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From Judgment to Passion: Devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary, 800-1200.

FROM JUDGMENT TO PASSION: DEVOTION TO CHRIST AND THE VIRGIN MARY, 800-1200. By Rachel Fulton. New York: Columbia University, 2002. Pp. xvi + 676. $47.50.

Peter Damian, the eleventh-century church reformer, was a tortured man. Bewailing the "innumerable chains of sins" with which he felt bound, he confessed his exceeding misery and unhappiness. Even more unhappy and conscience-stricken was his fellow ascetic, Dominic, who performed feats of self-inflicted abuse that were the envy of the most dedicated self-flagellants, Peter included.

The fiercely punishing asceticism of these monks expressed what Rachel Fulton terms "affective devotion" to Christ crucified. Skeptics may doubt that such self-abuse comes properly under the rubric of devotion. F. argues that it does, and she takes what she terms the "hermeneutical leap" in textual interpretation to show that mere texts of prayers and biblical commentaries can demonstrate that medieval devotional development can be read as a history, not of doctrinal necessity, but of emotion. In F.'s intelligent, sensitive hands, prayer and commentary reveal people struggling to understand, to apprehend the Crucifixion, to identify and empathize with Christ's pain and with Mary's grief as she watched her son die. Moreover, F.'s study provides insights into how monks thought about the quintessentially human problems of pain, bodily death, and God.

F. devotes considerable attention to contextualization, exposing various and related devotional themes. One such theme is the need for devotional identity. The evidence indicates that identity was neither uniform nor static. In the period after 800, identity changed, and the changes were linked in some way to ongoing changing perceptions of Christ crucified, the Christus patiens of F.'s part 1. For the newly christianized Saxons of the ninth century, Christ was not unlike their defunct god, Woden. What their catechesis stressed, however, was that Christ, although apparently dead, remained vital and was present to them through his eucharistic real presence. Being Christian meant also having a new historical identity whose nature derived from their place within God's economy of salvation; yet, this history would end when Christ came in judgment. In the eleventh century, however, religious identity underwent a cataclysmic shock as two "Christological millennia" (71), the year 1000, marking the Incarnation, and 1033, the millennial date of the Crucifixion, passed uneventfully. Since Christ did not appear in apocalyptic judgment, people felt disoriented and alarmed by the apparent collapse of what they had held to be a structured religious reality; they had lost their history.

This loss had far-reaching repercussions for post-1033 devotional developments. People began to think about Christ and Mary in new and interesting ways that did not emphasize self-inflicted mortification. In the prayers and meditations composed by John of Fecamp and Anselm of Canterbury, F. finds evidence of a new devotional emphasis on Christ in his suffering humanity. So, in John's prayers, cringing fear of damnation gave way to heady feelings of exaltation in the Resurrection. Anselm, for his part, was every bit as fearful as Peter Damian of the worms in hell, but his prayers were shaped by a theology that entailed praising Christ not only as God-man but as the man who had died (190). Importantly, it was also a theology of gratitude whose exuberance spilled over to include Mary. "Mary," Anselm prayed, "how much we owe you, Mother and Lady, by whom we have such a brother! What thanks and praise can we return to you?" (192).

Part 2, Maria compatiens, examines the commentaries of Solomon's Song of Songs written by the twelfth-century monks Honorius Augustodunensis, Rupert of Deutz, Philip of Harvengt, and William of Newburgh. Here, F.'s hermeneutical method works brilliantly; few readers will fail to be gripped intellectually, even devotionally, by the impassioned story of consummately perfect, ineffable love--the ineffable love of a mother for her son, of a bride for her spouse, of a sister for her brother, and of God for humanity. Superbly and romantically imaginative, filled with tantalizing hermeneutical ambiguities, affective and provocative, the commentaries gave Mary a life, a voice, a will, and they expressed the inexpressible--Mary's perfect empathy with the Word, in love and anguish, which was both spiritual and fleshly. For these exegetes the Song was, fundamentally, a vita Mariae, the highlights of which were Incarnation, Crucifixion, and bodily assumption into heaven, all of which Mary experienced by virtue of her perfect union with her Son. Initially the silent, stoically impassive grieving mother of the Gospels and of St. Ambrose, by the end of the twelfth century, Mary was exalted as Queen of heaven, Bride of Christ, co-redeemer with Christ, intercessor par excellence, and paradigm of perfect love for Christ as God and man.

For F., the commentaries evidence a remarkable process whereby "formal exegesis became one of the preeminent vehicles for affective, compassionate mimesis" (197), that is, the commentaries became an actual means whereby the author identified cognitively, emotionally, and imaginatively with the transcendental reality of Mary's love for her son, of her son's love for his mother, and, ultimately, of God's love for humanity. There is nothing dull or uniform about how these affective identities were manifested either at the divine level in the fleshly oneness of Mary and Christ--Caro enim Jesu caro est Mariae (458)--or at the human level in, for example, the "pregnancy" of Rupert of Deutz. Issues--of gender ambiguity, of the body, of defining selfhood, of the masculine-feminine qualities of Christ and Mary, of the relation of author with text--raised by these deeply complex identity-inventions are all grist for F.'s historical mill, and she proves masterful in applying modern critical theory to elucidate them. Yet, at the end of this study, it is the medieval devotional texts that are memorable, for F. knows when to remain quiet, to step back and let the medieval voices be heard in their devotional struggles to empathize with and draw close to God in pain and in love.


Trinity College, Toronto
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Author:Cole, Penny J.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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