Affective Meditation and the Invention of Medieval Compassion

Affective Meditation and the Invention of Medieval Compassion

Affective Meditation and the Invention of Medieval Compassion

Affective Meditation and the Invention of Medieval Compassion

Synopsis

Affective meditation on the Passion was one of the most popular literary genres of the high and later Middle Ages. Proliferating in a rich variety of forms, these lyrical, impassioned, script-like texts in Latin and the vernacular had a deceptively simple goal: to tngs that both generated and reflected it. Sarah McNamer locates women as agents in the creation of the earliest and most influential texts in the genre, from John of Fécamp's Libellus to the Meditationes Vitae Christi, thus challenging current paradigms that cast the compassionate affective mode as Anselmian or Franciscan in origin. The early development of the genre in women's practices had a powerful and lasting legacy. With special attention to Middle English texts, including Nicholas Love's Mirror and a wide range of Passion lyrics and laments, Affective Meditation and the Invention of Medieval Compassion illuminates how these scripts for the performance of prayer served to construct compassion itself as an intimate and feminine emotion. To feel compassion for Christ, in the private drama of the heart that these texts stage, was to feel like a woman. This was an assumption about emotion that proved historically consequential, McNamer demonstrates, as she traces some of its legal, ethical, and social functions in late medieval England.

Excerpt

At the center of medieval Christian culture, there was a human figure— male, once beautiful, dying on a cross. This book is about the feelings elicited toward that suffering figure through one of the most popular and influential literary genres of the high and later Middle Ages: affective meditations on the Passion—richly emotional, script-like texts that ask their readers to imagine themselves present at scenes of Christ’s suffering and to perform compassion for that suffering victim in a private drama of the heart. the first texts of this kind emerged in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries as short Latin prayers and meditations. Over the next three centuries, this literature continued to develop in richness and variety, particularly in the vernaculars, including Middle English, my special focus here. in formal terms, such writing is remarkably flexible and capacious. It encompasses prose meditations on the life of Christ in which the narrator leads the reader through the events of the Passion, punctuating graphic descriptions of Christ’s sufferings with injunctions to feel: “Beholde him with sorowe of herte.” It includes Passion lyrics that script sorrowful sighs for the reader to perform:

I syke when y singe
for sorewe that y se
when y with wypinge
biholde vpon the tre
ant se Iesu the suete
is herte blod forlete
for the loue of me

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