Spain, 1438: end of the world is near, says Archpriest of Talavera

end of the world is near

The moral situation in Spain in 1438 looked desperate to the Archpriest of Talavera.  He wrote:

Since nowadays our sins increase and worsen daily, and our sinful life keeps on without visible improvement … one of the most practiced sins is lascivious love, especially of women. Because of this lascivious love, conflicts, murders, deaths, scandals, wars, loss of goods and worse, the loss of persons, and even worse, the loss of mournful souls occurs by the abominable carnal sin of love joined to disorder. And such, such decadence has now come into the world that the underage boy and even the overage old man love women licentiously. The same goes for the young girl who does not know the ways of the world, whose natural maliciousness makes her seem older than she is. The same goes for the old woman in whom the world is no longer interested, worth so little as to be burned alive. Today both men and women know about sex and, worse, they practice it to such an extent that one is faced with an out-of-kilter world, since it used to be that a man of twenty years of age scarcely knew what sex was all about, nor did a woman of twenty.  But nowadays it’s not even appropriate to remark on the things a person observes all around, since it would be shameful to talk about them.  Consequently, it is quite evident that the end of the world is soon to come upon us.  Further, in respect to this sin, no one any longer adheres to custom or law or regards friendships or family ties or marriage. Everything is going to hellfire and to evil.

{ como en los tiempos presentes nuestros pecados son multiplicados de cada día más, … Y como uno de los usados pecados es el amor desordenado, y especialmente de las mujeres, por do se siguen discordias, omecillos, muertes, escándalos, guerras y perdiciones de bienes y, aun peor, perdición de las personas y, mucho más peor, perdición de las tristes de las ánimas por el abominable carnal pecado con amor junto desordenado. Y en tanto y a tanto decaimiento es ya el mundo venido que el mozo sin edad y el viejo fuera de edad, ya aman las mujeres locamente. Eso mismo la niña infanta, que no es en reputación del mundo por la malicia que suple a su edad, y la vieja que está ya fuera del mundo, digna de ser quemada viva; hoy estos y estas entienden en amor y, lo peor, que lo ponen por obra. En tanto que ya hombre ve que el mundo está de todo mal aparejado: que solía que el hombre de 20 años apenas sabía qué era amor, ni la mujer de 20. Mas ahora no es para decirse lo que hombre ve, que sería vergonzoso de contar. Por ende, bien parece que el fin del mundo ya se demuestra de ser breve. Demás, en este pecado ya no se guardan fueros ni leyes, amistades ni parentescos ni compadrazgos: todo va a fuego y a mal. }[1]

The Archpriest of Talavera wasn’t a dour complainer or a prudish cleric.  He apparently had detailed personal knowledge about the sins he discussed.[2]  His book includes outrageously funny stories.  One scholarly translator perceived, “the Archpriest is shaking with laughter a good part of the time, even as he wags a monitory finger.”[3]  Other scholarly translators of his work described him as:

a writer deeply involved in his age, interested in serious contemporary issues such as courtly love and the debate over free will and predestination, and also highly conscious of prose style [4]

The Archpriest of Talavera’s primary theme is simple:

the only true love is loving God and to love anything else is total deceit, windy rhetoric, and ridicule

{ amar sólo Dios es amor verdadero, y lo á amar todo es burla y viento y escarnio }[5]

The Archpriest of Talavera’s book demonstrates the attractiveness of total deceit, windy rhetoric, and ridicule.  It also indicates that the Archpriest of Talavera was sincere in his claim of what is true love.  An understanding of “true love” cannot be disproved.

In the measure of mortal human life, the Archpriest of Talavera clearly was wrong.  The end of the world was not near in 1438.

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Read more:


[1] Alonso Martínez de Toledo, Archpriest of Talavera, Prologue, Spanish text from the online presentation by Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes of the edition of Gerli (1979), English translation (modified slightly) from Naylor & Rank (2013) p. 27.  Martínez de Toledo, who was the Archpriest of Talavera, finished his book by that name in 1438.

[2] The Archpriest of Talavera declared:

And don’t you believe that the man who wrote this is saying it to you because he only heard it, because in practice he saw, studied and read a lot, and believes, following ancient, great, and holy teachers, this to be so. And you can see it every day if you want, although a lot of reading is advantageous and sharp understanding helps. A lot of practice and experience in the real world is the best instructor in all things, because he who speaks it speaks it without fear … {with respect to the reader putting into practice what the Archpriest of Talavera has written} I ask God since he’s straightening out his life that He will deliver me and that this will serve as contrition for some of my sins which I committed long ago

{ Y no pienses que el que lo escribió te lo dice porque lo oyó solamente, salvo porque por prática de ello mucho vio, estudió y leyó; y cree, según antiguos, grandes y santos doctores, ello ser así. Y de cada día tú lo puedes ver si quisieres, que, aunque mucho leer aprovecha y mucho entender ayuda, pero mucha prática y experiencia de todo es maestra y enseñadora porque hable el que lo habla sin miedo; que parece que lo ve cuando lo escribe. … a Dios ruego que sea su enmienda relevación de algunas de mis culpas que tiempo ha cometí, y de las que cometo de cada día en satisfacción, y después de la presente vida de penas y tormento relevación. }

Id. Part I. Section IV, Ch. 37, p. 96-7, sourced as above.

[3] Translator’s introduction, Simpson (1959) p. 3.

[4] Translator’s introduction, Naylor & Rank (2013) p. 19.

[5] Archpriest of Talavera, Prologue, trans. Naylor & Rank (2013) p. 27. Similarly, “true love is required only for God, and not for any other {sólo el amor a Dios verdadero es debido, y a ninguno otro no}.” Id. These statements can be interpreted as declaring love for God (“true love”) to be categorically different from other types of love.


Gerli, Michael, ed. 1979. Alfonso Martínez de Toledo. Arcipreste de Talavera o Corbacho. Madrid: Cátedra.

Naylor, Eric W. and Jerry Rank, trans. 2013. The Archpriest of Talavera by Alonso Martínez de Toledo: dealing with the vices of wicked women and the complexions of men. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Simpson, Lesley Byrd Simpson, trans. 1959. Alfonso Martínez de Toledo.  Little sermons on sin: the Archpriest of Talavera. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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