Dever, Vincent M.
Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 13 (1996)
Abstract: In this paper I will discuss Thomas Aquinas’s view of prostitution and several issues related to this topic. The main question that arises concerns his position on the social toleration of prostitution, given his strong view on the morality of it. Aquinas’s position rests upon his understanding of natural law and its relationship to civil statute. His position has influenced later generations and, interestingly enough, has a certain contemporary character. Guider notes that historically there have been three patterns of social policy toward prostitution toleration, prohibition and abolition which have in some cases been enforced simultaneously. In the medieval period a shift in thinking occurred concerning the social practice of prostitution. This shift was away from the strict condemnation and uncompromising intolerance of prostitution by the early Church Fathers to a view of accommodation. Rossiaud maintains that the two major works which changed thinking about prostitution from prohibition to toleration were the second part of the Roman de la Rose and Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae. In light of such a recommendation, this study of Aquinas’s position on the practice of prostitution will focus primarily on the Summa.
The majority of Aquinas’s references to prostitution occur in the second part of the Summa Theologiae. There is no focused treatment of prostitution as a separate treatise. References to prostitution are scattered and occur in the context of broader discussions of other topics, in many cases as examples to illustrate another point. The only sustained analysis of prostitution and related topics occurs in the question concerning the sins of lust which arises in the broader context of the cardinal virtue of temperance.