"Live a New Life": Innovation and Intuition in the Rhetoric of Angela Merici1

By De Vinne, Christine | Magistra, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

"Live a New Life": Innovation and Intuition in the Rhetoric of Angela Merici1


De Vinne, Christine, Magistra


By founding the Ursulines, the first congregation of women consecrated to chastity outside the cloister, Angela Menci (ca. 1474-1540) initiated a renaissance in religious life. The virgins she dedicated to St. Ursula were to interact intimately with the secularized world of early modern Italy, where they would be protected not by habit or convent walls but by sacred grace and personal virtue. For these women she wrote a straightforward rule; among them she identified spiritual guides; to aid them she named accomplished lay matrons. Her Regola (Rule), Arricordi (Counsels or Legacies), and Testamento (Testament), addressed to each group in turn, collectively urged a single goal, union with the divine as means of individual and communal salvation.

When Angela led twenty-eight members of her "company" in committing themselves to God on the feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria, November 25, 1535, she formalized their way of life with a rule that she had conceived the year before. By 1539, she had also shaped for them a crucial armature of support by hailing, in the Counsels and Testament, superiors for guidance and lay widows for oversight.

Her three founding documents, the only works that she composed, have led historians and feminist scholars, as well as Ursulines over almost half a millennium, to affirm the novelty of her paradigm. Querciolo Mazzonis cites her "originality and genius"; Charmarie J. Blaisdell credits her with "unusual vision."2 Sandra M. Schneiders, most recently, names her among the "pioneers of apostolic religious life."3 The inventive structure and style of life that Angela envisions, however, stand in stark contrast to the conservative structure and style of her writings. Using sixteenth century Brescian dialect, she intuitively situated herself in a tradition of medieval rhetoric and spirituality. She announced the startlingly new in the guise of the long familiar. A rhetorical analysis of her treatises reveals the insight and subtlety that she summoned to realize a radical refashioning of piety and practice.

The Rule

At the heart of Ursuline innovation is Angela's Rule, her first and longest text, comprising nineteen pages in the 1985 edition (compared to fourteen for the Counsels and eleven for the Testament).4 Written for the virgins at the company's core, it codifies the regulations by which they are to live, while its extended prologue, Chapter 1, stands as salutatio to her entire corpus. Following this introduction are eleven chapters whose sequence defines a bell curve of emotional intensity. The outermost body chapters, three at the beginning and one at the end, detail practical requirements and governance. Concerned with entrance requirements (Chapter 2), dress (Chapter 3), contact with the world (Chapter 4), and governmental structure (Chapter 12), they rely on plain, direct diction. The inner chapters, by contrast, adopt figurative language and a more personal tone to promote interior motivations for fasting (Chapter 5), prayer (Chapter 6), daily Eucharist (Chapter 7), confession (Chapter 8), and commitment to obethence (Chapter 9), virginity (Chapter 10), and poverty (Chapter 11).

To compose a rule is itself a conservative choice, of course, one that inserts Angela, a Franciscan tertiary, into a centuries-old legacy of religious founders. Like her predecessors, she assumes in readers an imaginative connection to the sacred and calls on human emotion to inspire worthy action. She casts her rule as recollected address, opening five of its chapters with "se aricorda" ("it must be remembered" or "you are reminded"), the written record harkening back to words she has impressed on listeners' memory.5 Fourteen scriptural quotations, most in Latin and the vernacular, five biblical allusions, and citations from four points in church history reinforce her personal authority, grounded in faith: "[IJo ho ferma fede, et speranza nella divina buonta. ..." ("I firmly believe and trust in God's goodness . …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"Live a New Life": Innovation and Intuition in the Rhetoric of Angela Merici1
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.