desire for the contemporary Church.