"Understand, delight, and obey": Religious thought and the letter form, c. 1030-c.1200 /

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Bibliographic Details
Author / Creator:Fletcher, Christopher David, author.
Ann Arbor : ProQuest Dissertations & Theses, 2015
Description:1 electronic resource (396 pages)
Format: E-Resource Dissertations
Local Note:School code: 0330
URL for this record:http://pi.lib.uchicago.edu/1001/cat/bib/10773233
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Other authors / contributors:University of Chicago. degree granting institution.
Notes:Advisors: Rachel Fulton Brown Committee members: Jonathan Lyon; Willemien Otten.
This item is not available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses.
Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 77-02(E), Section: A.
Summary:In this dissertation, I demonstrate how religious thinkers shaped intellectual life in the eleventh and twelfth centuries by writing letters. Between roughly 1030 and 1200, religious thinkers of all stripes from across Latin Christendom wrote thousands of letters treating theological, moral, pastoral, and exegetical topics of various sorts, which suggest that this form of communication was essential to the study of the divine at this time. However, scholars have rarely taken up these texts as a subject of individual study, and usually relegated them to the margins of medieval intellectual history. In contrast, I argue that letters were central to eleventh- and twelfth-century intellectual life, as authors employed them as persuasive tools to shape human behavior according to divine truths.
The dissertation has two parts. In Part I (Chapters 1 and 2), I examine the methodological foundations of the practice of religious thought. I explain how the classical rhetorical theory and the ideals of spiritual reform movement combined to create the demand for Christian eloquence, a persuasive mode of religious thought in the middle of the eleventh century that was most easily expressed in letters. I also show how the major rhetorical characteristics of the epistolary genre (saying "you," the ability to manifest physical presence, the ability to reach a wide audience, and brevity) compelled religious thinkers to adapt how they expressed their ideas in order to effectively convince their fellow Christians to change their behavior.
In Part II (Chapters 3-5), I demonstrate how this eloquent and evangelical mode of divine investigation influenced some of the most important developments in high medieval religious thought: the growth of lay spirituality, the development of doctrine and orthodoxy, and spiritual reform. First, I show how a prominent eleventh-century religious thinker, Peter Damian, used letters to edify lay Christians by describing a lifestyle based on meditation, prayer, and penance that even those outside the cloister could follow. Second, I show how Lanfranc of Bec and other critics of the Eucharistic theology of Berengar of Tours wrote public letters to both refute Berengar and remake the process of doctrinal investigation by instituting disciplinary parameters for its study within the wider intellectual community. Finally, I examine how the affective and prophetic letters of the famed twelfth-century visionary Hildegard of Bingen functioned as the primary mechanism for reforming and maintaining the "right order" of the spiritual and temporal hierarchies.
In the end, my dissertation sheds light on the evangelical character of eleventh- and twelfth-century intellectual culture. In contrast to the traditional narratives of a privileged, esoteric, or insular form of intellectual life, my work here shows a culture that was proactive, didactic, and public. High medieval religious thinkers wrote so many letters during this period because these texts were best able to meet the evangelical need to make the divine understandable to one's contemporaries. I also sketch out the historical development of this mindset: its placement at the center of intellectual culture through the confluence of classical oratory and spiritual reform in the eleventh century, the inherently persuasive nature of its expression, its initial application to lay instruction, its passage into the uppermost levels of theological work, and its broad diffusion throughout society by the end of the twelfth century. I conclude that the widespread popularity of letters during the eleventh and twelfth centuries entrenched this character at the heart of intellectual culture, ensuring that it would continue to exert a profound influence on medieval thought and society into the later Middle Ages and beyond.