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De Cerinthus Fornicationis

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Manuscript history:

This peculiar text of canon legal writing exists only in three manuscripts: the first, in London British Library Cotton Agrippina X.ii, is bound together with the Sentences of Peter Lombard and the Sic et Non of Peter Abelard. It follows directly from the latter and is in the same hand; the 17th century annotator seems to have thought it was by the same author. This cannot be the case, as De Cerinthus draws on later writers, for instance William of Auvergne on the abhorrence of sodomy even to Satan. De Cerinthus seems to be modelled on Gratian’s Decretum, although it lacks Gratian’s breadth of knowledge or detailed provision of source material.

The second manuscript, University of Sydney MS Nicholson 69, is fragmentary, and was found in the binding of an early printed work in the collection of Sir Charles Nicholson. It was the discovery of this manuscript, in the 1980s, that lead to the re-examination of the Cotton MS and the production of the first – and thus far only – edition (Tucker, De Cerinthus Fornicationis, 1987). The third manuscript, only recently discovered, is Geneva, Bibliothèque de Genève MS lat. 0224, where it is bound in not with works of canon law but with Andreas Capellanus’ De Amore. Unlike the other two manuscripts, this manuscript gives an attribution to the work, in a rubric at the head of the first page. Incipit Opus Amandus Antipodeanus.

Authorship, dating and purpose:

Lucy Tucker, in her edition of De Cerinthus, dates the work to the late 13th century, and no evidence has subsequently arisen to cast doubt on this attribution. However, with the discovery of the Geneva manuscript, we have cause to question Tucker’s assessment of De Cerinthus as a serious, albeit under-developed, canon legal assessment of the implications of aphrodisiacs. As Tucker herself noted, no other canon legal texts treat aphrodisiacs except to forbid their use, and the phrase cerinthus fornicationis is not attested in any herbology, medical manual or secular legal records.

The Geneva manuscript groups De Cerinthus not with canon law but with the secular Latin text De Amore. Andreas Capellanus’ late 12th century treatise features a panel of ladies, under the supervision of Marie de Champagne, as a ‘court of love’, passing judgement on various amorous problems. De Amore treats such questions as ‘how may a knight seduce a peasant’ (by force) or ‘how may a knight seduce a queen’ (he can’t, unless she invites him to). For most of the twentieth century this text, under the influence of Gaston Paris and CS Lewis, was taken as a serious guide to the courtly love practices of the twelfth century élite. However, since the 1980s scholars have read Andreas’ work as a sophisticated satire on his own society (Schnell, Andreas Cappelanus 1982). Andreas is recognised as a master of dialectics (Classen, ‘Dialectics and Courtly Love’ 2013), the rhetorical technique which structures the works of Abelard, Lombard, and indeed De Cerinthus (although the author of De Cerinthus is a poor companion to these masters). Although De Cerinthus does not deal at all with the question of love, only with the canon legal questions of sex, marriage and consent, its grouping with De Amore compels us to consider the possibility that De Cerinthus was never intended as a serious work of canon law, but as a complicated intellectual satire.

Further evidence for the satirical nature of the work lies in the authorial attribution in the Geneva MS. This name is not found anywhere else; it is unlikely to be the name of the author or even a professional pseudonym. Amandus Antipodeanus constitutes an entirely satirical name. Amandus provides the only link with the topic of love: formed from the gerundive of the verb amo, it translates as ‘he who ought to be loved’. Antipodeanus, or ‘of the Antipodes’, makes an otherwise improbable link with texts like The letter of Alexander to Aristotle, where far-off lands and topsy-turvy societies are described, including the society of the Antiopodes, who walk on their hands with their feet in the air. Medieval literary thought often used these figures as windows, or rather funhouse mirrors, through which to reflect on the structure of their own society. The pseudonym Amandus Antipodeanus thus suggests, firstly, that he was seen as affiliated with the culture of literary writers on love, and that he is somehow associated with social inversion.


A certain man, being under the influence de cerinthus fornicationus, came to have carnal knowledge of a woman; after this it is said that he is required to marry said women.

The questions here are:

First, what is the degree of the sin which they commit?
Second, is it required that they then marry one another?

Question 1:

The first question is the degree of the sin. This must be addressed in two parts: first, whether they commit a sin at all, and second, whether the sin is a venial or a mortal one.

Part 1:

Many authorities attest that they have, indeed, committed a sin.

C1. Intoxication does not preclude the committing of sins, and indeed it may compound it, for a man who has the power of continence may willingly loose it in intoxication.

C2. Furthermore, intoxication does not preclude the experience of lust, and indeed it makes man more prone to wantonness. The mind is given over to lust and the will abandoned; therefore the sin is greater, not lesser.

C3. It may be answered to this that the parties did not of their own volition partake de cerinthus fornicationis, and that the act therefore is not of their own will. As the sin of lust lies in the will to lust, there is no sin here, just as the continent man may experience nocturnal emissions. For the body is corrupt with the sin of Adam, and therefore it may not be fully controlled by the will.

To this the contrary must be posed: that the experience de cerinthus fornicationis differs from that of nocturnal pollution in that all the senses are engaged. When a man sleeps, the will is weakened and the body may act without lust entering the soul; but when a man is subject de cerinthus fornicationis, his will remains intact and it is subject to the body. He takes pleasure in the act; therefore lust enters into the soul.

C4. But it is held that a woman may retain her virginity after raptus1 or forced coitus, because she did not consent to sin.

This is true, insofar as she took no pleasure in the act. The body may experience coitus against the will, without stain upon the soul. It is even held that the body may experience pleasure, in that seed is released, against the will of the woman.

From this it may be concluded: that the woman may be free of sin, if she truly took no pleasure in the act and in her will was opposed although her body was subject de cerinthus fornicationis. This being so she ought to have protested, and to have done everything in her power to remove herself from the company of the man, in order that they might both be prevented from sin despite the influence de cerinthus fornicationis.

To this it may be said: that the man likewise may be free of sin. But the contrary must be posed: that the will of the man being stronger, though he may lose continence of the body, he ought to have removed himself from the company of the woman, and of all other persons, that no one sin de cerinthus fornicationis. If he made a valid effort to do so, and yet failed, then he may be without sin.

C5. It may be said that had he removed himself from the woman, the man would be tempted de cerinthus fornicationis to unnatural acts. This is true, but it does not mean there is no sin in fornication, just as it is a sin to lie with a woman outside of marriage even though such fornication is less abominable than to lie with a man against the laws of nature. From this it may be concluded that if a man comes under the influence de cerinthus fornicationis he may have recourse to his own wife, or a woman to her husband, and for this reason it is said that it is better to marry than to burn.

Thus from many authorities we conclude that the man has indeed committed a sin, unless he took no pleasure in his will from the act.

Part II: Whether the sin is a mortal or a venial one.

C1. That it is a venial sin to commit fornication de cerinthus fornicationis, for the body is not fully subject to the will, because of the sin of Adam. Therefore, the sin is not mortal but venial, and derives from the fallen state of the soul. Nevertheless it must be remedied by contrition and penitence, for enjoyment was taken in that which is forbidden and distasteful to God.

C2. To this it may be said that all lust derives from the fallen soul, and yet it is not licit to sate lust outside of marriage: indeed, one must do everything within one’s power to preserve chastity outside of marriage and continence within it. Therefore it may be a venial sin to have recourse to one’s wife de cerinthus fornicationis, but otherwise, the sin is mortal.

C3. Certain authorities suggest that if the parties had spoken their intent to marry, but have not yet legally married, the sin may be a venial one. In this the case is like to that in which the betrothed couple commit fornication: if they have no contract elsewhere then their marriage is considered valid and binding by the act of coitus, which stands for consent. Nevertheless the marriage is clandestine, and for this a remedy must be made.

C4. Certainly the sin is greater if the man has taken a vow of chastity, or if he has taken religious orders. The breaking of his oath must be remedied; but he shall not be cast out of his office unless it be the case that he sought, of his own volition, to come under the influence de cerinthus fornicationis.

Likewise if the woman is a nun, or has taken a vow of chastity, her sin is greater. Yet it is also a greater sin that a man fornicate with a nun than with a whore, for it is better to sully only oneself than to sully a woman who is under a vow of chastity. Therefore, if the man has not endeavoured to remove himself from the nun, his sin is greater also.

C5. Let it also be stated that the sin of the man who engages in acts contrary to nature is greater than the sin of the man who fornicates in the customary way, for the compulsion de cerinthus fornicatonis is a compulsion to lust, but we know of no case where discrimination may not be practiced in the fulfilment of lust. Consider that the succubi, whose purpose is solely to tempt men to lust, are called sub-cubine because they lie under the man; and likewise the incubus lies over the women. We know of no case where the incubus tempts a man to unnatural acts, for even Satan is repelled by these acts. Therefore, the man who commits sodomy de cerinthus fornicationis, be it with man or woman, has committed a mortal sin.

Likewise the man who leads a woman into unnatural acts de cerinthus fornicationis, or who defiles another man who would not otherwise defile himself, sins so much the more.

Question 2:

Having committed fornication with the said woman, are may he then be required to may her?

Many authorities attest that they are not required to marry, unless vows or other signs of contract have been exchanged.

C1. A couple guilty of fornication is not required to marry: they may abjure one another, do penance for their sins and have no further relations. This is likewise applicable to the man who had carnal knowledge de cerinthus fornicationis.

If the couple abjure one another but return to one another to fornicate again, they commit a mortal sin. They may be required to abjure one another on pain of marriage, in which case, by committing further carnal relations they consent to marriage.

C2. However, a man may be required to marry a woman whom he has carried off in raptus, if she consents. To have carnal knowledge de cerinthus fornicationis may be considered raptus if any of the following conditions apply: if the man removed her from her father’s house; if force was applied; if cerinthus fornicationis was used with the intent to coerce consent to intercourse.

To this it must be added that the woman cannot be required to marry her raptor; she must give consent and the marriage must be solemnised. Likewise a nun or a woman who has made a vow of chastity cannot be compelled to marry; it is not permissible for either monk or nun to marry, despite carnal knowledge de cerinthus fornicationis, for it is a greater sin to abandon a vow of chastity than it is to lapse within it.

C3. If a man commits adultery de cerinthus fornicationis, that is, if he is married or if the woman is married, he may not subsequently marry the same woman. This is attested in many authorities.

To this it may be countered that it is permissible to marry after adultery if the spouse has since died; if the parties were unaware that they were committing adultery; or if the married party was repudiated by their spouse and that spouse has since died.

C4. The committing of fornication de cerinthus fornicationis may itself constitute a valid marriage, if vows of consent were exchanged during the fornication or after it. For instance, if the man had given the woman a token of his intention to marry her, and subsequently they came under the influence de cerinthus fornicationis and fornicated together, they are to be considered married. The marriage is considered clandestine and remedy must be made.

C5. A man may be considered married to a woman if vows were exchanged after fornication, and those vows were in the present tense, because present tense vows constitute efficient consent to marriage. If however the vows were in the future tense, the man may not be required to marry the woman if he has no further carnal relations with her. Remedy must be made for the breaking of the oath.

C6. If it is said that the marriage is contracted, but the man now wishes to adopt a vow of chastity in reparation for his sins, he must seek the consent of his wife. Likewise the woman must seek consent of her husband. Having contracted a marriage they must render unto one another the debt, and if the debt is withheld they invite their spouse to adultery, and the sin will be upon their head.

To this it may be said that if vows were exchanged after fornication, and no further carnal knowledge has taken place, the parties may not be compelled to future coitus, for consent to marriage is said by some authorities not to constitute consent to intercourse. If this is so then it must also be held that, should chastity lapse, the marriage is considered consummated and the parties may be required to render the debt henceforth.

If the parties should marry and at a future time come under the influence de cerinthus fornicationis, they may have recourse only to one another.

C7. If the parties do not marry, and abjure one another, fornication nevertheless creates a bond of affinity. Therefore the man may not marry the woman’s sister, nor the woman the man’s father, nor any relative within the forbidden degrees of consanguinity.

1. Medieval law had no word for ‘rape’. Raptus, derived from late Roman law, referred to marriage-by-capture, and might or might not involve forced sex. Other legal frameworks dealt with ‘forced intercourse’ or ‘coerced consent’, but not consistently.