Bernini’s “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa”
The following is from the “affective devotion” chapter draft from Getting Medieval with C S Lewis:
Margery Kempe (c. 1373 – after 1438)
Margery was a middle-class laywoman (mother and business owner) who lived in the late 14th and early 15th century and provided us with the first biography of a woman written in English. This, by the way, was probably dictated to a clergyman, since she was almost certainly either illiterate or barely literate.
Margery is a great example of a layperson with a deep, even mystical piety who became an influence on the clergy and monastics of her day—although plenty of people simply wrote her off as a crazy lady because of the depth of her emotion during church services. But in that very trait, she was a reflection (if extreme) of the late medieval tradition of affective devotion: “Her spiritual life was centered, from the beginning and throughout her life, on the human Christ, the object of her prayers and her love. She identified very closely with the Virgin as woman and mother, and her participation in the Passion was enlarged and inspired by sharing Mary’s grief. Her enthusiasm, her ‘boisterous’ emotion, and her conspicuous humility were borrowed from the Franciscans and legitimated by their authority. And her method of meditation—that is, her personal involvement in the biblical story, placing herself among the holy figures—was exactly the method prescribed by writers of affective devotion.” (ATK, 155)
Margery’s book is earthy at points – even bawdy. She tells a particular story about an episode of sexual temptation in her life that is R-rated. And her language of intimacy with Christ is also direct and frank. When he sees a “comely [handsome] man” in the streets, it sets her to meditating on Jesus. And when she talks about her times of inner dialogue with her Lord, she uses a term usually reserved in her time for the kissing and cooing of young lovers: “dalliance.” We have not moved far from Bernard here! Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged affective theology, Bernard of Clairvaux, C S Lewis, devotion, devotional life, emotion, Margery Kempe, mysticism, Richard Rolle, sex, sexuality, Teresa of Avila, Walter Hilton
Saint Augustine of Hippo, playing hot potato with his heart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Following introductory material from C S Lewis here, here, and here, the affective devotion chapter of my Getting Medieval with C S Lewis opens its tour of medieval heart religion with a peek into Origen, Augustine, and other early Church Fathers:
Origen, early fathers
Although affective piety was “a mood and form of expression which advanced over all of Europe between the eleventh and the sixteenth centuries,” (ATK: 130-131), the writers of that period, from Anselm to Bernard to Julian to Dante, were merely passing on a tendency from the early church, described by Robert Wilken: “Nothing is more characteristic of the Christian intellectual tradition than its fondness for the language of the heart.” Even in the most detailed theologizing of the early and medieval fathers, “The goal was not only understanding but love.”
The very first systematic commentator on Scripture, Origen of Alexandria (185-254), interpreted the Song of Songs as an allegory of the believer’s relationship with God—erotic emotions and all. In Origen’s reading, the song’s male lover is God or Christ and its female lover is Israel, the church, or the believer. Augustine, Gregory the Great, and a long line of medieval interpreters would pick up Origen’s approach to the Song of Songs, using similar sexual language of our desire for God. As Gregory mused, “‘what force of love exists in the bedchamber of the Bridegroom.’” Continue reading
Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530
Still hammering away at Getting Medieval with C S Lewis. Turning now to the “creation chapter.” Here are a few halting thoughts toward an introduction. They won’t appear in the final book in this form, but they suggest some linkages between medieval Western faith and modern Catholicism – in an area Protestants could learn from:
Modern Catholic tradition still draws from the Creation emphasis in the medieval church, which has attenuated in Protestantism.
Lewis picked this Creation-positive spirituality up too. Think of his love of storms, rocks, trees; his laughing exuberance in storms, rain, fog, drizzle (making him the perfect Englishman), as he reveled in “the quiddity [“that-ness,” essential nature] of things”; his use of long walks in the country to recharge himself.
We might see in these things the influence of the Victorian romanticism still lingering especially in literary and artistic corners of the British Isles during Lewis’s growing-up years: that sense of the mystic sacredness of nature itself, the sort of lavish and sometimes dark and even pagan pantheism that made Blake such an odd duck, led the brilliant Catholic engraver Eric Gill to create his frank and shockingly explicit public works of art, and brought the late-19th-century Decadents such as Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde (both of whom became Catholic) down into their pit of muck. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged C S Lewis, Catholic Church, Catholicism, community, Creation, death, G K Chesterton, love, marriage, romanticism, sex
Been thinking a lot lately about the many, many ways faith and work speak to each other–or quite often, do not speak to each other where they should. Now another one comes up, in an article in First Things by Leah Libresco.
For decades, men’s overcommitment in their work lives has alienated them from their children, drained their marriages of life, incubated infidelity. The overworked, intimacy-challenged businessman has become a movie and TV cliche.
Libresco’s article and the Hanna Rosin article she points to shine a bright light on the modern female equivalent to this cliche. It is sobering, and it deserves reflection by Christians who care about faith-and-work issues.
Here’s the beginning of Libresco’s article, titled “Sad Secular Monks”:
In the Atlantic, Hanna Rosin recently defended the hookup culture as essential to female success and equality. Given the pressure of a high-powered career, she claims, “an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.” In order to carve out time for work, women need the same option men have long enjoyed: “the ability to delay marriage and have temporary relationships that don’t derail education or career.” Continue reading