The Shadowy Motives of St. Peter Damian

Posted by Censor Librorum on Oct 26, 2008 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Lesbians & Gays, Popes

St. Peter Damian was a monk. He  lived in Italy in the 11th century.   A reformer, he focused on homosexuality in the clergy. stpeterdamian.jpg

Ironically, his time and writing are a distant mirror to our own day – perceptions of rampant homosexuality in the hierarchy and  clergy; sex abuse or at least use, of young men and boys.  The  prescription for reform was the same: harsh punishment, including banning gay men from religious orders and seminaries.

Were monasteries and clerics ripe for reform?   Yes.  But it also  appears that reformers like Peter Damian  didn’t possess the healthiest  psychological state.    His ferocity and leaning toward an eremtic life didn’t have a broad appeal.   In fact, I believe they stemmed from his own internal fear and loathing.

Among his most famous writings is his lengthy treatise, Letter 31, the Book of Gomorrah (Liber Gomorrhianus).   It was presented to Pope Leo IX in 1049 or 1051.   Leaving nothing to misinterpretation, Damian distinguishes between the various forms of sodomy  beginning with solitary and mutual masturbation and ending with interfemoral (between the thighs) stimulation and anal sex.

Pope Leo IX accepted his letter, agreed with everything he had to say, and outside of a few examples, did very little.

What kind of a man was Peter Damian? whip.jpg

– He couldn’t bear the “distractions” of university life so he left

– He wore a hairshirt “to arm himself against the alurements of pleasure and the wiles of the devil”

– His excessive “watchings” brought on a severe insomnia which was cured with difficulty

– Both as a novice and professed religious his fevour led him to such extremes of penance his health was affected. This included fasting and  mortification, including self-flagellation.

Previously used as a punishment, St. Damian played a crucial role in popularizing this practice. This is discussed at length in the book, In Praise of the Whip by Niklas Largier, a professor of German at the University of California-Berkeley flagellazione-di-cristo.jpg

Is this the type of person we want creating a moral blueprint for sex?

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6 Responses to “The Shadowy Motives of St. Peter Damian”

  1. Kansas City Catholic Says:

    St. Peter Damian was not only a holy bishop who shortly after his death was proclaimed a saint, but he is also one of only 33 men and women who have the distinction of bearing the title “doctor of the Church” because of the timeless wisdom of their teaching.

    The reason St. Peter Damian has been held in such esteem by the Church for nearly a millennium is not for “creating a moral blueprint for sex,” but for upholding God’s moral blueprint for sex, which is inscribed in human nature and also proclaimed in season and out of season by the Church, whether we want to hear the truth or not (see 2 Tim. 4:1-5).

    So yes, if you put it in those terms, I’ll take St. Peter Damian, bishop and doctor, over NACDGLM or Sr. Grammick every time.

  2. Karen Says:

    Dear Kansas City Catholic, the Church proclaims a lot of things and many of them seemingly contradict. I think we need to be very careful–both you and I–about making blanket statements about God and God’s intentions. They can easily assume a judgemental and fundamentalist slant on the Bible, which is not the Catholic way.

    Personally, I think our church hierarchy needs to embrace–rather than fear–the whole issue of sexuality. That will take some courage on their part, because active expressions of sexuality is something that technically they are not supposed to be partaking in, and it would be an area where the laity would have more experience and expertise.

    Too many people, middle-aged as well as young people, have withdrawn from the practice of their Catholic faith because they do not see it has promoting loving, balanced and healthy relationships.

    With that in mind, the Church needs to be careful about who it promotes as role models and “teachers” in this area. At least, in my mind.


  3. Kansas City Catholic Says:

    Come on, Karen, you run a negative piece on St. Peter Damian trying to show “what kind of man” or “what type of person” he is and then you imply that I’m the one being judgmental?

    Yes, God has made Himself known to us, not only through the natural law and in imperfect ways through the Old Testament, but we have the benefit of the fullness of His revelation in Christ, a revelation preserved and proclaimed by the Church in every generation. Such teachings are not “fundamentalist” and, when it comes to established areas of faith and morals, are not contradictory either.

    The theology of the body is a wonderful advance in the area of human sexuality championed by JPII in recent decades and which is very popular among Catholic laity.

    I guess my point here, and I’ll stop pestering you on this point, is that if people walk away for a time rather than be coddled in their sin, that ultimately would provide a greater impetus for conversion and change of life. The Gospel converts us, we do not convert it to satisfy our chosen lifestyle.

  4. Elizabeth D Says:

    St Peter Damian is one of the less well known Doctors of the Church, but a person whose sanctity and wisdom (on matters not limited to chastity) are well established and testified to by almost a millennium of Catholic tradition. Chastity is A VIRTUE. Natural law is a witness to everyone, but Scripture makes it truly very explicit that homosexual acts are sinful. It is absurd to blame and slander Peter Damian, but isn’t it usual that those who present God’s “unpopular” message are themselves attacked by those who really reject God?

    Corinthians 6:9-10 “Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

  5. Karen Doherty Says:

    Elizabeth, is that kind of scornful comment meant to convert me, or make you feel good?

  6. Allan Says:

    This is exactly the type of man we want to lead the faithful from the evils of homosexuality.

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