Augustine silencing or blaming domestic violence victims?

There were plenty of women married to husbands of gentler temper whose faces were badly disfigured by traces of blows, who while gossiping together would complain about their husbands’ behavior; but she checked their talk, reminding them in what seemed to be a joking vein but with serious import that from the time they had heard their marriage contracts read out they had been in duty bound to consider these as legal documents which made slaves of them. In consequence they ought to keep their subservient status in mind and not defy their masters.

Physically injured domestic violence victims speaking of their maltreatment are told not to defy their abusers because their marriage contracts made these victims slaves.
Does this imply that domestic violence victims should be silent about their maltreatment? Is domestic violence the fault of the victim for not obeying their master husband and not the fault of their abuser? Didn’t the Catholic Church raise the dignity of women?

Quote comes from The Confessions Book IX, Chapter 9, 19

That was then. We don’t live in those days and just like slavery was very common then today it is unacceptable for the husband to hit his wife.

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Just as the Church changed on slavery, she did likewise on other matters such as this.

The Church has never supported slavery.

What we would today recognise as sexist prejudices were endemic throughout much of the ancient world, and Augustine’s own society was not immune to it. A large contributing factor was Aristotle - immensely influential to early Church Fathers - who had many peculiar beliefs, including the idea that men are born from perfectly developed embryos while women were from imperfect embryos.

Much of this was cultural baggage inherited from ancient Greco-Roman culture, where - in many Greek poleis - it was considered scandalous for a married woman to leave her home without a male guardian.

That being said, a nuanced understanding of domestic violence (and other family violence) didn’t especially emerge until the middle of the 20th century. So I wouldn’t recommend anachronistically projecting modern understandings of a societal problem to what Augustine wouldn’t even have considered a problem due to his social mores.


There were plenty of bishops and priests who owned slaves, back in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In many Catholic countries, it was legal, and it was normal at the time for people who could afford them to own a slave or two as domestic servants.

Yes there were Catholic individuals, even bishops and priests, who supported slavery but the Church has never supported it.

A bishop is not Mother Church. Even multiple bishops are not Mother Church. And what @Bithynian said about changes in society is relevant here.

Canon 3. If any one shall teach a slave, under pretext of piety, to despise his master and to run away from his service, and not to serve his own master with good-will and all honour, let him be anathema.

This is from the Council of Gangra, which was accepted by the ecumenical council of Chalcedon. In this, being anti-slavery is heretical. Now, to be fair, this canon may be only condemning slave revolts as unjust, but I fail to see how most devout Roman Catholic Christians today would support this canon even with that interpretation.

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See my post above.

How many Roman Catholic have you heard actually say that slavery is acceptable?

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You misunderstand me. All I’m saying is that most, if not all, Roman Catholics today would never assent to that canon (even when it was accepted by the ecumenical council, which was supposed to be infallible in faith and morals).

Okay, correction accepted, and I apologize.
Was the Council’s statement on this issue a matter of faith or morals?

Yes, because it had touched on how slaves should treat their masters.

Augustine is not impeccable, his writings are not free of errors.


This is Augustine speaking on his own.

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Nah. It is.

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You have nothing to gain by saying something like that.

Nothing to lose either though.

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