Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Nature's Complaint: Alan of Lille's The Plaint of Nature, Part 1

ALAN DE LILLE (ca. 1116-ca. 1202 A.D.) will be the focus of our next several postings. Specifically, we will spend some time on his famous De Planctu Naturae or Plaint of Nature. Alain (or Alan) de Lille (Alanus ab Insulis) was born in Lille in Flanders sometime before 1128. Though not much is known of his personal life, Alan was a highly-reputed theologian who taught in the famous Paris schools, and attended the Third Lateran Council of 1179, an ecumenical council that repaired the breach in the Church caused by the schismatic election of antipope Callistus III. The Council, called by Pope Alexander III, instituted legal reforms to prevent such an incident from happening again. It also addressed issues arising out of the heretical Waldensians and Cathars. From Paris, Alan eventually lived and taught in Montpellier (which is why he is sometimes called Alanus de Montepessulano). Towards the end of his life he retired to the Cistercians in Citeaux, and it was there that he died sometime in between 1202-03. His epitaph reads, in part:
Short life brought Alan to a little tomb.
He knew the two,
He knew the seven,
He knew all that could be known . . . .
Sheridan,* 2-3. Alan of Lille's Plaint of Nature is a genre of literature called Menippean satire (from the Greek Cynic and satirist Menippus or Menippos of Gadara fl. 225 B.C.), and it is a combination of both prose and verse. The main argument of the Plaint is the writer's complaint of his contemporaries' contempt for the natural law. He is particularly upset at the disrespect for nature shown by homosexuality, which he sees rampant in society, and which he sees as symbolic of the intellectual and spiritual infertility that has also infected his society. As if seized by a trance, the writer enters a dream-like state, and a beautiful maiden,--a personification of Nature--visits him. She is beautiful, but she shows signs of great grief, and she shares with the dreaming poet the reasons why. Her garment is rent because man has appropriated to himself parts of her that he has no right to. Everywhere man acts against Nature, and, as a result, justice has disappeared, and crime and fraud everywhere abound. There is no more law, and man, from the dignity of rationality where Nature has placed him, has reached the nadir of irrationality. Though the vice of lust is everywhere prevalent, by disregarding Nature man also suffers from other vices, which Nature discusses with the poet. She shares with the poet some remedies to such vices in the forms of maxims. Then, during the course of the dream, comes Hymenaeus, representative of Christian marriage, and following close behind him, the virtues: Chastity, Temperance, Generosity, and Humility. Towards the end of the dream, Genius appears, and Truth, the daughter of Nature and Genius, shows herself opposite Falsehood, who is bald, and exceedingly ugly and rattily dressed. Eventually, the poet awakes from his trance-like state, and Alan of Lille's Mennipean ends.

Menippus by Diego Velázquez

The De Planctu Naturae begins with verse, as the poet expresses his sorrow at how Nature is disregarded by the mores of his time, most notably in the disregard of Nature in the area of sexual behavior. It is a plaint that well accords with the sentiments of any modern man who views the deviancy advanced as normative ushered by the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s: the rampant use of artificial contraception, of serial polygamy, of premarital sex and concubinage, of homosexuality, of abortion . . . some of which perversions are now classified as Constitutional in dignity, have now the protection of law, and are touted as being fundamental moral rights. Vices that cry out to heaven with a vengeance (cf. Gen. 18:20-21) are fundamental moral rights? O tempora! O mores!

In lacrymas risus,
in fletum gaudia verto:
In planctum plausus, in lacrymosa jocos,
Cum sua naturam video secreta silere,
Cum Veneris monstro naufraga turba perit.
Cum Venus in Venerem pugnans, illos facit illas:
Cumque suos magica devirat arte viros.
I turn from laughter to tears, from joy to grief, from merriment to lament, from jests to wailing, when I see that the essential decrees of Nature are denied hearing, while large numbers are shipwrecked and lost because of a Venus turned monster, when Venus wars with Venus and changes "hes" into "shes" and with her witchcraft unmans man.

"Hes" turned into "shes," and "shes" into "hes." If there was gender and sexual confusion in Alan's day, there is a fortiori such confusion in ours. And where there is gender and sexual confusion, there is sure to be intellectual confusion. Venery and the intellectual and the spiritual life do not mix, for her witchcraft unmans man, devirat arte viros. Man was meant for God, and an unmanned man, that is a man who tends towards another man's anus, is a man that does not tend toward his proper end.

Heu! quo naturae secessit gratia? morum
Forma, pudicitiae norma, pudoris amor!
Flet natura, silent mores, proscribitur omnis
Orphanus a veteri nobilitate pudor.
Alas! Where has Nature with her fair form betaken herself?
Where have the pattern of morals, the norm of chastity, the love of modesty gone?
Nature weeps, moral laws get no hearing,
modesty, totally dispossessed of her ancient high estate, is sent into exile.

What is the cause of the poet's lamentations? "The active sex shudders in disgrace as it sees itself degenerate into the passive sex." Activi generis sexus, se turpiter horret, sic in passivum degenerare genus. Homosexuality runs rampant, and it butchers nature as much as a barbarian butchers grammar. "Becoming a barbarian in grammar, he disclaims the manhood given him by nature." Se negat esse virum, naturae factus in arte Barbarus. A vice that lapses into natural fallacy, a natural illogic, a barren, futile, senseless, vain execrable act, that replaces man's natural desire for woman. "No longer does the Phrygian adulterer [i.e., Paris] chase the daughter of Tyndareus [i.e., Helen of Troy], but Paris with Paris performs unmentionable and monstrous deeds." Non modo Tyndaridem Phrygius venatur adulter, sed Paris in Paridem monstra nefanda parit. There is no excuse for it.

(One is reminded here of Hilaire Belloc's famous ditty:
The world is full of double beds
And most delightful maidenheads,
Which being so, there’s no excuse
For sodomy of self-abuse.)
Something is wrong in a world that lapses into sodomy and self-abuse, homosexuality and pornography, where, in a very vivid image, the "little cleft of Venus has no charm for him," huic Veneris rimula nulla placet. At its most fundamental, rejection of the natural role of man and woman, beginning in the area of the use of sexual faculties, is a rejection of the natural law, and with it the rejection of the one true God. It is a lapse into moral, intellectual, and spiritual darkness. It robs mankind of his Genius.

A Genii templo tales anathema merentur,
Qui Genio decimas, et sua jura negant.
Men like these, who refuse Genius his tithes and rites, deserve to be excommunicated from the temple of Genius.

The invocation of "Genius" by Alain is intended to show the intricate relationship between homosexuality, the loss of reason, and the ultimate infertility in thought that results from an acceptance of such a vice as right, whether de facto or de jure. Etymologically, the word "genius" is related to gignere, to bring forth, to give birth to. Sheridan, 59-60. The word genius was frequently linked with the Greek word "daimon" (δαίμων), a lesser god, guiding spirit, or tutelary deity, unique to each man. The daimon, made famous by Socrates who followed it to his death, was, perhaps, the pagan precursor to the notion of a guardian angel.

Winged Genius from villa of P. Fannius Synistor in Boscoreale, near Pompeii.

The linkage of this intellectual component to the generative component in the notion of Genius may be seen in a fragment of Valerius Soranus that has been preserved by St. Augustine in his De Civitate Dei. Soranus describes a Genius as "a God who is in charge of, and has power over, the birth of all things." De civ. Dei, 7.13 (Quid est Genius? "Deus, inquit, qui praepositus est ac vim habet omnium rerum gignendarum.") Likewise, St. Isidore in his Etymologies describes "Genius" so as to make the relationship between intellectual and procreational fertility even more apparent. "They give him the name of Genius because, so to speak, he has power over the birth of all things, or from the fact that he brings about the birth of children. Thus the beds prepared for the newly-wed husband, were called 'genius' couches." Etym., 8.11.88-89 (Genium autem dicunt, quod quasi vim habeat omnium rerum gignendarum, seu a gignendis liberis; unde et geniales lecti dicebantur a gentibus, qui novo marito sternebantur.) Genius, then, had a double duty. It was charged with keeping the human race in existence, both in his body and in his spiritual soul. In assuring both the spiritual and the physical fertility of mankind. Genius was seen as intricately bound to Nature; indeed, Genius was Nature's great high priest.
It can easily be seen that Genius has a very close kinship with Nature, particularly with Nature as described by Alan in the De Planctu. Both have the same interests--that like shall produce like, that sexual relations shall follow the norms of Nature, that those born shall grow up to live a life in accord with Nature as understood by right reason, that the human race shall not die out. Nature may well call Genius her other self. Genius gives the final form to the things of Nature.
Sheridan, 61-62. One wonders whether Genius has departed from any country that has adopted homosexuality as a fundamental legal right, or has signed the United Nations declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity. Have we been excommunicated from the temple of Genius? Along with Alan of Lille, we have cause to issue our modern Plaint:
In lacrymas risus,
in fletum gaudia verto:
In planctum plausus, in lacrymosa jocos,
Cum sua naturam video secreta silere . . .

*Sheridan refers to James J. Sheridan, trans., Alan of Lille: The Plaint of Nature (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1980). Translations of Alan of Lille's De Planctu are taken from this text.

1 comment:

  1. How true. Do you notice that with this new subject and the last subject there is a recurring theme? The word "monster" appears in this first post as it does in the last post of the last subject about Equality in Coons and Brennan.

    There is another tangent, that is of golems. That it is in Kabbalah Jewish sects the possibility of making golems or monsters to do the will of a rabbi. That Tolkein may have borrowed that term and bastardized its form to create that character---in love with power and world domination, his precious. That Tolkein's underlying motiff is one of the Old passing away. The creation of monsters.

    This is why Plato limited the size of his city state in the Laws, it is a mimicry of the Dorians; to have one house in the city, and another in the country. That the city was never so large as to disconnect the people from nature. From nature comes normality.

    That is why Catholicism can not be separated from Europe---or Agrarianism. One must have the environmental precepts in order for the right ordering and thinking in Christianity. One can't be divorced from the objective natural order, from reality.

    Alan is right, there is a great hatred of "Nature". Nobody likes her. I do.