Continence, consumption and other abuses

Or Why an Augustinian Ethic is Worth the Bother

Presented at the Society of Christian Ethics annual meeting, January 8, 2000, Washington D.C.


“Love is the problem in ethics, not the solution,” notes Christian ethicist Margaret A. Farley. St. Augustine has probably done more to shape Christian teachings on love than any other theologian, yet he puzzled throughout his entire career over how to construct a unified account of love for God, neighbor, self, and temporal goods. Some of his ethical judgments helped the church of later centuries rationalize quite unloving policies of repression. Recognizing the role that continence played in Augustine’s understanding of love allows Christian ethicists both to critique Augustinian thought from within and to reappropriate it. In an age in which consumeristic culture is allowing, seducing, and training human beings to fine-tune their domination of one another and to dominate other creatures at an unprecedented scale, we need Augustine’s wisdom in more ways than we might have expected.

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