Affective Meditation and the Invention of Medieval Compassion
Affective meditation on the Passion was one of the most
popular literary genres of the high and later Middle Ages.
Proliferating in a rich variety of forms, these lyrical,
impassioned, script-like texts in Latin and the vernacular had a
deceptively simple goal: to teach their readers how to feel. They
were thus instrumental in shaping and sustaining the wide-scale
shift in medieval Christian sensibility from fear of God to
compassion for the suffering Christ.
Affective Meditation and the Invention of Medieval
Compassion advances a new narrative for this broad cultural
change and the meditative writings that both generated and
reflected it. Sarah McNamer locates women as agents in the creation
of the earliest and most influential texts in the genre, from John
of Fécamp's Libellus to the Meditationes vitae
Christi, thus challenging current paradigms that cast the
compassionate affective mode as Anselmian or Franciscan in origin.
The early development of the genre in women's practices had a
powerful and lasting legacy. With special attention to Middle
English texts, including Nicholas Love's Mirror and a wide
range of Passion lyrics and laments, Affective Meditation and
the Invention of Medieval Compassion illuminates how these
scripts for the performance of prayer served to construct
compassion itself as an intimate and feminine emotion. To feel
compassion for Christ, in the private drama of the heart that these
texts stage, was to feel like a woman. This was an assumption about
emotion that proved historically consequential, McNamer
demonstrates, as she traces some of its legal, ethical, and social
functions in late medieval England.
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