Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

The heretic sects were not proselytisers. They did not convert forcibly: on the contrary, they were exceedingly tolerant, both of ideas and of people. They extended their tolerance to Jews, and what that means may be judged from the fact that the Church held Jews to be less than human. Nevertheless, the Church was so alarmed at the danger presented, that in the thirteenth century it authorized the use of torture and soon afterwards set up the Inquisition to deal with the danger.

Two centuries before, the Church had believed itself able to cope with the growing demand for matrism by fostering the worship of a mother figure which would be at the same time completely desexualized. Early in the eleventh century a feast of the Conception was established in England;(98) towards the end of the century the Ave was added to the Lord’s Prayer, and was made a compulsory Office of the Church in the next. At the same time the title “Our Lady” came into general use, while the Dominicans introduced the use of the rosary, specifically as a counter weapon to the heresies. But popular feeling demanded more active expression and groups were set up, vowed to her service: the Serviti, or Servants of Mary.(136) The knights fought in her name and religious orders made her their patron.

But, instead of the Virgin influencing her followers in the direction of sexual repression, they influenced her in the reverse sense, as one might have expected, and before long she was scarcely distinguishable from a pagan mother goddess. She became the restorer of fertility, a function she preserved until quite recent times in many districts. Her miracles were of a kind the Church was scarcely likely to approve. Not only did she cure the sores of a suppliant by expressing on to them some of her milk, and deliver a pregnant abbess painlessly (thus providing, had anyone thought of it, a divine warrant for the use of anaesthetics in childbirth), but she hushed up the attendant scandal. And it was “an everyday occurrence”, according to the Saint Alphonso de Liguori, for her to cover up for women who were engaged in adultery by taking their places in their husbands’ beds.

And, in fact, matrism is the only serious threat to patrism. The preoccupation with death, the worship of chastity, are not natural to it. They were borrowings from Christianity, consequent upon the sudden development of matrism within a patrist culture. The Church’s fear that this chastity would soon break down was perfectly justified. The patrists perceived the absence of that obsessive and persecuting element which provides the mainspring for Christian asceticism. Though the doctrinal rationalisations which it evolved were absurd, its intuitive identification of the danger was faultless. So, from the middle of the thirteenth century the Church was on the defensive. The battle against sex became, as it always must, the battle against heresy.