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Grant me Chastity, but not yet.

Hearing St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians at Sunday Mass set me reflecting on Quentin de la Bedoyere’s amusing adieu to Catholic prudery (The Church’s quiet sexual revolution, August 21 2015). Small wonder, methought, that Catholics got so hung up on the evils of sexual concupiscence with all The Gloomy One’s emphasis on making their wives holy by washing them so that they would be glorious, with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that. Eros and Thanatos with knobs on!

The Sexual Manichaeism which bedevilled Catholic Canon Law recalls an anecdote beloved of my ex-Paratrooper father. He tells of a buttoned-up regimental sergeant major called to give evidence in the case of a young recruit who had yelled obscenities through the window of said RSM’s married quarters. The senior officer’s deathless prose proceeded roughly as follows: “On the evening of 21st August, I was cohabiting with my wife, as is my wont, when Private X shouted, ‘Go it you old ram!’….” (my italics). Cue Disorder in Court!

Thank Heaven, as Mr de la Bedoyere reminds us, we have progressed to a more ‘holistic’ understanding of the role of sexual passion within marriage. Yet it may be salutary for us to retain some vestigial sense of shame after the manner of our medieval forbears. There is a story of the forced reburial, outside the cloister, of Rosamund, Mistress of Henry II. Bishop Hugh of Lincoln having pronounced her “An Harlot”, she was promptly disinterred and reburied under an epitaph which read Hic iacet in tumba rosa mundi, non rosa munda. Non redolet sed olet quod redolere solet. Which roughly translated means: “Here lies one called the rose of the world, but not a clean rose. She no longer smells rosy, so please hold your nose.” Perhaps partes inhonestae have their place after all!

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