From "The Sinner of Saint Ambrose"

The below is an excerpt from a novel written in 1952 by one Robert Raynolds, The Sinner of Saint Ambrose. Alaric and his armies hang about the novel ominously, and as I near the end, I'm sure the climactic event will be the taking of Rome by the Goths. That's the setting (as, I think, is the author's time, 1952), and this bit from the book is a fascinating commentary on societies and women's roles.

The destruction thing is certainly poetic, and I think there's something to it, but masculine absention is more the problem than feminine bitterness.

If the foundation be destroyed...?

In Augustine's book I also saw in a new way what women were doing.

I was astonished in the
Confessions by the revelation of the guiding prominence in his life of his mother Monica...Of course there had before now been men dominated by their mothers; once in a while such a man rose to prominence. For nearly a thousand years the strong Roman mother had taught her son the path of honor, courage and public service, and for a thousand years the Roman father had been the true father and master of the family. Now here was Monica teaching her son to despise the world, to avoid any career of public honor, and to despise his own father in favor of God. I got an impression that somehow or other Augustine's mother had made him ashamed of himself--I mean, ashamed of his actual being--from his childhood on. She had imputed dishonor to the early motions of his soul...

But lest I probe, with crude assertions, beyond my depth, let me warn myself in Augustine's own words: "Man is a great deep, Lord. You number his very hairs, and they are not lost in Your sight: but the hairs of his head are easier to number than his affections and the movements of his heart"--or, as Paul before him spoke, "No man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of man that is in him."

How dangerous it is for a mother to intrude upon the soul of her son!

Women were assuming a new role. Monica was one, Serena was another, Marcellina the sister of Ambrose a third, Eudoxia, Galla Placidia, that good old Christian woman Faltonia Proba, and soon--when she grew older--Pulcheria, daughter of Eudoxia: These women were making it their business to help the Empire down to death.

I saw the dark age coming--the Empire broken in fragments...And it seemed to be the new business of women to help the Empire down to its death. For there is a sense in which men create an empire and women bring it to a close...this was my conjecture: When women step forward out of their role of fertility to compete with men in worldly affairs, to seize dominant positions or (like Monica) to turn men aside from the world's work, they have sensed both that men have lost faith and that the form of society has grown sterile and destructive. They come forward to finish that society off, for when men have lost faith and a society is destructive, the meaning of gestation is threatened, and a dark age fertile with possibilities of regeneration is better than bringing children into a way of life that has lost faith and lost meaning.

I never met an intelligent active woman who said things like this; they usually flared up in resentment when I said them. But why was it that in our time so many and many of our finest women rejected motherhood as their primary role, competed with men, sought position and power and offered themselves at their infertile periods for adultery (correcting their errors by miscarriage or abortion) or, conversely, as Christians, as Manicheans or in some other sect, consigned themselves to outright virginity, urging men to do the same? Why? I myself was persuaded that there must have been a deep powerful urge in the women of our time to bring the Roman Empire to an end. They certainly acted as if they were sick of it.