Medieval Futures: Attitudes to the Future in the Middle Ages

Medieval Futures: Attitudes to the Future in the Middle Ages

Medieval Futures: Attitudes to the Future in the Middle Ages

Medieval Futures: Attitudes to the Future in the Middle Ages

Synopsis

Medieval Futures explores the rich variety of ways in which medieval people imagined the future, from the prophetic anticipation of the end of the world to the mundane expectation that the world would continue indefinitely, permitting ordinary human plans and provisions. The articles explore the ways in which the future was represented to serve the present, methods used to predict the future, and strategies adopted in order to plan and provide for it. Different conceptions of the future are shown to relate to different social groups and the emergence of new mentalities, suggesting that changing conceptions of the future were related to general shifts in medieval culture. J.A. BURROW is Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Bristol; IAN P. WEI is Senior Lecturer in History and Director of the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Bristol.

Excerpt

Most work on medieval attitudes to the future has concerned the eschatological, the millennial and the prophetic. It has resulted in many excellent studies which examine the lives and writings of people who warned of the coming of Antichrist, heralded the end of the world and the Last Judgement, or believed that they could see the working out of an all-embracing divine plan in human history. It takes but a moment’s reflection, however, to realise that this was only part of the way in which medieval people approached the future: in much more mundane ways they tried to predict, plan and provide for their futures. The contributors to this volume therefore share the common aim of bringing to the fore a fuller range of medieval beliefs and attitudes pertaining to the future. In particular, they seek to understand the relationships between these various beliefs and attitudes. This is an especially important task because, outside the work of a few brilliant scholars, prophetic and eschatological beliefs have often been treated as if they were too bizarre to be considered at the same time as other aspects of medieval culture. Thus, to give just one example, despite the universally acknowledged excellence of books about Joachim of Fiore by Marjorie Reeves and Bernard McGinn, books which place Joachim at the heart of intellectual and spiritual development in Western Europe, very few intellectual histories of the period give Joachim and his followers more than a passing mention.

The first section of the book is entitled ‘Thinking about the Future’, and the papers examine explicit references to and discussions of the future. Jean-

The bibliography is vast, but notable contributions include: The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages, ed. Richard K. Emmerson and Bernard McGinn (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992); Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium, rev. edn (London: Temple Smith, 1970); Richard Kenneth Emmerson, Antichrist in the Middle Ages: A Study of Medieval Apocalypticism, Art, and Literature (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981); Richard Landes, Relics, Apocalypse and the Deceits of History: Ademar of Chabannes, 989–1034 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995); Robert E. Lerner, The Powers of Prophecy: The Cedar of Lebanon Vision from the Mongol Onslaught to the Dawn of the Enlightenment (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983); Bernard McGinn, Visions of the End: Apocalyptic Traditions in the Middle Ages (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979); Bernard McGinn, The Calabrian Abbot: Joachim of Fiore in the History of Western Thought (New York: Macmillan, 1985); Prophecy and Millenarianism: Essays in Honour of Marjorie Reeves, ed. Ann Williams (Harlow: Longman, 1980); Marjorie Reeves, The Influence of Prophecy in the Later Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969); Marjorie Reeves, Joachim of Fiore and the Prophetic Future: A Medieval Study in Historical Thinking, rev. edn (Stroud: Sutton, 1976); The Use and Abuse of Eschatology in the Middle Ages, ed. Werner Verbeke, Daniel Verhelst and Andries Welkenhuysen (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1988).

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