Naked but Not Ashamed

Anthony Zimmerman
The Priest
September 1992
Copyright 1992
Reproduced with Permission

St. Augustine's nearly 1,600-year-old interpretation of "naked without shame" tends to give us a jaundiced view of the sex drive. If we accept his teaching that the drive we now have is a punishment for the sin of Adam and Eve, do we perhaps think less kindly of God who punishes US for THEIR sin? Even worse, will our determination to cultivate chastity tend to wilt because we are troubled and discouraged by the suspicion that the drive which is now in us is an implanted disorder?

Martin Luther short-circuited these ill-defined suspicions by deciding that our inner gravitation toward sin corrupts us thoroughly; that salvation depends not on resisting concupiscence, but on a strong faith in Christ our Savior who whitewashes sins with His merits and does not impute them to us.

The Council of Trent, in 1546, countered Luther's despair by declaring that concupiscence, or the inclination to sin, indeed remains in us after baptism, but it is our duty to wrestle with it effectively; the attraction to sin by itself cannot harm those who do not consent to it, who resist it with courage assisted by the grace of Jesus Christ (see Denzinger-Schoenmetzer, No. 1515).

Today Planned Parenthood and school based clinics, updating Luther's despair, pass out condoms because "they'll do it anyway." St. Augustine (354-430) wouldn't agree, of course, but by making the sex drive into a post-Fall accessory, he paints God's creation as less beautiful than it could be, and dims by a shade our vision of the splendor of God's people.

The magisterium today, quite contrary to Augustine, affirms the positive value of sex rightly used, and teaches clearly that sex is a gift of God. Pope John Paul II emphasized in his catechesis that the "nuptial gift of the body" is purposely designed by the Lord for our good.1 Pope Pius XII explained to midwives that "The Creator. . . has willed ... that husband and wife should experience pleasure and happiness both in soul and body" during the marital act.2 Vatican 11 recognized that the performance of marital acts is "noble and honorable," fostering the self-giving they signify and enriching the spouses in joy and gratitude.3

Strong Objection

St. Augustine would be the first to want his writings updated because he objected strongly to drawing false teachings out of the Scriptures.4 The saint, the greatest among the Fathers of the Church, who smashed the heresies named Donatism, Manicheism, and Pelagianism; whose "towering intellect molded the thought of Western Christianity to such an extent that his ideas dominated the thinking of the Western world for a thousand years5, nevertheless stumbled at times while pioneering the Church through uncharted woods.

But the Augustine we know and love did not lead a saintly life before his conversion at age 34. Before St. Ambrose baptized him at Easter in 387, he had dawdled for a period of nine years with Manicheans. They held a system of raw dualism, of a perpetual antagonism between the two supreme principles, one good, one evil. Leaving the Manicheans, he next followed Neoplatonism, which held that the soul, the divine part of humans, is prisoner to the material body. The body must be broken to release the spirit and make it free. Augustine abandoned such errors but perhaps remnants of a dualistic mind-set biased him to sterilize the sex drive out of paradise. Perhaps the concept of a cosmic war in Neoplatonic philosophy, where spirit is everywhere locked in antagonistic and wearisome combat against matter, has become in the converted Augustine a dualist inspired implacable battle of reason against the sex instinct. Church Historian Philip Hughes observes:

In nothing is the opposition of spirit and matter so evident as in what relates to sex, and, after a life of sexual disorder, Augustine verged on desperation, faced with the habits that threatened to keep him permanently exiled from the Church and Christ. To the Church he came but, in morals as in intellectual assent, by way of Neoplatonism whence the violently-phrased reaction, the language, for example, about sex that is almost a denunciation, the statements that even Christian marriage involves a contamination of spirit. It is a reaction whose color here is Neoplatonic and not Christian at all, but from it derived a tradition that lived on among Christian writers for centuries.6

Perhaps Augustine's interpretation that the sex drive began only with the Fall is an attempt to distance God from evils in the world; the buffer of Adam's sin now shields God from blame for physical and moral evil in the universe. If the sex drive was evil as he thought, then, quite logically he has no place for it in the divinely arranged paradise.7

Life before Conversion

The blandishments of illicit sex were by no means unknown to the young Augustine. "From his very schooldays, in the matter of sexual morality he ran amok, to settle down at the age of 18 to something like a sobriety with the girl who bore him the child Adeodatus. He constantly refers to sex as "lust," meaning it is filthy; he despised it because it does not obey the will while imperiously going its own way with mulish stubbornness. Illicit sex had held him strongly in its grasp before his conversion, as he wrote in The Confessions:

I begged You for chastity, saying: 'Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.' For I was afraid that You would hear my prayer too soon, and too soon would heal me from the disease of lust which I wanted satisfied rather than extinguished.8

He was long stuck in a fierce struggle with himself before he could resolve to leave this sin:

Because my will was perverse it changed to lust, and lust yielded to become habit, and habit not resisted became necessity... My soul hung back. It would not follow, yet found no excuse for not following. All its arguments had already been used and refuted. There remained only trembling silence: for it feared as very death the cessation of that habit of which in truth it was dying.9

He describes graphically how he was sick at heart, staggered, swayed about "this way and that, a changeable and half-wounded will, wrestling, with one part falling as another rose."10 But then he heard the words which enabled him to change his life: "Take and read."He opened the Bible and read the message he needed:

Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.11

He needed to read no more. With the help of God's grace, surely granted in response to the tears of St. Monica, he finally sprung the trap of his sin.

After having so dramatically fought against the attractions of sex in his own life, he found no place for the sex drive in paradise. The fact that he consistently uses the word "lust" in contrast to Thomas who uses the term "venereal pleasure" fits the thought patterns of these towering Fathers of the Church. St. Thomas reasoned that sexual pleasure would have existed before the Fall and would not have been out of place in paradise.12

Ruled the Passions

After conversion, Augustine devoted himself to prayer and study, and to austere penance. By the strictest watchfulness over his heart and senses, and by humble prayer, he learned that it was indeed possible to rule the passions with the help of God's grace. The experience of God's grace prepared him to do battle against Pelagius, who preached a "do-it-yourself with natural powers" heresy, not unlike some TV evangelists do through the tube today.

But Augustine was now a determined enemy of the sex drive itself. He literally regarded sex to be an enemy of humanity, an uncouth foreign element invading the body, a punishment for Original Sin. And he used Scripture to prop up this conviction, convinced that the sacred text taught what he felt in his mind to be true. He employed the Genesis 2:25, "naked without shame" text to prove that Adam and Eve felt no sexual urges before the sin, but felt them immediately with sin's commission.

Basic Concept

That reason ought normally to rule the passions is a basic concept of Augustine. That's how it was in paradise, he thought:

In such happy circumstances and general human well-being we should be far from suspecting that offspring could not have been begotten without the disease of lust, but those parts, like all the rest, would be set in motion at the command of the will; and without the seductive stimulus of passion, with calmness of mind and with no corrupting of the integrity of the body...

When sexual intercourse is spoken of now, it suggests to men's thoughts not such a placid obedience to the will as is conceivable in our first parents, but such violent acting of lust as they themselves have experienced.13

Eight hundred years later St. Thomas mildly disagreed with his mentor on that point, though he accepted much else from him. Thomas taught that sexual intercourse would have been pleasurable to Adam and Eve before their sin.14 It is certain that St. Augustine entertained a very low opinion of the sexual appetite, as can be seen here:

This lust not only takes possession of the whole body and outward members, but also makes itself felt within, and moves the whole man with a passion in which mental emotion is mingled with bodily appetite, so that the pleasure which results is the greatest of all bodily pleasures. So possessing indeed is this pleasure, that at the moment of time in which it is consummated, all mental activity is suspended. What friend of wisdom and holy joys, who being married... would not prefer, if this were possible, to beget children without this lust, so that in this begetting of offspring the members created for this purpose should not be stimulated by the heat of lust, but should be actuated by his volition in the same way as his other members serve him for their respective ends?15

Thomas would disagree with Augustine on this point too, by observing that the reason is actually in charge insofar as a free decision is made before the sexual act is initiated. 16

Sign of Virtue

In the "Retractations" written toward the close of his life, St. Augustine thus described the work which he had begun in the year 401, The Literal Meaning of Genesis: A Commentary in Twelve Books:

In this work there are more questions raised than answers found, and of the answers found not many have been established for certain. Those that are not certain have been proposed for further study.17

Despite the disclaimers, St. Augustine apparently felt that he was on very solid ground when asserting that the sex drive with the commission of Original Sin began, and in a rebellious condition.

As soon, then, as they had violated the precept, they were completely naked, interiorly deserted by the grace which they had offended by pride and arrogant love of their own independence. Casting their eyes on their bodies, they felt a movement of concupiscence which they had not known. It was in this respect, then, that their eyes were opened to that to which they had not been open before, although they were open to other things.18

The paragraph betrays no hesitation, no uncertainty. For him, the two naked people felt no shame before the sin, but felt it immediately thereafter. That was it! Period! No need of more arguments. It means, he thought, that the sex drive began then and there. This is also clear from many other passages of his writings. For example, after the sin "their bodies became subject to disease and death, like the bodies of animals, and consequently subject to the same drive by which there is in animals a desire to copulate and thus provide for offspring to take the place of those that die.19

In The City of God (13:13),he emphasizes that the flesh revolted against spirit in retaliation for the revolt of our first parents against the command of God. Read: "God gets even!"

For, as soon as our first parents had transgressed the commandment, divine grace forsook them, and they were confounded at their own wickedness; and therefore they took fig leaves (which were possibly the first that came to hand in their troubled state of mind) and covered their shame; for though their members remained the same, they had shame now where they had none before. They experienced a new motion of their flesh, which had become disobedient to them, in strict retribution of their own disobedience to God. For the soul, reveling in its own liberty, and scorning to serve God, was itself deprived of the command it had formerly maintained over the body... Then began the flesh to lust against the Spirit (Gal 5:17), in which strife we are born, deriving from the first transgression a seed of death, and bearing in our members, and in our vitiated nature, the contest or even victory of the flesh.

Such, then, is the teaching of the great Augustine; without hesitation or doubt he teaches that the sexual instinct was absent before the Fall; and he bases that conclusion squarely on the text of Genesis 2-3. Note that Galatians does not state that the sex drive began here; Augustine offers it as a description of what he believes to have occurred at the time.

Not Strict Proofs

In various passages, Augustine adds the text of Psalm 51:5 "In iniquity I was conceived" and the text of Romans 8: 10-11 "In whom we have all sinned" to support this meaning (for example, in Literal Meaning of Genesis,6:9). Also the text "God made man upright" (Eccl 7:29; City of God,14:11). But these are not strict proofs that sexual instincts began with Original Sin. There is no parallel proof in Scripture at all, to show that a sexual drive was absent before the Fall.

St. Augustine was strictly Roman and Latin, one who knew little Greek, and no Hebrew. The latter was especially unfortunate. As we shall see, the Hebrew text almost certainly does not praise Adam and Eve for being unashamed of their nakedness. That is, they ought to have been ashamed of their nakedness but were not, and that makes them vulnerable to the serpent's temptation which then follows. The Latin text of this passage which St. Augustine had before him reads as follows: "Et erant ambo nudi Adam et mulier eius et non pudebat illos." Translated: "Adam and his wife were both naked, and they were not ashamed."20

Unfortunately, the saint could not read Hebrew, the language which the rabbi's read; neither does he quote the rabbi's to support his unique teaching. He would not likely have found support from them in the Talmuds then being formulated.

"Naked without shame" is not mentioned again in the Scriptures after Genesis 2:25. Naked appears 43 times, nakedness 54 times, in the rest of the Old and the New Testament, but never as a sign of goodness or virtue.21 It designates helplessness, need, dependency, punishment, sin; nowhere does it designate virtue or self control. Job came naked from his mother's womb (Jb 1:21). The Israelites were "naked" making fools of themselves by dancing around the golden calf when Moses and Joshua came down from Mount Sinai (Ex 32:25). Isaiah walked around naked at the Lord's instruction to demonstrate to the Philistines of Ashdod the horrors that await them in Egypt (Is 20:2-3). Ezekiel speaks of a hopeless helplessness, Jerusalem squirming naked in her blood (cf. Ez 16:5-6). Christ promises to reward those who found Him "naked and you clothed me" (Mt 25:36). "The Old Testament supplies no trace of the existence, among the sacred writers, of any interpretation of the Fall-story comparable to the later doctrine of the Fall,"writes F.R. Tennant.22

Adam gets only scarce mention in the Old Testament after Genesis. We review briefly the scriptural passages which may be even remotely germane to the question. Job and his friends speak much about creation, but do not mention Genesis. Passionately they discuss the problem of evil, but make no connection with Original Sin. For example this passage:

I am innocent, but I no longer care. I am sick of living. Nothing matters; Innocent or guilty, God will destroy us. When an innocent man suddenly dies, God laughs. God gave the world to the wicked. He made the judges blind. And if God didn't do it, who did? Job 9:21-24

We might expect Elihu to fault Job for blaming God instead of putting the blame on Adam and Eve, but he does not do so.

Genesis 6 tells about "descendants of "human women and heavenly beings," snatches of ancient myths.(Some extra-biblical literature makes more out of that passage than out of Genesis 2-3; lurid celestial-terrestrial sexual encounters; trysts between Eve and the serpent; at intercourse the serpent injects a poison into Eve which humans inherit: and others.)

From Ancient Legends

Ezekiel's prophecy against Tyre in Chapter 28 alludes to Eden, probably - from ancient legends rather than from Genesis. We find no mention of nakedness without shame in these passages, nor in others. Wisdom 8:19 carries overtones of Plato's concept of the pre-existence of souls: "I had a pleasant personality even as a child. I had been fortunate enough to receive a good soul, or rather, I was given a sound body to live in because I was already good."This passage might be construed against Augustine's interpretation of Genesis 2:25 rather than in support of it.

Sirach, written probably as late as 180 B.C., mentions the sin and death as a consequence: "Sin began with a woman, and we must all die because of her"(25:24). He says nothing about nakedness without shame. He later praises Adam as "the greatest": "Adam's glory was above that of any other living being"(49:16). For him Adam was great also after the Fall.

The Book of Wisdom (2:23-24), written likely in the final century before Christ, makes explicit reference to the Fall and death, but states nothing about shame and nakedness:

When God created us, he did not intend for us to die; he made us like himself. It was the Devil's jealousy that brought death into the world, and those who belong to the Devil are the ones who will die.

Wisdom 10: 1-2 comments:

Wisdom protected the father of the world, the first man that was ever formed, when he alone had been created. She saved him from his own sinful act and gave him the strength to master everything on earth.

Again, no mention is made of naked without shame." The Old Testament, therefore, does not enlighten us further about the meaning of Genesis 2:25.

The New Testament, likewise, has no specific explanation of the condition of Adam and Eve before the Fall; and nowhere does it state that Adam and Eve had motor control over the sex organs before the Fall. The apostles and evangelists, except for Paul, are silent about the original state of humans before the Fall. That includes even the passage in Matthew, Chapter 19, where Christ states that our first parents were monogamous: "Haven't you read the scripture that says in the beginning the Creator made people male and female... Man must not separate, then, what God has joined together."Christ made no comment here which would assert or deny an alleged motor control over the sex organs before the Fall.

Paul's classic passage in Romans, Chapter 5, which begins: "Sin came into the world through one man, and his sin brought death with it,"isby no means a clear revelation that a spontaneous sex drive was absent in paradise before the Fall. Neither do related passages such as Romans 7: ". . it is the sin that lives in me;"nor 2 Cor 5:14: "one died for all, therefore all died;"nor I Corinthians 15:22: "For just as all people die because of their union with Adam. . . ." Thesepassages say nothing explicit about being "naked without shame." Someone may wish to read that meaning into them, but by so doing he adds a new element to the texts which is not clearly revealed there. In summary, after Genesis 2:25 the Scriptures are silent about the meaning of the words: "The man and the woman were both naked but they were not embarrassed."

Public revelation ceased with the death of the apostles. Whether God revealed in the Scriptures that our first parents initially had no sex drive, the meaning which St. Augustine read into Genesis 2:25, depends now upon what is revealed in that single verse. Is his interpretation certain?

John S. Kselman, Associate Professor of Old Testament, Weston School of Theology, Cambridge, Mass., points out that the Hebrew text uses a pun to put nakedness into a parallel with cunning; Adam and Eve were naked (arumin) and the serpent was cunning (arum); expect action now. The serpent's cunning is thus made by the author to be connected with the couple's lack of shame for their naked condition. That they were not ashamed is not praiseworthy, but disgraceful. Verse 24 ought to end Chapter 1, and the next verse should begin Chapter 2 because it is part of the sin story, writes Kselman.23

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