Peter Damian, the patron saint of modern-day anti-sodomites, went to his maker on February 22 1072. Or perhaps the day before, or a year later. No one cared enough to check at the time. Hailed by bigots for his formulation of sodomy as a sin in Book of Gomorrah, they usually forget to mention his devotion to self-flagellation, that he thought wanking deserved death, and sex with a mule a lesser sin than with a male. Oh… and that the fork was the devil’s cutlery.
The Benedictine promoted himself as a devoutly prayerful hermit monk, but in reality, Peter Damian administered a network of monasteries. He also wore out innumerable quills scribing opinions and advice for other clerics and European monarchs. Scholars speculate he chose sodomy as a subject, not out of passionate concern, but because he knew it would get attention.
That worked. He became more influential and eventually a cardinal despite the church initially taking little interest in punishing sodomy. It would be another couple of hundred years before the Vatican cracked down on anal sex and centuries before his tract went viral.
That occurred when 20th-century bigots were challenged to provide evidence that their laser focus on homosexuality had some substantive basis in scripture. After all, the Bible only refers to homosexuality seven times. And Jesus Christ never mentioned it at all.
Book of Gomorrah was not intended for the general population, nor about their sexual practices. It was specifically a denunciation of priestly sodomy and a guide to penances for such. But for the bigots, it was better than nothing. God knows they had little to go on.
‘Thank Christ’ they must have uttered when they dug up Peter Damian. The author remained well-known, but Book of Gomorrah, less so. Because of Damian’s graphic descriptions of sex, extracts of the text were much censored before Pierre J. Payer’s 1982 translation.
The Catholic Church, in the 11th-century, was a PR disaster.
Clergy bought ecclesiastical offices — including the papacy — and then enriched themselves through those offices. Despite six centuries of decrees imploring celibacy, priests and bishops continued to marry, take mistresses, and father legitimate and illegitimate children.
Members of the clergy sexually abused children and adolescents. Others committed rapes, or at the very least, did not shy from coercion in their pursuit of sex.
Pope Benedict IX
Peter Damian held up the three-time pope, Benedict IX, as an example of the church’s woes.
Benedict’s father bought him the papacy in 1032 when he was about 20, making him the youngest ever pontiff. Replaced in 1044 because of his allegedly dissolute lifestyle, Benedict fought his way back. However, on regaining the papacy, he immediately sold it. But he regretted that decision and regained the papal throne by force before being deposed the following year.
Peter Damian repeated rumours that cast Benedict IX as the first primarily same-sex attracted pope. He accused the young pontiff of routine sodomy, bestiality and papal orgies.
In Book of Gomorrah, Damian launched into a colourful condemnation of priestly sodomy.
“Whomever this most atrocious beast once seizes upon with bloodthirsty jaws, it restrains with its bonds from every form of good work and immediately unleashes him down the steep descent of the most evil depravity.”
He first identified the various forms of sodomy.
“Four types of this form of criminal wickedness can be distinguished… Some sin with themselves alone — some commit mutual masturbation; some commit femoral fornication [between the thighs]; and finally, others commit the complete act against nature [anal sex].”
The author insisted that under the ‘Old Law’, sodomists — including mere wankers — deserved death.
“Scripture attests that he [God] struck down Onan, the son of Judah, with premature death for this nefarious crime, ‘Onan… wasted his seed on the ground… And for this, the Lord killed him, for he had done a detestable thing.”
Birds do it, bees do it…
Damian claimed incorrectly that man-on-man sex was unnatural because animals didn’t do it.
“Never has a bull wantonly desired to mate with another bull, never has an ass brayed longingly for intercourse with another ass.”
Bullshit, of course, but Peter Damian’s parents died when he was young and never took him to the zoo to see the gay penguins.
Peter Damian also disputed the then-prevailing wisdom that “It is more abominable to mix with a mule than with a male, so it is a more irrational crime to mix with a male than with a female.”
No, he said.
“It seems to me to be more tolerable to fall in shameful lust with an animal than with a male.”
Book of Gomorrah did not sanction f_cking mules but thought it preferable to f_cking men. Because when a man mounted a mule, he alone incurred God’s wrath, but by having sex with another man, he “draws another along with himself to disastrous ruin.”
You’ve been a very bad, bad boy
Peter Damian was obviously a troubled soul, apparently suffering from internalised self-loathing. He endured a terrible childhood, orphaned young, and then enslaved by an older brother who underfed him and made the child look after his pigs.
Rail as he did against men who flogged their dicks, he liked nothing more than a good flogging himself. But he never paid anyone to whip him while purring ‘You’ve been a very bad, bad boy’.
He believed in self-flagellation, kneeling before a cross and flailing his back with a whip. He even wrote a book on the practice, De Laude Flagellorum. However, some of his followers became such enthusiasts, he eventually had to ask them to tone down their self-abuse.
The monk also wore a hairshirt to inflict constant discomfort on himself. Unsurprisingly, when he first entered the monastery, he suffered insomnia so severe it impacted his health. Nothing a good flogging couldn’t fix.
He wrote a lot of books.
In a later treatise, De Institutione monialis, he warned against a new invention — the devil’s cutlery — the pronged fork.
What the fork!
It is characteristic of modern-day holier-than-thou moralists to attribute ridiculous consequences to harmless pursuits. Two male butterflies locked in a sinful embrace above a Chinese wet market cause an earthquake, volcanic eruption or pandemic in Florida.
Peter Damian was no different.
He claimed that Maria Argyropoulina, niece of a Byzantine emperor and daughter-in-law of a Venetian doge, died because of indulgences like eating with a fork.
“Such was the luxury of her habits, she deigned not to touch her food with her fingers, but would command her eunuchs to cut it up into small pieces, which she would impale on a certain golden instrument with two prongs and thus carry to her mouth.”
So God killed her.
“For such depravity, she was the victim of the wrath of God who smote her with a vile disease. Her body putrified, her limbs withered… after a lingering illness of excruciating agony, she passed away.”
In truth, Maria, her family, and many others perished when the plague swept through Venice, years after she started eating with a fork.
The idea she died because she used a fork was pure stupidity. But then, so is homophobia and stupidity never got in the way of homophobia.