The Languor of Love

“Love is an affliction, and the suffering of a soul that is sick.  The authority of the poet [Ovid]–even though it seems unworthy and unsuitable–affirms the truth of this, when he says, ‘Woe is me, for no herb can cure love.’ But for the religious minds, it should be enough that this is the voice of the bride.  She states what she feels and says: ‘I am afflicted with love.’  Let us then consider, therefore, whether all love is an affliction.” Baldwin of Ford (Canterbury), ‘Tractate XIV: On the Order of the Charity,’ in Spiritual Tractates, vol. 2 trans. David N. Bell (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1986), p. 141.

Baldwin, a Cistercian abbot, later became Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1180s.  In his recorded sermons he wrote extensively on the nature of love.  As a Cistercian, he was continuing his Order’s traditional focus on love that began with Bernard of Clairvaux’s sermons on the Song of Songs.  Here Baldwin explains Song of Songs 2:4-5: 

“He brought me into the cellar of wine, he set in order charity in me.  Stay me up with flowers, compass me about with apples: because I languish with love.”  The Latin text for the last part reads:  “…quia amore langueo,” which we could translate as “…since I am weakened by love,” or as translated above: “I am afflicted with love.”  

While Baldwin does discuss various types of love in the following sermon, he focuses on divine charity.  However, consider the fact that he began this sermon with a reference to Ovid (the lascivious Roman poet).  The transposition of Eros to Caritas for rhetorical effect in order to explain divine love characterized much of the monastic exposition of holy Scripture in the twelfth century.  Consider how another writer described romantic love in this famous work: 

“Love is a certain inborn suffering derived from the sight of and excessive meditation upon the beauty of the opposite sex, which causes each one to wish above all things the embraces of the other and by common desire to carry out all of love’s precepts in the other’s embrace.” Andreas Capellanus, The Art of Courtly Love, trans. John J. Parry (New York: Columbia, 1960), p. 28.  

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