A Handy Guide to (Medieval) Sexual Sin

The simplest response to the regular claim that Catholic teaching is “constant and unchanging”, is this useful flowchart, based on the medieval penitentials, and originally published in Brundage’s book, Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe .

Medieval sexual sin

We are all familiar with the standard Catholic formulation that sexual intercourse is only permitted with a person of the opposite sex, in marriage, and open to procreation. If that seems harsh to those who are gay, or loving and committed couples who are not yet married, or to married couples wanting to delay child – rearing, it’s far less repressive than the restrictions that were once imposed.

As the chart shows, these also excluded a prohibition on sexual intercourse during the solemn seasons of Lent and Advent, and also during Easter week and Whitsun (Pentecost) week, on feast days, fast days, Sundays, Fridays, Or Saturdays. Those restrictions alone leave fewer than one third of the days in the year when intercourse is permissible, for anyone. Family circumstances could impose further restrictions. Sex was also prohibited with wives who were menstruating, pregnant, or nursing.

Even during the appropriate times when marital intercourse was permitted, there where further restrictions on how it was to be conducted:

Only in darkness, fully clothed, in the missionary position, without “lewd kissing” and ideally without taking pleasure from the act.

Oddest of all the restrictions (but one easily managed) was the prohibition on doing it in church.


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4 comments for “A Handy Guide to (Medieval) Sexual Sin

  1. David Martin
    April 2, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    So much for constancy – unchanging – & additionally Papal “infallibility” which all amount to HUMAN declarations not found in Scripture except through the distorted mental gsmes for which the hierarchy. Christ chose the twelve Apostles to GUIDE and CARE for the faithful. Thr ssme convoluted mental distortions which created the Canon of the Church creatrd a control system with the threat of eternal damnation -,not sanctioned by the Father. If Christ condemned not a songle person bbut disdained hypocrisy, why does the Magisterium believe the “keys” to the Kingdom allow them to bar entry ? Cjrist’s sacrifice on the Cross forever reconciled humankind with the Father – past, present, future – which can not be negated nor trumped by the very “unholy” Church. Namaste

    • April 5, 2014 at 8:53 pm

      Agreed, David, agreed. The history of the Church has been characterized by a slow but steady, relentless powergrab. One of the reasons I am so impressed with Francis is that he seems to understand the importance of reversing this centralization.

  2. jono113
    April 2, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Who says the Church always opposed birth control?

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