A Very Merciful God

I really enjoyed the two poems The Jealous Wife and The Incestuous Daughter. Despite the different circumstances in the two, the message remains relatively similar: God’s mercy is boundless and consistent. If you want forgiveness, he will give it to you, and it does not always have to be through the traditional and formal ways that the Church typically enforces. The physical representations of the Devil and Sin were especially interesting, because it showed how in the Middle Ages, people didn’t seem to be faulted for doing wrong based on their free  will – rather, the Devil was the one controlling you, making you ‘mad’. Forgiveness seems much easier (and more convenient) to get this way, versus blaming someone for being inherently evil, without any outside forces intervening. I am not sure how uncommon these messages were for the time, but they seem rather unorthodox to me. These poems certainly hold an appeal for the layperson, though, and are attractive in their plot – if these women committed such horrible acts and still are granted mercy, then the average sinner’s life is likely to also reach salvation if he or she truly wishes!

4 thoughts on “A Very Merciful God

  1. “The physical representations of the Devil and Sin were especially interesting, because it showed how in the Middle Ages, people didn’t seem to be faulted for doing wrong based on their free will – rather, the Devil was the one controlling you, making you ‘mad’.”

    While that is definitely true, at the same time the presence of demons who can overwhelm someone’s free will also throws in the whole problem of theodicy. Why would God allow a demon to damn a person to eternal torment? Alternatively, how could free will exist when an external force can come in and override your reason? I think that is why the text tried to establish almost immediately that it was still the woman’s fault for inviting demonic possession through her actions. That intervention seems to address the theological problem logic-imperiling demons present, but at the same time it does somewhat undercut the message of mercy and forgiveness you read in the poems.

  2. I enjoyed these two poems more than the two from Tuesday; I thought they provided me with a different outlook on Middle English Christianity than I have grown accustomed to in this course. The first thing that I noticed was through the explanatory notes for The Jealous Wife. I knew that Mary played an important role in Christianity during this time, especially from our other texts we have read, but did not realize the extent of it until reading these pieces and their notes. On page 485 it explains that “the Virgin’s miracles suggest an almost limitless sense of her powers,” which we see in The Incestuous Daughter when even the “fendys” cannot overpower her. I was also struck by how easy the pieces relay forgiveness to be granted; for some reason I would imagine this period to be more God-fearing and strict than our own, but it seems less so. Like Taylor said, it seems rather unorthodox to me and makes me wonder whether people during this time genuinely believed forgiveness to be so easy to come by.

  3. The physical manifestations of evil were really interesting to me in these two poems as well. These “fiends” are given the entirety of the blame for the evil acts, leaving the person committing such acts to be innocent supposedly. This seems to be a common way in Catholicism to react to wrongdoings since it does make being forgiven that much easier. Though the sinners in these poems were allowed into heaven to show how merciful God can be, this does seem to be an uncommon message, as you say. The saying, “The Devil made me do it,” comes to mind, since this excuse is often used, though now it’s more of joke. Eve even used it when she blamed the snake for convincing her to eat the forbidden fruit, though it didn’t grant her forgiveness.

  4. I don’t actually think the text places blame on the Wife in Jealous Wife, Josh, for ‘letting in’ the fiend–no more than it does for her being jealous in the first place, of which she is certainly guilty. In neither of these texts does the afflicted person deserve to be–their susceptibility is being preyed on, either by their incestuous father or an envious fiend. This points back to the reading Taylor is pursuing in her original post: the purpose of these poems is to demonstrate the absolute limitlessness of God’s mercy. Caroline: I’m curious to know what outlook on Middle English Christianity you’d developed that these poems modified; certainly the Miracles of the Virgin shared much with these two. Perhaps it was seeing Mary as such an active agent in such “big” decisions (as compared to seeing her offer comfort and healing to people, in the Miracles we read). I’ll urge everyone to remember that medieval spirituality and devotion can be incredibly diverse, as it is in later ages and today: consider what rather different pictures of God Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe presented us. And Arianna: bear in mind that the person committing the acts is *not* innocent–otherwise, there wouldn’t be this great urgency to confess (as with the Incestuous Daughter). It’s instead that the temptation is seen as being actively presented to individuals by the fiends. The falling into temptation still makes the person guilty, far from innocent.

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