Pagan Greek and Roman Attitudes in the Church to Marriage

In his “Confessions”, the early church leader and influential theologian Bishop Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) wrote about the attitudes of his Christian mother “Saint” Monica to the relationship between husbands and wives: “My mother served her husband as if he were her master…She even endured his sexual infidelities so patiently that she never even had one quarrel with him on this account…She learned that an angry husband should not be resisted either in deed or even in word. But when he had calmed down and seemed receptive, she used to give him an explanation for her conduct, if by chance he had been imprudently enraged. Many women, whose husbands were actually more mild-tempered than hers, bore the scars of beatings on their disfigured faces. But when, in conversations with friends, they criticized the behavior of their husbands, my mother gave them a serious warning – though phrased as a humorous remark – about their tongues, advising them that from the moment they had first heard the so-called marriage tablets read aloud, they should think of those tablets as the instruments by which they had been turned into slaves, and that, mindful of their status, they should not be insolent toward their masters.” [1]

From the above, we see that Monica believed:


a)         husbands were the masters of their wives.

b)         wives were the slaves of their husbands.

c)         wives should put up without complaint with being beaten by their husbands.

d)         wives should not criticize their husbands to others about their husbands beating them.

e)         wives should not resist their angry husbands in word or deed in any way.

f)          wives should never complain to their husbands if their husband is repeatedly committing adultery.


Augustine’s above uncritical comments about his mother’s attitudes are evidence of the spread of pagan Greek attitudes to marriage in the Church. These Greek and Roman attitudes involved the ideas that wives were like slaves, could be justifiably beaten by their husbands and should be tolerant of their husbands’ sexual affairs with mistresses, female slaves and prostitutes.




[1] Augustine, “Confessions”, 9. 9.



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