Augustine, The City of God (Book 1, Chapters 16-20; main text dealing with Lucretia is Ch. 19)

The text is the Dods-Wilson-Smith translation from the Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, Vol. 2, available electronically from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College:


Chapter 16.-Of the Violation of the Consecrated and Other Christian Virgins, to Which They Were Subjected in Captivity and to Which

Their Own Will Gave No Consent; And Whether This Contaminated Their Souls.

But they fancy they bring a conclusive charge against Christianity, when they aggravate the horror of captivity by adding that not only wives and

unmarried maidens, but even consecrated virgins, were violated. But truly, with respect to this, it is not Christian faith, nor piety, nor even the

virtue of chastity, which is hemmed into any difficulty; the only difficulty is so to treat the subject as to satisfy at once modesty and reason. And in

discussing it we shall not be so careful to reply to our accusers as to comfort our friends. Letthis, therefore, in the first place, be laid down as an

unassailable position, that the virtue which makes the life good has its throne in the soul, and thence rules the members of the body, which

becomes holy in virtue of the holiness of the will; and that while the will remains firm and unshaken, nothing that another person does with the

body, or upon the body, is any fault of the person who suffers it, so long as he cannot escape it without sin. But as not only pain may be inflicted,

but lust gratified on the body of another, whenever anything of this latter kind takes place, shame invades even a thoroughly pure spirit from

which modesty has not departed,-shame, lest that act which could not be suffered without some sensual pleasure, should be believed to have

been committed also with some assent of the will.

Chapter 17.-Of Suicide Committed Through Fear of Punishment or Dishonor.

And consequently, even if some of these virgins killed themselves to avoid such disgrace, who that has any human feeling would refuse to

forgive them.? And as for those who would not put an end to their lives, lest they might seem to escape the crime of another by a sin of their own,

he who lays this to their charge as a great wickedness is himself not guiltless of the fault of folly. For if it is not, lawful to take the law into our own

hands, and slay even a guilty person, whose death no public sentence has warranted, then certainly he who kills himself is a homicide, and so

much the guiltier of his own death, as he was more innocent of that offence for which he doomed himself to die. Do we justly execrate the deed

of Judas, and does truth itself pronounce that by hanging himself he rather aggravated than expiated the guilt of that most iniquitous betrayal,

since, by despairing of God's mercy in his sorrow that wrought death, he left to himself no place for a healing penitence? How much more ought

he to abstain from laying violent hands on himself who has done nothing worthy of such a punishment! For Judas, when he killed himself, killed a

wicked man; but he passed from this life chargeable not only with the death of Christ, but with his own: for though he killed himself on account of

his crime, his killing himself was another crime. Why, then, should a man who has done no ill do ill to himself, and by killing himself kill the

innocent to escape another's guilty act, and perpetrate upon himself a sin of his own, that the sin of another may not be perpetrated on him?

Chapter 18.-Of the Violence Which May Be Done to the Body by Another's Lust, While the Mind Remains Inviolate.

But is there a fear that even another's lust may pollute the violated? It will not pollute, if it be another's: if it pollute, it is not another's, but is shared

also by the polluted. But since purity is a virtue of the soul, and has for its companion virtue, the fortitude which will rather endure all ills than

consent to evil; and since no one, however magnanimous and pure, has always the disposal of his own body, but can control only the consent

and refusal of his will, what sane man can suppose that, if his body be seized and forcibly made use of to satisfy the lust of another, he thereby

loses his purity? For if purity can be thus destroyed, then assuredly purity is no virtue of the soul; nor can it be numbered among those good

things by which the life is made good, but among the good things of the body, in the same category as strength, beauty, sound and unbroken

health, and, in short, all such good things as may be diminished without at all diminishing the goodness and rectitude of our life. But if purity be

nothing better than these, why should the body be perilled that it may be preserved? If, on the other hand, it belongs to the soul, then not even

when the body is violated is it lost. Nay more, the virtue of holy continence, when it resists the uncleanness of carnal lust, sanctifies even the

body, and therefore when this continence remains unsubdued, even the sanctity of the body is preserved, because the will to use it holily

remains, and, so far as lies in the body itself, the power also.

For the sanctity of the body does not consist in the integrity of its members, nor in their exemption from all touch; for they are exposed to various

accidents which do violence to and wound them, and the surgeons who administer relief often perform operations that sicken the spectator. A

midwife, suppose, has (whether maliciously or accidentally, or through unskillfulness) destroyed the virginity of some girl, while endeavoring to

ascertain it: I suppose no one is so foolish asto believe that, by this destruction of the integrity of one organ, the virgin has lost anything even of

her bodily sanctity. And thus, so long as the soul keeps this firmness of purpose which sanctifies even the body, the violence done by another's

lust makes no impression on this bodily sanctity, which is preserved intact by one's own persistent continence. Suppose a virgin violates the

oath she has sworn to God, and goes to meet her seducer with the intention of yielding to him, shall we say that as she goes she is possessed

even of bodily sanctity, when already she has lost and destroyed that sanctity of soul which sanctifies the body? Far be it from us to so misapply

words. Let us rather draw this conclusion, that while the sanctity of the soul remains even when the body is violated, the sanctity of the body is not

lost; and that, in like manner, the sanctity of the body is lost when the sanctity of the soul is violated, though the body itself remains intact. And

therefore a woman who has been violated by the sin of another, and without any consent of her own, has no cause to put herself to death; much

less has she cause to commit suicide in order to avoid such violation, for in that case she commits certain homicide to prevent a crime which is

uncertain as yet, and not her own.

Chapter 19.-Of Lucretia, Who Put an End to Her Life Because of the Outrage Done Her.

This, then, is our position, and it seems sufficiently lucid. We maintain that when a woman is violated while her soul admits no consent to the

iniquity, but remains inviolably chaste, the sin is not hers, but his who violates her. But do they against whom we have to defend not only the

souls, but the sacred bodies too of these outraged Christian captives,-do they, perhaps, dare to dispute our position? But all know how loudly

they extol the purity of Lucretia, that noble matron of ancient Rome. When King Tarquin's son had violated her body, she made known the

wickedness of this young profligate to her husband Collatinus, and to Brutus her kinsman, men of high rank and full of courage, and bound them

by an oath to avenge it. Then, heart-sick, and unable to bear the shame, she put an end to her life. What shall we call her? An adulteress, or

chaste? There is no question which she was. Not more happily than truly did a declaimer say of this sad occurrence: "Here was a marvel: there

were two, and only one committed adultery." Most forcibly and truly spoken. For this declaimer, seeing in the union of the two bodies the foul lust

of the one, and the chaste will of the other, and giving heed not to the contact of the bodily members, but to the wide diversity of their souls, says:

"There were two, but the adultery was committed only by one."

But how is it, that she who was no partner to the crime bears the heavier punishment of the two? For the adulterer was only banished along with

his father; she suffered the extreme penalty. If that was not impurity by which she was unwillingly ravished, then this is not justice by which she,

being chaste, is punished. To you I appeal, ye laws and judges of Rome. Even after the perpetration of great enormities, you do not suffer the

criminal to be slain untried. If, then, one were to bring to your bar this case, and were to prove to you that a woman not only untried, but chaste

and innocent, had been killed, would you not visit the murderer with punishment proportionably severe? This crime was committed by Lucretia;

that Lucretia so celebrated and landed slew the innocent, chaste, outraged Lucretia. Pronounce sentence. But if you cannot, because there

does not appear any one whom you can punish, why do you extol with such unmeasured laudation her who slew an innocent and chaste woman?

Assuredly you will find it impossible to defend her before the judges of the realms below, if they be such as your poets are fond of representing

them; for she is among those.

"Who guiltless sent themselves to doom,

And all for loathing of the day,

In madness threw their lives away."

And if she with the others wishes to return,

'Fate bars the way: around their keep

The slow unlovely waters creep,

And bind with ninefold chain."51

Or perhaps she is not there, because she slew herself conscious of guilt, not of innocence? She herself alone knows her reason; but what if she

was betrayed by the pleasure of the act, and gave some consent to Sextus, though so violently abusing her, and then was so affected with

remorse, that she thought death alone could expiate her sin? Even though this were the case, she ought still to have held her hand from suicide,

if she could with her false gods have accomplished a fruitful repentance. However, if such were the state of the case, and if it were false that

there were two, but one only committed adultery; if the truth were that both were involved in it, one by open assault, the other by secret consent,

then she did not kill an innocent woman; and therefore her erudite defenders may maintain that she is not among that class of the dwellers below

"who guiltless sent themselves to doom." But this case of Lucretia is in such a dilemma, that if you extenuate the homicide, you confirm the

adultery: if you acquit her of adultery, you make the charge of homicide heavier; and there is no way out of the dilemma, when one asks, If she

was adulterous, why praise her? if chaste, why slay her?

Nevertheless, for our purpose of refuting those who are unable to comprehend what true sanctity is, and who therefore insult over our outraged

Christian women, it is enough that in the instance of this noble Roman matron it was said in her praise, "There were two, but the adultery was the

crime of only one." For Lucretia was confidently believed to be superior to the contamination of any consenting thought to the adultery. And

accordingly, since she killed herself for being subjected to an outrage in which she had no guilty part, it is obvious that this act of hers was

prompted not by the love of purity, but by the overwhelming burden of her shame. She was ashamed that so foul a crime had been perpetrated

upon her, though without her abetting; and this matron, with the Roman love of glory in her veins, was seized with a proud dread that, if she

continued to live, it would be supposed she willingly did not resent the wrong that had been done her. She could not exhibit to men her

conscience but she judged that her self-inflicted punishment would testify her state of mind; and she burned with shame at the thought that her

patient endurance of the foul affront that another had done her, should be construed into complicity with him. Not such was the decision of the

Christian women who suffered as she did, and yet survive. They declined to avenge upon themselves the guilt of others, and so add crimes of

their own to those crimes in which they had no share. For this they would have done had their shame driven them to homicide, as the lust of their

enemies had driven them to adultery. Within their own souls, in the witness of their own conscience, they enjoy the glory of chastity. In the sight of

God, too, they are esteemed pure, and this contents them; they ask no more: it suffices them to have opportunity of doing good, and they decline

to evade the distress of human suspicion, lest they thereby deviate from the divine law.

Chapter 20.-That Christians Have No Authority for Committing Suicide in Any Circumstances Whatever.

It is not without significance, that in no passage of the holy canonical books there can be found either divine precept or permission to take away

our own life, whether for the sake of entering on the enjoyment of immortality, or of shunning, or ridding ourselves of anything whatever. Nay, the

law, rightly interpreted, even prohibits suicide, where it says, "Thou shalt not kill." This is proved especially by the omission of the words "thy

neighbor," which are inserted when false witness is forbidden: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." Nor yet should any one

on this account suppose he has not broken this commandment if he has borne false witness only against himself. For the love of our neighbor is

regulated by the love of ourselves, as it is written, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." If, then, he who makes false statements about himself

is not less guilty of bearing false witness than if he had made them to the injury of his neighbor; although in the commandment prohibiting false

witness only his neighbor is mentioned, and persons taking no pains to understand it might suppose that a man was allowed to be a false

witness to his own hurt; how much greater reason have we to understand that a man may not kill himself, since in the commandment," Thou shalt

not kill," there is no limitation added nor any exception made in favor of any one, and least of all in favor of him on whom the command is laid!

And so some attempt to extend this command even to beasts and cattle, as if it forbade us to take life from any creature. But if so, why not

extend it also to the plants, and all that is rooted in and nourished by the earth? For though this class of creatures have no sensation, yet they

also are said to live, and consequently they can die; and therefore, if violence be done them, can be killed. So, too, the apostle, when speaking

of the seeds of such things as these, says, "That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die;" and in the Psalm it is said, "He killed their

vines with hail." Must we therefore reckon it a breaking of this commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," to pull a flower? Are we thus insanely to

countenance the foolish error of the Manichaeans? Putting aside, then, these ravings, if, when we say, Thou shalt not kill, we do not understand

this of the plants, since they have no sensation, nor of the irrational animals that fly, swim, walk, or creep, since they are dissociated from us by

their want of reason, and are therefore by the just appointment of the Creator subjected to us to kill or keep alive for our own uses; if so, then it

remains that we understand that commandment simply of man. The commandment is, "Thou shall not kill man;" therefore neither another nor

yourself, for he who kills himself still kills nothing else than man.