Prudentius views sexual perversion as a critical and inherent sin of humanity, so it follows that only unnatural injury to the sexual organ can cure the innate problem. With this path to salvation, Prudentius shifts from characterizing God as a benevolent watcher to a harsh deity who demands physical sacrifice in exchange for holy grace. In locating the injury on the genitals, Prudentius displays a God who is willing to use underhanded tactics of “unequal combat” (75) in order to garner sacrifice from humanity.
This characterization is linked to the wrathful God of the Old Testament. The conflict between Jacob and the Angel (Genesis 32) is almost immediately followed by the story of Shechem (Genesis 34), another tale of genital injury. After Shechem rapes Jacob’s daughter, Jacob hatches an elaborate plan to exact revenge. He offers Shechem his daughter for marriage, but requires “that every male of you be circumcised” (KJV Genesis 34:15). Shechem agrees, but three days later Jacob’s sons sack the town and slay the defenseless, sore male inhabitants. Shechem pays for his perversion, as God destroys his people through …show more content…
He calls God “The Watcher” (105), who “looks down on us” (106). With this characterization, he invokes a condescending God, judgmental of humanity’s sin. Prudentius continues, “He is the Witness, He the Judge…this Arbiter no man deceives” (109-11). This final clause completes Prudentius’s interpretation of his lord, holding God as a fair observer, rather than a benevolent force. While Prudentius begins the poem with a positive juxtaposition of God’s light with the darkness of sin, his final characterization of God is neutral: God is an “Arbiter.”
The Old Testament stories of Shechem and Jacob support Prudentius’s view of God as a neutral arbiter. God rewards pious Jacob and punishes wicked Shechem. In both incidents, God inflicts genital injury as a prelude to judgment, strengthening Prudentius’s argument that perversion is the chief sin and salvation can only be achieved through physical sacrifice. By invoking these stories, Prudentius uses the conflict between man’s perversion and God’s exacting judgment to praise God as a punitive yet fair arbiter who rewards good and punishes