Accepted Paper:

Interpenetrations of nature and morality: the case of nocturnal seminal emissions in medieval theological thought  


Nuria Montserrat Farre Barril (University of Lleida)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper I wish to explore how a fact characteristic of male human nature such as nocturnal emissions is seen by medieval Catholic theologians from different points of view depending on whether it is defined as involuntary and natural or resulting for autoeroticism and hence aberrant and sinful

Paper long abstract:

In my study, I attempt to analyse the relationships between bodily nature and human will in the male body. Researchers have very often focused the analysis upon the ideas related to the naturally incontrollable and lascivious female body, source of all evil. Where did this fear of the female body and its physiology come from? Can we find its origins in the very same ideas related to the male body? By using sources from John Cassian and Augustine up to Thomas Aquinas, I wish to examine how the male body was conceptualised in its particular struggle between nature and morality. To this effect, I shall take as a central phenomenon nocturnal seminal emissions. This is a privileged location from which to observe how that battle was fought and how a balance was searched between body and ascetic will. In this connection, I will also look at the meaning of dreams and illusions in general in medieval imaginary. The effort to keep the movements of the flesh under control constitutes a privileged observatory from which to consider the mind-body interface in medieval man. Morality, physiology and psychological implications appear intertwined in a complex nexus that allows us to trace the ways in which men perceived their own nature (and to see what relationships, and in what terms, were established between body and mind).

Panel W036
Moralities of nature