Group Title: conflict between the body and the soul as a metaphor of the moral struggle in the Middle Ages
Title: The Conflict between the body and the soul as a metaphor of the moral struggle in the Middle Ages
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Title: The Conflict between the body and the soul as a metaphor of the moral struggle in the Middle Ages with special reference to Middle English literature
Physical Description: vi, 250 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Canuteson, John Allen, 1941-
Publication Date: 1975
Copyright Date: 1975
Subject: Debate of the body and the soul   ( lcsh )
Morte Arthure   ( lcsh )
Body and soul in literature   ( lcsh )
English thesis Ph. D
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- UF
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Thesis: Thesis--University of Florida.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
General Note: Typescript.
General Note: Vita.
Statement of Responsibility: by John Allen Canuteson.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00098873
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000171406
oclc - 02961173
notis - AAT7833


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I am indebted to many good friends who have helped during the

research and writing of this study. To Dr. Richard Green, Chairman

of my Supervisory Committee, and to Dr. Robert H. Bowers go my warm

thanks for criticism and guidance. To Dr. Dean Dunham and Dean Bruce

R. Thompson of William Jewell College go my thanks for patience,

small classes, and immunity from committee assignments, and to Asso-

ciate Dean Gordon Kingsley my appreciation for a winter term in which

to work exclusively on the dissertation. The staffs of the University

of Florida Library and William Jewell College Library have been dili-

gent in finding and borrowing material from other libraries, and the

University of Texas Library at Austin has been a friendly haven during

holidays and vacations. Thanks also go to Miss Susan Goodwin for

typing countless notecards and to Mrs. Julia Merrill for typing the

final draft. My greatest debts are owed to my greatest loves--my

wife and two sons.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS .................................................

ABSTRACT.. ......................................................


LITERATURE ............................................

NOTES...................................... ...........

II THE IMAGES OF THE LATIN TRADITION........................






BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH..............................................

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



John Allen Canuteson

December, 1975

Chairman: Richard H. Green
Major Department: English

This study is an examination of a popular way writers of the Middle

Ages understood and presented the matter of moral choice. It is an

analysis of the habit of medieval authors and preachers of reducing

the moral struggle to a conflict between the body and the soul, the

development of a series of traditional images of the conflict, and

the presence of these images in an important nonreligious poem of the

late Middle Ages.

In the first chapter I show the epistemological and scriptural

origins of the body-soul model for the moral struggle and the presence

of the body-soul conflict in the writings of influential men of the

Middle Ages. Because this conflict is a spiritual struggle represented

analogically and therefore requires interpretation, I also examine

modern discussions about the presence of religious meanings in secular

texts and determine that the best tests for meanings which extend beyond

the narrative level are contextual probability and tradition.

The second chapter is a survey of the most popular images used

by the Latin writers of the earlier Middle Ages to represent the in-

ternal struggle between the body and the soul. These images are light-

dark, fire, water, earth, burden, ascent, sailor-ship, husk-kernel,

thorn, swine, horse-rider, inner-outer man; dwelling place with

openings, vessel, ladder, knife, musical instrument, tomb, clothing,

husband-wife and lover; judge, prison, slavery, kingdom, king-subject,

rebellion, and war.

The third chapter demonstrates the continuity and pervasiveness

of this traditional imagery in Middle English writings of the late

Middle Ages. While new images of canine animals, a game of chess, and

the foul fruits of the body appeared, and while the images of slavery,

the judge, and the tomb receded, the images remained in use of light-

dark, fire, earth, water, ascent, burden, sailor-ship, chaff, thorn,

swine, horse-rider, inner-outer man, castle, vessel, prison, kingdom,

king-subject, lord-servant, rebellion, and war. The images of the

body-soul conflict can be seen in the early thirteenth-century poem,

the Debate Between the Body and the Soul, where images of light-dark,

fire, earth, burden, water, thorn, husband-wife and adultery, judge,

prison, master-servant, rebellion, and fighting add resonance to the

central conflict of the poem.

In the fourth chapter I examine a late fourteenth-century poem,

the stanzaic Morte Arthur, which is not overtly religious in subject

matter and, unlike the Debate, would seem to have little need for the

images of the body-soul struggle. What we discover, however, is that

the poet is interested in two types of drama: the suspense of the

action surrounding the fall of Arthur's kingdom and the drama of man's

moral condition reflected in thai action. The poet draws our attention

to the second kind of drama with images of light-dark, fire, earth,

burden, water, ship, thorn, swine, horse-rider, castle, tomb, musical

instrument, clothing, husband-wife-lover, judge, prison, kingdom, king-

subject, lord-servant, rebel lion, and war.



In any age the ways in which men reflect on their condition are

diverse and would seem to defy systematic discussion. When we turn to

the Middle Ages, a period of a good thousand years, the prospects for

finding definitive traits for the age are dim. Joseph Mazzeo has pointed

out, for example, that no one now seriously regards the Middle Ages as

homogenous, because it was too complex to be approached by way of broad


No medievalist any longer believes, without some qualification,
that the Middle Ages was a period of cultural unity. We know
too much about medieval skeptics, rationalists, mystics, and
heretics not to be fully aware of the great conflicts which
arose within the unity of medieval culture.)

Nevertheless, Mazzeo asserts, "There was a profound unity which overlaid

most of the differences, wide as they were'; and he goes on to say that

certain ideas, such as the metaphysics of light and the concept of

hierarchy, are helpful for understanding Dante's Comedy.

While recognizing the dangers in a schematic approach to a past

period, Mazzeo analyzes a few patterns of medieval thought because they

will lead the reader beyond topical allusions and biography to a richer

appreciation of the Comedy. The approach allows Mazzeo to distinguish

a pattern of hierarchy and light imagery in the poem:

From the beginning of the Divine Comedy--"where the sun is
silent"--to the final vision of light, the poem is a carefully
ordered hierarchy of lights and shadows. Not only are we
asked to see clearly, we are asked to see qualitatively, to


distinguish degrees of light and kinds of vision. It is in
the last canto of the Faradiso that the degree of light is
most intense and that our attention is called to a unique
kind of seeing. ... With mounting intensity we are brought
face to face with that light which is God, the supreme, pure,
true, and eternal light. We see Him both as luce, the source
of light, and as lume, His reflected splendor in the universe
of thought, the radiance which beautifies the angels and the
blessed. We see Him as the simple light, the unity wherein
Dante saw the reduction of all the multiplicity of the universe,
substance and accidents, the scattered pages of the universe
bound together.2

Only by assuming a general understanding of light metaphysics and

hierarchy in Dante and his medieval readers can one explain this part

of Dante's artistry. And, conversely, the presence of these patterns

in the Comedy argues that Mazzeo is dealing with genuine medieval ideas.

I would similarly draw attention to the fragility of conclusions

reached by research in the history of men's thoughts. We are hundreds

of years removed from the late fourteenth-century poet who wrote the

stanzaic Morte Arthur, a poem I will examine later, and statements

about the intentions of the author are almost certain to contain errors.

Any single work of art is the result of countless decisions on the part

of the artist, who in turn is molded by complex cultural influences.

Our late fourteenth-century English poet, for example, was probably an

Englishman; he was no doubt aware of the continuing war in France; he

was certainly a Christian, but he may have been faithful or slothful

in attendance at church; he may or may not have visited countries on the

continent--the list of formative influences on his ideas and art could go

on indefinitely. We are even further removed from St. Paul, and central

problems in the thought of this very influential figure are still being

debated.3 One would almost despair of saying anything certain about the

artistry and thought of past writers.


But if remoteness breeds difficulty, it also breeds fascination.

We are lured by the possibility of reconstructing at least minor parts

of the influences on the artists of the past in efforts to understand

their work. In order to find these influences we are forced to fragment

and anatomize the past, to dissect it and examine it to locate the

systems, the patterns of thought, which the age may not have known that

it had, or which it only partially understood. When we have discovered

these patterns, we begin to see possible influences on individual figures.

Or, to put it another way, we see in a general way how literary works

fit in a historical and cultural context. In fact, as we will presently

see, both Paul and the author of the stanzaic Morte Arthur participated

in a tradition which is not only real and demonstrable but also a

centrally important way in which men of the Middle Ages saw themselves

and expressed the nature of their struggle to achieve perfection.

The passages from the Bible to which preachers and writers

returned again and again in the Middle Ages to abbreviate, clarify, and

dramatize the moral struggle were Romans 7, 21-254:

I find then a law, that when I have a will to do good, evil is
present with me. For I am delighted with the law of God,
according to the inward man: But I see another law in my
members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating
me in the law of sin, that is in my members. Unhappy man
that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
The grace of God, by Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, I
myself, with the mind serve the law of God; but with the
flesh, the law of sin.

and Galatians 5, 16-17:

I say then, walk in the spirit, and you shall not fulfill the
lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the spirit:
and the spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary one
to another: so that you do not the things that you would.5

This study is devoted to the habit of medieval thinkers and writers of

making vivid man's moral condition by reducing the moral struggle to an

essentially antithetical relationship between the body and the soul, a

reduction usually accomplished through one or more of a series of

conventional images. My thesis is that the body-soul abbreviation and

the images attendant to it were common and important enough to constitute

a major way medieval men had of understanding the crucial subject of

their moral welfare and the eternal consequences of their actions. Men

then as now were intrigued by the suspense of human destiny, and the

writers of the Middle Ages frequently cast their thoughts in the shape

of the body-soul conflict and the traditional images of it.6

In the first of four chapters I examine two factors which con-

tributed to the metaphor of the body-soul conflict--the dominant

medieval epistemology, in which data provided by the senses was sub-

ordinate to the truth within man's soul, and the biblical use of flesh,

which frequently represented man apart from God. I show that influential

church figures of the Middle Ages used the body-soul conflict as an

effective way to simplify and dramatize the moral condition. Since

there has been much debate concerning the presence of religious meanings

in secular texts, I also review the arguments about an exegetical

approach to medieval literature and conclude that contextual probability

and tradition are the best criteria for establishing levels of meaning

beyond the narrative level.

The second chapter presents some of the principal images of the

body-soul struggle as they appeared in Latin literature, to illustrate

that a tradition of images was linked to the flesh-spirit discussions.

The third chapter demonstrates that the body-soul images continued in

the later Middle Ages, though they were altered in Middle English

religious literature, and that a reading of the Debate Between the

Body and the Soul is enriched by an awareness of the body-soul images.

In the final chapter I turn to a literary work, the stanzaic Morte

Arthur, which has been slighted by scholars who have overlooked its

craftsmanship and, more significantly, the traditional morality on

which it is founded. The poem reveals most of the images of the body-

soul conflict, suggesting that while the poet presents a lively narra-

tive of a legendary hero-king, he also views the happenings he de-

scribes with an awareness of the moral drama at work and illustrates

that drama with the traditional images of conflict between the demands

of body and soul;

Two factors contributed to the use of the conflict between the

body and the soul as a dramatic simplification of the moral struggle

in the Middle Ages. The first was an epistemology inherited from

Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophers and modified by Christian thinkers,

in which sense data and the knowledge it provided were secondary in

importance and validity to the knowledge of truth within and threatening

to the welfare of the soul.7 The second was the biblical use of flesh

to represent man apart from God. I will briefly examine some epistemo-

logical statements of Augustine and Boethius, because these writers

were important to later medieval thinkers,8 and Hugh of St. Victor,

because he illustrates the continuation of the epistemology in the

later Middle Ages.

The body was generally thought in the Middle Ages worthy only of

providing the soul with sense data about the physical world. While

the senses provided necessary information about the world, they gave

man little help as he searched for eternal, intelligible truth. The

opinion that the soul illumined by God is the source of truth and that

the body is only a courier of information about a transient and insig-

nificant world is heard throughout the Middle Ages. In On the Immor-

tality of the Soul, Augustine analyzes the relative importance of the

soul and the body in the process of acquiring knowledge and bluntly

denies that the body helps:

Now, truly, when we reason, it is the mind which reasons.
For only he who thinks reasons. Neither does the body
think, nor does the mind receive the help of the body in
thinking, since when the mind wishes to think it turns away
from the body. For what is thought is thus eternal, and
nothing pertaining to the body is thus eternal. Therefore
the body cannot help the mind as it strives to understand;
for it is sufficient if the body does not hamper the mind.9

The body is at best no help, at worst a hindrance to eternal knowledge.

Augustine distinguishes between scientia and sapientia, between

knowledge acquired in the world from the senses, and wisdom, the

apprehension of God in the soul. The beasts and birds have sense

knowledge, including memory ("else they could never find their lairs

and nests again"l0); but Augustine believes man rises above the level

of the beasts when he rises above mere cogitation, the collecting and

arranging of sense images.11 In the Confessions Augustine remembers

how he was misled by the interest of the Manichaeans in worldly,

scientific knowledge:

And these were the dishes in which to me, hungering for Thee,
they, instead of Thee, served up the sun and moon, Thy
beauteous works--but yet Thy works, not Thyself, nay, nor
Thy first works. For before these corporeal works are Thy
spiritual ones, celestial and shining though they be.12

Sense data can point to God: "We are not God, but He made us."l3


Otherwise, knowledge of the world is in no way to be compared to the

contemplation of spiritual truths. Augustine is remorseful that he

"sought after Thee not according to the understanding of the mind, in

which Thou desiredst that I should excel the beasts, but according to

the sense of the flesh."

In the Contra Academicos Augustine discusses how difficult it

would be to contemplate the intelligible world if souls had to rely on

this sense data:

Human reason would never lead such souls to the intelligible
world if the most high God had not vouchsafed--through
clemency toward the whole human race--to send the authority
of the divine intellect down even to a human body, and caused
it to dwell therein, so that souls would be aroused not only
by divine precepts but also by divine acts, and would be thus
enabled to reflect on themselves and to gaze upon their

As to what is the subject of contemplation which constitutes sapientia,

Augustine explains in the De Beata Vita that Wisdom, Truth, and the

Second Person of the Trinity are all one:

But what wisdom should be so called, if not the wisdom of
God? We have also heard through divine authority that the
Son of God is nothing but the wisdom of God, and that the
Son of God is truly God. Thus, everyone having God is
happy. . But, do you believe wisdom is different from
truth? For it has also been said, "I am the Truth."15

The answer is that the possession of one is the possession of all three--

Truth, the Son, and Wisdom--as well as happiness.

Perhaps the most famous and influential statement of the Middle

Ages on the primacy of internal truth and the unreliability of sense

data is in Boethius' Consoliation of Philosophy. In her well-known

argument consoling the narrator, who has been lamenting the passing

of his worldly happiness, Lady Philosophy contends that the narrator

has made a mistake in considering the objects of sense as important.

He has forgotten his real identity and has looked outside himself for


What an upside-down state of affairs when a man who is divine
by his gift of reason thinks his excellence depends on the
possession of lifeless bric-a-brac.16

After stressing the weakness and transience of the body, Lady Philosophy

says to the narrator that when one remembers his divine nature, he

will look within himself to find happiness:

Then all that was hidden by the dark cloud of error will
shine more clearly than Phoebus; for the body, with its
burden of forgetfulness, cannot drive all light from his
mind. (Book 3, Poem II)

The effect of the search within for truth is much the same as Augustine's

understanding of the soul illumined by God:

The seed of truth grows deep within and is roused to life
by the breath of learning. For how can you answer questions
truly unless the spark of truth glows deep in your heart?
(Book 3, Poem II)

When the soul seeks within itself and contemplates the divine mind,

it becomes free, as Boethius distinguishes different levels of freedom

and bondage. Souls are the freest when they are contemplating the

divine mind, a little less free when they are joined to bodies, and

still less free when they are bound by earthly fetters (Book 5, Prose 2).

The most abject slavery occurs when the souls lose their reason and

submit to vice:

For when they turn away their eyes from the light of a
supreme truth to mean and dark things, they are blinded
by a cloud of ignorance and obsessed by vicious passions.
(Book 5, Prose 2)

The soul loses its wisdom and freedom as it associates itself with

data provided by the body.

To underscore the primacy o' intelligible truths over knowledge

provided by the senses, Boethius suggests a discussion between reason

on the one hand and the senses and imagination on the other about their

relative merits (Book 5, Prose 5). Suppose, says Boethius, that

the senses and imagination were to argue that the universal, the unique

contribution of reason, did not exist. Their claim would be that only

sense objects exist, that universals are meaningless. Reason would

answer that it judges the sense impressions "under the aspect of

universality," and that the senses "cannot go beyond corporeal figures."

The question for Boethius is easily solved--reason is right and the

senses and imagination are wrong. We should agree with reason because

"in matters of knowledge we ought to trust the stronger and more perfect


In Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy there is a contrast between

the beauty of the inner truth and the excellence of the search for

it and the realization of man's divinity on the one hand, and the weak-

ness and transience of the body and the unreliability of the senses and

imagination on the other. Just as the body is incapable of providing

lasting happiness, it is also incapable of giving sound knowledge.

The continuity in the tradition of contempt for the senses between

the early fifth century, the early sixth century, and the early twelfth

century can be seen by looking at the work of Hugh of Saint Victor, who

was called, in fact, "a second Augustine."17 Hugh shares Augustine's

distinction between wisdom and understanding (intelligentia) and

empirical knowledge (scientia). He defines philosophy as "the dis-

cipline which investigates comprehensively the ideas of all things,

human and divine,"18 and maintains that in pursuing the branches of

philosophy man restores the divine image in himself. While Hugh is

open to the theoretical consideration of earthly facts, he nevertheless

points out the deterioration of the unity of the soul caused by too

much involvement with sense data. The soul, by descending to the bodily

senses, forgets its nature; and it regains the image of God only through


In the Didascalicon Hugh argues that man's erect posture symbolizes

that man, unlike the beasts who are able only to look at the earth,

can contemplate wisdom. When man fails to realize his higher nature,

he degenerates to the level of the beast; in fact, until man recognized

this wisdom and was illuminated by it, he was no better than the beasts.

Now that he realizes his character, he should not turn to sense


man was like all the other animals when he did not
understand that be had been created by a higher order than
they. But his immortal mind, illuminated by Wisdom, beholds
its own principle, and recognizes how unfitting it is for it
to seek anything outside itself when what is in itself can be
enough for it. (p. 46)

Hugh notes the inscription on the tripod of Apollo, "Know thyself," and

argues that anyone who knows his own nature would not submit to anything

changeable--he would "recognize that everything subject to change is


The inability to remember the dignity of one's nature results from

sense impressions:

For the mind, stupefied by bodily sensations and enticed
out of itself by sensuous forms, has forgotten what it was,
and because it does not remember that it was anything
different, believes that it is nothing except what is seen.
(p. 47)

Sense experience has little importance except to relay knowledge about

the world to the soul. Hugh defines understanding as the "pure and

certain knowledge of the sole principles of things--namely of God,

of ideas, and of prime matter, and of incorporeal substances" (p. 66).

Imagination on the other hand is "sensuous memory made up of traces of

corporeal objects inhering in the world; it possesses in itself

nothing certain as a source of knowledge" (p. 67). The soul descends

to the level of sense perception in order to interpret what is being

perceived in the senses, but the apprehensive process is in the soul.

When the soul descends to sense perception, it is in effect

sullying itself by becoming less like the angels:

For the nature of spirits and souls, because it is incor-
poreal, simple, participates in intellectible [i.e., not
perceived by the senses] substance; but because through the
sense organs spirit or soul descends in different ways to
the apprehension of physical objects and draws into itself
a likeness of them through its imagination, it deserts its
simplicity somehow by admitting a type of composition. (p. 63)

The intelligible substance in man includes, in addition to the intel-

lect, the imagination, by which it perceives sense objects. But in

the process of imagining, in the contact with the senses, the soul

degenerates by losing its simplicity and unity. It "rushes out" to

contact physical objects and in the process it is "cut away from its

simplicity each time it is penetrated by any qualities entering through

hostile sense experience" (p. 64). The opposite process, reintegration,

takes place when the soul moves from objects of the sense to understanding:

But when, mounting from such distraction toward pure under-
standing, it gathers itself into one, it becomes more blessed
through participating in intellectible substance.

Hugh studies the going out and return of the soul in a numerological

analysis in which the numbers I, 3, 9, 27, and 81 represent activities

of the soul. The soul is first a simple essence and proceeds to

threeness in the concupiscible and irascible passions, which are

presided over by reason. Nine symbolizes the control exercised over

the human body, since there are nine openings in the body. There is a

kind of calm that still reigns, however, as the soul controls the

music of the body. Hugh says that the music between the soul and the

body consists "in loving one's flesh, but one's spirit more; in

cherishing one's body, but not in destroying one's virtue" (p. 69).

The third step is the most damaging to the unity of the soul:

In a third progression, the soul, having poured itself out
through the senses upon all visible things--which demand
its supervision and which are symbolized by "twenty-seven,"
a cube number, extended tri-dimensionally after the manner
of the body--is dissipated in countless actions.

The simplicity of the soul is lost by the soul's involvement in life.

Hugh regards the reestablishment of the unity of the soul as possible

only at life's end, symbolized by 81, where 80 represents the end of

one's life and one is the simple essence again:

[It is] glowingly evident that the soul, after this life's
end, designated by the "eighty," returns to the unity of
its simple state, from which it had previously departed when
it descended to rule a human body. (p. 65)

As one is suitable for the soul, two and four represent the body,

because "everything which is composed of divisibles or solubles is

itself also divisible or dissoluble."

Rehabilitation for the soul, which has been "enticed out of it-

self by sensuous forms" and which "does not remember that it was any-

thing different" (p. 45), is through instruction, so that it learns

what its nature is and that it does not need to seek without what it


can find within, which is wisdom. The wisdom referred to is, as

Augustine had said, the Wisdom of God, and the rational creature becomes

wise by participating in that Wisdom. The benefits bestowed by Wisdom

are "truth of speculation and of thought and holy and pure chastity of

action" (p. 48), or correct thinking and virtuous behavior. The

influence of Wisdom, of Christ, is both moral rectitude and intellectual


The brute animal does not have reason, but is guided only by sense

impressions, "driven by a certain blind inclination of the flesh"

(p. 51). The rational soul, on the other hand, is not so swept away,

but uses wisdom to moderate its actions. To be human is to be able to

think about things above the level of sense impressions. The double

nature of man is reflected in the functions of his mental activity,

"either to restore in us the likeness of the divine image, or to

take thought for the necessity of this life" (p. 54). The image of God

is restored through "the contemplation of truth and the practice of

virtue" (intelligentia); and knowledge based on the senses (scientia) is

mechanical or logical: "The latter, since it derives from below and

requires, as it were, a certain practical counsel, [we may call]

'knowledge.'" One who studied the philosophy of, say, armament and

hunting would thus be relying on knowledge of the senses to provide

for the necessities of life. One who studied the philosophy of mathe-

matics or private morality would be looking to his inner wisdom.

We have thus seen in Augustine, Boethius, and Hugh of St. Victor

a clear division between knowledge based on the senses of the body and

on principles of truth within man's soul, with all three agreeing that

the source of truth is within the soul and that the senses can only

provide knowledge of a transient world. Augustine said that true

wisdom comes not from the senses but from within, Boethius shows that

happiness cannot be found through the senses, and Hugh of St. Victor

shows the deterioration of the unity and simplicity of the soul re-

sulting from the soul's involvement with the senses of the body. But

for thinkers in the Middle Ages, the senses were also the messengers

of temptation through the information about the world which they

brought to the soul. We saw in the Consolation that the soul, in

becoming involved with the bodily senses, became ensnared in viciousness.

Likewise, to other writers in the Middle Ages, the data provided by

the senses could be simply necessary to get along in the world; but

they also could lead to an excessive preoccupation with the world and

a turning away from the Truth, the presence of Christ within. We can

see in this threatening nature of the senses the stage being set for

the body-soul conflict as a metaphor of the moral struggle.

In the Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, Augustine sees the

turning to the senses as an integral part of the commission of sin.

The senses give the first step, suggestion, "either through the memory

or through the bodily senses--when we are seeing or hearing or smelling

or tasting or touching something."19 If pleasure follows, it must be

repressed or sin results. If consent is given to the pleasure, sin is


The three steps in the process of sin consist of the intrusion

into the soul of sense data from the flesh:

These three successive stages are such as if the suggestion
were made by the serpent, that is to say, it is made by a


slimy and sinuous motion, namely, a transient action of the
body. For, if any such images hover within the soul, they
have been drawn from without, that is, from the body. (p. 53)

Moreover, the process of committing the sin is analogous to the steps

of the Fall, with Adam representing the soul, Eve the movement of the

soul to the body, to sensuality, and the serpent representing the

suggestion made to the senses:

For the suggestion, as well as a kind of persuasion, is
made as though by a serpent; the pleasure is in the carnal
desire, as though in Eve; and the consent is in the reason,
as though in the man. (p. 53)

The result of the process in every man is sin, as it is seen figuratively

in the Garden of Eden.

In the Confessions, Augustine likewise blames the movement of the

soul to the senses for two of the errors which he now bitterly laments.

He was interested in scientific knowledge; and he took first one, then

a second, mistress:

My soul was far from well, and, full of ulcers, it miserably
cast itself forth, craving to be excited by contact with
objects of sense. Yet, had these no soul, they would not
surely inspire love. To love and to be loved was sweet to
me, and all the more when I succeeded in enjoying the person
I loved.20

Later in the Confessions Augustine discusses to what extent each of

the senses offers temptations to him.21 He finds the pleasures of

eating and drinking--the pleasures of the sense of taste--very appealing.

The necessity to eat and drink in this life will be replaced "with an

amazing satiety" in the next life, but in the meantime this sense is


But now is necessity sweet to me, and against this sweetness
I fight lest I be enthralled; and I carry on a daily war
by fastings, oftentimes bringing my body into subjection;
and my pains are expelled by pleasure.


One problem posed by the senses, such as hearing, is that they

are distracting. Augustine, listening to music in a service, begins

to think about the beauty of the music related by the bodily senses

and to forget God:

But the gratification of my flesh, to which the mind ought
never to be given over to be enervated, often beguiles me,
while the sense does not so attend on reason as to follow
her patiently; but having gained admission merely for her
sake, it strives ever to run on before her, and be her

The desire to gratify the senses and to enjoy the impressions they

receive is the lust of the flesh, but Augustine also shows how the

lust of the eyes, or curiosity, is dependent on the senses:

For besides that concupiscence of the flesh which lies in
the gratification of all senses and pleasures, wherein its
slaves who are far from Thee perish, there pertains to
the soul, through the same senses of the body, a certain
vain and curious longing, cloaked under the name of
knowledge and learning, not of having pleasure in the flesh,
but of making experiments through the flesh. This longing,
since it originates in an appetite for knowledge, and the
sight being the chief amongst the senses in the acquisition
of knowledge, is called in divine language the lust of the

The senses are thus worse than distracting: they aid and abet two

members of the famous triad of evil.24

Among medieval writers, not only was the soul preferred to the body

as a source of knowledge, but the body's function in the acquisition of

earthly knowledge also figured in the discussion of the nature of sin.

The body was not a conveyer of true wisdom, and the data it provided

posed a threat to the well-being of the soul. But while epistemology had

a significance in the discussion of the nature and process of sin, it

would be a mistake to believe that orthodox Christian writers attributed

the power to originate evil to the human body. They emphatically did not.

Augustine sets himself apart frcm Virgil whom he sees expressing a

Platonist's view of the superiority of the soul to the body in the


A fiery strength inspires their lives,
An essence that from heaven derives,
Though clogged in part by limbs of clay
And the dull vesture of decay.25

Augustine objects when Virgil goes on to suggest that the body is the

source of the passions and of evil:

Hence wild desires and grovelling fears,
And human laughter, human tears,
Immured in dungeon-seeming night,
They look abroad, yet see no light.

Augustine protests that "we believe quite otherwise." With regard to

the first sin, "It was not the corruptible flesh that made the soul

sinful, but the sinful soul that made the flesh corruptible." Sin

arises in the soul, rather than in the body: the body can only be the

vehicle for suggestion.

Augustine underscores the difference between his thinking and that

of the Platonists and Manicheans.26 The Platonists do not believe,

with the Manicheans, that men's bodies are evil, but they do believe

that the infected body is the source of the passions which lead to

vice in life:

From the death-infected members and earthly construction
of the body they believe the soul is so affected, that
there are thus originated in it the diseases of desires, and
fears, and joy, and sorrow, under which perturbations . is
included the whole viciousness of human life.27

Virgil himself does not believe this error, Augustine smiles, because

he shows a disembodied soul in Hades expressing emotion.28 Therefore,

the Platonists and their philosophical allies themselves must believe

that the soul can be "agitated with these emotions at its own instance."

The Christian writers of the Middle Ages frequently revealed that

they knew they were speaking metaphorically when they discussed man's

carnality. In the City of God Augustine, for example, outlines the

distinction between the two cities and the two loves that they repre-

sent--"what it is to live after the flesh, and what to live after the

spirit."'29 He says that anyone who looks at Scripture carefully would

not conclude that the Epicureans are the only ones who live after the

flesh or that the Stoics live by the spirit or mind, because in the

Bible flesh can refer to the whole man. When Paul in Galatians includes

in the category of carnal sins not only those which are genuinely of the

flesh but also those which are not,30 he is using "that mode of speech,"

in which a part stands for the whole.31 Augustine later says that when

he himself populates the two cities with those who live according to

the flesh and those who live after the spirit, he could just as well

have said of men that "some live according to man, others according to

God.32 He quotes I Corinthians 3, 3: "For whereas there is among you

envying and strife, are ye not carnal, and walk according to man," and

concludes that "to walk according to man and to be carnal are the same."

Similarly Ambrose realized that fleshliness was used in the Bible

to suggest sin. When soul is used in the Old Testament, "the Hebrew

who cleaves to God" is meant, while the term flesh is used to refer

to sinners.33 He gives as New Testament examples Romans 7, 14-15, and

7, 23-24: When Paul saw the war raging within him and cried, "Unhappy

man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?" he

was using the body as the sinful impulse.

What Augustine and Ambrose found about the scriptural use of

flesh is important for the body-soul abbreviation in the Middle Ages.

In the Old Testament, basar is the term for the flesh which is common

to men and animals. The term is used of men in Genesis 2, 21: "Then

the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam: and when he was fast asleep,

he took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it," and of animals in

Genesis 9, 4 and Leviticus 4, 11.34 The use of flesh applies to the

whole man in Genesis 6, 17: "Behold I will bring the waters of a great

flood upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of

life under heaven," and in Genesis 2, 24, among other places.35 Flesh

in the Old Testament also suggests the weakness of man, as in Psalm 77,

39: "And he remembered that they are flesh: a wind that goeth and

returneth not."36

J. A. T. Robinson has analyzed Paul's use of flesh and his rela-

tionship to the Hebraic tradition, and he finds Paul using flesh as man

"in his distance and difference from God."37 Paul, like the Old Testa-

ment writers, uses flesh to represent the whole man:

[Sarx] does not mean one part of a man, but the whole man
seen under the aspect of the flesh. Hence it frequently
stands, as in the Old Testament, simply for "man." "I con-
ferred not with flesh and blood" (Galatians I, 16) means "with
no other human beings." "No flesh," in the regular Old
Testament phrase, means "nobody," (Romans 3, 20; Galatians 2,
16; I Corinthians I, 29).38

And Paul, like Old Testament writers, uses flesh to label man's mortality

and insufficiency:

Man as basar, though defined essentially in his relation to
God, "the God of all flesh" (Jeremiah 32, 27), is yet man
in his distance and difference from God. For while God is
Spirit, He is not flesh: "Hast thou eyes of flesh? or seest
thou as man seeth?"(Job 10, 4); "The Egyptians are men, and
not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit" (Isaiah 31, 3)


Flesh represents mere man, man in contrast with God--hence
man in his weakness and mortality.39

Robinson's analysis reveals that the opposition of the lives of

the flesh and the spirit in Galatians 5, 17-25 is not a Greek opposi-

tion of reason and the passions, but a distinction between living

according to man and according to God. When Paul uses flesh to

represent man, he generally sees man in his effort to trust in himself

rather than in God:

Thus, when Paul asks the Galatians, "Having begun in the
Spirit are ye now perfected in the flesh?" he refers, not
to a lapse into sensuality, but to a return to reliance upon
the law.40

The flesh serves the "'letter' (Romans 7, 6; 2, 28ff.), which is 'of

men' (Romans 2, 29) and represents human self-sufficiency (2 Corinthians 3,


The semantic tradition of flesh within which Paul wrote will be

helpful as we turn to the medieval habit of reducing the moral struggle

to a conflict between the flesh and the spirit, particularly with

Ambrose's insight that flesh is used in the Bible to refer to sinners.

I will concentrate on three writers--Ambrose, Augustine, and Bonaventure--

to show that they continue the tradition of using carnality to refer

to man apart from God and the sinful impulse. I will begin with the

first book of Ambrose's Jacob and the Happy Life because it illustrates

the compatibility of a more technical and careful explanation of the

process of sin with the body-soul simplification invoked for clarity and


F. Homes Dudden has written that Ambrose's desire for the renun-

ciation of the world by man is articulated in terms of the rejection of

the flesh: "Such renunciation should be practiced, first, in respect

of the flesh, and secondly, in respect of all that pertains to the

flesh."42 Dudden finds that in Ambrose's thought the flesh should be

renounced because it is not only "abject and vile" but also because

it is "the 'enemy' of the soul, and persistently seeks to carry it

into sinful captivity." Dudden's analysis hardly seems to apply when

we first look at the Jacob, where Ambrose, discussing the control of

the passions by reason as a way to happiness, is careful to explain

that man's free will chooses either good or evil:

For man is not bound to obedience out of servile necessity,
but by free will we either incline to virtue or lean to
vice. And thus either our affections, which are free, draw
us into error, or our will, following upon reason, calls us

The strongest passion is concupiscence, which reason can restrain, as

in the case of an irascible man who is able to soften his anger. The

passions can be classed simply under pleasure, joy, fear, and sadness;

or as passions of the soul (pride, avarice, ambition, strife, and envy)

and body (gluttony and "the outpouring of excessive and wanton living").

Aside from the luxuria assigned to the body, however, Ambrose does not

attribute the origin of sin to the flesh. On the contrary he points

out that we should not blame the flesh, because our body can serve

either right or wrong: "And so the passions are the author of guilt,

and not the flesh, for the flesh is the servant of the will" (p. 126).

But within a few paragraphs, Ambrose reverts for rhetorical effect

to the conflict between the flesh and the spirit. He first quotes

and then paraphrases Paul's explanation of his moral struggle.44

Ambrose is talking about the law of Christ, which he, as a Christian,


admires in the abstract but has difficulty following:

I see its grace, I praise its beauty, I proclaim its wording,
I admire its teaching; but because "I am carnal, and sold
under sin," I am drawn into guilt against my will. Sin
indeed dominates, as if over a slave. Accordingly, I hate
sin--and I commit it. The mind hates it, the flesh desires
it, but I am in both; with my mind I consent to the law and
with my flesh I do that which I do not want. The commandment
to which I consent is good, and the mind which chooses what
is good, is good--good for judging, but often weak for making
resistance, because the body's desire opposes it and leads
it captive to the enticements of error. (pp. 129-30)

It is much simpler to use a dual metaphor, with its conflict, to drama-

tize the moral struggle. Ambrose essentially repeats what he had said

earlier about the conflict between reason and the passions, but he

recasts the discussion in the context of a conflict between reason and

wisdom and the flesh:

And so, to return to the beginning of this discourse,
that mind is good which has the control of the reason and
is directed toward the teachings of wisdom; but it endures
a grievous strife with the body of death, and often the
enticement, which is of the flesh, conquers the reason,
which is of the mind.

Ambrose alludes to Romans 8, 7, to show that the flesh was not com-

pletely controlled by reason: "But the flesh was not subdued, because

the wisdom of the flesh was not subject to the law and opposed its

teachings" (p. 131). The "wisdom of the flesh" suggests not just the

physical desires of the flesh, but a whole way of life conducted

without reference to God. This life, the way of the flesh, is without

virtue, "For the flesh would not have been obedient to virtue, since

it had been given over to its own desires and enveloped in its own


The only way that reason can triumph over the flesh is by the

help of grace, and Ambrose now clarifies his earlier confidence in the


ability of reason to mitigate the passions: "The mind is good if it

is directed toward reason, but not at all perfect unless it enjoys the

rule of Christ." It is in Him that we can control our passions by the

redirection of our desire to "things that are above, not with those that

are earthly and corruptible." Christ's resurrection both defeated the

old man, the carnal man, and allowed the new man to rise.

Man therefore now has a choice to make--he can consider Christ's

sacrifice and turn to God and away from sin, or he can turn away from

God. To convey this message simply and clearly, Ambrose uses the metaphor

of the body-soul conflict:

Therefore Christ died so that we also might die to sin and
rise again to God. Our flesh is dead; why does it live
again to sin? Why is it obedient to sin again? Why does sin
rule again among the dead, when death is the end of sin? We
have died in the flesh, we have been renewed in the spirit.
Let us walk in the spirit, because we have received the spirit
of Christ. If then Christ is in us, let our flesh be dead
by reason of sin, but let our spirit live by reason of justi-

Since Christ has made the sacrifice, we should not revert to carnal

ways: we should not "put on the clothing of the old man which we

have taken off" (p. 132). Put another way, "We have mortified the

members of our body; why do its vices sprout up again?" The soul

should remain "unconquered" by the body and outer nature, "so that it

may rend the body and divert itself of fleshly feelings" (p. 140).

The man who lives in the proper way is anyone who does not regard

"the inconveniences of the body or the adversities of the world." If

one loses health, or children, or falls into captivity, he should not

consider these "external advantages and bodily joys" of any importance.

He is not weak in regard to wrongs done to his own, nor anxious about


the burial of his body, for he knows that heaven is his due" (p. 142).

The just man will not regard ex+ernals. He will not regard sickness

and weakness as hindrances to good works, and he will see that anyone

who does regard bodily health as important is subjecting himself to

his body:

For such a man puts more value in the enjoyment of the body
than in the strength of the spirit; he desires these things
to which he is a slave, although he has the ability rather
to exercise control over them; he grows in poverty when he
has the power to be beyond worldly riches, for the man of
faith has a whole world of riches; he weeps over his lowly
status, when he ought to look down upon the powers of princes
and rule over the rich and powerful. (p. 143)

For Ambrose the concern for physical health is symptomatic of the

carnality of man in general, and he concludes the first book of the

Jacob by summarizing that if one would be happy he must look to his

soul and to heaven. If he is afflicted by physical infirmity, he

should not bother, but he should lay aside his body like a broken

harp: "Just so will such a man as we have here allow the harp that

is his body to lie unused. . He will sustain himself on God's words

and the prophetic writings and will hold that sweet and pleasant good

in his soul and embrace it in his mind" (p. 145).

Ambrose thus was aware of the metaphorical nature of the body-soul

conflict and could use it to clarify and simplify the complex nature

of human passions and free will. Augustine, as we have seen, realized

that scriptural writers were using "that mode of speech" in which the

part standsfor the whole. He Is able to interpret Paul's writings,

pointing out Paul's use of the body-soul metaphor, and he is able to

use the metaphor himself. In the Christian Combat, Augustine responds

to the question, "How do we overcome the Devil, since we do not see him?"


The answer is that Christ is our model in the subjugation of his own

flesh, according to Paul:

We have a Master who has deigned to show us how invisible
foes are conquered, for the Apostle said of Him: "Freeing
Himself of His body, He made an example of the principalities
and powers, confidently triumphing over them within Himself."
Consequently, when invisible and sinful desires are overcome,
we then overcome the unseen power of our enemy. Hence, by
overcoming within ourselves the inordinate love of things
temporal, we are necessarily, within ourselves, overcoming
him also who rules within men by these sinful desires.4

Paul's phrase, "Freeing Himself of His body," used as a model for man,

is interpreted as "overcoming within ourselves the inordinate love of

things temporal" by Augustine.

And Augustine is both able to see the metaphor being used by

Paul and ready to use it himself. Pointing now to the Apostle as a

model, who wrote, "I chastise my body and bring it into subjection,

lest perhaps after preaching to others I myself should be found

rejected,"46 Augustine first interprets the metaphor and then uses it


From this we are to understand that the Apostle himself
had won an interior victory over the powers of this world,
such as he had spoken of concerning the Lord, whom he
professes to imitate. Therefore, we also should imitate
him, as he exhorts us, and, if we would overcome the world,
we should chastise our body and bring it into subjection.

To see that the body-soul conflict was a valued metaphor for Augustine,

and that he used it readily, we need only to look at the Confessions,

where he uses it to chart his spiritual development, and in his sermons,

where it is a powerful rhetorical device.

In the Confessions, Augustine closely paraphrases Paul as he argues

that the Platonists are unaware of the turbulence of the moral struggle,

but not the biblical writers:

For though a man delight in the law of God after the inward
man, what shall he do with that other law in his members
which warreth against i-he law of his mind, and bringeth him
into captivity to the law of sin, which is in his members.47

Augustine remembers his own fight against the custom of his sins as he

began to move with a new will to worship God and to enjoy Him.

Augustine was tormented by the struggle of the two wills, "one old

and the other new, one carnal, the other spiritual."48 In the most

dramatic incident recalled in the Confessions, that moment when Augustine

finally achieved a feeling of certainty about his beliefs, Augustine

heard a child chanting, "Tolle, lege; tolle, lege," and he did take

up the Bible to read:

I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on
which my eyes first fell--"not in rioting and drunkenness,
not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying;
but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision
for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof." No further
would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence
ended--by a light, as it were of security infused into my
heart--all the gloom of doubt vanished away.49

Augustine thus chooses to describe the most precious of his theological

developments as a resolution to a conflict between his fleshly and

spiritual impulses.

But the conflict had a greater contribution to make than simply to

demonstrate a private struggle. Like other thinkers of the Middle

Ages who call on the body-soul conflict to explain the nature of moral

choice, Augustine puts it to repeated use in his sermons, where .it is

invoked to clarify the spiritual significance of the Incarnation and

fasting, of baptism, vigils, and circumcision. The motif had the virtue

of simplification as well as of drama, and Augustine uses it on major

occasions of the liturgical year, in sermons for Christmas, Lent and


In a sermon on the Feast of the Nativity, Augustine presents

the Incarnation of Christ as the redemption of a weaker flesh by a

purer one: "The likeness of our sinful flesh was born so that this

sinful flesh might be cleansed" (p. 5). Augustine congratulates the

youths who have chosen to become celibate monks, because they are re-

nouncing the flesh:

For you came into existence through carnal union; . .
and to you, whom He has called in a special way to
spiritual nuptials, He has granted the grace to scorn
earthly ones.

He similarly congratulates the holy virgins in that they may wed Christ

without defilement. And on becoming flesh, Christ did not lose his

immortality, "but gave immortality to this flesh" (p. 15), or to

sinful man.

In Sermon 193, also a Christmas sermon, Augustine presents the

Christian message in an elementary way. If one wishes to be with the

Lord in heaven, he must lead a good life:

Let him restrain his tongue from evil and his lips from
deceit; let him turn from evil and do good; let him thus
be a man of good will. Let him "seek after peace and
pursue it" . . (p. 36)

But he imagines that someone might protest that this kind of life is

very difficult to lead. Importantly, Augustine has the questioner

present his dilemma in terms of the conflict of the body and the soul;

and Augustine then resolves the issue with the same metaphor:

But, 0 man, if you say: "Behold, to wish is within my
power, but I do not find the strength to accomplish what
is good"; if [you] are delighted "with the law of God
according to the inner man," but [you] see "another law in
[your] members," hold fast to your good will and cry out
in the following words of the Apostle: "Unhappy man that
I an! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?
The grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord."


Augustine continues that if one has a good will he should ask for

divine help, God's grace, to fight against "the law of [one's] carnal

members." Throughout the Christmas sermons, Augustine's message is

that Christ in the Incarnation was the expression of God's love,

intended to aid men in their carnality:

He came in the flesh, intending to cleanse the vices of
the flesh. He came, clothed in healing human clay, to cure
our interior eyes which our outer earthly vesture had
blinded. . (p. 42)

The Lenten Season with its fasting was a time when sermons using

the conflict of the body and the soul were very suitable--or to put

it another way, the Lenten Season encouraged the physical privation

of Christians as a remembrance of Christ's suffering in the flesh to

redeem man--and Augustine stressed the symbolic importance of fasting:

An appropriately solemn sermon is your due so that the word
of God, brought to you through my ministry, may sustain
you in spirit while you fast in body and so that the inner
man, thus refreshed by suitable food, may be able to
accomplish and to persevere courageously in the disciplining
of the outer man. For, to my spirit of devotion, it seems
fitting that we, who are about to honor the Passion of our
crucified God in the very near future, should fashion for
ourselves a cross of the bodily pleasures in need of re-
straint, as the Apostle says: "And they who belong to
Christ have crucified their flesh with its passions and
desires.. 51

The body is to be chastised, but the significance extends beyond

fasting and abstinence from physical pleasures. What is called for

is an increasing detachment from the body, as the Christian moves

toward good works and love of God: If you have refrained from adultery,

now put aside lawful intercourse; if you have not been drunk, now fast:

You, who fast even on other days, increase your good works
on these days. You, who crucify your body by perpetual

continence on other days, throughout these days cleave to
your God by more frequent and more fervent prayer. (p. 85)

The disciplining of the body, in whatever degree, represents turning

back to God. Augustine is thus able to extend the metaphor of fasting

to non-physical matters: "Above all else, my brethren, fast from

strife and discord." When one calls to God, "That voice is certainly

not one of strife, but of charity; not of the flesh, but of the heart"

(p. 86).

Augustine in like fashion broadens the concept of fasting to the

ordering of the Christian life in Sermon 207. During Lent we should

imitate the cross of Christ, "fastening to it our passions subdued

by the nails of abstinence." Augustine implores us to control our

bodily desires even more than usual. Also, we should be merciful,

since there is a parallel between physical discipline and purity of


Let prayer be chaste, lest, perhaps, we crave not what
charity but what cupidity seeks; let us not call down
any evil upon our enemies; let us not rage passionately in
prayer against those whom we cannot harm by actual injury
or revenge. Surely, just as we are rendered fit for prayer
by almsdeeds and fasting, so our prayer itself gives alms
when it is directed and poured forth not only for friends,
but for enemies as well and when it refrains from anger,
hatred, and harmful vices. (p. 91)

Fasting thus extends to abstinence from vice. Augustine concludes with

a dramatic contrast based on the metaphor of the body, in which he

urges us to discipline our prayer: "Let it always fast from hatred

and feast upon love."

In discussing Matthew 3, 16-4, 2, Augustine answers the question

as to why Christ fasted after, rather than before, he was baptized.

The series of events were that Christ was baptized, came up from the


water, was addressed as the Son of God by a voice from heaven, and

then went into the desert where He fasted and was tempted by the Devil.

The reason that fasting followed Christ's baptism was that it had

nothing to do with the baptism, but with the coming temptation, as

the model of how to overcome temptation:

Therefore, men must fast when a similar struggle with
temptation occurs. . so that the body may discharge its
military service by its discipline and the soul may gain a
victory by its humiliation. (p. 99)

By fasting aright we direct our souls to God:

Everyone who fasts with right dispositions either in a
spirit of sincere faith humbles his soul in prayerful
lamentation and in corporal penance, or directs his in-
tention, raised above carnal enticement by a holy, spiritual
delight in truth and wisdom, to the endurance of hunger and

Physical fasting, Augustine points out, offers "feasts to the mind" and

can be understood as rejecting the old cloth and the old wineskins of

Matthew 9, 15-16.

In a sermon delivered to a congregation being prepared for baptism,

Augustine applies the metaphorical use of the flesh to underscore the

spiritual transformation which the newly baptized will be undergoing.

He makes a spirited argument for leaving the carnal ways and the world

behind. Like the man conquering his carnal desires and being jubilant,52

these beginners in the faith will come to a similar joy "when you cast

aside the delight of the world." He urges his listeners to prepare for

Christ by renouncing their former carnal life:

Strip yourself of the old man that you may be clothed with
the new. The Lord is entering upon an agreement with you.
You have lived for the world; you have given yourselves to
flesh and blood; you have borne the likeness of an earthly
man. As, therefore, you have borne the likeness of one
who is of the earth, so now, in addition, bear the image
of Him who is from heaven. Because the Word was made flesh,


my speech is that of a man, namely, that as you presented
your bodies to sin as the instrument of iniquity, so now
you may present your members to God as instruments of
justice. (pp. 151-52)

The metaphor of the body as the source of sin is modified to show that

the body executes the sin as well. He assures his audience that Satan

will not hurt them "if he does not possess your members" (p. 152). If

the Christians want to win the prize of immortal life, they must follow

the example of the boxers in the vigor of their battle:

If you wish so to fight that you do not beat the air in
vain but so as to strike your opponent manfully, then
chastise your body and bring it into subjection that,
abstaining from all things and contending lawfully, you may
in triumph share the heavenly prize and the incorruptible
crown. (p. 155)

In this life they should "put to death their members here upon earth,"

the members defined as "immorality, uncleanness, lust, evil desire,

and covetousness," and become themselves participants in the life and

body of Christ.

For the vigil before Easter, Augustine again uses the body to

suggest man's weakness and difficulty in coming to God, as he discusses

the reason for vigils in general. Being awake is a reminder that in

heaven we will be alive and awake forever, just as sleep signifies

death. In this life, and in this body, "which is corruptible and a

load upon the soul," we must sleep to restore our health. However, by

watching we resist the body and show our desire for heavenly life:

And, in this way, [i.e., by maintaining vigils] each one
keeps watch chastely, innocently, and assiduously, medi-
tating undoubtedly on the life of the angels--for, in so
far as the weakness of the body is an earthly burden,
heavenly desires are frustrated--and striving against this
death-bringing mass by longer vigil so that he may gain
merit for eternal life.

The fight against sleep is a fight against the needs of the body, and

in this conflict we illustrate our desire to turn to God.

In a sermon for Easter Sunday (pp. 203ff.) Augustine presents

in the simplest way the central truths of the fast on this most holy

day. He discusses Christ's sacrifice and what men must do in response

to it, and he frequently uses the flesh-spirit conflict to illustrate

his sermon. After the Fall, every man has been born "subject to these

laws of the lower world," i.e., of death, fatigue, wretchedness

(pp. 204-05), except Christ, who was conceived without concupiscence

and lived without sin and was crucified for our sin, "so that on the

cross He might show the destruction of our old man"; and His resurrection

showed us a new life.

To symbolize this fact, circumcision was imposed upon the
ancients, so that on the eighth day every male child was
circumcised. The circumcision was performed with stone knives
because Christ was the Rock. That circumcision typified the
stripping off of the carnal life on the eighth day through the
Resurrection of Christ. (p. 205)

Christ was in the tomb on the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week,

and "He arose on the eighth day; and His resurrection renews us.

Therefore, by rising on the eighth day He circumcises us."

Now what is the new life like after the carnal life has been

cut away? Augustine says generally that we should look to Christ

rather than to the world (p. 206). As "sons of God" rather than as

"sons of men," we should not seek happiness as "a robber, a scoundrel,

a fornicator, an evil-doer, a law-breaker, a person stained with all

vices, steeped in all crimes or outrages." We should not seek happiness

in gold and worldly pride. All these ways of life suggest the old man,

the carnal life that Christ has redeemed us from. Christ knew physical


pain and suffering:

He was hungry and thirsty; He was weary and He slept; He
worked wonders and He suffered evils; He was scourged, crowned
with thorns, covered with spittle, beaten with cudgels, fixed
to a cross, wounded with a lance, placed in a tomb. (p. 208)

We should therefore look to Christ for happiness, and renounce our

former, carnal ways:

Now, therefore, while we are living in this corruptible
flesh, by changing our ways, let us die with Christ. (p. 209)

Augustine's message for Easter thus is organized around the concept of

the Incarnation as the divine response to man's fleshly ways. By

turning to one who suffered in the flesh to redeem us from the flesh,

and whose resurrection symbolizes his cutting away of our carnality,

we can be happy.

In Ambrose and Augustine, two patristic writers aware of the

metaphorical nature of the conflict between the body and the soul in

Scripture, we have seen the conflict clarify and simplify complex

matters of morality, chart a personal spiritual development, and

function as an effective rhetorical device. I will conclude the

section on medieval writers who use the conflict to illustrate the

moral struggle by looking at Bonaventure's Breviloquium because it

points to the continuity of the tradition in the thirteenth century

and because it is--among many--an authoritative, late, and basic

statement of the tradition. In the Breviloquium, Bonaventure's

analysis of the soul, the body, the composite man, and the nature and

process of sin is worthy of some attention as a fairly complete and

systematic discussion of the relationship between the body and the soul;

and it testifies to the health of the body-soul explanation of the

moral struggle in the late Middle Ages. Bonaventure first describes

the soul and the body and explains that the composite man perceives

the inner and outer world. The first parents made the wrong choice

when they chose to look at the exterior world related by the flesh

rather than the interior world of reason. As a result of the first

sin, man has a weak and rebellious body, and he, like the first parents,

faces a choice between sensual instinct and right reason. The flesh

is capable of causing venial sins independently, and it can lead to

mortal sins through the enjoyment of the sense data by the soul.

For Bonaventure the soul has being, life, intelligence, and

freedom.53 It is indissoluble, immortal, and separable from the body;

and it is not only the form of the body, but also an individual

substance, operating both as the "perfection" and as the "mover" of

the body (p. 95). It has a vegetative function in its capacity for

generation, nutrition, and growth. In its sensitive function it

perceives through the senses, retains through the.memory, and collates

the data through that imagination (that is, it finds the common

sensibles). In the intellective capacity, it "discerns truth through

reason, rejects evil through the irascible appetite, and desires good

through the concupiscible appetite." The rational faculty is thus

cognitive, in that it finds truth; but it is also effective, in its

desiring and rejecting (p. 96). The cognitive power, the intellect

and reason, is divided into a "speculative and practical intellect

and also a higher and lower reason."

The body was created from the dust of the ground and in Paradise

was obedient to the soul, destined to reproduce without lust, and to

be free of decay and death. In the creation of man, God showed his

power by making him of opposite substances:

That His Power might thus be revealed in man, God made him
out of two completely opposing principles, combined in a
single person or nature. These are the body and the soul,
the former being a material substance, the latter a spiritual
and immaterial one. Within the genus "substance" these two
stand farthest apart.

The tension between the substances which constitute the body and the

soul, and the fact that God could mold them into a single being, is

proof of his omnipotence. The body reflects the soul's ascending

capacity and its uprightness by standing erect.

The body was also subject to the soul:

Thus, He made for the rational soul a body so completely
obedient that it was free from all actual hostility or
rebellion, all propensity to lust, all enfeeblement, all
mortal dissolution.

The soul wa.s innocent, and the body impassible, but both would be

subject to change (p. 99). The body was sustained by the Tree of

Life; and it relied as well on the "influencing principle" of the

soul, on its own good construction, and on God's governance.

The composite man has two ways of perceiving, within and without,

"of the mind and of the flesh," suited to the inner and exterior books:

Accordingly, there are two books, one written within, and
that is inscribed by God's eternal Art and Wisdom; the other
written without, and that is the perceptible world. (p. 101)

To these books, of God's Wisdom and physical reality, correspond three

orders of beings:

Now, there existed a creature, the angel, whose inner per-
ception was fitted to the understanding of the inner book.
There existed another, the brute animal, whose perception
was entirely external. To complete creation it was suitable
that there should be made yet another creature whose two-
fold perception would be fitted to the understanding of
both the inner and the outer books: that of Wisdom, and of
its work. (pp. 101-02)

To the faculties of perception correspond motions. Man can be moved

either by reason or sensual instinct, by the mind or by the flesh.

As long as the mind is in control, there is order: "otherwise the

natural order is subverted and the soul falls from its position of

authority" (p. 102). Since man was created from nothing he was by

nature weak and subject to fall. But God did give him right conscience,

synteresis, and actual and sanctifying grace.54

When the first parents sinned, they looked at the wrong book:

their epistemological priorities were upside down:

Now, the woman, hearing in the external way the serpent's
suggestion, failed to read the internal book that was open
and quite legible to the right judgment of reason. (p. 115)

She looked to the "perishable good" rather than to the "infallible

truth." In listening to the serpent and in consenting, the corruption

went from the senses to the will and then back to the senses:

Temptation began at the bottom and attained the top: it be-
gan with hearing, passed through desire, and attained consent.
Conversely, disorder began at the top and went down to the

After the woman sinned, she brought the man to sin, and he also looked

to the exterior world: "He, too, turned to the external book and to

perishable good." Both, in turning to the external book stepped down

to the level of the merely sensitive souls.

The first parents sinned in mind and body. They had acted through

"spiritual pride and physical gluttony." It was just that as they had

been disobedient to God, their flesh should be disobedient to them,

"particularly the organs intended for generative function." A further

punishment of the body was work, hunger, and thirst:

Again, because the man had spurned the supreme Delight to


seek pleasure in his body, by a just judgment of God he
was afflicted with hard work and with hunger and thirst.

Similarly, because the soul had turned to "material satisfaction,"

the soul was sentenced to be separated from its body at the time of

the body's death, when the body would return to dust. A just reversal

was the sentence:

In the order of nature, God had given to man a body which
should obey the soul, procreate without lust, grow without
defect, and remain free from the corruption of death. (p. 119)

Now, the opposite conditions will prevail--the body will be a victim

of "pain, imperfection, labor, disease, and affliction" (p. 120).

And the soul will be plagued by "weakness, ignorance, malice, and

concupiscence." Man lost "the beatific glory in both his body and

his soul."

Bonaventure toys with a consideration of what would have happened

if Adam had not sinned. The answer is that Adam's descendants would

have had souls united to obedient bodies--"to flesh both immortal and

obedient." But the question is moot:

But Adam did sin; his flesh did reject the authority of
his soul. (p. 124)

Consequently we have rebellious bodies, and we have difficulty con-

.trolling our "lower impulses."

As soul and body are one being, the soul must, then, lead
the body, or be dragged along by it. Because it cannot
lead rebellious flesh, it must be led, incurring the disease
of concupiscence.

It is this lust, the physical passion, which is original sin (pp. 124-25).

Bonaventure discusses the difference between venial and mortal

sins in Book III of the Breviloquium, and he notes that there is

''suggestion, anticipated satisfaction, consent, and action," in the

process of sin (p. 128). He quotes James I, 14-15, "But every man

is tempted by his own concupiscence, being drawn away and allured. Then

when concupiscence hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin. But sin,

when it is completed, begetteth death," and argues that if consent and

action are absent, the sin is only venial. An intermediate case is

when the will consents to enjoy what the senses have suggested, as

in sins of the flesh, but does not will the action. The sin in this

case 'is still mortal, because, though the woman alone eats, the

whole man deserves condemnation" (p. 129). The analogy to Adam and

Eve is that the masculine part of man is rational, the feminine part

sensual, and that "the senses must be subject to reason as Eve was

subject to Adam."56 Mortal sin is a destruction of the order of

justice, and venial sin is a disturbance of the order of justice, which

demands, among other things,57 that right reason be preferred to


The flesh is of course "full of desires," but as long as one does

not prefer the flesh to right reason, the sin is only venial. It is only

when the reason itself consents to prefer sensual pleasure to right

reason that there is mortal sin. Bonaventure notes that the senses

were manageable in Paradise, but that now they are turbulent:

In the state of innocence, the senses were moved by reason
alone. If man had stood firm, there could have been no
venial sin. But now the senses wrestle with reason, whether
we like it or not, and inevitably we do commit some venial
sins through the reactions of impulse. It would be possible
to keep any one of them under control, but not all of them
together, for they are not only sins but also penalties of

The venial sins are not transformed into mortal sins unless the reason

either commits or consents to enjoy the sin. In sensual delight, when


reason submits to sensuality, "then the feminine principle is bowing

to the serpent"; the lower part of the reason "obeys the call of the

senses." In this case, both parts of reason are culpable, because the

man "should have restrained her and prevented her from obeying the

serpent" (p. 130). Every sin is thus a pattern of the primal sin.

The Breviloquium is a convenient digest of attitudes toward the

conflict between the body and the soul in the Middle Ages. Bonaventure

does not mention that he is writing with a "mode of speech" or that

he is continuing a scriptural tradition, but the body-soul conflict

in the Breviloquium is used to explain man's moral condition in the

simplest terms. Man was made of antithetical substances, he could

have had a flesh which would have been a faithful and obedient

servant; but, because the first parents looked to the book of nature,

to data supplied by their senses, man lost his peaceful condition.

Now he is punished by a rebellious flesh which has become hostile to the

soul, and which relays temptation as well as information about the

world to the soul.

We have seen so far in this chapter that in the Middle Ages an

epistemology in which sense data was both subordinate and threatening

to the truth within man's soul and a scriptural use of flesh to

represent man apart from God contributed to a metaphor of conflict

between the body and the soul as a simplification of the moral struggle.

We have also seen that prominent church figures from the early and late

Middle Ages used the conflict to explain the process of sin and the

choices that man has. As we will see in the next two chapters,

traditions of images expressing the body-soul relationship existed in the

Latin and Middle English religious literature and can be found in the

Debate Between the Body and the Soul, enriching the drama present in

the poem. But as will be clear from an examination of the stanzaic

Morte Arthur in the last chapter, the body-soul conflict and its

imagery had an effect pervasive enough to be found in secular litera-

ture where one would not expect it. The conflict constituted a major

way in which medieval thinkers understood their moral conditions, and

it was a conflict which they incorporated in their fiction.

In asserting that the body-soul conflict with its images left

its trace in literature, one raises some questions about the presence

of multiple meanings in secular literature. How are we justified in argu-

ing for meanings which lie concealed in the narrative of a tale? What

conventions in the interpretation of literature prevailed in the Middle

Ages which would make an author expect his readers to look beyond the

simple narrative of his fiction? The discovery of religious meaning

in medieval secular literature is a topic which has been energetically

discussed for the last twenty years,58 and from the research has come

the conclusion that allegorical interpretation of scripture became

an established practice in the early Middle Ages and was given wide

use throughout the period. The study of biblical exegesis in the

Middle Ages is an enormous topic, outside the range of the present

study;59 but biblical exegesis unquestionably bears on the study of

literature in the Middle Ages. The point of disagreement among scholars

has been the extent to which the methods of biblical exegesis are

appropriate to the interpretation of literary texts. I would like to

review some of the studies which describe the medieval allegorical

reading of Scripture, the propriety of applying such an approach to

secular literature, and some objections to the approach. We will find

that the best criterion for identifying religious meanings, other than

that of contextual probability, is the presence of a tradition which

a poet could draw on. And in the chapter following, we will see that

the conflict between the body and the soul had a tradition of imagery

widely known and used by writers in the Middle Ages.

The Middle Ages had access to innumerable authoritative statements

justifying the figurative interpretation of Scripture. Citing the

"Littera enim occidit, Spiritus autem vivificat"60 of Paul, Augustine

in the De Doctrina Christiana says that there is something slavish

about pursuing the literal level of interpretation and not rising to

a spiritual understanding:

There is a miserable servitude of the spirit in this habit
of taking signs for things, so that one is not able to
raise the eye of the mind above things that are corporal
and created to drink in eternal light.61

In approaching Scripture the rule to follow in deciding whether to

use a literal or figurative interpretation is the presence or absence

of charity and Christian truth: "Whatever appears in the divine Word

that does not literally pertain to virtuous behavior or to the truth

of the faith you must take to be figurative."

Augustine's formulation is not idiosyncratic. He is working in

the same tradition as Origen before him, who found the three levels

of literal, moral, and spiritual meanings in biblical texts,62 and

Eucher of Lyons after him, who wrote:

The body of Sacred Scripture, as it is handed down, is in
the letter; its soul is in the moral sense, which is called

tropicus; its spirit is in the higher understanding, which
is called anagogic.63

A fourfold scheme of biblical interpretation was advanced by Gregory

in his Homilies on Ezechiel:

The words of Holy Scripture are square stones, for they
can stand on all sides, because on no sides are there
rough spots. For in every past event that they narrate,
in every future event that they foretell, in every moral
saying that they speak, and in every spiritual sense
they stand, as it were on a different side, because they
have no roughness.64

All three agree that the discovery of spiritual meaning is an essential

step in fully understanding Scripture. And there were many other

spokesmen for figurative interpretation of Scripture. T. A. Collins

has shown that Clement of Alexandria believed "that it was the very

nature of higher truths that they should be communicated only through

symbols,"65 and that Didymus the Blind wrote that Scripture had

literal and spiritual meanings. In addition, there were countless

writers who used the allegorical method without formulating a theoreti-

cal foundation.

The spiritual interpretation of scriptural texts continues through-

out the Middle Ages. Dante refers to the four levels in his Letter

to Can Grande as first literal and secondly as allegorical, moral, or

anagogical;66 and in II Convivio he divides the four senses and

discusses each.67 The significant difference between Dante's scheme

and those of the writers cited earlier is that Dante uses at least

the allegorical level to analyze non-Christian texts:

The second [meaning] is called allegorical, and this is
the meaning hidden under the cloak of fables, truth con-
cealed beneath a fair fiction--as when Ovid, saying that
Orpheus with his lute tamed wild beasts and moved trees
and rocks, means that the wise man, with the instrument
of his voice, softens and humbles cruel hearts.


Between the patristic period and Dante, writers had broadened the use

of biblical exegesis and applied it to non-scriptural contexts.

John Chydenius has plotted this development,68 pointing to Augustine's

concept of vestigia trinitatis in the world of nature as a Christian

Neo-Platonist's presentation of universal symbolism. Chydenius finds

similar formulations in Pseudo-Dionysius, Eriugena, Hugh of St. Victor

("Omnis natural Deum loquitur"69) and Alan of Lille:

Omnis mundi creature
quasi liber et picture
nobis est et speculum.70

Chenu has noted that Hugh of St. Victor also wrote, "The entire

sense-perceptible world is like a sort of book written by the finger

of God."71

With the awareness that all of nature can be read like Scripture,

it is not surprising to see Dante reading pagan literature the same

way. Erich Auerbach has shown that biblical narrative itself was

written in a style which demanded an imaginative reading--a style in

which "everything is not externalized and made specific as it is in

Homer, or Tacitus, . a complex of meaning is not stated but lies

in the background."72 Auerbach believes that this kind of narrative

is indicative of a way of thinking which the Middle Ages inherited:

In this conception, an occurrence on earth signifies not
only itself but at the same time another, which it predicts
or confirms, without prejudice to the immediate reality
here and now.73

What Chenu has written of the twelfth century could in many ways apply

to the whole medieval period:

Masters in the schools, mystics, exegetes, students of
nature, seculars, religious, writers, and artists--these
men of the twelfth century had in common with all other
men of the Middle Ages the conviction that all natural or


historical reality possessed a signification which trans-
scended its crude reality and which a certain symbolic
dimension of that reality would reveal to man's mind.74

The faculty for symbolic interpretation of non-scriptural literature

can be seen when Boccaccio, able to see the different levels of

Christian meaning in the Divine Comedy, referred to Dante as a

Christian poet, who was "not a maker of myths, but rather a Catholic

and divine theologian."75

In spite of the prevalence of allegorical exegesis in medieval

religious literature, and statements suggesting the interpretation of

secular texts the same way, there has been much modern disagreement

about the propriety of using the method of biblical exegesis to

interpret secular literature of the Middle Ages. E. Talbot Donaldson,

for example, says that while he does not know "of any valid theoretical

objection to patristic criticism," he does object to violating the

probability that such a reading was intended by a medieval author:

I do. . object to a procedure which substitutes for
the art of the poet the learning or good intentions of
the reader.76

Donaldson's argument is that the work itself should make it clear that

the poet intended a spiritual reading of his text. R. E. Kaske's

response is agreement, but he turns the argument around to say that

when enough parallels exist between a figure in a literary piece and

a figure in exegetical interpretation, we have to admit that the poet

intended us to find religious overtones:

The normal discipline of scholarly argument, of course,
demands that exegetical interpretation of an individual
figure or allusion be supported by well-documented parallels
from the exegetical literature itself. More extended exe-
getical allusion in a given work must be supported by an
accumulation of parallels large enough or by a pattern com-
plex enough, that to consider it accidental would outrage


probability. But if this is so, the same scholarly discipline
seems to dictate that the only conclusive evidence for the
absence of exegetical allusion in a work. . will be a
demonstrable absence of such parallels.77

And Alvin Lee, applying Northrup Frye's interpretive scheme to medieval

literature, also argues for contextual probability:

The evidence as to what is good commentary is the structure
of images in the text itself.78

The best test of a poet's intentions, including whether or not religious

meanings are there to be found, is the text itself.

But the contextual test is not infallible. What might "outrage

probability" for one reader might not for another. Some modern

readers are clearly more easily convinced of allegorical meanings

than others. In his review of The Meaning of Courtly Love, a collection

of essays from a conference at Albany, Charles Muscatine objects to

D. W. Robertson's dismissal of courtly love as mere idolatrous love

and suggests a topic for a future conference: "What are the cultural

bases for a puritan revaluation of medieval culture in the middle of

the twentieth century?"79 Muscatine is, of course, mocking; but he

raises a serious question: Who is the best judge of appropriate

categories to discuss medieval literature--a theologian or a man of

letters? Should we turn, he asks, to Bradwardine or Chaucer for

"evidence of medieval sensibility?" I am not sure that we have to

choose one or the other, but in any event we should examine more

objections of those who are uneasy about the search for multiple

meanings in medieval literature, especially late medieval literature.

Six objections are outlined by Morton Bloomfield in his "Symbolism in

Medieval Literature," which appeared in Modern Philology,80 and I

would like to examine them, because they summarize the major objections

to the exegetical method.

Bloomfield's first observation is really a concession, that

all literature with meaning is symbolic: "A literary work of any sort

and of any period always has some symbolic meaning." Accordingly,

". . all literature has a nucleus and a cortex and conveys sententia."

His second objection is that the growing interest in literal inter-

pretation in the late Middle Ages made allegorical interpretation


The emphasis on the symbolic as opposed to the literal
approach to the Bible is not characteristic of the later
Middle Ages, except perhaps in sermons, which are very
conservative and must, of necessity, stress the moral. (76)

The decline of interest in the spiritual interpretation corresponds

to "the rise of the great vernacular literatures."

The third reason not to expect three or four levels of meaning

in medieval literature is that this method was not even applied

"mechanically or completely" in biblical studies. What seems likely

is that the defenders of secular literature were against the wall and

had to prove utilitas for the literature they loved (78).

Fourth, those who would see more than one meaning do not make a dis-

tinction which would be natural to the Middle Ages--the difference

between words inspired by God and those written by ordinary men (77).

Only one patristic author seems to have found levels of meaning in

nonreligious literature.81

Bloomfield's fifth point, and the one he considers of first

importance, is the absence of a check on the interpretations:

The multileveled system of symbolism provides no criterion
of corrigibility except, as in the case of biblical


exegesis, tradition. There is no way, seeing the wide
variety of symbolic interpretations of the same thing, to
correct any particular interpretation. At the most, one
might say a certain interpretation is not right, but of many
alternate explanations there is no way of deciding which one
is correct, for supporting texts from the wide variety of
medieval and patristic theology can be found for each one. (80)

Allied to the fifth point is the sixth: the exegetical method is

oversimple, imposing "a non-historical order and system on what was

in fact disordered and unsystematic" (81).

These six reasons for distrusting the discovery of multiple

meanings in secular literature of the Middle Ages must be met if one

sees Christian meanings in medieval nonreligious literature and wants

to understand their presence and function. And it is no small con-

cession for Bloomfield to admit that "meaning is at least partially

symbolic" (74). At the same time we should also concede that the

multiple method was not consistently applied to Scripture and that

hardly any Church figure said anything about applying it to secular

literature, although, as we shall see, authors did turn to secular

literature for Christian meanings. D. W. Robertson reminds us of the

commentaries on classical works, such as Fulgentius' commentary on the

Aeneid, the twelfth century commentary on Ovid by Arnulf of Orleans,

and the fourteenth century Fulgentius Metaforalis by John Ridewal.82

We are left with three of Bloomfield's objections to the use of

the exegetical method as an interpretive device for medieval literature.

The later Middle Ages used the symbolic mode primarily in its sermons

rather than in more learned writings, organized use of the symbolic

method in interpretation imposes order on an unsystematic process, and

there is no way to check interpretations except by tradition. The first

argument can simply be inverted. The later Middle Ages inherited and

made widely known in the vernacular languages through its preachers

the exegetical methods of the Latin tradition:

It is out of this tradition, containing as it did an
elaborated exegesis, a developed understanding of the
auctores., and a critical language not perfectly univocal,
that the fourteenth century developed an unmistakably
spiritual understanding of fiction. This understanding
came into being as a byproduct of the work of the preachers,
especially the friars. . The spiritual sense of fiction
is a natural and almost inevitable result of the growing
importance and popularity of preaching and of the attendant
pressures to produce attractive and effective material for

Rather than saying that the literal became more popular among biblical

commentators, we should say that the tropological simply became popular.

It was during this time that the spiritual meaning was given its

broadest exercise.

Bloomfield's objection that "the use of the symbolic method in

medieval literature is essentially simplistic. It imposes a non-

historical order and system on what was in fact disordered and unsys-

tematic" seems at first quite accurate. Consider the complex situation

suggested by Hupp6 and Robertson:

By the time of Chaucer and Boccaccio the common fund of
scriptural imagery had been expanded in various ways. The
book of God's creation was read in exactly the same way as
the book of God's Word, so that values on the level of
sentence were given to animals birds, fish, trees, and
stones not found in the Bible.84

In addition, several meanings might be applied to the same item, creating

for Bloomfield a baffling conflict: "With sixteen meanings for the

peacock, who is to decide between them?" (81). Augustine noted

that the lion could stand for Christ and for the Devil,85 and Chenu

has observed, "The most constant and not least disconcerting

characteristic of the symbol was its polysemousness."86 Different

commentators interpreted the breasts of the Spouse in the Song of

Songs as "chastity and humility; they were the arms of love with

which the Virgin held Christ, God and man; they were flesh and spirit;

they were carnal sin and the sophistries of concupiscence."

When one turns to secular literature with such an arsenal of

possible interpretations, as preachers in the late Middle Ages did,

the effect is an interpretive carte blanche. The interpreter can

develop any aspect of a work that he wants to, and we, six centuries

later, can only be amazed at the richness of the possible levels of

meaning. In the Pardoner's Tale, for example,

the old man may be a figure of Death, or the Old Adam, but
he does not have to be literally more than a mysterious old
man who is tired of life. . The spiritual exegete needs
only a single vivid connection with the language of spiritual
reference to begin his interpretation of a secular story in
spiritual terms. Here are connections in plenty, asking
to be developed. The old man is the vetus homo, the wander-
ing Jew, Death himself. The boy is novus homo, the child
of Holy Mother Church. The tree is the tree of the knowledge
of good and evil, the tree of Death--at the same time it
may be the cross, because it is under this tree that the old
man left death, "by my fey."87

The method of spiritual exegesis is indeed complex, as Bloomfield

argues. But it is hardly being oversimplified when one says that it

allows a reading of secular literature in which any likely connection

between a fact in the narrative and a spiritual fact can be made.

Rather than being realized in rigid three- and four-fold schemes of

meanings, the method allows very diverse interpretations.

It is this variety of possible interpretations which bothers

Bloomfield the most--there is "no criterion of corrigibility except. .

tradition." One cannot correct a reading except by showing what is


palpably false. This criticism misses the point of the symbolic

approach--the method functions best when it is uncovering all the

possible spiritual meanings, because an imaginative reading in search

of such meanings is what the literature would have received in the

late Middle Ages. The aim of the historical scholar, then, should be

to uncover as many possible interpretations of a piece of literature

as he can and as he can justify on the basis of contextual probability.

We progress in understanding new depths in literature when likely

patterns are discovered. For example, by approaching the York Creation

of Adam and Eve with an understanding of typology, Louis Leiter has

discovered Adam as a figure of Christ "giving shape, resonance, and

significance" to the basic story.88 We are reminded of Christ

throughout the play as a result of "Adamic typology" which "fore-

shadows similarities and dissimilarities between the first man and

Christ, between birth from earth and birth from heaven through flesh."89

Similarly, V. A. Kolve has shown that the Corpus Christi plays not

only dramatize biblical facts, but that they can also refer to two

or more facts simultaneously. Abel is literally the son of Adam and

Eve and the murderer of his brother. But he is also a figure of

Christ, and Cain is "a figure of Christians who cheat the Church of

its firstfruits or tithes."90 In Noah and the Flood "the figural pos-

sibilities are too rich to be confined to a single interpretation."91

The flood is like the second coming of Christ, and the Ark is the


As for Bloomfield's contention that only tradition can decide

what meanings can be found in the literature, we must agree. Only

elements which are attested in [he body of literature and art preceding

and contemporary with the literature under discussion should be

brought to bear on it. Saul Brody has worked with one such tradition

and has found that lepers in the Middle Ages were considered morally

as well as physically diseased:

The medieval poets inherited an ancient and pervasive tradi-
tion that branded the leper as a pariah. It accused him of
being immoral, separated him from society, took him as a
figure of sin, feared him for the disease he spread and
for the terror he inspired.93

The leper was shunned as a result of a double taboo--he was feared for

his disease and condemned for the evil he symbolized. While dis-

agreeing on details, perhaps, Christian commentators traditionally made

the association between leprosy and sin: "They all agreed that leprosy

signifies denial of divine law." Thus, when we look at Henryson's

Cresseid, we know that the author has made her leprous to symbolize her


But to appreciate the usefulness of tradition even more, let us

take the leper and place him in a larger context. In Bruegel's painting,

The Battle Between Carnival and Lent, now in the Vienna Kunsthistorisches

Museum,94 we find lepers as simply one type in an extremely complex scene

of people engaged in many symbolic activities.95 In the foreground are

two figures engaged in a mock joust--to the left an obese man riding a

wine cask and flourishing a spit for a lance and to the right an emaciated

combatant proffering two fish at the end of a baker's pole. The lepers

are in the train of Carnival, as are another obese and lavishly dressed

man and his furred wife, the man playing a stringed instrument, various

gamers, musicians, and purveyors of food. In Lent's train are nuns


emerging from a church, as well as the sober images of a mother begging

for her sick child and of a triple amputee. A woman pulls a cart of

soil (in which a corpse once lay, but which was later painted out96)

toward Lentis followers.

There are several other curious activities in the scene. A woman

is drinking water from a well in the center of the painting, a pig is

eating behind the well, and two couples are playing catch with pots,

one of which lies in fragments on the ground. People all around the

square observe the scene from the windows of houses and an inn or

pub (the sign is of a boat on water); one woman is on a ladder, cleaning

a window; and there are various fires and firebrands in the scene. The

activities are so lively and diverse that one is in danger of overlook-

ing the symbols, as the critic does who says that the "houses are

being spring-cleaned."97

We know from Brody's study that the lepers would have a moral

taint about them to a sixteenth-century viewer of the painting. The

lepers are in the train of Carnival, whose obesity is directly con-

trasted to the thinness of the figure of Lent. Moreover, the stark

contrast between the attitudes reflected by the figures in the two

trains hints to us that Bruegel does not intend the description

solely as a study of the antics at a festival. This much could hardly

occur in a single plaza, and the scene is too stylized to be simply

photographic. We are urged to look beyond the superficial liveliness

to another function for the various figures in the scene.

So far, however, we are equipped only to see a very general con-

flict between fleshly and spiritual impulses in the scene. On the left

fleshliness, with obesity and eating, and on the right want and

spirituality and the Church. In order to see how the scene is filled

out with images of the body-soul conflict, that Bruegel knew the con-

ventional images of the body-soul conflict, we must, as Bloomfield

insists, investigate the traditions which the artist could draw on.

While I am not primarily concerned with Bruegel's artistry, the images

which I will present in the next chapter should reveal that one aspect

of the painting is the systematic presentation of several body-soul

Images.98 The images of the body-soul relationship in Latin and Middle

English religious literature should also reveal what traditional images

were available for poets of the fourteenth century in England and

should allow a richer reading of the Debate Between the Body and the

Soul and the stanzaic Morte Arthur.

We have seen that the conflict between the body and the soul, aided

by the dominant epistemology of the age and the biblical use of flesh,

was employed by medieval writers to abbreviate the moral struggle.

We have also seen that while there were statements explaining the

methods of biblical exegesis, and while scriptural exegesis was

practiced throughout the Middle Ages, and while exegetes did turn to

secular literature for spiritual meanings, modern scholars do not agree

on the extent to which religious meaning should be seen in secular

literature of the Middle Ages. Two criteria for the presence of

religious meanings are contextual probability and tradition. In the

next two chapters we will see that the conflict between the body and

the soul had a series of traditional images which accompanied it and

which remained fairly constant throughout the period.



I. Medieval Cultural Tradition in Dante's Comedy (New York, 1968),
p. 14.

2. Ibid., pp. 56-57.

3. Among the things that we do not know about Paul's thought is whether
the pneuma, or spirit, which Paul sees in man as well as body and
soul, is something only a Christian can have or whether it is found
in all men. William Barclay, Flesh and Spirit (Nashville, 1962),
p. 14, points out the problem and believes that the spirit is "the
Holy Spirit taking up residence in the man."

4. Because it is closest to the text used in the Middle Ages, the
translation of the Bible which I will use throughout is the Douai-
Rheims version of the Latin Vulgate.

5. There are, of course, many other passages in the Bible and in classi-
cal antiquity in which the flesh and spirit are opposed. See
J. A. T. Robinson, The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology (London,
1952), pp. 11-33. Important passages from Greek and Roman thought
are outlined by Barclay, pp. 10-12: the Orphic tag of soma sema,
the body in a tomb; Plato, Phaedrus, 246B, where the soul is the
charioteer with the horses of reason and passion, and Phaedo 64A-68C,
where Socrates, preparing for death, points to the handicaps imposed
on the soul by the body; Seneca, Letters, 92, 110, where the soul
is said to be imprisoned in a "detestable habitation"; Virgil,
Aeneid, 6, 730-54, where the soul is "clogged by noxious bodies,
blunted by earth-born limbs and dying members. . shut up in the
darkness and in a gloomy prison house" (trans. Barclay, p. 12). A
writer linking Greek and Judaic thought is Philo, who writes in
The Wisdom of Solomon 9, 15, that "the chief cause of ignorance is
the flesh and association with the flesh" (trans. Barclay, p. II).
Cf. De Gigantibus, 7; De Migratione, 2; and De Agricultura, 5.

6. D. W. Robertson, Jr., in his Preface to Chaucer (Princeton, 1962),
finds in the modern inability to see an inner harmony in all things
the basis for seeing discord where there should be none (p. 31).
While Robertson would no doubt see the willful disturbance of the
divine and natural order as "conflict," he objects to modern
criticism which opposes flesh and spirit, which he sees related as
inferior to superior. A disruption of the relationship between
them is not a conflict between "two mighty opposites" but a re-
bellion (pp. 22-23). He states that the men of the Middle Ages
had not made a "dramatic opposition between the spirit on the one
hand and the flesh on the other" (p. 22). On the contrary, "The
spiritual and the fleshly could be placed side by side without
clashing and without producing any .'tension'" (p. 195).

The overall harmony in the view suggested by Robertson has been
challenged by D. R. Howard (in The Three Temptations: Medieval Man
in Search of the World (Princeton, 1966), pp. 76-77), who sees
contrarietiess" between earthly and otherworldly affections "imma-
nent in medieval literature and thought." And R. E. Kaske has re-
minded us that while there were hierarchies, there were also signifi-
cant opposition, as between heaven and hell. ("Chaucer and Medieval
Allegory," ELH, 30 (1963), 187-88. Cited by Howard, p. 28).

7. My interest in epistemology is only in the general way that it leads
to the body-soul metaphor. The topic of medieval epistemology is
very complex and is treated according to individual figures in
Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. II: Medieval
Philosophy (Westminster, Maryland, 1950), and Eteienne Gilson,
History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (New York, 1955).
The important shift in the thirteenth century toward the validity
of sense impressions in knowledge acquisition is discussed in these
works, and a good brief summary of the leading figures in the late
medieval discussion is Meyrick H. Carre, Realists and Nominalists
(London, 1946). The use of the body-soul relationship to illustrate
the moral struggle is bound to the older tradition of epistemology
as it is continued by preachers and writers.

8. In addition to Augustine and Boethius, I have chosen writers chiefly
for the frequency of their appearance in late medieval religious
literature, relying especially on Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, and
Gregory the Great in the second chapter. We should note Dante's
letter to a Cardinal saying that law students should study Gregory,
Ambrose, Augustine, Dionysius, John of Damascus, and Bede, and
Berchorius' lament as well that legists neglect Augustine, Jerome,
Ambrose, and Origen. (Both are noted by Robertson, Preface, p. 313.)

9. St. Aurelius Augustine, Concerning the Teacher and On the Immortality
of the Soul, trans. George C. Leckie (New York, 1938); reprinted in
Basic Writings of Saint Augustine, ed. Whitney J. Oates, Vol. I

(New York, 1948), p. 301.

10. Confessions, in Basic Writings, Vol. I, p. 160.

II. Ibid., p. 156.

12. Ibid., p. 33.

13. Ibid., p. 151.

14. Answer to Skeptics, trans. Denis J. Kavanagh, in Writings of Saint
Augustine, The Fathers of the Church, 5 (New York, 1948), p. 219.

15. The Happy Life, trans. Ludwig Schopp, in Writings of Saint Augustine,
The Fathers of the Church, 5, p. 81.

16. Trans. Richard Green (Indianapolis, 1962), Book 2, Prose 5, p. 32.
Hereafter citations from this translation will be by Book and Prose
or Poem in parentheses.

17. Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, 2nd ed.
(New York, 1952), p. 85.

18. The Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor, A Medieval Guide to the Arts,
trans. Jerome Taylor (New York, 1961), p. 51. Hereafter, in this
section, references to this text will be in parentheses.

19. Commentary on the Lord's Sermon on the Mount with Seventeen Related
Sermons, trans. Denis J. Kavanagh, The Fathers of the Church, II
(New York, 1951), p. 53.

20. Confessions, p. 29.

21. Ibid., pp. 169ff.

22. Ibid., p. 172.

23. Ibid., p. 174.

24. The best study of this tradition is Donald R. Howard, The Three
Temptations, cited above.

25. The City of God, in Basic Writings of Saint Augustine, Vol. 2, ed.
Whitney J. Oates (New York, 1948), p. 242. The reference is to the
Aeneid, 6, 730ff.

26. The heresies related to Manichaeism have been studied by Steven
Runciman in The Medieval Manichee (Cambridge, 1960) and by Geo
Widengren in Mani and Manichaeism, trans. Charles Kessler (London,
1965). A disagreement exists among historians about the extent
to which later medieval dualist heresies can trace their ancestry
to earlier ones, with Runciman suggesting that lines of influence
can be traced. Emile G. Leonard, "Remarques sur les 'Sectes,'"
Ecole-pratique des hautes 6tudes, Section des sciences religieuses,
Annuaire, 1955-56, (Paris, 1956), and Walter L. Wakefield and Austin P.
Evans, Heresies of the High Middle Ages (New York and London, 1969),
agree that similar impulses probably led to similar solutions at dif-
ferent times, without an influence being necessary. The Dualists
had a ready answer to the question, "If God is good, whence comes
evil?" (Wakefield and Evans, p. 9), and their answer, using the
flesh as inherently evil, was related to the orthodox use of the
body-soul conflict as a metaphor of the moral struggle. As Wake-
field and Evans write, "The majority of historians today would no
doubt agree that the increased piety and spirit of reform operating
entirely within the Church had a great deal in common with the
piety and moral fervor which led men out of the Church and into
heresy" (p. 7).

27. The City of God, pp. 244-45.

28. Cf. Aeneid, 6, 719-21.

29. City of God, p. 239.

30. Galatians 5, 19-20:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornica-
tion, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts,
enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dis-
sensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings,
and such like.

31. City of God, p. 240.

32. Ibid., p. 243.

33. Isaac, in Saint Ambrose, Seven Exegetical Works, trans. Michael P.
McHugh, The Fathers of the Church, 65 (Washington, 1971), p. 12.

34. W. E. Lynch, "Flesh (In the Bible)," New Catholic Encyclopedia
(New York, 1967). Other examples are given as well.

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid.

37. The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology, p. 19.

38. Ibid., p. 18.

39. Ibid., p. 19. N. I refers to other examples in the Old Testament.

40. Ibid., p. 25.

41. Ibid.

42. The Life and Times of St. Ambrose (Oxford, 1935), 512-13.

43. McHugh, Seven Exegetical Works, p. 145. Hereafter, references in
this section will be in parentheses.

44. Romans 7, 14-33.

45. The Christian Combat, trans. Robert P. Russell, in The Writings of
Saint Augustine, The Fathers of the Church, 2 (New York, 1947),
p. 316. The quotation is from Colossians 2, 11-15.

46. Ibid., p. 321. Cf. I Corinthians 9, 26-27.

47. Confessions, p. 108, Cf. Romans 7, 22-23.

48. Ibid., p. 116.

49. Ibid., p. 126.

50. The sermons I am using are in Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons,
trans. Mary Sarah Muldowney (New York, 1959). I will refer to
this text in parentheses.

51. Ibid., p. 83. Cf. Galatians 5, 24.

52. He uses David's exclamation in Psalm 26, 6: "I have gone round,
and have offered up in his tabernacle a sacrifice of jubilation:
I will sing, and recite a psalm to the Lord."

53. The Works of Bonaventure, trans. Jose de Vinck, Vol. 2, The Brevilo-
quium (Paterson, New Jersey, 1963), p. 93. Hereafter, in this
section, references to this text will be in parentheses.

54. Right conscience produces right judgment; synteresis produces right
will, "warring against evil and prompting toward good"; actual
grace is "knowledge enlightening the intellect so that man may know
himself, his God, and the world that was made for him"; and sancti-
fying grace is charity, the love of God "above all else, and one's
neighbor as oneself."

55. De Vinck, p. 116. n.

56. De Vinck, p. 128, n.

57. The other three are "that the eternal Good be preferred to the
temporal, the good of virtue to that of utility, [and] the will of
God to one's own."

58. An important early study is D. W. Robertson, Jr., "The Doctrine of
Charity in Medieval Literary Gardens: A Topical Approach Through
Symbolism and Allegory," Speculum, 16 (1951), 24-49, in which he saw
the cupidity-charity opposition suggested in descriptions of
Grendal's mere, the garden of lovers described in the De Amore of
Andreas Capellanus, various gardens in Chretien's works, the garden
in the Roman de la Rose, and the garden in the Merchant's Tale.
The issues of biblical exegesis applied to literature were aired in
the English Institute Papers of 1958-59, printed in Critical
Approaches to Medieval Literature, ed. Dorothy Bethurum (New York,
1960). A recent anthology of papers on typological interpretation
of medieval literature is Studies in the Literary Imagination, 3, I
(Spring, 1975).

59. The pre-Augustinian tradition of biblical exegesis is studied by Jean
Danielou -in From Shadows to Reality: Studies in the Biblical
Typology of the Fathers, trans. Wulstan Hibberd (London, 1960); and
a summary of early exegesis is found in Walter J. Burchardt, "On Early
Christian Exegesis," Theological Studies, II (1950), 78-116. Two
very important studies of medieval biblical exegesis are Henri Lubac,
Exegese Medieval: les quatre sens d I'Ecriture (Paris, 1959-64),
which traces the development from the influence of Origen, Gregory,
Cassian, and Eucher of Lyons through Hugh of St. Victor and the

Victorines; and Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle
Ages, 2nd ed. (New York, 1952), which stresses the rise in importance
of the literal level in the school of St. Victor. A popular account
of the "Benedictine centuries" is Jean LeClerq, The Love of Learning
and the Desire for God, trans. Catherine Misrahi (New York, 1961).

60. 2 Corinthians 3, 6.

61. On Christian Doctrine, trans D. W. Robertson, Jr. (Indianapolis,
1958), p. 84.

62. De Principiis, 4, 2, 4. Cf. R. E. McNally, "Exegesis, Medieval,"
in the New Catholic Encyclopedia.

63. Formulae Spiritalis Intelligentiae, quoted by McNally, who also men-
tions John Cassian's Collationes 8, 3, as a similar statement.

64. Homily 9. Quoted by McNally.

65. "Bible VI, Exegesis, 2. History of Exegesis," New Catholic Encyclo-
ped ia.

66. Plato to Alexander Pope: Backgrounds of Modern Criticism, ed.
Walter and Vivian Sutton (New York, 1966), p. 115.

67. Ibid., p. 119.

68. The Theory of Medieval Symbolism (Helsingfors, 1960), p. 69.

69. Didascalicon, 6, 5. Cited by Chydenius, pp. 14-15.

70. Rhythmus, PL, 210, 379.

71. De Tribus Diebus, 3. M. D. Chenu, Nature, Man, and Society in the
Twelfth Century: Essays on New Theological Perspectives in the
Latin West, trans. Jerome Taylor and Lester K. Little (Chicago, 1968),
p. 117.

72. Mimesis, trans. W. R. Trask (Princeton, 1953), p. 40.

73. Ibid., p. 555.

74. Nature, Man, and Society In the Twelfth Century, p. 102.

75. Genealogia Deorum, 14, 22, 748. Cited by Richard Hamilton Green,
"Dante's 'Allegory of Poets' and the Medieval Theory of Poetic
Fiction," Comparative Literature, 9 (1957), 127. A. C. Charity
has pointed out Dante's conscious awareness of and use of the method
of biblical typology in Events and Their Afterlife: The Dialectics
of Christian Typology in the Bible and Dante (Cambridge, 1966).

76. "Patristic Exegesis: The Opposition," in Critical Approaches, p. 24.

77. "Patristic Exegesis: The Defense," in Critical Approaches, pp. 30-31.

78. Alvin A. Lee, "Old English Poetry, Medieval Exegesis and Modern
Criticism," Studies in the Literary Imagination, 8, I (Spring, 1975),
61. Lee correlates, with qualifications, Frye's literal and de-
scriptive level with the medieval literal and historical, Frye's
formal with allegorical, archetypal with tropological, and anagogic
with anagogic (47ff.). See Northrup Frye, Anatomy of Criticism:
Four Essays (Princeton, N. J., 1957), pp. 71-128.

79. Speculum, 46 (1971), 747-50. The Meaning of Courtly Love, ed.
F. X. Newman (Albany, N. Y., 1968).

80. MP, 6 (1958), 74ff. Hereafter references to this essay will be in

81. Ibid., 79. The author was Eucher of Lyons.

82. Preface, pp. 357-58. See also R. H. Green, "Classical Fable and
English Poetry in the Fourteenth Century," Critical Approaches,
pp. 110-33. Raymond Carter Sutherland has recently taken up the
question and noted that God is the ultimate author of types which
a writer copies:

This brings us to the question of whether types can exist in
the works of literary craftsmen since God is their proper
author. It would seem that they can by a process of exten-
sion and analogy: if God is their ultimate author, that is
if the types in literature relate to matters defined by dogma.
Of course, this sort of type present in literature must
concern itself with things already known,but it must exhibit
these things in a manner hinted at or foreshadowed, not
baldly nor plainly stated. In this quality it partakes of
the nature of the Scriptural type. Analogous with dramatic
irony, the reader may know what the fictional characters do
-not know.

"Theological Notes on the Origin of Types, Shadows of Things to
Be," Studies in the Literary Imagination 8, I (Spring, 1975), I.

83. Judson Allen, The Friar as Critic (Nashville, 1971), p. 43.

84. Bernard F. Hupp6 and D. W. Robertson, Jr., Fruyt and Chaf:
Studies in Chaucer's Allegories (Princeton, 1963), p. 24.

85. Augustine discusses symbols with good and evil senses in De Doctrina
Christiana, 3, 25:

This is the situation when the lion is used to signify Christ,
when it is said, "The lion of the tribe of Juda. . has

prevailed" [Apocalypse 5, 5],but also signifies the Devil,
when it is written, "Your adversary the Devil, as a roaring
lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour" [Luke 13, 21].

Trans. Robertson, p. 100.

86. Nature, Man, and Society in the Twelfth Century, p. 136.

87. Allen, p. 136.

88. "Typology, Paradigm, Metaphor, and Image in the York Creation of
Adam and Eve," Drama Survey, 7 (1969), 114.

89. Ibid., 117.

90. The Play Called Corpus Christi (Stanford, 1966), p. 66.

91. Ibid.

92. Ibid., pp. 67, 69. Cf. Matthew 24, 38 and I Peter 3, 20-21.

93. The Disease of the Soul: Leprosy in Medieval Literature (Ithaca,
New York, 1974), p. 146.

94. A reproduction is in The Complete Paintings of Bruegel, intro.
Robert Hughes, notes Piero Bianconi (New York, 1967), Plates IV-V.

95. C. G. Stridbeck has outlined the topical elements as a confronta-
tion of Lutheranism and Catholicism in "'Combat Between Carnival
and Lent' by Pieter Bruegel the Elder: An Allegorical Picture of
the Sixteenth Century," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld
Institute, 19 (1956), 96-109. Stridbeck provides a brief overview
of the critical reaction to the painting. No one, as far as I
know, has shown the central conflict, between the flesh and the
spirit, as dictating the choice of certain images in the scene.

96. Cf. The Complete Paintings, p. 94.

97. Ibid., p. 93.

98. Cf. the discussions in Chapter II of the husband and wife, horse
and rider, fire, water, swine, musical instrument, building,
earth, vessel, ladder, knife, and boat. The images of light-darkness
and burden are also present. The buildings are all dark on the
inside; and the side of the plaza on which the figures of Carnival
are arranged is dark, while the sky beyond the plaza is very light.
Three figures carry burdens on their backs, not to mention the
enormous stomach which one of the figures bears.



Conflict between the body and the soul was a common way men of the

Middle Ages simplified and dramatized man's moral condition. It had

its sources in the patristic adaptations of classical philosophy and

in the scriptural use of flesh to name man in his distance from God.

While modern scholars are divided on the applicability of the exegeti-

cal method to the study of medieval secular literature, there is little

serious question about the presence of traditional themes and images

in medieval literature or about the need for interpretation which goes

beyond the surface narrative. The best test for the presence of

meanings which go beyond the narrative level, other than textual

probability, is the existence of a tradition in which symbols of those

meanings participate.

In this chapter we will see that Latin writers characteristically

used certain images as analogues to the body-soul conflict, and in

the next chapter we will see that Middle English writers continued

to use most of the same images to dramatize the moral conflict. The

body-soul images thus exist in traditional patterns in the Middle Ages,

and when we find them functioning in literature we can assume that

the writer is drawing on the traditions and intends for us to see the

same moral conflict which the images usually signified. We will find

later that the author of the Debate Between the Body and the Soul is

aware of the conventional Images and uses them to add resonance to the


central conflict of the poem, and that the author of the stanzaic

Morte Arthur, while relating a popular, legendary tale, is also interested

in pointing to the moral implications of the action, which he accomplishes

with the body-soul images.

When writers of the Middle Ages looked for analogues of the conflict

between the flesh and the spirit, they turned to what was familiar to

them, presenting the profound by means of the ordinary. They drew

their images of moral conflict from nature, from man in his domestic

setting, and from man in his larger social arrangements; and in these

areas few images appear which would not have been immediately appre-

hensible to medieval readers and hearers. From inanimate nature medieval

writers drew images of the light of the soul and the darkness of the

body. Three of the four elements, fire, earth, and water, became

images of moral conflict. The fire of bodily passions and the flamma-

bility of the flesh; the body as earth, slime, ashes redeemed by

Christ, who took on earth; and the body as sodden, watery, with streams

of passion leading to the drowning of the soul were popular images.

The body as earth was allied to the image of the body as a burden

from which the soul strove to ascend for righteousness and truth, and

the wateriness of vice similarly was consistent with the image of the

soul as sailor and the body as a boat or ship.

From animate, vegetative nature came imagery of the husk and

kernel and the body as thorn and nettle irritating the soul. From

sensitive nature came the general association of carnality with the

animal nature of man, specifically with the images of the lecherous,

gluttonous swine and of the horse and rider or horse and charioteer.

The body as horse was rebellious, and the soul was charged with the

discipline as well as the care of the headstrong steed. Man himself

furnished the images of the inner and outer man. The natural images

remained virtually constant throughout the Middle Ages. Traditional

images of light-dark, fire, earth, water, burden, ascent, sailor-ship,

and inner-outer man are pervasive in the Middle English literature.

The second area from which writers chose images to illustrate

the body-soul conflict was the home. The dwelling place itself with

openings of windows and doors was a metaphor. Sometimes the dwelling

was a cave or a cloister, and in the later Middle Ages the building

was generally a castle. Images from life in the home included the vessel,

the ladder, and the knife, the last signifying the cutting away of

carnality. The body was seen as a musical instrument in an image of

domestic entertainment suited to express the harmony between the body

and the soul, and the body was the tomb of the soul. All of these

images would have been familiar to speakers and hearers alike and

were frequently used in religious writings of the Middle Ages.

But two domestic images, also familiar, were given such wide

exercise in the Middle Ages as to be unrivalled, except perhaps by the

image of the dwelling, by other domestic images as ways of dramatizing

the moral conflict between the body and the soul. The first is the

imagery of clothing, descriptive of the flesh, the "old man" which must

be stripped away, and which Christ redeemed by putting on the clothing

of the flesh. The second and of greatest importance is the image of

the husband and wife, frequently supplemented by an adulterous relation-

ship between the wife and a lover. The husband and wife and the

adulterous triangle were repeatedly employed by writers to illustrate

the relationship of the soul to the body and to Christ. The symbolic

use of adultery provided preachers into the late Middle Ages with an

exciting and graphic model of the process of sin.

The third area from which familiar images were derived to illus-

trate the body-soul conflict was the larger social structure and insti-

tutions. In the Latin literature images of the judge, of prison, and

slavery appear; but while the prison is seen in Middle English literature,

the images of the judge and slavery are uncommon. A complex of images

from political life which was used throughout the Middle Ages, however,

and which provided a series of dramatic presentations of the body-soul

struggle consists of images of the kingdom, the king, rebellion, and

war. The kingdoms of heaven and of the body were the two lands of the

soul, the former of which was the fatherland and the latter the land in

which the soul was a pilgrim and in exile. An alternate image of the

kingdom was that of the fortified city. The soul was a king ruling

over the body, its subject or servant; and to this convention the

Middle English writers added a broader feudal lord-subject, lord-

servant relationship. In the Latin and Middle English traditions the

flesh is a rebellious subject seeking domination, and in both tradi-

tions the flesh wars against the soul as it had in Paul's writings.

The first of the images of the body-soul conflict drawn from

nature in the Latin tradition is the contrast between light and dark.

The light-dark contrast has been common in many cultures and ages,1

and for medieval writers the light of the soul is darkened by the body.

Man's inner light, a gift of God the source of physical and intellectual


light, is dimmed by contact with the flesh, which has been vitiated

by original sin.2 As Odon Lottin has pointed out:

Parmi les principaux effects du peche original, les theo-
logians du moyen age ont range I'ignorance et la concupi-
scence. A leurs yeux, en effet, la raison theorique s'est
trouvee entenebree par I'erreur et I'ignorance, et la
raison pratique a perdu son empire sur I'appetit sensitif.3

The matter of rule will be taken up later, but here we should note

that the darkening effect of error is a common metaphor throughout the

Middle Ages. Lady Philosophy, as we have seen, refers to the light

of the mind endangered by the "dark cloud of error," and sends Boethius

searching for truth to "the light of his inner vision."4

The metaphor is applied specifically to the body-soul relationship

by Ambrose, who says that the soul knows "that she has been darkened

by her union with the body," and that she says in the words of Canticle I,

6, "Look not on me, because I am of a dark complexion, because the

sun has not looked upon me!'5 Ambrose then underlines his interpre-

tation: "That is, the passions of the body have attacked me and the allure-

ments of the flesh have given me my color. . ." Of the man who re-

frains from pleasures of the body, Ambrose says that "his soul is

resplendent like the dawn" of Canticle 6, 9.6 Augustine at Cassiciacum,

according to O'Connell, went through a period of discussing the soul

in the body in terms of tenebrae.7 And Gregory in the Dialogues explains

the stench of Hell as "the delights of the flesh [which] darken the

mind they infect, making any clear vision of the true light impossible.

By turning to base pleasures, man shrouds his noblest nature in darkness."8

In addition to images of light and darkness, the elements, with the

exception of air,9 were also drafted to serve in the explication of the

relationship between the body and the soul. A common image was of

fire, particularly the fire of passion, as in the hymn for Sext

attributed to Ambrose:

Exstingue flammas litium
Aufer calorem noxium,
Confer salutem corporum,
Veramque pacem cordium.10

Ambrose also explains that without flesh to inflame concupiscence,

the vice would be harmless.1I Prudentius portrays Lust attacking Chas-

tity, the former armed with a torch:

On her falls Lust the Sodomite, girt with the fire-brands
of her country, and thrusts into her face a torch of
pinewood blazing murkily with the pitch and burning sulphur,
attacking her modest eyes with the flames and seeking to
cover them with the foul smoke.12

Chastity eventually gets the upper hand and dispatches Lust, who in

a dying exhalation, "spews out hot fumes with clots of foul blood, and

the unclean breath defiles the air nearby."

Gregory refers to the life of the carnal as "hay and straw" and

says that when one is tempted he is "scorched with the torches of

carnal desires."13 A common image of threatening temptation is that

of a torch or spark approaching a combustible tinder, man's flesh

being assumed to be highly flammable. Gregory tells of a Christian

who set aside his wife upon entering the priesthood, and, while he

lived with her, kept her at a distance:

After a long life, forty years of which he spent in the
priestly ministry, he was seized with a severe fever and
brought to the point of death. When his wife saw him
lying there half dead, with all the strength of his body
wasted away, she put her ear to his face, trying to
catch the least sound of breathing.
Conscious of her presence, he mustered all his
strength and with the little breath that was still in
him he rasped in a hoarse whisper, "Go away from me,


woman. The fire is still flickering. Take away the
tinder.' 14

Jerome toys with the relationship between the ashes of the body (dis-

cussed below) and the spark contained in the flesh, and ends a sermon

with a stirring call to renounce the fleshly instincts: "Let us pray

the Lord that this tiny flame be always in desert land, lifeless and

without water, and with no kindling whatever for vices."15

The metaphor of man as earth is a common means of expressing the

idea of man as the microcosm of the universe, "the whole world on a

minor scale. .placed in the 'middle' between the material and the

spiritual world,"16 which we will discuss later. But for the moment

we need to consider how this image is used to illustrate the base and

unstable human condition. Man was created from the slime of the earth

(in limo terrae), and medieval writers frequently call upon the slimi-

ness of man's origins as a reminder of his worthless condition apart

from God. Tertullian develops the image by saying that man is generated

by the slime of sperm (ex seminis limo).17 Basil, while not using

slime, does use the image of mud to describe the overwhelming power

of man's earthiness:

The soul of the sinner and of him who lives according to
the flesh and is defiled by the pleasures of the body is
wrapped up in the passions of the flesh as in mud; and the
enemy, trampling upon this soul, strives to pollute it
still more, and, as it were, to bury it, treading upon him
who has fallen, and with his feet trampling him into the
ground, that is trampling the life of him who has slipped
into his body.1

Christ came to redeem man from this wretched condition. Paul writes,

"The first man was of the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven,

heavenly."19 Chrysologus accordingly admonishes us, "Therefore, even as

we have borne the likeness of the earthly, let us bear also the likeness

of the heavenly.120 Augustine says that it is Christ as physician

who saves men from their earthiness, applying an "eye-salve" of his

own earth: "By dust thou wert blinded, and by dust thou art healed."21

With earth expressing man's distance from God went two related

notions--that men and their prosperity would deteriorate to dust and

ashes in the courses of time and God's providential justice and that

man's condition, represented by the body, was odious. There was a

common connection between earthiness and dung, and Gregory sees in

Job's experience a lesson on the body, with "its corruption and frailness

set forth in the dunghill and potsherd."22 Caesarius of Aries suggests

that men should go to the tomb to see "the stinking remains of worms"

and the stinkingn, horrible dust."23 Although patristic writers

thus pointed to man's transience with the help of odious images,

accenting the morbid is the special talent and interest of the'later

Middle Ages, as we shall see in the next chapter.

Two frequently used corollaries of the earth as a metaphor for

man's distance from God were the motifs of the body as burden and

its converse, the ascensus mentis in Deum. The opposition was commonly

invoked to dramatize the moral struggle:

The cohabitation of the body and soul in an uncongenial
alliance presents a polarity often expressed by the
symbolism of terrestrial weight and upward flight, which
emphasizes the opposite tendencies of loving and despising
the world.24

The chief scriptural basis for both concepts is Wisdom 9, 15: "For

the corruptible body is a load upon the soul, and the earthly habita-

tion presseth down the mind that museth upon many things."

Valerian argues against excesses of appetite and against drunken-

ness by showing the extra burden which results: "He who loads addi-

tional burden upon infirm bodies is preparing a road of weakness.

Thus a man burdened by the weight of an excessive pack undertakes and

continues a journey with doubtful hope of success."25 While Valerian

is perhaps referring to the physical appetites exclusively, in another

homily he is clearly using the image of a burden as a symbol of the

larger moral struggle:

We must cast off whatever burden the unfortunate error of
worldliness has placed on our human bodies. Otherwise,
this error, by casting a burden of sins in our way, will
not let us arrive at those days of remuneration. . You
will not arrive at the place of the promised inheritance,
unless in your pursuit of life you first strip your body
of the vices which burden it.26

Augustine writes that man's body is, through God's justice, "his

heaviest yoke," but that the soul who uses his body wisely will be

rewarded at the resurrection by having the body "placed, without burden-

someness, under its control."27 And there are at least four references

in Gregory's Moralia to the weight which the body or which carnal habits

impose on the soul.28

The flight of the soul from the moral burden and epistemological

limits of the body to God is a ubiquitous theme in medieval ascetic

thought, and it has been well-researched by modern scholars.29 The

Christian origins of the image are Psalm 54, 7; 138, 9; Isaiah 40, 31;

Proverbs 33, 5; and Philippians 3, 20, according to Diekstra, who traces

the idea from St. Augustine to Hugh of St. Victor.30 The motif both

is stated and has poetic manifestations throughout the Middle Ages.

A fairly simple way of putting the ascent is Gregory of Nyssa's

statement that the soul should 'rise above the pleasures of the body,"31

or Ambrose's definition of humanity: "A wise man should remove himself

from fleshly pleasures, elevate his soul, and draw away from the body;

this is to know oneself a man."32 More vivid images are common, however,

as when Ambrose later refers to a soul victorious over physical

impulses as flyingn] out like a sparrow from a broken snare."33

Augustine shows how his soul can transcend knowledge bound to sense

impressions: "I will soar also beyond this power of mine; for this

the horse and mule possess, for they too discern through the body."34

And he develops the image of flight in the Soliloquies by the addition

of the prison image (discussed below) and the darkness and light pattern:

These things of the senses are to be utterly shunned and
the utmost care must be used lest while we bear this body
our wings be impeded by their snare; seeing that we need
them whole and perfect if we would fly from this darkness
to that light, which deigns not even to show itself to those
shut up in the cage of the body. ..

The poetic manifestations of the ascensus mentis are both beauti-

ful and famous. It is significant that Lady Philosophy promises

Boethius feathers for his mind (Book IV, Meter I) in the Consolation

of Philosophy; we have the flight of the soul in Macrobius' Commentary

on the Dream of Scipio; and two later medieval occurrences of the

motif are in Alan of Lille's Antlclaudianus36 and in Chaucer's Troilus

and Criseyde, where Troilus' soul at his death at the end of the poem

rises to heaven to look back with a smile at the earth.

The weight of the body expressed through earthiness is related

to a similar weight expressed by water imagery. St. Methodius states

that the benefit of chastity is the ability to make the flesh rise

from its soddenness:

For chastity contributes not a little towards the ready
attainment of incorruptibility: it makes the flesh buoyant,
raising it up and drying out its moisture and overcoming
its sodden weight with a more powerful counteraction.37

Water can simply swamp the soul. Ambrose warns that the soul should

not be buried "under a double inundation, from the body and from the

world."38 And drowning is the image which Gregory uses to explain the

dangers of the fleshly impulse: it "drowns those whom the wing of

knowledge had raised on high."39

Water indicates the life of the vicious soul who turns to wicked-

ness for Origen:

It is borne along towards loss of its rationality and to
what may perhaps be called a "watery" life, and soon, as
its increasing degradation deserves, it puts on the "watery"
bodies of evil appropriate to such an irrational creature.40

Jerome refers to the "moisture of lust" in a comment on Psalm 119, 83,

where a just dryness appears: "I am become like a bottle in the frost:

I have not forgotten thy justifications";41 and the wateriness of vicious-

ness is more specialized in Gregory of Nyssa's treatise On Virginity,

where passion becomes a stream from the senses to other organs of sense

and to the heart:

For if one pleasure exists. . it is like the stream of
water from one source which, when it is divided into
different streams, spreads to each of the pleasure-loving
organs of the senses. Therefore, the one who is weakened
by any one of the sensual pleasures damages his heart, as
the voice of the Lord teaches, when he says that the one
who has fulfilled the desire of his eyes has already re-
ceived the wound in his heart.42

In the Sayings of the Fathers, Abba Hyperidius says that fasting lifts

a monk's body "from the depths" and also "dries up the channels down

which worldly pleasures flow."43

Mary Ursula Vogel has studied the occurrences of the soul as the


sailor and the body as a ship,44 and the image is at work in Valerian's

warning against the unrestrained excess of festivals: "We often observe

that sea-going vessels suffer shipwreck when near to port, through some

sudden force, when the oars are idle."45 Jerome, apparently using the

image of the stream as well as the image of the sailor and ship or

boat, says that the spirit must continually watch and guard against

physical impulses: "But if he relaxes for even a moment, even as a man

rowing his boat upstream immediately slips back if he relaxes his hands

and is carried by the current of the river. . so also the state of

man, if it relaxes for even a moment, gets to know its weakness."46

We have seen in light and dark images and in images drawn from

three of the four elements symbols of the body-soul relationship, with

that relationship understood to indicate man's relationship to God.

Vegetation provides two important images for patristic writers.47 We

noted earlier that the body was likened to hay and straw in its flamma-

bility, and accordingly Chrysologus compares the body to a field of

Grain: "Vices are to the human body what fire is to a dried-up grain

field."48 A more prominent and specific image is of the kernel and the

husk, used both for talking about the spiritual and literal senses of

Scripture49 and for referring to the soul and the body. Tertullian,

for example, says that the body is the vagina animae, the sheath or

husk of the soul.50

A more interesting vegetation image of the body, however, is that

of the thorn. Gregory interprets the thorns and nettles of Isaiah 34, 13,

as sins and evil thoughts;51 and Chrysologus shows that sin has its

roots in the flesh as he outlines the superiority of the New Law to the


And just as thorns gro. the more when they are cut by the
sickle, so the passions put forth more sprouts when they are
trimmed through the law, since they are internally strength-
ened because they are implanted, as it were, in a root of

A locus classics for this metaphor is Matthew 13, 7-22, where Jesus

talks about the word choked by the thorns. Basil interprets the thorns


the pleasures of the flesh and wealth and glory and the
cares of life. He who desires the knowledge of God will
have to be outside of all these things, and being freed
from his passions, thus to receive the knowledge of God.53

The association of the thorn with the flesh is also made by Jerome

as he praises virginity above marriage: "I gather the rose from the

thorn, the gold from the earth, the pearl from the oyster."54

We might also note that one of Gregory's stories about St. Benedict

gains richness from this image. In this story, the Devil brought a

woman to Benedict's thoughts, and Benedict was seized by a violent

desire. He struggled in vain to rid himself of the thoughts, until

God in his grace made Benedict discover a solution:

He then noticed a thick patch of nettles and briers next
to him. Throwing his garment aside he flung himself into
the sharp thorns and stinging nettles. There he rolled and
tossed until his whole body was covered with blood. Yet,
once he had conquered pleasure through suffering, his torn
and bleeding skin served to drain the poison of temptation
from his body.55

The thorns of physical passion within are conquered by the nettles


More common natural images than those of vegetation, however,

were animal images. The commonplace observation was that man stood

midway between beings with souls and no bodies (God and the angels)

and those with bodies and no immortal souls (animals), with man par-

ticipating in both groups:

Your soul is made to the image of God, whereas your body is
related to the beasts. In one there is the holy seal of
imitation of the divine. In the other there is found base
association with beasts and wild animals.56

Everyone agreed with Aristotle that "the life of animals. .. may be

divided into two acts--procreation and feeding,"57 and with Ovid that

the horizontal posture of animals looking always at the earth and the

erect posture of man, who can see the stars, said something about the

relative capacities of animals and men.58 Simply put, men should

recognize their dignity and not act like beasts, according to Hugh

St. Victor:

What is more foolish than always to look at the lowest
things and to hold one's face toward earth? This is the
lot of the beasts who are granted to seek nothing higher.
But Wisdom dwells in things of heaven,-and those unwilling
to rise erect and be lifted toward it are like the beasts
and gaze at the earth.59

What is repeatedly affirmed in the Middle Ages is the folly of forgetting

one's divinity within and behaving like the beasts. Basil ends a

sermon with an emphatic recollection of the Fall by quoting Psalm 48, 21:

"He, because he did not perceive his own dignity but bowed down to the

passions of the flesh, 'hath been compared to senseless beasts, and

made like to them.'"60

The beasts as a group are thus taken as figures of man's bodily


The beasts of the field and the birds of the air which were
brought to Adam are our irrational senses, because beasts
and animals represent the diverse emotions of the body.61

But it is not easy to see patterns in the choice of single animals to

represent carnality. The interpretation of sensual men as beasts is

so flexible that it allows virtually any animal to represent carnality.

But two images do emerge as more popular--the pig, or swine, and the

horse. After attaching other failings to various animals--avarice

to the wolf, anger to the dog, treachery to the fox, anger to the lion,

timerlty to the deer, stupidity to the ass, inconstancy to the bird--

Lady Philosophy says that "the man who is sunk in foul lust is strapped

in the pleasures of a filthy sow."62 The sow here no doubt represents

lust in the narrow sense, but a broader reading of piggishness as

representative of brutishness in general is found frequently:

Just as the eyes of pigs are by nature trained on the ground
and have no experience of the wonders of the sky, so the
soul pulled down by the body can no longer look towards
heaven and the beauties on high, being bent towards what is
low and brutish in nature.63

Marcel Thiebaux has investigated the image of the boar in medieval

literature and has found that it uniformly appears as "lecherous,

treacherous and diabolical."64

The other popular animal image, the body as a horse, is extremely

important.65 In De Libertate Arbitrii Augustine protests that free

will is not what animals have, since they must serve the flesh:

"For the will of the horse does not subject itself to the appetite

of the flesh, but always serves it by necessity."66 Anyone who is

enslaved by his passions, says Basil, is "like an amorous horse which

neighs after his neighbor's wife."67 The image of the soul as the

rider and the body as the horse appears in countless literary works

and illustrations,68 apparently because the drama of a headstrong steed

controlled only with difficulty was a source of perpetual excitement.

In a hymn for periods of fasting, Prudentius, combining images of light

and of horsemanship, praises the benefits of fasting in restraining

Christians from'vice:

For if, abandoned to excess in food and drink,
Man does not curb the body by holy fasts,
The flame of his high spirit burning bright and pure
Will shrink and pine away, all smothered by delights,
And the soul will fall asleep within his sluggish breast.

Then let us check desires of flesh with tighter rein
And keep the light of wisdom bright within our hearts.61

Andreas Capellanus warns Walter, the "new recruit of love," that "you

do not know how to manage your horse's reins properly."70 The longer

that one thinks about a woman he has fallen for, says Andreas, the

more uncontrollable are his impulses--he "cannot hold the reins."71

Compounding the problem of the relationship between the horse and

the rider is the irony that the soul is supposed to deal with the body

charitably. The rider has to provide food for his mount, but in so

doing he should not forget the need for disciplining the horse:

For now besides fodder, he has need of a bridle and spurs;
the bridle, indeed, that he may check him when fiery and
violent from evil; spurs, however, that he may excite him
when slothful to do good.72

The danger of rebellion is always present, and one controls the flesh

by abstinence and moderation. Ambrose writes that Temperance "tightens

the reins placed on the violence of the body by its abstinence from


Related to the horse-rider image is that of the charioteer and

horsess, in which the same issue of control is at stake. Chrysostom

points out that fulfillment for the flesh comes through the good manage-

ment of it by the soul as he comments on Romans 8, 6 ("For the wisdom

of the flesh is death; but the wisdom of the spirit is life and peace"):

Whenever the flesh exalts herself, and gets the mastery
over her charioteer, she produces ten thousand mischiefs.
The virtue of the flesh is her subjection to the soul. As
the horse then may be good and nimble, and yet this is not


shown without a rider; so also the flesh will then show her
goodness, when we cut off her prancings.74

Augustine also compares the management of the body to the "charioteer

[who] feeds and properly manages the horses in his care."75

The horse-rider image was not intended to be looked at without

reference to larger issues. Both Satan and Christ influence the control

which the soul is able to maintain over the body. In the De Patriarchis

Ambrose explains Genesis 49, 16-17:

Dan shall judge his people like another tribe in Israel.
Let Dan be a snake in the way, a serpent in the path, that
biteth the horse's heels that his rider may fall backward.

The serpent is, of course, the Devil, and Ambrose warns us to beware

of him:

Let us beware that the serpent may not lie hid anywhere in
the path and undermine the footstep of the horse--that is,
of our body--and suddenly throw the sleeping rider. For
if you are vigilant, we ought to be on our guard in some
measure and shun the bites of the serpent. . Should
avarice wound your heart, should lust inflame it, you are
a sleeping rider, and on that account you are not able to
restrain your body, that is, your horse.76

Conversely, the soul is not alone in its struggle with the body because

Christ is also present. The Word of God mounts the rider himself to

enable the soul to control his steed: "For He surely mounts the horse-

man, because He possesses the soul of every holy man, who possesses his

own members aright."77

While this aid of Christ is continual, it also happened historically

in the Incarnation:

The Word of God then mounted the rider, when he created
for Himself a living Body within the womb of the Virgin.
He then mounted the horseman, when, by creating Himself,
He brought under the yoke of Divine worship a human soul,
possessing power over its own flesh. For the Godhead
assumed the flesh, by the intervention of the soul, and


by this means He held together the whole horseman; because
He joined together in Himself, not only that which was
ruled, but that also which ruled.

Man is able to control his own carnality because Christ assumed both a

human soul and flesh and subdued His flesh.

A very common image of the Middle Ages, of the inner and outer man,

does not fit well in the categories of natural or domestic images, though

I have included it in the former as an image of rational nature. It

provided for many writers, as Gareth Matthews has said that it provided

for Augustine, "a connected way of conceiving mental functions and

narrating psychological episodes."78 It also provided a graphic simpli-

fication of the moral condition, as in the following advice to bishops to

be less extravagant in their feasting and more diligent in their lessons

at banquets:

Who is ignorant of the fact that everyone has an interior
and an exterior man. For this reason whenever we invite
people to a banquet it is proper for us to read over a
divine lesson or strive to say something holy to sustain the
soul, just as we arrange the service of food to refresh the
body. . The man who endeavors both to offer souls divine
reading and to give bodies a frugal, moderate banquet feeds
both the interior and the exterior man.7

Gregory of Nyssa writes that man has a dual nature: "There is the

'outer man' to whom corruption is natural, and the one who is known

in accordance with the hidden places of his heart, that is, the one

who undergoes a renewal."80

It is in its corruptibility that the outer man threatens the

inner man--when lust, for example, invites the senses of the flesh,

the inner man is in danger. One should encourage his soul to turn to


When for a moment the inner man shows signs of wavering
between vice and virtue, say: "Why art thou cast down,

0 my soul, and why art thou disqueted within me? Hope thou
in God .... 81

Hugh of St. Victor likewise uses the inner-outer man image as he

comments on the sixth petition of the Lord's prayer, "Lead us not into

temptation," by alluding to gluttony and the control of the appetite:

Then the inner strengthening of the word of God restrains
the outer appetite so that the bodily desires may not break
the mind fortified by spiritual food, and the lust of the
flesh may not triumph.8

Inner-outer man images are frequent in pictorial art of the

Middle Ages, as in the Death of the Virgin window at Chartres Cathedral,

where Christ holds a small girl which represents Mary's soul.83 The

moral overtones are also generally present in death scenes in which

the inner man is received either by good or bad angels. In a fifteenth-

century illustration of the breaking of the legs of the thieves, a small

man is issuing from the mouth of each, the small figure of the man to

Christ's right met by good angels, the other inner man by a serpent.84

In order to provide analogues of the moral struggle between the

body and the soul, medieval writers turned to the natural images of

light-dark, fire, earth and burden and ascent, water and sailor-ship,

of husk and kernel, thorn, swine, horse and rider, and the inner and

the outer man. The second area which provided images was the home

with its activities; and patristic writers found useful images in the

dwelling place itself, in the vessel, ladder, knife, musical instrument,

and tomb. Especially well-developed were the images of clothing and of

husband and wife. I will sketch broadly the first few images and then

dwell at more length on the images.of clothing and husband and wife.

The soul resided in a building for many medieval writers--within

"frail walls,"85 in a "house,"86 in a "dwelling place."87 It could

reside simply in a "dwelling," as it does for Prudentius, who plays

on the double meaning of sepulchre--the one for the body at death and

the body as the tomb for the soul earlier:

For the body we see here reposing,
Bereft of its life-giving spirit,
In the sepulcher stays a brief season,
Then rejoins its noble companion.

The swift years will soon bring that moment,
When the soul shall revisit these members.
And cherish its earlier dwelling,
Now glowing with life's glad renewal.88

Prudentius also calls the soul's dwelling a "bodily lodging built up

of sinews, skin, blood, gall, bones."89

As a variant of simple dwellings, we find the soul living in the

"caves" of the senses as Jacob resided briefly in Charrah: "For one

who takes delight in this world and rejoices in bodily pleasures is

"subject to the passions of the senses and has his dwelling and lodging

in them."90 The soul can also live in the "cloister" of the body.91 And,

with reference to the Immaculate Conception, the Word "entered the

shrine of [Mary's] unbroken flesh," and made "for Himself the holy

temple of a body."92

A popular way of developing the body-as-dwelling motif was by

having the windows represent the senses. The scriptural origin

is Jeremiah 9, 21:

For death is come up through our windows, it is entered
into our houses to destroy the children from without,
the young men from the streets.

This passage is alluded to frequently, with the warning that we should

bar the windows of the senses from intrusive temptations:

Your eye is your window. If you look at a woman to lust
after her, death has entered in; if you listen to the
harlot's words, death has entered in; if licentiousness
takes hold of your senses, death has gone in.93

The five foolish virgins were classic examples of those "who congratu-

lated themselves on their bodily integrity alone, but lost the purity

of their souls through the corruption of their five senses."94

Some writers used doors, portae,instead of windows, fenestrae,95 but

the effect was the same. So common was the image that by the twelfth

century, a topic of a strife between the heart and the eyes had developed

and was used by preachers and writers with enthusiasm.96

The image of the body as a vessel is an image used by Paul twice.

In 2 Corinthians 4, he writes, "We have this treasure in earthen

vessels, that the excellency may be of the power of God, and not of

us," and in 2 Timothy 2, 20-21, he says that vessels of gold and silver

are for noble purposes and that men similarly should be of honorable

use. The image of the vessel was continued by the Fathers. Lactantius

wrote that the body, "formed from an earthly mass is, as it were, the

vessel of the [soul], which is drawn from heavenly subtleness."97

At death the soul leaves the body "just as spilled liquid vanishes] when

a vase has been broken."98 The body is "the receptacle," and the "vessel."99

Allied to this image was the concept of the fragile flesh which lasted

for a time and then deteriorated. Jerome writes that in life "we

possess that treasure in earthen vessels, and are encased in fragile

flesh, or rather in mortal and corruptible flesh."100 He has Critobulus

correctly maintain, "None of the saints can have all virtues as long as

he exists in this frail body." Tertullian had referred to the body as

the cup of the soul--calix animae--and the small vessel of the soul--

vasculum animae.101 82

The images of the ladder and the knife do not symbolize the soul

or the body directly, but rather express the degree to which one is

leading a carnal or a spiritual life. In the image of the ladder, the

first step generally relates to contact with the world. In the patristic

period the first step is abstinence and the beginning of rejection of

the world. "The first step is fasting, for it is still quite close

to earth; we are withdrawing from earth, beginning to ascend; neverthe-

less, we are still thinking of material things, still preoccupied with

the care of the body."102 The second rung is "the true renouncement

of the world and consists in aiming at nothing of this world."103

In this formulation, the world is something which contributes little

to the spiritual life. In the writings of Bonaventure, however, the

ladder image became modified, such that even the first rung assists in

understanding God:

Let us place the first of the ascending rungs at the bottom
by setting before ourselves the whole material world as a
mirror through which we can step up to God, the supreme

While the earth, and man's awareness of it, is still secondary to his

understanding of God, the sense knowledge is at least helpful in re-

flecting the presence of God.

The image of cutting was useful when applied to the interpretation

of Colossians 3, 5 as a way of mortifying the body:

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth;
fornication, uncleanness, lust, evil concupiscence, and
covetousness, which is the service of idols.

Chrysostom writes that the Christian should make a "living sacrifice"

of his body, with the "Holy Spirit as fire and sacrificial knife."105

With this knife he should cut from his heart "what is superfluous and


and does not belong there." But in addition to this general use of

cutting for spiritual refinement, the rite of Circumcision also dictated

a more specific use of the image, applied to the body. Hugh of St. Victor

explains the propriety of having a rite for males, "because Sacred

Scripture is accustomed to signify the soul through the masculine sex

but flesh through the feminine, so that it was clearly shown that the

exterior circumcision conferred sanctification."106 Circumcision signifies

the cutting of fleshly feelings from the soul. The knife of stone

represents Christ, says Hugh, quoting I Corinthians 10, 4: "And

the rock was Christ." The dramatic image of cutting, applied to lusts

of carnality, had a wide usage, especially in connection with sermons

on the Circumcision of Christ.107

The image of musician and musical instrument is based on the

concept of the soul as the user and the body as that which is used.108

Ambrose says that the bodily members can be "the tools of wrong and the

tools of right," depending on what use the soul puts them to.109

Gregory underscores the importance of unseen forces, i.e., of the mind

and of God, by an analogy to construction:

Imagine a house under construction, and visualize the lifting
of immense weights, and large columns suspended from mighty
cranes. Tell me, who is doing this work? Is it the visible
body that pulls those massive materials with its hands, or
is it the invisible soul that activates the body? For if
you take away the power invisibly present in the body, very
soon all that visible mass of materials, which you saw moving,
comes to a standstill.Il0

In a musical performance of good works, the soul plays "in moderation

on the body as if on a musical instrument."lIl Jerome says that the

act of prayer is like a musical performance:

Whenever we lift up pure hands in prayer, without deliberate


distractions and contention, we are playing to the Lord with
a ten-stringed instrument, "with ten-stringed instrument and
lyre, with melody upon the harp."ll2

Not only is the soul the player and the body the instrument, but

the harmony which exists between a soul and body united in virtuous

action and submissive to God's will is a major metaphor of the Middle

Ages. 13 Basil describes the beautiful resonance that can exist among

the divine will, the soul, and the body:

For it is necessary, first to correct the actions of our
body, so that we perform them harmoniously with the divine
Word and thus mount up to the contemplation of things
intellectual. Perhaps the mind, which seeks things above,
is called a psaltery because the structure of this instrument
has its resonance from above. The works of the body, there-
fore, give praise to God as if from below; but the mysteries,
which are proclaimed through the mind, have their origin
from above, as if the mind was resonant through the Spirit.
He, therefore, who observes all the precepts and makes, as
it were, harmony and symphony from them, he, I say, plays
for God on a ten-stringed psaltery, because there are ten
principal precepts, written according to the first teaching
of the law.114

The use of wind instruments is not so common, though in this image the

soul is analogous to air and the body to pipes.115

Prudentius compared the sepulcher of the dead body to the sepulcher

for the soul, the body itself (see above, p. 81), and the body as a

tomb is a popular image of the earlier Middle Ages. The soul in the

body compared to a body in a tomb is largely of Greek origin, but it

was taken over by Christianity. Plato records that Socrates observed,

"Some say that the body is the grave of the soul which may be thought

to be buried in the present life,"116 and the idea seems to appear in

the New Testament in Matthew 23, 27:

Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you are
like to whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear to men beau-
tiful, but within are full of dead men's bones, and of all

A similar conception of death in life is in I Timothy 5, 6: "For she

that liveth in pleasures is dead while she is living."

Caesarius draws these two passages together to discuss those who

live lives of sin:

You go along happy, carefree, and proud, thinking that you
are living while the soul in your body is--I will not say
dead--but buried. "The soul which gives itself up to
pleasures," says the Apostle, "is dead while it is still alive."
See what you have come to, most wretched and pitiable
soul. You have made a tomb of yourself, as the Lord says in
the Gospel: "Whited sepulchres outwardly, but within full
of dead men's bones."ll7

The author also quotes Psalm 5, II, "Their throat is an open sepulchre,"

to further substantiate his contention that those who live for the

pleasures of the body are dead in life.ll8

A very pervasive domestic image of the moral struggle seen through

the conflict between the body and the soul in the Middle Ages is of

clothing. The image receives much use from a variety of writers, and

it has four principal manifestations. The flesh is seen as clothing;

there is the consequent need to "strip off the old man"; Christ is

the new man, who puts on the flesh; and men are now encouraged to leave

their carnal ways and to put on the wedding garments.

The body as clothing was a metaphor used from the earliest Fathers.

Origen saw the propriety in Adam and Eve sewing skins into clothing

after their sin:

For it was right that the sinner should put on such garments,
of skins of beasts, which symbolized the mortality which he
had received as a result of his sin, and of the frailty which
resulted from the corruption of the flesh. 19

Lactantius wrote that the soul at death "has cast off its fragile gar-

ment.'120 Ambrose ponders whether man is really soul, body, or a

combination of both, and concludes that the real identity is found in

the soul: "We are one thing, our possessions are something else; he

who is clothed is one person, his clothing something else.121 One

should, as a result of understanding that he is primarily a soul,

transcend his body:

Therefore know yourself and the beauty of your nature, and
go forth as if your foot had been freed of bonds and were
visible in its bare step, so that you may not feel the
fleshly coverings, that the bonds of the body may not entangle
the footstep of your mind . .122

In the episode concerning God's command to Moses to remove his sandles,

Ambrose sees the spiritual significance as the renunciation of the

flesh, so that,

When [Moses] was about to call the people to the kingdom of
God he might first put aside the garments of the flesh and
might walk with his spirit and the footstep of his mind naked.123

Since our bodies are only clothing for the soul, we should not fear

death any more than we should fear him who would steal our clothing.124

Gregory calls the body the clothing of the soul twice in the Moralia;125

and in the Dialogues he discusses the three kinds of animate beings in

terms of fleshly clothing--"one that is not clothed with flesh; another

that is clothed with flesh but does not die with the flesh; and a third

which is clothed with the flesh and perishes with it."126

With clothing suggesting carnality, medieval writers saw in

Colossians 3, 9, "Stripping yourselves of the old man with his deeds. .,"

a natural extension of the metaphor. One should remove his sins,

suggested by the exterior man, to achieve a spiritual nakedness with

which to be clothed by Christ. Accordingly, adornment of the body was

anathema--the soul was burdened with a double covering:

Seek nothing with exterior gold and bodily adornment; but


consider the garment as one worthy to adorn him who is
according to the image of his Creator, as the Apostle says:
"Stripping off the old man, and putting on the new, one
that is being renewed unto perfect knowledge according to
the image of his Creator." And he who has put on "the heart
of mercy, kindness, humility, patience, and meekness," is
clothed within and has adorned the inner man.127

The virtuous actions of the soul become then a "most magnificent

garment for the soul." Augustine also uses the image of the old man

in his discussion of temperance in The Catholic Way. Since the old man

means Adam and sinful man, and the new man means Christ, we should

"strip off the old man and put on the new."128 Stripping off the old

man and putting on Christ becomes "the whole work of temperance."

The third type of clothing image--Christ putting on the robe of

the flesh--can be seen in the interpretations of the types of Christ

in the Old Testament. Joseph's experience prefigured Christ's:

His brothers robbed Joseph of his outside coat that was of
diverse colors; the Jews stripped Christ of his bodily tunic
at His death on the cross. When Joseph was deprived of his
tunic he was thrown into a cistern, that is, into a pit;
after Christ was despoiled of human flesh, He descended into

Just as Aaron put on the vestments of a high priest over his own clothing

to offer sacrifices for the Israelites, so Christ took the flesh:

So the Lord "in the beginning was the Word. . ."; but
when the Father willed that ransoms should be given for all
and grace bestowed on all, then indeed, just as Aaron put on
his robe, so the Word took earthly flesh, having Mary for
the mother of his body, to correspond to the virgin soil
[from which Adam was made]; so that as high-priest, himself
having an offering, he might offer himself to the Father to
cleanse us all from sins.130

Even the conception itself was imagined as an enrobing, as we are

shown the most sacred moment in the Virgin's womb:

The blood was still, and the flesh astonished; her members
were put at rest, and her entire womb was quiescent during


the visit of the Heavenly One, until the Author of the flesh
could take on His garment of flesh, and until He, who was
not merely to restore the earth to man but also to give him
heaven, could become a Heavenly Man.131

Both in prefiguration and in the conception, Christ is seen putting on

an earthly clothing, the flesh which has been corrupted by Adam and

which he must cleanse.132 Christians are enjoined by Christ's sacrifice

in turn to put on the robe of Christ:

Put on the robe of sanctity, gird yourself with the belt
of chastity. Let Christ be the covering of your head.
Let the cross remain as the helmet on your forehead.
Cover your breast with the mystery of heavenly perfume.
Take up the sword of the spirit.133

Confessing Christians in fact are the garment of Christ: "We are the

robe of Christ; when we have clothed him with our confession of

faith, we, in turn, have put on Christ."134 Another way in which the

image of being clothed functions, however, is in the preparation for

Christ's return and wedding. The two scriptural passages which demand

readiness are Matthew 22, 12-13 and Luke 12, 35-36. The latter, for

example, "Let your loins be girt, and lamps burning in your hands.

And you yourselves like to men who wait for their Lord when he shall

return from the wedding," suggests to Chrysologus that "He who drops

off the girdle of virtue cannot overcome the vices of the body."135

In the former passage, a king approaches a man who comes to the

wedding feast without a wedding garment on.

And [the king] saith to him: Friend, how camest thou in
hither not having on a wedding garment? But he was silent.
Then the king said to the waiters: Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the exterior darkness: there shall be
weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The wedding garments are interpreted by Caesarius as restraint of the

body and as good works, for which eternal life is the reward:


Truly, as the pleasure-loving flesh is adorned for a short
time with earthly ornaments so that it may please carnal
eyes to its own ruin or that of others who are filled with
lust, so a holy soul is adorned by divine words as with the
spiritual and eternal pearls of good works. Thus happily
adorned, it may attain to the company of its heavenly spouse
and the nuptial banquet.136

When one does mourn his sinful condition, and mortifies his flesh "with

hardships and toils," according to Basil,

By such a person, the mourning garment, which he put on
when bewailing his sin, is rent, and the tunic of joy is
placed around him and the cloak of salvation, those bright
wedding garments, with which, if one is adorned, he will
not be cast out from the bridal chamber.137

By disciplining the flesh and the soul, the believer can expect a

garment not of mourning but of joy in the next life.

From the image of the clothing of flesh, the old man which should

be stripped away, to the redemption of man by Christ's clothing Himself

in the flesh, to man's waiting for Christ in the wedding garments of

virtuous actions, clothing imagery was a valuable, flexible image. Never-

theless, there was another domestic image which was even more widely

and dramatically used throughout the Middle Ages. The image of husband-

wife is extremely important as a way in which medieval men viewed their

moral condition, and it is one of the most elaborately developed images

expressing the soul's relationship to the body and to Christ.

As we have seen in Bonaventure's thought, "Every personal sin is

in a way a copy of the first and original sin";138 so it was natural

for the relationship between Adam and Eve to be used as an analogy

to the relationship between the soul and the body and to the process of

sin. In the process of the Fall, suggestion, delectation, and consent

proceeded from the serpent, through Eve, to Adam; and this thought can be


found in Augustine, Gregory, and Bede, as well as in other writers.139

Bonaventure found the three steps in the process of sin in the man,

the woman, and the serpent. When men sin the masculine, rational principle

does not control the feminine, sensual principle:

If in sensual delight reason succumbs to sensuality, then the
feminine principle is bowing to the serpent. . and it
[i.e., the sin] is imputable not only to the woman but also
the man, who should have restrained her and prevented her
from obeying the serpent.140

Consequently, the body and the soul, viewed as the wife and her husband,

became a convenient shorthand to explain the moral life of Christians.

Jerome quotes Origen:

We may say that the soul loves and cherishes the flesh that
shall see the salvation of God and cherishes it, schooling
it with disciplines, feeding it with heavenly bread, and
bathing it in the blood of Christ, so that refreshed and
refined it can follow its husband with unfettered step and
not be burdened and weighed down by any weakness.141

Although the soul is seen as masculine in its relationship with

the flesh, it can also be feminine as the spouse of Christ. The Sacra-

ment of Matrimony indicates not only the soul-body relationship, but

also the soul-Christ relationship; and it was instituted in Eden:

Matrimony was a sacrament of a kind of spiritual society
which was through love between God and the soul, and in
this society the soul was the bride and God was the bride-
groom. 142

Moreover, the soul as the spouse of Christ had an extension as The

Church as the Bride of Christ.143 The marriage scene of Christ and the

Church was pictured as both grand and beautiful, as in Thecla's Hymn,

which ends "with an exultant song of joy, in which the Virgin and choir

is pictured as escorting the King and Queen in a mystical marriage

procession toward the Gates of Life."144

The soul and the flesh, and the soul and God, and Christ and the


Church were often discussed with related images, and frequently the

imagery was erotic,145 derived from the Canticle of Canticles. Such is

the case in Ambrose's Isaac, in which the meeting of Isaac and Rebecca

is glossed with passages from the Canticle as the meeting of the soul and

Christ and of the Church and Christ:

Therefore the Church is beautiful for she has acquired sons
from hostile nations. But this passage can be interpreted
in reference to the soul, which subdues the bodily passions,
turns them to the service of the virtues, and makes resistant
feelings subject to itself. And so the soul of the patriarch
Isaac, seeing the mystery of Christ, seeing Rebecca coming
with the people of the nations, and marvelling at the beauty
of the Word and of His sacraments, says, "Let him kiss me
with the kisses of his mouth."146

Rebecca in turn desires to kiss Isaac, and Ambrose explains that the

desire for kisses springs from the waiting of the Church for Christ and

of the soul for Christ:

Think upon the Church, in suspense over many ages at the
coming of the Lord, long promised her through the prophets.
And think upon the soul, lifting herself up from the body
and rejecting indulgence and fleshly delights and pleasures,
and laying aside as well her concern for worldly vanities.
For a long time now she has desired to be infused with God's
presence and has desired, too, the grace of the Word of sal-
vation, and has wasted away, because he is coming late,
and has been struck down, wounded with love as it were, since
she cannot endure his delays. Turning to the Father, she
asks that He send to her God the Word, and giving the reason
why she is so impatient, she says, "Let him kiss me with the
kisses of his mouth."

The soul derives knowledge from the kisses of Christ, and with the re-

ception of this knowledge, the soul is ecstatic: "I opened my mouth and


The kiss of Christ is analogous to the kiss of a lover: "Through

such a kiss the soul cleaves to God the Word, and through the kiss the

spirit of Him who kisses is poured into the soul, just as those who

kiss are not satisfied to touch lightly with their lips but appear to

be pouring their spirit into each other."147 With the kiss, Christ "Laid

bare his breasts to her, that is, his teachings and the laws of the

wisdom that is within."

In the Canticle the King brings the Shulamite to his inner chambers

(I, 4), and Ambrose develops the moment by a spiritual interpretation:

Indeed, "The King brought me to his inner apartment."
Blessed the soul that enters the inner chambers. For
rising up from the body, she becomes more distant from
all, and she searches and seeks within herself, if in any
way she can pursue the divine.148

As Ruth Cline has shown, the erotic imagery even extended to the bed it-

self among Christian writers.149 She reminds us that Origen saw the

human body as Christ's bed,150 and that Fortunatus uses a similar image:

Templa creatoris sunt membra puellae
Et habitat proprius tale cubile Deus.151

A twelfth-century hymn reflects the same image:

lesum quaeram in lectulo
clauso cordis cubiculo
privatim in populo
quaram-amore sedulo.152

The husband-wife imagery thus proceeds to the very furnishing of the

bridal chambers, with Christ and the soul united in the bed of man's body.

With the husband-wife relationship reflecting man's relationship

with God, it is not unusual or unexpected that adultery should become

a graphic way of representing sin. D. W. Robertson, Jr., has pointed

out the pervasiveness of the marriage metaphor in describing social

relationships, such as between a bishop and the souls in his care, or

between a political leader and his kingdom, and conversely of adultery

as a metaphor for the disruption of hierarchies.153 One such disruption

is the process of sin. "When the sensuality or the lower reason rebels,

the result is conventionally termed 'adultery.'" Robertson mentions

Berchorius's dictum that adultery, in this sense, includes all mortal


In the City of God Augustine says that while "lust" (concupiscence)

is normally the word for the generative impulse, the same word is also

"the generic word for all desires."155 Augustine similarly uses "for-

nication" in such a broad sense and explains the usage in the Commentary

on the Sermon on the Mount:

Therefore, by the name of such adulterers as are mentioned
under this head we are to understand every kind of carnal
and lustful concupiscence. Indeed, since the Scriptures so
consistently give to idolatry the name of fornication, and
since the Apostle Paul calls avarice idolatry, who can doubt
that every evil concupiscence may be rightly called fornica-
tion? For when the soul disregards the higher law by which
it is governed, and prostitutes itself as though for a price,
then it corrupts itself through base delight in lower natures.156

Later he argues that fornication, idolatry, and covetousness are all

related in their lack of righteousness:

If unbelief is fornication, and if idolatry is unbelief, and
if covetousness is idolatry, then there can be no doubt that
covetousness is fornication. Now if covetousness is fornica-
tion, how can anyone rightly dissociate any kind of sinful
lusts from the category of fornication? . We are com-
pelled to understand this fornication as generic and all-

Augustine makes another inclusion of all sin under the heading of forni-

cation when he says that fornication includes "every transgression of

the Law through sinful desire.'158

The metaphor of adultery for sin is used by Methodius in his

Symposium, where the soul loses its "unsurpassed loveliness" by being

seduced by the Devil:

It is for this reason that the spirits of wickedness become


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