Adam's Grace: Fall and Redemption in Medieval Literature

Adam's Grace: Fall and Redemption in Medieval Literature

Adam's Grace: Fall and Redemption in Medieval Literature

Adam's Grace: Fall and Redemption in Medieval Literature

Synopsis

The theme of Adam's Graceis the interplay of theology and literature across a wide range of genres and vernaculars: in particular, the use of medieval literary texts to explain the balance of the Fall and Redemption, the universality of original sin, and the identity of mankind with its first parents, Adam and Eve. The process begins with the Christian tradition of apocryphal Adam-lives, which live on and develop in many vernaculars. Later, Adam is used as a literary model, on whom many well-known Christian figures of the middle ages - knights, popes, emperors, kings and saints - can be seen to be based. They include Gregorius, the `medieval Oedipus', whose case demonstrates the resolution of the paradox of the felix culpa; Parzival, searching for the Holy Grail and for God in the hostile world into which he has been ejected; and the many medieval figures (literary and even historical) associated with the legends of leprosy, blood and healing which reflect the sacrifice in the Redemption. The last part of the book looks at the drama, first of all the medieval representations of the Fall and the Passion, and then the rather different portrayal of Adam on stage in the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation.BRIAN MURDOCH is Professor of German at Stirling University.

Excerpt

These chapters were originally given as the Hulsean lectures for 1997-8 in the Faculty of Divinity in the University of Cambridge under the slightly differently angled, but also appropriate, title Adam sub gratia; although they have now been expanded somewhat and provided with notes, an attempt has been made to preserve at least some of the informality of the lecture format. the theme is Adam: Adam is presented - in the terms of the Hulse bequest - in the light of Christianity, although not necessarily in what is usually seen as theological writing in the narrower sense. the interplay of theology and literature, and its use to put across to a largely lay audience centrally important theological ideas, is of special significance in the Middle Ages, and also (though there are changes in attitude) in the period of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. This applies in particular to the divine economy of Fall and Redemption, the universality of original sin, and the identity of mankind with their first parents. the aim of the lectures was to look precisely at the interaction of literature and theology, and at the presentation, use and lay reception of these central ideas in medieval and later European literature, using as wide a range of genres and vernaculars as possible.

The process begins with the expansion of Genesis within the Christian tradition of apocryphal Adam-lives and the Holy Rood stories, at the interface between canonicity and literature, with the partial secularisation of a religious story. Vernacular versions of works like the Vita Adae have been neglected, in spite of burgeoning interest in the apocrypha as such, yet they demonstrate how the apocryphal material lives on and develops. Adam and the divine economy may be used as a literary model in various ways, and the lectures considered various important and well known Christian figures of the Middle Ages: knights, popes, emperors, kings and saints, all of them unusual, even extreme, yet all representative in some ways of mankind, all Adam-figures, however unlikely this might seem. They include Gregorius, the `medieval Oedipus' who is so much more than that, whose case demonstrates the redeemability of all sin, original and actual, in the resolution of the paradox of the felix culpa; Perceval or Parzival, the Grail King, another unlikely Everyman, searching for the lost Paradise and for God in the hostile world into which he has been ejected; and the many medieval figures (literary and even historical) associated with the legends of leprosy, blood and healing that reflect the sacrifice in the Redemption.

The series of lectures concluded with two sessions devoted to drama at the end of the Middle Ages, the first examining the divine economy in medieval cyclic dramas of the Fall and the Passion, visual representations of central theological ideas to a very broad lay audience which is drawn into the action in a realisation of the identity expressed in Romans 5:12. Finally, Adam's Fall and the Redemption were looked at in the drama of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation period, with attention paid to that influenced by Luther or Zwingli, contrasted - but . . .

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