Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Early History of Greed: The Sin of Avarice in Early Medieval Thought and Literature

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Early History of Greed: The Sin of Avarice in Early Medieval Thought and Literature

Article excerpt

Richard Newhauser, The Early History of Greed.' The Sin ofAvarice in Early Medieval Thought and Literature, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature 41 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). xiv + 246 pp. ISBN 05zI-38522-9. (40.00/$64.95.

Scholars of the later Middle Ages, mindful of Huizinga or the Pardoner's use of i Timothy vi.io, tend to see avarice as a period vice. Many of its strands are visible simultaneously in Piers Plon)man, such as a concern with merchants and the legitimacy of trade; an artful biblical confusion over material and immaterial meanings of the word 'tresor'; a debate between almsgiving and moderate possessing on the one hand and a radical praise of poverty on the other; and a concern with the effect of materialism on the institution of the Church, seen in an eschatological perspective. Richard Newhauser's study teaches us clearly that all these elements in fact constitute parts of the early history of greed.

The critique of avarice did not hit its stride quite with the earliest Fathers. Origen's literal radicalism in commending poverty was a minority position; Cyprian more typically saw almsgiving as a duty for all and renunciation as incumbent on the perfect only. But then, according to Newhauser, the pressures of asceticism asserted a transformative incumbent on the perfect only. xiii). For But then, according to Newhauser, pressures of asceticism al poverty and charity were conflated in a cenobitic ideal transformative influence' (P. xiii). For Basil, came close to making a general moral standard. For Gregory of Nyssa, charity were conflated in a cenobitic ideal that he came close to making a disease in Church moral stand world. For Gregory of Nyssa, influenced by Evagrius Ponticus, private property was grounded in Church and world. For Chrysostom, influenced by Evagrius Cassian adapted such eastern monasticism for western use; then avarice property was grounded in 'intransigent worldliness' (P. 48). foregrounded, Newhauser shows, by Ambrose and other north Italian adapted such eastern monasticism for western use; then avarice was of the fourth and fifth centuries. …

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