Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Germany and Beyond

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Germany and Beyond

Article excerpt

Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Germany and Beyond. By Caroline Walker Bynum. Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006. xviii + 448 pp. $49.95 (cloth).

Over her distinguished career as a scholar, Caroline Walker Bynum, in books such as Holy Feast and Holy Fast, The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, and Fragmentation and Redemption, has focused on the intersections of spiritual practices, learned theology, and physicality in pre-modern Christian culture. Bynum continues this trajectory in Wonderful Blood, asking why blood was such a potent symbol in late medieval Christianity. This question is tackled in four parts, beginning with the examination of cults of holy blood in northern Germany, especially at Wilsnack, then moving to the intellectual context for fifteenth-century debates about the nature of blood relics, next to a discussion of the assumptions that lay behind blood piety, and concluding with an analysis of late medieval soteriology and the place of blood in it.

In proposing the utility of studying the religious significance of blood in late medieval northern Christianity, Bynum requests her readers to view the debates about blood to be seen as about blood. That is, Bynum desires historians of medieval Christianity not to study their sources through the frameworks provided by contemporary trends in scholarship such as power analysis, gender discourse, or other approaches formed by critical theory. Bynum herself acknowledges her own indebtedness to these methodological developments in the history of Christianity, but she argues that they should be ancillary to understanding historical sources on their own terms. Bynum asks us first to listen to what the medieval sources say about blood, rather than first placing the theme of blood into a heuristic framework.

This cultural reading of texts and contexts in the late Middle Ages yields a rich bounty which captures how blood functioned as the central religious symbol of the period. …

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