Reading Medieval Anchoritism

Reading Medieval Anchoritism: Ideology and Spiritual Practices

Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
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  • Book Info
    Reading Medieval Anchoritism
    Book Description:

    This interdisciplinary study of medieval English anchoritism from 1080-1450, explodes the myth of the anchorhold as solitary death-cell, reveals it instead as the site of potential intellectual exchange, and demonstrates an anchoritic spirituality in synch with the wider medieval world.

    eISBN: 978-0-7083-2506-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Series Editors’ Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    This book is the first study of normative English anchoritic ideology fromc.1080 toc.1450. A survey of the diachronic development of anchoritic ideological thought, it focuses on eight anchoritic guidance texts, including every extant guide originally intended for female English recluses, some of which have received comparatively little critical attention. It reveals an important, self-referential tradition of guidance writing in England, in operation throughout the entirety of the Middle Ages. This tradition quotes, revises and re-translates itself frequently, inspired by the desire to interrogate and solve what it sees as the vocation’s persistent problems and by the need to...

    • 1 Introducing the Guides
      (pp. 15-31)

      The earliest extant English anchoritic guide, Goscelin of St Bertin’sLiber confortatorius, was writtenc.1080 for the recluse Eve. It is extant in a single manuscript, London, British Library, MS Sloane 3103, of the abbey of Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte in Normandy; the mid-twelfth-century work of more than one scribe.² Like Aelred’s twelfth-century guide, theLiberis a letter and, like the thirteenth-centuryAncrene Wisse, it is of such a length that it is subdivided – in its case into four books and a prologue. Book I focuses on complaint and comfort. Therein, Goscelin alleges many grievances against Eve for her ‘desertion’ of...

    • 2 Anchoritic Enclosure
      (pp. 32-40)

      Permanent fixity of place is the ideal which is at the heart of earlier medieval guidance; a conception of enclosure that is terrifying and yet affords the recluse comfort, for the earlier guides suggest that the greatest blessings of anchoritism come in the form of its torments.Ancrene Wisseadvises its recluses to vow to ‘ stude-steaðeluestnesse’ (AW, Corpus, p. 3); to a cell broken open only in the face of extreme violence or on pain of death.¹ Recluses who refuse to leave even then are much admired, as in Goscelin’s tale of Brithric, who refuses to leave his cell...

    • 3 Anchoritic Solitude and Sociability
      (pp. 41-56)

      Barratt notes that ‘enclosure is not enough by itself to make a true solitary’; it must be accompanied by the renunciation of ‘the company of the good as well as … evil’.² Anselm compares the heart to a vessel which cannot be filled with oil if already partly full of water: ‘tanto minus capit oleum: ita cor, in quantum occupatur alio amore, in tantum excludit istum’ (Anselm, ‘Letter 112’, vol. 3, p. 246).³ Goscelin argues: ‘Vt solum accipias, sola huc intrasti. Clama, eiula, pulsa, ut aperiatur tibi. Luctare cum Domino donec superes: uim fac regno celorum ut intres’ (Liber, p....

    • 4 Anchoritism and Asceticism
      (pp. 59-80)

      Definitions of asceticism are seldom attempted by modern scholars. Henry Chadwick does not define it in his survey of the history of ascetical ideals.² Conrad Leyser does not gloss it in his survey volumeAuthority and Asceticism from Augustine to Gregory the Great, but instead conflates ‘ascetic’, ‘mystic’ and ‘religious’ and synonymizes the ‘ascetic’ with the ‘monastic movement’.³ Such synonymizations are common.⁴ The absence of ascetical definition results in extremely broad contemporary applications of the term, often too inclusive to be useful.⁵ These may focus on austerity and abstemiousness, but can obscure, through ambiguity, the precise nature of medieval asceticism,...

    • 5 Anchoritism and Contemplative Experience
      (pp. 81-107)

      Earlier anchoritic guidance is devoted to the exploration of asceticism, precisely because its central purpose is to equip the recluse contemplatively. Anselm advises his recluses: ‘Exceptis iis quae fragilitas humanae naturae ad suam exigit sustentationem … angelicam in omnibus considerate et imitamini conversationem. Haec contemplatio sit magistra vestra, haec consideratio sit regula vestra’ (Anselm, ‘Letter 230’, vol. 4, p. 135).¹ Goscelin argues that anchoritism ‘animam relaxat ab exterioribus curis, uocans in libertatem sue contemplationis’ (Liber, p. 89),² which he describes as a means whereby ‘ut de plurimis uenias ad unum, in quo sunt omnia’ (Liber, p. 89).³ Many famed, non-anchoritic...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 108-110)

    This book has revealed a tradition of anchoritic guidance writing in England in the Middle Ages; the product of overt and implicit relationships between many anchoritic guides. The eight guides upon which it has focused closely have been shown to negotiate four common anchoritic ideals: enclosure, solitude, chastity and orthodoxy, and two common spiritual practices: asceticism and contemplative experience. Yet, the emphasis placed upon each ideal, or spiritual practice, has been shown to vary from writer to writer, from period to period and, crucially, in tandem with wider changes in medieval culture. Each guide varies in its estimation of what...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 111-158)
  11. Appendix: Guidance Text Overview
    (pp. 159-168)
  12. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 169-184)
  13. Index
    (pp. 185-190)