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5 Saints and Lovers Mary Magdalene and the Ovidian Evangel
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Saints and Lovers
Mary Magdalene and the Ovidian Evangel

And Courage Lovers: Jesus will allow
Your Noble Passion
Who was excessive in His Love to you.
Joseph Beaumont,
"S. Mary Magdalen's Ointment"

I was teaching at the University of Arkansas in 1988–89, the year the movie version of Nikos Kazantzakis's The Last Temptation of Christ came out. There were, as I recall, protests throughout the state against the movie's notorious dream sequence in which Christ and Mary Magdalene make love. At the university, the student governing body voted to ban the film from campus. It was one of the few times I felt that I would not last long in Fayetteville.

The sex scene between Christ and Mary Magdalene was not very explicit, nor was the underlying idea particularly novel. In The Man Who Died , D. H. Lawrence, rather predictably, also eroticizes their relationship. Rumors about this pair, in fact, go back a long time. One detects them three centuries earlier behind Donne's glancing allusion in "The Relique" and among the blasphemies attributed to Marlowe.[1] Over a millennium before this, Celsus's second-century anti-Christian polemic dismisses Mary's vision of the resurrected Christ as the hallucination of a sexually excited (paroistros ) female.[2] The sexualization of the Magdalene's relationship to Christ seems to be a subversive topos of long standing—one congenial to persons repelled (and amused) by the traditional Christian ethics of purity.

Many orthodox versions of the Mary Magdalene story bear out this hypothesis, since they stress precisely the opposite implications, focusing on Mary's renunciation of her sinful sexuality and subsequent life of austere penitence. Donatello's statue of the ravaged penitent Magdalene (fig. 1) thus portrays a body wasted and drained by the rigors of ascetic discipline—the body bruised to pleasure soul. Most Protestant treatments of


the Magdalene legend similarly center on her conversion from a life of sensual delight to one of chaste and contrite faith.[3]

But a little further investigation makes it clear that this schematic contrast between subversive eroticism and puritanical orthodoxy has limited applicability. Even unquestionably orthodox representations of Mary's conversion exude an erotic fragrance; a late twelfth-century life of Mary Magdalene, probably of Cistercian origin, renders her tearful penitence in a manner reminiscent of Kazantzakis:

Having sprinkled the feet of the Saviour with the precious nard, she spread it over them and massaged them with her hands and fingers; then she wrapped them gently in her hair, which was of surpassing beauty. Drawing them to her breast and lips, she tenderly washed them. She held them and caressed them for a long time, then let them go.[4]

Likewise, Renaissance portraits of Mary as a penitent anchorite often have an unexpected sensual beauty (fig. 2) that occasionally descends into something that looks like hagioporn (fig. 3); one does not know what else to call Bellavia's sketches of the naked Mary lying above a crucifix's nearly naked corpus, her eyes gazing intently and passionately on Christ's face and thighs. Leo Steinberg classifies such works as "pure erotomania."[5]

But this seems premature. Bellavia's apparently blatant erotic fantasies belong to his series of otherwise unremarkable devotional engravings. Moreover, they are curiously akin to passages in Donne's sermons (including one preached shortly before his death) where he describes how Christ covers sin "by comming to me, by spreading himself upon me ... Mouth to mouth, Hand to hand" and conversely how Donne, like Bellavia's Mary Magdalene, spreads himself atop Christ's crucified body: "I put my hands into his hands, and hang upon his nailes, I put mine eyes upon his.... I put my mouth upon his mouth.... to hang upon him that hangs upon the Crosse , there bath in his teares , there suck at his woundes ."[6] Sexuality and piety seem surprisingly difficult to distinguish. Donne's ardent longings remain erotic, but one hesitates to label them symptoms of "erotomania," and they have nothing to do with female sexuality. It is, however, tempting to attach some significance to the fact that the only picture Donne had in his bedroom was of Mary Magdalene—unusual decor, perhaps, for a Protestant minister.[7]

Kazantzakis's sexualized reading of the relationship between Mary Magdalene and Christ challenges the orthodox insistence on Christ's sexual purity. Mary's passionate and erotic love for Christ, however, was an immensely popular topos of medieval and Renaissance devotional litera-


ture. But since contemporary scholarship affirms with a rare unanimity that Renaissance men found female sexuality simultaneously terrifying and disgusting, the eroticism of the Magdalene—the only remaining female saint in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer—seems unaccountable. To understand the implications of this anomaly, we need to examine a group of texts, dating from the twelfth to the seventeenth century, that focus on Mary's anguished longing for her divine (and dead) lover—a scriptural subgenre that bears significantly on questions of sexuality, gender, and subjectivity in medieval and early modern Christianity.

Although Magdalene narratives figure in patristic biography, the cycle plays, and saints' lives, only two pre-Reformation versions survived into the English Renaissance. Both are rewritings of the twentieth chapter from the Gospel according to John, which describes how Mary waited alone at the empty tomb of Christ weeping, until finally the risen Lord appeared to her disguised as a gardener.[8] We may label these versions the "Chaucerian" and the "Origenist," since the former appears as part of the Chaucerian canon in every Renaissance edition of his works and the second is a medieval Latin sermon generally attributed to Origen (although both Erasmus and Bellarmine questioned this ascription).[9] There may have been some contamination between the two versions, since Chaucer himself, in the Legend of Good Women , mentions that he translated "Orygenes upon the Maudeleyne,"[10] evidence that the sermon was available in England by the late fourteenth century.

The Origenist version starts out as a sermon but halfway through slips into a dialogue between Mary Magdalene, the angels, and Christ. The narrator, who initially functions simply as an exegete, also becomes a character, interrogating Mary, expostulating with Christ, asking questions, and offering (often useless) advice. The text employs a rhythmic and elaborately schematic Latin prose, although some late versions are written in doggerel. Recent scholarship has identified the pseudo-Origen's homily as a Benedictine or Cistercian work of the late twelfth or early thirteenth centuries. More than 130 manuscript versions from the thirteenth through the sixteenth century survive; at least twelve editions were printed between 1504 and 1604.[11] During the same period, the sermon was translated into French, Italian, Provençal, Castilian, Portuguese, Dutch, Czech, and English—the Homilie of Marye Magdalene, declaring her fervent love and zele towards CHRIST of 1565 and a fragmentary, probably earlier, English translation.[12] The pseudo-Origen, furthermore, supplied the principal source for Robert Southwell's Marie Magdalens Funeral Tears , which itself went through nine editions between 1591 and 1624, as well as


Lancelot Andrewes's fourteenth Easter sermon (1620) and, via Southwell, Gervase Markham's Marie Magdalens Lamentations (1601).[13]

The Chaucerian variant, The Lamentatyon of Mary Magdaleyne , probably dates from the late fifteenth century; it is composed in macaronic verse and has Mary herself speaking alone. Unlike the Origenist homily, it ends before Mary's encounter with the risen Christ. No versions survive prior to its anonymous publication, entitled the Complaynte of the Lover of Cryst Mary Magdaleyn , in 1520. But in 1532 William Thynne reprinted it as part of the Chaucerian canon in his editio princeps of Chaucer's works, and it was thereafter included in all subsequent sixteenth- and seventeenth-century editions.[14] It did not drop out of the Chaucer canon until Tyrwhitt's 1775 edition rejected its traditional authorship, at which point it plummeted into oblivion.

Love Among the Ruins

Both the Origenist homily and the Chaucerian verse prosopopoeia are recastings of the biblical narrative on the model of Ovid's Heroides —probably the most popular Ovidian work in the late Middle Ages.[15] The Heroides constitute a female version of the rhetorical suasoria , an imaginary speech (or letter) urging someone to do something: in this case, epic and mythological forsaken women writing to their lovers-Achilles, Theseus, Aeneas, Jason—pleading with them to come back. Along with the Aeneid (to which it is closely related), the Heroides contain probably the most influential Classical representation of female voice: of female desire and subjectivity articulated in contrast to and competition with the male arena of heroic and tragic action. The Mary Magdalene narratives, in turn, fuse this highly eroticized Ovidian representation of abandoned females with the Song of Songs and the hagiographic tradition, producing a self-conscious amalgam of the ancient rhetoric of female desire and the biblical language of erotic spirituality.[16]

The influence of the Heroides drastically reshaped the medieval hagiographic accounts of the Magdalene. The miracles, ascetic penance, and evangelism, detailed in most medieval versions of her life, disappear in the Origenist and Chaucerian narratives. More important, her life of sin and subsequent repentance, which figure prominently in the cycle dramas and hagiographic legend, are barely mentioned; she is not, in these texts, a reformed prostitute. Instead, both the Chaucerian and Origenist versions deal exclusively with Mary's desolation at the tomb of Christ. In these texts, she exhibits the characteristic features of the abandoned women familiar from Vergil's Dido and Ovid's forsaken heroines. Unlike the mascu-


line hero (Aeneas, Achilles, Jason) who acts, she can only weep: passive, frozen—in a word, maudlin. So Andrewes describes her: "Whose presence she wished for, His misse she wept for; whom she dearly loved, while she had Him , she bitterly bewailed, when she lost Him. Amor amare flens , Love running downe the cheekes."[17] In all the versions she simply stands at the tomb and decides to remain until she dies, when she hopes some bystander will wrap her in Christ's now-empty winding sheet.

She is, in fact, almost hysterical with grief: "dread and amazement hath dulled her senses, distempered her thoughts, discouraged her hopes, awaked her passions, and left her no other liberty but onely to weepe."[18] She often exhibits a pathological obsessiveness, refusing to eat, sleep, move, talk. In Markham and Southwell she begins to hallucinate, imagining that Christ is before her, that she is embracing him and folding his feet in her arms.[19] She is frequently suicidal. This grief is not religious despair but manifestly erotic; she is miserable because the man she loves is dead and even his body has disappeared.

Her language thus borrows heavily from the vocabulary of romance heroines. In the Lamentatyon , for example, Mary refers to Christ as "my swete herte, my gostly paramour," "my turtel dove so fresshe of hue," and "dere herte";[20] the Latin version of the pseudo-Origen describes her as Christ's amatrix and dilectrix .[21] In Markham, she speaks of her "hearts hot desire," "deepest passion of true burning love," and "love-sicke heart."[22] The grief, passion, longing, and confusion all come out in the pseudo-Origen's reweaving of Canticles. This is Mary thinking:

But what may I do to finde him? whither shall I turne me? to whom shall I go? ... who shall shew me whom my soul loveth, where he is bestowed, where he lieth at noontide? where he resteth? I beseche you tel him how I pyne with love and consume with sorowe.... Turne againe my beloved, turn again my hartes desire and dearling.[23]

Repeatedly she pleads to touch him: to "amplect" his body, to die in the arms of his corpse, to wrap her body in his gravecloth.[24] Southwell's narrator thus imagines Mary carrying the body of Jesus "naked in [her] armes" and pictures the Resurrection as a sort of Venus and Adonis scene, telling Mary that "all hazards in taking ... [Christ's body] should have beene with usury repaid, if lying in thy lap, thou mightest have seene him revived, and his disfigured and dead body beautified in thy armes with a divine majesty."[25]

Over and over Mary emphasizes her need for physical contact. In Markham she thus asserts:


To see him therefore, cloth not me suffice,
To heare him cloth not quiet whole my mind,
To speake with him in so familiar wise,
Is not ynough my loose-let soule to bind:
No, nothing can my vehement love appease,
Least by his touch my wo-worne heart I please.[26]

There is something macabre in the insistent physicality of her longing for this corpse. Again, the feelings expressed are not "religious": she has no notion of the Resurrection; what she wants is at least the dead body of the man she loves. In pseudo-Origen she thus decides to remain by Christ's grave until her (imminent) death so "that yet at leste wyse I may be buried nye the sepulchre of my Lorde ... [and] my Soule ... passing forth of thys bryckle vessel of my bodie, may by and by enter into my Lords glorious Sepulcher." She does not long for spiritual reunion with him after death, just an attenuated contact with a place his body had touched.[27]

Like all abandoned women, she refuses to resolve eroticism into some sort of transcendence, whether of duty (Vergil) or devotion (Dante). Thus, in Markham and Southwell, when Christ finally does come and tells her to announce the Resurrection to his disciples, this responsibility throws her into renewed hysterics. She is not particularly interested in being part of salvation history; she wants to stay with Jesus and touch him. Instead of moderating or sublimating either desire or grief, she insists on the rightness of both.

One begins to hear, at this point, the monitory whispers of learned medievalists pointing out that such narratives should be read allegorically, to do otherwise evincing either historical ignorance or spiritual vulgarity. There is no question but that the Mary Magdalene narratives draw on the traditional allegorization of the Song of Songs, but with a crucial difference. Allegories of Canticles resolve the surface eroticism into relationships between the soul (or the church) and the glorified Christ: that is, into relations between incorporeal or metaphorical persons. Hence, the locus classicus of sacred eroticism, Bernard of Clairvaux's commentary on the Song of Songs, explicates the love between the bridegroom (Christ) and bride (soul/church) in a way that radically differentiates spiritual union from ordinary erotic relationships.

But the bride—in what form or exterior loveliness, in what guise did St John see her coming down? ... It is more accurate to say that he saw the bride when he looked on the Word made flesh, and acknowledged two natures in the one flesh. For ... when we came to know the visible image and radiant comeliness of that supernal Jerusalem, our mother,


revealed to us in Christ and by his means, what did we behold if not the bride in the Bridegroom?[28]

There is no possible literal/romantic reading of a relationship where the woman is the flesh of the man as well as, in some sense, a city and a mother. Bernard consistently spiritualizes his erotic terminology, carefully distancing supernatural from romantic desire. At one point he thus imagines Christ speaking to the Bride, who at this moment has coalesced with "the woman ... forbidden to touch the risen flesh of the Word"—that is, Mary Magdalene: "Become beautiful and then touch me; live by faith and you are beautiful. In your beauty you will touch my beauty all the more worthily, with greater felicity. You will touch me with the hand of faith, the finger of desire, the embrace of love; you will touch me with the mind's eye."[29] This overt allegorization is not found in the exegeses of John 20 considered here. These depict a woman alone, waiting almost hopelessly for her dead and absent lover; their mode is not allegory but rhetorical romance, leaving them susceptible to literal/erotic interpretation. Hence, Calvin, who violently rejects the whole Ovidian exegesis of this passage, conflates it with the parallel scene in Luke, in which Mary comes to the tomb accompanied by two other women—apparently precisely to preclude any private encounter between this heterosexual couple in their early thirties.[30] The eroticism resists allegorization and can be removed only by erasure. In both the Chaucerian and Origenist texts, Mary is a real woman interested in a conspicuously physical man. This realism does not divest the scene of spiritual implications, but it does thwart efforts to efface the letter under the proprieties of allegory. Instead, the generic conventions adopted in both versions accentuate the literal sense. Unlike medieval commentaries on Canticles, which employ the conventional system of verse-by-verse explication, these rewritings of John 20 are either soliloquies or dialogues; that is, they use dramatic modes. For example, in a wonderful scene Southwell's narrator tries to convince Mary that she is behaving foolishly, and she devastates him in reply.[31] The exegete here becomes a character, the voice that traditionally discloses the allegory being subsumed into the letter of the fiction.

Moreover, the Origenist texts in particular make it quite clear that a purely spiritualized reading is impossible. These works explicate the epistemological basis of their eroticism, and this, put simply, is identical to the phantasmic psychology spelled out by Aristotle and thereafter characteristic of virtually all premodern epistemologies. According to this paradigm, desire and thought depend on a process of imaging, for "the words of the


soul's language are phantasms," and thus "the phantasm has absolute primacy over the word ."[32] But if love requires images, then the corporeal is a sine qua non of desire. As Mary says, Christ's image has been sculpted in her soul, and she needs his body to renew the image, enabling her love to endure; she is afraid of falling out of love if she cannot see and touch Jesus, worrying "if that she found not his body, the love of him her Mayster wold sone waxe colde within her breaste, by the syghte yet whereof shee hoped shee mighte waxe warme againe."[33]

Her grief is likewise a product of this phantasmic psychology: her soul/image has been literally sucked into Christ's body: "for the spirite of Mary was rather in thy body, then in her owne body, and when she eaftsones soughte for thy body, she did then also seeke for her own spirit: and when she lost thy body, she lost with it her own spirit."[34] She is in his corpse, not in herself, and thus experiences the obsessive suffering and anxiety, detailed by loan Culiano in his Eros and Magic in the Renaissance , in which one is deprived of one's state as a subject, tortured by the absence of the other who contains one's very self, desperately needing the other—the body—to keep from collapsing into nothingness.[35] Christ's body therefore is not simply a metaphor or allegorical sign; rather, its physical actuality is essential to the opposition of presence and absence that governs these texts. "Yea doubtlesse," in Southwell's remarkable phrase, "if shee had thee within her, she would not envye the fortune of the richest Empresse."[36]

One can see the link between eroticism and epistemology by contrasting the medieval Magdalene narratives with Calvin's commentary on John 20. The earlier works consistently valorize the tangible over the verbal, a preference sharply etched in pseudo-Origen (a passage later incorporated into Cornelius à Lapide's conservative Catholic commentary); when Mary hears Christ call her name, she interrupts him with "Rabboni," for, pseudo-Origen notes, "she thought she needed no word that had found the word, and thought it farre more profitable to handel the word then to hear any manner of wordes."[37] As More and Bellarmine subsequently argue against Protestant scripturalism, language is "an imperfect method of communicating what could in principle be more exactly conveyed in images."[38]

In Reformed theology, however, this preference for the body over the text is reversed. Knowledge in Calvin is based on reading rather than seeing. This "inner iconoclasm," which becomes explicit in Ramus, replaces the "phantasmic essence of intellect" with a verbal/textual account of cognition. Since, according to Calvin, Mary and the other disciples had "abun-


dantly clear testimonies" from Scripture for the Resurrection, they have no excuse for their grief and confusion. He thus brushes away Mary's weeping as "idle and useless." In this juridic, textualized epistemology, Mary's desire "only to obtain the dead body of Christ" is folly; it "leaves out the most important matter, the elevation of her mind to the divine power of his resurrection." She has "grovelling views" and an "earthly," "carnal" mind.[39] The risen Christ forbids her to touch him precisely because the lesson of this verse is that "all who endeavour to go to [Christ] must rid themselves of the earthly affections of the flesh."[40] As the verbal sign displaces Christ's body, Mary's need for that body becomes evidence of her carnality. That is, the shift from a phantasmic to a text-based epistemology accompanies and authorizes the familiar dualist oppositions of earthliness and elevation, carnality and spirituality.

What is surprising is the absence of such dualism in the Mary Magdalene narratives. In these there is no movement toward rising above the body, no transcendence. Corporeal and spiritual longing instead merge into an undifferentiated urgency, the desire for Christ racking Mary's flesh with a pervasiveness that reminds one of Sappho: "For him onely thou tyrest thy feete, thou bendest thy knees, thou wringest thy handes. For him thy heart throbbeth, thy brest sigheth, thy tongue complaineth. For him thy eye weepeth, thy thought sorroweth, thy whole body fainteth."[41] She desires nothing except this man, this body. She rejects heaven—or is totally indifferent to it. So in the pseudo-Chaucer she confesses:

The joye excellent of blyssed paradyse,
Maye me, alas! in no wyse recomforte,
Songe of angel nothyng may me suffyse
As in myne herte nowe to make disporte.[42]

In all the versions, she refuses even to speak to the angels when they show up at the tomb, despite the horrified urgings of the narrator. Her love undergoes no Platonic ascent; there is no moment when she realizes that her desires are misdirected or guilty or sinful; the erotic impulse is never spiritualized. She wants only Christ; as Andrewes remarks, "she had rather finde his dead body, than [angels] in all their glory."[43] What Calvin terms her carnal feelings should be seen in contrast not only to Protestant logo-centrism but also, more generally, to narratives of male desire, which, as mentioned above, almost always finally etherealize or abandon the object of erotic pursuit. In male narratives, one has the sense that the transformation or annihilation of eros is the terrible yet liberating price of the


hero's Bildung . For this trajectory, female narratives (secular as well as Christian) substitute the stasis of passion—a passio amoris with strange affinities to the passio crucis .

Love's Body

To grasp these resemblances, we need to investigate the implications of erotic abandonment in these texts—trying to get at the significance of both the eroticism and the abandonment. The question of sacred eroticism is particularly important, since without an adequate understanding of such desires, it seems hard to avoid, in Peter Brown's trenchant phrase, scoring "cheap triumph[s] of modern clinical knowingness at the expense of the dead."[44] But to find a satisfactory alternative to our nearly automatic assumption that the language of religious desire articulates imperfectly sublimated sexual frustrations, we need to broaden our inquiry from the Magdalene narratives to the problem of sacred eroticism in general.

To ask why these texts represent spirituality in terms of sexual desire may be a misleading question. It seems, first of all, unlikely that the dominant metaphor for affective spirituality from Plato up to the early modern period would so overtly signal its libidinal origins; the unconscious usually disguises repressed material more effectively. Second, the question assumes that desire is prior to and largely untouched by cultural inflections, an assumption rendered dubious by much recent criticism.[45] As John Winkler puts it, "Sex is not, except in a trivial and uninteresting sense, a natural fact."[46] One can, in fact, reverse the terms of the question, since the representation of sexual desire in the Middle Ages borrows heavily from the affective spirituality of Augustine and the twelfth-century Cistercians. That is, medieval secular eroticism (courtly love) is itself modeled on the analysis of spiritual longing, so that the latter is theoretically anterior to the former, rather than the reverse. Thus, the medieval historian Nicholas Perella observes that

the whole matter of yearning for the beloved, the restless longing for something superior to and beyond the immediate grasp of mortality, accompanied by the belief that it would, if possessed, bring an untold bliss and solace—this is at the very heart of troubadour love poetry; but all this was first at the very heart of Christian spirituality.[47]

To the extent that medieval sexuality is shaped by the language of spiritual desires, it need not be viewed as the repressed origin of sacred eros.

But this may not be an adequate answer. Even if Cistercian spirituality precedes troubadour poetry, its imagery still seems to bear the marks of


only very partially repressed libidinal urges. To get at the significance of sacred eroticism, we should perhaps begin at the other end: that is, instead of focusing on the origin of the link between religious subjectivity and erotic desire, we should look at when and why this link snaps.

In England, the break had already occurred by the early eighteenth century, as Pope's attempt at Christian Ovidianism makes evident. "Eloisa to Abelard" (1717)—like the Mary Magdalene narratives, a Christian rewriting of the Heroides —is, unlike them, about the "pious fraud of am'rous charity,"[48] about the contamination of religious devotion by erotic longing, where "erotic" has now become identical to "sexual." Eloisa's love for Abelard manifests itself in sexual dreams where

Provoking Daemons all restraint remove,
And stir within me ev'ry source of love.
I hear thee, view thee, gaze o'er all thy charms,
And round thy phantom glue my clasping arms.[49]

Her attempts at pious devotion melt into orgasmic swooning:

When from the Censer clouds of fragrance roll,
And swelling organs lift the rising soul;
One thought of thee puts all the pomp to flight,
Priests, Tapers, Temples, swim before my sight:
In seas of flame my plunging soul is drown'd,
While Altars blaze, and Angels tremble round.[50]

Whereas in the Mary Magdalene narratives the saint's desire to see and touch her beloved remains undifferentiated from supernatural love, for Eloisa these have become essentially antithetic impulses: "all is not Heav'n's while Abelard has part."[51] Sexual needs, only half-concealed by her attempts at sublimation, muddy and corrupt the spiritual. Pope's heroic epistle differs from the Mary Magdalene narratives because, by disclosing the bodily desires that filter up through the "pious fraud" of religious sublimation, it uncovers the mechanisms of repression that structure and subvert sacred eroticism.

The difference between Pope's epistle and earlier accounts of the relation between the erotic and the religious points to a major shift in the cultural history of the body, occurring sometime during the later seventeenth century. Put very simply, what happened was the discovery of genital sexuality—not that people learned how to make babies sometime around 1660, but for the first time one finds the assertion that sexual drives constitute the authentic substance of the erotic, other manifestations of desire


(including religious ones) being disguised symptoms of repressed genital urges. Before this, what Culiano observes of the Greeks seems generally applicable, namely, that "physical desire, aroused by the irrational soul and appeased by means of the body, only represents, in the phenomenology of love, an obscure and secondary aspect."[52] In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, sexuality usually seemed either funny or sinful—a subject for bawdy stories or a painful reminder of the Fall.[53] The identification of the erotic with sexuality, already apparent in Pope, emerged sometime after 1650.

The primary evidence for this shift is found in works on erotic and religious pathology but is supported by other cultural evidence as well. Before 1650, erotic desire was represented as a process originating in the desirable object (especially the eyes), whose simulachrum enters the erotic subject through his own eyes, traveling thence to the imagination or fantasy and finally dwelling in the heart. In descriptions of romantic love, which is (of course) generally sexual, the trajectory is the same: from object to eye to imagination to heart, but finally in this case to the bowels or liver.[54] For Plato, love is an ocular disorder (ophthalmia ), or as Southwell puts it: "In true lovers every part is an eie, and every thought a looke."[55] For Robert Burton, whose Anatomy of Melancholy conveniently summarizes two millennia of erotic speculation, love melancholy "is a passion of the brain, as all other melancholy, by reason of corrupt imagination," most commonly originating in "sight, which conveys those admirable rays of beauty and pleasing graces to the heart."[56]

The same model of what we may call "ocular eroticism" informs Renaissance secular literature: one thinks of Wyatt's "Through mine eye the stroke from hers did slide,/Directly down unto my heart it ran," or perhaps an even more pointed privileging of ocular over genital eroticism: "And if an eye may save or slay,/And strike more deep than weapon long...."[57] The same psychology occurs in both Neoplatonic and Petrarchan contexts: in the "eye-sonnets" of Spenser and Sidney, in Bembo's peroration in The Courtier , in Shakespeare's "Tell me where is fancy bred" from The Merchant of Venice . It is perhaps needless to multiply examples since the same ocular eroticism is presupposed by virtually every Renaissance writer. The movement of eros is always inward and down, so that sexual desire is an inflection of erotic longing, not its origin or essence; by contrast, in the model that privileges genital sexuality, movement takes place outward and up, via cathexis and sublimation. Nor is there any reason to claim that a model that locates eros in the head and chest is merely a disguise or periphrasis for a libidinal one, since the bodily experience of eros,


especially unhappy eros, has (even now) more to do with a fluttering heart, constricted chest, and upset stomach than any form of genital arousal.[58]

The ocular model entails that spiritual desire has no inherent or necessary connection to genital excitement, nor does such a connection surface in Renaissance treatments of religious pathology, where, if the paradigm of libidinal repression were available, one would expect to find it. This is particularly noticeable in Burton, where the section on religious melancholy comes immediately after that on love melancholy, yet no relation (besides both being forms of melancholy) is established between the two. Burton discusses sacred eroticism only in the opening paragraphs prefacing his analysis of religious melancholy, where he lays out the nature of a nonpathological love of God. Here the language is suffused with erotic imagery drawn from Canticles and the Platonism of the Church Fathers: the "divine form" that is "the quintessence of all beauty ... ravish[es] our souls"; Christ "woos us by His beauty, gifts, promises, to come unto Him; 'the whole Scripture is a message, an exhortation, a love-letter'"; his is "'a divine beauty, an immortal love, an indefatigable love and beauty,' with sight of which we shall never be tired nor wearied, but still the more we see the more we shall covet Him."[59] According to Burton, the perversions of religion emerge not from this psychological matrix but rather—and this is wholly traditional—from diabolic malice, priestly greed, ignorance, fear, pride, ambition, and the pope.[60] Interestingly, when Burton does turn to the physiological causes of spiritual pathologies, he never mentions celibacy but rather focuses on immoderate fasting and solitude.[61]

The shift from ocular to genital eroticism belongs not to the history of the secular/sexual body but rather to that of ecclesiastical politics. It originates as a form of ideological demystification (both demystifying sectarian ideologies and itself an ideology whose fundamental trope is demystification) in the Restoration critique of religious enthusiasm; it thus originates simultaneously with the disappearance of sacred eroticism from English religious discourse. The relocation of the erotic in the genitals and the consequent link between sexual desire and spiritual excitement emerge together in the Cambridge Platonist Henry More's Enthusiasmus triumphatus , first published in 1656 and frequently reprinted. Like Burton, More diagnoses religious enthusiasm as a form of melancholy but relocates its seat from the brain to regions below the waist. Bodily fluids (and gases) thus reverse the path of the ocular species , surging upward from the loins to the heart and finally the imagination, so that "the Enthusiast ... [is] as it were drunk with new wine drawn from that Cellar of his own that lies in the lowest section of his Body, though he be not aware of it, but takes it to


be pure Nectar , and those waters of life that spring from above."[62] Sacred eroticism is thus reconceived as a sexual pathology, for "Religious heat in men, as it arises merely from Nature, is like Aurum fulminans , which though it flie upward somewhat, the greatest force when it is fired is found to goe downward."[63] Hence, "Enthusiastical Love " arises from "venereous fumes and vapours," from the "hidden and lurking fumes of Lust ."[64]

After the Restoration, the identification of eroticism with genital sexuality becomes standard. That is, I take it, the point of Rochester's salacious lyricism or Pope's Cave of Spleen, where "Maids turn'd Bottels, call aloud for Corks."[65] Of course, at least since Astrophel and Stella , the problematic relation of "Platonic" (or Petrarchan) eros to sexuality had been articulated, but within the framework of the older ocular eroticism; Astrophel's surprise that "desire ... so clingst" to his "pure love" makes sense only in a context where the erotic and sexual remain, at least conceptually, distinct.[66] The reconfiguration of the body first becomes explicit in More's Enthusiasmus triumphatus , precisely as it impinges on and problematizes sacred eroticism.[67] Swift then appropriates this reconfiguration for his "Discourse Concerning the Mechanical Operation of the Spirit" and the sections on Aeolism in A Tale of a Tub , published together in 1704. These presuppose and extend More's thesis—that spiritual passions originate in scatosexual vapors—for, as Swift puts it, "Persons of a visionary Devotion, either Men or Women, are in their Complexion, of all others, the most amorous."[68]

Like More, Swift analyzes enthusiasm, both religious and political, as a sexual disorder caused by the reversion of sperm from the loins upward. When, in A Tale of a Tub , Henry IV finds his intended mistress out of reach, "the collected part of the Semen , raised and enflamed, became adust, converted to Choler, turned head upon the spinal Duct, and ascended to the Brain."[69] The discourse of sacred eroticism is likewise anatomized, privileging, as it were, the phallic signifier, as in the case of the "Saint [who] felt his Vessel full extended in every Part (a very natural Effect of strong Inspiration ).[70] Similarly, the "Orgasmus of their Spiritual exercise" culminates in its physical correlative.[71] For Swift, as for More, the critique of religious enthusiasm rests on exposing the libidinal origins of sacred eroticism, for "however Spiritual Intrigues begin, they generally conclude like all others; they may branch upward towards Heaven, but the Root is in the Earth."[72]

This mapping of the erotic body pathologized religious longing, since the incongruity between erotic desire and spirituality results from locating the former in the genitals. The discursive transformation of sexuality that


Foucault describes, in which the analysis of perversions and "unnatural" practices replaces juridic prohibition, corresponds to and converges with the reinterpretation of erotic desire as neurotic sublimation. Sexual behaviors and erotic desires become diagnostic categories, symptoms of one's mental/moral health or sickness. This construct has become so familiar that it takes an effort to remember that it was virtually unavailable before 1660, but that unavailability constitutes the precondition for sacred eroticism.

According to the ocular model, there exists no necessary physiological or affective difference between sacred and secular desire. One is not "spiritual," the other "bodily," but each engenders the same sense of lack, the same longing, constriction of the heart, excited apprehension of beauty, alternations of joy and desolation, desire for presence, and lachrymose pain. Hence, the language of romantic passion can articulate religious desires because the bodily/emotional experiences of such desires are like those felt by, as it were, women in love. Furthermore, and this is Perella's point, this likeness at least in part results from the fact that the medieval representation of romantic passion was patterned after the discourse of spiritual longing in much the same way that the romantic "Platonism" of the Renaissance evolved from Plato's analysis of eros as a metaphysical appetite for the permanent possession of the Good. It follows from this, it would seem, that identifying the eroticism of the Mary Magdalene narratives with some sort of displaced sexuality is as fallacious (from a historical point of view) as its allegorical erasure—and, furthermore, both strategies derive from the modern definition of the body as the sexual body.

However, the premodern distinction between eroticism and sex cannot fully account for the peculiar fusion of Ovidian and Canticles material characteristic of the Mary Magdalene narratives. In particular, it does not explain either the significance of abandoned women for sacred eroticism or what cultural work may have been carried out by these texts, for although they are not, strictly speaking, allegorical, they are (like most cultural artifacts) symbolic.

The Subject of the Passion

In Abandoned Women and the Poetic Tradition , Lawrence Lipking distinguishes two senses of abandonment; to be abandoned is to be forsaken by one's lover, but it is also to violate norms, conventions, respectability.[73] Curiously (since the texts under consideration are "orthodox" religious works), both senses of abandonment characterize the Chaucerian and Origenist Mary Magdalene. That is, although her grief is passive, a sort of paralyzed weeping that finds no vent in action—and is therefore typically


feminine—it also has a subversive edge, especially but not exclusively in Southwell's version. In all the variants, the intensity of Mary's love and grief pushes her toward disregard of hierarchy and authority, especially in the scene where the angels address her and she refuses to answer them. In the pseudo-Origen, the narrator tells her to "heare my advice. Let the comfortinge of angels content and satisfye the," to which she replies, "Do they therefore question with mee, to let me from wepinge? I beseche them, not to swade me to that.... What needes mo wordes? I will not obey them."[74] The narrator is shocked by her defiance, by the fact that she is not honored or pleased by the angels' attention. Yet this paternalist preacher who tries to normalize her response fades and shrinks beside her passion.

The exchanges between the conservative male narrator and the transgressive female disciple are particularly vivid in Southwell, who, as a Jesuit in Elizabethan England, may have had more sympathy with transgression than most, but Southwell only expands on a disobedience already evident in his medieval source. Thus, Southwell's narrator tries to dissuade Mary from attempting to find the body by accusing her of stepping outside the norms of morality and decency; if she tries to reclaim Christ's remains, she will become a thief. She responds with indignation that she would be happy to be a thief or anything else for her lover's sake, and furthermore that her love justifies her transgression of moral rules:

And if no other means would serve to recover him but force, I see no reason why it might not very well become me.... O Judith lend me thy prowesse for I am bound to regard it.

But suppose that my force were unable to winne him by an open enterprise, what scruple should keepe me from seeking him by secret means: yea and by plain stealth[?] It wilbe thought a sinne, and condemned for a theft. O sweete sinne why was not I the first that did commit thee? ... If this be so great a sinne, and so heinous a theft, let others make choice of what titles they will: but for my part, I would refuse to be an Angel, I would not wishe to be a Saint ... if I might both live and die such a sinner, and be condemned for such a theft.[75]

She accepts abandonment—her own lawlessness and freedom. And her passion silences the narrator. The "male" voice of reason, hierarchy, decorum, and law is mocked and silenced by Mary Magdalene's anguish.

Besides Lipking's two senses of abandonment, there is also a third sense or connotation: the association of abandonment with Christ's lonely suffering on the cross. And to the extent that the Magdalene texts allow this meaning to emerge, they implicitly liken the abandoned woman to the


dying savior, erotic passion to Christ's Passion. And this is in fact what happens. Both the Origenist and Chaucerian variants identify the sufferings of Mary and Jesus by the same typological maneuver, although the Chaucerian version develops the equation more fully. The connection is always made by putting in Mary's mouth biblical phrases traditionally associated with the Crucifixion. In all the versions, Mary thus claims that "there is no dolor as is my dolor," or in the Latin, "nec est dolor sicut dolor meus "[76] —a quotation of the christological passage in Lamentations 1:12. More strikingly, she turns back on Christ his own last words on the cross, crying out to him (in the pseudo-Origen), "Where is my sweete Lorde? why hast thou my health forsaken me?"[77] The allusion claims a parity of suffering. It seems to suggest that the sorrows of abandoned women are not of less weight than the adventures of the men who leave them.

The same allusion climaxes the Chaucerian Lamentatyon . The poem ends before Mary identifies the gardener; it concludes rather with a long, elegiac, and pathetic farewell song addressed to her absent lover, the final lines of which read:

My soule for anguysshe is nowe ful thursty,
I faynt right sore for hevynesse,
My lorde, my spouse, Cur me dereliquisti,
Sith I for the suffre al this distresse?
What causeth the to seme this mercylesse?
Sith it the pleseth of me to make an ende,
(In manus tuas) my spirite I commende.[78]

Whereas in the pseudo-Origen the echo of Christ's desolate prayer occurs fairly early in the text, these are the last lines of the Lamentatyon . The identification they set up between Mary and Christ involves rather more than a postfigural comparison. By appropriating these words and gestures—this time a woman addressing her lover rather than the Son pleading with his Father—Mary makes her own desolation equal to Christ's, at the same time casting Christ in the role of the now distant and indifferent lover and herself as the voice of exiled and suffering humanity. Human pain not only parallels Christ's passion but seems to supplant it. In the Lamentatyon , it is Mary who (like Jephthah's daughter) offers a "devout sacrifyce."[79]

Even in the versions where Christ does come, and all Mary's pain is soothed, the suspicion always remains that the man is being thoughtless or insensitive by staying away for so long; it is the woman left behind who bears the helpless pain of longing and forsakenness. Both she and the


Origenist narrator thus come very close to blaming Christ for Mary's suffering. He, that is, assumes the lineaments of the faithless male—the necessary narrative counterpart to the abandoned woman—even though this is narratively incoherent since he is presumably dead and therefore not responsible for the disappearance of his body. But disregarding this technicality, pseudo-Chaucer's Mary cries: "Why suffrest thou me than to stande alone? / Thou hast, I trowe, my wepynge in disdayne"; so in Southwell, the narrator reproaches Christ: "Why art thou so hard a Judge to so soft a creature, requiting her love with thy losse?"; likewise in pseudo-Origen: "O moste gentle Master, what hath this disciple since offended the? and wherein hath this thy dere lover displeased the kyndenes of thy heart, in that thou goest so from her? ... If truly thou lovedst her after thy wonted manner, what meanest thou to prolonge her desire?"[80] Both the narrator and Mary try to understand what she might have done wrong, how she might be responsible for her own abandonment, yet both tend to shift the blame from Mary to Christ: he seems indifferent to her pain for no reason.

In other words, the theological "solution" of the Augustinian-Calvinist tradition, which justifies God by blaming humankind, is here called into question?.[81] This time, it is not the lady who is culpable but—at least hypothetically—her lord. The texts will not allow the metamorphosis of human pain into guilt and punishment. The narrator tries to blame Mary for her dereliction but fails; she likewise attempts to locate her pain in some fault of her own but finally denies her guilt. "I have," she insists, "endured without variaunce,/Right as thou knowest, thy lover just and trew."[82] She becomes, instead, simply an abandoned woman, or as the Origenist narrator tells her, "he whom thou sekest semeth to set nought by thy sorowinge, he semeth not to regarde thy teares. Thou calleste him, and he heareth not."[83] The same abyss opens up in Southwell:

Thou hast hitherto sought in vaine, as one either unseene, or unknown, or at the least unregarded, sith the party thou seekest, neither tendereth thy teares, nor aunswereth thy cries, nor relenteth with thy lamentings. Either he doth not heare, or he will not helpe, he hath peradventure left to love thee, and is loath to yeelde thee reliefe.[84]

In the conclusion of the Origenist narratives the story deviates from Ovid: Christ comes and with him abundant recompense. In the Chaucerian versions, however, he does not come. Mary, not Christ, remains the one who has been forsaken—and so the narrative focus and authorial sympathy shift from the Lord to the lady. This is sentimental and subversive realism.


The term subversive implies some notion of the authorship, audience, and function of a text, and here we have to be careful. Since the primary texts are anonymous, one cannot absolutely rule out female authorship. Yet, since they are all addressed to men, female authorship seems unlikely, despite Walter Skeat's sneering description of the Lamentatyon as a "lugubrious piece [that] was probably the wail of a nun, who had no book but a Vulgate version of the Bible."[85] The pseudo-Origen concludes by remarking, "Let us therefore (bretherne) follow the good affection of thys woman, that we may come to the like effecte"; similarly Southwell: "Learne O sinfull man of this once a sinfull woman."[86] These stories about forsaken women are intended for male use. They exemplify the "deeply ingrained tendency of all men in the ancient [and Renaissance] world, to use women 'to think with."'[87]

It is important to note, however, that the explicit "function" of Mary Magdalene in these texts is rather different from that of most female symbols, who are almost always objects, even if infinitely valuable objects—whether abstractions (Dame Nature, Lady Philosophy) or ideals (Beatrice, Stella, Laura). Mary Magdalene is an exemplary figure but in a curious way: she is not the goal of the quest but is lost in the forest along with everyone else. That is, she supplies a model of suffering, solitary, forsaken humanity. She is neither Madonna nor Whore but a figure for all that is marginalized, powerless, solitary, unhappy; as she says in Southwell, "Poore I [am] left alone to supplie the teares of all creatures."[88] This should not be surprising since most societies symbolize forsakenness and loss of love as female; to be abandoned means to be female, and therefore when a man wishes to write about his own abandonment, he writes as a woman or about a woman.[89] As Flaubert once confessed, "Madame Bovary, c'est moi ."

But what sort of abandonment? The Mary Magdalene texts are popular devotional works articulating the fundamental spiritual anxiety of the late medieval and early modern eras—anxieties centering on desolation and the absence of God.[90] Furthermore, although the Origenist version was probably written for a monastic community, after the Reformation it seems specifically connected to Catholic and Anglo-Catholic piety: Cornelius à Lapide, Southwell, Lancelot Andrewes. Protestant writers like Calvin, Lewis Wager, Thomas Robinson, and Henry Smith (the latter three of whom wrote, respectively, a play, poem, and sermon on the Magdalene) reject or ignore this material. This confessional difference points to the specific theological interest of the Magdalene texts considered here.

Mary does not believe in the Resurrection; she thinks Christ is dead. Nevertheless, because she loves him, she is made first witness to the risen


Christ and apostle to the apostles. She is justified despite her lack of faith. That is, these texts critique the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith and the concomitant fear that disbelief implies reprobation. They are pastoral works, designed to relieve such fears by affirming that love, even without faith, is sufficient. This undercurrent is, not surprisingly, most explicit in the later versions. Andrewes's sermon thus begins, "She loved much: we cannot say, Shee beleeved much. For ... it seemes, shee beleeved no more, than just as much as the High Priests would have had the world beleeve, that He was taken away by night ." But he concludes by quoting Saint Bernard: "Domine, amor quem habebat in Te, et dolor quem habebat de Te, excuset eam apud Te, si forte erravit circa Te : That the love she bare to Him, the sorrow shee had for Him, may excuse her with Him, if she were in any error concerning Him."[91] Southwell makes this motif explicit in his dedicatory epistle, commenting, "And if her weakenes of faith, (an infirmity then common to all Christes disciples) did suffer her understanding to be deceived, yet was her will so setled in a most sincere and perfect love, that it ledde all her passions with the same bias, recompensing the want of beliefe, with the strange effectes of an excellent charity." Although Southwell's narrative persona repeatedly attempts to show Mary that her desolation is her own fault, in the end even he admits to her that "the Angels must still bathe themselves in the pure streams of thy eies."[92]

The claim made by these texts that love suffices even without faith is inseparable from their epistemology. The Magdalene narratives presuppose an erotics of knowledge. The conjunction of this erotic epistemology with the Mary Magdalene story is already visible in Gregory the Great's sermon on John 20, the standard liturgical reading for the Feast of the Magdalene in the Roman missal.

But as she was weeping, Mary bent down and looked into the tomb. Certainly she had already seen that the tomb was empty since she announced that the Lord had been taken away. Why then does she again bend down, again desire to see? But for a lover it is not enough to have looked once, for the power of love increases one's attempt to make inquiry. Thus she first sought and found nothing; she persevered in her search and accordingly she found, for desires that have been deferred dilate and grow (desideria dilata crescerent ) and, having expanded, can grasp what they have found.[93]

Inquiry advances by the dilatio of desire—simultaneously a deferment and dilation, or rather a dilation effected by deferral. Eros, that is, governs both spiritual and cognitive symbolization, subsuming faith (and the other intellectual virtues) into the structures of desire.


This epistemology is not restricted to the Magdalene narratives; rather, it is quite ancient and traditional. It suffuses medieval commentaries on Canticles, of course, but also the secularized epistemology of early modern theorizing. Thus, in De anima et vita (1538), the Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives offers this general account of the deep structure of knowledge:

A thing must first be known in order to be loved; but it need only be known to the extent that it can elicit love.... Wherefore the fruit of love is enjoyment (fruitio ), which is the act of pleasure (delectationis actus )—not only of the will but also of the intellect, as in God. Therefore love is the middle point between inchoate knowledge and the full knowledge of union in which desire always vanishes but love does not; it, rather, burns more fiercely.[94]

As Southwell's narrator explains to Mary, "the nature of love coveteth not onely to be united, but if it were possible wholly transfourmed out of it selfe into the thing it loveth."[95] The movement from desire to enjoyment, from deferred longing to loving union, configures knowledge as an erotic praxis—a subject/object passion, as it were. Hence, the deferred and dilating desires of abandoned women correspond not "merely" to the affective experience of the devout soul but also to the intellective movements of the inquiring mind. The Reformation debates over the respective operations of faith and love forced an absolute separation between epistemic and emotional structures previously only loosely and partially differentiated.

Foucault's remarks on pre-Cartesian epistemology have a bearing here. As he notes, even Greek philosophy

always held that a subject could not have access to the truth if he did not first operate upon himself a certain work which would make him susceptible to knowing the truth—a work of purification, conversion of the soul by contemplation of the soul itself.... In Western culture up to the sixteenth century, asceticism and access to truth are always more or less obscurely linked.[96]

These "ascetic" practices, however, include not only the removal of desire by means of interior discipline and regulation but (except in Stoicism) also the enlargement of desires, enabling them, in Gregory's words, "to grasp that which they have found" ([ut ] caperent quod invenissent ). As in Colet, the martyr and the lover—asceticism and eroticism—mutually imply one another.

If Mary's passion figures the access to truth through love's dilating deferrals rather than (as in Calvin) through faith in the text, it also adumbrates a second Reformation controversy. The Magdalene narratives concern


the body of Christ, that is, the real presence. Their emphasis on Christ's body is eucharistic as well as erotic—or, rather, both at once. The Origenist versions thus imply that Christ's self-revelation to Mary repeats itself in each sacramental encounter between the transsubstantiated flesh and a hungry soul; the texts promise the desolate communicant that a love which goes beyond faith shall be filled by the tangible gift of Christ's body and blood. This is particularly clear in Southwell, whose narrator thus addresses Christ:

Doe not sweet Lord any longer delay her. Behold shee hath attended thee these three daies, and shee hath not what to eate, nor wherewith to foster her famished soule, unlesse thou by discovering thy selfe doest minister unto her the bread of thy body, & feede her with the foode, that hath in it all taste of sweetnesse.[97]

The analogy, one notes, works both ways: the longing for the real presence of Christ discovers itself as erotic desire, and simultaneously this desire for corporeal touch tropes sacramental theology. Thus, the corresponding passage in the pseudo-Origen reads, "Wherefore, if thou wilte that she faynte not by the way, refresshe and comforte the bowels (viscera ) of her soule with the plesauntes of thy taste (dulcedo saporis tui )."[98] "Bowels" (or viscera ) can mean the internal organs in general, but also, more specifically, the generative organs—the womb and testicles.[99] As in Herbert's "Love [III]," eroticism and eating constitute overlapping pleasures.[100]

Eros—the desire to touch and taste real bodies—became the master discourse of medieval culture, structuring such apparently nonerotic activities as thinking and eating and worshiping. In antiquity, such activities constituted the materials of what Foucault calls an aesthetic pratique de soi ;[101] in the Middle Ages and at least the Catholic Renaissance, they were modes of desire reaching toward union. Premodern subjectivity in the Christian West is erotic: "Pondus meum, amor meus ; my weight is my love," as Saint Augustine writes toward the end of his Confessions .[102] Following the efflorescence of Canticles mysticism in the twelfth century, this erotic subjectivity articulates itself in the language of female desire: the voice of the bride and Mary Magdalene—and of Ovid's forsaken heroines. But this conflation of the heroic epistle with the traditional bridal allegory crucially modifies the representational energies of erotic symbolization. As in Jephthah , the Classical intertext reshapes the biblical myths that appropriate it.

In Colet and the ancient martyrologies, sacrificial eros annihilates the self, radically subordinating the soul's "rapport à soi "—the relationship


one has with oneself—to its relationship with the numinous object of desire.[103] Eros, that is, becomes caritas , a love wholly oriented toward the other; the martyr's ardent affection is like a light streaming out, away from himself, to illumine the divine beloved. The Ovidian intertext turns these beams on their source by opening up the possibility of inconsolable loss and the infinite deferral of union. In the Magdalene narratives, erotic spirituality thus folds back on itself and becomes a discourse of the soul's own desires and interiority. As I have elsewhere suggested, the personal soul is the creation of frustrated eros, subjectivity becoming conscious of itself as longing for the absent other.[104] The reflexive recoil of desire appears most clearly in the Chaucerian Lamentatyon , the most pervasively Ovidian of the Magdalene narratives, where Mary displaces Christ as the sacrificial victim. Theological romance here opens onto psychological tragedy, the abandoned soul crying out in solitude, "Why hast thou forsaken me?"

But even in the Lamentatyon , subjectivity remains unified by its own desire; the intensity and fixity of Mary's love, like that of Colet's martyrs, leaves no energy for any centrifugal complication of inner life. What the Calvinist passion narratives discussed in chapter 3 suggest is that in Renaissance Protestantism violence replaces desire as the fundamental operation of the soul's pratique de soi , and hence the decentering conflicts of the chimerical self replace the unified erotic subjectivity of medieval Christianity.[105] This conflictual selfhood, as Erasmus's Disputatiuncula indicates, depends less on the Pauline division between flesh and spirit than on the division between nature and spirit. But this latter opposition abrogates the metaphysical basis of erotic spirituality, which presupposes a continuity between natural and transcendent desire, between the bodily experiences of tasting or touching and the soul's experience of God. The humanist/Protestant division between nature and spirit thus tends to separate erotic (which then moves toward the sexual) from religious discourse and likewise to supplant image and sacrament with the less material mediations of the inspired text.

Hence, the polarization of nature and spirit approaches the Cartesian division between body and mind. In both, one's natural faculties—whether instinctual, affective, or cognitive—no longer possess an intrinsic relation to ethical/spiritual existence. Thus, for Descartes, as Foucault notes, "I can be immoral and know the truth."[106] One cannot quite apply the same formula to Calvinism; that is, the division between nature and spirit does not imply that I can be profligate and still love God. The spirit not only disentangles itself from bodily nature but also disciplines and torments it—the


self-crucifixions of the introjected passion. In fact, Calvinist anthropology, which derives from Erasmus's tripartite division of the psyche into sinful flesh, self-protective maternal nature, and the spiritual law of the Father, seems less an early version of Cartesian dualism than a precursor of the Freudian allegory of id, ego, and superego. In the Calvinist passion narratives, the divided and discontented urban male who struggles to repress "nature" out of obedience to the interior sacrificial command is an early victim of the civilizing process.

But in English Protestantism, the protomodern chimerical self does not simply replace medieval erotic subjectivity; the popularity of the Magdalene narratives in England through the first quarter of the seventeenth century points to cultural continuity rather than disjunction. Nor does this residual narrative serve primarily as a discursive instrument for containing/mystifying doubt, transgressive excess, and female desire within a society that prohibits all three. Its function is not merely negative, for the symbols of erotic spirituality are themselves implicated in the early modern structuring of subjectivity—that is, in the discursive formation of inwardness as erotic, abandoned, and female: the inwardness of Donne's Holy Sonnets as well as Clarissa . To the extent that Renaissance Christianity installs transgressive and excessive desires in the center of religious subjectivity, the practices of piety are central—as central, let us say, as courtesy manuals or penal disciplines—to the economy and organization of Renaissance selfhood.

We can catch a glimpse of this by looking at two Renaissance title pages. The first comes from the Great Bible of 1541 and seems ideologically unambiguous: Henry VIII dominates the scene, distributing Bibles to his prelates, who then hand them to the parochial clergy, who in turn read them to a populace enthusiastically exclaiming, "God save the King" (fig. 4). The divine word circulates out from the royal head through the hierarchical body-ecclesiastic and returns to the throne as the language of political obedience.

One may usefully compare this piece of visual propaganda with the frontispiece from the 1612 edition of Hooker's Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie (fig. 5). In the top third of the picture, the beams issuing from the divine light fall separately on the king, the church, and a third figure who seems to emblematize the individual soul or inner faith.[107] If this reading is correct, then the picture offers an extraordinarily accurate visualization of Hooker's treatise. The Laws rests on a twofold distinction: on the one hand, the separation of the church as a "society supernatural" or "body mystical" from the ecclesiastical and secular institutions of "politic


society";[108] on the other hand, the separation of the church as a "power external and visible" needed to carry out various administrative and disciplinary functions from the "spiritual power of Christ's own regiment" that acts "secretly, inwardly, and invisibly" on the soul of each individual Christian.[109] In the frontispiece, the king thus represents Hooker's "politic society"; the cathedral, the visible church; and the woman, the secret, inward, and invisible spaces of the soul. It thus symbolizes Hooker's disincorporation of the subject from the mediating hierarchies of both state and church.

But who is the subject? She holds a book, presumably a Bible—in fact, the light falls on the Bible, indicating a link between private reading and private selfhood; a skull lies under one knee and something that looks like a whip or bridle hangs over her left arm. But the skull, book, and whip are the conventional iconographic attributes of Mary Magdalene.[110] The exemplary figure of the Middle Ages's highly materialist erotic mysticism is thus also the decorous symbol for the Protestant (although not Calvinist) individual subject, the suppositum existing apart from the mystical conjunctions of both church and state, with room (and book) of her own.

The sacred eroticism of Mary Magdalene suggests that female sexuality, like female transgression, although proscribed as cultural praxis, inhabits a traditional construct of religious subjectivity, one that passes from the cloistral devotions of the Middle Ages into early modern representations of a privatized, autonomous inwardness. Lisa Jardine is therefore mistaken in her claim that "female sexuality (personified in Mary Magdalene, the anti-type of Mary, mother of Christ) negates all those attributes which bring women closer to the ideal model."[111] Rather, the premodern appropriations of the Magdalene hint at an inverse relation between the interior gendering of the subject and the gendering of social codes, rules specifying sex-typed behaviors being more rigid as subjectivity remains sexually ambiguous/androgynous. Female "sexuality" pervades an ancient ideal model—not, of course, a model of female behavior, but of male (and female) inwardness. "That women might not be objects but subjects, not the other but the self"—what Stephen Orgel has called the age's "greatest anxiety"—seems nevertheless implicit in a strain of late medieval piety that remained in circulation through the middle of the seventeenth century, for the specter of female desire is also the structure of religious (and male) subjectivity. Even up to the middle of the eighteenth century—and I am thinking of Bach's cantatas now—the voice of the soul is always soprano.


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