Prostitution in Western Medieval Theology

In an old blog post at Siris, Brandon Watson remarks:

Incidentally, on a complete tangent, when reading up again on what Thomas says about property and almsgiving, I suddently realized something that I don’t think I ever realized before: Thomas doesn’t think it’s immoral to receive payment for sex. He does, of course, think fornication and adultery immoral, and thus prostitution to the extent that it involves these; but he explicitly says that when a woman takes money for it she is not doing so unlawfully or unjustly.

The source, I believe, is ST II-II, q. 87, art. 2, ad. 2, in a question about whether the church should accept ill-gotten tithes:

On the other hand certain things are said to be ill-gotten, because they are gotten of a shameful cause, for instance of whoredom or stage-playing, and the like. Such things a man is not bound to restore, and consequently he is bound to pay tithes on them in the same way as other personal tithes. Nevertheless the Church must not accept the tithe so long as those persons remain in sin, lest she appear to have a share in their sins: but when they have done penance, tithes may be accepted from them on these things.

James A. Brundage has an article (‘Prostitution in the Medieval Canon Law’, Signs 1(4), pp. 825-845) that adds some background to this. Aquinas was not alone in his idea (pp. 837-838):

When it came to dealing with the property and property rights of prostitutes, the canonists followed very closely the doctrine of the classical Roman lawyers, which was still current law in many secular jurisdictions in the Middle Ages. Money given to a prostitute could not be reclaimed by the donor, according to this doctrine: the client had no right to take back the money he had paid for her sexual services. She, for her part, committed no wrong in accepting the money … The customer who paid the harlot her fee might be held wrong to give money to her; but her acceptance was perfectly legal … Cardinal Cajetan, incidentally, stipulated that a prostitute, in order to be entitled lawfully to retain what she earned, must charge only a just price for her services…

However, prostitutes did not enjoy full labor rights (pp. 838-840):

The wilier customer, who paid in promises of future gifts, could renege on his promises and the prostitute could not legally secure enforcement of them … A prostitute could not denounce a criminal, nor were the courts to hear a harlot’s complaints about wrongs done to her. This attitude was consistent with the teaching of the Roman lawyers.


St. John Chrysostom on Evangelism

Yesterday in the Church the gospel reading was the Samaritan woman (John 4:5-42). St. John Chrysostom’s commentary on this spans five of his homilies on the Gospel of John. In them he shares wisdom on how to evangelize by first describing Christ’s evangelism to the Samaritan woman, and then her evangelism to the town of Sychar.

In their conversation that begins with Jesus asking for a drink of water, Christ gradually leads the woman to raise her conception from ordinary water, to a miraculous water, then finally to the water which is the Holy Spirit. Christ is a model of gentle persuasion, not immediately telling her who He is (to avoid seeming boastful before giving proof) but slowly letting her draw conclusions. Because she is not well-learned like Nicodemus was, Christ does not argue from Scripture but uses the topic of their conversation (water) and on the basis of signs such as His knowledge of her living with a man who is not her husband. Importantly, even here He does not say it outright but lets her reveal it: “He desired to take the beginnings of His signs and prophecies from the very persons who came near to Him, so that they might be more attached by what was done, and He might escape the suspicion of vainglory. Now this He does here also; for to have charged her first of all that, ‘You have no husband,’ would have seemed burdensome and superfluous, but to take the reason (for speaking) from herself, and then to set right all these points, was very consistent, and softened the disposition of the hearer.” For her part, despite the rebuke the woman he still marvels at Him, saying “I see that you are a prophet.” St. John Chrysostom praises her desire to learn about God: “Let us now after this be ashamed, and blush. A woman who had had five husbands, and who was of Samaria, was so eager concerning doctrines, that neither the time of day, nor her having come for another purpose, nor anything else, led her away from enquiring on such matters.” And although Jesus is known for speaking in riddles, he eventually tells her clearly that He is the Messiah, on account of her humility.

Then, believing, the Samaritan woman returns to the city to tell of Christ. St. John Chrysostom remarks on her own evangelism:

Observe too how prudently she speaks; she said not, ‘Come and see the Christ,’ but with the same condescension by which Christ had netted her she draws the men to Him; ‘Come,’ she says, ‘see a Man who told me all that ever I did.’ She was not ashamed to say that He ‘told me all that ever I did.’ … ‘Is not this the Christ?’ Observe again here the great wisdom of the woman; she neither declared the fact plainly, nor was she silent, for she desired not to bring them in by her own assertion, but to make them to share in this opinion by hearing Him; which rendered her words more readily acceptable to them. Yet He had not told all her life to her, only from what had been said she was persuaded (that He was informed) as to the rest. Nor did she say, ‘Come, believe,’ but, ‘Come, see’; a gentler expression than the other, and one which more attracted them. Do you see the wisdom of the woman? She knew, she knew certainly that having but tasted that Well, they would be affected in the same manner as herself.

Lazarus Saturday

In other words, what is virtually absent from the lenten experience is that physical and spiritual effort aimed at our participation in the today of Christ’s Resurrection, not abstract morality, not moral improvement, not greater control of passions, not even personal self-perfecting, but partaking of the ultimate and all-embracing today of Christ. Christian spirituality not aimed at this is in danger of becoming pseudo-Christian, for in the last analysis it is motivated by the “self” and not by Christ. The danger here is that once the room of the heart is purified, made clean, freed from the demon which inhabited it, it remains empty and the demon returns to it “taking with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter it and dwell there and the last state of that man is worse than the first” (Lk. 11:26).

Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent: Journey to Pascha (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1996), pp.83-84.

Feast of Orthodoxy

Today is the first Sunday of Great Lent (the Sunday of Orthodoxy), which features a procession of icons in the liturgy. In the 700s, there was a string of three icon-hating emperors (Leo III, Constantine V, Leo IV) who persecuted the faithful who maintained the veneration of the icons. Constantine V in fact attempted to hold an ecumenical council to condemn icons (the pseudo-council of Hiereia, 754) in which 380 bishops participated but no patriarchs. When Leo IV died, his wife St. Irene became Empress and slowly restored the full use of icons and held the Council of Nicaea II (787) which condemned iconoclasm and is notable for its great leniency toward repentent iconoclast bishops. But in 813, another string of three iconclastic Byzantine emperors arose (Leo V, Michael II, Theophilus) – known as the second period of Byzantine iconoclasm. The second period again ended when after Theophilus’s death, a woman became ruler (St. Theodora) and, creating a tradition that has lasted until today, had the icons returned to the churches in a solemn procession on the first Sunday of Lent in 842. For more on history and the tradition behind icon use, see Giakalis, Ambrosios, Images of the Divine: The Theology of Icons at the Seventh Ecumenical Council, 2nd ed. (Leiden: Brill, 2005).

Biblical Notes on Icons
Jesus says that the gold of the Temple is sacred because the Temple is sacred, and the Temple is sacred because God dwells in it (Matthew 23:18, 21). Just so, icons are sacred because the saints they depict are sacred, and the saints are sacred because God dwells in them (1 Corinthians 3:16).

That icons produce miracles is not surprising given that Jews laid out their sick on the street in the hope they would be healed by being covered by St. Peter’s shadow (Acts 5:15), which as St. John Damascene points out, is a type of image. Consider also how the woman with the issue of blood is cured by simply touching Christ’s garment (Matthew 9:20).

Dogmatic and Historical Notes on Icons
The Orthodox position is that icons should always be venerated, but never worshipped with the same worship due to God alone. It may be alleged that such a distinction is ad hoc, but in fact we have an example of a bishop invoking it long before the iconoclast controversy. The sixth-century anti-Chalcedonian Patriarch of Antioch, Severus, who supported veneration of saints, chastises certain Christians who “worship the angels like gods; and again, without moderation, they go forth beyond lawful boundaries” (Homily LXXII.3), and remarks the difference between pious Christians and “those who worship angels and attach to them the glory and worship which are due to God alone” (4).

Another iconoclastic argument is: depictions of Christ are useless because each race depicts Christ differently. St. Photius gives a particularly insightful reply (PG 101:948 ff). Rather than arguing that only the Byzantines have correctly depicted Christ, he says that such differences matter no more than the fact that the Gospel has been translated into many languages. Just as the many translations all point to the same Gospel, so too do the many depictions of Christ all point to the same God-Man. He also add that the widespread use and veneration of icons among all the different races of Christians in fact confirms the antiquity of the practice.

Notes on Icons Today
During Byzantine iconoclasm, iconodules noted that icons help teach the faith and demonstrate our faith in the Incarnation. During the Third Reich in Germany, a racial anti-Semitic theology came into vogue, which denied that God became a Jewish man, thereby essentially denying the incarnation. St. Maria Skobstova (an Orthodox nun in Nazi-occupied Paris, who helped Jews escape), when asked by Nazi officials if she had any Jews in her house, would respond affirmatively and return with all the icons she had of the Theotokos and of Christ.

Not only are icons helpful teaching tools, but they are primarily sacramental. A problem that came up during the controversy in the Byzantine iconoclasm was whether it was fitting for sacraments to be kept outside of the churches – iconoclasts seemed to lean no, while the Orthodox said yes. Even today, icons help ensure that access to God is not limited to the clergy:

It was true that in all Orthodox jurisdictions all but the very lowest formal positions were held exclusively by men. Priests, monks, bishops, etc. could ask for miracles, but they could not make them. Icons, like relics, living (lay) saints, and the earnest prayers of lay believers, were considered effective sources of religious help. More than that, they were independent sources of religious authority. While they were not in competition with structural hierarchs, they are also not subordinate to them. They were accessible and responsive to lay believers, most of whom were female, and therefore gave Orthodox women alternative sources of authority and legitimacy (Weaver, Dorothy C., ‘Shifting agency: male clergy, female believers, and the role of icons’, Material Religion, 7, 3 (2011), p. 417).

Lonergan on Eschatology

I have transcribed some handwritten notes the Canadian theologian Bernard Lonergan SJ left on some New Testament verses generally considered eschatological. He is brilliant as usual. Square brackets are mine, round brackets are Lonergan’s.

Textes Eschatologiques

Matt 1023
NB. Discourse partly particular partly referring to general mission of disciples esp 1017 onwards.
cf. Dan 713f the 5th kingdom. not eschatological. Refers to “cette magnifique et soudaine extension du règne messianique que constitutera la conversion des gentiles” [“this magnificent and sudden extension of the messianic reign that the conversion of the gentiles will constitute”] cf. Dan 714

Matt 1627, 28 Mc 91 Lc 927       2 Pet 116
Eschatological Matt 1627 Mc 838 Lc 926
No separation in Matthew. In Mc, new chapter καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς [And he said to them]. In Lc, λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ἀληθῶς [But I tell you truly].
Mt.  donec videant Filium hominis venientem in regno suo
Mc.  donec videant regnum Dei veniens in virtute
Lc.   donec videant regnum Dei
Apparently cf. Dan 713, 14 Matt means no more than Mk + Lc.
virtute = spiritual power cf. St. Paul δύναμις (?)

Matt 2663f, Mc 1461f, Lc 2267f
Lc. No question of eschatology.
Are you Xt? Yes but my present appearance does not confirm it. I cannot convince you by argument. However you shall see the kingdom prophesied by Daniel. Moreover I am Son of God. “seated at right hand” which is not in Daniel cf. stoning of Stephen.
Mc. Mt. ὄψεσθε [you will see] Lc. ἔσται [will be] equivalent. Question is “who are you?” answer in apocalyptic style.

Matt 2338, Lc 1335 (Rom 1125)
Luke puts the λογιον before triumphal entry into Jerusalem
ἰδοὺ ἀφίεται ὑμῖν ὁ οἶκος ὑμῶν Jer 225 127.
οὐ μὴ ἴδητέ με ἕως ἥξει ὅτε εἴπητε·
Εὐλογημένος ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου. Ps 11726
1° Does not seem to refer to entry into Jerusalem. Context too general.
2° Addressed to “Jerusalem”
3° You would not receive me
  You will lose your inheritance of grace
You will not have another chance till your final conversion
4° The verse “Εὐλογημένος ὁ ἐρχόμενος” is a Messianic prophesy cf Ps 11722,23 “The stone which the builders rejected; the same has become the head of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing and it is wonderful in our eyes.”
5° Therefore οὐ μὴ ἴδητέ με ἕως κτλ simply means this is your last chance; you will not be asked again; the “Kingdom” will come but you will not be the Kingdom; you will say εὐλογημένος = you will have just grounds for saying ∵ the Kingdom is a fact, a fait accompli; the gentiles will receive of the inheritance

N.B. Mt 2335 quem occidistis inter templum et altare [whom you killed between the sanctuary and the altar]. solidarity of the present generation with the whole Jewish race.
cf. Dan 926,27 occidetur Xtus [the Antointed/Christ will be cut off/killed] etc. Lc 2123,24 separate destruction of Jerusalem + end of world
Mt. 2422-28 Prophetic confusion of destruction of Jerusalem + end of world.
II Pet. 116 on “Transfiguration”



Shading Candles

You are sitting in a room and it is dusk. Candles have been brought in that you may see to get on with the work in hand. Then you try to look up and out to the garden which lies beyond; and all you can see is the reflection of the candles in the window. To see the garden the candles must be shaded.
Now that is what philosophy does. It prevents us from being dazzled by what we know. It is a form of thinking which ends by saying, don’t think – look.

Maurice O’Connor Drury, The Danger of Words and Writings on Wittgenstein (Bristol: Thoemmes, 2003), p. 114.

Maurice O’Connor Drury was a friend of Wittgenstein from the late 1920s right up to the latter’s death. His book The Danger of Words is a collection of five essays originally prepared as speeches for various audiences. The above passage comes from the fourth, ‘Hypotheses and Philosophy’, which begins with a hypothetical scenario from the Francis Bacon scholar Thomas B. Macaulay. The emperor Justinian, upon his closure of the school of Athens, decides to ask its teachers (e.g., Simplicius, Isidore) what abiding results philosophy has achieved for humankind. Macaulay’s response is that ancient philosophy has had no lasting contribution to human knowledge. Modern philosophy (i.e., natural science), on the other hand, has cured disease, facilitated business, increase men’s powers, and so on. Drury responds, however, that the point of philosophy was never to add to human knowledge or human skill. It is to make us like Socrates and always be aware of what we do not know, to make “people say only just as much as they really know; that when, as happens in every generation, new advances in knowledge are made, they are not taken to be more important than they really are”, ensuring that human wonder remains secure.