Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Gravest Sexual Sin

Whenever the time comes during a class session when students are too tired to pay attention, I always tell them something curious to wake them up. This week I asked them the following question that I now want to offer to my readers. If nobody guesses the answer, I'll reveal it a little later.

In the XVIth and XVIIth centuries in Spain, the Catholic Church created very detailed manuals that were aimed at helping priests to conduct confession. All kinds of questions are listed in those manuals that are supposed to help the priests to guide their parishioners in revealing the sins they have committed. There are also lists of sexual sins ordered according to the degree of their gravity.

Now, the question is: what kind of a sexual activity was considered to be the gravest sexual sin by the priests of the XVIth and the XVIIth centuries?

The information was provided for me by a colleague who specializes in this area and has read many of these manuals for priests.

16 comments:

sarcozona said...

I would guess masturbation, and I'm very curious to see if I'm right - and what other normal sexual activities were considered terrible sins.

Clarissa said...

Masturbation was severely condemned, you are right. There were endless (and very graphic) questions aimed at defining masturbation that read like hard porn.

But it wasn't the worst sin possible.

Anybody else care to venture a guess?

Pagan Topologist said...

My guess would be sex with non-human animals.

Clarissa said...

Also, pretty bad, but still not the worst. :-)

I'm sorry for the mystery but this is just too precious. :-)

sarcozona said...

While we are waiting for the answer, I thought I'd share one of my favorite theological debates - whether or not women are human. Why the theologians eventually decided women probably are human? - Otherwise men would be committing the sin of bestiality when they had sex with women.

V said...

Is it just having sex for pleasure as opposed for procreation?

Anonymous said...

Homosexuality sounds like an obvious choice. Maybe too obvious. I'm not sure you'd be asking if it were that.

Anonymous said...

Or paedophilia?

Clarissa said...

OK, enough of suspense. :-)

The greatest sin was sexual desire between husband and wife.

Can anybody now guess why desire between husband is so much worse than, say, between lovers?

Thanks to everybody who tried to guess!

Clarissa said...

Between husband and wife, I meant.

Sorry, posting comments from a cell phone is hell on wheels.

V said...

Interestingly, it seems that the views of the Catholic Church did not change that much since then. Schnarch is quoting the previous Pope who said something to that effect relatively recently. Something like (not precisely) "the main reason it is a sin to look with desire at your neighbor's wife is not because it is your neighbor's wife. If a man looks this same way at his wife it is no lesser sin, precisely because he looks at her in this way"...,

Clarissa said...

So the reason why sexual desire between husband and wife is worse than any other sexual desire is that marriage is a holy sacrament and spousal desire is not only concupiscent, it also profanates the holy sacrament of marriage.

It has a certain kind of outlandish logic to it, I guess.

Pagan Topologist said...

Outlandish for sure, but I have heard before the opinion that lust between husband and wife is sinful, although not that it was the "worst" sexual sin.

I am wondering whether this somehow ties in, though, with what Warren Farrell calls the "marraige incest taboo" wherein people feel that it is somehow wrong to have sex with their spouse.

Canukistani said...

I can believe that sexual desire between husband and wife was the ultimate sin. The church fathers were certainly misogynists. St. Jerome who wrote the Vulgate bible in the 4th century said that the function of women was the production of virgin males for the glory of the church. Saint Jerome's letter,“Against Jovinian” is an attack on a particular kind of marriage - one which, as Jerome sees it, disempowers women by emphasizing heterosexual passion and childbearing. Interestingly during the 19th century priests sometimes had mistresses.

Clarissa said...

There is this joke (I hope my Catholic readers don't get offended, it's just a joke):

Two Catholic priests are talking.

Priest 1: Do you think we will ever live to see the abolition of the celibacy rule?

Priest 2: No, we probably won't. But our children will.

:-)

profacero said...

This is fascinating and I should have remembered it, I learned it once. It explains my area, a conservative Catholic area, where there is a lot of sexual repression and also a lot of shenanigans (our state senator is David Vitter, you know). The cant is, men have to have all these prostitutes and mistresses because their wives are so conservative sexually, but I have come to the conclusion that it's not the wives, it's the guys, they're not comfortable having sex with someone they're also supposed to respect in some way.