Medieval theology: types of nudity

Medieval theologians had a mania to classify everything according to strangely invented rules. Nudity defined as ‘the lack of clothes‘ was also an object of their intent look. In general,  four types of nudity were invented. In the fourteenth century Pierre Bercheur who was a monk of the Benedictine order codified the types of nudity in his dictionary of moral theology. Since I didn’t succeeded in finding a primary source, in the following I’ll quote mainly Mary Magdalen: myth and metaphor by Susan Haskins and Monuments & maidens: the allegory of the female form by Marina Warner.

First of all, theologians distinguished nuditas naturalis, the human condition of animal nakedness. Example: the nakedness in which man is both born and dies.

The second was nuditas temporalis. That is metaphorical leaving all wordly goods and wealth, both voluntary (Christ and his apostles, for instance) and involuntary (poverty).

The third was defined as nuditas virtualis. It symbolised sinless innocence, but could also represent innocence regained through confession, the soul in the blessed company of the redeemed in heaven. Example: the nakedness of Adam and Eve ‘before the Fall’.

The fourth and last was nuditas criminalis, the nakedness of the sinner. The naked men and women damned to the torments and fires of hell can be seen in Giotto’s Last Judgement. Pierre Bercheur mentioned naked Ethiopian men in this connection.

For me this classification definitely looks pathological. A famous quote from Francisco de Goya is appropriate.

Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.

Nude Study, France, c1870

Nude Study, c1870

N.B. Some people believe that Adam and Eve were clothed in heaven with a covering of light and glory, such as the angels wear, while fig leaves are described as the first miniskirts and shorts.

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