In the mid 11th century Saint Pope Gregory VII instituted the Gregorian reforms which sought to establish divine law as the only legitimate basis for secular law. He saw the role of the church as the ultimate governing authority he launched a war against simony as the most prevalent form of corruption. With the war against simony priests could not outwardly show disproportionate wealth and with celibacy they could not pass it on. The result was the start of honest government. This idea of honest government had begun to infect the secular governments as well and governments capable of planning and complex administration once again came into existence. The was prosperity and relative peace. Education began to flourish. The church itself asserted its authority under the Gregorian Reforms:
- That the Roman pontiff alone is rightly called universal.
- That he alone has the power to depose and reinstate bishops.
- That he alone may use the imperial insignia.
- That all princes shall kiss the foot of the pope alone.
- That he has the power to depose emperors.
- That he can be judged by no one.
- That no one can be regarded as catholic who does not agree with the Roman church.
- That he has the power to absolve subjects from their oath of fealty to wicked rulers (see Australian Catholic University page).
Aquinas mentions other church fathers for specific topics and most certainly covers the debates about the nature of virginity in great detail. In the end Aquinas creates a harmony via advancing doctrines very much in keeping with today's catholic church. Virginity is preferable to chastity which is preferable to ordered sexuality, that is sex between a man and his wife in a manner capable of producing children, and ordered sexuality is not sinful while disordered sexuality (anything else) is. Note also that Aquinas explicitly ties his theory of marriage and sexuality to the doctors of the church, that is he agrees with our time line as presented in part 3. And moreover indirectly he is tying the church to the teachings of Thelca.
The hundredfold fruit is ascribed to virginity, according to Jerome [Ep. cxxiii ad Ageruch.], on account of its superiority to widowhood, to which the sixtyfold fruit is ascribed, and to marriage, to which is ascribed the thirtyfold fruit. But according to Augustine (De QQ. Evang. i, 9), "the hundredfold fruit is given to martyrs, the sixtyfold to virgins, and the thirtyfold to married persons." Wherefore it does not follow that virginity is simply the greatest of virtues, but only in comparison with other degrees of chastity. (Summa 3.152.5.O2)Or for another for another example he gives his general opinion of marriage relative to virginity:
On the contrary, Augustine says (De Virgin. xix): "Both solid reason and the authority of Holy Writ show that neither is marriage sinful, nor is it to be equaled to the good of virginal continence or even to that of widowhood."For another place where he would disagree very strongly with the patriarchs, he grants that sex plus intent constitutes marriage. This is an explicit rejection of the notion that a woman belongs to her father and only he can marry her:
I answer that, According to Jerome (Contra Jovin. i) the error of Jovinian consisted in holding virginity not to be preferable to marriage. This error is refuted above all by the example of Christ Who both chose a virgin for His mother, and remained Himself a virgin, and by the teaching of the Apostle who (1 Cor. 7) counsels virginity as the greater good. It is also refuted by reason, both because a Divine good takes precedence of a human good, and because the good of the soul is preferable to the good of the body, and again because the good of the contemplative life is better than that of the active life. Now virginity is directed to the good of the soul in respect of the contemplative life, which consists in thinking "on the things of God" [Vulg.: 'the Lord'], whereas marriage is directed to the good of the body, namely the bodily increase of the human race, and belongs to the active life, since the man and woman who embrace the married life have to think "on the things of the world," as the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 7:34). Without doubt therefore virginity is preferable to conjugal continence. (Summa 3.152.4)
I answer that, We may speak of marriage in two ways. First, in reference to the tribunal of conscience, and thus in very truth carnal intercourse cannot complete a marriage the promise of which has previously been made in words expressive of the future, if inward consent is lacking, since words, even though expressive of the present, would not make a marriage in the absence of mental consent, as stated above (45, 4). Secondly, in reference to the judgment of the Church; and since in the external tribunal judgment is given in accordance with external evidence, and since nothing is more expressly significant of consent than carnal intercourse, it follows that in the judgment of the Church carnal intercourse following on betrothal is declared to make a marriage, unless there appear clear signs of deceit or fraud [According to the pre-Tridentine legislation] (De sponsal. et matrim., cap. Is qui fidem)....In Summa 5.41.3 he concludes that the marriage act is not always sinful providing the proper attitude is maintained. Again we see an explicit rejection of the notion that God has a relationship with families and not with individuals. There are over a hundred pages of material in Summa addressing sex, marriage, virginity, lust, the sacraments and virtually all of them contradict patriarchy as strongly as the small sample I've selected. At this point we have proven that not only was patriarchy not the teachings of the church through time but that it was absolutely never the teaching of the church.
If the woman admit her betrothed, thinking that he wishes to consummate the marriage, she is excused from the sin, unless there be clear signs of fraud; for instance if they differ considerably in birth or fortune, or some other evident sign appear. Nevertheless the affianced husband is guilty of fornication, and should be punished for this fraud he has committed. (Summa 5.46.2 A & O3)
Since we are addressing protestants and not catholics we need to complicate our analysis. Over the course of four centuries the Gregorian reforms drove a counter reaction, a religious peasants revolt which result in the church becoming beholden to the very state interests that it was originally opposing with the Gregorian reform. Since the Patriarchs are Presbyterian or Reformed Baptist we will focus on two movements that occurred between the Gregorian reform and the start of the 14th century there are two movements which impact our story. These are proto-protestants, a larval form of protestantism.
In the late 11th or early 12th century a group of woman decide to form woman's communities called Béguinage from which the sect, the Beguines gets their name. Lay woman, who were Catholic forming woman's communities from which woman could freely come and go. They differed from convents in 3 crucial respects
- Not under the administration of the church or supervision of priests. The leadership and membership was entirely lay and female.
- No vow of chastity or religious vow was required. People served God as they saw fit.
- In terms of rules they were Franciscan not a Benedictine structure(see Franciscan rule and Benedectine rule for the distinction). Within and outside they aggressively preached the 4 friars and the poverty of Christ.
For the baptists the ties to the Beguine are not just intellectual but political as well. The Beguine/Beghards thrown out of their communities become the early members of the Brüder und Schwestern des Freien Geiste (Brothers and sisters of the Free Spirit) who spread throughout Europe the doctrine of equality of all believers. In Northern Italy the groups that take to this philosophy call themselves the Waldenses, and break off from the Catholic Church The anabaptists directly tie themselves to the Waldenses (though many historians see inspiration rather than direct descent) and the development of Baptists (as per the kind we have in America) from the anabaptists is the last step in the chain. Strengthening the chain further in Czechoslokian and Moravian churches these ideas of the Brethern become the Hussite, and most historians now attribute the reformation as having started with the Hussite rebellion. Regardless they are unquestionably predecessor to the anabaptist. John T Christian in his A History of the Baptists makes the ties explicit.
In England we can speculate on another tie between the Beguine and proto-protastantism. John Wycliffe creates a sect he calls the the Lollardy. Lollard is the Dutch word for a mumbling prayer. The Lollardy is the sect to which Thomas Cromwell belonged, that is the sect that will become the English Lutherans.
Even more extreme then the Beguine there are the Cathars of southern France. As the dark ages had ended there was trade between communities and the Christian Gnostics of Bulgeria (the Bogomils) moved westward. In the Albi region of france these ideas became the majority religion and full fledged Christian Gnosticism with institutional support appeared in Europe. During the 12th century these ideas continued to spread rapidly, until large parts of southern France were not part of the Catholic system at all. The church was unsuccesful in checking the spread of the Cathars and in the end the Catholic Church was victorious against the Cathari only after it resorted to genocide. While they make a fascinating study of a road not taken in Christian development, in terms of our limited interests it is worth noting that they offered in egalitarian view of the sexes having perfecti (priests) which were both men and woman. In terms of marriage they banned all oaths and only allowed for informal relationships. Further, the religion saw sexuality as depraved to a degree that surpassed even Jerome. So for example they avoided eating the byproducts of sexual reproduction: meat, cheese, milk; while freely eating fish because fish reproduce without intercourse.
The ideas of the Cathars were so popular among the peasant that the Catholic church needed to create a permanent institution called the inquisition, whose goal it was to crush their teaching throughout Europe. Saint Dominic believed that the egalitarianism of the Cathari were key to their success and challenged papel authorities of his day with:
"It is not by the display of power and pomp, cavalcades of retainers, and richly-houseled palfreys, or by gorgeous apparel, that the heretics win proselytes; it is by zealous preaching, by apostolic humility, by austerity, by seeming, it is true, but by seeming holiness. Zeal must be met by zeal, humility by humility, false sanctity by real sanctity, preaching falsehood by preaching truth."A rallying cry that would be directed at the papacy by the reformers. He founded the Dominican Order to create a new sort of religious leader with less education but focused on preaching in the vernacular and holy living in their daily lives. Moreover the order maintained loose rather than strong ties to Rome to avoid corruption, to maintain a theological orthodox form of catholicism without the worldly ties that were causing the church to fall into disrepute. The protestant reformers were quite explicit in tieing their own movement to Dominic, and Dominic was explicitly attempting to create a theologically orthodox form of Catharism. The Catholic church itself acknowledges that the Dominican and Franciscan reform movement is the tradition from which the protestant reformers emerged.
So we are confronted with the dilemma of asking whether by "orthodox" the patriarchs mean Benedictine or Dominican since the one is far closer to the pope and the other a form of proto-protestant. Do we mean the views of the orthodox church or of the peasantry, the Beguine? Do they mean those aspects of Christianity in coming centuries which will come to dominate or do they mean the evolutionary dead end we will discuss below? Just as in part 2 it is no longer clear what the patriarchs even mean by orthodox at this point in history. The patriarchs have a grossly oversimplified view of the history of Christianity and they themselves haven't really considered what they mean by orthodox in a variety of Christian contexts. Above we have addressed the Christianity of the poor and how it was transforming into an egalitarian proto-protestantism. It wouldn't be until the black death that the middle class and rich would in a mass way begin to adopt these ideas (outside of Albi region of France).
There was no group of people to which patriarchal marriage was popular. The peasants as mentioned above were moving towards egalitarianism and Franciscan views of goodness, opposing hierarchy and power in their daily lives. In a broader sense, divorce was tolerated again, and a man could divorce his wife legally. Woman had created institutions (like convents and Béguinage) where they could flee a husband, which effectively gave them a right to divorce. The laws had introduced numerous protections for woman. For example the protections granted to servants were extended to wives and thus a husband who maimed or killed his wife during a beating would be criminally prosecuted.
Most importantly though a woman and a man's financial interest coincided. The dowry was usable by the man's estate only so long as the woman remained with the estate (death included). Conversely the woman was entitled to 1/3rd of the estate for life unless she had been divorced. So both parties benefit from the other's successes. The core reason that fully patriarchal marriage had been abusive in the dark ages had been removed by civil guarantees.
But in general marriage was seen as a relationship of mutual duty towards one another. The power discrepancies were seen as corrupting the sexual relationship so as to make love impossible:
We declare and hold as firmly established that love cannot exert its powers between two people who are married to each other. For lover's give each other everything freely, under no compulsion of necessity, but married people are in duty bound to give in to each other's desires and deny themselves to each other in nothing.' (Andrew the Chaplain in his treatise, The Art of Courtly Love, site)Among the aristocrats egalitarianism and poverty of Christ teaching were not popular. What had started as patriarchal marriage had continued to evolve, and this gives us the closest thing we can have a patriarchal marriage without cruelty. And this presents another useful counter argument, what patriarchal marriage without cruelty actually looked like in practice.
The practice marriage worked like this. Boys were educated primarily in war, politics and religion. Girls were educated in domestic duties and what we would today call business administration. Girls were married at the age of about 12 or soon thereafter. They would be marrying a man who had just established his own household. That is a man in his late 20s or early 30s. From the age of 12-21 she would rapidly give birth to a half dozen or more children. The boys would be educated in war and politics , while the girls would be educated in domestic management (which also amounted to understanding of how to administer an estate). As she hit the age of 21 he would be about 40 and at that point would want to start being able to travel to further enhance his wealth. The woman would then assume complete administration of the household, including servants and finances. Her daughters would be learning administration from their mother as their mother got practical experience. Soon thereafter the daughters would be old enough to marry. Their father would negotiate strong business concessions in exchange for a large dowry of either money or land. The daughter would be married off to "sign the deal". About a decade later, the sons would then go off to establish their own estates, and generally with their father's assistance they would negotiate a marriage which would infusion their estate with a large quantity of capital and thus allow for investment and growth. After this point, the father would retire/die and the mother assume control of the primary estate if the heirs were not able to administer it. She was entitled to a third of the estate (either actually taking a third or taking the profits).
Between spouses the relationship was one of duty. Both parties saw the marital assets as something to be jointly administered. Both parties stood to benefit from the gains of the estate. Letters of the time show warmth affection, trust and sometimes admiration between spouses. Their relationship would be best described as businesses partners, CEO to COO or retail manager to assistant-manager.
In terms of sexually however the situation was quite bleak by modern standards. Upon first meeting, middle ages men reacted to their wives much the same as a man of 30 would react to a middle school child today, and vice versa. While they had an obligation to impregnate there was no attraction and both parties were in fact able to see sex as "the marital debt". Most aristocratic men's early experience's were with servant girls or prostitutes. Servants were often unmarried young girls who would live on the estate for a year in exchange for room, board and a small salary. If however the girl "lost her virtue" during her stay her father would need to be paid a large sum of money, as a legally enforceable fine. It was no uncommon for comely lower class woman to lose their virtue several years in a row to work up a large dowry and thus marry into a wealthier family (for more details). From the family's perspective this was a good way to avoid their sons getting into trouble that would rape could lead to legal trouble, and St. Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419) claimed that by age fifteen, all young men had lost their virginity (site). Masturbation and homosexuality were also tolerated among men too young to marry. During his married years the man would often take a woman of the same age as himself as a lover, "courtly love", which will be described below. If not prostitutes, again were standard fair. Finally, as he got older there would be widows of his age available as mistresses. Also second marriages were often between people of roughly the same age and not uncommonly there was a love / lust component as well as the strictly mercenary components common to first marriages. For example the wife of bath, picks her husbands based on a large wallet, large testicles and their skill as a lover:
Of whiche I have pyked out the beste,The church while hostile to adultery and always keeping open an offer for prostitutes to reform and either marry or become nuns, was not as hostile as the present day church towards prostitution. In the eyes of the church, prostitutes were useful in that they reduced the temptation for fornication, adultery and rape among men and consequently the incidence of immorality among both sexes.
Bothe of here nether purs and of here cheste.
Diverse scoles maken parfyt clerkes,
And diverse practyk in many sondry werkes
Maketh the werkman parfyt sekirly;
For a wealthy woman the cycle would be young mother, followed by mistress and then widow. As a widow she would either remarry (almost always a widower) or carry on as a mistress to a married man or more safely as the mistress to a widower. Again we point to the fact that widow was entitled to a third of the estate until her death. Thus the heir and the widow shared financial incentives and it was both of their interest to work together.
In starting our discussion of courtly love we continue with out pattern of looking at the most well known and authoritative sources. We turn to the single most important piece of Christian literature ever. Dante Alighieri's Divina Commedia (Divine Comedy). To have an encyclopedia say of a work "If the Faith were extinguished, Dante would restore it...The power of the sacred poem in popularizing Catholic theology and Catholic philosophy, and rendering it acceptable, or at least intelligible to non-Catholics, is at the present day almost incalculable." (Catholic Encyclopedia) gives one a sense to this poem's immense power and beauty. Since this series of essays is directed at protestants and most of them haven't read this I should just comment that this poem deserves its reputation and there is no more godly work you can read than Dante.
In the story the protoganist (Dante) is taught salvation through his mediator and guide Beatrice. Beatrice in Divine Comedy is based Beatrice Potinari a childhood infatuation of Dante's, who married to Simone dei Bardi and died at the age 24. In the poem she is the very essence of goodness and through her Dante is able to achieve salvation. Above we see Dante and Beatrice staring into the triune spirations of God made visable by Beatrice's holyness. For Dante Beatrice plays the same role as Mary does for humanity. The idea of a idealized married woman being the main sexual, spiritual and intellectual focus of a married man was called courtly love.
The classic work describing the rules of this type of relationship had been written a century earlier as the Art of Courtly Love (De Amore). For Dante, as for most people in his classes spouses through intercourse might come to have an "immoderate affection" for one another. But since such love was ultimately based in the commercial and practical aspects of the marriage it was not viewed not be ennobling (see the 31 rules of courtly love). Rather, for him the most ennobling love is generally secret (i.e., not public), extremely difficult to obtain and unconsummated, serving as a means for inspiring men to great deeds.
David Simpson of DePaul identifies 5 properties of courtly love which distinguish it from the marital relationship:
- Courtly love is aristocratic in that it took place within the court. Marital love was common and took place amoung all people.
- Courtly love was ritualistic. The rituals associated with it called courtship and courtesy were a self consciously form of play acting. Marital relationships were seen as dull and involved day to day activities.
- Courtly love was secret. The people who knew of the affair were only those who could be trusted and the lovers formed a universe unto themselves. Marital relations were public.
- Courtly love was adulterous. Marriage was perfectly licit playing into the "glorified religious swindle" of marriage.
- Marriage was physical. Courtly love was literary (mental and spiritual) in its conception. The idea had been invented by the troubadours which were traveling romantic poets/bards who sang "aubade" which were songs of lovers separating at dawn. The lovers composed longing letters to one another and read erotic poetry to one another.
124 But, if to recognise the earliest rootIn this we capture the great irony of courtly love. In an unquestionably religious book, Dante shows how reading about lovers (Lancelot and Guinevere) falling into adultery leads Francesca and Paolo into adultery yet uses his skill to present the encounter as romatically as Galeotto had done. At the same time this dialog is taking place in hell, where Francesca has been sent because of her passion. Dante has managed to pull us into the moth to the flame world of courtly love. At the the same time the idea that books and words have this sort of power is unique to this period. This love of literature drove the high middle ages. For centuries people had abandoned books now at least among the aristocrats books had returned.
125 Of love in us thou hast so great desire,
126 I will do even as he who weeps and speaks.
127 One day we reading were for our delight
128 Of Launcelot, how Love did him enthral.
129 Alone we were and without any fear.
130 Full many a time our eyes together drew
131 That reading, and drove the colour from our faces;
132 But one point only was it that o'ercame us.
133 When as we read of the much-longed-for smile
134 Being by such a noble lover kissed,
135 This one, who ne'er from me shall be divided,
136 Kissed me upon the mouth all palpitating.
137 Galeotto was the book and he who wrote it.
138 That day no farther did we read therein.
(Divine Comedy, Inferno Canto V)
Duke William of Aquitaine (inventor of the troubadours) wrote about courtly love. He had defined lust as holding anything above the love of god and Dante uses the same definition. His daughter Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England and France, spread the idea of courtly love and established the court of love. And love through books poetry and song had returned to Europe.
The church had mixed attitudes towards courtly love. They deplored actually adultery. They recognized in courtly love strong tendencies towards sexual immorality in terms of non creative sexual acts (particularly oral sex) and pornography as well. For example in Chaucer's merchant's tale a wife has sex with her lover while escorting her blind husband, yet the tale is written so that the reader sympathizes with the wife. However the church agreed with the society at large that, "Love is a pest in a marital relationship because it interferes with duty." (Art of Honest Love). Wives were only expected to be sexually compliant not to enjoy or desire sex with their spouses:
"Ich N. take ye N. to my weddyd hosebound, to haven and to holden fro yys day forward, for betre, for wors, for rycher, for porer, in sekenesse, and in helthe, to be boneyre and buxom in bedde and at boorde, tyl deth us departe, yf holychurch hyt wol ordeyne, and ther to I plyzth my trewthe."On the other hand the idea of a perfect love of unconsummated which was a symbolic reflection of man's longing for God was unquestionably catholic and the symbolism was approved. So it is worth remembers that De Amore (which argues for the unconsummated version) was written by a priest. Many within the church opposed the inclusion of marriage within the sacraments and saw in courtly love (a spiritual unconsummated love) a model which was appropriate for what Christian love should look like. Spouses living like brother and sister, a spiritual marriage (see Dyan Elliott spiritual marriage, online review) had been a vision of the church for a millennia and for the first time there was widespread lay support for such an idea. Some clergy went as far as to hold that courtly love by dissolving boundaries between men could lead to the brotherly love of all men.
Moreover the symbols of courtly love were seen as unquestionably spiritual. Just as Jesus is the new Adam, Mary is the new eve who distributes the graces of redemption. It seemed consistent with Christian theology to have woman share the dual role. Through marriage the fall of eve and through courtly love the assumption of Mary. These ideas continue to develop throughout the century until reaching an apex with Julian of Norwich identifying redemption and salvation so thoroughly with woman that Christ becomes essentially female.
There was Mary as well as Eve to provide images of medieval womanhood. Mary was not only praiseworthy for her holiness, but for her embodiment of ideal feminine traits. Mary's primary virtues centered on her freedom from sexuality. She was conceived by divine intervention and she conceived Jesus immaculately. The "good" feminine was thus divorced from sexuality, although not from motherhood.Finally on a more practical level many felt that courtly love reduced immorality. The middle ages was concerned about the destruction to reason and temperance caused by "hot love" or what we would call today passion. It was felt that mutual love generally, but not invariably, takes place between two individuals of equal status in society. Passion typically occurs between unequals in temporary relationships (king with a barmaid). Courtly love thus acted as a constraint on passion. Countess Marie de Champagne (who commission De Amore) argued that courtly reduced rape which is a modern view as well. The argument she made is that rape often resulted from 2nd and 3rd sons who were not heirs and thus unable to establish their own households.
During the 13th century, Mary increased in importance as the divine feminine mediator between human beings and God. She interceded for human beings seeking salvation, as Beatrice did for Dante.
The exaltation of the beatified Virgin Mary climaxed in the Marian cult or cult of the Virgin Mary, which influenced the literature, music and art of the high and late Middle Ages.
Consequently, at the same time that people were praying to the Virgin Mary for salvation, they were condemning Eve for the Fall of Man. This Eve/Mary dualism allowed and even encouraged conflicting attitudes toward medieval women.
On the one hand, women held a high position in the system of Christian redemption, yet on the other hand, they were responsible for the wretched, sinful, corrupt state of fallen humanity.
This dualistic religious attitude towards women offers us some insight into the curious mixture of love and religion, sex and purity we find in the courtly love poetry and stories of the Middle Ages.
(from Three Midieval Views of Woman, online notes)
Well we have reached the end of patriarchy. The era of widespread approval of hierarchy is coming to an end. For the last century the glaciers have been advancing and the weather is getting slightly colder than it hand been. 800 years of abnormally warm temperatures called the "Medieval Warm Period" are over. As Dante is writing the Divine Comedy the first major food shortage caused by this climate change First Great Famine of 1315 hits. However eleven years after Dante's death in 1334 death a plague strikes the Chinese province of Hubei and travels across the world transforming the church.
The people that survive 1351 will no longer be citizens of the Christiandom who view themselves in terms of a stable order. As a result of the plague, at all levels in all institutions unqualified people are governing which combined with the complete failure to stop the plague creates a profound contempt for authority, "an antinomian spirit" of the age which took a century to overcome. English and German nationalism will explode and their will be mass resentment about taking instruction from a "foreign pope".
Nothing that looks like patriarchy will survive the plague. The huge age gaps between spouses will disappear and the foremost love poet Christine de Pizan will start to write about love between husband and wife. The core ideas of courtly love will combine with the core ideas of peasant rebellion to form a new ethic of marriage
- A man and his wife should love one another
- That a man should be picking his wife based on the three criteria of physical beauty, spiritual beauty and mental beauty. A woman should pick her husband based on his devotion and his valor as well as his potential as a provider.
- A man and his wife should have chosen one another
- A woman should act as as source of holiness for the family, while the man provides secular leadership (complimentarianism)
The catholic church had opposed patriarchy at every step. That case is proven. We have also seen that proto-protestantism was equally opposed. There is however one more point where history can render a verdict. What was the society's practice of marriage when feminism first arose? The patriarchs claim their opposition draws from feminism. We have already shown that patriarchal marriage's death predates feminism, but how did the church react at the time. So we advance 500 more years to part 6 and turn to a world where God had endowed woman with rights not just duties. (on to part 6)
- Decammon Web, Medieval Sex and Sexuality
- Love, Marriage and Romance in Medieval and Celtic Culture
- Silent voices from the previous essay is also worth a read for this section
- While a century after the period we are discussing the Canterbury Tales are a wonderful source for the english language reader. An interlinear version for some parts exists as well.
- C.S. Lewis in the Allegory of Love wrote extensively on courtly love. There is a good quality online summary of the book.