Jack’s Naughty Bits: Peter Damian, The Book of Gomorrah: An Eleventh-Century Treatise Against Clerical Homosexual Practices

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Jack's Naughty Bits

a local paper reveals a new sex scandal involving a priest and a young boy, few
people are surprised. The regularity of these scandals has rendered priestly pederasty
almost a cliché. Sadly, the offhandedness with which we come to think about the
phenomenon occludes the tragedy of each individual case. Making jokes about frocked sex
offenders has the unfortunate effect of making pederasty more imaginable, while, at the
same time, encouraging us to take its offenders less seriously. To that extent, at least, the
publicity perpetuates the phenomenon more than stigmatizes it.


But perhaps the press coverage is as much a function of our desire for scandal as
actual predilection on the part of the clergy. The conventional logic, of course, is that
priests, denied the release of physical encounters, walk around stewing in whatever desires
they are unable to rid themselves of. And, clearly, if those desires are considered unnatural
in the first place, then taking a vow of chastity would appear to be a way of further
prohibiting them, nipping them in the bud, if you will. In some cases this kind of
preemption probably succeeds. In others, it does not, and the results are likely to be more
sordid than what would have happened had the original desires been acted upon through
conventional channels.


To whatever degree priests are actually more inclined to pederasty than anyone else,
the association is not new, as the excerpt below indicates. Taken from an eleventh-century
book-length invective against homosexuality among priests, the passage demonstrates that
not only were homosexuality and pederasty common in the Middle Ages, but so little was
being done about it that the author, Peter Damian, an Irishman, felt the need to speak out
violently. His verbal assault is sweeping and relentless and, to the modern eye, somewhat
comical. But despite his overblown rhetoric, Damian clearly believed that homosexuality
and pederasty were the foremost faults with the medieval priesthood. Nine centuries of
civilization have done little to erode the stereotype.

* * *  

From The Book of Gomorrah: An Eleventh-Century Treatise Against Clerical Homosexual Practices by Peter Damian

translated by Pierre J. Payer

A Mournful Lament for the Soul Who Is Given over to the Filth of Impurity

O, I weep for you unfortunate soul, and from the depths of my heart I sigh over the lot of
your destruction. I weep for you, I say, miserable soul who are given over to the filth of
impurity. You are to be mourned indeed with a whole fountain of tears. What a pity! “Who
will give to my head waters and my eyes a fountain of tears?” And this mournful voice is
not now less suitably drawn from my sobbing self than was then spoken out of the
prophetic mouth. I do not bewail the stone ramparts of a city fortified by towers, not the
lower buildings of a temple made by hands; I do not lament the progress of a vile people
taken into the captivity of the rule of the Babylonian king. My plaint is for the noble soul
made in the image and likeness of God and joined with the most precious blood of Christ.
It is brighter than many buildings, certainly to be preferred to all the heights of earthly
construction. Therefore I especially lament the lapse of the soul and the destruction of the
temple in which Christ had resided. O eyes wear yourselves out in crying aloud, overflow
the rivers full of tears, water with continuous tears my sad, mournful face! . . .

Consider, O miserable one, how much darkness weighs on your soul; notice what thick,
dark blindness engulfs you. Does the fury of lust impel you to the male sex? Has the
madness of lust incited you to your own kind, that is, male to male? Does a [male] goat
goaded by lust, ever sometimes leap on a [male] goat? Does a ram leap on a ram, maddened
with the heat of sexual union? In fact a stallion feeds calmly and peacefully with a stallion
in one stall and when he sees a mare the sense of lust is immediately unleashed. Never does
a bull petulantly desire a bull out of love for sexual union; never does a mule bray under the
stimulant for sex with a mule. But ruined men do not fear to commit what the very brutes
shrink from in horror. What is committed by the rashness of human depravity is
condemned by the judgement of irrational animals.


Unmanned man, speak! Respond, effeminate man! What do you seek in a male
which you cannot find in yourself? What sexual difference? What different physical
lineaments? What softness? What tender, carnal attraction? What pleasant, smooth face? Let
the vigour of the male appearance terrify you, I beseech you; your mind should abhor virile
strength. In fact, it is the rule of natural appetite that each seek beyond himself what he
cannot find within the cloister of his own faculty. Therefore, if contact with male flesh
delights you, turn your hand to yourself. Know that whatever you do not find in yourself,
you seek vainly in another [male] body. Woe to you, unfortunate soul, at whose ruin
angels are saddened and whom the enemy insults with applause. You are made the prey of
demons, the rape of the cruel, the spoils of wicked men. All your enemies open their
mouths against you; they hiss and gnash their teeth. They say: “We have devoured her; this
at last is the day we hoped for; we found it, we saw it.”

© Pierre J. Payer