Sacred and Profane Prostitution- The Catholic Church
Sacred and Profane Prostitution
In endeavoring to determine what is meant by the word “adultery” as used in this Commandment, much might be taken for granted as not coming within its scope, but no analysis would be complete if it did not take into consideration prostitution.
The transition from sacred to secular prostitution was so imperceptible that it is hardly possible to determine when the former ended and the latter began. The only marked difference was in the deviation of the revenue. It is notorious that the Church had a monopoly on prostitution for centuries and that it was one of the most fruitful sources of its wealth. Havelock Ellis states that “the origin of prostitution is to be found primarily in a religious custom….” [*36]
St. Augustine said: “Suppress prostitution, and capricious lusts will overthrow society.” [*37] St. Jerome recognized prostitution and argued that, “as Mary Magdalene had been saved, so might any prostitute who repented….” In 1431, at the Council of Basle, a high Church dignitary presented a discourse on the subject of prostitution in which he implied that it was the only safeguard of good morals. [*38]
A brothel called the “Abbey” was instituted in the papal city of Avignon under the patronage of Queen Joanna of Naples. It was regulated by strict rules after the model of religious houses, and none but good Christians were admitted. Jews and Infidels were not permitted to enter; so sacred an institution was not to be “corrupted” or “contaminated.” To maintain its strictly religious air, it was closed on Good Friday and Easter. Its women were housed in cloister-like buildings, adjoining the churches, which are still commonly spoken of as “abbeys.” What a commentary on religion as a means of moral uplift, when the prostitute can ply her trade but not when it interferes with her religious duties!
Pope Julius II instituted a similar brothel in Rome, and the foundation prospered under the patronage of Leo X and Clement VII. Part of the proceeds were devoted to providing for the comfort of the Holy Sisters of the Order of St. Mary Magdalene. [*39] By the time of the Reformation it was estimated that there were more than 100,000 prostitutes in London, mainly supported by ecclesiastics. [*40]
When brothels were forbidden in the City of London, prostitution was carried on close to the palaces of the high bishops, who not only had jurisdiction over but profited substantially from them. So notorious were these enterprises that the women inmates were called “Winchester Geese.” In Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Humphrey, Duke of Gloster, reproached the Bishop of Winchester with “Thou that giv’st whores indulgences to sin.” [*41] In 1321, Edward II approved the sale of a lupinar to a cardinal who evidently considered it a profitable investment for sacerdotal funds. [*42] In Antwerp, even today, it is stated on excellent authority, the prostitutes of the regular brothels proceed in a body on certain feast days to the churches, carrying candles which they dedicate to the Holy Virgin, fervently praying to her for the success of their affairs. [*43]
In Eastern Islam, where there are more males than females, the young girls who remain unmarried and offer themselves to men are looked upon as public benefactors. [*44]
Sacred prostitution was incumbent upon all women and existed throughout Europe, Asia and Northern Africa. Religious prostitutes were called “servants of God,” and even as late as the second century sacred prostitution was still an honorable practice for women of good birth who felt the “call” to live the “divine life under the influence of divine inspiration.” [*45]
In India and elsewhere, women who failed to bear children by their husbands visited the temples to perform fertility “rites.” They remained overnight at the temples, where they were visited by priests who impersonated the terrible god. They returned home the following day, firmly convinced that a miracle had occurred — that the god had condescended to cohabit with them and that they would have a child. [*46]
The Eskimo women think themselves happy if one of their “holy” men cohabits with them.
In Phoenician temples, women prostituted themselves for hire in the belief that they thereby won the favor of the divinity. Among the Amorites it was a law that “she who was about to marry should sit in fornication seven days by the gate.” In Lydia all girls were obliged to act as prostitutes before marriage.
Cutting off the hair of girls who become nuns probably had its origin in the custom which prevailed in Byblos, where the surrender of a woman’s virginity to a “stranger” could be atoned for by shaving off her hair. When girls become Catholic nuns, they are mystically married to the Divine Bridegroom. [*47]
At the memorial shrine of Al-Uzza at Mecca, it is the practice for women to offer themselves to the holy pilgrims. Children born of such unions are looked on as divinely blessed. [*48]
Among the Yezidis, a semi-Christian sect in Armenia, the priests who travel in itinerant groups select a “wife,” if only for a day or two, at each place they stop at. The women who are chosen consider themselves lucky, because they are then regarded as having become holy.
In Egypt, the “holy” men go about naked. Women who desire to have children kneel before them. Not infrequently a priest will seize a woman and cohabit with her in the public street. No resentment is felt; indeed, the victim considers it a great blessing and her companions congratulate her on having been selected by the “representative of God.” In recent times, in Damascus, the activities of one of these “saints” were so outrageous that the pasha had to put him in prison. [*49]
Religious prostitution of the Babylonian type was supposed to have been nothing but ordinary immorality practiced under the cloak of religion. It has been represented as an act by which the worshiper sacrificed her most precious possession to the deity. [*50]
Among the Ewe-speaking people of the Slave Coast, the business of the priestess of the god to whom she is dedicated is that of prostitution. The best-looking girls between the ages of ten and twelve are put in an institution where they remain for three years, learning the chants and dances peculiar to the worship of the gods and submitting themselves to the priests and the inmates of the male seminaries. [*51] Children born of such unions belong to the gods. In India, dancing girls are attached to a great many temples. They feel honored when the priests in charge select them for sexual enjoyment. Among the Veddas, if an adult female cannot get anyone to marry her, she may be dedicated to a free life in the name of Yellamma, who is their patron deity. [*52] Among many Semitic tribes, girls were “consecrated” to a goddess of prostitution such as Ishtar. [*53]
If adultery is a sin, children should be prevented from being born of an adulterous union, and women who have been guilty of promiscuity should not be permitted to attain superior positions in life. Neither condition, however, prevails. On the contrary, the courtesans of Greece were noted for their intelligence and were by far the most important women of their time. They exercised more influence on the thought of their day than have women in any other age of the world. They were sought after not only for their physical charms and beauty, but also for their advice in worldly matters. Their salons sparkled with brilliant conversation, and social and political problems were first discussed with them.
Aspasia, who was as famous for her brilliance as for her beauty, was the passionate love of Pericles. She is said to have instructed him in eloquence and to have composed some of his famous orations. She was continually consulted on affairs of state, and Socrates, like other philosophers, attended her assemblies.
Socrates himself admitted his indebtedness to a courtesan named Diotimas. The gentle manners and disinterested affection of a courtesan named Bacchis were recalled and deeply mourned when her death was announced. [*54] She was the mistress of the orator Hyperides, and her fidelity has become a legend of a woman’s devotion to the man she loves.
Lais, whose matchless figure and lovely face had no equal except it be her remarkable wit and encyclopedic information, was extremely influential. She refused a fabulous sum from the orator Demosthenes for a sexual embrace, but willingly gave her charms to the ragged cynic Diogenes and the still more poverty-stricken philosopher Aristippus. [*55]
The courtesan Pythionice was sent by Alexander the Great to be the companion of his treasurer, Harpalus. She graced the palace and ruled Babylon with unusual ability. At her death, she was buried in a tomb that cost more than a king’s ransom.
Leontium, whose lover was the great philosopher Epicurus, was herself a woman of rare ability, and the author of several books. A Milesian prostitute named Thargelia accompanied Xerxes on his invasion of Greece. Thargelia married the king of Thessaly.
The Empress Theodore was a notorious prostitute, yet is credited with liberalizing the law of Justinian. Radadopis, who led the life of a prostitute in Egypt, became one of the leading citizens of her time, acquired wealth, and is even reputed to have had sufficient money and intelligence to build a pyramid. [*56]
Posted on May 6, 2013, in Religion and tagged Catholic Church, Church, Easter, India, Jerome, London, Mary Magdalene, Pope Julius II, Profane Prostitution, Prostitution, Sacred prostitution. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.