Review of Week 12 (April 3, 5) and Preview of Week 13
[by Adam and Emily]
We started off class with a discussion of the role of Christianity in the Middle Ages. We see, in Julian of Norwich, a picture of the human individual situated in the world, and related to God. One of the most important factors that arises in this is the question of how to pursue spiritual devotion while being a physical, fleshy being.
Dr. Seaman noted that the instantiation of Christ in the world as a human being “saves” the notion of bodily form, so that we can’t dismiss it as a mere weakness as a contradiction to divine spiritual salvation. However, the dominate monastic challenge of the time was how to reconcile being part of the world with being devoted to a project of religious transcendence.
We then moved to a discussion of Medieval Monasticism, which was started in Northern Africa. Monasticism, at this time, was a list of recommendations for the proper life. The Monk’s main labor was common prayer for the good of the community. The Monastic lifestyle is built on community, prayer, obedience and contemplation; it is built on the avoidance of money, sex, and ambition. Benedict’s Rule is that Obedience is the master virtue, and is a “perfect expression of man’s humanity.” By 850, Benedict’s rule was dominant in the Western Christian world. Meanwhile, in the 5th Century, Ireland developed its own autonomous monastic structure.
Anchoritic Monasticism – solitary monasticism, founded in 285
Cenobitic Monasticism – communal monasticism, founded in the next century
Regula – latin for ‘rule’ ‘pattern’ ‘model’
Mysticism – an immediate experience/relation with the sacred. Usually takes the form within Christianity as a mystical union with God.
Affective Piety – expressing piety through emotions and feeling.
We then moved to a discussion of Julian of Norwich in light of this historical information. As a Mystic, we are shown how Julian explains grace and leads the reader into the right kind of contemplation of the divine. With some biographical information, we placed Julian’s writings in or around the 1390’s. We then read a quote from Bynum that put forth the point that Affective Piety rises from a sense that the physical human is inextricably connected with the divine.
Then, we moved to the text. In Chapter Two, Julian calls upon the authority of her experience to enumerate her relationship with God. This experience started, according to Julian, with a request of illness. That is, she wanted to be so ill she was on the verge of death, as to be as near to the suffering of Christ as possible. She also wants a willful longing for God.
Julian treats Christ’s incarnation as a man as an end in itself, rather than a rhetorical or theological bridge. Dr. Seaman tells us that, at the time, this is a very unusual stance to take. Taylor commented on how the vision of Christ bleeding on the cross seemed to connect him with humanity much in the way that the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica are viscerally connected with humanity through the biological process of sweating.
Chapter 10 pg 17 paragraph 3 “…will be revealed”
We discussed the attributes of the divine as Julian portrays them. Importantly, she consistently portrays God as a remarkably generous figure; on page 79 saying that god enjoys his status as the father of human kind. Julian’s God is not angry, but benevolent: “all is God, and all is thus Good.” Subsequently, God’s Plan is the most important force in the world.
Lastly, we took a look at the end of Section 33, in which Julian insists that we especially look to regard God’s deeds on Earth. The more we move towards a deep understand of God, the more we transcend typical human understanding.
On Thursday we wrapped up our discussion of Julian of Norwich and moved on to The Book of Margery Kempe. On Tuesday we discussed affective piety and mysticism. ‘Affective piety’ is piety expressed through feeling, and mood; it is not a matter of deeds or behavior. In The Book Margery exemplifies these two aspects of medieval Christian theology. “To make a list of those issues central to the Book is to make a list of those issues seen as central to the study of fifteenth-century England: literacy and the transmission of vernacular text, religious heterodoxy, female and/or lay piety, gender roles, episcopal control, the rise of nationalism, community, the making of individual identities and the nature of true authority” (viii). Thus, Margery’s writing down her spiritual journey of the divine was extremely radical, even dangerous. And so, in much of the Book, we see Margery seeking approval from the church, giving her voice authority; in fact, she is cleared from the accusation of being unorthodox from the Archbishop.
The main focus of the Book is on the humanity of Christ; we encounter the orientation of Christ in both substance and visions—with the mind, body, and soul, embodiment is essential for her theology. Interesting to note is that Margery seems to be literally ‘stepping in’ to the historical situation—she is present for the birth of Jesus, and other historical events in Christianity. As we witness Margery as historically situated, the implication is the we understand presence as eternal, it is not in time, it is all time—the past and the present are simultaneously situated. There is also a heavy focus on Christ’s suffering. His sufferings define human experience and through them Christ’s humanity is revealed. One of the most important truths about suffering, in that, suffering leads to positive action and encourages human compassion. The implication seems to be that one may become a more perfect human by living an earthly life in the imitation of Christ’s humanity.
The Eucharist, the Christian sacrament in which Christ’s Last Supper is commemorated by the consecration of bread and wine, is another important concept we explored. Wine and bread offered in the sacrament symbolize the blood and body of Christ—the body and blood of Christ taken in is how Christ is experienced in a way that he become part of us—the bread is transubstantiated into the body and the wine into blood. In discussing the concept of Eucharist we turned to Bynum’s interpretation of the “Late Medieval Eucharistic Doctrine” (288-198), in which she explains several important conceptions and quotes within the Book.
. “We ourselves receive from him the body he receives from us” (289). In class, Dr. Seaman asked us what exactly it is that he receives from us? This type of connection with Christ is more intimate, more sharable through. I’m not going to pretend I really understand the process of transubstantiation because I really don’t, but in class it was explained that God’s humanity is in Christ’s humanity, which is human humanity; therefore, he receives this embodiment from us.
“…the food on the alter was the God who became man; it was bleeding and broken flesh. Hunger was unquenchable desire; it was suffering. To eat God, therefore, was finally to become suffering flesh with his suffering flesh; it was to imitate the cross” (295). Suffering here is centered on food—in this way we can experience suffering of the flesh through hunger.
“Priest, you are not you, because you are God.
You are not yours, because you are Christ’s servant and minister.
You are not of yourself because you are nothing.
What therefore are you, oh priest? Nothing and all things” (295).
-This quote has to do with human and divine revelation. It expresses a desire to break down the barriers between man and god.
“Since the body cannot exist without blood and since blood was clearly not yet present, the wine not having been consecrated, Peter Chanter concluded that the body could not be present until the world over the wine were said. Both elements were necessary for Christ to be present” (291)
“The identification with Christ then engenders a porosity of identity, an exchange between Christ and Margery, and it also enjoins a remarkable labiality of social roles created by this very porosity. Kempe renegotiates her own cultural position by means of such identification and role-playing” (287).
The story of ‘this creature’ is a story of a woman pursuing a life imitating the life of Christ. Her stories and experiences are models for the same sufferings of Christ—his torments and temptation, his public scorn and faith in the word of God. Unlike Julian of Norwich, Margery’s representation of god is one of obedience, love, and duty. Margery’s god is not a detached god, in fact, she actually gets married to god in Ch. 35 on page 63…all those who are present act as witnesses that can testify to her authority and relationship with God.
Preview of Week 13
This coming week we will enjoy the first half of the class’s creative presentations on Tuesday (after briefly going over the expectations of the paper proposal due Friday night at 11 in OAKS). Those of us not presenting will be supplying snacks for the class.
Thursday we don’t have class.