Talavera clergy strongly opposed celibacy

On April 1st in fourteenth-century Spain, Don Gil, the Archbishop of Toledo, conveyed to the clergy of Talavera a mandate for celibacy.  Talavera was a bustling provincial trading town.  The Talavera clergy were outraged at the imposition of celibacy.

The Archpriest of Talavera convened the clergy and with great anguish read the mandate.  He tearfully declared:

The Pope has given me this mandate to impart,
And I must read it to you, whether I want to or not,
Although I read it to you now with rage deep in my heart.

The edict has arrived and this is what it has to say:
No priest or married man in Talavera situated
May keep a married woman or single girl as concubine;
And whosoever keeps one will be excommunicated. [1]

The clergy left the address stiffened and blanched.

A group decided to draft a resolution of protest the very next day.  They would appeal to the King in opposition to the Pope.  The group’s leader reasoned:

Although we’re clergymen, we are his subjects by our birth,
And we have served him well, always been loyal in his eyes.
Besides, the King knows very well that we’re all carnal men.
Believe me, with such troubles as we have he’ll sympathize!

The group’s leader announced that he would renounce his holy orders before he would accept celibacy.  He further declared:

I call upon the Apostles and all those more worthy still,
With strong insistence, in such manner as our God well knows,
With eyes brimful of tears and with much sadness in my voice:
Psallite nomini!  We must release in the sweetness we know! [2]

That noble song drew forth other voices.  The clergy’s treasurer sang praises of his Teresa:

How many times she causes ardent passions to subside!
And if I send her off, deep grief will never leave my side.

He declared that he was as dedicated to his Teresa as Floris was to Blancheflour and Tristan was to Isuelt.  He also threatened physical violence against the Archbishop of Toledo.  Choirmaster Sancho Muñoz added that God has forgiven the clergy’s crimes of sexual intimacy.  He further explained that he keeps a maiden who is an orphan.  He noted the clergy’s service to orphans and widows, and sarcastically exclaimed:

Then let’s abandon our good women!  We can turn to whores! [3]

No man should have to resort to a whore.  But many men have resorted to whores through the ages.  A related poem observed that the pope ordered “peasants to work, soldiers to fight, and especially, clergy to love.”[4]  How can clergy love under a mandate of celibacy?

loving couple on bed

About a century after the clergy of Talavera received the mandate on celibacy, a new Archpriest of Talavera addressed that problem of love.  Alonso Martínez de Toledo’s account of the Archpriest of Talavera’s teaching was not just for self-abasing chivalric knights.  The Archpriest of Talavera also taught for the Talavera clergy in Libro de buen amor.[5]

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[1] Juan Ruiz, Libro de buen amor (Book of true love), s. 1692b-1693, from Old Spanish trans. Daly (1978) p. 175.  All subsequent quotes are from Daly’s translation of s. 1690-1709, unless otherwise noted.  The complaints of the Talavera clergy are included only in the Salamanca manuscript, one of only three manuscripts of the Libro de buen amor that have survived.  In twelfth-century Europe, the first and second Lateran Councils required priests, deacons, and sub-deacons to be celibate.  The early historical significance of April 1 is not well-recognized.

[2] Id. s. 1700.  The Libro de buen amor’s text for 1700d is the Latin phrase “Nobis enim dimittere quoniam suave.”  The Latin “quoniam” is phonetically close to the Latin word “cunnus,” which means vagina.  That sound relation appears to be deliberate.  See Vasvári (1984).  That phrase appears with a minor difference in the twelfth-century Latin poem De Concubinis Sacerdotum, wrongly attributed to Walter Map, v. 26. The phrase “quoniam suave” appears in the Vulgate text for Psalm 134, verse 3 (Psalm 135 in RSV and similar translations).  Simonatti (2003) n. 26; Wright (1841) p. 172.  Daly translates 1700d as “We must abandon Pussy: just because she’s sweet, she goes.”  That translation is less noble and less subtle than the source text. It is also inconsistent with the context.  While the Libro de buen amor makes surprising reversals, endorsing renouncement of sex with women makes no sense in the context of the clergy of Talavera’s complaints.  The translation of 1700d (the last line) above is my own.  Psallite nomini, from Psalm 134/135, means “sing the name.”

[3] Widows and orphans have historically been classes receiving special compassion and care.  Prostitution, in contrast, has commonly been suppressed as a threat to good social order.

[4] Consultatio sacerdotum, wrongly attributed to Walter Map, v. 171-2, in Wright (1841) p. 179. That work, along with its companion pieces De Concubinis Sacerdotum and De convocatione sacerdotum, satirically present clergy arguing against celibacy.

[5] Alonso Martínez de Toledo’s Archpriest of Talavera in Part 1, Ch. 4, explicitly refers to Libro de buen amor.  Martínez de Toledo also explicitly describes himself as the Archpriest of Talavera.  Naylor & Rank (2013).

[image] loving couple in bedroom; Zurich, 1305-1340, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 252r, Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift (Codex Manesse), Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg.


Daly, Saralyn R., trans. and Anthony N. Zahareas, ed. 1978. Juan Ruiz. The book of true love. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

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.

Simonatti, Selena, 2003.  “L’ispirazione parodica del Libro de buen amor: alcuni esempi.” Artifara, n. 3 (luglio – dicembre 2003), sezione Addend.

Vasvári, Louise O.  1984. “An example of Parodia sacra in the Libro de buen amor: quoniam, pudenda.” La Corónica 12.2: 195-203.

Wright, Thomas, ed. 1841. Walter Map. The Latin poems commonly attributed to Walter Mapes. London: Printed for the Camden society, by J.B. Nichols and Son.

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