This paper addresses transpositions of celibacy and sensual delight, asceticism and eroticism in Bernard’s famous text, arguing that Bernard employs inversions to subsume fleshly desire and fleshly understanding into spiritual desire and spiritual understanding. Seeking hermeneutical ‘excessus’ by implementing an erotically blissful participation in and penetration of the body of Christ – that is, Scripture itself – Bernard restores physicality to the concept of saintly desire. In this way, I argue, hermeneutics was re-written as a mode of erotics and pleasure. Eroticism in all its carnality becomes conflated, even identified with spiritual desire, providing a dimension of literalness to imagery of kisses, embraces and erotic passion.
Earthly and spiritual pleasure are often described as binary opposites with one being inimical to the attainment of the other, yet during her hermitage, Marie l’Égyptienne transforms her spiritual self by changing her relationship to her environment. In the late 12th-century anonymous T version of this text, the author describes Marie’s life as a courtesan and her penitence as ‘plaisir’, thus questioning the supposed opposition between earthly and spiritual pleasure. This paper will examine how Marie’s evolving environmental ethics problematize this binary, giving us new insight into contemporary ecological attitudes inspired by exegetical readings of Genesis.
The seemingly clear contradiction of earthly pleasure and its spiritual counterpart is increasingly questioned in Middle High German texts of the late Middle Ages, especially those dealing with mysticism and/or the discernment of spirits. They suspect those traditional monastic practices intended to evoke the intense joy of ‘sweet devotion’ of being induced by natural or even devilish influences. These evil spirits seduce man by imitating the divine spirit in an almost perfect way, thus leading to a kind of spiritual fake pleasure. The presentation scrutinizes the different aspects of this problem and the ways of handling it.