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The Legacy of Paradise

Marriage, Motherhood and Woman in Carolingian Edifying Literature

Katrien Heene

Within the framework of the Carolingian religious and moral reform (750-900) various measures were taken which had direct or indirect implications for the experience of sexuality among the laity as well as among the religious. Those and other measures also influenced the position of women both in the Church and in the world. Taking the Church Fathers as points of reference, this book offers a detailed analysis of the view of marriage, sexuality, motherhood and women as constructed in Latin edifying writings of the time, i.e. hagiographical texts, moral treatises and sermons. By studying the ideas and opinions of the male religious authors of these texts the author aims to examine whether and, if so, to what extent the attitude of the Carolingian Church was inspired by feelings of misogyny and misogamy. In writings addressing the lay public such feelings may have been hidden for pastoral reasons. Therefore attention was more particularly paid to the presence of misogyny and misogamy in texts which were chiefly written for religious readers. In the last analysis the overall attitude towards women-related matters turns out to be different and in many respects more positive than the one found in the writings of the Fathers and of many medieval male religious authors. To explain this phenomenon the author puts forward a number of socio-cultural and psychological arguments.


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265 THE SPECIFICITY OF CAROLINGIAN EDIFYING LITERATURE: CONCLUSIONS AND EXPLANATORY REFLECTIONS Carolingian authors in their edifying texts never express any contempt of marriage as an institution, nor of motherhood as a pre-eminent female destination and neither of woman as a woman. The present research consequently confirms Toubert's thesis that the Carolingian Church does not circulate an anti-marriage model. Misogamy indeed is not only absent from the specula coniugatorum and from popular sermons but also from saints' lives and from sermons and moral treatises addressed to a religious audience 1• Virginity, even though it is only rarely and in a very specific context seen as the original state of man before the Fall, is considered to be the ideal way of life for an ascetic minority which sometimes even seen as an elite. Still, the Carolingian authors' -as opposed to e.g. many 12th century authors2- have no difficulty in accepting the fact that the larger part of human beings do not stay virgin3 . Their attitude towards marriage and sexuality is more than a pragmatic recognition of human weakness or physical needs, as Bishop puts it4 • The authors as a rule consider sexuality as a morally neutral and God-willed fact with an important social function, viz. creating offspring. However, like in the Jewish world, sexuality is also a polluting phenomenon and hence incompatible with the sacral sphere. Marriage and sexuality cannot go together with a religious life, nor can the sexual dimension of marriage be reconciled with holiness; it is within this...

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