Love appears to some as a thoroughly natural and all-pervasive force driving human beings to seek sexual union. Others, agreeing with the all-pervasiveness but not seeing it as an exclusively natural force, add a supernatural element to the definition of love, These age-old, traditionally different outlooks constitute the hedonistic ethos and the religious ethos and still have their respective champions. Federico Fellini, in the course of an interview granted at the premiere of his film Fellini's Satyricon, said his intention is "to show that sex is not such a big problem as Christianity has made it. Sex is only the lure of the sexes; sex is just sex."l The film, by glorifying a remote hedonistic past, implicitly criticizes the proximate puritanical past and revels in the hedonistic present. Conversely, Malcolm Muggeridge, in a recent book, implies the need for a theology of sex, combining mystery, responsibility, and celebration, when he derides the attitude that sex is just sex. "Sex is the mysticism of a materialist society, with its own mysteries-this is my birth pill; swallow it in remembrance of me!"2 Later, in the same book, he insists that sex must be seen in the wider context of ethics.
"The purpose of it is procreation, the justification of it is love, if you separate sex from procreation and love, and very rapidly you turn it into a horror."3
One important aspect of the theological ethos as it pertains to twentieth-century literature is the concern of this book. I examine the work of some outstanding writers of the twentieth century who have wrestled either with the significance I of Christ or with some other aspect of religion and then
coupled their concern with the mystery of sex. In those writers where it is most pronounced, I have isolated this phenomenon in order to investigate their implicit views on the relation of sex to religion. What I have analyzed is certain fictive situations and especially certain characters in which ail us ions to the erotic occur in a spiritual context and vice versa. It seems curious to me that this equation of spirituality with sexuality-and its corollary, the neo-Christ figure drenched in erotic turbulence, violence, and romantic agony -is so widespread in contemporary literature and yet has received no adequate critical attention. I hope the oversight has been corrected by my concentration on a selected group of modern writers who, in the course of rejecting the hedonistic ethos, confuse-or at least expose themselves to t e danger of confusing-the two kinds of love, earthly amor a d heavenly caritas. The body of the work consists of reflections on the sexual implications of religious imagery and the religious implications of sexual imagery. The conclusion pulls the separate studies together for an overall view of the relevant imaginative patterns.
The frequent confusion displayed by the writers under consideration IS wrought by the way they mount a passion play on stage, while the Passion play is going on off stage, or vice versa. When you use sex as though it were an accessory to religion or religion as though it were an accessory to sex, you flirt with a heady but potentially' explosive combination, eschatology and erotology. This theological-erotic compound, often with scatology added, is to be found in much of the literature of this century. It is polymorphically present to varying degrees in those authors, like Graham Greene, who eagerly search for the sexual implications of spirituality, as
well as in those, like Jean Genet, who reluctantly search for the spiritual implications of sexuality. These authors, Christian and otherwise, are working in a new Gothic tradition substituting sexual aberration for ghosts as an accompaniment to religion.
The current trend of canonizing sex as religious expression is not confined to literature, to be sure. It is a cultural craze permeating such diverse areas as the cinema, sociological journals, and group therapy. Andy Warhol combines a well- intoned Kyrie with naked seductions in Lonesome Cowboys; Easy Rider mixes sex movingly with requiem and rosary in a New Orleans cemetery. The May 1971 Evergreen Review features a piece proclaiming an ecclesiastical function for pornography. "The High Church of Hard core will have to be invaded by the sanctifying grace of art and truth.". And a group in Greenwich Village is sponsoring ritualized orgies "to achieve sexoreligious results." But these popular manifestations are an aside, for I am concerned exclusively with the symbiosis between sex and religion in twentieth-century belles-lettres.
What must first be established by way of necessary background material, however, is that there is nothing new in this nexus. Sex and ritual, sex and faith, sex and mystical union, sex and salvation: these relationships have been part of the implicit wisdom of nearly all religions, even the most primitive. As Andrew Greeley points out: "The ecstatic, primordial, contemplative, ceremonial, ritualistic, communitarian, and sexual are words that can be predicative of almost any religious liturgy that the human race has observed." He adds that "sex and religion are the two most powerful non-rational forces of the human personality," and so it is not surprising "that they should be linked," The term "non-rational," more applicable at first glance to "the infra-rational of sensualistic orgy," is also applicable to religion in the-sense of "the suprarational of mysticism and contemplation." As evidence of sexual imagery in his own faith, Roman Catholicism, he offers "the intercourse symbol of the 'candle and the water on Holy Saturday, for example, or the pervasive comparison of the Church to marriage in both the Old and the New Testament. "5
Although religion and sex, in view of their diverse raison d'etres, would appear to have little to do with each other, this, we see, has not at all been the case. Since the beginnings of early man in Europe, the two have been intimately connected. The modern fiction writers who combine erotica and
theology are working in an ancient tradition. The tradition should be surveyed briefly if we are to understand the strong appeal this affinity has for them. The survey, of necessity, will have to be highly selective and confined largely to the Judeo-Christian culture, with only a couple of references outside that pale. Inasmuch as the writers studied are all products of the Judeo-Christianity culture, stress on that culture in order.
Since my intent is literary, it might be well to begin by referring to the ancient Sumerians, the people with the oldest known written language. In a controversial study of their religious practices, entitled The Sacred Mushroom and theCross, John Allegro argues that a universal r::hallic cult lies at the heart of all religions. "If rain in the desert was the source of life, then moisture from heaven must only be a more abundant kind of spermatozoa; If the male organ ejaculated this precious fluid and made life in the woman, then above the skies the source of nature.'s semen must be a mighty penis, as the earth that bore its offspring was the womb. It followed therefore that to induce the heavenly phallus man must stimulate it by sexual means, by singing, dancing, orgiastic displays, and above all by performing the copulatory act itself."6 He goes on not very convincingly to assert that this union of fertility rite and imitative magic influenced the Bible and still influences the religious consciousness of Christians. As Allegro tells it, the Sumerians (ca. 2500 D.C.) were a mushroom-worshiping sect: the sacred mushroom representing the semen implanted on earth by the "mighty penis." He then traces Judaism and Christianity back to the mushroom cult of Sumer, by way of folklore links between the mushroom and the serpent. "The whole Eden story is mushroom-based mythology." In substantiation, he points to the sexual characteristics of the abundant mushroom imagery in the Bible and identifies Eden with the "Garden of Sex." He fantasizes an explanation of Christian origins in which Jesus is "the semen that saves," and Peter is a name derived from the Aramaic word pitra, "mushroom." The New Testament, he concludes, deserves to be treated as outright myth with no historical foundation.
But this alliance is a misalliance. To explain in terms of a phallic onslaught and to conclude that the actual stories about Jesus are p.o more real historically than those about Adam and Eve is to ignore historical evidence to the contrary. What the New Testament relates can be checked against other contemporary sources, at least in part, so that it cannot be dismissed as myth. Besides Allegro's credentials as a scholar in this area, his whole argument and even his right to carryon the discussion have been called into question by the eminent Sumerologist, J. S. Cooper, who, prior to citing chapter and verse, makes this allegation. "Dr. .Allegro, who is a Qumran (Dead Sea scrolls) specialist and not a Sumerologist, has seen nt to construct his theories upon a foundation of garbled, misinterpreted, or even nonexistent. Sumerian words. While I am intrigued to see this obscure and difficult language, with which I do daily battle in the course of my researches, associated with items as exciting and modish as phallic worship and psilocybin, to say that Allegro should have known better would be an understatement."7 The exposure of the serious shortcomings in Allegro's book is not intended, of course, to discredit fact: the existence of phallocentric religions. That would work against the thrust of my thesis. It is intended to discredit the specific charge that for two thousand years Christians have been worshiping a sacred mushroom without knowing it 'as well as the general charge that most religious sl1cts are obsessed with the phallus.
Phallic worship was practiced by most of the people with whom the ancient Israelites came into contact. Israel's neighbors, near and far-the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Canaanites, and the Egyptians-were devoted to polytheistic nature cults that, celebrating fertility and bound to the cyclical rhythms of the seasons of the year, were rife with phallic symbols. Images of Osiris, an Egyptian god, as a bull or with a triple phallus, for example, were displayed in religious processing according to William Cole, in Sex and Love in the Bible, these pagan gods and goddesses were "pictured in the myths and legends as creating the world by copulation. . . . Their worship apparently required a kind of imitative magic in which male and female devotees yoked their bodies sexually and spilled their seed upon the fields they desired to yield bounteous crops."8 These pagans also practiced sacred prostitution at one of the temples dedicated to a deity. Regarding the form it took in Babylon, Herodotus provides this account: "The foulest Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land once in her life to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger. . . . After their intercourse she has made herself holy in the goddess's sight and goes away to her home.”9
Even the Greeks and the Romans, the most civilized pagans, trafficked in religion and sex. Like those of their primitive predecessors, Greek and Roman myths swarm with, stories of copulating deities: Zeus and Leda, Zeus and Ganymede, Diana and Endymion, Venus and Adonis, Cupid and Psyche. Studies of Roman sepulchral art indicate the frequency of mythological scenes of love between gods or goddesses and youths or maidens on sarcophagi. Psyche and Cupid united in an embrace and kiss was the most popular funerary symbol of this type. But the gods were not always in a caressing mood; often they demanded stern sacrifice of their human subjects. The Golden Bough tells us that the worship of Cybele involved wild and frenzied dances during which the priests of the cult castrated themselves and flung their genitals upon the altar of their goddess.
And in the androgynous myth that he, weaves into the Symposium, Plato ascribes the need for a partner in sexual intercourse to the indignation of the gods. Aristophanes, an interlocutor, explains that the first human beings were sexually self-sufficient. They possessed the organs of both sexes; until they fell into disfavor with the gods, on account of pride, and were rent in twain. Since the substitution of unisexuality for bisexuality, the dream of every lover is that he should melt into his beloved. "This becoming one instead of two was the very expression of his ancient need. And th_ reason is that humiin nature was'originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love."lo And while it is a questionable interpretation, the comparative speculation of Nicholas Perella on this point is not without interest. "It is worthwhile remembering that in Genesis, Judaism and Christianity had an androgyne myth also. Both versions of the Genesis account (1:27-28; 2:21-24) of the creation of man consider the original man to be androgynous or hermaphroditic."11
Any allusion, even the faintest, to the union of religion and sex in the Old Testament must center on Hosea, the Hebrew prophet in the eighth century B.C. who married a whore. At the command of God, Hosea married Gomer, "a wife of harlotry" (Hos. 1:2). After she was repeatedly unfaithful, he reluctantly sold her into slavery. But so great was his love for her that he bought her back, and they became reconciled. In this turbulent marriage, the anguished prophet saw an analogy between his own long-suffering relationship to his wife and that of God to Israel. As Hosea cast off Gomer for repeated adulteries, so would God cast off Israel for repeated idolatries-symbolic adulteries. But both would recant: as Hosea could not forsake his beloved wife, so God would not forsake his chosen people. The analogy that Hosea saw between a man's sensual love and God's spiritual love is a recurrent metaphor in the Old Testament. The Song of Songs is the most celebrated example.
As Hosea in the Old Testament saw his own marriage to Gomer in terms of the union between God and Israel, so Paul in the New Testament saw marriage in equally mystical erotic terms. "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Eph. 5:25). The Pauline text coincides with the Hosaic view_human sexuality as a "mystery" analogous to divine love-and exalts matrimony to a new state of sanctity. The conjugal union is not to be wholly sensual, as with the heathens, but rather self-renunciatory for the sake of the spouse, even as Christ gave himself to and for the church. In spite of this, Paul expressed the wish that all Christians were as he, unmarried (I Cor. 7:7). And marital sex is to be primarily for the extrinsic glory of God: less for procreation, least for pleasure. Premarital and extramarital sex is anathema. His initial endorsement of marriage is somewhat offset then by a personally negative attitude toward sex. But it is important to understand the source of Paul's prejudice. As Cole explains: m "Paul was no Gnostic, no Hellenistic dualist, counseling asceticism and self-denial out of contempt for the body. His advice about marriage was set against the background of what he called 'the impending distress. . . the appointed time has grown very short. . . the form of this world is passing away' (I Cor. 7:26,.31). Paul believed firmly that the end of the world was at hand and that the end would be preceded by a time of troubles in which 'the man of lawlessness, the son of perdition' would reign and rage. Therefore, the fewer earthly concerns binding any Christian, the freer he would be, the more single-minded he would prove in the day, of decision."12 It is just because Paul regarded the body as sacred that he enjoined the Corinthians not to patronize prostitutes. "Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of a harlot? God forbid. . . . Glorify and bear God in your body." (1 Cor. 6:15-.20.)
It is dubious that Jesus shared the sentiment that sins of the flesh are the worst of sins or agreed with his apostle's dictum,: "Do not associate with them [fornicators]" (Eph. 5:7). For Jesus befriended Mary Magdalene, defended the woman taken in adultery, and reserved his ultimate condemnation for the proud and self-righteous Pharisees. And if his miracle at the wedding feast of Cana is any criterion, he approved of marriage, unlike Paul, who, for all his exalted analogies, tolerated it. "Let them marry-it is no sin." (I Cor. 7:36.) "It is better to marry than to be aflame with passion:' (1 Cor. 7:9.) (If the bulk of the remarks in this paragraph and the foregoing appear to be anti-Pauline, I ask the reader's forbearance until the conclusion where I redress the matter by expressing an entirely pro-Pauline sentiment.)
However, it is unlikely that Jesus' practice with regard to celibacy was at variance with Paul's, despite a heretical tradition to the contrary-a tradition alleging that Jesus loved women in an other than spiritual way. Perella calls our attention to "the early Gnostic text (Gospel of Philip) which spoke of Mary Magdalene as the consort of Christ. . . and. . . early depictions of the Magdalene embracing the fopt of the cross," culminating in "the daring conception of Auguste Rodin) sculpture in the late nineteenth century. Rodin depicts a sensuously nude Magdalene literally embracing Christ on the cross and swooning away, It is quite more blatantly sexual than anything in the Baroque age, or at least it fails to show that spiritualization of the sensual that the best Baroque art achieves in its sensuous interpretation of religious ecstasy.”13
Current speculation on the sexuality of Jesus has its popular (Jesus Christ Superstar) and scholarly manifestations. Only the latter, a book by William Phipps (Was Jesus Married?), need detain us. Phipps states that Jesus' spouse was Mary Magdalene. He is anxious to show that "if Jesus blessed marriage by personal practice as well as by lofty tribute . . . this should encourage a more healthy climate of opinion toward erotic passion,"l4 This is a laudable ambition, but unfortunately Phipps's evidence is less impressive than his ambition. The tardy posting of the nuptials is based largely on studies revealing "not a single instance of life-long celibacy recorded anywhere in the records of Palestinian Judaism." Since this is erroneous, however-the Talmud, cornerstone of Palestinian Judaism, celebrates the celibacy of Rabbi Simon Ben Azzai, sage who flourished during the first third of the second century, on three widely separated pages-and since there is not a shred of evidence in the New Testament
or in the early Christian writers that can be invoked to prove that Jesus was married, the assertion has not been taken seriously.
The traditional argument for a celibate Jesus rests upon his own words. "There are eunuchs born that way from their mother's womb; there are eunuchs made so by men, and there are eunuchs who made themselves that way for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this that can." (Matt. 19:12.) Had the preacher of "the Kingdom" been married, the words would have sounded woefully hollow to the ears of his reluctant listeners. Still, the New Testament affirms that Jesus was tempted in every respect as we are, so doubtless he had sexual desire. But the acceptance of this side of Jesus' humanity does not invalidate the conclusion that he freely chose celibacy and gloriously sublimated those desires in the work of the redemption. The holiness of marital sexuality is not diminished thereby: it depends not upon his personal practice but upon his having ordained marriage as a sacrament. After all, Jesus did not receive some .of the other sacraments either, and that does not detract from their efficacy. His freely chosen celibacy amounted to a decision to hallow one of two pagan practices where divinity and sexuality are concerned. Jesus chose to follow the way of the vestal virgins and of the celibate priests of Jupiter and to reject the aforementioned concept of deity copulation.
Sex was sanctified by Christ in terms of the sacraments he instituted, if not by the doctrine of the virgin birth. The sacraments are the channels through which the holy enters life and sanctifies it in its most elementary functions-birth, adolescence, vocation, death, on one plane; sin and amendment, eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse, on another. These great rites of passage common to all folk religions were uniquely blessed by Christ. But the virgin birth set sex back. The impregnation of a virgin by a divine being in the guise of a bird, the issue of which will be another divine being, is exclusively a pagan notion, taken literally. The fulfillment of the Annunciation is unique. What differentiates it from the myth of Zeus and Leda, for example, is the mode of conception, the employment of metaphor. Apart from the swan disguise used by Zeus, the impregnation of Leda took place in the normal way, by penile-vaginal intercourse. Contrary to this, Roman Catholic theology has always insisted on the virginity of the mother of Christ. The traditional teaching is that the Holy Spirit miraculously deposited the divine seed in Mary's womb, so that Jesus came through the maidenhead of the Blessed Virgin as light through glass. Even the most liberal theologians today are less troubled by the virgin birth
than by the infallibility of-the pope, for instance. Perhaps it is easier to believe in an outright mystery.
The inescapable result of this miracle is to deny that Christ was begotten by seminal ejaculation, as though this would have tainted the Godhead. The accompanying exaltation of virginity and celibacy sets an ascetical tone for the writings of the early church fathers. Beginning with Paul, as we have seen, there was a deep-seated suspicion of sex, despite his claim that the best image to represent Christ and the church is the union between husband and wife. Following Paul, Augustine displayed an ambivalent attitude toward marriage, an attitude that had sorry consequences, as Eugene
Kennedy shows: "The selective attention which has been given, for example, to the teachings of St. Augustine on marriage has contributed to the ecclesiastical prejudice against sexuality as a healthy element of life. Certain texts of Augustine tended to disparage sex, despite his overall praise of marriage. Sexual desire in and for itself was regarded, even in marriage, as a result of sin and as 'evil' concupiscence. Marriage, as an institution, was considered a remedium concupiscentiae: a cure for concupiscence. The overtones of uneasiness about sex being barely tolerable made marriage a tenuously acceptable outlet for the emotional life of the church. This emotional coloring gave rise to the notion that
marital intercourse defiled a person in some way. The use of marriage made a person unworthy to receive the Eucharist.Gradually, religion and human love became dissociated in the attitude of church teachers. As Nietzsche said, Christians for centuries begot children with a bad conscience."15 This is a common evolution: the man who is a profligate in his youth reforms and becomes a-moralist in middle age, maintaining that, even within marriage, sex and its pleasures are dangerous-a necessary evil for the begetting of children. Gradually, the equation of sexuality with sin gained credence in the Christian world. To its credit, the official church
strenuously resisted this: the Council of Trent anathematized those who held celibacy and virginity to be an inferior state to matrimony. The church itself then never considered the flesh to be intrinsically evil, but some individual churchmen certainly did, as manifested by their words and deeds. Consider four fathers of the early church. Jerome condemned the "vile body," that "sack of excrement." He was a hermit who was tormented in his cave by visions of "bevies of girls" and who grudgingly permitted marriage because it was the only way of producing virgins, the most perfect beings on earth. They were the natural "brides of Christ," he taught. Seduction of them was blasphemy, making a cuckold of Christ and, incidentally, an adulteress of the erstwhile virgin. This mania for virgins was only partially shared by his predecessor, the austere and learned Tertullian, who viewed sexual desire as the root of all evil. "The kingdom of heaven is the eunuch's fatherland," Then, without exempting virgins, he added, "Woman is the gate of hell." Another celebrated antifeminist, Clement of Alexandria, wrote, "Every woman should be overwhelmed with shame at the thought that she is a woman."16 (The cause of women's liberation never had more ferocious opponents than these misogynistic fathers of the church.) Clement's pupil, Origen, however, was the only one of the fathers to make an issue of sexual revulsion in his own physical person. Origen castrated himself. This amputation of private parts for the sake of the heavenly kingdom was rare in Christian circles where it was officially proscribed. But it was a common practice among certain heathens: recall the earlier allusion to the fanatical priests of Cybele.
In teaching that sex, except for the procreation of children, was sinful, early and medieval churchmen created a problem. They contributed to the isolation of sexuality from love and the meaning of human relationship with disastrous results. The fanaticism of the clerical hierarchy in barely admitting sexual indulgence provoked the repressed sexual fantasies of the medieval populace to erupt in the form of defilement of the sacred. Instances of neurasthenics using a crucifix as a phallus were not unknown. (These constitute historical precedents for a similar action of the possessed girl in Peter Blatty's The Exorcist.) And churches became the sites of libidinous orgies. Pertinent is the chronicle of the thirteenth-century Franciscan monk, Salimbene di Adamo, written to instruct his fifteen-year-old niece in the ways of the world. He warns her of the duplicity of certain unscrupulous confessors who-in pre-confessional-box days-seduce nubile penitents behind the altar. Black Masses and incidents such as this reinforce the impression stated by James Cleugh, in Love Locked Out, that "the fiore bolts and bars the higher officers of the clergy added to the door locked against carnal love the more it insisted on flying in at the window, even the " stained-glass window."17
Sexual delusions of grandeur among mystically inclined nuns and priests were frequent in the Middle Ages. In confession, certain nuns "related the most extraordinary hallucinations of a libidinous character. Mechthild of Magdeburg (1202-1277) felt God's hand fondling her bosom. Christine Ebner (1277-1356) believed herself with child by Jesus."18
And according to Salimbene, there were monks who dreamed of copulating with the Virgin Mary Cleugh indicates there were those critics of these unfortunate wearers of the coif and cowl who-acting on the assumption that the devil prompted urges below the belt-took them to be diabolically possessed, victims of "the unconquerable devil who persistently haunted these sacred precincts [convents and monasteries] in the guise of Priapus. The ancient Greek garden-god. . . with his invariable insinuating grin and erect phallus, sent a long procession of evil spirits to invade the cells. These demons took the form of either succubi, beautiful giris who jumped into the beds of would-be male saints, or incubi, handsome young men in a terrifying state of nature, who interrupted the slumbers or meditations of the most respectable nuns."19 he most publicized incident of this kind occurred at an Ursuline convent in Loudun, France, in 1634. Urban Grandier, S.J., in his capacity as chaplain, was accused of collusion with the' devil to seduce nuns, found guilty on evidence trumped up by mass hysteria, tortured, and executed. At the public exorcisms, staged like a circus sideshow, the "possessed" nuns performed obscene tricks for the spectators. At the trial, it was revealed that the repressed, neurotic mother superior was tormented by erotic fantasies, such as imagining herself licking the wounds of Jesus.
Throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, witches were also believed to be in league with Satan. One proof of witchcraft was sexual congress with demons. When women accused of witchcraft were arrested, "their pubic hair was shaved in order to make certain whether or not the devil had
branded his secret countersign on the vulva.”20 Their ensuing "confessions" are rife with references to the devil's sexual organ. According to one deposition, "the sexual organ of the incubus assumed a bifurcated shape at the instant of contact. One 'prong of the pitchfork,' accordingly, penetrated the vulva and the other the anus.’'21 Another proof of witchcraft
was participation in a Black Mass. The essence of a Black Mass is the use of a holy object or a consecrated place for erotic satisfaction. "The maniacal fury with which the Christian rituals were befouled reached its height when a slit was cut in the Host itself and used for producing seminal emission in the male. In 1348 the commission of incest on the altar was said to be the only way of avoiding, under Satan's protection, infection by the Black Death."22
Perhaps no one else in medieval Christendom hammered the sex nerve in defiance of the ecclesiastical taboo with such monstrous perversity as the notorious satanist and sadistic mass murderer, Gilles de Rais. A marshal of France and companion in arms to Joan of Arc, de Rais was declared at his trial to be the chief of a coven. Soon after his exemplary association with Joan, and perhaps in despair at his inability to save her from her harsh fate, he gradually turned to demonology. He began by having Black Masses celebrated in his private chapel. When this began to pall, he sought to perk up his unsurpassed appetite for desecration by coming under the tutelage of Francesco Prelati, a Florentine ex-priest, reputed to be the greatest master of abomination in the world. Prelati advised de Rais to feast exclusively on the crimes most proscribed by the church, such as raping, mutilating, and murdering kidnapped children. Over a period of eight years, de Rais tortured and ritually murdered as many as two hundred children. Shortly after he disemboweled a woman in late pregnancy to copulate with the fetus, his diet of galloping self-damnation proved too rich. He broke out in obscene hallucinations: everywhere he looked, nature tormented him with either the male organ-oblong clouds from which a flow of milky sperm drifted--or the female organ-forked boughs with a clitoral bulge. At night he suffered from lecherous dreams: succubi and incubi squeezed his genitals until he sought waking relief by prostrating himself for hours before a crucifix. His unique career in degradation was terminated by execution in 1440. The official verdict, provided by the exorcists and inquisitors, in the case of the Lord de Rais, was that he denied God through the agency of Asmodeus, the hellborn expert on erotic perversions, and that this heresy automatically turned him into a sex maniac.
The lower social classes in Western Europe in the Middle
Ages were stimulated to unbridled lubricity chiefly out of ecclesiastical defiance, but the privileged classes were motivated as much by the imported tradition of pagan lasciviousness. When the Moors from North Africa conquered Spain in the eighth century, they gradually introduced into Europe a lofty ennobling concept of carnal love, refined and chivalric, and, moreover, one uninhibited by religious taboo. The Sufi mystics who accompanied the Moors, unlike their Christian counterparts who sometimes paid lip service to profane love as a bridge to the Godhead, insisted upon amorous experience as a condition necessary to the love of God. "The science of hearts" which tutored men in the amorous arts was as plainly fraught with subtlety as the contemplation of theology. Muslim sensuality, free of the misogynistic strain of the church fathers, was inseparable from Muslim mysticism. The stark contrast between the Puritanism of Christendom and the sensuality of Islam is nowhere more evident than in their polarized ideas of paradise. The Christian heaven, presided over by bodiless angels who conduct endless adoration of an all-male Trinity, appears blissfully passive and chaste. But it smacks far less of male chauvinism than the exhausting hereafter provided by Allah. Mohammedans, it would. seem, pass eternity copulating. Allah's paradise is populated by innumerable virgins whose maidenheads are miraculously restored as rapidly as the faithful can perforate them. Where the pleasure instinct is so divinized, religiously imposed sexual restraint is bound to be remote, or even nonexistent. The Crusades further familiarized Western Europeans with Oriental modes of erotic enjoyment and encouraged amorous freethinking.
Much of the finest medieval literature, in rebellion against the church-mandated ideal of marital fidelity and supported, by heathen enthusiasm for sexual divagations from wedlock, glorified adultery. The earliest effective glorification of adultery was organized in the twelfth century by the troubadours of Provence. They popularized the cult of romantic passion with its assertion that true love could flourish only outside marriage. The troubadours, songwriters in the guise of suppliant knights, contrived a theory of love that animated their poetry and influenced the aristocratic society for which they wrote. Love and defiance of chastity were the chief topics of their lyrics. The troubadours formulated a code, known as the doctrine of courtly love, to govern affairs of the heart between men (including clerics) and women of the highest caste. The courtly love code established the "ideal" relations that should prevail between th e sexes. Courtly love taught a lover to dedicate himself wholly to the service of his lady. She must dominate; her wishes must be paramount; she must completely absorb his fidelity. He must devote his 'life to payin_her homage in love songs and fighting in her honor. For so subjecting himself to his beloved, the lover was supposed to be purified and ennobled. The affair had to be conducted in secrecy, however, since, according to the code, marriage was not conducive to love. In practice then, the lover, displaying all the virtues save chastity, pledged his heart to a lady who was usually married to someone else. Adultery aside, the convention was idealistic, deprecating coarseness and mere sensuality.
Troubadour love affairs were regulated by what were, known as "courts of love," conducted by great ladies, notably Eleanor of Aquitqine, grand daughter of the first troubadour, William of Aquitaine. The chronicler of the judgments pronounced by these courts of love, as well as the codiner of courtly love, was the worldly clerk Andreas Capellanus. His book, The Art of Courtly Love, evades the fact that courtly love-owing to its culmination in adultery-is irreconcilable with Christian morality, however, by postulating a higher form and a lower form. Characteristic of the higher form is his insistence on the kiss as the ultimate intimacy that the lady will grant. "And pure love is that which joins the hearts of two lovers together with a complete feeling of delight. Moreover, this love consists in the contemplation of the mind and the affection of the heart; it even goes as far as the kiss of the mouth and the embrace of the arm and the modest contact of the nude mistress except for the final solace; for those who wish to love purely are not allowed to practice that."23 Andreas then distinguishes "pure" love from "mixed" love by saying that the latter includes "the final solace." Other devotees of amour courtois who had erected the system into a religion based on adultery were not pleased, needless to say, by what they considered a craven clerical concession to the church. Nonetheless, Andreas' distinction, bolstered by the practice of Platonic love, has influenced one whole school of romantic thought: sexual intercourse is not to be indulged in, for then love would die.
In any case, one feature that amour courtois shared with Christianity was the exaltation 6f womanhood. At tpis time, increased devotion to the Virgin Mary in Christian circles resulted in the elevation of women. Perella observes "that the cult of the Virgin and the idealization of the lady in
profane love were contemporaneous developments" reflecting "the need. . . felt in the Christian world" for a female element in the Divinity."24 The one cult influenced the other. Devotional hymns to the Blessed Mother influenced the vocabulary but not the ideological sentiments of troubadour love lyrics: the flowery language of Mariolatry was converted into the flowery language of sensual love without any supporting orthodox content. This was the case, since many of the troubadours, as we have noted, were notorious for their opposition to the church.
Despite the reciprocal hostility, Christianity influenced the development of the medieval secular love lyric in other ways also. For the devout Christian, the love of God is ecstatic by definition. The theological formulation of Christian ecstatic love, the joyful adherence of the soul to the Beloved, was simply transferred by the poet from God to woman. The secularized conceit of the migration of the amorous heart is found in the verse of the troubadours, especially in Jaufre Rudel, who sighs, "My heart does not cease from yearning toward her whom I love most." 25 But the conceit in the original form, the migration of the soul to God, is never found in the troubadours. For the two, the application to caritas as well as cupiditas, one must return to Augustine. After championing the words of Ps. 73:28, "It is good for me to cling to God," Augustine (Confessions, VI) relates his mistress' forced separation from him: "My mistress being torn from my side as an impediment to my marriage, my heart which clung to her, was racked, and wounded, and bleeding.” 26 The union of the lover and the beloved invariably, however, places God and the lady in a position of superiority vis-a-vis the soul or heart and the male.
Another important religious influence on the literature of secular love was the glory-in-death theme. In the Middle Ages, human passion was constantly borrowing sentiments from the Passion of Christ. The motif of the profane lover suffering cruelly on account of his lady's rejection and dying from the "wound of love" (vulnus amoris) is especially significant. The Carmina Burana, a collection. of lewd love songs from the twelfth century, illustrates this best. Two typical lines contain the poet-lover's reference to his love wound: "Loving torments me, I die / From the wound in which I glory.”27 In a scholarly assessment of the secularization of the Christian martyrdom theme in the Carmina Burana, James Wilhelm concludes: "Glory in death: this is the new Christian dimension that is utterly lacking in Ovid, Catullus, and Sappho, where death is always a disaster. We must go to Prudentius' hymns to the saints or to the Acta Martyrorum for this tonality.” 28 Ultimately, we must go to Christ, the supreme martyr for love.
Contemporaneous with the Carmina Burana and the secularized martyrdom theme was the romance of Tristan and Iseult and the related secularized theme of a love that leads to death. Indeed, the love story of Tristan and Iseult is the most celebrated example of the profanation of a mystic motif in the legends of medieval love. Since the adulterous lovers die simultaneously, locked in a mouth-to-mouth embrace-at least in some of the later prose versions-the fear of death, characteristic of the Carmina Burana, yields to the voluptuousness of death. This "dying in a swell of ecstasy," says Perella, is "the first great representation in the vernacular of the equating of' death with the sexual act and vice versa."29 Legends of medieval love that led up to the transposition of the sacred motif of a love unto death into the profane orgasm-like-death motif include the illicit adventures of Lancelot and Guinevere, Troilus and Griseyde, and Paolo and Francesca. From such celebrations of courtly love, romance shaped the great literary myths of the West and became a kind of secular religion. Christianity learned to coexist with it.
Earlier referred to the poetry of the Sufi mystics, of whom R. A. Nicholson writes that "unless _e have some clue to the writer's intention, it may not be possible to know whether his beloved is human or divine-indeed the question whether he himself always knows is one which students of Oriental mysticism cannot regard as impertinent."30 Although this state of affairs never prevailed in the medieval literature of
Western Europe, there was a remote approximation attributable to all the borrowing. Perella formulates the crossover this way: "The mutual influence exerted by the religious and secular traditions of amatory literature on one another in the Middle Ages was such that if there are no specific references to the object of love or devotion, passages of poems and even entire poems may be read in either key. This, of course, is true of the Song of Songs itself, for it is a secular epithalamium celebrating human love until iUs subjected to an allegorical reading in which it becomes a song of divine love. So too the most famous medieval Latin love lyric combining Ovidian. .. and Solomonic. . . echoes is the lam dulcis arnica which, perhaps with slight variants, was 'sung as a sacred conductus at Saint-Martial or Saint-Martin in the same decades. . . as it was performed as a sophisticated love song.' "31 In short, in the Middle Ages, devotional literature idealized sex, whereas secular literature humanized religion. Man became more like God, and God became more like man.
In the Renaissance period there is, again, reciprocal influence between Christian mysticism and amatory verse. But since much of it is elaboration on duly noted medieval themes, I shall not address myself to. varying Neo-Platonism refinements. Instead, I shall allude to one highly relevant since the confusion between religious and sexual love within Christendom was most open in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance-Baroque age, the latter '
concentration better serves my purpose. The most justly celebrated sensuous interpretation of religious ecstasy is Bernini's famous sculpture of the transvrberations of Teresa of Avila's heart, in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoriaat Home. After Teresa had the ecstatic experience of encountering angelic forms who poked her dreadfully with sharp instruments and hurt her delightfully, she vividly described it in her autobiography, showing how the heat of divine love burned hot in her virgin bosom. So successfully, if unintentionally, did she sensualize the spiritual that she inflamed imaginations aU over Europe; not least of all that of Beruini, who commemorated the erotica-tinged sacred raptures in a ighly stylized statue. This bravura artist depicts an ephebic search holding a dart and standing over a reclining Teresa, in such a way that even in the act of surrender the lavish, languorous saint appears to be the erotic aggressor. Of all Teresian art, only Richard Crashaw, in three lush devotional poems, ties the erotic knot between saint and seraph as audaciously and elegantly as Bernini. After the Renaissance, the religio-erotic motif slumbered until the Romantic age. For Rousseau and Goethe, and a host of lesser nineteenth-century writers, lovemaking was a sacred rite. Speaking of the Romantic apotheosis of the soulmingling kiss, in such novels as La nouvelle Heloise and The' Sorrows of Young Werther, Perella says that upon kissing the beloved, "the hero is blasted with ecstasy in a manner that recapitulates the entire am oris tic tradition from the troubadours, the dolce stil novopoets, and Dante to Rousseau and Goethe. Paradisal nympholepsy has seldom received such glowing eloquence as . . . where the kiss of the belov_d transfers all of nature into Eden regained and transforms the hero from a Saturnian into a Uranian type. Before we pass on to the modern period, which is the concern of this book mention should be made of a long poem
by Pushkin called Gavriiliada in which the virgin birth is eroticized. Pushkin's irresistible Mary is successively ravished by Satan, who has transformed himself from a snake to a handsome young man; by the archangel Gabriel, who bears more than the traditiona1 celestial tidings; and finally by the Holy Spirit himself in the guise of a quivering billing dove.
The foregoing survey, brief as it is, provides historical background helpful in putting this matter in perspective. This study, let me emphasize, is not one tracing the impact of sex on modern literature or one tracing the impact of religion on modern literature-the critical woods are full of both kinds--or even a mere conjunction of the two. This is a pioneer effort working out tentative interpretations-for we are much in the realm of speculation of what happens when these two forces are brought to bear in rich interaction upon a work of contemporary literature. Before I refine this point by a brief discussion of two novelists, let me enter a disclaimer as to comprehensiveness. Obviously, I could not refer to every writer' of the twentieth century who shows religio-erotic preoccupations-even assuming I was aware of all of them. Instead, I have been forced to' deal selectively with those whom I feel have displayed the concern in the most interesting and challenging way. In one or two instances this has meant including writers of relatively minor stature to the exclusion of one or two of the literary titans of our time.
The most notable omission appears to be James Joyce. It is deliberate I struggled long with the temptation to include a chapter on Joyce before it is dismissed it. My decision was motivated by the belief that while both religious and sexual strains are present in his work, only the one is there to, any extent. Of his three major protagonists, Stephen, a Hamlet like intellectual has sublimated sex; Bloom, impotent, fetishistic, and voyeuristic, has sidestepped normal sexuality; Molly alone exhibits mature sexual interests, but even her famous monologue and this is crucial—is entirely wanting in a sense orsino H. G. Wells's comment on Joyce's water closet mentality is not without merit here. For both Steehen and Bloom, the organ of reproduction is overshadowed by its
function as an organ of excretion. With regard to his male characters, the stress is on micturition and even defecation. Copulation is conspicuous by its absence. The corpus of Joyces’s work provides no rich interaction between sex an9. religion. On this score, he is concerned largely with an adolescent meld of bawdiness and blasphemy which is only tangential to the purport of this book.
However, another giant of twentieth-century literature, iD. H. Lawrence, who used sex to gain entree to the God-head, is the foremost example of what I have in mind. He invoked the mystery of religion through orgasm. As he repeatedly pointed out, the one sure way to make sex filthy and
sensual beauty degrading is to separate them from mysticism and spiritual beauty. The Lawrentian hero, the man who died, embraces the truths of the body and uses them as the basis of an unconventional but sincere religious faith. His lengthy discussions of sex veil allusions to the great religious
myths of Creation, redemption, and resurrection. The Lawrentian heroine, Ursula (The Rainbow), in an adolescent confusion of passion with the Passion, fantasies that Christ is making love to her. The dances she dances, the songs she sings, and the music she plays are ritually erotic. Sex and religion in Lawrence's view, however, are but the media of a supreme power-nature. Through these two agencies, one can identify with animals, fish, and plants-all of whom possess sexual characteristics and achieve mystical communion. In the last analysis, Lawrence is less artist and philosopher than he is a neoreligious prophet and a neotroubadour of
romance. This gives him undisputed right to the first chapter.
1. "Talk with Federico Fellini," The New York Times Arts and ,/
Lei8ure, Sec. 2, Sept. 7, 1969, p. 1.
2. Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered (Doubleday & Com
pany, Inc., 1969), p. 48.
3. Ibid., p. 205.
4. Robert Coover, "Notes from the Underground," Evergreen
Review, Vol. XV, No. 89 (May 1971), p. 74.
5. Andrew Greeley, "The Sacred and the Psychedelic," The
Critic, Vol. XXVII, No: 5 (April-May 1969), pp. 24-32.
6. John Allegro, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross (London:
Hodder and Stoughton, Ltd., 1970), p. xi.
7. J. S. Cooper, "Letters," The New York Review of Books, April
22, 1971, p. 61. .
8. William Graham Cole, Sex and Love in the Bible (Association
Press, 1959), p. 181.
9. Herodotus, Herodotus, tr. by A. D. Godley (The Loeb Classic
Library, 1920), Book I, pp. 251-253.
10. Plato, The Works of Plato, ed. by Irwin Edman (Modern Li
brary, Inc., 1928), p. 357.
11. Nicholas Perella, The Kiss Sacred and Profane (University of
California Press, 1969), p. 282.
12. Cole, op. cit., pp. 292-293.
13. Perella, op; cU., p. 296.
14. William E. Phipps, Was Jesus Married? (Harper & Row, Pub
lishers, Inc., 1970), p. 196.
15. Eugene Kennedy, "Sexuality: Who Has the Problem?" The
Critic, Vo\. XXVII, N_. 6 Gune-July 1969); p. 26.
16. All quotations in this paragraph are drawn from James
Cleugh, Love Locked Out (London: Hamlyn House, 1970),
pp. 9, 156, 264-265.'
17. Ibid., p. 27. 18. Ibid., p. 90. 19. Ibid., p. 96. 20. Ibid., p. llO. 21. Ibid., p. 127. 22. Ibid., p. 129.
23. Andreas Capellanus, De amore, ed. by S. Battaglia (Rome:
1947), p. 212.
24. Perella, op. clt., p. 266.
25. Jaufre Rudel, Les ChansonsdeJaufre Rudel, ed. by A.Jeanroy
(Paris: 1924), p. 5. .
26. Augustine, Basic Writings of St. Augustine; ed. by Whitney J.
Oates (Random House, Inc., 1948), Vol. I, p. 89.
27. Carmina Burana: Lateinische und deutsche Lieder und Ge
dtchte einer Handschrift des XIII jahrhunderts aus Benedict
beuern (Stuttgart: 1847), p. 132. '
28. James Wilhelm, The Cruelest Month: Spring, Nature, and
Love in Classical and Medieval Lyrics (Yale University Press,
1965), p. 132.
29. perella, op. cit., p. 139. .
30. R. A. Nicholson, Studies in Islamic Mysticism (Cambridge,
England: Cambridge University Press, 1921), pp. 163-164.
31. Perella, op. cit., p. 115.
32. Ibid., p. 247.