Art of Divine Love

Art of Divine Love April 30, 2015

Andreas Capellanus literally wrote the book on the Art of Courtly Love, but the concluding Book 3  suggests that the book was a cautionary tale throughout. 

Capellanus closes the treatise with an exhortation to Walter, the man to whom the book is addressed to abstain from the desires of the flesh: “If you will study carefully this little treatise of ours and understand it completely and practice what it teaches, you will see clearly that no man ought to mis-spend his days in the pleasures of love. If you abstain from it, the Heavenly King will be ore favorably disposed toward you in every respect, and you will be worthy to have all prosperous success in this work and to fulfill all praiseworthy deeds and the honorable desires of your heart, and in the world to come to have glory and life everlasting.” 

Arts of courtly love get transmuted into a higher plane. Instead of pursuing earthly loves, Walter should “pass by all the vanities of the world, so that when the Bridegroom cometh . . . you may be prepared to go forth to meet Him with your lamps filled and to go in with Him to the divine marriage.”

Thus, Capellanus says, “Be mindful ever to watch, lest the unexpected coming of the Bridegroom find you asleep in sins. Avoid then, Walter, practicing the mandates of love, and labor in constant watchfulness so that when the Bridegroom cometh He may find you wakeful; do not let worldly delight make you lie down in your sins, trusting to the youth of your body and confident that the Bridegroom will be late, since, as He tells us Himself, we know neither the day nor the hour.”

The disjunction between the first two books and the last is, naturally, the focus of most of the scholarly discussion of Capellanus’s treatise. And if affects the whole treatise. If he is sincere in his warnings, then his opening discussion of love as a form of suffering is less a piece of bemused psychological realism than a warning about the pain that always attends lovers. 

Even if sincere, Book 3 reads like a patch-on, its themes not really integrated into the rest of the treatise, its style less engaging. But perhaps that simply reflects post-medieval sensibilities. For nearly every reader of the treatise has been shaped by the courtly tradition that the treatise either celebrates or rejects.

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