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Sex in the Sight of God: Theology and the Erotic in Peter of Blois' ‘Grates ago veneri’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2012

Simon Meecham-Jones
Affiliation:
Cambridge, and an examiner for Medieval Latin
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Summary

Item, si, sicut tota clamat divina scriptura, tantum tres sunt ordines salvandorum, virginum, continentium, et conjugatorum, simplices autem fornicatores in nullo reperiuntur ordinum istorum, non itaque sunt in ordine salvandorum.

(Now, as all the Sacred Scriptures attest, there are only three classes of people who will be saved: those who are virgins, those who are continent, and those who are married. And since fornicators are by no means found among these groups, they certainly will not be saved.)

THROUGHOUT the Middle Ages, theologians had drawn on the strictures of St Paul to bolster and reanimate the Church's veneration of virginity as an ideal state of human life. In the twelfth century, the Church's full acceptance of the centrality of this theology of virginity was witnessed by the imposition of the rule of clerical celibacy at the Second Lateran Council of 1139. It is the more surprising then that the twelfth century should also have produced a rich crop of lyrics written in Latin that are notable for a level of sexual explicitness that renders them as provocative to twenty-first-century sensibilities as they must have been to readers or listeners when they were first written. It should not be thought, either, that these surviving poems comprise fortuitously preserved remnants of an invisible or samizdat clerical culture. Unlike some of the apparently ‘occasional’ erotic verse that survives in Medieval Welsh, for example, these poems have not generally been preserved on loose scraps of paper, or scrawled on to the margins of other texts.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2007

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