29 March 2011
McGuire, Brian Patrick. “Purgatory, the Communion of Saints, and Medieval Change.” Viator 20 (1980): 61-84. Print.
In his essay, Brian McGuire develops and reevaluates the ideas of purgatory (specifically the use of purgatorium in medieval literature) and its direct effects and comments on medieval society according to French scholar Jacques Le Goff. Holding that Le Goff’s concern with the concept of purgatory has much to reveal about medieval culture, McGuire argues that Le Goff’s assertions are too narrow and “oversimplified” to accurately depict the “variety and complexity of the medieval experience” (64) and challenges Le Goff’s notion that the use ofpurgatorium (and therefore a more solidified idea of purgatory) shifted medieval society’s view from a four- or two-fold to a three-fold one.
McGuire posits that instead of focusing on purgatory’s theological development throughout the medieval period, it would be more fruitful to study the changes of the concept in relation to what it meant for the people of the Middle Ages. McGuire reveals and analyzes pieces of “vision literature” as a way to exemplify the affects of the idea of an “in-between” world would have on medieval people.
A. Le Goff’s Ideas (Purgatory/purgatorium)
I. Le Goff’s premises
“Birth of purgatory as a manifestation of a fundamental shift in the mental structure of the medieval universe, from a two-fold, or dualistic vision of reality into a three-fold or tripartite view” (61).
Two-fold: Those who pray, those who work, and those who fight
Three-fold: Those who are damned, those who are being cleansed, and those who are in bliss
Dualistic: fundamentals of Christianity (spirit/flesh; Heaven/Hell; sacred/secular; light-dark)
Notes scripture with dualistic properties (62, second graph).
II. McGuire’s problems with Le Goff’s assertions
“Oversimplifies the variety and complexity of medieval experience” (64).
Le Goff’s structures are too narrow to encompass “a deeper understanding of medieval thought and mentalities” (64).
Le Goff fails to acknowledge the presence of a purgatory-like concept before the 12th century use of the term purgatorium.
“Content of purgatory…not as important in men’s minds as the conviction that the contact of the living with the dead realliy matters and makes a difference for the condition of the dead” (66, bottom).
B. History of relationship (Augustine, Gregory, Monastic prayers)
I. Communion of Saints
Interrelationship between living and dead clergy (and saints): Communion of Saints
“the reciprocal contacts among the Church Militant on earth, the Church Suffering in purgatory, and the Church Triumphant in Heaven” (67).
Communion of Saints made visions possible in Church’s mind: “They [saints] provide visions and miracles to strengthen the bonds between us and them” (67, penultimate graph).
Behind this idea is confidence that “prayers for the dead make a decisive difference for them” (69). Because of the prayers to the deceased, any man (Everyman) can be involved in the Christian community and make a difference for this friends, family, and neighbors.
II. Augustine and Gregory
“The good Christian believed in the possibility of salvation for all men” (70).
Augustine of Hippo stood up against the idea that lavish funerals were a guarantee for salvation.
Said the prayers at a funeral should be for all the dead, not just the subject of the funeral
Gregory the Great had much of the same ideas as Augustine. He especially held that “prayers for the dead have an effect only if the dead are not damned” (71).
Nothing can escape the permanence of Hell.
These ideas celebrated in: 2 November, Feast for All Souls
-Monasteries would ceaselessly pray for all of the deceased for tribute to the Feast for All Souls
-Different from former way (aristocratic families who funded the monasteries would be prayed for)
C. McGuire’s Alternative Interpretation
I. Visions that support the change
McGuire traces the history of purgatory and its effect of medieval society through recorded visions
-Caesarius’s Dialogue on Miracles (benefit from masses for the dead) (68-69)
-By Peter the Venerable’s On Miracles (infirmary vision; purgatory as in-between as dying) (75)
-Cistercian Order vision (cloister as purgatory) (77)
-Orderic Vitalis (relationship between old life and new life in purgatory/after) (78-79)
II. Importance of the change
“The interpretation of this life and the next presented by Gregory the Great and Augustine did not change radically from the sixth century to the twelfth” (80, top).
“The twelfth-century literature of dreams and visions and the fuller definition of purgatory only made more precise what long had been believed; but in this process of clearer definition and more graphic description, a new literature took form” (82).
“People realized they had an impact on their surroundings. They could choose. Their own efforts could make a difference in this world and in the next, for they saw that they were bound up in a community that worked” (84).
1. McGuire argues that Le Goff’s notion of the three-fold view of medieval society is too compartmentalized and oversimplifies the “complexity of the medieval experience” (64). Do you agree with him about Le Goff’s being too structured in his ideas and what factors might contribute to the medieval experience that would not fit into the three-fold view idea?
2. McGuire argues that by looking at various visions as literature, scholars can accurately depict the feelings and challenges facing the medieval people concerning purgatory and the afterlife. Do you agree with this notion? Why or why not?
3. McGuire argues that the idea of purgatory and praying for the dead becoming popular in the Middle Ages was a great step in theology for the lay people of England as it gave them a choice and a chance to know they could “make a difference in their surroundings” (84). Do you think these increasingly popular ideas were the most beneficial to the lay people or to another group during the time?