Pelagius, Rupert, and the Problem of Male Virginity in Hrotsvitha and Hildegard

  • Maud Burnett McInerney
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


William Ian Miller’s comments1 on the “philology of courage and cowardice” suggest the realm of discursive difficulty patristic and medieval writers found themselves inhabiting when they addressed the issue of male virginity. As we have seen, the mechanics of male biology made it difficult for writers like Cassian and Augustine to imagine a virgin male if virginity were understood to signify the kind of absolute, physical integrity that could be manifested by a female body. When Tertullian confronted the argument for female integrity, he insisted that it was irrelevant given the ontological spiritual inferiority of women, but still could not represent the male virgin as anything but a castrato for God, an image that grounds the concept of virginity in male imitation of that same denied female integrity. The male virgin body, in fact, is generally imagined not as the mirror image of the female, but as its negative image; where the female is untouched, sealed, a vessel into which nothing enters, the male is imagined in having been touched in the most radical of ways, even, like Origen, surgically altered so that nothing may pour out of him. The language of male virginity is, almost inevitably, the language of emasculation. This is a point ignored by John Bugge in his influential monograph on medieval virginity. “It would be misleading,” Bugge writes, “to allow the implication to stand that even at the turn of the twelfth century virginity was only a feminine attribute…the historical fact is that for centuries virginity was predicable of both sexes.”2


Female Body Female Virgin Physical Integrity Male Virginity Patristic Period 
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© Maud Burnett McInerney 2003

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