Sexual Practices & the Medieval Church

By Vern L. Bullough; James Brundage | Go to book overview

18
Postscript: Heresy, Witchcraft, and Sexuality

Vern L. Bullough

Church sexual ideals remained much the same at the end of the Middle Ages as they were at the beginning. Although, as the various contributors to this book have indicated, Church officials dealt with the world as they found it, the ascetic ideal still dominated, and at best, sexual activity was only to be tolerated providing it resulted in procreation. Prostitution in Florence, for example, was justified in just such terms. Some indication of just how deeply rooted hostility to nonprocreative sex was, is indicated by the sexual charges alleged against heretics and witches. Gerhard Ladner has explained that the cultural revolution of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries encouraged a desire for material pleasure that was in conflict with traditional Christian values -- resulting in psychological dissonance and widespread alienation. 1 The Church attempted to channel many of the alienated into orthodox reform movements, such as the Franciscans, but not all could be so directed, and the result was a turn to unorthodox religious movements, even among some of the followers of Saint Francis. Inevitably also, the repressed desire for material pleasure on the part of the orthodox led them to attribute to the heretics enjoyment of the very materialistic pleasures they were denying themselves. By implication then, a person who engaged in forbidden kinds of sexual pleasure must be a heretic -- and a heretic must engage in "deviant" sexual activity.

There is, however, another factor to be considered in the association of forbidden sexuality with heresy and witchcraft. Many of the twelfth and thirteenth century heresies can be traced to the dualistic concepts of the

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