Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

The argument of public scandal could not be employed against the Cathars, since they lived chastely with their wives, and other arguments had to be found. The main argument was that they were dualists or Manichaeans. (Dualists are those who believe that there are two equally balanced powers, good and evil, and that the outcome of the struggle between them is in doubt, whereas Christians claimed that the Devil only operated by permission of God, so that the outcome was never in doubt.) Actually, the Cathars did not question candidates for admission as to whether they were dualists, so it is highly unlikely that they thought this important. It is more likely, as Conybeare has shown, that they were Adoptianists. But they did hold, like the Christians, that this world is a vale of woe; the sooner one leaves it for eternal joys the better. They were therefore accused of wishing to exterminate the human race by refraining from procreation-a logical enough conclusion from the premises; hence, if one denied the reality of their chastity, it was logical to accuse them of having intercourse with their wives per anum. This, I think, is the only reasonable interpretation of the constant charges of sodomy and bestiality which were hurled at them. If so, the word bougre, a corruption of Bulgar, which was applied to them should be interpreted as applying to anal intercourse rather than to homosexuality.

Still stranger is the Church’s condemnation of the troubadours, if we are right in thinking that their relationship with their mistresses was chaste, for the Church’s doctrine was that the sexual act, and thinking about the sexual act, was sinful. It was not the fact that they devoted their attention to married women which evoked the criticism of the Church, for the Church-like the troubadours themselves-held it a sin to love one’s wife. In Denomy’s view, it was the sensual character of their fantasies which was the objectionable feature. But here again the Church found itself involved in a distinction which was invisible to all but the eye of faith. Erotic symbolism was legitimate in true-blue Christians: when a monk praised the thighs and buttocks of the Virgin there was no sin; when the troubadours praised, sometimes in far more abstract terms, the beauty of their mistresses, there was. Actually, so abstract and remote did the yearning of the troubadours become that they passed almost insensibly into adoration of the Virgin. About three quarters of Riquier’s poems are actually addressed to the Virgin; the rest are nominally addressed to the Countess of Narbonne, but he sometimes confuses the names, and addresses one as the other. The mystical Jaufre Rudel addressed his poems to “an unknown lady” who was probably none other than the Virgin.(60)

More than this, the Church attempted, and still attempts, to show the identity of these really noticeably different manifestations. Rahn says: “Most troubadours were heretics: every Cathar was a troubadour.” This is clearly ridiculous. Apart from the fact that there were many thousands of Cathars and fewer than five hundred known troubadours, there are important differences in the character of the professions. The troubadour was chaste as regards his chosen lady, but not as regards women generally, and was not infrequently married and the father of children (cf. Ulrich von Liechtenstein); the Cathar eschewed all sex. Moreover, the troubadour focused his love on an earthly figure, the Cathar on a divine one; the latter’s continence was therefore different from that of the troubadour, because it was not continence ‘vis-a-vis‘ an object of passionate love.

The question which we are bound to ask, then, is, why did the Church feel, however obscurely, that there was some common factor uniting the troubadours, the Cathars, the Beghards and the various minor sects which preached a chaste love-a common factor which at the same time distinguished them collectively from the Church itself The answer can only be that there was such a common factor: all these groups were matrist, the Church was patrist. Their heresy which the Church was fighting was matrism-the only thing which offers an absolutely fundamental threat to patrism.