Friday, November 9, 2007

What Did Augustine Say About Polygamy?
Saint Augustine believed that the Bible allowed for polygamy, but only for the purpose of procreation and only if the law of the land allowed it. Augustine did not believe the Old Testament patriarchs were sinning by having multiple wives.

Here are some quotes from Augustine:

That the holy fathers of olden times after Abraham, and before him, to whom God gave His testimony that "they pleased Him," [Heb. 11:4-6] thus used their wives, no one who is a Christian ought to doubt, since it was permitted to certain individuals amongst them to have a plurality of wives, where the reason was for the multiplication of their offspring, not the desire of varying gratification.. . . In the advance, however, of the human race, it came to pass that to certain good men were united a plurality of good wives, --- many to each; and from this it would seem that moderation sought rather unity on one side for dignity, while nature permitted plurality on the other side for fecundity. For on natural principles it is more feasible for one to have dominion over many, than for many to have dominion over one (A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of The Christian Church, Volume 5, page 267).

But those who have not the virtues of temperance must not be allowed to judge the conduct of holy men, any more than those in fever of the sweetness and wholesomeness of food...If our critics, then, wish to attain not a spurious and affected, but a genuine and sound moral health, let them find a cure in believing the Scripture record, that the honorable name of saint is given not without reason to men who had several wives; and that the reason is this, that the mind can exercise such control over the flesh as not to allow the appetite implanted in our nature by Providence to go beyond the limits of deliberate intention. . . .the holy patriarchs in their conjugal intercourse were actuated not by the love of pleasure, but by the intelligent desire for the continuance of their family. . . .nor did the number of their wives make the patriarchs licentious. But why defend the husbands, to whose character the divine word bears the highest testimony. . . . (Ibid., Volume 4; page 290).

The only reason of its being a crime now to do this, is because custom and the laws forbid it. Whoever despises these restraints, even though he uses his wives only to get children, still commits sin, and does an injury to human society itself, for the sake of which it is that the procreation of children is required. In the present altered state of customs and laws, men can have no pleasure in a plurality of wives, except from an excess of lust; and so the mistake arises of supposing that no one could ever have had many wives but from sensuality and the vehemence of sinful desires. Unable to form an idea of men whose force of mind is beyond their conception, they compare themselves with themselves, as the apostle says [2 Cor. x. 12], and so make mistakes. Conscious that, in their intercourse though with one wife only, they areoften influenced by mere animal passion instead of an intelligent motive, they think it an obvious inference that, if the limits of moderation are not observed where there is only one wife, the infirmity must be aggravated where there are more than one(Ibid., page 289).

But here there is no ground for a criminal accusation: for a plurality of wives was no crime when it was the custom; and it is a crime now, because it is no longer the custom. There are sins against nature, and sins against custom, and sins against the laws. As regards nature, [Jacob] used the women not for sensual gratification, but for the procreation of children. For custom, this was the common practice at that time in those countries. And for the laws, no prohibition existed. The only reason of its being a crime now to do this, is because custom and the laws forbid it (Ibid. page 289).