MAN is, I suppose, the only living creature which has found reasons for deliberately inhibiting his sexual drive. The bull does not hesitate to mount the cow, or sit moping in the corner of the field. The flower does not primly close its petals against the pollen bearing bee. That man should hedge the sexual drive with rules designed to protect the rights, or fancied rights, of individuals is natural; but that he should claim a special virtue in complete abstinence from sexual activity is a paradox which calls for close examination.
The desperate fear of sex developed by patrists under the stimulus of Christianity has already been briefly examined. We have seen how sexual restrictions, by damming up Eros, lent a special virulence to the destructive drives of Thanatos. But during the Middle Ages Thanatos combined with Eros in other forms, of a matristic type; forms anathematised by the Church, but which contributed to the power of Europe the concepts of honour, gentleness and romantic love. This is a story which is less well understood, for the Christian Church has destroyed much of the data. Nevertheless we must try to trace it.
This counter movement emerged under the hot sun of Provence and Languedoc, when a period of peace and stability had permitted a leisured and civilized life to develop, especially in the castles of the feudal lords, and at the court of Guilhem of Aquitaine, who ruled over a larger proportion of France than did the French king. Here, towards the beginning of the twelfth century, there appeared an heretical movement and a school of poets; the former called themselves the Cathari, or pure ones, the latter called themselves troubadours.
The troubadours did more than simply write poetry and set it to music. Each troubadour chose as the object of his affections the wife of a feudal lord, and devoted to her all his poetry. In it he extolled the virtues of a relationship between a man and a woman in which the woman is placed on a pedestal and the man seeks to win her favour. He addressed the lady of his choice as Mi-dons, My Lord, and sought to win her approval by his probity. In the Heidelberg MS. we can see a picture of his hands being symbolically bound by his mistress: the very word mistress, in its sense of a woman in an enduring, non-marital relationship with a man, derives from the relationship which the troubadours created. This relationship became known as 'domnei' or 'donnoi'.
To appreciate the novelty of this development, one must bear in mind that previously it had been an offence, often punishable by death, to address a love-song to a married woman: it was conceived as a form of magical attack. Nevertheless the new movement spread before long to northern France, and later to England, under the influence of the strong minded Alienor of Aquitaine and her daughter Marie. It also took root in Germany.
It is not difficult to detect other earmarks of matrism in the troubadours: they were innovators and progressives, interested in the arts and sometimes pressing for social reforms; they eschewed the use of force; they delighted in gay and colourful clothes. Above all, they erected the Virgin Mary into their especial patron: many of their poems are addressed to her, and in 1140 a new feast was instituted at Lyons — a feast which, as Bernard of Clairvaux protested, was
"unknown to the custom of the Church, disapproved of by reason and without sanction from tradition"
— the Cast of the Immaculate Conception. It is even said that some Provencal priests blessed the relationships between troubadours and their mistresses by placing them under the protection of the Virgin.(60)
It therefore seems justifiable to suspect the presence of mother fixation. But, if so, it was mother fixation of a rather different type from that of the Celts, for many of the troubadours—for example, Gaucelm Faidit— explicitly disclaim any desire to possess their mistress physically.(197) Merely to see her is enough for some of them; others will be contented with a tuft of fur from her mantle or a few threads from her glove. Others, it is true, speak of undressing their lady, of gazing upon her naked body, of caressing it, or clasping it to them, but scarcely ever do they suggest complete possession. Says one:
"He knows nothing of 'donnoi' who wants fully to possess his lady."(80)
Guilhem Montanhagol says: "E d'amor mou castitaz" — From love comes chastity.
Most writers on the subject have assumed without hesitation that the relationship was fully adulterous. Even the usually percipient Briffault unhesitatingly concludes that the relationship was not only sensual but consummated: but if we inspect the references he gives in support of this view we find that they always refer to intimate caresses or to clasping of the naked body, but never refer to such ideas as climax, satisfaction, complete possession and the like.(23) A few writers, however, such as Lucka, have maintained the contrary view.
There are various facts which make the assumption of actual adultery rather unlikely — for instance, the fact that bastard children are seldom if ever referred to. Indeed, the husbands of the ladies in question accepted the relationship and supported the troubadours in their castles, sometimes elevating them to knighthood if they were not knights already. In early Celtic times such tolerance might have been inconclusive, but in twelfth-century Provence husbands were not, as a rule, prepared to be cuckolded openly. Again, we should hardly expect priests to bless an open adultery. Certainly by the fourteenth century the relationship had become so conventional that Petrarca, a canon of the Church, could write passionate sonnets to Laura without arousing any comment.
Denomy, a Jesuit, whose avowed object is to prove the sensual character of the love of the troubadours, accepts that the relationship was never consummated. He concludes:
"The analysis reveals that from Guillaume IX there has existed a constant tradition and conception of pure love— 'fin amor '..... arising from the contemplation of the beauty of the beloved and effecting a union of the hearts and minds of the lovers. It was a love that yearned for, and at times was rewarded by, the solace of every delight of the beloved except physical possession of her by intercourse. Far from being pure in the accepted sense, or disinterested, it is sensual and carnal in that it allows, approves and encourages the delights of kissing and embracing, the sight of the beloved's nudity and the touching and lying beside her nude body — in short, all that fans and provokes desire."(59)
As I shall show in a moment, this question of consummation is of some psychological significance, and we can approach it from another angle. I have argued, in the previous chapter, that the matrist's chief fear is of incest. We may therefore ask, did the troubadours betray any signs of incest fears? For if they did, it becomes intelligible that they might hesitate to consummate a relationship which seemed incestuous in character, as a relationship with a mother substitute necessarily must seem.
The rules governing "courtly love" as it was called, were elaborately worked out and were written down about 1186 by one Andrew the Chaplain, at the court of Queen Alienor. This Treatise on Love was immediately translated into the principal foreign languages, and became a standard work.(36) It is therefore rather striking that, in the third part of the work, when he comes to consider reasons why it may be inadvisable to love at all, the reason which he places before all others is that "love leads to incest". This is hardly the reason which would first occur to one today.
Thus in the troubadours we have a body of men each of whom loves and obeys a woman who is powerful and superior :o himself, and with whom he may never sleep, apparently for ear of incest. It can hardly be called "psychologising" to diagnose this as love of a mother figure.
The point is further illuminated by a personal story which Andrew tells in the course of a long section devoted— oddly, as it might seem at first — to the suitability of nuns as love objects. Since it is the only personal anecdote introduced into the Treatise, presumably Andrew felt it to be peculiarly significant, and it is worth quoting in full. Andrew addresses his work to a certain Walter, probably fictitious, and he starts by condemning any idea of loving nuns: —
For one time when we had a chance to speak to a certain nun we spoke so well on the matter, not being ignorant of the art of soliciting nuns, that we forced her to assent to our desire . . . we straightway began to be violently attracted by her beauty and captured by her pleasant conversation. But in the meantime we realized the madness that was carrying us away and with a great effort raised ourselves up from the deadly sleep.... Be careful, therefore, Walter, about seeking lonely places with nuns or looking for opportunities to talk with them, for if one of them should think the place was suitable for a wanton dalliance, she would have no hesitation in granting what you desire and preparing for you burning solaces, and you could hardly escape that worst of crimes, engaging in the work of Venus.
The surprising phrase is the last: Andrew does not say that seducing nuns is the worst of crimes, but that "engaging in the work of Venus" is — that is, to consummate one's desires is wrong in itself. Presumably it is especially wrong when the person loved is one who ought to be chaste because she is dedicated to another — as is one's mother.
This opinion of Andrew's is evidently not based on the general objection to sex which one might expect from a member of the cloth, for he immediately adds that no such misgivings need assail one when the object of one's desires is a member of the lower classes, who could not possibly be one's mother: —
And if you should, by some chance, fall in love with some of their women be careful to puff them up with lots of praise and then, when you find a convenient place, do not hesitate to take what you seek and to embrace them by force. For you can hardly soften their outward inflexibility so far that they will grant you their embraces quietly. . . unless first you use a little compulsion.
This is striking, since it is a commonplace of psychiatry that the man who his fixated on his mother tends to be impotent with women he loves and idealises, but has no difficulties with persons of a lower class who cannot be regarded as superior in position. As Freud points out, such men tend to direct their love to someone who already belongs to another, and who therefore can never be possessed. In another place he observes:
"Where such men love, they have no desire, and where they desire, they cannot love."(94)
It would therefore be a good psychiatric guess that the troubadours were, or would have been, troubled with impotence when finally faced with their mistresses, and this chimes with a remark of Rilke's to the effect that the troubadours feared nothing so much as the success of their wooing.
If the troubadours were matrists, we should also expect to find that a number of them became passive homosexuals, as a result of actual identification with the woman. The subject seems never to have been adequately explored, but there are a number of significant references. Thus the troubadour, Rambaut of Orange, says that if you wish to win women, you should "punch them on the nose" and force them, as this is what they like.
"I behave differently", he adds, "because I do not care about loving. I do not want to be put to trouble for the sake of women, any more than if they were all my sisters; and so with a woman I am humble, obliging, frank and gentle, fond, respectful and faithful...."(60)
Even more conclusive perhaps is the fact that in Dante's Purgatorio, two troubadours are found in the sodomites' circle of Hell. We also find an interest in the maintenance of romantic, though not necessarily scandalous, friendships between men. Thus Roland seems more interested in Oliver than in his betrothed, and Guiraut de Borneil prays to be reunited with his "copain".
In short, when we review the evidence, there can be little doubt that the troubadours were matrists, but equally clearly they differ from the Celts in having a sense of guilt. We do not find them showing much concern for the opinion of society generally, only for the opinion of their mistress; hence, in the troubadours we seem to see a shame culture being replaced by a guilt culture. Though the Church continually attacked it, the troubadours themselves thought of this love as pure, good and true — fina, bona, veraia. They thought that it was spiritual, in that it taught the union of hearts and minds and not of bodies, and that it was the source of all good and virtue, since a man would not willingly do anything which would lower him in the eyes of his beloved. As Bernart de Ventadour said: "Nuls om ses amor re no van" —No man is worth aught without love.
Even its opponents must concede that it produced a highly civilizing effect upon the behaviour of feudal chivalry. Deluded by Christian redactions of the ancient Celtic legends, we have come to think of the Celtic heroes, such as King Arthur, as paragons of gentleness and honour, and we extend this delusion to cover the knights who lived during the period of the Crusades. In point of fact, they were, as Prop Hearnshaw says,
"a horde of sanctified savages, whose abominations scandalized even the Byzantines and whose ferocities horrified the very Turks themselves".
Though the thirteenth century has been called the Golden Age of Chivalry, the scenes at the crusaders camp at Damietta, enacted under the eyes of the saintly Louis IX, as described by Joinville, resemble nothing so much as the gang warfare of Chicago. The Crusaders treacherously crucified all the captives taken at Edessa; Bohemund sent a cargo of sliced, off noses and thumbs to the Greek Emperor. Robbery, debauchery, blasphemy and treachery were ordinary occurrences. When Richard I arrive at Marseilles, he found that the English knights who had preceded him had spent all the campaign funds on prostitutes.(193)
It was when chivalry vanished from war, and the creation of knights became a privilege of the king, that it began to come under the influence of the new conception of behaviour developed by the troubadours, in which bravery was combine with gentleness and courtesy to women. The desire for women's approval became the motive for valour. As Christine de Pisan said:
Premièrement pour Amours fut armé
Ce disoit-il, et désire d'estre aimé
Le fist vaillant
and "amoureux" began to mean "the general virtues of a knight".
The tradition which the troubadours established was remarkably enduring one, for it has not only renewed its flower whenever matrists were in the ascendant, but has left an indelible mark on the behaviour patterns of patrists. The troubadour conception of man as gentle has even changed the meaning of the word, from its original sense of well-born. Even the patrist came to accept the ideal of gentleness to the weak, to children and to women, provided that the women were of his own class. Henry VIII, violent as his passions became, at least addressed Anne Boleyn as "mistress". From it also developed the conception of honour —'honestà'. Andrew the Chaplain's treatise was called, in Latin: "De Arte honeste amandi" — the art of loving honourably. Behaviour should be governed by love and not by mercenary motives. That was the core of the concept of honour. Three hundred years later Rabelais was to envisage a society based on this mutual recognition — in contrast with the patrist society based on observance of a forcibly imposed code of rules.
"En leur reigle n'estoit que ceste clause: Fay ce que vouldras. Parce que gens liberes, bien nez, bien instruictz, conversans en compaignies honnestes, ont par nature ung instinct et aiguillon qui toujours les poulse à faitz vertueux, et retire de vice; lequel ilz nommoyent honneur.
But the concept of honour arising out of a chaste love was not a new one: for this was the essential character of— the paederastic relationship in classical Greece. As this subject has been so heavily veiled in prudery, it will perhaps be as well to outline the main facts. Every man was expected to take to himself a boy, to whom he should act for a time as a mentor, helping him to find his place in life. The man was called the Inspirer; the boy, the Listener. It seems quite clear that, while a relationship of love existed between them, the performance of sexual acts was strictly forbidden.(180) Lycurgus made it a felony, punishable by death, to lust after a boy; and Cicero writes:
"The Lacedaemonians, while they permit all things except vileness (praeter stuprum) in the love of youths, certainly distinguish the forbidden by a thin wall of partition from the sanctioned, for they allow embraces and a common couch to lovers."
And, as we know from another source, their punishment for "stuprum" was banishment or death. The Greeks were, of course, fully aware of the existence of homosexuality as a perversion and called it paedomania, as distinct from paederasty: and they ridiculed effeminate youths. Says Plato:
"The one love is made for pleasure: the other loves beauty. The one is an involuntary sickness, the other a sought enthusiasm. The one tends to the good of the beloved, the other to the ruin of both.... The one is virile, the other effeminate."
This nobler relationship was not the eccentricity of a few, but was absolutely general. (222) It was a disgrace for a boy not to be chosen by anyone; when any boy was chosen, the arrangement was agreed to by his parents.
"I know not any greater blessing to a young man beginning life", said Phaedrus in the Symposium, "than a virtuous lover, or to the lover than a beloved youth."
Such relationships were general also in mythology, a fact which the modern editors have found difficult to disguise. Poseidon loved Pelops; Zeus loved Ganymede and Chrysippus; Apollo, Hyacinthos, not mention Branchos and Claros; Pan, Cyparissus; Hypno Endymion. Hercules, naturally, was an epic paederast, an Iolaus and Hylas are only two among his favourites.
Sophocles and Aeschylus wrote plays on the subject; Pheidias, Euripide Lysias, Demosthenes, Aeschines and many more contracted similar relationships. Plato declared that the highest form human existence was philosophy combined with paederasty. Alexander, the conqueror of the world, like Caesar after him, was a paederast.
The particular virtue of this relationship was that each party set himself the highest standard of behaviour, rather than lose the respect and love of the other. It was held that an army of such lovers would be invincible. After Chaeronaea, in which battle all three hundred of the picked band of lovers fell on the field, the victor, Philip of Macedon, shed tears as he beheld the scene and said:
"Perish any man who suspects that these men either did or supposed anything that was base."
John Addington Symonds comments:
"The effect produced upon the lover by his beloved was similar to that of the inspiration which the knight of romance received from his lady."
But the claim which is usually made for the troubadours is not that they familiarized Western Europe with the conception of honour, but that they were the first to erect into a virtue the sensation of passionate love. The historians regret that, in their half-civilized way, these men permitted themselves to love women who were already married, and infer that it needed the politer touch of modern times to regard the unmarried girl as an object of love, and so create the modern notion of romantic marriage. This is to misunderstand the situation. The troubadour did not (as is so often asserted) exclude the possibility of loving an unmarried woman; Andrew makes a point of recommending virgins to "take arms in the soldiery of love". But he did recognize that his love was a product of frustration, and would vanish if he gave rein to his desires. Consequently he never regarded marriage as the outcome. He might marry, rout not the object of his love, for as Andrew noted, passionate love between married people is impossible. Andrew was not such a fool as not to know that between married Persons a deep affection may reign; nor such a fool as to believe that they could live in an endless transport of passion. Yet his remark is always quoted as if it were merely a cynical endorsement of adultery.
The troubadour's determination to enjoy the pleasures of travelling hopefully involved denying himself the pleasure of arriving: and it may be argued that to enjoy frustration indicates a degree of masochism. Chrestien de Troyes perceived the contradiction:
De tous les maux, le mien diffère; il me plait; je me rejouis de lui; mon mal est ce que je veux et ma douleur est ma santé. Je ne vois donc pas de quoi je me plains.
It is the function of a myth to embody a set of unconscious emotions, to sum up in allegorical form a situation which many are experiencing. The situation of the troubadours is summed up in the myth of Tristan and Iseult, and its various modifications betray the change in unconscious preoccupations. In the earliest Celtic versions, Drestan, or Tristan, is simply a hero with whom Iseult sleeps, before she marries King Mark — an event of a perfectly normal character in the morality of the period. (208) Indeed, in one version, Tristan also sleeps with another lady just before her marriage, and there is no suggestion that any special difficulty was involved. The drama comes from the fact that he has killed the husband of Brangwen, a sorceress who is determined to revenge herself. But in the medieval versions, Brangwen recedes into the background, and the central situation is that Tristan is in love with a woman who is already committed to another man — and that man the King, and so a father-figure. Thus the myth is made to embody the central situation of matrism.
The cause of Tristan's love is that he has drunk a love-potion — his obsession for Iseult is something which comes from outside himself and which he is powerless to resist. When he and Iseult consult the monk Ogrin, he tells him— and what could be more astonishing— that he does not care for Iseult. "Amor par force vos demeine", comments Ogrin. Furthermore, when Tristan has, after great difficulties, escaped to the forest of Morrois, he lies down with Iseult and places his sword between them: that is, now that all physical barriers to their union have been removed, he erects a barrier himself. He "internalises the prohibition". King Mark, Iseult's husband, finds them there asleep, and removes Tristan's sword, substituting his own — a very appropriate gesture, when we recall the phallic symbolism of the sword.
Psychologists have noted how some patients, with strong mother fixations, fall in love with women who bear some superficial resemblance to their mother; and how, in some cases, the point of resemblance is simply the name. There are cases of men who have fallen in love with three or four women, successively, each bearing the same Christian name. It is therefore significant that Tristan finally marries another Iseult, Iseult Mains Blanches; nor does he ever sleep with her. The version by Thomas of Britain specifically tells us that he married her for her name and her personal appearance: "Pur belte e pur nun d'Isolt." (Later we shall find other mother-identifiers doing the same thing. For instance, Shelley, prevented by his parents from marrying Harriet Grove, married another Harriet.)
Finally, Tristan, wounded by a poisoned spear, dies. Only Iseult the Fair's arrival could have saved him, but she comes too late: then she too dies "of a broken heart". Thus a tale of gallantry and adventure has been turned into a tragedy of unconsummated love. In this preoccupation with frustrated desire we can perhaps see signs of a masochistic turning inward of the death-wish.
The troubadours, who often quoted Tristan, seem to have shown an increasing preoccupation with the idea of death. Thus Aimeric de Belenoi says:
Far more it pleaseth me to die
Than easy mean delight to feel.
For what will meanly satisfy
Nor can nor ought to fire my zeal.
But, while the troubadours were writing their 'aubes' and 'sirventes' in the castles of the nobles, the reaction from patrism was taking a markedly different form among the populace. In Provence and Languedoc, the very area which saw the birth of Courtly Love, there developed the religious movement known as Catharism. Though soon declared by the Church to be a heresy, it became so popular that it was openly preached, was supported by the nobles and seems to have displaced, very largely, the orthodox Church, until the savage persecutions of Simon de Montfort wiped it out, and wiped out the troubadours too.(201) There were, as a matter of fact, a variety of heresies, distinguished by doctrinal differences, but agreeing in certain fundamentals; it was chiefly the emphasis placed by the Church on doctrine which caused them to be treated separately.
For the purposes of this discussion, the important features of Catharism were these. First, they stressed sexual abstinence: fully initiated members were required not to sleep with their wives. They believed that spirit had become enmeshed with matter, and that the purpose of development is to escape from this material existence to pure spirituality; this is basically the doctrine of the Rig Veda, and the inferences drawn were also similar. Thus, it was desirable to eschew all freshly pleasures, including sexual intercourse, not because it was "wicked" but because it slowed up the attainment of enlightenment. The orthodox Church held identical views — hence the life of the cloister — but objected strongly to them when expounded by a rival group, ostensibly on certain doctrinal grounds which need not concern us. The Cathars, it is true, went farther than this, and held that it was permissible, in certain circumstances, to die: one must not do it, as a suicide does, in despair, but one may do so if one is quite detached from desire. Life should be ended
"not out of weariness, nor out of fear, or pain, but in a state of utter detachment from nature".
Similarly the troubadour, Aimeric de Belenoi, whose reference to death was noted above, says that if he does not wish to die yet, it is because he feels that he has not yet become detached from desire, and feels that he would be leaving his body from despair, which would be a mortal sin.(60)
It is said that Cathars would, on occasion, take leave of this life deliberately, usually by starving themselves to death: this feat was known as the Endura. (It is a curious fact, however, that the principal indictment of the Cathars, the 'Summa contra Haereticos', makes no mention of this suicidal trend, and conceivably the whole thing may be an allegation invented by the orthodox Church: certainly the Church accounted it a serious charge against the Cathars and repeated the allegation in tones of horror.)
But while the Cathar Church was preoccupied with death, and despite the fact that it placed a taboo on sexual intercourse, it seems clear that it was strongly influenced by matrist ideals. Women were accorded a high status, and played a considerable part in its affairs. It supported medicine and the care of the sick. It seems to have worshipped a female figure, the Lady of Thought. In Dante, this figure appears more clearly as Divine Wisdom, and parallels the Sophia worshipped by the Gnostics, but in the twelfth century, the figure was assimilated to that of the Virgin Mary. In general, it favoured non-violence, and stressed love of fellow-men as well as of God, though when threatened with extinction by de Montfort the heretics fought boldly enough. It was, indeed, known as The Church of Love (and in Provencal, in contrast with modern French, Amor was given feminine gender). With the mediaeval penchant for finding a real significance in what to us seem to be merely accidental symbols, it was thought that the Church of Roma had reversed the principles of the Church of Amor; it might talk about love, but its actions belied its words. Thus Catharism appeared not so much as a reaction to the orthodox Church, and an attempt to restore the original principles of poverty, love and asceticism, as a mirror image, a counterpart, a complete reversal of everything the orthodox Church stood for; or rather, from the Catharist viewpoint, it was the orthodox Church which had betrayed the principles for which it was founded. Bernard of Clairvaux said of the Cathars:
"No sermons are more Christian than theirs and their morals are pure."
It would seem that the Cathars did more than impose continence upon the married: they also permitted men and women to share the same lodging by day and night, confident that they would live in brotherly amity, without thought of sex. It is almost certainly to this Practice that the accusations of immorality are due, as Bernard made clear when he said to one of them:
"If you would not scandalize the Church, send this woman away; if you refuse, the facts which are plain to view will make us suspect what is not plain to view."(14)
One is reminded of the story of the countryman who, having been accused of drinking by an old woman on the grounds that his cart had been seen outside a public house, retaliated by leaving his cart outside her house all night. The parallel is exact: it is the person whose mind is obsessed by sex because he or she is going without sexual satisfaction who invariably reads sexual motives into the behaviour of others. The Cathars also attracted criticism because, when passing through a town, they would often spend the night with a couple who were living together but unmarried.(116) In all probability these were chaste relationships of the type we have been discussing, but the prurient naturally concluded otherwise, and accused the Cathars of associating with sinners, as if this proved that they were sinners too — an unfortunate argument for Christians to employ, since Jesus also associated with sinners. In a world where the Church was bound to celibacy it would be small wonder if there were not many such frustrates very ready to believe evil (as they would term it) of a relationship which may even sometimes have been sexual, but in which sex was not the object nor the principal factor.
The other, slightly less uncharitable, interpretation which might be put upon such behaviour is that it smacks of moral athleticism. Mgr. Knox remarks that
"they may have come to think of themselves as superior to all temptations of the flesh, and neglected, with unfortunate results, the conventions by which less hardy souls fortify their modesty".
One wonders if by the term "unfortunate results" he takes it for granted that they did in fact fall into sexual relationships, or whether he refers to the Albigensian crusades, in which case he has achieved a triumph of understatement. The cynic will reflect that there is a certain humour in the sight of a Church founded on the command to love one another, destroying by fire and sword hundreds of thousands of persons who may have been attempting to do just that.
What was said of the Cathars, was said, and in more detail, of other sects, whose relationship with the Cathar movement is uncertain.(149) Thus, according to the Toulouse inquisition, the French Beguins held that
"to kiss women and embrace them, provided they did not consummate the carnal sin, was greatly meritorious, and an argument of fortitude and abstinence, and of a strong and acceptable love of God, and the truest proof that each party was resolutely virtuous".
Here the concluding phrases suggest a moral athleticism rather than a deliberate titillation, though one may have been used as a justification for the other. Much the same is reported of the Apostolici and of the Josephists, who
"contrahunt matrimonium spirituale et praeter coitum omne delectationes exercent".
Again, the Brethren of the Free Spirit held that no one was perfect in whom nudity excited passion, or shame; man was without sin, and sex was to be forgotten, not fought — if you had to fight it you were not pure. According to Hepworth Dixon,
"they invented the seraphic kiss, the kiss of love, of innocence, of peace. They did not marry . . . they had entered upon a new being. A seraphic kiss conveys no taint. Their yearning towards each other brought no shame."
The Waldenses, or Poor Men of Lyons, who attempted to return to Apostolic simplicity while remaining within the bounds of the Catholic Church — but were ejected because they retained the society of women and neglected the tonsure — also sought to re-establish a brotherly group relationship, though they praised marriage and held that priests could, and should, marry.
Now, this belief in the possibility of a chaste and fraternal love between men and women was not a new development. In the very earliest days of the Christian Church, men and women would live together in the same house in perfect love and perfect chastity. The Greeks had called chaste love Agape, as against sexual love, Eros: so those who lived in this way were called Agapetae. The early fathers, hag-ridden by fears of sex as they were, could not imagine that any such relationship could be pure.(76) St. Chrysostom wrote a polemic Against Those Who Keep Virgins in their Houses.
"Our fathers", he begins, "only knew two forms of intimacy, marriage and fornication. Now a third form has appeared: men introduce young girls into their houses and keep them there permanently, respecting their virginity."
The pleasure derived from this, he argues, must be "violent and tyrannical" or else the men would not hold their honour so cheap and give rise to such scandal
"That there should really be a pleasure in this which produces a love more ardent than conjugal union may surprise you at first," he naively adds, "but when I give you the proofs you will agree that it is so."
The many protests of the Fathers show that this
"new refinement of tender chastity, which came as a delicious discovery to the early Christians who had resolutely thrust away the licentiousness of the pagan world"
(to borrow Havelock Ellis's phrase) must have been widespread. Jerome, writing to Eustochium, comments on those couples who
"share the same room, often the same bed, and call us suspicious if we draw any conclusions."
While Cyprian (Epistola 62) is unable to approve those men of whom he hears — and one a deacon! — who live in familiar intercourse with virgins, even sleeping in the same bed with them — for, he declares, the feminine sex is weak and youth is wanton.
In the hands of the saints, the innovation was twisted into a more athletic and masochistic form, becoming the famous "trial of chastity", in which one sought to demonstrate one's self-control by finding the greatest extremes of temptation — perhaps with the unconscious desire that one day one would overstep the mark. It is said that St. Swithin and St. Brendan once engaged in a contest of this kind. Brendan, on hearing that St. Swithin constantly slept in one bed with two beautiful virgins, rebuked him for the risks which he was incurring. Swithin replied by challenging him to emulate his performance (not a very logical rejoinder, but the early fathers were never very strong on logic). This Brendan attempted to do, but found that, though he could resist the temptation, he was unable to get off to sleep, and returned home discomfited. (229) Similar practices were still being performed within the Church as late as the eleventh century, when Robert of Arbrissel founded nunneries where he slept chastely with the nuns ("a fruitless form of self mortification", as a colleague neatly said) and the concept of a chaste relationship among lay persons can be found in several devotional romances, such as the fourteenth century Italian "Life of St. Mary Magdalene" (attributed to Frate D. Cavalca).
It may seem strange that in the twelfth century the Church was roundly condemning the Cathar and troubadour variants upon the theme of unconsummated love, for to do so involved it in numerous contradictions. Thus it objected that Agapetism was too risky, for youth is wanton and the intended chastity might break down. The identical argument might have been urged against the celibacy of priests; in fact, Bernard of Clairvaux actually employed as an argument against the Cathars the fact that the attempt to impose sacerdotal celibacy had produced nothing but abuses. Yet the attempt to impose sacerdotal celibacy continued with renewed fury, and the argument was found that, although chastity was a gift, God would not refuse it to those who (note the qualification) sought it in the bosom of the true Church.
The argument of public scandal could not be employed against the Cathars, since they lived chastely with their wives, and other arguments had to be found. The main argument was that they were dualists or Manichaeans. (Dualists are those who believe that there are two equally balanced powers, good and evil, and that the outcome of the struggle between them is in doubt, whereas Christians claimed that the Devil only operated by permission of God, so that the outcome was never in doubt.) Actually, the Cathars did not question candidates for admission as to whether they were dualists, so it is highly unlikely that they thought this important. It is more likely, as Conybeare has shown, that they were Adoptianists. But they did hold, like the Christians, that this world is a vale of woe; the sooner one leaves it for eternal joys the better. They were therefore accused of wishing to exterminate the human race by refraining from procreation — a logical enough conclusion from the premises; hence, if one denied the reality of their chastity, it was logical to accuse them of having intercourse with their wives per anum. This, I think, is the only reasonable interpretation of the constant charges of sodomy and bestiality which were hurled at them. If so, the word bougre, a corruption of Bulgar, which was applied to them should be interpreted as applying to anal intercourse rather than to homosexuality.
Still stranger is the Church's condemnation of the troubadours, if we are right in thinking that their relationship with their mistresses was chaste, for the Church's doctrine was that the sexual act, and thinking about the sexual act, was sinful. It was not the fact that they devoted their attention to married women which evoked the criticism of the Church, for the Church-like the troubadours themselves — held it a sin to love one's wife. In Denomy's view, it was the sensual character of their fantasies which was the objectionable feature. But here again the Church found itself involved in a distinction which was invisible to all but the eye of faith. Erotic symbolism was legitimate in true-blue Christians: when a monk praised the thighs and buttocks of the Virgin there was no sin; when the troubadours praised, sometimes in far more abstract terms, the beauty of their mistresses, there was. Actually, so abstract and remote did the yearning of the troubadours become that they passed almost insensibly into adoration of the Virgin. About three quarters of Riquier's poems are actually addressed to the Virgin; the rest are nominally addressed to the Countess of Narbonne, but he sometimes confuses the names, and addresses one as the other. The mystical Jaufre Rudel addressed his poems to "an unknown lady" who was probably none other than the Virgin.(60)
More than this, the Church attempted, and still attempts, to show the identity of these really noticeably different manifestations. Rahn says:
"Most troubadours were heretics: every Cathar was a troubadour."
This is clearly ridiculous. Apart from the fact that there were many thousands of Cathars and fewer than five hundred known troubadours, there are important differences in the character of the professions. The troubadour was chaste as regards his chosen lady, but not as regards women generally, and was not infrequently married and the father of children (cf. Ulrich von Liechtenstein); the Cathar eschewed all sex. Moreover, the troubadour focused his love on an earthly figure, the Cathar on a divine one; the latter's continence was therefore different from that of the troubadour, because it was not continence 'vis-a-vis' an object of passionate love.
The question which we are bound to ask, then, is, why did the Church feel, however obscurely, that there was some common factor uniting the troubadours, the Cathars, the Beghards and the various minor sects which preached a chaste love — a common factor which at the same time distinguished them collectively from the Church itself The answer can only be that there was such a common factor: all these groups were matrist, the Church was patrist. Their heresy which the Church was fighting was matrism — the only thing which offers an absolutely fundamental threat to patrism.
The heretic sects were not proselytisers. They did not convert forcibly: on the contrary, they were exceedingly tolerant, both of ideas and of people. They extended their tolerance to Jews, and what that means may be judged from the fact that the Church held Jews to be less than human. Nevertheless, the Church was so alarmed at the danger presented, that in the thirteenth century it authorized the use of torture and soon afterwards set up the Inquisition to deal with the danger.
Two centuries before, the Church had believed itself able to cope with the growing demand for matrism by fostering the worship of a mother figure which would be at the same time completely desexualized. Early in the eleventh century a feast of the Conception was established in England;(98) towards the end of the century the Ave was added to the Lord's Prayer, and was made a compulsory Office of the Church in the next. At the same time the title "Our Lady" came into general use, while the Dominicans introduced the use of the rosary, specifically as a counter weapon to the heresies. But popular feeling demanded more active expression and groups were set up, vowed to her service: the Serviti, or Servants of Mary.(136) The knights fought in her name and religious orders made her their patron.
But, instead of the Virgin influencing her followers in the direction of sexual repression, they influenced her in the reverse sense, as one might have expected, and before long she was scarcely distinguishable from a pagan mother goddess. She became the restorer of fertility, a function she preserved until quite recent times in many districts. Her miracles were of a kind the Church was scarcely likely to approve. Not only did she cure the sores of a suppliant by expressing on to them some of her milk, and deliver a pregnant abbess painlessly (thus providing, had anyone thought of it, a divine warrant for the use of anaesthetics in childbirth), but she hushed up the attendant scandal. And it was "an everyday occurrence", according to the Saint Alphonso de Liguori, for her to cover up for women who were engaged in adultery by taking their places in their husbands' beds.
And, in fact, matrism is the only serious threat to patrism. The preoccupation with death, the worship of chastity, are not natural to it. They were borrowings from Christianity, consequent upon the sudden development of matrism within a patrist culture. The Church's fear that this chastity would soon break down was perfectly justified. The patrists perceived the absence of that obsessive and persecuting element which provides the mainspring for Christian asceticism. Though the doctrinal rationalisations which it evolved were absurd, its intuitive identification of the danger was faultless. So, from the middle of the thirteenth century the Church was on the defensive. The battle against sex became, as it always must, the battle against heresy.