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Sex In History. Part 8: The School of Christ

Part 1: Eros And Tanatos
Part 2: Mediaeval Sexual Behaviour
Part 3: Sense and Sensuality
Part 4: The Medieval Sexual Ideal
Part 5: Pure Desire
Part 6: Sex and Heresy
Part 7: Sex Denied
Part 8: The School of Christ

The Protestant movement started on the Continent, and before discussing English Puritanism, it will be desirable to consider Calvinism - for though it was Luther who set the schismatic movement in train, and though the Church which he set up still endures, yet it was Calvin who provided the most clear-cut exemplification of the extreme patriarch character of the movement. Furthermore, it was Calvin who most closely influenced Britain - perhaps by a sympathetic attraction. Luther`s movement, though conservative in nature, was not so fanatic or so guilt ridden as Calvin`s, and it was to the latter that the British divines, fleeing from the Catholic Mary, gravitated.

The basis of Calvinism in father-identification needs little stressing. We find it in the marked authoritarianism of the movement, in its depression of the status of women, and even in such characteristic details as a fervent belief in witchcraft: extreme Protestants persisted in this belief long after the rest of Europe had abandoned it: Wesley, for instance, was a firm believer in witchcraft. The stress placed by Calvinism on authority is quite striking. Not only did Calvin stress divine authority, but all paternal authority was sacrosanct. In Geneva a child was beheaded for striking its father: in Scotland, too, severe penalties were prescribed for any child who defied its father. If there was anything worse than to defy a father`s authority, it was to defy Calvin`s. Special penalties were prescribed for addressing Calvin as Calvin, and not as Mr. Calvin. Citizens who commented unfavourably on his sermons were punished by three days on bread and water. Gruet, who criticized Calvin`s doctrine and who had written "nonsense" in the margin of one of his books, was beheaded for treason and blasphemy. Berthelieu, who challenged the right of the Consistory to excommunicate, was beheaded, with several of his supporters. Calvin betrayed the tolerant Servetus to the Inquisition in France, and covered his part in so doing by a lie. Servetus, having escaped, came to Geneva hoping to discuss his differences with Calvin, only to be seized, tried without benefit of legal aid and burnt, on Calvin`s express instructions. (Before ever the trial opened, he gave orders that Servetus was not to leave Geneva alive.) As Castellio commented: "If thou, Christ, dost these things or commandest them to be done, what is left for the Devil ?"

As always in patriarchal systems, Calvinism was fanatically against intellectual freedom. Calvin himself said that he submitted his mind "bound and fettered" in obedience to God, and he expected a similar subservience from others. Not only Servetus and Cruet, but many others who dared to query the official teaching were condemned and imprisoned or killed; and since Church and State were one, to hold the wrong opinion was not only heresy but treason. Inevitably, Calvinists depressed the status of women. What seemed to them especially outrageous was that women should, in some places, be heads of state. It was unfortunate that Knox`s First Blast of tax Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women should have coincided with the accession of Elizabeth. The letters to Somerset in which he tries to retrieve the position make amusing reading: but it was too late, and the second Blast was never sounded. The Calvinists excluded, of course, all adoration of the Virgin Mary, and it is symptomatic of the new movement that in some places Protestants broke or mutilated statues of the Virgin - actions which in Paris evoked day-long processions of expiation on the part of the orthodox.

As a matter of fact, Calvinism went so far in the direction of a patriarchy that it abandoned the mediaeval Church`s view that virginity was a good, stressed the desirability of having a large family, and seemed on the verge of restoring polygamy. This loss of interest in the idea of virginity, coupled with a rejection of the idea of meditation and the erection of work into a virtue led to the abandonment of the life of the cloister, which still further depressed the status of the unmarried woman. Calvin, to be sure, never licensed polygamy, but Luther agreed to the bigamous marriage of Philip of Hesse; and on a few occasions when the number of women available greatly exceeded the number of men, Protestant bodies actually legalized polygamy. Thus the Frankish Diet legalized bigamy to restore the ravages of the Thirty Years War.

Stevenson, in his portrait of Knox, draws attention to the somewhat Biblical character of his domestic arrangements. Knox, who was twice married, was also the cause of scandal with at least two other women. Having given rise to some talk by the closeness of his association with a Mrs. Bowes (a married woman, living with her husband) Knox suddenly married her daughter, and retired to Geneva with both ladies, despite the protests of Mr. Bowes. The little group was soon joined by a Mrs. Locke, for whom Knox professed a respectful affection, and by her daughter and maid, to the extreme annoyance of Mr. Locke. Stevenson draws a delightful picture of Knox proceeding to worship on the Sabbath, accompanied at a respectful distance by the five Women, like some Biblical patriarch with his wives and concubines. This was not, as a matter of fact, the full extent of Knox`s interests, for he also maintained a warm friendship with a Mrs. Adamson. It was quite characteristic that, having caused two wives to leave the sides of their husbands, he should write bitterly attacking a Mrs. Barron for having left her own husband.

One of the several interesting features of Calvinism, which differentiate it from the doctrines of the Middle Ages, and bring it nearer to the doctrines of the early Christian fathers, was a tendency to generalise feelings of guilt to cover every conceivable form of pleasure. Where mediaeval writers tended to dwell specifically upon sex and to pursue the subject into all its aspects, the Calvinists did not dwell on the perversions, but devoted their ingenuity to the minutest regulation of daily life.

The guilt ridden character of Calvin`s doctrine emerges clearly in the Institutes, the great work in which he sought to embody the principles of the new Church. Quoting with approval Christ`s words "The world shall rejoice, but ye shall weep and lament", he asks: "Do not our innumerable and daily transgressions deserve more severe and grievous chastisements than those which his clemency inflicts on us ? Is it not highly reasonable that our flesh should be subdued, and as it were accustomed to the yoke, lest it should break out, according to its propensities, into lawless excesses ?" It no longer needs a psychologist to tell us what the forbidden excess was, from which men had to be restrained, "the licentiousness of the flesh, which unless it be rigidly restrained, transgresses every bound."

The whole document is of rich psychological interest, and provides a classic demonstration of the power of the legal mind to arrive at the wished-for conclusion, starting from whatever premise. Calvin attached the highest importance to the Bible, but found no difficulty in making those texts which seem to preach the enjoyment of God`s gifts support his own preferences for self-mortification. The early Jews believed strongly that one should enjoy the pleasures of life, including those of sex (see Deuteronomy xxi. 10-14) and some teachers held that at the last day one would have to account to God for every pleasure one had failed to enjoy. But Calvin, after conceding that God has put various things into the world for men to enjoy, such as flowers, colours, gold and silver, and so on, demands: "Where is the gratitude towards God for clothing if on account of our sumptuous apparel, we admire ourselves and despise others ?" By a similar line of reasoning, every other blessing is to be rejected because it might lead to undesirable behaviour, until we finally arrive at the conclusion that "they that have wives should be as though they had none" - the original doctrine of Paul.

This method of argument is still popular today, to be sure - a recent example being the Report of the Royal Commission on Population Trends, which, after considering a great many reasons why Britain is likely to find it impossible to support its present population, concludes that, since no one can be quite sure that these reasons will operate, every effort should be made to maintain the population at the present figure.

So terrible were the forces of guilt and destructiveness animating Calvin, that he not only revived Augustine`s doctrine of pre-destination but carried it to an even more fearful extreme, and resolutely condemned to eternal torment, not only all babies which died before baptism, but all persons in non-Christian countries - including, of course, all persons living prior to the time of Christ. As Troeltsch points out, the doctrine of predestination is one which effectively precludes the operation of divine love and mercy: psychologically it is the reaction of one who, having been treated with cruelty, reacts by deciding to suppress his own instincts of tenderness. Under Calvin`s rule, midwives took to baptizing sickly infants as soon as they were born, to save them from this frightful fate; Calvin promptly put a stop to the practice, assuaging his conscience with the claim that God, in his justice, would not let anyone die unbaptized who really deserved to be saved. The practice of giving immediate baptism to sickly babies prevails in England to this day.

It is therefore quite in keeping that Calvin constructed at Geneva probably the strictest theocratic society ever devised and treated with savage severity all those who held views opposed to his own. In this heaven, not only were fornication and adultery proscribed but even the mildest forms of spontaneity. The Registers reveal that bridesmaids were arrested for decorating a bride too gaily. People were punished for dancing, spending time in taverns, eating fish on Good Friday, having their fortunes told, objecting when the priest christened their child by a different name from the one they had chosen, arranging a marriage between persons of disparate ages, singing songs against Calvin, and much besides. Pierre Ami, one of those responsible for bringing Calvin to Geneva, was imprisoned for dancing with his wife at a betrothal; his wife later had to flee the country.

Attendance at church on Sundays and on Wednesdays was compulsory, and the police went through streets, shops and homes to see if anyone was evading his duty. On the other hand, it was a punishable offence to go to church except at the hour of service. Grant observes: ".... the dress of citizens, male and female, the mode of dressing the hair, the dishes served on ordinary days and on festivals, the jokes in the streets, the character of private entertainments - all were enquired into, and what seemed wrong was censured and punished." Such was the Genevan Utopia, which the admiring Knox called "the most perfect school of Christ that ever was on earth since the days of the Apostles".

To impose such standards, Calvin had to resort, naturally, to wholesale violence, torture and execution: 150 of those who disagreed were committed to the flames in sixty years. Not for nothing had he been called by his schoolmates "The Accusative".

The second remarkable feature of Calvinism - and this is true, to some extent of Protestantism generally - was the unprecedented importance it attached to the spoken and written word. It was the very basis of Calvin`s teaching that the Bible constituted the unimpeachable source of all doctrine: it was referred to as the Word of God. The Bible itself came to be conceived as invested with an extraordinary sacredness: it became, it has even been said, a sacrament, taking precedence over the Eucharist, which was only celebrated in commemoration of it. Our practice of swearing on the Bible derives from this. Notably, the Principle of the infallibility of the Bible was substituted for the principle of the infallibility of-the Pope It was characteristic of the loveless, legalistic Calvin that he should make a system of symbols - a book - the centre of his system, rather than the persons and actions those symbols represented. It was a retreat from life.

No doubt it was part of this strange preoccupation with the importance of words that extraordinary importance was accorded to the sermon. The Protestants - in England equally - believed that in the sermon they had found the answer to all ecclesiastical problems. In Geneva, seventeen sermons were given every week, two on each weekday and five on Sunday, and attendance at all was compulsory.

It seems tempting to link with this phenomenon the Puritan preoccupation with the propriety of other forms of words, such as novels and plays, and the "profane songs" already mentioned. Moreover, as we shall see, when the puritan movement finally became dominant in England, it steadily began to built up, for the first time in history, a system of laws against making certain types of statements. These statements were called "obscene" - that is, objectionable: what the Puritans chiefly found obscene was, of course, any direct reference to sexual matters.

The psychology of these Puritan reformers is particularly interesting, and it would be of great interest to make full, scale psychological studies of some of them. Calvin, for instance, was subject to violent fits of anger. He suffered from chronic indigestion and in due course developed stomach ulcers. Today, his drive, ruthlessness ant obsessive attentiveness to detail might have made him a successful businessman. He seems to have had a special preoccupation with the idea of adultery, and introduced references to it in almost every matter he discussed. Since repression always stimulates what it sets out to repress, one is not surprised to learn that his sister-in-law was taken in adultery in I557 and that his daughter suffered a like fate five years later.

Unfortunately, we know very little of Calvin`s earliest youth, and not much about his private feelings. On the other hand, there is a great deal of information available about Luther, who recorded his thoughts and feelings in great detail. For instance, we can detect signs of megalomania in the hints which he often dropped that he was of noble origin. Once he traced his ancestry back to Julius Caesar`s entourage. At his funeral, the speaker of the oration had no hesitation in describing him as descended from Lothair.

Luther`s dominating characteristic seems to have been an intense fear of the paternal figure. He tells us how fearfully, as a boy, he studied a stained glass window in the parish church depicting Jesus the Judge, a figure with a fierce countenance bearing a flaming sword. When, after his admission as priest, he first had to officiate at Mass, he was frightened almost to incapability. This is easily intelligible when we learn that his father, a miner, used to beat him so severely that he ran away from home; his schoolmaster was equally harsh. His mother was scarcely less severe and once beat him until blood flowed, for eating a nut which he had found upon the table. Hence we might expect Luther to have formed the impression that, if God was severe, the Virgin Mary was scarcely less clement. It is therefore interesting that he made St. Anne his patroness, for her function was to intercede with the Virgin, to induce her to intercede with Jesus, whose role was to intercede with the Father. Like the Pope, God could not be approached direct. Once, when Luther was walking along, a clap of thunder sounded from a clear sky. So taut were his nerves that he fell to the ground in terror, crying "Save me, save me, dear St. Anne", and subsequently joined the order of Augustine Eremites, an order which venerated St. Anne.

Despite his own rejection of the Catholic hierarchy, his outlook was profoundly authoritarian. "An earthly kingdom cannot exist without inequality of persons", he said, and when the peasants rose demanding that villeinage should end, he was horrified. He accepted to the hilt the propriety of using force placing absolute power in the hands of the civil authorities and encouraging them by saying, "No one need think that the world can be ruled without blood. The civil sword shall and must be bloody."

Luther`s psychology is chiefly interesting, however, in that it provided some confirmation of the general psychological analysis which has been made of the puritan type of personality. One of the most noticeable characteristics of a certain type of puritan is an obsessive fear of dirt: we have all met the woman who combines with a strict and uncharitable morality an almost surgical desire for cleanliness. It was the commonness of this combination which gave rise to the aphorism about cleanliness being next to godliness, but the more percipient pointed out that the dislike of dirt in the literal sense seemed to go with an extreme interest in dirt in the moral sense. This type of person is always the first to know of a neighbour`s mis-step and to criticize it. Custance`s observation that, in the depressive phase of his insanity, a fear of dirt was associated with a feeling of remoteness from God is also relevant here.

But this is not an isolated observation. Psychiatrists have long recognized among their patients a characteristic distortion of personality in which there is an extreme interest in productive and retentive activities, and which is also frequently marked by some degree of cruelty or sadism. The origins of this distortion have been analysed in detail and these special interests have been found to be a substitute for, or a sublimation of, a childish preoccupation with excretory matters, for which reason this personality pattern is described as the "anal" type. (This brief summary is hardly fair, for this classification is based on an elaborate and generally accepted theory of how personality is formed, which can be tested in various ways and forms the basis of most psychoanalytical work.)

The suggestion that the great tide of productive and accumulative capitalism which rose during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was due to an increase in the anal elements in character is far from new: but the point is one which has never, I think, been investigated historically. There is, in fact, room for a full-scale study of the relations between puritanism and these anal attitudes from earliest times.

Such a history would undoubtedly reveal a strong contrast between the uninhibited matrist treatment of scatological matters and the shamefaced taboos and obsessive preoccupations of puritans. Rabelais, for instance, treats scatological matters with gusto. Camden notes that at least one manor was held of the king, not by the conventional rent of a rose, payable at midsummer, but by serjeantry, a thing which is quite inconceivable today. This was the case at Hemingston, "wherein Baldwin le Petteur (observe the name) held land by serjeantry (thus an ancient book expresses it) for he was obliged every Christmas Day to perform before our Lord the King or England, one saltus, one sufflatus and one bumbulus; or, as it is read in another place, he held it by a saltus, a sufflus and a pettus - that is (if I apprehend it aright), he was to dance, make a noise with his cheeks, and let a rousing fart. Such" - adds Camden benignly - "was the plain, jolly mirth of those days." It is against this background that we have to set the fact that Luther received his great moment of enlightenment - the moment when he perceived that man`s salvation depends not upon his achievements but upon his faith - when he was sitting upon the privy. This is the celebrated `Turmerlebnis`. Luther was continuously constipated, itself typical of excessive cerebral control, and it was in one of his prolonged sojourns in the Temple of Cloacina that he had his vision of the Devil. Melancthon describes one of Luther`s affrays with the Fiend in the following words, which had better remain in Latin:

"Hoc dicto, victus Daemon, indignabundus secumque murmurans abiit, eliso crepitu, non exiguo, cujus fussimen tetri odoris dies aliquot redolebat hypocaustum." The tradition that the Devil was accompanied by an evil smell is of great antiquity, and it did not take much imagination to attribute this to his crepitations. Schurig devotes a whole article to the subject in his "Chylologia". Luther, however, breaks new ground by recounting in his "Table Talk" how a lady put the devil to flight by this very means. Since the association of aggressive and sadistic impulses with anal fixation is one of the best established facts in psychology, Luther`s anecdote may well, like any other myth, be indicative of a change in the unconscious preoccupations of the myth-maker. Finally, it is significant that the Puritans also extended their taboos on the making of verbal references to sexual matters to cover excretory matters also. Since this taboo is still with us today, if slightly weakened, it is easy to think this association natural. In point of fact, the sense of repulsion from faeces is by no means inborn, as anyone who observes children knows. (Similarly, those tribes which regard it as shameful to be seen eating also explain this as being self-evident.)

It may also be the case that the patrists` new anal pre-occupations help to account for their special sensitiveness to words. Psychologists have noted certain parallels between excretion and speech: words may be used to defile and smear, that is, to express an aggression which is fundamentally excremental. Too little is known to push these speculations further, but the field is one which would richly repay research.

In England, of course, the patrist revolt did not lead to schism and, except for a short time during the Common- wealth, patrist codes were not enforced. Even when small groups abandoned the struggle and emigrated to Holland or America they still continued to regard themselves as members of the English Church. In Scotland, however, Knox succeeded in imposing the Calvinist system, and the Genevan pattern was reproduced almost exactly.

English Puritanism, as it came to be called, thus had a frustrated character. Nevertheless, it displays the main characteristics which we have already noted: the extreme generalizing of the sense of guilt to cover the mildest forms of spontaneity, and the immense pre-occupation with symbols. Throughout the sixteenth century, the Puritans dissipated much of their energy in doctrinal discussions, such as whether wooden tables should replace stone altars and whether they should be placed in the centre of the church or at the east end. The great issue upon which Elizabeth and the Puritans fought or so long was the question of how the clergy should be dressed. Elizabeth, who had conceded every major demand raised by the Injunctions which were designed to strip English churches of matrist influences, yet insisted upon one thing - that the clergy should continue to wear cap and vestments as in Edward`s time - and stood obstinately upon this decision despite every pressure. The clergy were equally obstinate in refusing, and scores sacrificed their livings rather than conform.


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