Mystics and Troubadours

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While Bernard was extolling the love of God that ultimately leads to love of oneself for the sake of God, poets were extolling the love of woman for the ennoblement of man. What is notable from the twelfth century on is that Christian theological and mystical conceptions of love on the one hand and secular courtly love on the other hand intertwine. We can see this development in relation to medieval interpretations of the relationship of the bridegroom and bride in the Song of Songs. In the early church through the early Middle Ages, their relationship was allegorized with Christ as bridegroom and the church as the bride. With the discovery of the individual in the twelfth century, Bernard makes the bold move of shifting the interpretation of the bride from the church to the individual soul, an interpretive move assisted by the fact that soul in Latin is a feminine noun (anima). By the next generation, especially among Christian women mystics, the bride is the mystic herself and the bridegroom is Christ or the Trinity. In addition, the writings of the women mystics described this relationship with the erotic themes of troubadour writings!

Also, by this time Ovid's works on love along with his other works became so often studied that the period is characterized as the ''aetas Ovidiana,'' the age of Ovid's works. In this age of Ovidian revival, his Ars amatoria, the Art of Love, became especially well known. It was adapted to the medieval feudal society and thus circulated in the vernaculars as well as Latin. It is not surprising that in an age that revered literary authorities, Ovid's writings provided models not only for creative writing but especially for the age's new fascination with human love. As McCarthy notes, echoes of Ovid are in Abelard's account of his affair with Heloise, and in the imaginative works of Andreas Capellanus, Guillaume de Lorris, Geoffrey Chaucer, and John Gower. Allen in his The Art of Love details the medieval reception and transmission of Ovid's works noting that the major writers of the time ''knew their Ovid as well as their Bible by heart.'' Giovanni Boccaccio's (1313-1375) Decameron utilized Ovid's love stories and praised them as a ''holy book that showed how to kindle sacred fires of Venus in cold hearts.'' Chaucer (1343-1400) spoke of Ovid as ''Venus's clerk'' (i.e., priest). Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374) also knew Ovid, but condemned him as wanton. Thus Ovid's influence extended on into the Renaissance.

The parallel to Ovid among monastic writers was the erotic imagery of the Song of Songs. If this is the age of Ovid, it is also the age of the Song of Songs reaching its apogee in Bernard's extensive sermons on the text and the literary descriptions by women mystics - cloistered and non-cloistered -of their ecstatic experiences and raptures. The latter have long intrigued and puzzled their readers. Graphic images portray these saintly women in ways that depict them in an orgasm with an arrow through the heart. And their own writings provide erotic descriptions of their union with God. Markale provides a few examples. St. Gertrude (1256-1302): ''My heart craves the kiss of your love, my soul thirsts for the most intimate embrace joining me to you.'' Mechtild von Magdeburg (1241-1299): ''Lord, love me hard, love me long and often. I call you, burning with desire. Your burning love enflames me constantly. I am but a naked soul, and you, inside it, a richly adorned guest.'' Hadewijch of Antwerp (first half of thirteenth century): ''My heart and my arteries, and all my limbs quivered and trembled with desire. I felt myself so violently and dreadfully tested it appeared that if I did not give satisfaction to my lover entirely, to know him, to taste him in every part of his body and if he did not respond to my desire,

I would die of rage____He came, handsome and sweet,...

I approached him submissively... And he gave himself to me as he usually does, in the form of the sacrament. Then he came to me in person and took me in his arms and locked me in his arms. All my limbs felt this contact with his with equal intensity, following my heart, as I had desired. Thus externally,

I was satisfied and quenched____Following which, I remained merged with my lover until I had melted entirely within him in such a way as nothing was left of me.'' McGinn in The Flowering of Mysticism provides more examples of such erotic mystical writings by Mechtild, Hadewijch and others. McGinn notes that these writings may be described as ''courtly mysticism'' because of their close relation to the literary genre of courtly love. These women mystics with their focus on ''bridal mysticism'' have been called ''the troubadours of God.''

Northern European courtly lyrics go by the name Minnesang, literally ''love song.'' The Minnesang theme relates the yearning of a knight for his lady (normally a married woman of higher class), and his offer of homage without reward but with hope of union with her. In his striving toward that ultimate goal, the knight encounters numerous obstacles he must overcome through self-renunciation and heroic deeds. McGinn's chapter on Hadewijch describes and analyses how ''Minne is Hadewijch's all-embracing theme.'' ''Minne brings God to the mystic and the mystic to God.'' Hadewijch used the erotic language of courtly love songs as the medium for perceiving the metaphysical within the physical realm. She and her mystical colleagues experienced that true love is rewarded with a radical renewal of one's being. The creative power of love they then compared to the creating power of God. At the same time, along with the Minnesingers and troubadours, these women mystics recognized that erotic bliss can be bound up with great pain, disappointment, and despair that plunges the lover into an abyss from which there seems to be no rescue. Finally, along with Bernard, there is the sense that mystical union is inexpressible. To cite McGinn again: ''Love is meant to be explored and experienced in all its many moods and forms rather than defined and categorized. . . . Although minne [love] is mysterious for Hadewijch, it is absolutely necessary - the very meaning of existence. 'I will tell you without beating around the bush,' she says, 'be satisfied with nothing less than minne.' Minne is the air that she breathes: 'I have nothing else: I must live on minne.'''

Obviously the feudal imagery of the Christus Rex, the God of terrifying majesty, is giving way to the image of Jesus the Bridegroom. The new sensibility of feelings is evident in the increasing use of the heart as the symbol of love. The heart begins to complement and even displace the head as the site of the soul. It is the personal center in which the poet may keep his beloved; indeed lover and beloved may ''exchange'' hearts. McGinn refers to the woman mystic Lutgard of Aywieres's (1182-1246) ''major contribution to mystical piety - her emphasis on the bleeding heart of Christ.'' She and Jesus ''exchange hearts.'' The ''bleeding heart'' piety soon became a phenomenon among other female mystics, especially St. Mechtild and St. Gertrude, and eventually developed into the Feast of the Sacred Heart when Pope Clement XIII authorized the Mass and Office of the Feast in 1765.

A number of scholars of these writings note that the radicality with which these poets developed their concept of love without any inhibitions, combining erotic and religious elements in Christian literature, still awaits more intensive research. Such writings have provoked various responses from spiritualizing denial to awe to jealousy. An example of the latter is the first poet laureate of Germany, Conrad Celtis (1459-1508). Celtis, author of Amores and a study of the tenth-century nun Roswitha of Gandersheim among other works, and who died of syphilis, expressed his chagrin that nuns could write better erotic verse than he.

The troubadour valorization of women had a variety of consequences ranging from mundane to profound. On the mundane level, de Rougemont notes that it is at this time that a radical change occurs in the game of chess. ''Instead of the four kings which had dominated the game in its first form, a Lady (or Queen) was made to take precedence over all other pieces, save the King, and the latter was actually reduced to the smallest possibility of real action, even though he remained the final stake and the consecrated figure.'' Toward the more profound end of the spectrum, it is at this time that devotional and theological reflection on Mary, the mother of Jesus, intensified. De Rougemont argues that the development of Mariology was an effort to counter the powerful rise of courtly love and the cult of the idealized woman by co-opting courtly love as a defense measure. ''Hence the repeated attempts from the beginning of the twelfth century onwards to institute a worship of the Virgin. It is from that time that Mary has generally received the title of Regina coeli [Queen of Heaven] ... The monastic orders which were then being founded were retorts to the orders of chivalry. A monk was 'a Knight of Mary'. In 1140, at Lyons, the canons set up a Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady.'' The devotional use of the Hail Mary has eleventh-century roots and became common in the twelfth century. The teaching of Mary's immaculate conception - that Mary was conceived without sin - while having some patristic roots, was developed in eleventh-century England and introduced into France in the mid-twelfth century. Marian devotion and Mariology often were indistinguishable, and it is striking that the cult of the Virgin Mary coincides with the triumph of the Lady of courtly love - ''Madonna'' and ''ma donna.'' Markale notes that both Mary and the Lady of the troubadours present salvation, the ascent to God, through the intermediary of the woman. Mary is ''Our Lady'' (Notre Dame) to whom sanctuaries are built. Boase notes that ''between 1170 and 1270 the French built eighty cathedrals and nearly 500 churches of the cathedral class, most of which were dedicated to the Virgin Mary.'' She is the ''Bonne Mere,'' the mother of all Christians, and thus each must share her with his or her siblings. Her mother role is jeopardized if her sexuality is raised and she is thought of amorously as ''my lady,'' hence the emphasis upon her virginity. Markale sees the church's development of the cult of the Virgin Mary as the effort of a patriarchal clerical culture ''to absorb feminist exaltation.''

Mary's profane counterpart, the Lady of courtly poetry, is indeed my lady (ma dame, ma donna), also termed ''my lord'' (midons). The troubadour poetry of approaching the lady, gaining her favor, and winning her love is a ''liturgy'' analogous to that celebrated in the church in honor of Mary. Martin notes the influence here of classical mythology. ''Venus and Cupid retain their traditional roles. But the religion of love in the courtly framework is often carried one step further in that, in more extreme cases, the lady is substituted for the goddess. In essence, it is a Christianization of a pagan religion. The courtly lady is adored as the Christian adores God. The lover is constantly seeking her grace, or her 'mercy'; at times he even prostrates himself before her in an attitude of worship____On one level she assumes the role of lord in the feudal sense; on a higher level she becomes Lord in the religious sense.''

Markale notes that courtly love set in motion a new art of loving and thereby a new art of living. To live is to love and vice-versa, and thereby the connection is made with the Christian tradition. So it could be remarked that the inversion of the Latin Roma, center of the medieval church, is Amor. The troubadour ''service of love'' develops on the basis of renunciation, sacrifice, loyalty, charm, prayer, and above all heroic actions by which the poet merits his lady in a manner comparable to attaining the compassion of Our Lady. This courtly ''liturgy'' could thus direct its energy not only to the lady but to the pilgrimage and quest for the ''holy'' grail. These developments may reflect the ongoing efforts of the medieval world to come to grips with its twin heritage of classical and Christian literature, with the mother-goddess cults of antiquity - both Celtic and Greco-Roman - and the early church designation of Mary as ''God-bearer,'' with eros and agape.

The romances of the troubadours thus interweave religious and secular love. The knight-hero's yearning for his unattainable lady parallels the monastic-mystic's love from afar and yearning for union with God; and the challenges and obstacles to be overcome in the knightly quest for the Grail are parallels to the ''knightly'' combats of the mystic striving for God. All are ''tests of love.'' The knight's hope for the grace mysteriously given by his distant lady parallels the mystic's prayer for the grace of the Virgin Mary.

Distinguishing, let alone unraveling, the warp and woof of the medieval tapestry of love is beyond the compass - not to mention the author's skill - of this little book. There is some comfort to be had in Jaeger's statement: ''Courtly literature was never anything other than a literature of questioned presuppositions. It has not been possible to define a 'system' of courtly love, or reduce it to a definition or series of definitions.'' And, ''Courtly love is not a doctrine, but a large grid crisscrossed with conflicting opinions.'' We shall leave aside that other medieval literary expression of love, the fabliaux. These tales tended to be crude parodies of sexuality that ridiculed husbands and demeaned women, regaling audiences with descriptions of genitalia and the deflowering of virgins, as well as serving as cautionary tales. Another expression of pre-troubadour poetry was called Goliard, the appellation of which is unclear but perhaps relates to the Latin Golias for the giant Goliath, the adversary of righteousness. These wandering poets, probably unemployed students and clerics, celebrated the attractions of wenching, drinking, and gambling. An example from the Carmina Burana is the song, ''Under the Linden Tree'' relating the oft-told tale of the young virgin beset by a wandering knight, shepherd, or - in this case - a vagabond. A couple of the verses give the sense of a bawdy tale.

One day I went off the fields to pluck me a bouquet: but a vagabond lay there, with plans to pluck ME, so to say!

Unlike Goliard verse, the courtly romance was a new kind of literature whose authors first compiled and worked with classical and Celtic materials and manifested a dominant interest in the subjective realm of feeling, especially for love, and strove to reconcile such ennobling love with the received tradition - both classical and Christian - that suspected sexuality. The term ''courtly love'' - amour courtois - came into usage in the late nineteenth century in an article by Gaston Paris on Chretien de Troyes' ''Le Chevalier de la Charrete'' (''The Knight of the Cart'' or ''Lancelot''). Paris's delineation of the term - the illegitimate character of love between Lancelot and King Arthur's wife, Guinevere; Lancelot's inferior position to Guinevere; the ennobling force of such love; and that such love was governed by a code of conduct as were courtesy and chivalry - gained acceptance as a universal definition of courtly love. More recent studies have recognized that this concept of love with its new valorization of the woman, arising in the twelfth century, not only varies by genre, region, and time but also may be too narrow a definition of a broad literature that strove to reconcile virtue and sex. The vocabulary likewise varies from the fin amour (refined or noble love; Chaucer spoke of ''gentil loving;'' in today's terms, ''perfect,'' ''true'' or ''romantic'' love) of the troubadours of southern France to the Minne (amor) of German poets. Troubadours were poets and poet-musicians of France who in the south wrote in langue d'oc, the language of Provencal, and in the north of France their counterparts, trouveres, wrote in a language closer to modern French, langue d'oil. These poet-musicians belonged to the literate class of clerics and court figures adept in Latin and whose work helped to inspire the development of vernacular poetry. Around 1292, Dante noted that not more than 150 years earlier there arose the first poets who expressed themselves in the languages of southern France and Italy. They began to compose in the vernacular, Dante said, to make their verse understandable to women for whom Latin verse would have been too difficult to understand.

The best known popular collection of these songs is a selection of some 20 poems from the Carmina Burana for chorus and orchestra by Carl Orff. The Carmina Burana (''Songs of Beueren'') is named after the Benedictine monastery in Bavaria where the manuscript was found. Most of the songs go back to the twelfth century during the reigns of Louis VII and Philippe Auguste of France, Friedrich Barbarossa of Germany, and Henry II of England and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204), the granddaughter of William IX (1071-1127)

Duke of Aquitaine, the first of the troubadours. Eleanor's patronage of troubadour literature was continued by her daughter Marie, Countess of Champagne.

The collected songs of the Carmina Burana include satires and odes to drinking, gaming, religion, morality, and love. An example of the latter from Parlett's translation is ''Love Rules Everything.''

Love rules everything - controls all the movement of our souls to its preappointed goals: vies with honey-sweetness, yes -and with gall in bitterness.

Cupid hovers in the air loosing darts off everywhere: every belle desires to pair with a beau to suit herself -none must be left on the shelf: .. .

Another example extols Cupid and Venus, the Latin names for our old friends Eros and Aphrodite.

we're all after Cupid's prize: we who win it find within it sights reserved for lovers' eyes. Venus orders - let's obey: loudly voicing and rejoicing, we shall have her every day!

The courtly romance par excellence is Tristan and Isolde, the forerunner of Arthurian sagas, and the Lancelot and Guinevere romance. This ''tale of love and death'' has been translated into all the European languages and its popularity lives on in Richard Wagner's opera, modern novels, and movies. De Rougemont states of the legend: ''Happy love has no history. Romance only comes into existence where love is fatal, frowned upon and doomed by life itself. What stirs lyrical poets to their finest flights is neither the delight of the senses nor the fruitful contentment of the settled couple; not the satisfaction of love, but its passion. And passion means suffering.'' Such passion may be understood as the height of eros because the rapture is precisely not in the capture but in the quest. Indeed, the more obstacles encountered, the more passionate the love. The quest fulfilled is no longer a quest. The elusiveness, the distance (love from afar) of the woman was indispensable to the development and maintenance of desire and passion. The woman, once attained, is no longer striven for. That is also why courtly love celebrated love from afar, that is, unattainable love of a woman of a higher social class, a woman married to the lord or king. It appears to be love in love with love, rather than a person. According to Jaeger: ''The charm of a love hedged in by all sorts of restrictions on the physical is a peculiar mystery of the western erotic tradition. To renounce what appears essential to love gives love special allure.'' To be sure, courtly love also celebrated adultery; but that may be because medieval culture did not view marriage as a consummation of love but rather a social, economic, and - for upper classes - political arrangement. Indeed, as already noted, even within marriage sexual relations for pleasure rather than procreation was viewed as adulterous. One theory of courtly love is that if love was to be had, it had to be outside of marriage. Medieval culture did not share the claim of the pop tune of the 1950s oft-rendered by Doris Day that love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.

The love that is imposed upon Tristan and Isolde is that passionate love that became a theme of European literature.

It is the consummate passion before which everything else fades: the courtly world and even Tristan's wife, Isolde of the White Hands, whom he has not once touched because of his passion for the Isolde, the Isolde married to his uncle, King Mark. There are many variations of the story, but the main threads may be briefly summarized. Tristan is entrusted to bring Isolde safely from her kingdom to that of his uncle King Mark with whom she is to wed. Isolde's mother had prepared a love potion so that her daughter and the king will have a marriage of love. However - by accident? -Isolde offers the potion to Tristan during their journey. There is, de Rougemont states, a religious aspect to the story. ''The irrevocable drinking of the potion, which appears at the time to be due to chance, but which looks afterwards as if everything had conspired to bring it about, symbolizes a soul's election by omnipotent Love, its being unexpectedly seized by its vocation as if in its own despite.'' Jaeger states: ''They drank eternal love and their death at the same time, and the story serves up this brew vicariously and eucharistically to the noble hearts of the audience, . . . Their tragic love 'gives us life' because it is 'bread' to all noble hearts.'' It is the allegory of the insuperable and the irrational, the two lovers are linked to one another and they are robbed of consciousness of all other commitments. The lovers have lost the world and the world them.

The Arthurian romances found their major exponent in Chretien de Troyes (c.1135-c.1183), a contemporary and compatriot of Andreas Capellanus, author of De Arte Honeste Amandi (The Art of Courtly Love, c.1180). Almost nothing is known of these two poets apart from their works; even their names tell us only that the former was a Christian of Troyes and the latter, Andrew, was a chaplain. Both however were associated with the literary circle associated with the court of Troyes and its influential Countess Marie, daughter of

Eleanor of Aquitaine. The number of surviving manuscripts and translations of their works up to the sixteenth century indicate their great popularity. Chretien developed such characters as Lancelot and introduced the theme of the search for the Holy Grail. He explored the ways of love in his literary works: adulterous love in Lancelot, married love in Erec et Enide and Yvain, and quasi-sacred love in Perceval ou le Conte du Graal. Chretien, like his contemporary Capellanus, expresses ambivalent - even contradictory - views of courtly love. Although he wrote of adulterous love, he also opposed the destructive and socially alienating passions of a knightly society. In Erec and Enide, Erec, an Arthurian knight, fell in love with the truly poor Enide (of course she is the most beautiful maiden in the entire world!) and marries her. However, to the dismay of the court, the young hero now cared about nothing else than Enide and abandoned his service in arms and knighthood. ''Erec loved her with such a tender love that he cared no more for arms, nor did he go to tournaments, nor have any desire to joust; but he spent his time in cherishing his wife.'' The pacifist slogan ''make love not war'' was even less popular then than during the Vietnam War. With Erec's manhood in question, Enide lets slip talk she hears from the court that laments Erec's love-sick turn from chivalry. Dubious about Enide's loyalty and love, and eager to prove he's no lapdog, Erec sets out on a series of knightly adventures with only Enide in tow. After a series of incredibly violent encounters with evil knights and giants and a near death experience, Erec proves he is even more the knight than before, and he sees the proof of Enide's love when apparently dead he sees her reject marriage with another knight. Together with her - knighthood is not recaptured without love - he overcomes a series of obstacles, which restores him to the society of knights to the joy of the court. The story ends with wonderful allegorical last adventure I leave for your own discovery. The major point however is that in contradiction to theories of courtly love, Enide had (unwittingly?) set up Erec whose ego then impelled him to seek and overcome obstacles, and she remains Erec's friend, lover, and spouse. Only in an apparent rejection is he able to recognize her perfect love. Because Enide held to her husband through all the contests, she proved the permanence of her feelings. Although Chretien describes their love several times as bodily union (''together their hearts united in bed and they kissed''), their feelings for one another, and to the poet this is essentially more important, are the foundation of a socially usable relationship: Eric is allowed to become the ideal knight, Enide the ideal lady. Their love story contradicts both the claim that only unhappy love has a history (Tristan and Isolde) and that ''happy families are all alike'' (the modern romance by Tolstoy, Anna Karenina).

While Chretien also wrote of adultery, it seems according to his work Clig├ęs that he was not - if you will - personally enamored by the theme and left that poem incomplete. Andrew the Chaplain had no comparable compunction. Indeed, he claims clergy make the best lovers due to their ''experienced knowledge'' and boasts of his own ''art of soliciting nuns'' but with the cautionary note that the ''solaces'' of nuns bring the danger of civil punishment and divine wrath. Capellanus begins The Art of Courtly Love with his famous definition: ''Love is a certain inborn suffering derived from the sight of and excessive meditation upon the beauty of the opposite sex, which causes each one to wish above all things the embraces of the other and by common desire to carry out all of love's precepts in the other's embrace.''

The Art of Courtly Love, ostensibly written because his friend Walter wanted to learn the art of love, has three parts. The first two - in length over 85 percent of the book! - describe love and how to acquire it, the third part rejects the first two. The bulk of the book describes by means of injunctions, dialogues, and debates held at ''courts of love'' how to become the disciple of Cupid and Venus, that is, basically how to gain and live ''by sex alone.'' ''[W]hatever lovers do has as its only object the obtaining of the solaces of the lower part [of the body], for there is fulfilled the whole effect of love, at which all lovers aim and without which they think they have nothing more than certain preludes to love.'' Love is enhanced by its secrecy and obstacles such as jealousy; both of which are intrinsic to love since by his definition it is adultery. ''[A] precept of love tells us that no woman, even if she is married, can be crowned with the reward of the King of Love unless she is seen to be enlisted in the service of Love himself outside the bonds of wedlock.'' That is why ''everybody knows that love can have no place between husband and wife.'' Among the reasons why love is not possible within marriage is that ''the too ardent lover, as we are taught by the apostolic law, is considered an adulterer with his own wife.'' Capellanus argues that since ''the punishment is always greater when the use of a holy thing [i.e., marriage] is perverted by misuse [ardent love] than if we practice the ordinary abuses'' we should love outside marriage. Another reason echoes the views of Heloise's objection to marriage to Abelard: only outside marriage is love free; once married, love is a duty.

The first two parts end with ''The Rules of Love'' ''which the King of Love is said to have proclaimed with his own mouth and to have given in writing to all lovers.'' The first of these 31 rules reads: ''Marriage is no real excuse for not loving.'' The ''rules'' reflect the troubadours' views of courtly love. Every lover is to keep the rules faithfully ''under threat of punishment by the King of Love. These laws the whole court received in their entirety and promised forever to obey in order to avoid punishment by Love.''

The third part of his book, ''The Rejection of Love,'' renounces all that went before. ''[N]o man, so long as he devotes himself to the service of love, can please God by any other works, even if they are good ones. For God hates, and in both testaments commands the punishment of, those whom he sees engaged in the works of Venus outside the bonds of wedlock or caught in the toils of any sort of passion.'' The ''foul and shameful acts of Venus'' put man ''lower than a beast'' and hand him ''over to the flames of ever-burning Gehenna!'' A strange contradiction that has puzzled readers since the book was written. Satire? Irony? On the one hand, Capellanus's retraction seems hardly more than a pro forma imitation of Ovid's scheme and a chance to ring all the changes on the misogyny of church tradition. On the other hand, he ends with acknowledging that he seems ''to present two different points of view.'' That is because he ''tried to assent'' to Walter's ''simple and youthful request'' to know about love. But learning how to sin does not mean one ought to! ''If you wish to practice the system, you will obtain... all the delights of the flesh in fullest measure; but the grace of God, the companionship of the good, and the friendship of praiseworthy men you will with good reason be deprived of, and you will do great harm to your good name, and it will be difficult for you to obtain the honors of the world.''

These romances of courtly love with their rules for the ''games people play,'' and their ludic character remained popular for centuries, indeed they continue to inform contemporary romances. Their use of allegory, paralleling the dominant allegorical exegesis of medieval biblical interpretation, continued in the thirteenth century in the famous and exceedingly popular Romance of the Rose authored by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun. Their celebrations of erotic passion were also contemporary social satires, often misogyn-istic, and - especially in the Romance of the Rose - critiques of the church and the Mendicant Orders. In response, by the end of the Middle Ages, reactions came from theologians such as Jean Gerson, chancellor of the University of Paris, and the woman poet, Christine de Pizan. Her Epistle to the God of Love (1399) warned women of the snares set by the game of courtly love. Courtly love is seen by her as the abuse of women for the satisfaction of men. She also contrasted the tenderness and mercy of women to the cruelty of men.

Scholars have debated whether there ever was such a social phenomenon as ''courtly love'' or whether it was largely the literary fiction of the poets. In a feudal culture which prized honor, skill at arms, and legitimate descent, adultery - especially with the lord's wife - would have been a dangerous game, not to mention a game condemned by the church.

What is striking about of the prevalence of courtly love stories and especially the works of Chretien and Andreaus is that they burst on the stage between the tragic affair of Abelard and Heloise and the extended drama of the church's tightening grip on medieval Europe. Were the troubadours and their literature but a ludic intermission; court jesters more than court lovers; a call to ''lighten up'' in the so-called ''Dark Ages''? The passion, the suffering, of Heloise and Abelard was not that of Tristan and Isolde. The real lovers were not in love with love but with each other. Abelard and Heloise did not portray their love as service to the love god (Eros); they were not on a quest for transcendence or a transcendent spirituality, but were enjoying the ordinary - the human mutuality and reciprocity of sexual relations. They chose each other and were not predestined by Eros's love potion. Abelard and Heloise did not need a manual such as The Art of Love, but only each other.

On the other side of the courtly love came the church's project to complete the ''Christianization'' of Europe. The so-called age of faith was marked by the rise of the new mendicant orders of Francis (1181/2-1226) and Dominic (1170-1221), the hegemony of theology in the universities with Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274) providing the theological architecture for medieval and modern Catholicism, the rule of clerical celibacy becoming the law of the church (Second Lateran Council, 1139), and the establishment powers - ''the most Christian king'' of France, St. Louis (1214-1270) and the ruler of the papacy, Innocent III (1160-1216). While in the early days of the church Tertullian asked what Athens had to do with Jerusalem, i.e., philosophy with revealed religion, no one seemed in these latter days of ecclesiastical and national consolidations to be asking what Cupid and Venus had to do with Jesus. How did the God of Love of the troubadours relate to the ''God is love'' of the New Testament? It is clear that the literary and plastic arts and also theology shared the same language so that the interweaving of sacred and profane is not surprising. It has been argued that the new language of love developed in the twelfth century not only because of the increased ''Latinity'' with recovery of Ovid among other classical writers, but also because of the new spirituality of the Cistercian monks. Bernard of Clairvaux was not alone among them in his fascination with the Song of Songs and expressing the relationship to God in the intimate and erotic terms used for that of a lover and beloved. It is interesting that the church did not condemn courtly love, at least not in any formal sense. How could it when its own saints latched on to it with their bridal mysticism? Or, could it be that courtly love was never perceived as a threat, but only a diversion for a waning warrior culture?

Courtly love, of course, did not die or even fade away. It lived on in satire and comedy such as Boccaccio's Decameron and Cervantes' Don Quixote and then into today's soap operas and musicals such as The Man from La Mancha. Shakespeare's

Romeo and Juliet live on not only in English classes but on stage in West Side Story. And the mystics' expressions of Christian love also continue to inform modern piety. As one of those monastic pioneers, Richard of St. Victor (d. 1173) wrote: ''There are many degrees of love and great are the differences between them. Who is able really to differentiate them - or even to enumerate them?''

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  • musa
    Who were the Christianity northern mystics?
    8 months ago

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