Original Research

Raptus en die ‘vorm van die wil’: ’n Transgressiewe lesing van Foucault se Augustinus-interpretasie in Les aveux de la chair

Johann Beukes
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 42, No 1 | a2310 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v42i1.2310 | © 2021 Johann Beukes | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 31 May 2021 | Published: 19 November 2021

About the author(s)

Johann Beukes, Department of Philosophy and Classics, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa; Center for the History of Philosophy and Science, Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies, Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands


Raptus and the ‘form of the will’: A transgressive reading of Foucault’s interpretation of Augustine in Les aveux de la chair. This article presents a reading of Michel Foucault’s (1926–1984) interpretation of Augustine of Hippo’s (354–430) views on sex in Histoire de la sexualité 4 (Les aveux de la chair), published in February 2018 at Gallimard in Paris under editorship of Frédéric Gros. The article contributes to the reception and ongoing analyses of Les aveux de la chair by presenting a transgressive reading of the Augustinian prioritisation of the will, and Foucault’s emphasis on the Augustinian notion of sexual desire as the ‘form of the will’. Raptus or ‘divine orgasm’ is presented from the texts of several female mystics from the central Middle Ages as an example of a sexual context in which the will is unable to claim the pinnacle position Augustine attributed to it, precisely as a form of identity – and language transgressing eroticism in the ‘mystical presence of God’. Foucault’s reading of John Cassian’s (ca.360–435) ‘battle for chastity’ is presented as the discursive background of his interpretation of Augustine, followed by a presentation of raptus as a resource to reconsider Augustine’s prioritisation of the will (and the ‘problem of the libido’) in sexual contexts.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: Foucault’s reading of the church and desert fathers in Histoire de la sexualité 4 (Les aveux de la chair) impacts early Medieval philosophy, early Medieval history, church history, patristics, philosophy of religion and sociology of religion. Since these proximate disciplines are affected by Foucault’s text, they may well take note of the ongoing examinations of this recently edited work.


Augustine of Hippo; Georges Bataille; John Cassian; Philippe Chevallier; Michel Foucault; Foucault Cirkel Nederland/België; Frédéric Gros; Hadewijch of Antwerp; Histoire de la sexualité 4 (Les aveux de la chair); raptus (‘divine orgasm’)


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doi: 10.4102/ve.v43i1.2415