BOOK REVIEW: The Book of Gomorrah by St. Peter Damian

Legend of St Peter Damian

“The Legend of St. Peter Damian” (source)

“Stirred up by holy rage, you wrote of such [i.e., sodomitical] clerics according to your judgment; it is appropriate … that we intervene with our apostolic authority so that we might dispel scrupulous uncertainty from the reader, and so that it may be known with certitude by all that everything that this little book contains has been pleasing to our judgment, being as opposed to diabolical fire as is water. … For he who who does not attack a vice, but rather coddles it, is justly judged guilty of the death together with those who die by that vice.”

— Pope St. Leo IX (r. 1049-1054), writing to St. Peter Damian

book of gomorrah hoffman cover

The Book of Gomorrah and St. Peter Damian’s Struggle Against Ecclesiastical Corruption, Translated and Annotated with Biographical Introduction by Matthew Cullinan Hoffman (Ite Ad Thomam Books: New Braunfels, TX, 2015; www.iteadthomam.com)

Mr. Hoffman, who has been a Latin America correspondent with LifeSite News since 2007, and is currently a graduate student at Holy Apostles College and Seminary, begins with a dedication:

This work is dedicated first to the infinite and eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in gratitude for the immense and unspeakable mercy He has shown me throughout my life, and in the hope that this work might be pleasing to Him. Second it is dedicated to the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis, to all his successors, and to all the prelates of the Catholic Church, that they might heed the counsel of St. Peter Damian and fulfill their solemn duty to protect and preserve the moral and doctrinal integrity of the clergy and laity.

Such an august dedication perfectly becomes what follows in the text that Hoffman has prepared. This is a work for the ages, and yet is short enough to be read in a day. To wit, the text proper begins on page 77 with a letter from Pope St. Leo IX (of whom more later) to St. Peter Damian about Damian’s Book of Gomorrah (or, Liber Gomorrhianus, as his “Letter 40” soon came to be conventionally titled), and ends a mere eighty-three pages later.

I must begin with a crucial terminological caveat:

Typical of the spiritual, intellectual, moral, and social leveling–or “dumbing down“–of our age, we are inclined to invoke or reject buzzwords which smear out a great deal of historical and conceptual complexity and depth. Specifically, in our day the word “sodomy” has a very narrow meaning, while in contrast, in Damian’s discussion, “sodomy” refers to “various forms of sexual perversion…, including contraception, masturbation, same-sex pederasty, and adult homosexual acts” (p. 18). So, while Damian argues that canonical penalties for “sodomy” should be “even stronger for members of clergy, … [and that the] strongest punishments in the Church’s historic legislation are reserved for those who abuse children and adolescents,” it must be kept in mind that St. Peter is denouncing all carnal disobedience to Our Lord, whether “private,” “public,” “straight,” or “gay”.

With that in mind, there are three main reasons to buy this book.

First, St. Peter’s treatise on ecclesiastical reform and sexual sin is as relevant today, if not more so, as when he penned it around 1049 A.D.

Second, Hoffman’s introductory and critical commentary both dispels a tenacious myth about this work and St. Peter, and aims to provide a “scrupulously accurate version that conveys the majestic beauty of Damian’s original Latin,” in contrast to prior editions which were either too loose or marred by textual errors (p. 70).

Third, in addition to providing a rich but brief biography of St. Peter, the book is a short but essential springboard to deeper research on the larger topic of the sodomitical subversion of the Church and the Gospel at different times and places.

Concerning the first point, consider:

The Liber Gomorrhianus … is undoubtedly the most stirringly eloquent and impassioned denunciation of sexual perversion ever penned by a Catholic saint, and carries a soaring and unreserved endorsement by a saint-pope who virtually canonizes him while still alive. Although it was written almost a thousand years ago, the Book of Gomorrah in many ways seems addressed to our own times, associating the phenomena of clerical homosexual behavior and pederasty, and endorsing the imprisonment of clergy who are a danger to youth. It expresses an unremitting hatred for the sin of sodomy and simultaneously a deep compassion for its perpetrators, seeking their reconciliation with God and assuring them of hope for salvation. It also acknowledges the threat of an ecclesiastical establishment seeking to turn a blind eye to the problem of clerical corruption and to conceal its sins, rather than rooting out the problem. (p. 45)

Therefore, Hoffman notes, Damian’s work “is not a criticism of those who merely suffer from homosexual urges or temptations, but rather those who act upon them”–as well those in authority who enable and “coddle” their sinful lifestyles (p. 53).

As in our time, St. Peter Damian was addressing the problems of

an increasingly effeminate priesthood and a lax or indifferent view of sodomy and sexual immorality … [in] the Catholic hierarchy. It was precisely such attitudes that Peter Damian was seeking to combat in the eleventh century by urging the restoration of the Church’s strong penitential canons relating to sodomy and the permanent suspension of clergymen who were habitually inclined to such behavior. (p. 47)

Just as aptly, after enumerating the grades of sodomy in chapter two, Damian “proceeds in chapter three to address the problem as a crisis of authority in the Church, noting that many prelates are permitting practicing homosexuals to continue functioning as priests, despite having knowledge of their misdeeds,” which he regards as an “impious” or “excessive” form of mercy–false mercy, as we might say today–that leads to even worse corruption (pp. 49-50).1 Damian also penned a denunciation of clerical simony under Pope Leo IX, the Liber Gratissimus, so perhaps Mr. Hoffman will see fit to produce an equally useful new edition of that “Most Gracious Book.”

Significantly, Hoffman notes, positions taken by St. Peter in “several important controversies would eventually become Catholic doctrine and Catholic law.” For instance, his counsel “to prohibit the entry into the priesthood of those with sodomitic tendencies was confirmed by the Sacred Congregation for Religious under Pope John XXIII in 1961, and reaffirmed (after much painful experience following the lack of compliance with the directive) by the Congregation of Catholic Education with the express approval of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005” (p. 27).

Concerning the second merit of this new edition of St. Peter’s treatise, a persistent myth about the Liber Gomorrhianus is that it was ultimately deemed too extreme (or “exaggerated”) by the same Pope Leo IX who had initially endorsed it, and therefore it did not merit attention in his day, much less in our own. Hoffman ably dismantles this myth, noting, that, in fact, “Leo’s system of penalties … is somewhat more severe than that which Damian has recommended” (p. 56). Indeed, although Damian “does imply that the letter of the traditional penal canons of the Church would not permit anyone guilty of any act of sodomy to return to the clerical state, he repeatedly implies that his own approach would not be as strict” (p. 63). Contrary to the prevailing academic myth that Pope Leo IX turned on or deflected Damian, we have not only the “effusively positive reception on the part of Leo in his letter to Damian”, but also “the fact that in the same year of the publication of the Liber Gomorrhianus … [ca. 1049], Leo presided over a French reform council that decreed that sodomy be punished with the most severe ecclesiastical penalties” (p. 66).

As for the third merit of Hoffman’s fresh and unparalleled edition of St. Peter’s treatise, the interested reader should follow up St. Peter’s “little book” with the following, more expansive and more recent, works dealing with sodomy, homosexuality, moral laxism, and the like, in the Church:

1) The Homosexual Network: Private Lives & Public Policy, Fr. Enrique T. Rueda (The Devin Adair Company: Old Greenwich, CT, 1982)

2) Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, Jeffrey Satinover, M.D. (Hamewith Books: Grand Rapids, MI, 1996)

3) Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church, Michael S. Rose (Regnery Publishing, Inc.: Washington, D.C., 2002)

4) The Rite of Sodomy: Homosexuality and the Roman Catholic Church (5 vols.), Randy Engel (New Engel Publishing: Export, PA, 2011-2013).2 In 2006 Ms. Engel also wrote “St. Peter’s Book of Gomorrah: A Moral Blueprint for Our Time,” which is available here in part 1 and in part 2, or via Kindle.

5) Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything [2nd ed.], Robert R. Reilly (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2015)

To close on a personal note, seeing as St. Peter Damian lived almost precisely one millennium ago, I propose the formation of a Sodality of St. Peter Damian, in order to offer reparations for, and raise awareness of, clerical corruption and lay apathy concerning sexual disobedience to Christ, social opposition to matrimonial purity, and fiscal corruption in the Church.

As Pope Benedict XVI wrote of St. Peter on his feast day, February 20, 2007:

With his pen and his words he addressed all: he asked his brother hermits for the courage of a radical self-giving to the Lord which would as closely as possible resemble martyrdom; he demanded of the Pope, Bishops and ecclesiastics a high level of evangelical detachment from honours and privileges in carrying out their ecclesial functions; he reminded priests of the highest ideal of their mission that they were to exercise by cultivating purity of morals and true personal poverty.

Amen, and amen! St. Peter Damian, ora pro nobis!

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Damian also penned a denunciation of clerical simony under Pope Leo IX, the Liber Gratissimus, so perhaps Mr. Hoffman will see fit to produce an equally useful new edition of that “Most Gracious Book.”
2. In 2006 Ms. Engel also wrote “St. Peter’s Book of Gomorrah: A Moral Blueprint for Our Time,” which is available here in part 1 and in part 2, or via Kindle.