Lechers and Sodomites
After the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, the classification of sins into groups and degrees of severity had even more pragmatic consequences. Drawing on earlier canon law, a principal focus of the pastoral function became the redemption of sinners through sermon and confession, and new compendia of writings on the priest’s role in confession as well as practical instructional manuals for administering confession appeared. Discussions of sexuality in The Book of Vices and Virtues draw on this categorizing impulse (see “Chastity, Marriage, Widowhood, and Virginity,” p. 93). Invariably, sins “against nature,” sodomitical acts, are named as the most severe form of luxuria, and they encompass bestiality, same-sex practices, and any other act that does not lead to procreation, such as oral sex and masturbation.The sixte heved of this best [of deadly sin] is lecherie, that is outrajeous love and yvel ordeyned in lykyng of reyns1 or in delyt of fleschely lustes. And in this synne tempteth the devel a man in fyve maneres, as Seynt Gregory seith: First in folily lokes. And after in foule wordes. And after in foule touchynges. And after in foule kissynges. And after cometh a man to do the dede.2 For thurgh the folily lokes cometh a man to speke, and fro speche to touchynge, and fro touchynge to kissynge, and fro the kissynge to the foule dede of synne. And thus slyghly bryngeth the devel fro on in-to a-nother. This synne is departed first in two maneres, for ther is lecherie in herte and lecherie in body.
Lecherie of herte hath foure degres, for ther is a spirit that is cleped a spirit of fornicacioun that serveth for the synne of lecherie. First he maketh thoughtes come and the figures and liknesses of that synne in a mannes or a wommannes herte, and maketh hym thenke ther-on. And after the hirte abideth and dwelleth stille and deliteth, and natheles thei ne wolde not do the dede for no thing. That ilke dwellyng and the delyt that is the secunde degre may be dedly synne, ye, so gret may be the delit. The thridde degre is the acord of the herte and of the resoun and of the wille, and suche acord is evere-more dedly synne. After assyntynge cometh desire and the grete brennynge wille that thei haveth to synne, and doth mo than twelve synnes on the thridde day; that is to beholde thes ladies and thes maidenes and dameseles araied and apparailed that ofte sithe apparailen hem more queyntely and gaily for to make nyse lokers to loken on hem, and weneth not to do gret synne, for thei have no wille to do the synne the more in dede. But certeynly thei synneth wel grevously, for thei maken and beth cause of losse of many soules, and wher-thurgh many man is ded and falleth in-to gret synne, for men seyn in olde proverbes, “Ladies of riche and gay apparail is arwblast of tour.” For sche hath no membre on hire body that nys a grynne of the devel, as Salamon seith,3 wherfore thei mote yelde acountes at the day of dom of alle the soules that by enchesoun of 4 hem are dampned, that is to seye, whan a womman gyveth enchesoun5 and cause to synnen, here wytynge. Lecherie of body is departed in lecherous biholdyng, and heryng, spekynge, and handlynge, and in alle the fyve wittes, and namely in the foule dede. To that synne longen alle thinges that a mannes flesch is meved to, and desireth fleschly lustes, as ben outrageous etynges and drynkynges and esy beddynges, and delicious and softe schertes and smokkes and swote6 robes of scarlet, and alle othere eses of the body that is more than nede is.
The synne of lecherie is departed in many braunches as after the staates of persones that doth it, and evere it clymbeth upper and upper, and alwey wors and wors. The first is of man and womman that beth not bounde bi a vow, ne bi mariage, ne bi ordre, ne bi religioun, ne bi othere weies. Yit is this the first dedly synne of lecherie, who-so doth it. The secounde is with a comune womman. That synne is wel more, for it is fouler. And for suche ben ofte of religioun and forsaketh no man, that is to seye brother, ne cosyn, ne fadre. The thridde is a man unbounde with a womman bounde bi a vow. The ferthe is with a mayde. The fifthe is with a womman maried, that is cleped in holy writ avoutrie; that is a wel grevous synne, for ther is brekyng of oure bileve and trewthe that that on schal bere to that other, also ther is the synne of sacrilege, whan a man breketh the sacrament of holi chirche, that is of mariage. And ther-of cometh ofte disheritynges, and false heires, and wrongful mariages. And this synne doubleth otherwhile, as a man maried with a-nother mannes wif, and also a womman maried with a-nother man y-maried that is nought hire owne husbonde. The sixte is whan a man with his owne wif doth thing forboden and defended, agens kynde and agens the ordre of wedloke, for a man may slen hymself with his owne swerd, and also a man may do dedly synne with his owne wif, and therfore smot God Ozam, Jacobes cosyn.7 And the devel that height Asmodeus strangelede sevene husbondes of the holy womman Sare that afterward was yong Tobies wif.8 For alle the sacramentes of holy chirche scholde men fare clenly with and holde hem in gret reverence and worschipe. The sevene is a man with his modre or with his doughter, or with the children of his godfadre or of his godmodre, for suche folke mowe not come to-gidre with-out dedly synne, not in mariage. The eighthe, a man with his kynnes womman, and this synne is grettere and smallere after that the kyn is nygh or feer. The nynthe is a man with his wyves kyn or the womman with hire housbondes kyn. This synne is wel perilous, for whan a man taketh a womman, he may not after that wedde noon of hire coseynes and, yif he take any of hem, the mariage is as noon; and yif he take a womman and after taketh a-nother of hire kyn, he leseth the right that he had to his wif, in as moche that he may not dele with hire but if sche bidde hym bifore-hond. The tenthe, a womman with a clerke with-ynne holi ordre. That synne is grettere or smallere as the ordres beth gretter or smaller. The eleventhe is with a womman of religioun or a womman of the world with a man of religioun. The twelfthe is a man of religioun with a womman of religion, and this synne is more or lasse after that the staat is of hem that doth it. The threttenthe is of prelates of holi chirche that scholde be techers bi ensaumple of hemself and to al the world of alle clennesses and of alle holynesses.
The last is so foule and so hidous that [it] scholde not be nempned,9 that is synne agens kynde that the devel techeth to a man or to a womman in many wises that mowe not be spoken, for the matere is so foul that it is abhomynacioun to speke it; but natheles, be it man or womman that be gilty ther-of, he mote telle it openly in his schrifte to the prest as it was y-don. For in that that the synne is fouler and schamfuller, in so moche is the schrift more worth, for the schame that he hath that schryveth hym ther-of, for that is gret part of his penaunce. This synne is so myslykyng to God that he made reyne fier and stynkynge brymston upon the citees of Sodom and Gomorre, and sunke in-to helle fyve citees.10 The devel hymself, that purchaseth that synne, is squeymous ther-of whan any doth it.