Young, Gay and Single Among the Nuns and Widows of the Catholic Church
If you were a nun or a widow of the Catholic Church in the late Middle Ages, would a life of celibacy be appealing to you? Or would you want the opportunity to rejoin the world?
I asked two American Catholic scholars, the Rev. John P. Schuck, Ph.D., and Father Lawrence W. Fohrman, Ph.D., to answer these two questions. Their answers will be found in a new book, entitled “Catholic Celibacy: The Life Choices of Five Medieval Nuns,” to be published by the University of Notre Dame Press.
The Nuns and Widows
John Schuck is Professor of Religious Studies at Marymount University, and a leading expert on the life and writings of the Blessed Virgin Mary. His latest book, The Virgin Mary: A Life of Suffering, is based entirely on the writings of her early biographer, Hildegard of Bingen. A co-editor of Hildegard’s Lives, Father Schuck has also written an introduction to Hildegard.
Lawrence Fohrman, Ph.D., is Professor of Religious Studies at Notre Dame University. His most recent book, A History of Catholic Sexual Devotions, looks at the sexual mores of four hundred years of the Catholic Church, and their influence on the American Roman Catholic community. Among his many books are The Last Eucharist: A Study of the Eucharist as Ritual (1947), and The Passion of the Saints: A Study of the Passion Narratives (1987), which is currently in preparation.
In the late 1300s, both men were living in a city of the Holy Roman Empire: the University Library at the University of Cologne. At a time when the Catholic Church was divided and struggling for survival, both men were devoted to the Virgin Mary, and took an active part in preserving Mary’s memory. Their stories, and the stories of the other women and men in their care and in the care of their community, will reveal why they wanted and needed to live a life of celibacy.
The Beginning of the End
It is probably best to begin with an example from Hildegard of Bingen, the author of The Lives of the Saints. “Mary and Lazarus,” written in the first quarter of the four