This section is from the book "Aphrodisiacs And Anti-Aphrodisiacs", by John Davenport. Also available from Amazon: Love Stimulants, Aphrodisiacs and Anti-aphrodisiacs.
The first judicial sentence which ordered a Congress is said to have been caused by the shameless effrontery of a young man who, being accused of impotency, demanded permission to exhibit proof of his powers before witnesses, which demand being complied with, the practice was introduced into the jurisprudence of the country. But, as we have already shown, the custom of the judicial Congress may be referred to a far earlier period, in fact, to the remotest times of the middle ages, and that it originated with the Church, when the public morals were far from being well ascertained, as is proved by many well-known privileges belonging to the Seigneur or Lord of the Manor. Pope Gregory the Great, who was raised to the Pontificate in 590, appears to have been the first who conferred upon bishops the right of deciding this description of questions. It was, doubtless, from considerations of tender regard for female modesty that the Church took upon itself the painful duty of investigating and deciding upon questions of this nature.
Numerous instances prove this, especially the dissolution of the marriage of Alphonso VI. of Portugal and his Consort, pronounced in 1688, and mentioned by Bayle. * The great antiquity of this custom is proved by the 17th Art. of the Capitulars of Pepin, in the year 752, which bears a direct allusion to it: inasmuch as that article established as a principle that the impotency of a husband should be considered as a lawful cause for divorce, and that the proof of such impotency should be given, and the fact verified at the foot of the Cross - exeant ad crucem, et si verum fuerit, separantur.
That the Congress originated with the Church, who considered it as an efficacious means for deciding questions of impotency, is still further proved by the President Boutrier and by other writers, who assert that the ecclesiastical judges of other times were alone empowered (to the exclusion of all secular ones)to take cognizance of cases of impotency.
It is well attested that during the 16th and 17th centuries all the courts of law in France held the opinion that a marriage be anulled on the demand of a wife who claimed the Congress.
* Art Portugal, rem. F.
The fatal blow to this disgusting custom was given by a decree of the Parliament of Paris, under the presidency of the celebrated Lamoignon, dated Feb. 18, 1677, which decree forbids the practice by any other court whatsoever, ecclesiastical or civil. It is supposed that the ridicule cast upon it by the following lines of Boileau had no small share in causing its suppression.
"Jamais la biche en rut, n'a pour fait d'impuissance Traine du fond des bois, un cerf a l'audience; Et jamais juge, entre eux ordonnant le congres, De ce burlesque mot n'a sali ses arrets."*
Three causes were alleged for the abolition of the Congress - its obscenity, its inutility, and its inconveniences. Its obscenity; for what could be more infamous, more contrary to public decency and to the reverence due to an oath than the impurity of the proof, both in its preparation and execution? Its inutility; for what could be less certain and more defective? Can it be, for one moment, Imagined that a conjunction ordered by judges between two persons embittered by a law-suit, agita-ted with hate and fury against each other, can operate in them? Experience has shown that, of ten men the most vigorous and powerful, hardly one was found that came out of this shameful combat with success; it is equally certain that he who had unjustly suffered dissolution of his marriage, for not having given a proof of his capacity in the infamous Congress, had given real and authentic evidences of it in a subsequent mar- riage. This degrading mode of proof, in short, far from discovering the truth, was but the cause and foundation for impotence and falsehood.
Its inconveniences; these are - the declared nullity of a legitimate marriage - the dishonour cast upon the husband, and the unjust damages, oftentimes exorbitant, which he is condemned to pay - two marriages contracted upon the dissolution of the first - both of which, according to purity and strictness, are equally unlawful - the error or the malice discovered, ex post facte, and, nevertheless, by the authority of the law, became irreparable.
It was in the power of the magistrate, upon a complaint of impotency being alleged by a wife against her husband, to order examiners to make an inspection of the husband's parts of generation, and upon their report to decide whether there was just cause for a divorce; and this without proceeding to order the congress. The following are a few cases of this description, and are extracted from the reports and judgments of the Officially at Paris in cases of impotency.
Jean de But, master fringe maker, was, in 1675, charged with impotency by Genevieve Helena Marcault, his wife; he being inspected by Renauolot, a physician, and Le Bel, a surgeon, by order of the official; they declared that, after a due and thorough examination of all the members and parts of the said De But, as well genital, as others which might throw a light upon the case and likewise his condition of body, his age, the just conformation and proportion of his limbs, but especially his penis, which was found to be of as proper a thickness, length and colour as could be wished: and likewise his testicles, which exhibited no perceptible viciousness or malformation, they are of opinion that from all these outward marks, which are the only ones they consider themselves justified in judging from, the said De But is capacitated to perform the matrimonial act. Signed by them at Paris, July 18, 1675, and attested by the Sieur de Combes. And on August 23, 1675, by the sentence of M. Benjamin, official, the said Marcault was non-suited and ordered to return to her husband and cohabit with him.