Seventh: Another element of ,the Church which impressed him profoundly: Christian asceticism, as represented by the monks and saints. He experiences the tension between the mystical ideal and his own sensual nature. In the period of Augustine, the sphere of sexuality was profanized in a terrible way. Neither Stoic reason nor Neoplatonism were able to overcome this profanization, on a large scale.
The natural forms of love, sanctified by tradition and faith in the archaic periods of Greece and of the other countries, had been destroyed. An unrestrained naturalism of sex ruled. Against this, all the preaching of Stoics, Cynics, or Skeptics, was unable to help, because they preached the law, and the law was powerless against a naturalistically distorted libido. And now Augustine saw a new principle of sanctification. This gave him the solution for himself and for others also, in this realm. But it had the same tension in itself as Christian Neoplatonism. We already met Christian Neoplatonism in Dionysius, where we found this tension – affirmation and negation of the world. Now we find it here again in the problem of asceticism. Christianity affirms creation and sanctifies existence, through the historical appearance of the Divine in Christ. Neoplatonism negates creation; it has no creation, even. It negates the historical appearance of God, or makes it a universal event which always happens. Augustine was split: insofar as he was a Christian, coming from the Old Testament, he valuated family and sex insofar as it is in the family. Insofar as he was influenced by Neoplatonism and the ancient negativity towards the world, he denied sex and praised asceticism. This conf lict goes through the whole history of the Christian Church. We have it even in the Reformers: the Reformation was basically on the positive side of Augustine – Old Testament prophetism affirms the body, etc. On the other hand the suspicion of libido was so deeply rooted in the Christian tradition that in spite of their greatness and their radicalism, the Reformers were unable to eradicate completely this remnant of Neoplatonic asceticism, and were at least very suspicious of everything sexual, as especially in Calvinistic countries the Protestants still are.