Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

No doubt it was part of this strange preoccupation with the importance of words that extraordinary importance was accorded to the sermon. The Protestants — in England equally – believed that in the sermon they had found the answer to all ecclesiastical problems. In Geneva, seventeen sermons were given every week, two on each weekday and five on Sunday, and attendance at all was compulsory. (123)

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

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

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