Fifty Shades of de Sade

Recapitulation of the masochistic and sadistic themes developed by the Marquis de Sade has paid off big time for Erika Mitchell, author of Fifty Shades of Grey. There’s nothing particularly new in her book, which reviewers almost universally describe as being written in turgid, lackluster prose. What is new is that the internet and film have mainstreamed sadomasochism, presenting torture as titillating and even romantic -- hence the release of the film version on Valentine’s Day. 

Mitchell’s book is pretty much a stale imitation of the Marquis de Sade’s novel Justine. The two books essentially follow a similar plot. A dominant male who is rich as Croesus has a dungeon-like playroom in which he carries out an unending round of sodomy, rape and other exotic tortures on an innocent young woman. Evil triumphs over Virtue, and Virtue grows to love Evil, all the while hoping Evil’s hard, stony heart will eventually be softened by her perfect submission.  

Unlike the Marquis, who acted out his penchant for torture for pleasure and was imprisoned in the Bastille for whipping little boys and torturing prostitutes, Mitchell seems to have steered clear of being locked up because apparently she has confined her love of sadomasochistic sex between book covers. However, like the Marquis de Sade, Mitchell tries to legitimize inflicting pain because it provides joy to certain disturbed psyches who love to completely dominate women.  

De Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom elaborates the theme of pain and domination, detailing as it does the complete submission of woman to dominance. Madame de Saint-Anges winds up enjoying the infliction of pain and learns to take orders at the behest of a dominant male. The lesson is that woman is to be submissive to man; that woman’s only value is centered in man’s sexual pleasure. As modern-day feminists, who are presently not marching in outrage against a film depicting the degradation of women in a positive light, would have put it only a short time ago, woman is seen only as an object. Woman is devoid of any identity other than that given to her by men. 

Both Mitchell and de Sade are advocates of the idea that doing evil things provides pleasure and true freedom. A life filled with evil choices, be they in the bedroom or elsewhere, is one that is absolutely free from bourgeois constraints. 

There is a word for what de Sade and Mitchell advocate. That word is libertinage. Those who are followers of libertinage are almost completely devoid of moral restraints, which are seen as unnecessarily restrictive, as inhibiting true freedom. Libertines love to reject the generally-accepted morals held by society at large.  

It should come as no surprise that de Sade’s BDSM novels were written at the height of the French Revolution, when France’s mores were being savaged as revolutionists sought to tear apart all of society, including the Catholic church. In America and Europe today, Fifty Shades appears at the height of the Left’s increasing insanity regarding the roles of men and women. The mad attempt to abolish gender identity is but one of the most insane attacks against the understanding of what it means to be human as man and woman. It is just as insane to advocate pain in the name of romance and love.

Libertinage in all its forms is a direct attack on a still Christianized Western civilization. 

In fact, it is one of the earliest heresies of Christianity, being addressed by the apostle Jude, who wrote against the ravages libertines were effectuating in the churches of his day. The libertines of the first century were then, as now, advocates of lasciviousness. Supposedly, doing evil things was a means of getting God to display more grace and forgiveness. They were for supposed freedom from any law. 

But libertinage (also known as antinomianism), did not end in the first century. Theologian and reformer John Calvin, who invented the term ‘libertine,” continually clashed with the libertines of his day. He once refused communion to a group of libertines, thus provoking a church and state crisis.  According to the Reformation Art website, the story went something like this:

“One of the most persistent thorns in Calvin's side were the Libertines in Geneva. But, here too, his perseverance was triumphant in a remarkable way. In every city in Europe men kept mistresses. […] Even after Calvin had been preaching as pastor in St. Peter's church for over fifteen years, the immorality was a plague, even in the church. The Libertines boasted in their license. For them the "communion of saints" meant the common possession of goods, houses, bodies and wives. So they practiced adultery and indulged in sexual promiscuity in the name of Christian freedom. And at the same time they claimed the right to sit at the Lord's Table. The crisis of the communion came to a head in 1553. A well-to-do Libertine named Berthelier was forbidden by the Consistory of the church to eat the Lord's Supper, but appealed the decision to the Council of the City, which overturned the ruling. This created a crisis for Calvin who would not think of yielding to the state the rights of excommunication, nor of admitting a Libertine to the Lord's Table. The issue, as always, was the glory of Christ.”

He wrote to a colleague: "I took an oath that I had resolved rather to meet death than profane so shamefully the Holy Supper of the Lord. . . . My ministry is abandoned if I suffer the authority of the Consistory to be trampled upon, and extend the Supper of Christ to open scoffers. . . . I should rather die a hundred times than subject Christ to such foul mockery." 

The day of testing the boundaries of church and State arrived. Calvin did refuse to grant the sacrament to the libertines, who were there for an in-your-face confrontation. Calvin did not serve them, saying, "These hands you may crush, these arms you may lop off, my life you may take, my blood is yours, you may shed it; but you shall never force me to give holy things to the profaned, and dishonor the table of my God."

To put Calvin’s story into a more modern context, any pastor who has libertine congregants who are known advocates of BDSM and the sexual degradation of women should also deny them communion, just as priests should deny communion to a politician who declares himself Catholic and is a known advocate of abortion.    

A word to modern secularized feminists: Are you going to stand by without protest while libertines essentially advocate women become like Boccacio’s “Patient Griselda?” I’m sure some of you remember the story, also told by Petrarch and Chaucer. The hero says, “I have made choice of a young virgin, answerable to mine own heart and liking. Fair Griselda, if I make you my wife, will you do your best endeavor to please me in all things which I shall do or say? Will you be also gentle, humble and patient?”

He then tests her faithfulness and supposed submission by taking away her infant children to be raised by others. He then offers marriage to his and Griselda’s daughter years later. “Patient Griselda” puts up with all the abuse and loves him to the end.

You feminists who detest what you term medieval type patriarchy -- are you going to accept behavior like that of the protagonist in Fifty Shades or the husband in the story of “Patient Griselda?” Do you believe young women -- or women of any age -- should accept sadomasochistic tortures, emotional, sexual, or physical, in the name of love and freedom? You know women will get the worst of it.  

Finally, a word to pastors and congregants alike: Will you speak out against the abuse of women advocated by followers of the ancient and now revived heresy of the libertines? Will you teach and advocate the exalted Christian view of man and woman in relationship to one another? 

There are millions of women -- and men -- who need to hear BDSM is not love. They need to hear the message of true love in all its profound beauty and goodness.

Let’s not let de Sade, his imitators and followers have the last word.

Fay Voshell holds a M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, which awarded her a prize for excellence in systematic theology.  Her articles have appeared in numerous online publications, including American Thinker, National Review, PJMedia, and RealClearReligion . She may be reached at

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