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Virginia Burrus: Akin, Rape, and the Early Church

Virginia Burrus:

Augustine’s discussion at the very beginning of his famous work City of God of the rape of Lucretia, a traditional Roman tale that he revisits in the context of real or anticipated wartime rapes of women of the Christian community. 

Lucretia was a Roman woman renowned for her extreme virtue, known to have killed herself after she was raped in an effort to restore her honor by making it clear that she in no way colluded with her rapist. That itself is sufficiently telling testimony to the burden that rape places on its victims! But Augustine—in one of his lowest moments—makes it worse. For what he does is essentially to blame the victim nonetheless, much as Akin seems to do. He suggests (while acknowledging that only Lucretia herself could have known this) that Lucretia must have been “so enticed by her own desire that she consented to the act” (City of God 1:19). And in this she is, in Augustine’s eyes, condemned.

Augustine was defending himself in the face of critics who asked how it was that Christian women could suffer rape if God was looking after them. We should question his mode of defense! In so doing, we should also question Akin’s assumption that the victim is to be blamed—a stance that has arguably been taken even without the extenuating wartime circumstances that shaped Augustine’s response (never mind its utter absurdity with regard to biological facts known by most women in this country).

Surely Lucretia did not “consent to the act” of her own rape, which led to her suicide. And surely no woman who is raped consents in any way to the conception of a child. To suggest that she has the power to resist or prevent this is not only biologically absurd but also morally wrong…

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