History

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The Conclusion reaffirms the importance of understanding the eleventh-century monastic affective piety for scholars of the Anglo-Norman world, of monasticism, of medieval devotion, and of medieval Christianity more generally. This study proves that the eleventh century was in fact a period of innovation – one that came before the so-called Renaissance of the twelfth century – a time when monks were not just interested in reforming rules and customs, but also their interior, emotional selves. In this conclusion, I state that by examining the work and context of one medieval individual – John of Fécamp – scholars can move from heretofore accepted generalisations about medieval ‘affective’ spiritual practice to a more vibrant understanding of the enigmatic, lived, emotional experiences of medieval Christian monks.

in Emotional monasticism
Tradition and innovation in John’s Confessio theologica

This chapter shows how John’s Confessio theologica was both of a piece with traditional monastic texts and ‘new’ on the monastic scene. In his Confessio theologica, John both built on reform and devotional precedents long-established in the monastic sphere, and developed a distinctive focus on reforming his monks’ interior, emotional practices that was substantially his own. To do this, I first explore John’s sources for the Confessio theologica in this chapter. I start by tracing the age-old monastic precedents that John draws on in his Confessio theologica, precedents that scholars often cite but rarely examine. I also trace more rare sources of John’s, books that he encountered in his childhood monastery in Ravenna, under the guidance of monastic reformer Romualdus of Ravenna, or his time at Cluny or at Saint-Bénigne de Dijon, under the guidance of Odilo of Cluny and William of Volpiano. After carefully tracing his pedigree, I then highlight what is source-less in John’s Confessio theologica, showing which ideas are truly John’s own.

in Emotional monasticism
Affective piety in the eleventh-century monastery of John of Fécamp
Series: Artes Liberales

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.

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The Introduction presents how the traditional story of medieval ‘affective piety’ is more complicated than we have tended to allow in the historiography. I summarise this historiography, showing how it has neglected the possibility of affectivity before Anselm and in the eleventh-century male Benedictine context. I argue that by looking at Fécamp as a wellspring of eleventh-century monastic affective piety, we can better understand what its uses were, as well as its reception, in its earliest identified medieval context. I assert that attention to emotional devotion in the Benedictine context deepens our understanding of Benedictine monasticism itself, bringing into focus both the spiritual lives of monastic individuals and the interior dimensions of eleventh-century monastic reform. Emotional reform emerges as an important aspect of my picture of the period, alongside the practices of exterior, regular, or institutional reform already detailed by other scholars.

in Emotional monasticism
The monastic roots of affective piety

This chapter examines John’s legacy after his death, both at Fécamp and in the wider medieval spiritual landscape. The chapter first shows how John’s students and followers at Fécamp elaborated on the seeds of affective devotion that John’s Confessio theologica planted: a cult to the precious blood of Christ was established at Fécamp; John’s students Maurilius of Rouen and Gerbert of Saint-Wandrille wrote affective prayers to a crucified Christ; Guibert of Nogent, a Norman monk, wrote his own memoir in the style of Augustine’s Confessions thanks to John; and, most famously, Anselm of Bec wrote his prayers and meditations, following in the steps of the greatest Norman abbot of the generation before him. This chapter moves on to discuss how John’s Confessio theologic’s ideas changed in the hands of the Cistercians, and how they circulated in the later Middle Ages, often misattributed in manuscripts to Anselm or Bernard or Francis. This chapter concludes by making clear the parts of John’s Confessio theologica’s devotional method that served as the foundation for later medieval affective devotional practice, and the parts of John’s ideas that abandoned in later iterations of affective devotion practised by Cistercians, mendicants, mystics, and the laity.

in Emotional monasticism
John’s devotional principles cultivated in the secular landscape

This chapter demonstrates that John’s emotional reform priorities were not solely acted upon within the walls of the monastic community at Fécamp, but also coloured his interactions with the secular world. As the abbot of the most prominent abbey in Normandy, John regularly interacted with lay lords and dukes of Normandy and Holy Roman Empresses, among others. Using charters, letters, and chronicles, this chapter shows how John’s particular brand of piety was not restricted only to the contemplative moments he had inside the monastery, but also motivated John’s wider responsibilities as a politically, socially, and economically involved abbot. This chapter thus argues against the historiographical narrative that abbots were either spiritual recluses who resented their worldly activities or political players who relished their worldly power. Instead, this chapter shows that an abbot’s worldly activity could be part and parcel with his spiritual goals, aiming to erode our modern notion that worldly activity could not also be spiritual behaviour in medieval Europe.

in Emotional monasticism
The uses of John’s devotional method within the walls of Fécamp

This chapter examines the pervasiveness of John’s devotional method among his contemporary brethren at Fécamp. The chapter first demonstrates that the affective prescriptions contained in John's Confessio theologica were promoted and enforced by the various devotional media at Fécamp – in the library, in the liturgy, and in sermons. The chapter then explores the complex relationship between emotional reform and discipline, as such affective rhetoric seems to have played a dual role in the monastery, both emotionally connecting the monastic practitioner to his God and keeping him in line under his abbot. This chapter, therefore, unlike other studies of affective piety, shows how affectivity was not just about a devotee’s emotional empathy with the crucified Christ, but also about a monastic devotee’s Christ-like obedience. I break scholarly ground by enumerating the uses of affective piety particular to the Benedictine monastery of the eleventh century.

in Emotional monasticism
Defining emotional reform and affectivity in John of Fécamp’s Confessio theologica

This chapter performs a careful reading of the entire text of John’s Confessio theologica in order to define the nature of John’s affective piety. This reading clarifies the historical record, which often only highlights selections from John’s Confessio theologica rather than systematically analyses the whole thing. The chapter details John’s affective prescriptions to his reader, and also uses manuscript evidence to show how these were particularly aimed at monastic readers in Fécamp’s network. The examination provided here will satisfy historians of emotion, who will be interested in the contours of devotional emotion in this eleventh-century context; it also provides a basis for the remaining analyses in the book.

in Emotional monasticism
Freedom, democracy and liberalism

The Oldham group sought to defend ‘freedom’ by avoiding either what it saw as the ‘atomistic’ forms of individualism encouraged by liberal capitalism or the violent Gleichschaltung of political totalitarianism: their middle way was a ‘true’, ‘Christian’ freedom based upon a holistic, organic and community-oriented ‘personalism’. It shared a broader intellectual scepticism about whether the freedoms of laissez-faire ‘liberalism’ could survive in the conditions of ‘mass’ society; however, despite some claims that Oldham and his companions advocated ‘Christian totalitarianism’, the group clearly rejected this option at an early stage in its discussions and remained committed to maintaining (and even strengthening) ‘liberal’ civil rights and parliamentary government. Despite stressing political decentralisation and active citizenship, however, the group members’ vision of freedom assumed that democracy would take a more constrained form that was not untypical in post-war political reconstruction across Western Europe.

in This is your hour
Capitalism, Communism and ‘planning for freedom’

One of the Oldham group’s ‘middle ways’ had a clearly secular source: the sociology of Karl Mannheim. The (personally agnostic) Hungarian sociologist believed that Christianity could strengthen liberal democracy in its confrontation with totalitarianism and also humanise the inevitable shift towards more ‘planned’ societies. All group members broadly criticised what they saw as the waste, inequality, greed and chaos of laissez-faire capitalism, and some saw value in Marxism, even if its atheism and the oppression of Soviet Communism were rejected. Mannheim’s concept of ‘planning for freedom’ offered a middle way that would encourage Christian-inspired norms but still leave room for individual liberty and local initiative. But the concept also provoked internal dissent in the group from both the right and the left. These discussions were also reflected in mixed feelings about post-war reconstruction: while the group welcomed moves towards ‘social justice’, some members’ critiques of the emerging welfare state show the contested margins of its consensus.

in This is your hour