Religion

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David Geiringer

This chapter introduces the central arguments that the book presents in relation to sex, religion and memory. It opens with an extract from an interview: an emotional account of a Catholic women explaining how ‘the sexual revolution let the cork out of the bottle’ on her beliefs about sex and contraception. This quotation is used as a springboard from which to introduce the overarching themes and issues of the study – the link between sexual and religious change in personal and collective life stories, the role of the interview in providing a space for these stories to be told and the implications these changing stories held for the way individuals made sense of their existence. The chapter traces the development of debates about sex, gender and body within the Catholic community during the twentieth century. It shows how the sex lives of Catholic women, as well as the histories of both sex and religion more broadly, have generally been interpreted through the lens of ‘power’. The interviewees’ testimonies encourage historians to look beyond traditional, top down narratives of shifting power relations. The chapter argues that sex and religion became re-categorised along material lines in the post-war decades. The final subsection of the chapter outlines how and why the book is structured as it is, with chapters reversing the chronology of the Catholic women’s lives.

in The Pope and the pill
Sex, Catholicism and women in post-war England
Author: David Geiringer

On 25 July 1968, Pope Paul VI shook the world. His encyclical letter Humanae Vitae rejected widespread calls to permit use of the contraceptive pill and deemed artificial contraception ‘intrinsically evil’. The Catholic Church is now commonly identified as the antagonist in a story of sixties sexual revolution – a stubborn stone resisting the stream of sex-positive modernity. There has been little consideration of how Catholic women themselves experienced this period of cultural upheaval. This book is about the sexual and religious lives of Catholic women in post-war England. It uses original oral history material to uncover the way Catholic women negotiated spiritual and sexual demands at a moment when the two increasingly seemed at odds with one another. The book also examines the public pronouncements and secretive internal documents of the central Catholic Church, offering a ground-breaking new explanation of the Pope’s decision to prohibit the pill. The materials gathered here provide a fresh perspective on the idea that ‘sex killed God’, reframing dominant approaches to the histories of sex, religion and modernity. The memories of Catholic women help us understand why religious belief does not structure the lives of most English men and women today in the way it did at the close of the Second World War, why sex holds a place of such significance in our modern culture, and crucially, how these two developments related to one another. The book will be essential reading for not only scholars of sexuality, religion, gender and oral history, but anyone interested in post-war social change.

David Geiringer

Early marriage is defined as the years between marital engagement and the end of childrearing. The interviewees’ memories of early marriage were defined by a tension between the physical desires of sexuality and the transcendent codes of religious beliefs. The most pointed example of this was in attempting to grapple with Natural Family Planning (NFP) – the only form of birth regulation endorsed by the Church. The second section of this chapter uses the interviewees’ testimony alongside contemporaneous letters sent from newly married Catholics to doctors and Catholic Marriage Advisory Council (CMAC) counsellors to reconstruct Catholic women’s everyday experience of using NFP. It offers an insight into the range of creative tactics that Catholic women used when trying to abstain from intercourse, including masturbation, oral and anal sex, prayer and positioning large teddy bears as bedtime barriers. The chapter also addresses the understanding of female sexuality that was constructed by the CMAC.

in The Pope and the pill
David Geiringer

This chapter explores the sexual experiences of Catholic women during ‘later marriage’ – broadly defined as the years of sexual activity that came after the daily demands of childrearing had diminished. The parameters of this life-cycle stage varied from person to person, but generally ran from the interviewees’ mid-thirties to sixties for those married in the immediate post-war years, beginning a little later for those married after the 1960s. It explores how and why ‘liberal’ Catholic women rejected the Pope’s prohibition of the pill, uncovering how these decisions were underpinned by a re-categorisation of the religious and the sexual. The memories of Catholic women indicate that that it was often not until the busyness of early marriage had diminished that they had the time and space to consider these decisions. The chapter also examines ‘orthodox’ Catholic women’s critique of the concept of ‘female emancipation’. The chapter moves on to explore Catholic women’s changing views of the Church’s moral authority in matters of sex.

in The Pope and the pill
David Geiringer

This chapter discusses the sources, methods and approach that are used in the book. It begins by outlining the significance of the ‘personal’ for the study. I speak about my own religious, sexual and familial background and the effect this has had on the project. I argue that an open, reflexive approach places the reader in a privileged position from which to evaluate the testimony of the interviewees. A new Catholic-feminist methodology is advanced which emphasises the need to take Catholic women seriously as authors of their own life stories. The chapter then moves on to offer important information about the way the oral history material was gathered. In this section of the chapter, how the interviewees were recruited, the interview process and the question of ‘representivity’ are addressed. It argues that rather than seeing the subjective nature of spoken testimony as a limitation, it is this very attribute which can help reframe understandings of ‘the personal’ within Catholicism.

in The Pope and the pill
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Condemnation of Wyclif’s teaching
Stephen Penn
in John Wyclif
Stephen Penn

Wyclif’s political theory was defined by a basic concept, a theory of lordship (dominio) that began in God’s perfect governance of the created world and ended in his creatures’ just lordship over each other. This relationship between the divine and the human is introduced in On Divine Lordship, Wyclif’s first extended treatment of this topic, and he provides an extended analysis of lordship in the created world in its massive sequel, On Civil Lordship. He suggests there that civil lordship (such as that enjoyed by a monarch) presupposes natural lordship, which could exist only in a lord who was in receipt of God’s grace. The gift of grace, of course, was something of which its recipient could hardly be aware, but the likelihood of grace being bestowed upon a corrupt or unrighteous individual seemed less than negligible, which meant for Wyclif that neither popes nor ecclesiastics could wield authority with any certitude. Wyclif believed that the sinful nature of papal endowments effectively rendered the papacy ineligible to receive God’s grace, an idea that became prominent in his later writings.

in John Wyclif
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Stephen Penn

Wyclif’s views on the church and the papacy were recorded systematically in two roughly contemporary treatises, On the Church (1378/9) and On the Power of the Pope (late 1379). His conception of the church, like his understanding of the nature of scripture, was underpinned quite conspicuously by his philosophical realism, which privileged the eternal over the finite and ephemeral. In the first chapter of On the Church, in response to his initial desire to describe the quiddity of the church, he therefore claims simply that the church is ‘the congregation of all of those predestined to salvation’. This definition, he suggests, underlies many of the diverse conceptions of the church that are found in scripture. It is this church, he goes on to suggest, that we should properly identify as the bride of Christ. The head of the church, we are told, is uniquely Christ himself, and its members are his limbs. Nobody can know for certain that he or she is among the predestinate, or even the foreknown (that is, those predestined to damnation), which meant that for Wyclif, nobody could be sure that he or she was truly a member of the church, except by ‘special revelation’.

in John Wyclif
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Stephen Penn

For the student at any university in late medieval Europe, logic and metaphysics were the necessary preliminaries to any serious engagement with theological questions. Wyclif’s distinctive and controversial theological system relied upon an equally distinctive and impressively intricate philosophical system. His three logical treatises and his Summa de Ente (a modern title) are only now beginning to receive the attention they deserve from scholars, but only one of them (On Universals) is available in English translation. I have here selected texts that deal with a range of issues that were to become crucial to Wyclif’s later thought. All are clearly informed by his developing philosophical realism, and represent his desire to gesture away from the material particulars of the world, towards the universal entities that Wyclif felt were the proper objects of philosophical knowledge.

in John Wyclif
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Selected Latin works in translation
Author: Stephen Penn

John Wyclif (d. 1384) was among the leading schoolmen of fourteenth-century Europe. He was an outspoken controversialist and critic of the church, and, in his last days at Oxford, the author of the greatest heresy that England had known. This volume offers translations of a representative selection of his Latin writings on theology, the church and the Christian life. It offers a comprehensive view of the life of this charismatic but irascible medieval theologian, and of the development of the most prominent dissenting mind in pre-Reformation England. This collection will be of interest to undergraduate and graduate students of medieval history, historical theology and religious heresy, as well as scholars in the field.