Verdance and Venom

Shortly after the beginning of the second millennium AD, a great desire rose among the people of Europe for worthiness and meaning in their lives, and from this rose also the demand for the celebration of Corpus Christi, and renewed reverence for the Eucharist. This time was notable not only for the fact that the people, not the Pope in Rome nor the Church establishment, moved for the establishment of the celebration, but also because this renewed hunger for worthy service led to the creation of hospitals and shelters for the poor and sick. The Knights Hospitaller and the Knights Templar were created in those days, meant to serve and protect the weak and helpless. Devotion to the ideals and precepts of Christ were renewed as never before, and sadly never since.

Yet shortly after this time a different type of devotion rose, one which effect also remains to this day. The social changes in Europe in the early 11th Century included greater attention to women, and women became notable authors and patrons of literature. And at this time also appeared a new genre of literature, the immensely popular stories of ‘courtly love’. These stories of forbidden love, usually high in sexual content and lax in moral standards, became something of the precursor to modern soap operas and movies. A common example was one Marie de France, who seems to have created the formula with the requisite conditions of true love showing up some years after marriage, the immediate abandonment of marriage vows for ‘true love’, always represented in carnal action, and of course the rejection and often death of the husband who was betrayed, usually at the hand of the new rival. The common themes of these stories were that true love was more ‘sacred’ than marriage vows, that adultery was not only allowable but the inevitable “right” course when the lady was so inclined, and that sexual bliss was the same if not better than religious devotion. Whether we are discussing the text from ‘Lanval’ or the plot from the latest ‘Desperate Housewives’, this disparagement of faithful devotion and the replacement of God with Sex has been around quite a while, yet it should be easy for the reader to recognize the dangers in such moral equivalency.

The individual must make his or her own moral choices, but it is imperative for us to be aware that the differences are often very great in consequence and meaning, and what may appear to be a fulfilling and thoroughly enjoyable part of life, may in actual fact be poison venom, a danger to be avoided all the more because it appears to be the opposite of its true nature. This is not a lesson for pointing out to others, but for self-contemplation and alignment of values.

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