Today we have the assistant professor of medieval history from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, Lauren Mancia. Lauren works on monastic devotional practices and culture in Normandy, specializing in the writings of the Abbot John of Fécamp (ca. 990-1078 A.D.) In this podcast, she talks to us about a major shift in the understanding and relationship with Christ that began in the eleventh century. Prior to that time, people tended to see Christ as more of a conquering hero, unafraid of death, and unsuffering on the cross. After the shift to what is known as “affective” piety, people began to emphasize Christ’s humanity and his sufferings and used that as a way to find emotional closeness with the divine. This fundamental way of viewing Christ is still with us and remains the emotional core of most of western Christianity to this day.
Given the particularly penitential nature of today’s subject, I would recommend a good reverential sandwich of plain bread and water for those who lean that way. If you are feeling ill, weak, or not entirely reverential, you can also include some cheese or a hard boiled egg.
In the podcast, we mention a few works of art and a couple of quotes. Here are those images and quotes in the order in which they appear in the podcast for when you want to refer back to them.
We also mention a couple of quotes, starting with a prayer from the ninth century. This prayer comes from a precum libelli and the translation is in Rachel Fulton’s From Judgement to Passion (see the extra bibliography below):
“Lord Jesus Christ, maker of the world, who—although shining in glory and coeternal and coequal with the Father and the Holy Spirit—deigned to assume flesh from the immaculate virgin and suffered your glorious palms to be nailed on the gibbet of the cross, that you might break asunder the gates of hell and free the human race from death, have pity on me oppressed with evil deeds and the weight of my iniquities. Do not abandon me, most pious father, but indulge me in those things which I impiously bear. Hear me, prostrate before your most glorious and worshipful cross, so that in these days I should merit to stand by you, pure and pleasing in your sight, freed from all evil things, and consoled by your help, always my lord. Through you Jesus Christ, savior of the world.”
Image One, a Spanish Crucifix:
You can see the Met’s own page about this artwork with complete descriptions Here.
This quote comes from Lauren’s own research on John of Fecamp. It appears in Fécamp’s Forma precum digna scelerum confessio plena, edited in A Durham Book of Devotions by Thomas Bestul (pg. 35) and translated by Lauren herself:
“Most merciful creator, look upon the humanity of your beloved Son, and take pity on the weakness of your frail creature. His naked breast gleamed white, his bloody side reddened, his stretched out innards dried out, the light of his eyes grew faint, his long arms stiffened, his marble legs hung down, a stream of holy blood moistened his pierced feet. Look, glorious father, at the torn limbs of your dear son, and remember with pity of what stuff I am made.”
And lastly, a Prayer to Christ from the great Anselm of Canterbury himself, one of the founders of scholasticism, but also someone who clearly involved himself in the new modes of piety of his day. The translation is by Benedicta Ward:
“Would that I with happy Joseph, might have taken down my Lord from the cross, wrapped him in spiced grave-clothes and laid him in the tomb; or even followed after so that such a burial might not have been without my mourning. Would that with the blessed band of women I might have trembled at the vision of angels and have heard the news of the Lord’s Resurrection, news of my consolation, so much looked for, so much desired.”
Image Two, a German Pieta:
The Met’s page, again, is Here.
Fulton, Rachel. From Judgement to Passion: Devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary, 800-1200. Columbia University Press, 2002.
Tanner, Norman. The Ages of Faith: Popular religion in late medieval England and Western Europe. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
The photo is, perhaps obviously, plain bread and water…