Taylor makes clear his conviction that these limitations on sex were calculated to make it as pleasureless as possible and that the Church laws prohibiting polygamy (which had been permitted pre-Exilic Jewish society and not forbidden by the early Christian fathers) and divorce (which the early Church had recognized for a limited number of reasons, including barrenness, religious incompatibility and prolonged absence) were motivated by an interest in curtailing sexual opportunity to the absolute minimum.
Similarly, laws against incest were broadened in the 11th century to include second, and eventually third, cousins—as well as the godparents and the witnesses at a baptism or confirmation (it eventually became a sin for even relatives of the godparents, priest and witnesses to marry one another). All of this tended to reduce the opportunity for "sin" (sex) and it is easy to imagine that in some small villages there might have been literally no one to whom a person of marriageable age could be legitimately wed.
The Church forbade all sex with animals (bestiality) and then defined copulation with a Jew as a form of bestiality, with the same penalties—which is not without a certain irony, since the Christian law against bestiality was derived from the Jews.
Because it considered marriage a contaminating process, the Church at first refused to perform the marriage ceremony, but later—as a part of its comprehensive attempt to control all sexual matters—it urged couples to take their marriage vows in the church, eventually proclaiming church marriage compulsory and all civil ceremonies invalid. The Church then refused to perform weddings at certain times of the year and Taylor reports that at one point "there were only 25 weeks in the year when marriages were legal...." The Church also restricted the hours during which the wedding vows could be taken; first declaring that the ceremony should be performed openly, "it established that marriages must take place in daylight, but later defined daylight as eight a.m. to noon."
The Church fathers had no reservation about rewriting the Bible to their own ends. W.H. Lecky states, in The History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe, "The fathers laid down a distinct proposition that pious frauds were justifiable and even laudable...[and] immediately, all ecclesiastical literature became tainted with a spirit of the most unblushing mendacity." Taylor says, "Only real desperation is enough to explain the ruthlessness with which the Church repeatedly distorted and even falsified the Biblical record in order to produce justification for its laws."
Attaching, as they did, so much importance to preventing masturbation, the medieval churchmen sought Biblical justification for this prohibition and finding none, they twisted the Scriptures to suit their purpose. Genesis 38 refers to Onan's seed falling upon the ground and his subsequently being put to death. The interpretation was established—and is still widely believed—that this passage refers to masturbation, from which we derive the word onanism as a synonym for the practice. The passage actually refers to coitus interruptus and Onan was put to death for violating the law of the levirate, by which a man must provide his deceased brother's wife with offspring, so that the family's possessions can be handed down to direct descendants.
The Catholic writer Canon E. de Smet, in his book Betrothment and Marriage, comments upon this: "From the text and context it would seem that the blame of the sacred writer applies directly to the wrongful frustration of the law of the levirate, intended by Onan, rather than the spilling of the seed."
The Romans, Jews and Greeks had not opposed abortion, but Tertullian, using an inaccurate translation of Exodus 21:22, which refers to punishing a man who injures a pregnant woman, popularized the belief that the Bible held abortion to be a crime. Rabbi Glasner states, "The Bible itself does not mention it all.... One might argue that therapeutic abortion, at least, would not be considered objectionable, since the embryo [is] a part of the mother (like a limb), and not a separate entity." Taylor notes that though the error in translation has long since been recognized, the Church still maintains its position opposing abortion, and this opposition has been incorporated into secular law. Which also demonstrates that the moral laws of Christianity are frequently not so much derived from Biblical authority, as Biblical authority is sought to justify the particular prejudices and predilections of the time.
The Church's interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden provides an especially striking example of construing Scripture in ways not consistent with the text. To support its general position on sex, the story was changed to suggest that the "forbidden fruit" Adam tasted in the Garden was sex, with Eve cast in the role of temptress. Thus the Original Sin that Adam handed down to all of us was sexual in nature. But the Bible makes no such statement: The book of Genesis states that Adam defied God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, making him godlike, and it is for this that God expelled him from Paradise. William Graham Cole wrote: "The preponderance of theological opinion, in both Jewish and Christian circles, has interpreted the Original Sin as pride and rebellion against God. The Church's negative attitude toward sex has misled many into belief that the Bible portrays man's Fall as erotic in origin. Neither the Bible itself nor the history of Christian thought substantiates such a belief."
It is also worth noting that in the story of the Garden of Eden, the female is viewed in an unfavorable light—not only is she created from one of Adam's ribs, placing her in a position of being his possession, but Eve is also the one who tempts Adam into breaking God's commandment, thus causing their downfall. In an alternate explanation of the story, menstruation was explained as a "curse" imposed upon women for Eve's treachery and that time of the month is still referred to by women today as "having the curse," without any knowledge of the expression's derivation.
Women are generally considered a source of sin and contamination, along with sex and marriage, by the Church of the Middle Ages. It was believed that sexual evil really dwelt within woman and that she was a constant temptation to man, who might otherwise remain pure. Tertullian proclaimed to all women: "Do you know that each one of you is an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: The guilt must of necessity live, too. You are the Devil's gateway...you are she who persuaded him whom the Devil was not valiant enough to attack...."
Nor were such attitudes held by only a few members of the clergy. Robert Briffault states, "These views were not, as been sometimes represented, exceptions and the extreme....[The fathers of the Church] were one and all agreed. The principles of the fathers were confirmed by decrees of the synods, and are embodied in the canon of the Council of Trent."
John Langdon-Davies states, in his Short History of Women, "To read the early Church fathers is to feel sometimes that they have never heard of the Nazarene, except as a peg on which to hang their own tortured diabolism, and as a blank scroll upon which to incite their curious misogyny." Havelock Ellis says, "The ascetics, those very erratic and abnormal examples of the variational tendency, have hated woman with a hatred so bitter and intense that no language could be found strong enough to express their horror."
An anonymous philosopher of the medieval Church wrote, "A Good Woman is but like one Ele put in a bagge amongst 500 Snakes, and if a man should have the luck to grope out that one Ele from all the Snakes, yet he hath at best but a wet Ele by the Taile."
Christianity's fierce hostility to sex produced a repressive society in which perversion and sadomasochism soon became prevalent and it erupted finally in the witch trials of the Inquisition, with the persecution, torture and death of millions throughout almost all Europe.
Modern Roman Catholicism can hardly be held accountable for the sins of the medieval Church, but much of the antisexuality conceived out of the irrational obsession with sex that marked the Middle Ages persists in the Church doctrine of today.
The Catholic Church remains more adamant in its opposition to sex outside of marriage than either the Jews or Protestant denominations. Catholic dogma still proclaims that the sole purpose of sex is procreation and so forbids all mechanical means of birth control, though the recent introduction of "the pill" (discovered by a Roman Catholic) and the pressures of population explosion in many underdeveloped countries of the world are producing a reevaluation of this doctrine.