Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Confessio Amantis is not an overtly Christian poem and does not always seem to present tales that accord with a Christian sense of morality. English medieval society, however, was intensely religious, so this work cannot be dismissed as lacking in any significant treatment of Christianity.

Gower organizes his conventional courtly love poem around the seven deadly sins of Christianity. The warning to avoid behavior that falls into the category of these sins is sound Christian advice; however, the Confessor advises Amans that they will deal only with his sins as they apply to love.

Many critics view the poem as a psychomachia with the dialogue of the poem taking place between two competing aspects of Gower’s consciousness, Amans and Genius, or love and reason. Throughout the confession, it becomes apparent that the sexual love found in nature does not conform to either rationality or Christian doctrine. There is an ultimate movement to subordinate the natural impulse of sex to the Christian standards of reason.

The figure of Genius as a priest of both Venus and orthodox Christianity provides tension in the morality of the poem. This dual identity puts the Confessor in the precarious position of defending incest against Christian belief as in the story of Canace and Machaire and virginity against the interest of the goddess Venus. The priest represents the opposition between the body and soul, the earthly and divine that confronts each human. In this way, the poem deals with the medieval theme of the role of Christianity within a Christian world that is still of this world. There is a mixing of the sexual and the spiritual so that natural impulses are satisfied within Christian limits. The morality that emerges is a middle ground between the extremes of nature and reason.

Ultimately, the poem concludes with a more traditionally Christian recognition by Gower that only divine love brings true and unwavering bliss to the heart that possesses it.