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True Sex and the Truth of Sex: Interpreting the Steinberg-Bynum Exchange

Fri, March 23, 9:00 to 10:30am, Hilton Riverside, 3rd Level - Canal Room


This paper offers an Augustinian response to Steinberg’s Augustinian argument for the ostentatio genitalium through an analysis of the exchange between Steinberg and Caroline Walker Bynum. Steinberg bases his theological argument for the ostentatio genitalium in a reading of the implications of Augustine’s position on concupiscence as visibly marked by the male genitals, namely, that Christ’s genitals signify the restoration of prelapsarian chastity. In response, Bynum critiques Steinberg’s account of Christ’s salvific incarnation as specifically male, and offers an opposite interpretation of a feminized incarnate body. I argue that Augustinian theology is wary of signifying the incarnation given the inevitability of idolatry and resists the ways in which Bynum and Steinberg gender the Christic economy of salvation. Both Bynum and Steinberg idolize the bodily sex of Christ in opposite senses, I suggest, and therefore fail to heed Augustine’s warning against attachments to particular sensible signs of perfection and salvation.