The twelfth-century ''Ovidian age'' with its (re)discovery of human love with all its individualized and personalized passions - the deathly passion of Tristan and Isolde; the spiritual passion of the mystics; female mystical passion for intimacy with Jesus; Bernardine passion for Christ's embrace and kiss -would indeed be a hard act to follow. What happens to these rivalries, mixtures, and syntheses of eros and agape with the advent of the great scholastic systems of the High Middle Ages? What happens to warmth and passion when it is ''ordered'' in a theological system?
The theological system of the High Middle Ages most often held up as the epitome of scholastic genius is that of the Dominican Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274). What he has to tell us about love is significant not only because of his stature as a medieval theologian but also because of the continuing importance of his works for Roman Catholic theology. Canonized in 1323 and declared a Doctor of the Church (i.e., official teacher) in 1567, the works of the ''Angelic Doctor'' were made mandatory for all Roman Catholic students of theology in 1879 by Pope Leo XIII, and his teaching authority was reiterated in 1923 by Pope Pius XI.
Thomas's fame as the theologians' theologian rests upon his incorporation of the greatest intellectual challenge of his time - Aristotle's philosophy - into an exposition of Christian faith that in structure has been compared to the achievement of the gothic cathedrals of his day. Thomas left an immense body of work including, but not limited to, commentaries on the works of predecessors such as Peter Lombard, Boethius, and Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite; commentaries on philosophers, especially Aristotle; numerous exegetical commentaries on biblical books; various writings on disputed questions; and the two works for which he is best known, the Summa contra Gentiles (a text for missionaries) and the Summa Theologica (''Summary of Theology'').
Thomas discusses caritas, charity, in both his Summa Theolo-giae and his treatise De Caritate (On Charity). The latter is one of a series of 11 treatises on various subjects compiled from his Quaestiones Disputatae, collections of disputed questions that were academic exercises which included arguments pro and con. Kendzierski's ''Introduction'' to her translation of De Caritate notes the similarity in style and content between the Summa's discussion of love and the treatise on love. The main difference between the two writings is their respective purposes. ''Whereas the Disputed Questions were intended for the proficient, the Summa, as St. Thomas states in the Prologue, ought not only to instruct the proficient, but should instruct beginners.'' Anyone who picks up the Summa for the first time may well surmise that ''beginners'' in the Middle Ages were exceptionally learned. Kerr suggests that the Summa Theologica was designed for the instructors of beginners: ''The Summa reads more like the second-level reflective course which might follow years of studying the biblical and patristic texts, and of hearing doctrinal issues disputed in the schools.''
The flavor of On Charity, as well as its difference in style from our prior ''A, B, C's'' of love - Abelard and Heloise, Bernard of Clairvaux, Courtly Love poets - may be seen from its list of questions:
The first point of inquiry is whether charity is something created in the soul, or is it the Holy Spirit Itself? 2. Whether charity is a virtue? 3. Whether charity is the form of the virtues? 4. Whether charity is one virtue? 5. Whether charity is a special virtue? 6. Whether there can be charity with mortal sin? 7. Whether the object to be loved out of charity is a rational nature? 8. Whether loving one's enemies comes from the perfection of a counsel? 9. Whether there is some order in charity? 10. Whether charity can be perfect in this life? 11. Whether all are bound to perfect charity? 12. Whether charity, once possessed, can be lost? 13. Whether charity can be lost through one act of mortal sin?''
It appears that the personal ''A, B, C's'' of love mentioned above are succeeded by an intellectual tour de force. Indeed, according to Brady: ''Unlike Augustine or even Bernard, a detailed knowledge of Thomas's life is not necessary to understand his work.'' One biographical incident, however, suggests that early on Thomas banished eros from his personal life. His teenage decision to enter the fairly recently founded Order of Preachers, the Dominicans, upset his noble family's more prestigious plans for him. Efforts to dissuade him, including imprisoning him in the family castle, came to naught. As a last resort they tried to tempt him by putting a courtesan in his room. In response, Thomas snatched a burning brand from the fireplace and chased the woman from his room, barring her reentry by burning a huge black cross into the door.
Obviously such a story has far more entertainment than explanatory value. Yet it may be argued that there is a certain displacement of eros in the sense of human desire and love from human relationships into a theological system of virtue capped by caritas, ''charity.'' The presuppositions for this development are both theological and philosophical. The Augustinian schema of ''ordered'' love, caritas, vs. ''disordered'' love, cupiditas, provided a tradition that posited an ascent to God enabled by God's love to humankind. The philosophical logic of Aristotle that like is known only by like, encouraged medieval theologians to posit that if there is to be fellowship with God it requires elevation to God's level; sinful humankind is unlike God and therefore needs to be purified by God's love in order to rise to God. Wadell provides a brief summary: Thomas, like Augustine, poses the subject of love in terms of the ''pursuit of happiness,'' ''an odyssey toward happiness with God.'' ''To be happy is to be in love with the best possible good, and for Thomas that is God. A happy person is one who lives in love with God. Lovers of God are happy because love brings likeness, and loving God makes us enough like God to find joy in God.''
Here again we can see the appropriation also of the Augustinian synthesis of eros and agape. The biblical sense of the motivational force of God's love, agape, has now however become increasingly a teleological force, that is eros. In his extensive chapter, ''Aquinas on Eros,'' Vacek remarks that Thomas's appropriation of the Hellenistic eros teleology -''Every nature desires its own being and its own perfection'' (Aquinas) - borders on ''psychological egoism'' and ''ethical egoism.'' ''Aquinas sometimes sounds like an eudaimonistic utilitarian: 'Of necessity, every man desires happiness____
Happy is the man that has all he desires.' . . . Aquinas asks how we can attain happiness. Though Aquinas did not in fact do so, much Catholic ethics under the inspiration of this question tended to make morality a science of human happiness and of the various means to achieve our final happiness. Religiously, Aquinas courts this anthropocentrism [author's emphasis] by proposing two correlative premises: 'Happiness means the acquisition of the last end' and God is that which completely satisfies the human appetite.''
In directional terms, the love of God flowing ''down'' to the creation, to humankind, in service to the neighbor, now facilitates an ''upward'' effort to acquire salvation. As mentioned earlier, this is most graphically seen in the widespread medieval images of ascent to heaven, especially that of the ladder of virtues that reaches from earth to heaven. The ladder imagery that pictures the Christian's ascent to heaven was a very popular depiction of the scholastic theology of ordered love. The image portrays the synthesis of Hellenistic eros and Christian agape for the very desire and drive to self-fulfillment (eros) is made possible by God's enablement (agape). The ''Ladder of Virtues'' in the late twelfth-century manuscript Hortus Deliciarum (''Garden of Delights''), the rungs of which correspond to the virtues to be acquired for salvation, is shown with climbers representing the medieval social hierarchy at different levels on the ladder, the highest figure being an allegorical representation of Caritas, who receives the crown of life from the hand of God extending from the cloud-shrouded top of the ladder. All the other figures are literally bent down toward what attracts them, and hence falling off the ladder. They thereby depict cupiditas, the disordered love Augustine defined as sin, that is, the love for inferior or earthly delights. The lowest figures are a knight and his wife who are attracted to worldly things of the flesh. Next is a cleric bent toward his food-laden table and lady-friend; and to his left a priest is tempted by money. Above them, a monk is falling from the weight of money in the sack around his neck; and above him a recluse is tipping toward a soft bed, and a hermit toward his small garden. The object of temptation is inversely proportional to the level of virtue attained. The monk, recluse, and hermit are far from the material temptations of the world, but the apparently more simple objects of temptation have taken their place. Thus it is not the objects themselves which cause the climbers to fall but rather that the climbers' thoughts and desires turn toward them. Caritas, at the top of the ladder, is the virtue that each of these figures is called to attain.
The pervasive medieval iconography of the ladder to heaven presents caritas, love, as the highest virtue. Indeed, of the theological virtues - faith, hope, and love - love is supreme, the highest rung below which is hope and then faith. In scholastic theological terms, faith is formed by love (fides caritate formata). The ladder image conveys Thomas Aquinas's expressions: ''love is called the aim of all virtues;'' ''love is called the mother of all virtues;'' ''love is the mover or rouser of all virtues;'' and ''love is the root of all virtues.''
Caritas, however, is no longer a natural ability for humankind since the original fall into sin. To be sure, humankind has the natural capabilities of virtue - the natural or cardinal virtues celebrated since Plato - prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. The wise person realizes that his or her drive for happiness depends upon the cultivation and practice of these virtues. The question for Thomas is how the ultimate goal of humankind, the enjoyment of God, may be attained. Since in terms of Aristotelian logic like is known by like, for humankind to know God necessitates becoming ''like'' God, that is, fulfilling God's law of love. How is that possible after the fall? The answer is that God in love for humankind infuses into persons by means of the church's sacraments the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and love. Grace, God's love, thus does not destroy nature but completes it; there is continuity between the natural and supernatural, the right order of which is to move up the ladder from the natural to the supernatural, from the love of creation to the love of the Creator.
Miles provides a succinct overview of the ascent motif in her volume The Image and Practice of Holiness. After discussing the historical context of the ladder image in monastic spirituality she notes some of its inherent problems. First of all, even in the Middle Ages, it was not easily transferable from its monastic ascetic setting to a lay context of life in the world. The corollary to this is that the motif of ascent emphasized the privileged position - both socially and religiously - of the clerical life over that of the laity. We may add that that reinforces the sense that celibacy is on a higher religious plane than marriage. It also implicitly if not explicitly denigrates the world: ''attention to the world of the senses is presented as a distraction from, rather than a clue to, its creator.'' She cites a passage from the famous Renaissance humanist, Erasmus (1469-1536) that illustrates both the influence of the ascent motif and the continuing pervasiveness of Platonism: ''Transfer your love to something permanent, something celestial, something incorruptible, and you will love more coolly this transitory and fleeting form of the body.''
The social implications of scholasticism's ordered love, from the lower to the higher, nature to supernature, creation to Creator, may be seen in the medieval church's broad sense of love to the neighbor manifest in its suspicion of sexuality, emphasis upon mandatory clerical celibacy, and relations to the poor. The conflicted and conflicting views of sexuality in Western culture - continuing into our own time! - have multiple roots, some of which we have already suggested. The labeling of sexual relations not directly intended for procreation as mortal sin did not of course do a lot for the cultivation of passionate marriages. Ironically, the effort to privilege celibacy and to dampen the erotic within marriage created extra-marital outlets not only in courtly love and mysticism but also in publicly condoned prostitution.
But what sense can be made of the co-existence in medieval society of a clerically imposed sexual stringency and publicly condoned prostitution? Among the factors influencing this development were the church's view of marriage, and the rise of cities and urban commerce. The church's views of marriage, as already indicated, had roots in the association of the doctrine of original sin with a sexual origin. Augustine was not the first, but certainly one of the most influential Western theologians, to posit that since sin originates with Adam, it must be hereditary. The logical development of Augustinian doctrine that sexualized sin continued into scholasticism.
Theological reflections about marriage also continued basic Augustinian doctrine, albeit with some differences, positing that marriage, established in Paradise before sin, was for the propagation of humankind. After the Fall, the hitherto unknown libido became the driving force of sexuality and thus marriage becomes the remedy against this libido. Sexual intercourse due to lust is condemnable, but becomes pardonable by the goods or values of marriage. These goods include the spiritual union and companionship of the spouses and the procreation of children. The doctrine of marriage as a sacrament developed gradually in the eleventh to the twelfth centuries, partly as a response to heretical views which viewed marriage as an intrinsic evil. Although marriage in the medieval period was basically a social and economic relationship, that did not preclude an affective aspect in the choice of spouse. In his article on marriage, Francis Schussler Fiorenza notes that French theologians in particular advocated that marriage requires consent, and that in turn ''led to an emphasis on love within marriage.'' He refers to Richard of St. Victor's (d. 1173) Of the Four Degrees of Passionate Love which gives priority to conjugal love among human affections.
While Thomas Aquinas stressed friendship in marriage, his indebtedness to Aristotelian philosophy (''the female is a misbegotten male'') reinforced a crass view that women are biologically inferior to men, hardly a view conducive to reciprocal and mutual love relationships. In his Summa Theologica where he treats the creation of woman he argues that woman is subject to man because she is ''defective and misbegotten'' and because reason predominates in man. ''For good order would have been wanting in the human family if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves. So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates.''
The historical context may provide some clues to the apparent conflicts between the church's theological and doctrinal positions and the social endorsement and support of forms of ''free love.'' Romantic notions of the Middle Ages gloss over the all-too-frequent brutalities of the age. In the context of ''noble'' society, the development of courtly love was not merely entertainment but an effort to curb knightly violence, to instill courtoisie, rules of courtesy and manners. The High Medieval development of cities and commerce with their anonymity and impersonal money transactions created its own forms of conflict, poverty, and social unrest. In his study, Medieval Prostitution, Rossiaud highlights especially the prevalence of sexual violence, largely taking the form of gang rapes involving extreme brutality. Then - as all too often today -rape was considered a minor crime the cause of which was attributed to the victim. After all, the theologically and philosophically endorsed views of the time had long asserted male superiority and female lust.
Rossiaud argues that the mayhem and violence of the medieval towns is related to the prevalence of adolescent gangs out to prove their masculinity and challenge the social order. ''City notables and heads of large households had a stake in quelling this turbulence. They offered their sons, their domestics and their working-men liberal opportunities for municipally-sponsored fornication (and they took advantage of it themselves).'' The argument here is that the establishment of municipal brothels and their civic regulation was an effort to establish social control and preserve marital stability by protecting the virtue of wives and daughters from rowdy youths and lusty clerics. Prostitutes were understood to have a function - indeed, municipal authorities and others termed it a ministerium, a ministry - that ''contributed to the defense of collective order.'' Their work protected women ''of estate'' from unruliness, and they tempered the aggression of the young and outsiders.
Rossiaud reviews the variety of intellectual acrobatics by which theologians and preachers accommodated the social reality by refining categories of sin and placing common fornication low on the list. In his Summa Thomas writes that God allows various evils to exist because without them greater goods might disappear or greater evils appear. The rationale par excellence, however, was a pseudo-Augustinian gloss that appeared in the thirteenth century: ''The public woman is in society what bilge is in [a ship at sea] and the sewer pit in a palace. Remove this sewer and the entire palace will be contaminated.''
The church accommodated these attitudes toward nature and its forces (the municipal brothel is ''Nature's workshop''). Fornication with a married person remained a mortal sin, but fornication with a prostitute did not threaten to disrupt the social order of marriage and urban life and thus was at most a venial sin. Such tolerance reflected also the view that since the prostitute was not only unattached but selling her body -a merchant in her own way - lust was not involved. Likewise, priestly fornication in brothels could be the subject of jokes but not condemnation by the populace. Priestly concubinage on the other hand was condemned by the church for it was not only sin, it also threatened to deplete the wealth of the church if clerics thought they could pass church property on to their sons. At the same time, these currents stimulated the theologians toward revised views of marriage that included an emphasis upon mutual consent by the future spouses and an acknowledgment that pleasure in sexual relationships was a value in marriage.
Love of neighbor was also manifest in the rethinking of the biblical mandate to care for the poor. Now that urban merchants and commerce were beginning to edge out a society of knights and monasteries, avarice and charity displaced pride and humility as the main vice and virtue. Earlier monasticism with its focus on humility had selected Matthew's version of the ''Sermon on the Mount'' that read: ''Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'' The monks of the Benedictine monasteries - including reformers such as Bernard of Clairvaux - came from proud noble families and hence understood the sin to be combated was pride. The new monastic movements of the High Middle Ages - the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) and the Franciscans - arose in the new milieu of urban and commercial development that spawned actual poverty on a new scale. The sin they saw around them was not so much pride as avarice; hence they focused on the parallel biblical text in Luke: ''Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.'' The increase of urban poverty and economic vulnerability stimulated the view that the proper index of religious devotion was the love of the neighbor that not only prayed for the soul but also distributed sustenance for the body. The Dominican and Franciscan Orders adopted a policy of corporate as well as individual poverty, and focused their ministry on the issues of urban wealth and poverty. Now, instead of being cloistered away in walled monasteries, the new monastic movements roamed the cities and preached in the vernacular as intermediaries between the wealthy and the poor. The man who epitomized the new awareness of the neighbor in the poor was Francis of Assisi (1182-1226).
Unlike Thomas Aquinas, whose theological contribution stands on its own without knowledge of his biography,
Francis's contribution is inseparable from his person. In the story of Francis there is a remarkable conjunction of medium and message; he not only proclaimed the reign of love, he lived it. Francis had a privileged youth thanks to his father, Pietro Bernadone, a wealthy cloth merchant. Little is known of Francis's childhood. He did receive an elementary education from the local priests of Assisi, but was far more enamored of the knightly life and troubadour praise of it. His visions of military glory seem not to have been significantly dimmed by a year's imprisonment in Perugia following the Perugian defeat of Assisi forces at the battle of Collestrada. Francis next enlisted in the campaign led by a dashing knight, Walter of Brienne, against imperial forces. Illness and religious dreams prompted Francis to return to Assisi where his increasing introspection and religious reflection led him in a startling new direction, albeit with a few bumps in the road. Encountering a poor leper - one of the most feared, repugnant, and marginalized persons of the time - Francis overcame his disgust, embraced the man (a putative means to his own social ostracism), and gave him all the money he had. Parental as well as social disapproval escalated as Francis took cloth from his father's shop, sold it and his horse, and threw the money away when the local priest did not accept it for repairing a chapel. Pietro denounced Francis as a thief and appealed to the bishop of Assisi for justice. In a public confrontation with his father, Francis stripped naked to give his clothes to his father, and exclaimed that Bernadone was no longer his father; his only father now was ''Our Father'' in heaven.
Such was Francis's dramatic but rather rocky start upon a life of absolute poverty. Like the troubadour lyrics which earlier appealed to him, he too now had his ''lady.'' The difference is that she was not a love from afar, but became his spouse: ''Lady Poverty.'' An early Franciscan treatise on holy poverty, Sacrum Commercium (The Sacred Exchange between
St. Francis and Lady Poverty), relates the ''quest'' for Lady Poverty, ''her whom his soul loved,'' undertaken by Francis. The quest is, of course, an ascent ''up to a great and high mountain where God has placed her.'' Lady Poverty, astonished by the rapid ascent of Francis and his companions, asks why they came to her. ''We wish to become servants of the Lord of hosts, . . . We have heard that you are the queen of virtues____Casting ourselves at your feet, then, we humbly ask you to agree to ...be for us the way of arriving at the King of glory, . . . . '' They petition her in words echoing the Marian antiphon: Lady, we beg you through him and because of him: despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from danger, [you who are] glorious and blessed forever.''' About a century later, Dante immortalized in his Divine Comedy Francis's pursuit of Lady Poverty who had been made a widow by Christ's death on the cross:
Bereft of her First Groom, she had had to stand more than eleven centuries, scorned, obscure; and, till he came, no man had asked her hand: . . .
and none, at word of her fierce constancy, so great, that even when Mary stayed below, she climbed the Cross to share Christ's agony.
But lest I seem obscure, speaking this way. take Francis and Poverty to be those lovers. That, in plain words, is what I meant to say.
Francis's quest for poverty was counter-cultural to the rising new profit economy. He and his followers, known as mendicants for they supported themselves and their preaching missions by begging, promoted charity by example and proclamation. In his article Religion, The Profit Economy, and St. Francis,'' Little wrote: ' 'Charity held a special place in the spirituality of the mendicant orders. The friars themselves emulated the poverty of Jesus and the Apostles and thus adopted the spiritual ideal of itinerancy and begging. They also emulated the evangelical models of caring for the sick, sharing with the needy, and keeping company with those shunted to the margins of society.'' An essential part of their preaching, Little continues, ''reminded the relatively well-off of their continuing obligation to share their bounty with the poor.''
Ironically, the counter-cultural move of the mendicant friars served to reinforce the profit economy of the time that openly violated the church's prohibition of usury. How did that happen? The preachers facilitated the wealthy to ascend the ladder of virtues toward the ''gift of life,'' by exhorting charity to the poor. The mendicants, to cite Little again, ''preached to.. .the rich. But they did not threaten the rich; instead they gave them comfort by justifying their ways of making money. The response of the wealthier class to the friars was explosive. They gave the friars shelter and sustenance when they arrived, and helped them build their churches and convents. They rushed to associate themselves with the friars in every way they could.'' What Francis and his followers contributed to the wealthy who desired heaven in spite of their usury was philanthropy; a means of giving alms through the intermediary of Francis.
The atoning power of philanthropy was not a new idea with Francis, but the tensions of the new economic context coupled with Francis's embodiment of a ''respectable,'' that is, voluntary, poverty in contrast to the disreputable involuntary impoverishment of growing numbers of the late medieval urban populace revitalized the appeal of philanthropy. The apocryphal biblical writings of Tobit and Sirach had long provided warrants for the redemptive significance of charity. Charity was seen as a remedy for sin and - even better for a budding profit economy - an investment in heaven. Charity was a way of ''laying up good treasure for yourself against the day of darkness; for all who practice it charity is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High'' (Tob. 4:9-11). ''For almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin'' (Tob. 12:9). Sirach, so esteemed by the Latin church that by the third century it was known as Ecclesiasticus, affirmed that almsgiving atones for sin as water extinguishes a blazing fire and that God hears the curses of the poor (Ecclesiasticus 3:30; 4:1-6). The power of these verses was enhanced by New Testament condemnations of the wealthy and exhortations to give up everything and follow Jesus (Matt. 19:24; Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25; Mark 10:17-21). In this light it is no wonder that Francis and his mendicant order were seen as a godsend. For example, Armstrong cites ''A Renewed Call to Penance'' that Francis addressed to ''all mayors and consuls, magistrates and rulers throughout the world'': ''Let us, therefore, have charity and humility and give alms because it washes the stains of our sins from our souls (cf. Tob. 4:11; 12:9). For though people lose everything they leave behind in this world; they carry with them, however, the rewards of charity and the alms they have given for which they will receive a reward and a fitting payment from the Lord.''
Philanthropy justified the new profit economy; the wealthy could have their cake and eat it too - they could make money and gain salvation. This paradox, as Little calls it in his study Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe, led within a few decades of Francis's death to the Archbishop of Pisa praising the merchants of his city and referring to Francis as '' 'their merchant intermediary with God.'... St. Francis of Assisi had become the patron and protector of merchants.''
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