Original Research

Augustinus en vroulike homoërotiek in die vroeë Middeleeue: ’n Foucaultiaanse ideëhistoriese interpretasie

Johann Beukes
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 77, No 4 | a6880 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i4.6880 | © 2021 Johann Beukes | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 31 May 2021 | Published: 28 October 2021

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Johann Beukes, Department of Philosophy & Classics, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa

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Augustine and female homoeroticism in the early Middle Ages: A Foucaultian idea-historical interpretation. Taking his reading of Romans 1:26–27 and Genesis 19 as its hermeneutical key, an idea-historical interpretation of the views of the Western church father Augustine of Hippo (354–430) on female homoeroticism is presented in this article. The accentuation of French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926–1984) on the overall significance of Augustine in the Western history of sexuality, in his posthumous Histoire de la sexualité 4 (Les aveux de la chair, under editorship of Frédéric Gros, 2018), is used to contextualise Augustine’s views on sexual desire as the ‘form of the will’, here positioned specifically within a female homoerotic context. Drawing on the substantial studies of John Boswell (in 1980) and Bernadette Brooten (in 1996), which, although relatively dated, are still without equal in Medieval research, the article subsequently explores Augustine’s views on intimate relations between women, both in monasteries and in secular society. It is shown that intimate relations between women must have transpired in fifth-century monasteries and that female homoeroticism was for the next two centuries dealt with with restraint rather than with forms of exclusion and punishment, despite the negative portrayals of same-sex relations by some of Augustine’s patristic contemporaries (particularly John Chrysostom [ca.347–407]), yet precisely on the basis of Augustine’s understated approach. Although Augustine renounced homoerotic relations as a form of ‘unnatural’ (for him, expressly, all ‘non-procreative’) sex, he dealt with the incidence of female same-sex relations with understatement. Given his general authority in the early Middle Ages, one effect of Augustine’s non-homophobic approach was that female homoeroticism was de facto bypassed as a ‘moral problem’ in the fifth and sixth centuries, until handbooks of penance, that prohibited all forms of same-sex relations, started circulating at the end of the sixth century.

Contribution: This article contributes to the ongoing study of Medieval female sexuality, and particularly of female homoeroticism in late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, by exploring Augustine’s views on same-sex relations between women around the early fifth century, while concurrently contributing to ongoing analyses of Michel Foucault’s interpretation of the church and desert fathers in the (edited) fourth volume of Histoire de la sexualité (Les aveux de la chair), published in 2018.


Augustine of Hippo; John Boswell; Bernadette Brooten; Peter Brown; John Chrysostom; female homoeroticism in the early Middle Ages; ‘female sodomy’; Michel Foucault; Frédéric Gros; Histoire de la sexualité 4 (Les aveux de la chair)


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