Allegory and Sexual Ethics in the High Middle Ages by Noah D. Guynn (auth.)

By Noah D. Guynn (auth.)

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She demonstrates in her speech to the poet that any aspect of creation that resists its predetermined, natural role or that runs contrary to the Creator’s intentions cannot continue to exist but must be destroyed as irredeemable matter: For the movement of reason, springing from a heavenly origin, escaping the destruction of things on earth, in its process of thought turns back again to the heavens. On the other hand, the movements of sensuality, going planetlike in opposition to the fixed sky of reason, with twisted course slip down to the destruction of earthly things.

Indeed, if there is no acknowledgment of the limitations of language, signs will yield little more than fraudulent, idolatrous, and heretical meanings. In spite of the privileges they accord to symbols, Victorines and Chartrians share with Augustine the anxiety that a foolish or misguided reader will be seduced by oratory and eloquence and will remain mired in worldly things and deceptive fictions rather than moving toward higher truths. The legacy of this anxiety is handed down from the cathedral schools of the twelfth century to the urban universities of the thirteenth.

73 Before we accept these kisses as a mark of true conversion, however, we should attend carefully to the language the poet uses to describe his epiphany. Initially, it appears that he has been persuaded by Nature’s “archetypal words” and offers a gesture of humility and contrition. He bows down to God’s vicar, just as the faithful would kiss the feet of the Pope (the vicarius Christi ), or as the sinner from Capernaum anointed and kissed the feet of Christ himself (Lk. 37–38). Yet the poet’s gesture is also rendered in highly ambiguous, self-referential language that yields a distinctly different set of meanings.

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