Scholars of the Middle Ages have long taught that highly emotional Christian
devotion, often called ‘affective piety’, originated in Europe after the twelfth
century, and was primarily practised by late medieval communities of mendicants,
lay people, and women. As the first study of affective piety in an
eleventh-century monastic context, this book revises our understanding of
affective spirituality’s origins, characteristics, and uses in medieval
Christianity. Emotional monasticism: Affective piety at the eleventh-century
monastery of John of Fécamp traces the early monastic history of affective
devotion through the life and works of the earliest-known writer of emotional
prayers, John of Fécamp, abbot of the Norman monastery of Fécamp from 1028 to
1078. The book examines John’s major work, the Confessio theologica; John’s
early influences and educational background in Ravenna and Dijon; the
emotion-filled devotional programme of Fécamp’s liturgical, manuscript, and
intellectual culture, and its relation to the monastery’s efforts at reform; the
cultivation of affective principles in the monastery’s work beyond the
monastery’s walls; and John’s later medieval legacy at Fécamp, throughout
Normandy, and beyond. Emotional monasticism will appeal to scholars of
monasticism, of the history of emotion, and of medieval Christianity. The book
exposes the early medieval monastic roots of later medieval affective piety,
re-examines the importance of John of Fécamp’s prayers for the first time since
his work was discovered, casts a new light on the devotional life of monks in
medieval Europe before the twelfth century, and redefines how we should
understand the history of Christianity.
This book offers a range of new perspectives on the character and reputation of English monasteries in the later middle ages. The later middle ages was an era of evolution in English monastic life in late medieval England. The book surveys the internal affairs of English monasteries, including recruitment, the monastic economy, and the standards of observance and learning. It looks at the relations between monasteries and the world, exploring the monastic contribution to late medieval religion and society and lay attitudes towards monks and nuns in the years leading up to the Dissolution. The book covers both male and female houses of all orders and sizes. The late medieval 'reforms' of the Benedictine Order included a relaxation of observances on diet, the common life and private property, and little of the Cistercians' primitive austerity can be found in late medieval houses of the order. Monastic spirituality can rarely be accessed through visitation evidence or administrative records, although an impression of the devotional climate within individual houses is occasionally provided by monastic chronicles. Looking beyond the statistics of foundation and dissolution alone, levels of support for the monastic ideal in late medieval England might also be assessed from the evidence of lay patronage of existing houses.
; 19 their palaeography has been studied; 20 the liturgical texts have been partially edited; 21 the Fécamp relics, archaeology, and church space have been examined; 22 and John’s Confessio theologica has been analysed. 23 But this study is the first to use the wealth of the Fécamp sources to create a holistic picture of the production, the reception, the use, and the immediate legacy of John of Fécamp’s landmark work, the Confessio theologica . 24
Fécamp as evidence of emotional monasticism
A study of John
Ever since André Wilmart published his study of John of Fécamp in the 1930s, medievalists have slowly begun to acknowledge that so-called ‘Anselmian spirituality’ did not, in fact, originate with Anselm, and that ‘affective piety’ was not an invention of the later Middle Ages. My study of John of Fécamp builds on that trend, both by giving the details of his full-length Confessio theologica and by placing John’s devotional method in his wider monastic context, showing just how proper to eleventh-century Benedictine monasticism
John’s devotional principles cultivated in the secular
and the ‘new monasticism’ of the twelfth – that monks had become so worldly that the Church sought to finally separate the secular and ecclesiastical spheres, and that new orders of monks sought to correct the opulent worldliness of older monasteries. 12 Few historians, however, have shown how sometimes monastic engagement with the world ultimately served to reinforce and intensify devotional practices in the monastery. 13 This chapter will do just that, and, in so doing, will work to change the way in which historians of monastic reform have understood the role
Tradition and innovation in John’s Confessio theologica
foster that divine connection. 59 Hermits were more and more prevalent in the eleventh century, appearing in the forests around John and William of Volpiano’s monasteries in Normandy and Lorraine; but the inspiration for such an eremitical movement emanated from Byzantium through Italy (namely Ravenna). 60 Importantly, unlike other hermits, Romuald seems to have been able to model the lifestyle of a hermit without contradicting the obedience to the abbot required in coenobitic monasticism. Colin Phipps argues that while Romuald himself retired to a hermit’s cell
The uses of John’s devotional method within the walls of Fécamp
caritas – and the efficacy of the examples of Christ, Mary Magdalene, and Hannah in cultivating all three. The emotional shaping of monastic readers attempted by John’s CT was therefore writ large with a strong, mutually reinforcing devotional and intellectual programme at his monastery, some elements of which were typical for monasticism of the time and some of which were unique.
Sermons given to novices entering the monastery
These are the words that every eleventh-century monk at Fécamp would have heard his
Defining emotional reform and affectivity in John of Fécamp’s Confessio
his actions as abbot of Fécamp. So where did his idea for an internal, emotional reform of prayer come from? And just how innovative was it in the wider context of European monasticism? Those are the questions of the next chapter .
1 John’s writings are notoriously difficult to identify today because they circulated anonymously. I acknowledge therefore that he could have written more than has been identified.
2 ‘ Ingrediar in interiore mentis meae ’ ( CT , p
Artificiality of Christianity: Essays on the Poetics of Monasticism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002), pp. 162–4; Sweeney, Anselm of Canterbury and the Desire for the Word , p. 119; Thomas H. Bestul, ‘St. Augustine and the Orationes sive meditations of St. Anselm’, Anselm Studies 2 (1988), 597–606.
65 Morrison, ‘Framing the Subject’, p. 10.
66 Anselm , p. 97.
67 Augustine, Confessions 1.1; CT , p. 142; Anselm , p. 98.
68 Bynum, ‘Did the Twelfth
Monasticism in late medieval England, c. 1300–1535
We associate the middle ages with
monks, and with good reason: monasticism was at the heart of medieval
life and culture. In the preservation and dissemination of learning, the
spread of Christianity throughout Europe, the periodic reform of the
Church, the stimulation of the economy and much else, the monastic
contribution to the medieval world needs no elaboration. 1 All these