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Penitential books and sexual mores in the 700s AD

  • 8thC:
    • the beginning of a series of Church "penitential books" which became an enormously strict system which ruled in the Middle Ages and explored the subject of sex in all its details with every misdeed described & elaborated at length & penalties ascribed to each.
      • 3 main codes:
        1. sex & lust is sinful, all who could were urged to attempt the ideal of complete celibacy
        2. placing of an absolute ban on all forms of sexual activity other than intercourse between married persons, carried out with the object of procreating
          • this included attempts to fornicate, kissing, thinking of fornication, involuntary nocturnal pollutions, homosexuality, bestiality (this includes sex with Jews!), masturbation even infantile masturbation, sodomy.
        3. the sexual act must be restricted to:
          • the missionary position
          • not allowed on Sundays, Wednesdays, Fridays, 40days before Easter & Xmas & in the 3 days before communion as well as being forbidden for the duration of pregnancy to 40days after birth and during any periods of penance
      • although initially they allowed for divorce in cases of prolonged absence or capture by the enemy, later divorce was banned completely and there were only 2 options to terminate a marital state:
        • annulment - after proving the marriage was invalid eg. "public indecency"
        • separation (but cannot remarry) - proof of cruelty, adultery or heresy
      • other activities that involved spontaneous pleasure were discouraged such as dancing, music & sport
    • Alcuin (735-804), the English scholar & ecclesiastic in 8thC: "the land has been absolutely submerged under a flood of fornication, adultery & incest"
    • the AngloSaxon synod of 786 decreed that bastard sons shall be debarred from legally inheriting as an attempt at enforcing long-lasting marriages without adultery. This however took many centuries before it would succeed!
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    see also: 700s - middle

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