Impassioned mother or passive icon: the virgin's role in late medieval and early modern passion sermons.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken the flesh that was taken from me with such holiness and purity, conceived and born from the overshadowing and work of the Holy Spirit? I suffer in it, since it is one flesh with mine, its grief comes back to me. As of old, sin passed by woman to man, thus the grief of man returns to me, a woman; and by it I purchase and buy back the sin of Eve. And I am willing to suffer, since this pleases God. I consent that I be in some small way a partner and cause of redemption for the human race. And considering this, my grief and even greater grief pleases me if God wills to send it.(1)
Gerson attributes to the Virgin the dignity of being both a "partner" and a "cause" of human salvation. She is at the heart of the action, beside Jesus himself; and for Gerson, Mary's portion of Jesus's suffering stems from the common flesh that they share as mother and son.
Saint Francois de Sales, popular Catholic preacher and reformer of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, was also concerned with presenting in his sermons the relationship between Mary and the Passion of Christ on the cross. His version of the event, however, is strikingly different from Gerson's. According to de Sales, the Virgin, in keeping with her usual circumspect behavior, said "not a single word" at Calvary. She strove instead to listen to the words of her son.(2) In addition, de Sales explains, "The body of our Lady was not joined to and did not touch that of her son in his Passion, but in her soul she was inseparably united to the soul, to the heart, and to the body of her son, and if the blows that the blessed body of the Savior received on the cross did not wound the body of Our Lady, they were massive wounds to her soul."(3) De Sales continues to highlight the Virgin's suffering as she beholds her son's death, but he is insistent that her pain was in no way due to a mystical union of their flesh. She is also silent in de Sales's account, not speaking to Jesus, to the bystanders, or to the soldiers responsible for his agony.
The juxtaposition of these excerpts from the Passion sermons of two well-educated and popular Catholic preachers suggests that by the later sixteenth century, some preachers were beginning to modify their conception of the close ties that bound Mary to Jesus and therefore to alter as well their portrayal of the manner in which the Virgin shared in the sacrifice of the cross. These texts also point to one of the central issues involved in this change, the bodily relationship between the Virgin mother and her son.
Mary's physical relationship with Christ was the primary inspiration for the devotion surrounding her in the late Middle Ages. This was due in large part to the emphasis on the concrete and bodily aspects of worship so pervasive at the time. Piety was imbued with a sacramental and incarnational quality in which there was no hesitation to express the experience of God in ways that have seemed at best simplistic and at worst crude to some modern historians.(4) Yet both Caroline Walker Bynum in her innovative study Holy Feast and Holy Fast and Gail McMurray Gibson in The Theater of Devotion have rejected this purely negative assessment of later medieval religion. They uncover instead a rich tapestry of symbolism in the religious lives of late medieval women and in popular religious plays. Gibson identifies the "incarnational aesthetic" as the most significant facet of medieval English art and drama, and she is certain that it is for this reason that Mary plays so prominent a role in East Anglian drama in the fifteenth century.(5) The Virgin, through her participation in the Incarnation, had made it possible to encounter the divine by means of the human and the material. This event then validated the late medieval impulse to seek God and the saints in the host, in relics, and through images and symbols of all kinds.
In recent years a number of historians have discussed the ways in which changing religious perceptions in the early modern period resulted in a tendency among some Europeans to begin to exalt the inward and "spiritual" at the expense of the material.(6) This shift has been characterized as one in which "the religion of immanence was replaced by the religion of transcendence."(7) In other words, the late medieval religious approach that sought to apprehend the divine through visible and tangible means was overthrown in many areas by a theory of worship in which the divine retreated to the heavenly and transcendent realm. The spoken or written word then became the only point of contact between heaven and earth.(8) This was no accident, since the growth of literacy and literate modes of thought during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries undoubtedly contributed to both the increased interiority of religion in the period as well as to the greater importance placed on the written word of Scripture at the expense of non-literate and non-verbal sources of authority.(9) Among some religious groups, such as the Quakers, even the preached word and the written word of Scripture were considered too confining. The Holy Spirit would instead speak directly to the human heart without need of any external mediation.(10) While this modification in religious devotion obviously affected Protestantism most completely, nevertheless it also worked to transform the Catholic tradition as well.
At the same time, other scholars have revealed the corresponding growth of a more negative interpretation of the body, particularly of women's bodies, by churchmen, artists, and scientists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.(11) The intellectual traditions of Western Europe had for centuries associated the masculine with the mind and the spiritual, considered to be superior, and the feminine with all that was bodily or material and therefore inferior. The growth of more unfavorable views of the body would then be likely to produce, at least among elite men, a greater suspicion of women.
This essay seeks to examine some of these issues by exploring their connection to one specific but central aspect of Catholic devotion in the late medieval and early modern period: the portrayal of the Virgin Mary in popular sermons on the Passion of Christ. The Virgin Mary was the most prominent figure in late medieval piety after her son, and she was at the center of the theological controversies in the sixteenth century. The continuing popularity and importance of Mary's cult therefore provides an important link between the two periods. Because the Virgin is a woman whose significance was almost always publicly articulated by men, she can also be a means for identifying changing official attitudes to women in this era.
The presentation of Mary in the sermon literature is significant because the public sermon was often a composite of the formal theology of the schools, where most preachers were trained, and of the wider religious culture of the day, common to both preachers and their hearers. The sermons examined here are by some of the most prominent preachers of their day, men whose sermons were often read and copied by others.(12) The Passion sermon is particularly important because here, more than in some of the other forms of late medieval sermons, preachers felt free to elaborate on the Biblical narrative. On Good Friday these preachers became storytellers, attempting to depict the suffering of Christ and his mother in a way that would enable the people to appreciate the sacrifice made for them and turn to God in repentance. Not surprisingly, therefore, the medieval Passion sermon is one in which the Virgin emerges from her customary role as an icon of humility, obedience, and intercessory prayer to become an individual in her own right. This is often also true of sermons which deal with the Annunciation and Incarnation; however, the preachers usually surpass themselves in their imaginative treatment of Calvary and the events leading up to it. Mary is depicted as arguing with Jesus, seeking to persuade him to stay home when he insists on going to his death in Jerusalem. She rebukes the Roman soldiers who are crucifying Jesus, or she calls out to bystanders to supply him with water when he says, "I thirst," lamenting her own inability to aid him when once she had nursed him at her own breast.(13)
Whereas descriptions of the Virgin as a role-model for Christian behavior, particularly Christian women's behavior, tend to be predictable and even stereotypical in both the medieval and early modern periods, the presence of Mary in medieval Passion sermons is almost always marked by a creative dialogue and dramatic action that draw the hearer into a participation with her in the cycle of events surrounding the death of Christ. A comparison of these sermons with those being given in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries will show a marked shift in the Virgin's participation at Calvary. The Virgin of the early modern Passion sermon will reflect changing religious sensibilities, and she will also become a testament to the growing contemporary distrust of the body and of active public involvement by women. Even the mention of her presence and suffering declines sharply in the post-Tridentine period. She is most often silent; and when references are made to her body, it is to say that her pain was entirely internal, scarcely perceptible to those who were present with her, save for the silent witness of her tears.
So much attention to the Virgin's presence at Calvary might seem a bit strange when one considers the scarcity of Biblical references to her sharing in Jesus' Passion.(14) Jean Gerson reprimanded the four evangelists in his Passion sermon for such a lack of information concerning Mary at this crucial time. Gerson exclaims, "I ask you then, the true recorders and historians of the life and works of Jesus Christ, you my lords the evangelists, why have you written nothing of your good lady and mistress, where she was, what became of her?"(15) Like all other medieval preachers, however, Gerson did not allow the scarcity of details regarding Mary's life to prevent him from supplying his hearers with a full description of Mary's experiences on Good Friday.(16)
Passion sermons in the later Middle Ages were the product of interaction with many aspects of contemporary piety. They were certainly inspired by hymns, popular Passion plays, and accounts of the Via Dolorosa followed in Jerusalem by pilgrims to the Holy land.(17) Devotional literature also contributed to their content. Two of the most influential and often-quoted works were the Meditationes vitae christi, thought at the time to be by Saint Bonaventure, and Ubertino of Casale's Arbor vitae crucifixae iesu, both dating from the beginning of the fourteenth century.(18) The Speculum humanae salvationis, composed at Strasbourg in 1324 by Ludulphus of Saxony, devoted all of chapter twenty-seven to Mary's lament.(19) It was common for this work to come with miniature Marian offices for the seven sorrows or "swords" attached.(20) Sermons reflected, too, the liturgical experiences of the people. From the thirteenth century the "Planctus Mariae," Mary's lament, was performed in churches on Good Friday or even on Holy Thursday. By the fifteenth century some churches were using the "Dialogus mariae cure populo" in which the people themselves spoke verses interspersed with Mary's lines.(21)
As late medieval preachers looked for ways to describe the exact nature of Mary's involvement in the Passion, they not only attempted to set forth her pain in a very human and sympathetic way; they also constructed a Passion narrative in which the Virgin was actively involved from beginning to end. Several preachers, Gerson, Olivier Maillard, and Gabriel Barletta, offered details of the final parting of mother and son before the Passion. According to Gerson and Maillard, Mary reconciled herself to Jesus' inevitable suffering in her son's own words to the Father: "Thy will be done."(22) Also standard in most sermons were accounts of the Virgin encountering Jesus as he carried his cross to Calvary. Often, as Jesus falls under the weight of the cross, his mother faints in sympathy for and duplication of his pain.(23)
At times, preachers ascribed to the Virgin the duties of a priest offering the sacrificial victim to God, and at others they scarcely distinguished between the physical passion of Christ and what was generally understood to be a reflection of his pain in the compassion of Mary's soul. In keeping with the overall nature of late medieval religion, most preachers could not refrain from presenting the Virgin's compassion in very bodily and concrete ways.
Already in the twelfth century Saint Bernard of Clairvaux had established a clear precedent for associating Mary with a priestly role in one of his sermons for the festival of the Purification, celebrated by the Church as Candlemass on 2 February. As Mary brings her son to be circumcised and dedicated in the temple, Saint Bernard compared her to the priest who sacrificially offers the body of Christ in the mass. He commands Mary, "Offer your son, sacred Virgin, and present the blessed fruit of your womb to God. Offer the blessed host, pleasing to God, for the reconciliation of us all.(24)
This theme was repeated in the popular Speculum humanae salvationis. The candles dedicated and offered to God by the faithful on 2 February are symbols of the supreme candle, the light of the world, offered by the Virgin. "Marye to Godde in that feest offird a candel bright,/The whilk Seinte Symeon cald thus: 'revelacioune of/folkes light.'/Jhesu Crist, Marie son, is this candel brynnung.... /This candele to God the fadere was offrid for hele of man,/Be Whilk the nyght of our derknesse was lightened than.(25) In the service of Candlemass, worshipers took the part of the Virgin Mary, offering Christ to God the Father who then used this sacrificial giving to bestow grace in return. It is no wonder that it seemed so natural for people to return home with their candles and expect them to bless and protect their family and dwelling from danger. The incarnational symbolism was further elaborated when those candles were melted and formed into crosses placed over doors, in stables or on wagons and ploughs.(26)
Later medieval preachers continued the tradition of attributing to Mary a quasi-priestly office, both in the dedication of Christ in the temple and in his crucifixion. In his sermon on the Purification, Dominican Gabriel Barletta quoted Albert the Great that the God of the Old Testament was more inclined to justice than mercy, and many offerings had been made through the centuries to appease his anger. "But today, walking into the temple, her son enclosed in her arms, was one who said to him, 'Receive this offering which your handmaid brings O Holy Father'.... When God saw this, moved by mercy, he said, 'No longer will my spirit remain eternally in indignation against Man.'"(27) Elsewhere Barletta declared that even though Mary was very grieved in watching her son die, she nevertheless "wished him to die for the salvation of the human race ... if no other means had been found, she herself would have killed her own son."(28)
French Franciscan Michel Menot also compared Mary to Abraham in her willingness to offer Jesus at God's command; but he stopped short of Barletta's rather extreme statement. He says he heard it said in a Parisian convent that as a last resort Mary would have killed Jesus herself, but such things only serve to scandalize one's hearers.(29)
None of these preachers actually suggested that Mary had ever been ordained a priest; and they certainly did not intend to imply that women in general could or should be priests. As Bynum explains, they were taking advantage of the freedom and complexity of medieval religious symbols to express a particular truth. To cast Mary as priest was to place her in a male role with female characteristics. Instead of a woman, men who are priests must now lay the table and prepare the food for the people to eat. Medieval mystical literature often used gender reversal to speak of the clergy as pregnant with Jesus or as cooks who prepared Christ as food in the Eucharist. Since the twelfth century Christ himself had been described from time to time as a mother who nourishes her young.(30)
The importance of this priestly language and symbolism for the cult of Mary in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries is the dignity that it bestows on her as coparticipant with God in the act of offering Christ for the salvation of the world. As the mother of his human nature, she willingly presented as oblation the body so dear to her and taken from her own flesh. The spouse of God in the Incarnation, Mary the mother, like God the Father, was prepared to suffer the pain resulting from such a sacrifice.(31)
Sermons and literature of the late Middle Ages were no less ready to assert Mary's share in the actual atoning death of Christ itself. To quote the Speculum humanae salvationis, "And als crist overcome the feende be his seint passioune, so did eke blissid marie be modrefulle compassioune."(32) The popular fourteenth-century saint, Bridget of Sweden (1301-73) said that Christ had spoken to her in a vision saying, "And therefore I can well say that my mother and I have saved Man as it were with one heart, I by suffering in my heart and flesh, she in the sorrow and love of the heart."(33)
This is the traditional interpretation of Mary's compassion, Christ suffering in body and soul, Mary in heart and soul. Such a comparison was almost inevitable since Simeon had predicted that Mary's soul would also be pierced by a sword. Numerous medieval theologians used similar language to supply an intimate link between Mary's sorrow and the crucifixion of her son.(34) It was a way of presenting Mary as a participant while making a clear distinction between Mary and Jesus as to the type of offering and the degree of suffering involved.
As a permanent part of the Church's symbolic tradition, the distinction between Passion of body and compassion of soul remained in the later Middle Ages. But because of the propensity of late medieval imagery to stress the bodily ties between Mary and Jesus and to see Virgin mother and divine Son as nearly equal, the difference between them in their sacrifice at Calvary became much less discernable. Many preachers were prepared to assure their hearers that Mary, too, had experienced acute bodily suffering in a number of ways.
San Bernardino of Siena represents a certain transition from the earlier to the later approach. While maintaining Christ's bodily pain as distinct from Mary's grief, he described the two as so unified by their experience that Mary actually became one with Jesus on the cross. Mary, he declared, came closer to Jesus's cross than anyone else, "because she did not only stand beside the cross, indeed, she truly hung on the cross, for nothing of herself remained in her. All was mingled by love, and while he offered his body, she offered her spirit."(35) Also in the same sermon, he declared Mary to be so distraught during the commemoration of the Passion on Good Friday that she could not attend to any prayers offered her. Instead, he said, we find her "with her beloved son, so horribly despised and crucified, and with all her heart, in all senses and thoughts suffering with him and thereby completely transformed into him.
Michel Menot pictured Mary's heart transfixed by the sword of compassion while she railed at Jesus' crucifiers and begged to be crucified with him. "Then gathering his blood in her hands she bathed her sweet face in it."(37) Gabriel Barletta declared that Mary's suffering exceeded that of any of the martyrs, "first because hers was a martyrdom of love, theirs of faith; second, the others were punished in their bodies, but she in her heart; third, because others suffered after Christ, but she with Christ, and in Christ and by the same blows as Christ."(38)
These passages from Barletta, Menot, and San Bernardino fall fully within the mainstream of ideas concerning Mary's compassion whale at the same time emphasizing as much as possible her unity with Christ in suffering. Yet there was also a history of ascribing bodily pain to Mary at least as old as John Damascene (c. 675-749). Bernardino of Busti quoted John that "the griefs which the Virgin avoided in giving birth she sustained in the Passion of Christ. "(39) Barletta pictured the ravaged physical appearance of Mary as she wept at the cross: "We see her, mourning, her face dirty, her hair torn." She calls on all to weep with her, "for all the griefs of giving birth and of death were reserved for her today; because she loved her son above all others."(40) Barletta continued by quoting Saint Bernard, "She herself wanted to suffer with her son for the salvation of the world and, as Saint Bernard said, 'She desired to add her own blood and with her son to celebrate the evening sacrifice.'"(41)
Olivier Maillard appears to have been particularly fascinated by the special ties linking the bodies of Mary and Jesus. In his Passion narrative, he recreated the dialogue between mother and son when Jesus informed Mary that he must go to Jerusalem to die. Once Mary is convinced that he must indeed leave her, Maillard interjects his own comment, "O sinners, what was possible between those two virginal bodies?"(42) Maillard continues, "Then Jesus embraced the Virgin Mary in his virginal arms and the Blessed Virgin said to her son, 'It will soon be the twenty-fifth of March, the day on which I conceived you. At least for the honor of that day, I have wished that I might dine with you and hear you speak before you go.' Christ answered, 'You and I will soon be in a harsh cathedral where I will preach, and I will say words that I have never said before, and we will eat together at one most cruel table, where there will be no one but the two of us: it will be the table of the cross.'"(43)
This is a complex and important passage. In only a few sentences Maillard has tied together Mary's conception of Christ, the virginal bodies that both possess as a result, and the fact that Mary must then share in the bitter meal of Christ's suffering and final words served on the table of the cross. It is an effective and condensed presentation of almost all of the significant themes relating Mary bodily to Christ's work of redemption.
Jean Gerson and Bernardino of Busti were most explicit in their connection between the suffering flesh of Jesus and that of Mary. As we saw at the opening of this article, Gerson described Mary as suffering in the flesh of Christ because it was one with hers, thereby allowing her to reverse the curse laid on mankind by God because of Eve's sin.(44) Gerson is unique among the preachers of this study for linking the close bodily association of Mary and Christ in the Passion to Mary's claim to be the Second Eve. Most preachers preferred to contrast Eve's disobedience with Mary's choice to obey the will of God and bear the savior. Gerson reveals his sensitivity to the growing cult of the sorrows of Mary as well as to the more obvious use of bodily imagery in the later Middle Ages when he joins these two themes.
Like Gerson, Bernardino of Busti believed the perfection of Mary's compassion was the result of her shared flesh with Christ. He stated that "because the body of Christ was taken from the substance of the Virgin, she was therefore closest to him in grief."(45) He quoted from Ubertino of Casale's Arbor vitae to say that the Virgin "is the ark and chest of the bodily sorrows of the good Jesus."(46) Busti also drew on several Franciscan scholars to support this point. Alexander of Hales was used to say that while Mary's rational faculties rejoiced at Jesus' death because in charity she knew that it would bring salvation, the inferior sensual part of her nature caused her to grieve in both body and soul.(47) Finally, in Nicholas of Lyra he found the fullest support for the belief that Mary's suffering was also physical as well as emotional. Lyra said that Mary's martyrdom was more severe than that of all other martyrs "because the grief of passion begins with a wound to the flesh, felt by the senses and then overflows into the soul. But the grief of compassion arises and begins in the soul and overflows into the senses and flesh ... therefore since the soul is more powerful and more dominant over the flesh, and the flesh is more delicate and subject to the soul, the overflowing from soul to body is much greater."(48)
Bynum has argued that a spirituality that emphasizes the bodily side of human nature is less likely to insist on a strict dichotomy between body and soul, and more likely to magnify the importance of the bodily human nature that Mary provided for Christ. Several medieval women mystics, Hildegard of Bingen, Elizabeth of Schonau, and Saint Catherine of Siena, often equated "humanity" with both the body and "woman" because Eve, unlike Adam, was made purely of flesh and was therefore a better symbol for the weakness and fleshliness of humanity. Hildegard went so far as to say that female flesh, the bodily humanity Christ assumed from Mary, had redeemed the world.(49) Saint Catherine said of Mary's experience at Calvary, "Oh sweetest love, which was the sword that pierced the heart and soul of the mother: The Son was broken in body, and the mother similarly, for his flesh was from her. Indeed it is just that she suffered in what befell him for he took his immaculate flesh from her."(50)
In the writings of these mystics and underlying the sermons of Maillard, Gerson, and Busti, there is a common understanding of human nature as essentially bodily and feminine. They were convinced that Mary suffered with Christ on the cross because it was her humanity that he bore, hers doubly because of the medieval association of "woman" with human weakness and suffering and because he drew his flesh from her body. Present also is a profound sense of the interconnectedness of body and soul. Experiences affecting the one will necessarily "overflow" into the other, for without a body as well as a soul, human nature remains incomplete. Christ was required to suffer in body and soul to redeem humanity. Mary, then, if she were to be at all a coparticipant in his Passion, would have to endure fleshly as well as spiritual pain. Mother and son are presented as persons who share an almost mystical unity in suffering guaranteed by their common flesh. It is a oneness capable of transcending the limitations of space, reminiscent of the mystery of the Eucharist in which the body of Christ may be present on many altars, yet without division. Characteristics usually associated with the spiritual realm, or at least with the transformed and resurrected body of Christ, are here freely attributed to the materiality of normal, if immaculate human flesh.(51)
Based on what has been seen so far of late medieval Passion sermons, preachers had been inspired to dwell on the bodily torment of Christ; and they often chose likewise to illustrate the Virgin's compassion by a dramatic presentation of its physical manifestations. This was not the case, however, with the more important preachers of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The catechism of the Council of Trent may have set the stage for a reworking of the Passion as it was presented to the people by choosing to stress Jesus' spiritual agony in its exposition of the article in the Apostle's Creed dealing with his death. While pointing out that of course Jesus had suffered greater physical pain than any person had ever endured,(52) this pain was not the cause of his death. He died "not so much by external violence, as by internal assent."(53)
Saint Francois de Sales made exactly the same point in a sermon given for the feast of the Assumption. Christ had suffered more bodily anguish than anyone had ever experienced. Nevertheless, "all these afflictions, all these blows ... were unable to cause him to die.... He died of love, this savior of my soul.... He was offered, because he himself willed it."(54) De Sales suggests that, unlike other human bodies, Jesus' body could not be killed by physical actions alone, even the brutal act of crucifixion. He died because he chose, in love, to allow his body to die when otherwise it would have continued to live. Jesus' death was caused by an inward act of the will.
In keeping with this desire to present the deepest pain of Christ as one of heart and soul, some preachers began to speak of Christ's heart being wounded by the sword of grief that would also pierce the heart of his mother, a foretaste perhaps of the soon to be popular cult of the Sacred Heart. Cardinal Bellarmine declared that Christ's suffering was intensified by that of his mother, for after God the Father he loved no one as much as Mary. The sword of grief pierced his heart even before hers, "nor did it come to the heart of the mother unless through the heart of the Son. This, therefore, is the interior cross ... which wrung that sweat and blood from the Lord's body."(55) Saint Lawrence of Brindisi also agreed that Christ's griefs were so many swords "transfixing his heart."(56)
Given these emphases when speaking of Jesus himself, perhaps it is not surprising that preachers would highlight the emotional pain of his mother Mary. Yet the most striking aspect of the later sixteenth-century Passion sermons is the small amount of time devoted to Mary's compassion at all. Often she scarcely appears except in reference to Jesus' words to her from the cross. Only de Sales gives her a place of prominence somewhat comparable to the one that she held in the Passions of the late Middle Ages. Preachers speak with great warmth concerning Mary's suffering, but they do so most often in sermons specifically devoted to Mary and intended for use on one of the Marian feast days. For example, even Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, a fervent devotee of Mary's cult, pays scant attention to her when he preaches on the Passion.(57)
Whenever they speak of her suffering, most later preachers describe Mary's compassion as emotional, a blow to the heart rather than the body. As we have seen, de Sales explicitly denied any bodily connection between the Virgin and her son on the cross. Saint Peter Canisius argued that Mary was more than a martyr because she "suffered in that part [the soul] which is held to be impassible" and "because she suffered spiritually and horribly from the sword of compassion for Christ."(58) Of the preachers examined here, only Cardinal Bellarmine mentions the bodily unity of Mary and Jesus in the context of the Passion, though in a sermon on the Resurrection. He says that Mary was "of one bone," and "of one flesh" with Jesus, and "was certainly [with him] fixed to the cross."(59)
It was, of course, the Virgin's love for her son that caused her to grieve so deeply at his death. Saint Francois de Sales and Saint Lawrence of Brindisi give Mary's love a particularly prominent place in their sermons. Saint Lawrence concluded that Mary's grief was as great as her love for Jesus. Since he excelled all other sons, Mary's love and grief were greater than any other mother's,(60) and her suffering brought her true martyrdom at the Passion.(61) De Sales explained the actual death of Mary as a result of both her close spiritual union with Jesus and her love for him. Mary died in the death of Jesus because although they were two persons, they shared "in one heart, in one soul, in one spirit, in one life."(62) Mary's heart was pierced by a "spiritual" sword that wounds "the spirit and not the flesh;" nevertheless, it was the eventual cause of her death.(63) De Sales describes Mary's death in highly romantic terms. She could be the heroine of a nineteenth-century novel, pining away with grief for her lost lover. De Sales preached these words in a sermon on the Assumption, delivered at Paris in 1602. "Alas! her treasure, that is, her Son, was in heaven, her heart was no longer within her.... In brief, her heart, her soul, her life was in heaven. How could she have remained on earth? Then finally after so many spiritual flights, so many ecstasies, this holy castle of chastity, this fortress of humility, having sustained miraculously thousands of assaults of love was taken captive by one last general assault. The love that vanquished her, led her beautiful soul as his prisoner, leaving only pale cold, death in her sacred body."(64)
Many theologians and preachers of the late sixteenth century continued to set forth Mary's role at the Passion in priestly language, as though she were making a sacrificial offering. Francisco Suarez (d. 1617) was the first major theologian to develop a systematic Mariology in the sixteenth century; and he spoke of Mary placing the victim "near the altar at the appointed hour."(65) Both Saint Lawrence and Cardinal Bellarmine used sacerdotal imagery to refer to Mary. Both men also compare the Virgin to Abraham who was willing at God's command to sacrifice his only son. Saint Lawrence's statement sums up these themes well. "But did Mary not come through for us at the crucial moment of life when she stood next to the cross of Christ, as Abraham, full and more than full of the Spirit, truly sacrificing him in spirit to God, and truly offering him in charity for the salvation of the world? ... The spirit of Mary was a spiritual priest, as the cross was an altar and Christ the sacrifice; and if the spirit of Christ himself was the principal priest, the spirit of Mary was one with the spirit of Christ. Indeed she was one with him in spirit as one soul in two bodies."(66) Saint Lawrence is careful to refer to Mary's participation as purely spiritual, avoiding any suggestion of bodily unity with Jesus.
The greatest departure from this conventional description of Mary's role in redemption comes from Saint Francois de Sales. In an unprecedented change in centuries of tradition, he declares during a sermon on the Purification that it might have been not the Virgin mother but Saint Joseph who offered Jesus to God in the temple. Fathers usually do this, he says, because they "have a greater part than mothers" in their children. De Sales doesn't explain here what he means, but he does add a ritual explanation for his idea. He says that since Mary would not yet have been purified; in obedience to the law, she would not have approached the altar of God.(67)
De Sales also denies the Virgin an active role at the cross. Her greatest contribution was in not resisting the will of God in the death of Jesus. Transfixed by grief, she still stood obediently at the foot of the cross in "perfect submission" to the divine plan.(68) She did not faint or make an excessive outward show of her grief, as some painters falsely portray. She remained upright and firm, her only grief an inward pain from the interior crucifixion of her soul.(69)
Finally, de Sales asserts that the Virgin was silent at Calvary. There was, to be sure, a form of communication between mother and son at the cross. It was a language of the heart, however, in which the souls of Jesus and Mary speak to each other without benefit of the audible word. For this kind of communion, the body is superfluous; as Saint Lawrence confirms when he says that while Mary stood bodily at the cross, she was there "even more in spirit."(70)
Cardinal Bellarmine attributes Mary's silence, and Jesus' as well, to grief. He says, "I indeed believe that the tongues of both were as mute because of such great sorrow, and that they were able to speak either not at all or only a little; but nevertheless the natural affection of the son was able to say a great deal to the heart of the Virgin."(71)
For de Sales, Mary's silence on Calvary was a virtue which she had practiced all her life. When there was no room to be had at the inn in Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus, she did not complain or "say a word"; and she did not speak when the Magi came to adore the Christ child. "But you see that which is most admirable on the mount of Calvary, she made no outburst nor said a single word." Instead she sought only to listen to her son.(72) As with Bellarmine, de Sales is still certain that communication occurred. He proclaims, "And how great were the griefs which then pierced the sacred heart of our beloved and divine Savior. No one knows of it except he who suffered them and the holy Virgin Our Lady, who was at the foot of the cross, to whom undoubtedly he communicated them and who pondered them within herself.... But in so far as his greatest griefs were interior, they were known only to him who suffered them and to his holy Mother who participated in them."(73)
We have come a long way from the Mary of late medieval sermons whose face was distorted by tears and bathed in the blood of Jesus as it poured from his wounds, the Mary who fainted at the sight of her son carrying his cross and who swooned once again when his dead body was removed from its beams. That Mary would have cried out in pain, rebuking Jesus's executioners and lamenting with an eloquence born of grief his unjust death. The Mary of the late sixteenth century is controlled and silent. As we shall see, she is, in the end, closer to the Virgin traditionally put forward as the image of proper female deportment.
Throughout the medieval and early modern periods, the Virgin Mary has served, along with her son, as a convenient role model for the Christian life. As a woman, the Virgin was also useful to preachers as a means to illustrate behavior that they felt to be appropriate specifically for the female sex. This was usually accomplished by stressing the differences between the way that Mary lived her life and the way that contemporary women chose to conduct themselves. There is scarcely room in the space of an article on Mary at the cross to bring out all of the gender themes associated with her in popular sermons. There is one theme, however, that stands in stark contrast to the ways in which we have seen her portrayed in medieval Passion sermons: Mary as quiet, enclosed, contemplative. Preachers in both the late Middle Ages and post-Tridentine era alike were convinced, or at least tried to convince their hearers, that the Virgin had led a life of privacy and prayer, scarcely venturing out of her house for any reason. She had avoided the public sphere, preferring to keep to herself in her chamber.
San Bernardino of Siena was interested in presenting Mary as a model of the virgin life, to be imitated by all virgins, religious or secular. His sermon for the Saturday of Holy Week is an extended exhortation to women to follow in the footsteps of Mary by remaining modest virgins. Mary remained at home, in the quiet of her room, and asked even Gabriel for his identity before admitting him. The Holy Spirit shows us through Mary's life that virgins and women should "not go about and wander to other houses nor go around visiting the sights of the world."(74) San Bernardino advises women to flee all male society, even of brothers and relatives. They should be as wild animals who are frightened by the sight or sound of a man. This is the only way in which women can be ready at all times to listen to God's voice and to desire only God and divine things.(75)
Bernardino of Busti taught exactly the same thing in one of his sermons on the Visitation. Mary remained about three months in Zechariah's house, not traveling around the countryside, to teach us "to flee the conversations of men, which ought to be avoided especially by virgins and other young women."(76) In addition, Michel Menot listed Mary's modesty as a reason for the Spirit's presence with her;(77) and Gabriel Barletta insisted that she never even went to the window of her room in order to escape public view.(78)
Finally, Jean Gerson urged the imitation of Mary's virginity and humility. He advised those who would copy her example to shun idleness, strong wine, and occasions for evil. The latter can best be accomplished by remaining at home. The angel, after all, found Mary alone, "not out talking to Berthe or Gaulthier."(79)
Preachers of the late sixteenth century continued the earlier portrayal. Saint Lawrence remarks that when Gabriel approached Mary, she was "separated from the world in both mind and spirit; therefore she was found at home, alone."(80) Bellarmine also adds that the angel did not find Mary going about to parties and dances where the flames of concupiscence could be fanned. She was "enclosed in her chamber." She always avoided men, and certainly never spoke alone with them in her room. Someone else was always present.(81)
Saint Francois de Sales repeats all of the above arguments, that Mary was always alone, not speaking with men, like someone who had taken religious vows.(82) Unlike women of the present day, Mary did not leave her home to visit other women for useless conversations. When the Virgin visited Elizabeth, she hastened to her house as soon as possible to shorten her exposure to the eyes of the world.(83)
So we find that the public portrait of the Virgin as quiet and secluded remains a constant during a period in which the account of her behavior during the Passion is undergoing a marked change. Since Mary was being held up as a model for women to imitate, a question immediately arises regarding the relationship between her ostensible lifestyle and that of actual European women of the day.
With the exception of nuns and perhaps a few noble women, there can surely have been few women whose lives matched the withdrawn contemplation offered them for imitation. The urban women of the late Middle Ages and early modern period who would have been most likely to hear these sermons were usually involved actively in productive labor of some kind, often in the family business.(84) Nor were they known for their subdued demeanor in public, particularly in times of economic, political, or religious disturbance. As Natalie Davis shows in "Women on Top," medieval medical theory as well as popular stereotypes reinforced the notion that women were naturally inclined to unruly acts. She argues that these pervasive ideas could actually serve to free women to participate in grain riots, religious violence, or political protests since the law, following the belief that women were the "sexus imbecillus," punished them less harshly than men for the same offenses. Men might even encourage their wives to riotous behavior or dress as women themselves to hide their own political actions and beliefs.(85) Whatever preachers may have instructed women to do, in fact they acted, spoke out, and were often leaders in opposing perceived religious or social injustice.
Is there any place in the sermon literature where the Virgin resembles at all the actual lives of women who listened to public sermons? Certainly she gave birth to a child, and women could and did identify with this.(86) But in so far as women were active and vocal within the community, they could only turn to the Virgin of the late medieval Passion narrative for inspiration. Here they found Mary out in the crowded streets, following the throng to Calvary, fainting with grief but also crying out at the injustice of Jesus' death and calling for those around to weep with her or offer him water. Here is a Virgin mother who is a real, flesh and blood woman, behaving as anyone would have expected a mother to do. The question to be asked in turning to the post-Tridentine sermons can only be, "Why has this active Mary disappeared?" Besides the change outlined above, in which these later sermons suggest an altered perception of the Virgin's bodily ties to Jesus at the Passion, there is now the added problem of accounting for the fact that those same sermons also reflect to a lesser degree the experiences and attitudes of real women, who did not abandon the prerogative of public action in the sixteenth century.(87)
The Council of Trent is a logical place to begin when attempting to explain the differences between late medieval and early modern Catholic sermons. Undoubtedly, one of the factors that led to a revised portrait of the Virgin at the cross was the need to respond to Protestant charges of "excesses" and lack of adherence to Scripture in earlier Catholic piety and preaching. As a result of the reforms of Trent, the church exercised much greater control over all aspects of preachers lives and certainly over the subjects that they were permitted to include in their sermons.(88) Since one of the most persistent criticisms of Catholic piety, by Catholic humanists as well as by Protestants, had been that it gave undue emphasis to the Virgin and saints, preachers may have felt it necessary to show greater restraint in speaking of Mary. The Passion of Christ was the central act of human redemption, and preachers perhaps were urged to concentrate on Jesus himself and give Mary a less prominent place when treating it in their sermons.
Certainly by the later sixteenth century humanism had had an observable impact on public preaching. New preaching manuals, intended to replace the medieval artes praedicandi, were usually written by men with classical humanist training who sought to equip Catholic preachers throughout Europe with skills that had already been developed during the fifteenth century by Italian preachers at the papal court.(89) Sermons often became simpler in structure, employing a flowery rhetoric that was intended to inspire devotion to morality and the Catholic Church rather than dispute doctrinal points.(90) In their explication of Scripture, many preachers began to follow the manuals' instructions to focus on the literal rather than the allegorical sense of the text. They stressed the need for a new and more disciplined hierarchical society of the faithful in which each level dutifully obeyed the one above. Finally, these preachers promised the rewards of heaven to loyal and moral Catholics and assured their hearers that the pains of hell awaited sinful unbelievers, chief of whom were the Protestant followers of Luther and Calvin.(91)
Overall, however, this humanist influence on the structure and content of sermons appears to have had only a limited impact on the passionate popular sermons, examined here, that continued to be devoted to the Virgin Mary. While there may have been a greater emphasis on the literal text of Scripture, the Catholic Church after Trent continued to teach a number of doctrines concerning Mary that are not found directly in the New Testament: her perpetual virginity, Assumption, and Immaculate Conception. As we have seen, Saint Lawrence of Brindisi continues to portray Mary as a "spiritual" priest offering Christ to God the Father in her heart as she stood by the cross. This is certainly not a Biblical theme. In addition, Saint Lawrence also stresses that the Virgin and her son were united as one soul in two bodies, once again insisting on bodily separateness in the midst of dealing with a theme popular since the Middle Ages.(92) There was also no attempt by the Church to eliminate Marian feast days or to lessen popular devotion to the Virgin. In fact, adherence to Mary's cult and to the Rosary became one of the hallmarks of orthodoxy in the late sixteenth century, distinguishing the Catholic faithful from Protestant "heretics."(93) In short, popular sermons on the Virgin did not become excessively formalized, subdued, or less creative, although preachers did tend to distance themselves from their hearers in a way that conformed to the post-Tridentine view of the preacher as someone who should maintain an air of authority over his flock. Preachers nevertheless continued to inspire their audiences by constructing fictional dialogue involving Mary and by imaginative treatment of various events in her life.(94) Saint Francois de Sales's description of the Virgin's death, pining away with grief because she was separated from her son who was now in heaven, is an obvious example.(95)
Nor did preachers hesitate to proclaim that ecclesiastical tradition was sufficient authority for controversial Marian beliefs and practices.(96) The Holy Spirit had not ceased to instruct the Church after the completion of the New Testament canon. If the Church's tradition alone was deemed sufficient to authorize belief in disputed Marian dogmas, why would it not have been adequate justification for a continued emphasis on the Virgin's bodily unity with Jesus at Calvary? Also, in light of some of the enthusiastic claims that preachers continued to make about Mary in other sermons, why would they single out the Virgin of the Passion for such great alteration? Was it really necessary or realistic to claim that she had been completely silent? Why was it no longer appropriate to argue that she had clung to the cross or fainted with grief? Such acts may not be included in Scripture, but they scarcely contradict it.
These changes in sermons dealing with the Virgin's compassion need to be put into the context of the larger trend within the Catholic Church and European Christianity generally to exalt inner spirituality and virtue rather than external devotion. This trend, supported by humanists such as Erasmus, affected the public portrayal of all the saints and of Jesus himself.(97) Relics, images, and pilgrimages certainly did not disappear or lose their significance in the sixteenth century, but the Church's hierarchy increasingly recommended that the faithful concentrate on the inner acquisition of virtue and the conquest of vice, looking to the saints primarily as moral role models.(98) Proclamations of the Virgin's shared flesh with her son and physical manifestations of her suffering were more at home in the world of late medieval piety. They did not typify the modest, restrained, and disciplined religious life sought by the Church after Trent.
Finally, the changes in the popular portrayal of Mary outlined in this article are in accord with the conclusions of other historians who have examined the changing perceptions of the body in the early modern period. The downplaying of Mary's physical participation at the cross coincided with a growing suspicion of the body, and of women's bodies specifically, in European society as a whole.(99) This suspicion manifested itself in cultural realms as diverse as witchcraft trials, art works, and Cartesian epistemology; and it provides one more reason why portrayals of the Virgin would prefer to dwell on her soul and inner emotions rather than her body.
Most historians would now agree that distrust of women was growing in the sixteenth century. In her recent study of preaching in France in the late Middle Ages and Reformation Soldiers of Christ, Larissa Taylor argues that sixteenth-century preachers were less likely than their medieval predecessors to present positive images of women in their sermons. Instead, they often insisted on the greater weakness of women than men, and described even Mary Magdalen as an "imbecile" for seeking to touch Christ after the Resurrection.(100)
Analyses of the witch craze in the early modern period by Joseph Klaits and by other historians point to negative attitudes toward women and toward female nature generally as a major cause for the increased fear of witches. Klaits's work Servants of Satan asserts that there was a "dramatic rise in fear and hatred of women during the era of the Reformation," coupled with a new and corresponding definition of the witch as Satan's sexual slave. This approach to witchcraft was inspired by traditional beliefs which held that women were naturally weaker in moral strength than men and they possessed a stronger inclination to sexual activity.(101) The preoccupation with the sexual nature of witchcraft led to the disproportionately higher numbers of women accused of this crime; and statements by those who were associated with specialized knowledge of witchcraft openly reveal a distrust of the female body and female sexuality.(102) In addition, elite groups within society were becoming more insistent on bodily control and decorum in public places.(103) Thus any "physically spontaneous" act came to appear "dangerous and low." For this reason peasant women, who were viewed as being more unrestrained in the use of their bodies than other women, were the most likely suspects for accusations of witchcraft.(104)
Both Klaits and Margaret Miles, in her recent book Carnal Knowing, find evidence also in sixteenth-century art for a changing view of women's bodies. For the first time, artists began to associate representations of overt sexuality with symbols of death.(105) Some of Protestant artist Hans Baldung Grien's paintings of Adam and Eve, for example, present the Fall as occasioned by sexual lust.(106) Miles and Klaits conclude that Grien's famous nude paintings of witches, showing them as carnal and lascivious, were the logical extension of the views of women's nature and women's bodies held by Grien and by many of his contemporaries.(107)
In a different cultural category, Susan Bordo's The Flight to Objectivity explains the creation of Descartes's epistemology as the result of the increased interiority and personal self-awareness of the early modern period coupled with the distrust of the body and senses also current at the time.(108) Bordo outlines a shift in scientific understanding in which more "feminine," participatory ways of knowing, which had been popular in the Middle Ages, were rejected in favor of a "masculine" model of knowledge dependent on "detachment, clarity, and transcendence of the body." Indeed scientists other than Descartes affirmed that their goal was to create a "masculine philosophy."(109)
To come full circle, Bordo then reminds the reader of the usual association of women with both nature and body in masculine discourse. To believe that it is necessary to control and achieve distance from the body can be translated easily into a desire to control women, who like the body will be perceived as unruly, casting an impure shadow over the clarity of rationality and order. Hence, increased suspicion of women in the early modern period; hence, the witch craze.(110)
Accusations of witchcraft were certainly not the only means used to control women's activities in the sixteenth century. New legal restrictions in the professional sphere were at the same time limiting women's access to public participation in businesses and craft guilds. These limitations eventually touched the lives of women in all social classes.(111)
What place is left for the Virgin Mary to fill in the midst of so much anxiety about women; and how might she have been used as another means to control them? The views of Klaits and Miles are compatible with Marina Warner's approach to Mary in her important book Alone of All Her Sex. Warner believes that the Virgin has always been problematic for women because she is presented as the perfect woman. She is, in addition, both a virgin and mother, and therefore automatically an impossible model for ordinary women.(112) Both Bynum and Gibson have shown, however, that neither the Virgin's sinlessness nor her paradoxical status as virgin mother prevented her from being a positive component in the lives of late medieval women, whether religious or secular.(113)
Miles is correct in saying that the Virgin could aid women as they formed an interior view of themselves, since she embodied the approved standard of life and behavior for women.(114) In the early modern period, however, the Virgin's perfection is no longer being compared simply to the fallen feminine nature of typical women. She must now stand in contrast to the witch, whose very nature is defined in terms of unrestrained carnality and the physically grotesque.(115) The mental construction of the witch and the Virgin as polar opposites is already revealed in the fact that Jacob Sprenger, coauthor of the witch-manual Malleus Maleficarum, also founded a Rosary confraternity in Cologne in 1475 and actively promoted devotion to Mary.(116)
Witches were usually painted as nudes, their bodies open to physical perversions as their souls had admitted the spiritual abuse of satanic slavery. When they spoke, it was to utter blasphemies, curse their enemies, or perhaps worse, lull others into a false sense of security through friendly and flattering words that masked the evil intent within.(117) If Mary were to represent the opposite of such a creature and remain a symbol of the purity of orthodox Catholicism, she would have to be fully clothed, as far removed from all physical involvement as possible, and speak little. As Miles makes clear, for a woman, unrestricted speech, especially in public, was construed as a sign of sexual laxity no less serious than an open display of her body.(118) It was during the sixteenth century that artists largely abandoned portraits of the Virgin suckling her child.(119) This historic iconographic motif gave way in the face of society's desire to suppress the public display of bodily functions and the need to distance the Virgin from as many physical associations with other women as possible.
The altered perspective on Mary's participation in the Passion is important here, for Passion sermons had been the occasion for the greatest public elaboration of Mary's individual personality; and here too, she had spoken and acted in a forceful way reminiscent of the actions of contemporary city women during times of social and political disturbance. We have discovered, of course, that by the late sixteenth century the Virgin is silent and restrained at the cross. There is no outward display through words or dramatic actions of her grief. The Virgin's speech in this period is largely limited to her role as intercessor and mediatrix between God and the world. In sermons that describe her life on earth, she is shown interceding for her friends at the wedding in Cana, she performs good works, and she prays. But words such as Mary's laments at the cross and her involved conversations with Jesus, words that could serve to reveal her own thoughts and feelings as a woman, are largely absent. When she appears in Passion sermons at all, she is a model of emotional and physical control. In post-Tridentine sermons, the Virgin's behavior at the crucifixion of Jesus is now in line with traditional portrayals of her life as a young girl prior to the Incarnation. She is quiet, reserved, submissive, and careful to avoid drawing any attention to herself in public. From the standpoint of either political or religious authorities who may have desired to exercise greater control over women's lives, and over the lives of the laity generally, the Virgin has finally become the perfect role model.
1 Gerson, 7:510: "Mon Dieu, mon Dieu pourquoy as tu deguerpi la precieuse chair qui tres sainctement et tres purement fu de moy prinse, conceue et enfantee par l'adumbration et operation du Saint Esprit? Je souffre en elle. Comme elle est une chair avecques la mienne, sa douleur redescend en moy. Comme jadis le peche passa par la femme a l'homme, ainsi la douleur de l'homme rechiet sur moy, femme, par quoy je compare et achete le forfait d'Eve. Et je le veuil puisqu'ainsi plaist a Dieu estre fait. Bien me consens que je soie aucunement parcionnere et cause de la redempcion de tout l'humain lignage. Eta ceste consideracion me plait bien ma douleur, et plus grande, si Dieu me la veult envoyer."
2 Sales, II:332-33.
3 Ibid., 10:306: "Le corps de Nostre-Dame n'estoit pas joint, et ne touchoit pas a celuy de son Fils en la passion; mais quant a son ame, elle estoit inseparablement unie a l'ame, au coeur, et au corps de son Fils, si que les coups que le beny corps du Sauveur receut en la croix, ne firent aucue blesseure au corps de Nostre-Dame; mais ils firent de grands contrecoups en son ame."
4 The work most responsible for the once negative assessment of late medieval devotion was Huizinga, 1954, originally published in 1924. A fine summary and critique of Huizinga's approach may be found in Gibson, 2-5.
5 See Gibson, 1-18.
6 See, for example, Eire, 1990; Bossy, 1987; Bauman, 1983; and Sabean, 1987.
7 Eire, 2.
8 Ibid., 316-18. According to Eire, this development increased the power of the Protestant Reformed clergy, who maintained control over the proper interpretation of the written Scriptures and who alone had the right to proclaim their interpretation from the pulpit. The word, written or spoken, became "an instrument of control and uniformity" much more effective than the traditional images and ceremonies which had formed the core of religious practices in the past.
9 Historians have recognized for some time that a close relationship existed between many of the cultural changes taking place in early modern Europe and the appearance of printing around 1450. Among the more famous works are Febvre and Martin, 1958; Eisenstein, 1979; Clanchy, 1979; Davis, 1975, 189-226. Several historians who have more recently made printing or literacy an important part of their work include Bossy, 1987; Sabean, 1987; Neuschel, 1989; and Cressy, 1980.
10 Especially important for the Quakers is Bauman, 29. Bauman in part attributes the Quaker approach to silence and language to what he calls the "progressive interiorization of the word" in Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
11 See, in particular, Klaits, 1985; Miles, 1989; Bordo, 1987; and with regard to the Virgin specifically, Warner 203-05.
12 The preachers whose works are used for this article include for the late Middle Ages, Jean Gerson (1363-1429), San Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444), Bernardino of Busti (c. 1450-1500), Michel Menot (d. 1518), Olivier Maillard (1430-1502), and Gabriel Barletta (c. 1470). Early modern preachers cited are Saint Francois de Sales (1576-1622), Saint Lawrence of Brindisi (1559-1619), Christopher Cheffontaines (1512-1595), Saint Peter Canisius (1521-1591), and Saint Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621).
13 Maillard, 1498, Passion Sermon, pt. 1; Gerson, 7:450; Menot, 514; Bernardino of Siena, 2:253; Barletta, 119-19v, 125v-26. According to Barletta, when Christ spoke from the cross to say he was thirsty, the Virgin cried, "Heu mi fili quid audio? O universe creature celi admiramini paupertatem filii mei qui dicit 'sitio': et non potest habere. Qui creavit omnia, qui est omnipotens non habet ad bibendure? O fili mi: cur non possum tibi sitienti ministrare? Cur tibi de pectore meo lac illud porrigere non valeo quod totiens dum parvulus eras suxisti?" In addition, see Taylor, 17. Taylor also remarks on the degree of drama involved in the retelling of the Passion by preachers on Good Friday.
14 Luke 2:34-35 and John 19:25-27 are the only Scriptural verses linking Mary directly to the Passion.
15 Gerson, 7:504.
16 Mary's presence at the foot of the cross had enjoyed a long history within the life and worship of the Church. A ritual, poetic version of her lamentations became part of the official liturgy for Good Friday in the Eastern Church as early as the ninth or tenth century. Known as the "Kontakion," it was performed as a dramatic dialogue between a soloist and choir. The crusades, which brought increased contact between the Eastern and Western Churches, helped spread the cult of the Mater Dolorosa westward during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. In the thirteenth century the dramatic nature of Franciscan sermons helped move the enactment of the Passion and Mary's lament from the church to the public square. The most fervent dedication to Mary's sorrow came in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when numerous hymns were composed about her grief, and religious orders and confraternities began to dedicate themselves to the contemplation of her seven sorrows. The pieta became a popular art form during these centuries, and in 1423 a feast dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows was introduced by the Archbishop of Cologne. See Warner, 209-10; Sticca, 11-15, 60; Latreille, 131.
17 For example, Gabriel Barletta's Passion sermon made direct reference to a shrine supposedly built over the exact spot in Jerusalem where the Virgin had fainted when she saw her son fall under the weight of his cross, a chapel dedicated to "Sancta Maria de Spasmo." See Barletta, 123v.
18 Sticca, 123.
19 Ibid., 62.
20 Graef, 1964, 1:307.
21 Sticca, 134-36.
22 Gerson, 7:450. Mary says, "soit fait non pas ainsi comme je veuil, mais ainsi comme vous voulez." Maillard, 1498, Passion Sermon, pt. 1. Again the Virgin declares, "Voluntas dei et vestra fiat."
23 Maillard, 1498, Passion Sermon, pt. 3; Barletta, 123v.
24 Quoted in Bynum, 1987, 268. The sermons of Saint Bernard, originally given for the major Marian feast days, were extremely popular in the late Middle Ages and were often quoted at length by popular preachers.
25 Mirour, 81.
26 Scribner, 62.
27 Barletta, 64v.
28 Ibid., 88v: "Si alius modus non fuisset; ipsam et filium proprium occidisset. Quia non minor erat charitas sua quam Abrahae."
29 Menot, 453. Contemporary art repeated the theme of Mary as priest in the Presentation and even in Eucharistic settings. Jacques Daret's "Presentation in the Temple" portrays Mary holding her infant son directly above the altar, which is covered in a white cloth similar to the corporal used in the mass, as though offering him as a sacrifice to God. Surrounding figures carry candles like those used in the Candlemas service. More striking still is the 1437 painting commissioned for Amiens cathedral "Le sacerdoce de la Vierge." Mary appears dressed as an Old Testament Levitical priest; and she holds the hand of her young son, robed as a Christian priest, encouraging him to take part in the Eucharist, a service in which he would become both priest and victim. See Lane, 70-71.
30 Bynum, 1987, 266, 278, 285; idem, 1982, 110-69.
31 For example, the author of the Speculum humanae salvationis assured his readers that Mary demonstrated that she loved us even more than she loved Jesus by allowing him to die to save us. See Mirour, 143.
32 Ibid., 159.
33 Quoted in Graef, 1964, 1:307.
34 Sticca, 22-24. Albert the Great said that the wounds Christ had in his body, Mary bore in her heart, and Arnaud Bonnaevallis spoke of two altars, one the body of Christ, the other in the breast of Mary. Only Christ as high priest had the right to give his own body and blood; nevertheless Mary's pain had assisted in the propitiation of God.
35 Bernardino of Siena, 2:246: "quia non solum iuxta crucem stabat, verum etiam in cruce pendebat; de se enim nihil in se remanserat. Tota commigraverat in dilectum, et dum ille corpus, ista spiritum immolabat."
36 Ibid., 2:188.
37 Menot, 514-15: "Hunc sanguinem manibus colligens dulcissimum faciem suam liniebat."
38 Barletta, 104.
39 Bernardino of Busti, Sermon 1, pt. 1, "On the Sorrows of Mary."
40 Barletta, 116.
41 Ibid., 104. "Ipsa pati volebat cum filio pro salute mundi. Unde Ber. 'Optabat ipsa sanguinem suum addere et cum filio sacrificium vespertinum celebrare.'"
42 Maillard, 1498, Passion Sermon, pt. 1: "O peccatores quid potuit esse inter illa duo corpora virginea?"
44 Gerson, 7:510; see above n. 2.
45 Bernardino of Busti, Sermon 1, pt. 2, "On the Sorrows of Mary."
46 Ibid.: Ideo ipsa [Mary] est speculum et exemplum ... omnium lamentantium mortem Christi, et archa et armarium dolorum corporis boni Yesu."
48 Ibid.: "Quia dolor passionis oritur a lesione carnis cum perceptione sensus; et redundat in anima. Dolor vero compassionis oritur et incipit in anima et redundat in sensum et camera. Quanto igitur anima est potentior et magis dominans super carnem et caro delicatior et magis subiecta anime; tanto fit major redundantia."
49 Bynum, 1987, 264-65.
50 Ibid., 265.
51 Fifteenth-century art vividly portrays the shared suffering of Mary and Christ in ways that reinforce their unity of body and soul. Most important of these works is the "Descent from the Cross" painted by Fleming Rogier van der Weyden around 1435. As Christ is lowered from the cross, Mary faints into the arms of Saint John immediately below the body of her son. The angle of her body and the position of her arms form an exact parallel to those of Jesus. See Lane, 89.
52 The Catechism of the Council of Trent, 48. The catechism explains that his pain was worse due to the delicate constitution of his body. He was more susceptible to pain than other men because his body was formed by the power of the Holy Spirit. By contrast, medieval preachers attributed Jesus' heightened ability to feel pain to the fact that his body was made from the pure flesh of the Virgin. See Menot, 493.
53 Ibid., 45.
54 Sales, 11:310-11.
55 Bellarmine, 5:179.
56 Lawrence of Brindisi, 5:263.
57 Ibid., 5:387, 393, 399. Only in the first of these references is the mention of Mary more than a brief inclusion in a general statement concerning the words of Christ from the cross. Saint Peter Canisius does speak about Mary's grief in sermons devoted to Christ's circumcision and the Presentation in the temple; however, there is only one significant mention of the Virgin in the two Passion meditations; Canisius, 2:1:97, 104, 269.
58 Canisius, 2:1:97.
59 Bellarmine, 5:197: "At tu triumphator, posteaquam cum isto pulcherrimo corpore tuo praedam ac spolia divisisti, num moestae matris tuae non recordaberis, quae etiam os tuum et caro tua est? Ea certe tecum affixa fuit cruci?"
60 Lawrence of Brindisi, 5:255-56.
61 Ibid., 1:62, 586.
62 Sales, 11:303-04.
63 Ibid., 11:305.
64 Ibid., 312-13: "Helas! son tresor, c'est a dire son Fils, estoit au ciel, son coeur n'estoit donc plus en elle; Bref son coeur, son ame, sa vie estoit au ciel, comme eut-elle pu demeurer en terre? Doncques enfin apres tant de vols spirituels, apres rant de suspensions et d'extases, ce sainct chasteau de pudicite, ce fort d'humilite ayant soustenu miraculeusement mille et mille assauts d'amour, fut emporte et pris par un dernier et general assaut; l'amour qui en fut le vainqueur, emmena cette belle ame comme sa prisonniere, et laissa dans le corps sacre la pasle et froide mort."
65 Quoted in Warner, 220.
66 Lawrence of Brindisi, 1:183: "An non pro nobis in vitae discrimen Maria venit, cum iuxta crucem Christi stetit, eum, uti veto Abrahae spiritu plena ac superplena, Deo spiritu vere sacrificans, et pro mundi salute vera caritate offerens? ... Mariae spiritus erat spiritualis sacerdos, sicut crux altare, et Christus sacrificium; licet spiritus ipse Christi esset principalis sacerdos, sed spiritus Mariae una erat cum spiritu Christi, imo unus cum eo spiritus erat, una veluti anima in duobus corporibus." See also Bellarmine, 5:280.
67 Sales, 10:83: "If est neantmoins plus probable, que ce fut plustost S. Joseph que Nostre-Dame, pour deux raisons. La premiere est, que les hommes venoient offrir leur enfans, comme y ayant plus de part que les meres; la seconde raison est, que les femmes n'estant pas encore purifiees, elles n'osoient approcher de l'autel ou se faisoient les offrandes." De Sales could have been basing this explanation on the biological theories of Aristotle which assigned to women only a passive role in reproduction.
68 Ibid., 10:77.
69 Ibid., 10:452-53: "La troisieme parole de Nostre-Seigneur, fur une parole de consolation qu'il dit a sa sacree Mere qui estoit au pied de la croix toute transpercee du glaive de douleur, quoy que non pasmee ny a coeur failly, comme quelques peintres la representent faussement?"
70 Lawrence of Brindisi, 1:68: "Stabat iuxta crucem Iesu mater eius. O statum mirabilem! Imo O divinum miraculum! Stabat corpore, sed magis animo, virtute fide interrima."
71 Bellarmine, 5:183: "Ego quidem arbitror, linguas amborum prae nimio dolore quasi mutas effectas, vel nihil vel omnino partim dicere potuisse; sed tamen ad cor Virginis effectum naturalem filii multum locutum esse."
72 Sales, 11:322-23: "Le sainct Evangile fait un particuliere mention du silence de Marie [the sister of Martha].... Il sembloit de mesme, que nostre digne Maistresse n'eust qu'un seul soin; voyez-la dans la ville de Bethleem, ou l'on fit tout ce que l'on pust pour luy trouver un logis, et ne s'en trouvant point, elle n'en dit mot, n'y n'en fait aucune plainte ...: quelques jours apres les Roys le vindrent adorer, ou l'on peut penser quelles louanges ils donnerent, et au Fils et a la Mere; neantmoins elle ne dit pas un seul mot ... Mais ce qui est plus admirable, voyez-la sur le mont de Calvaire, elle nejette point d'eslans, ny ne dit pas un seul mot."
73 Ibid., 10:456-57.
74 Bernardino of Siena, 4:474: "In hoc virgines et mulieres, et potissime spirituales, Spiritus Sanctus edocens non circumcursare per alienas domos, non hinc inde ad mundi spectacula circumvagari, sed in secretis thalamis atque monasteriis immorari ad conservandam virginitatem necesse est."
75 Ibid., 4:475-82.
76 Bernardino of Busti, Sermon I, "On the Visitation of Mary."
77 Menot, 425.
78 Barletta, 37.
79 Gerson, 7:542-46.
80 Lawrence of Brindisi, 1:119: "separatum a mundo mente et spiritus; hinc domi sola reperitur."
81 Bellarmine, 5:375-78: "Primum igitur singulas virtutes in Virgine breviter ostendamns, non consueverat sancta Virgo cum viris, ac praesertim adolescentibus, et in cubiculo et sine teste sola cum solis confabulari."
82 Sales, 10:297, 301.
83 Ibid., 11:242, 264.
84 Indeed some preachers acknowledged the role of women in the economic survival of the family. According to Taylor, 163, Jean Cleree (b. 1455) advised his women hearers that in addition to loving their husbands and bearing and caring for their children and household, they should also provide monetary assistance by working with their husband in the family business. The bibliography concerning the working lives of medieval and early modern women is extensive to say the least. Some of the more famous contributions include Davis, 1982, 46-72; Godart, 1976; Scott and Tilly, 1978; Wiesner, 1987, 220-49; idem, 1986; and Hanawalt, 1982. See also Hufton; and Scott, 1984.
85 Davis, 1975, 124-51.
86 Gibson, 47-65. In this fascinating chapter, Gibson shows that Margery Kemp's visionary life was modeled directly on the spiritual advice given to a thirteenth-century Franciscan nun in the Meditationes vitae Christi. Margery sought to follow the admonition to become a handmaid of the Lord by becoming, in her visions, a handmaid to the Virgin herself and to the Christ child, a task made easier by her own experience of motherhood. Women, however, were not the only ones to identify with Mary in seeking to care for the physical needs of the Christ child. See also Klapisch-Zuber, 310-29. Klapisch-Zuber finds that secular women, nuns, confraternities, and even monks were devoted to the cult of the Christ Child, in which actual dolls representing him were washed, clothed, placed in cradles, kissed, and adored. This type of devotion may still be found as late as the seventeenth century.
87 Davis, 1975, 146. Davis lists a number of instances in the seventeenth century in which women were involved in economic, religious, and political disturbances. Of course, it was also a group of women who led the march on the palace of Versailles in 1789 at the height of the French Revolution. See also Levy and Applewhite, 1987, 278-306.
88 McGinness, 1982, 200, 207, 229-30, 300-01, 323-25. McGinness finds a new emphasis on the dignity of the preaching office in late sixteenth-century Catholic preaching manuals. In addition, these manuals told preachers which topics were suitable for sermons, how they should be dealt with, and which subjects should specifically be avoided. In chapter twenty-six of his manual, entitled "De voce, et corporis motu," Carlo Borromeo went so far as to tell preachers what to eat, how to walk, how to hold their head, where it was permissible to look, how to speak and how to dress.
89 McGinness, 1980, 116-18; O'Malley, 1979 and 1988, 149. O'Malley suggests that the newer methods of constructing sermons along classical lines most likely had little effect on popular preaching before the mid-sixteenth century. Even then, it cannot be assumed that popular sermons would resemble in content those presented to the pope or other high-ranking ecclesiastical officials. O'Malley recognizes that the sermons on which he bases his book (1979, 182) were intended for a specialized audience and do not represent the religious sentiments popular in other parts of Europe at the same time. O'Malley's entire book is a discussion of the impact of humanist rhetoric and reform on preaching at the papal court and is required reading for anyone seeking to understand the changes taking place in Catholic preaching at the highest levels during the Renaissance.
90 Taylor, 70-80.
91 McGinness, 1982, 208-24; O'Malley, 1988, 145.
92 See above, n. 66.
93 Lawrence of Brindisi, 1:171: "Nam audeo dicere quod ex pia devotione et cultu in Virginem vel maxime Electi a reprobis internoscuntur, filii Dei a filiis diaboli, Ecclesia Christi a synagoga satanae;" Cheffontaines, 1586, 44v-45: "Si quis ad vos venerit, et reginae filii Dei Matri, Ave dicere recusarit, vel non dicendum esse illi Ave, docuerit, et tamen a Deo missum se esse, ad veram religionem restituendam et reformandam dixerit: nolite illi credere, vel ave illi dicere, vel in domum eum vestram recipere, Nam non potest a Deo missus esse, qui huic Ave, dicere recusat."
94 Many post-Tridentine preachers continued to assert that the Virgin had taken a vow of virginity as a young girl and that Jesus had appeared to her first, following his resurrection on Easter. Neither of these stories has any basis in the New Testament. See Lawrence of Brindisi, 1:131, 137-38; Canisius, 2:1:137, 2:1:284; Bellarmine, 5:389-90; Sales, 10:77-78.
95 See above, n. 64.
96 Sales, 11:303: "Mais la verite est telle qu'elle est morte et trespasse aussi bien que son Fils et Sauveur: car encore que cela ne se puisse prouver par l'Escriture, si est-ce que la tradition et l'Eglise qui sont d'infaillibles tesmoins nous en asseurent."
97 Following the humanist model typified by Erasmus, preachers in the late sixteenth century exalted the saints primarily as models of virtue for imitation rather than as patrons in the court of heaven, although their intercessory role was certainly not eliminated. See Eire, 36-39; McGinnis, 330-31; Bossy, 96; and McManamon, 355-73.
98 Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, 305. When the Council of Trent enumerated the essentials of good preaching, it drew on the "Second Rule" of Saint Francis to say that preachers should instruct the faithful "docendo ea, quae scire omnibus necessarium est ad salutem, annunciandoque eis cum brevitate et facilitate sermonis vitia, quae eos declinare, et virtutes, quas sectari oportet, ut poenam aeternam evadere et coelestem gloriam consequi valeant." See McGinness, 1982, 162-67.
99 See above, n. 11.
100 Taylor, 171-78. In the sixteenth century, Protestantism perhaps did more than Catholicism to remove feminine influence from religion by its condemnation of the saints, male and female, and its elimination of female religious orders. It is also true that some Catholic women of the sixteenth century were aware of the importance of maintaining a gender balance when discussing religious matters. See Davis, 88. Eire, 315, also points to what he calls the "masculinization of piety" in the Protestant movement in the sixteenth century. The Protestant elimination of the Virgin and other female saints from their prominent place in religious life left worshipers with only masculine images for devotional inspiration.
101 Klaits, 50-56.
102 Kramer and Sprenger's Malleus Maleficarum, published during the 1480's states "[that a woman] is more carnal than a man is clear from her many carnal abominations ... she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives.... All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable," Kramer and Sprenger, 1971, 41-44; quoted in Miles, 121.
103 Klaits, 76; Bossy, 120.
104 Klaits, 76-77.
105 Ibid., 73-74; Miles, xiv, 129.
106 Miles, 135; Klaits, 74.
107 Miles, 136-38; Klaits, 74. See also Laqueur, 1986. Laqueur's article is an attempt to explain the radical re-evaluation of female nature and sexuality which took place in the eighteenth century as a response to the "equally radical Enlightenment political reconstitution of 'Man.' (1). In the past hierarchical views of the nature of human society and of the relationships between various creatures in the Great Chain of Being went hand in hand. Women, therefore, were considered to be a slightly less perfect form of men in the continuum of being. Descriptions of female biology pictured the female sex organs as simply an inverted form of the male. As radical eighteenth-century political philosophy began to teach the equality of all and their consequent right to participate in politics, those who wished to keep women in the private sphere were forced to redefine female biology if they wished to justify this confinement on the basis of natural law. The result was the creation of a "biology of incommensurability" that stressed the great differences between women and men in the area of reproductive biology. Laqueur is probably right in seeing politics during the Enlightenment as the major immediate cause for this new biology; but attempts by men of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to link the nature of women's bodies to their participation in witchcraft shows that the ground work for viewing women's bodies as fundamentally different from men's was laid much earlier.
108 Bordo, 45-58. Bordo uses Descartes's Meditations to reconstruct the development of his epistemology.
109 Ibid., 8-9, 33-37, 76-77, 104-05. These arguments in Bordo's book rely heavily on the following three works: Easlea, 1980; Keller, 1985; Stern, 1965. She also states that for the first time in the Western tradition, even though it had always exhibited dualist tendencies, the "body and mind are defined in terms of mutual exclusivity" (93).
110 Ibid., 108-11.
111 Davis, 1975, 94; Miles, 126-27.
112 Warner, 336-37; Klaits, 66, 72; Miles, 120.
113 Bynum, 1987, 264-69; Gibson, 47-65.
114 Miles, 139.
115 See in particular, Miles, 145-68.
116 Warner, 306.
117 Douglas, 113. Douglas believes that as perceived by the community the primary character of the witch is defined by deception, "someone whose external appearance does not automatically betray his interior nature." It would seem that this aspect of the witch would have been especially frightening in a society that was beginning to question the reliability of the senses to convey accurate information about anything. If both hearing and sight were problematic under ordinary circumstances, how much easier it would be for someone to deliberately convey false impressions to these senses.
118 Miles, 165. In the same context, Miles quotes Francesco Barbaro's treatise "On Wifely Duties" in which he states that "the speech of a noble woman can be no less dangerous than the nakedness of her limbs." Barbaro's treatise can be found in Kohl, 189-228.
119 Warner, 203-04.
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|Author:||Ellington, Donna Spivey|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1995|
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