Theater and the Sacred in the Middle Ages

by Andrzej Dąbrówka (Author) Mirosław Kocur (Author)
Monographs 576 Pages

Table Of Content

Part I. Literature and History

The role of literature as a witness to history has changed as radically as the assessment of this role. After the Middle Ages – this naïve phase, in which literary and historical texts were utterly indistinguishable – researchers and writers have increasingly tended toward a strict separation of literature from fact-based sources worthy of scientific research.

Still, the true beginning came from the opposite position: the point was not to exclude something from the scope of scientific interest to ensure the truthfulness of science, but it was to place scientific knowledge outside the realm of theology to protect the latter’s independence and superiority. This view is still prevalent in the Middle Ages and manifests itself in the distinction between logic and metaphysics. Though attributed to William Ockham, the distinction itself developed during a long debate. The significant moment for its development was the year 1277, when the bishop of Paris condemned Averroists and banned Thomism, rather conventionally than for any substantial reason (see chapter 10.4).

The seed of systematic criticism of the text diffidently planted by Abelard flourished with the Humanists. The successive phases of expanding the source base (the Enlightenment and Positivism) have been interwoven with phases of doubt in the power of human reason (Baroque, Romanticism, Modernism) until the loss of illusions about the rules of scientific research and science’s monopoly on rationality. After all, when Thomas S. Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1968), finally described real science, not the ideal one,1 ←9 | 10→many embarrassing things came to light. The very things which were earlier used to disqualify literature as a source of knowledge: that there are no impartial participants in science, that there are no observations independent of theory, and even that there is no way of reconciling differences between theories, which is why scientific revolutions take place through processes that are far from the rational, often affected by such mundane circumstances as some scholars losing their employment in favor of others.

Thus, there appeared evidence that science is just another cultural system – like religion, politics, art, literature and even language – subject to similar rules: innovations gain supporters due to the quest for novelty, for “religious conversions” (Thomas S. Kuhn’s expression; qtd. after Fuller 1992: 247, fn. 22), and persist by virtue of their incomparability with the old, their ability to reappear in ever new variants, and intensive propaganda, the promotion of faith. Not because the old solutions were worse, but because the number of their followers kept decreasing until they finally died out (Stegmüller 1979: 747). Max Planck went as far as to formulate the bitterly humorous law of “the displacement of theory through the extinction of its supporters” (Stegmüller 1979: 747).

Nowadays, we return to literature in search for evidence recognized by more recent theories, which cannot help but work despite doubt in the credibility of many, though not all, documents – even those written on exquisite parchment in most solemn Latin, embellished with tassels of most distinguished seals. Indeed, criticism did not spare the seals, too, which were exposed as little propaganda vessels.

Confronted with the old text in such conditions, we must constantly wonder: What allows us to understand it, what can and cannot be “learned from it,” what kind of knowledge does it provide? And, whether this knowledge was deliberately inserted in the text or accidentally slipped into it? Finally, can we reach it through cooperation with the author or by using special tools? To get a sense of the situation, let us listen to a story.

←10 |

1 Here, I summarize the results of analyses by the science theoretician, W. Stegmüller, included in his Theorienstrukturen und Theoriendynamik (Berlin 1973) and the textbook Hauptströmungen der Gegenwartsphilosophie (Stuttgart 1979). For a review of the history of relations between literature and history, see K. Heitmann, Das Verhältnis von Dichtung und Geschichtsschreibung in älterer Theorie, in: Haupt (ed.) 1985: 201–244; P. Zumthor, “Le Texte Médiéval et l’Histoire. Propositions Méthodologiques,” Romanic Review 1973, 64, pp. 5–15; from the viewpoint of literary genology: J. Knape, ‘Historie’ im Mittelalter und früher Neuzeit: Begriffs- und Gattungsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen im interdisziplinären Kontext, Baden-Baden 1984; F. P. Knapp, “Historische Wahrheit und poetische Lüge. Die Gattungen weltlicher Epik,” Deutsche Vierteljahresschrift 1980, 54, 581–635.

1. A Philological Exercise

1. According to the wolf best informed in the history we wish to recount, the fox initiated the quarrel and brought about disagreement. And it was

on a day at Whitsuntide

when trees and shrubbery alike

were dressed all over with green leaves.

Nobel the King had had

his court-day proclaimed everywhere,

which, he thought, – all being well –

would greatly increase his fame.

Then came to the king’s court

all the animals, large and small,

except for Reynaert the fox alone.

He had behaved so badly at court

that he did not dare go.

Whoever is knowingly guilty, is afraid.

This was the case with Reynaert

and that is why he avoided the king’s court

where his esteem was low.

When the entire court had gathered

there was nobody, except the badger,

who did not have some reason for complaining of

Reynaert, the scoundrel with the grey beard.

Now a charge is made against him.

Ysingrijn and his relatives

took up their positions before the king.

Ysingrijn began at once

and said “My Lord King,

for the sake of your nobility and of your honour,

and for the sake of justice and of mercy,

take pity on the harm

inflicted upon me by Reynaert,

through whom I have often incurred

great humiliation and loss.

Take pity especially because

he has had his way with my wife

and has maltreated my children so badly

that, by pissing on them where they lay,

two of them lost their sight

and are now totally blind.

←11 | 12→

In addition, he later disgraced me.

It had by then come to such a pass

that a day had been appointed

when Reynaert should swear

his innocence in court. But as soon

as the relics were brought,

he changed his mind

and escaped us in his stronghold.

My lord, this is well known among the highest

of those who have come here to court.

Reynaert, that vicious animal,

has done me so much harm;

I am quite convinced:

if all the cloth now made in Ghent

were parchment, I should not have

enough to describe it all.

That is why I prefer to be silent about it,

but my wife’s disgrace

must neither be overlooked,

nor not hushed up, nor remain without revenge.”

When Ysingrijn had spoken thus

a small dog stood up, called Cortoys,

and complained to the king in French

how a while ago it had been so poor

that it had had nothing left

one winter when there was a frost

except for one sausage

and that Reynaert, the scoundrel,

had stolen that very sausage from him.

Tybeert the cat was roused to fury.

This is how he began his speech

and he jumped into the middle of the circle

and he said “My Lord King,

because you bear Reynaert ill will

there is no one here, young nor old,

or he has something to charge him with before you.

What Cortoys is complaining of now

happened many a year ago.

The sausage was mine, but I don’t complain.

I had got hold of it craftily

when one night, looking for something to bag,

I went into a mill

where I stole the sausage

from a sleeping miller.

←12 |

If Cortoys profited by it at all

this was entirely my doing.

It would only be right to dismiss

the complaint that Cortoys makes.”

Pancer the beaver spoke: “Do you think it right,

Tybeert, that the complaint should be dismissed?

Reynaert really is a murderer

and a cheat and a thief.

Also, there is nobody he likes so much,

not even my lord the king,

that he would not wish him to lose

life and honour if that might get him

a succulent bite of a chicken.

And a trap, what do you say of that?

Did he not yesterday, in broad daylight,

perpetrate one of the worst crimes

ever committed by any animal

against Cuwaert the hare, standing here?

For at a time when the king’s peace

and safe conduct have been proclaimed,

he promised to teach him the creed

and to make him chaplain.

Then he made him sit

tightly between his legs.

Together they began

to practice spelling and reading

and to sing the creed loudly.

It so happened that at this moment

I passed that place.

Then I heard them singing together

and went in that direction,

at a great speed.

Then I found master Reynaert there

who had finished

his earlier lesson

and was up to his old tricks

and he had Cuwaert by the throat

and would have bitten his head off

if I had not accidentally

come to his aid at that moment.

See here the fresh wounds

as evidence, lord king,

which Cuwaert sustained by his doing.

If you leave unpunished in this way

←13 |

the disturbance of your peace,

ignoring the verdict of your barons,

it will be held against your children

for many years to come.”2

2. Let the books continue the thread of this famous Romance-Germanic story. We, in turn, shall focus on gaining knowledge from the quoted passage. Vassals are gathering before the king during an annual assembly. The assembly is also the time for resolving their disagreements. The injured parties press charges in person, and the accused will have to defend himself without any mediators. Our negative3 (?) hero is not eager to do this, but finally, when summoned for the third time, appears before the court, for otherwise he would be outlawed.4 Reynaert defends himself with an impassionate speech which presents him as an epitome of innocence. The arbiter of guilt weighs arguments – and pronounces the death sentence. As we learn from the further part of this story (in which the influence of the Flemish author is much more evident), the protagonist, right before facing gallows, managed to interweave his public confession with a new plot to win back his freedom. Although this may seem not to make much difference to the convict, the manner in which one left this world was quite commonly normalized and ethically charged. For our purposes, I register a critical civilizational sign that in the discussed court procedure the execution was regulated and did not assume the humiliating form of lynching.

The Reynaert story, which has entertained listeners, and then readers, throughout the centuries, is not of literary value only. Many books5 and a host of papers6 were devoted to the study of values, yet nothing indicates that the future ←14 | 15→will not bring anything new in this regard. Contemporary and future scholars belonging to the international association for researching the animal epic will surely take care of it.

Motivated by cautiousness, we shall not ask what the author (or authors) included in the story to pursue their purpose. Instead, we should search for what they could not leave out were they to expound their theme. This is a particular kind of verification of the source reliability: to make use of those ways of transmission and vehicles of meaning without which communication would not be possible at all. This point is where the author is least free to “cheat and deceive,” where the quest for unarticulated assumptions seems less effective a strategy, and where Peter Kosso discerns an additional source of information and a test of its reliability (1992: 34).

3. God as witness. Unwittingly, as it were, the author presented a specific historical type of the criminal process which legal historians describe as the accusatory procedure (Levack 2006:20). Let us note that the King-Arbiter pronounced the harsh sentence without ever conducting an investigation, let alone verifying the accusations or the defense’s arguments. This is not a mere literary schematization or exaggeration, far less an effect of negligence.7 Moreover, as we know from other sources,8 the early medieval trial, rooted in the Germanic legal tradition, did not consist in the court’s stating the facts but it was based on inferring the defendant’s guilt from certain signs.9 These signs were usually the ←15 | 16→pleadings of the parties. When it was impossible to arrive at certainty, signs from God were invoked as a last resort. An elementary form here was the drawing of lots which revealed the hidden truth, as described, for instance, in the First Book of Samuel (14, 40–42).

Different types of actions were undertaken to provoke God’s intervention and thereby replace contradictory words with indisputable “facts.” People of honor could support the defendant’s pleadings by affirming his innocence under oath. The Carolingian capitulary of Herstal (779) allowed verifying the charge of oath-breaking through the ordeal of the cross: both the accuser and the accused stood before the cross and stretched out their hands; the one who first lowered his arms was pronounced guilty. “If the swearer wins, the accuser is to pay the equivalent of his wergeld.”10

Already in the earliest sources, namely in Gregory of Tours, we find a prototype of the ordeal of the cauldron: a saint was to pluck his ring from a boiling cauldron, merely stating that the water was moderately hot, while the other man had his hands boiled (De Nie 1985: 104). In such cases, courts resolved conflicts in favor of those who had successfully passed the ordeal: if after three days there were no signs of infection in the burned hand, this was considered a manifestation of God’s help.11 Iseult proved the truth of her oath “on the relics of the saints” by undergoing the ordeal of hot iron: “The iron was red, but she thrust her bare arms among the coals and seized it, and bearing it took nine steps. Then, as she ←16 | 17→cast it from her, she stretched her arms out in a cross, with the palms of her hands wide open, and all men saw them fresh and clean and cold.”12

Hans Sachs depicts this ordeal in a cracked mirror of farce: a clever man conceals in his hands a stick of wood on which he carries the glowing piece of iron.

A common form of the judgment of God in high society, especially in the case of ladies, was the purifying oath.13 However, as the story of Iseult makes clear, sometimes the oath had to be supported by the judgment of God: “By these holy things and all the holy things of earth, I swear that no man has held me in his arms except King Mark, my lord, and that poor pilgrim. King Mark, will that oath stand?” – “Yes Queen,” he said, “and God see to it!”14

It is worth noting the smart solution employed to reconcile the literary effect with Christian values: the protagonist could not openly lie and survive the judgment of God. Iseult staged herself being carried by her lover who was dressed up as a pilgrim. Thus, she formally confirmed the truthfulness of the oath. In the romance story of Amis and Amiles, the trick used to ensure the formal truthfulness of the oath was the substitution of the protagonist by his friend who looked almost like him. The friend could deny, with a clear conscience, the accusation of having an affair (substituting his own material truth for the discussed one) and win the duel with God’s help. Elsewhere, the act of confession served this purpose: the culprit won the trial because he had morally purified himself. Some legends say that the culprit would later lose were he to repeat the sin of which he was accused and which he confessed (Franz 1961: 330–331).

The Song of Roland (274–285) contains a classic description of the judicial duel which usually occurred between men. Defending the honor of his friend Ganelon, who was accused of betrayal, Pinabel dies in a duel with Thierry; the religious framework and sanction which the Church renounced in 1215 is evident here: “As soon as they are ready for the combat, they confessed themselves and received absolution and blessing; they have heard their masses and received communion and gave large offerings to the churches” (280). Men could also ←17 | 18→duel in the name of accused women. A victory had legal consequences: a ruling in favor of the party represented by the winner. The Flemish historian Galbert of Bruges provides an interesting example of the historical role which the duel played as a means of resolving political disagreements,15 namely – the description of the revolt against the Count of Flanders, Wilhelm Clito, in 1128. When the main leader of the revolt, Iwein of Aalst, called for summoning an extraordinary tribunal which would determine whether the ruler had broken his obligation to care for his subjects, Count Clito rejected this demand and instead challenged Iwein to a judicial duel (van Caenegem 1990: 106).

4. Lex talionis. If the accused managed to extricate himself from trouble, he was acquitted. Therefore, he could exercise the right to retaliation (lex talionis) and demand punishment.16 I have earlier referred to the fine imposed on wrongful accusers. In our story (and here I go beyond the quoted passage to satisfy the Reader’s curiosity), Reynaert’s main accusers became the target of his vengeance, which was not procedural, but malignant and bloody. Because the protagonist undertook a penitential pilgrimage to Rome,17 no one could interrupt his actions. For the vow of undertaking a pilgrimage was binding and only a bishop could dispense from it (Chélini, Branthomme 1996: 139). It was even appropriate to help him get a traveling bag. Those who made the vow received pilgrim’s attributes from a bishop at the end of a special liturgy whose description from eleventh century is quoted in Chélini and Branthomme (1996: 138–139). It was best to sew the bag of leather. The fifth chapter of the codex Liber Sancti Jacobi (ca. 1139)18 provides a collection of elementary hagiographic texts and ←18 | 19→information for pilgrims to Compostela. As the codex explains, the pilgrim’s bag must be made of animal leather “to remind him that he should mortify his body” (Chélini, Branthomme 1996: 123, 138); deer’s leather bags were most highly valued. Reynaert, in turn, received a bag sewn of a piece of skin taken from a bear’s back. Ysingrijn and his wife had to give the pilgrim a pair of shoes each. This demand did not seem unreasonable; after all, they had two pairs apiece – the author should be commended here for his clever use of the tension inherent in the fairytale figures, which are four-legged and human at the same time.

5. Trial by ordeal. The presence of a priest, who gave appropriate blessings, underscored the providential character of the judgment of God. Adolf Franz (1961: 307–364) discussed a whole range of occasional benedictions. Among the texts he quoted from various sources were whole offices, sometimes preceding regular services, intended for the following occasions: duels (Benedictio clipei et baculi hominis profiscientis ad duellum, pp. 364–365), the ordeal of glowing iron (Iudicium ferri igne ferventis, pp. 369–372), the ordeal of boiling water (Benedictio aquae ferventis ad examinandum iudicium, p. 373), the ordeal of cold water, or “ducking” (Ordo iudicis aquae frigidae, pp. 378–384), and finally the ordeal of the blessed morsel (bread and cheese) and the ordeal of the hanging bread (Iudicium panis et casei et panis pendentis – pp. 384–385); the first one consisted in swallowing,19 while the second was a trial by lottery: people conjured a moldy loaf of bread hanging from a hook to spin round in the presence of the accused or at the sound of his name mentioned alongside the names of other suspects. The latter form of ordeal was similar to the ordeal of the Psalter in which a book was used instead of bread.20 Finally, in the ordeal of measuring (Ordo iudicii in ←19 | 20→mensura, pp. 390–391), God was asked to expose the culprit by extending the tape with which he was measured (Franz 1961: 362). For the record, it is important to mention the ordeals which never entered the liturgical tradition and became only a non-ecclesiastical legal habit – for example, the so-called trial of the bier: the accused of murder was forced to touch the wounds of the deceased, swearing that he was not the killer;21 as we can see, this is a reinforced version of the purifying oath; in the same vein, one may describe the trial of the Eucharist used chiefly among the clergy and monks: quite similarly as in the trials by food, those who took the sacrament without difficulty were considered innocent; the suspect, if guilty, would not be able to swallow the host and might even die by choking on it – here we witness a transition to a different category, from the judgment of God to the divine punishment.22

Since the order forbidding the clergy to give benedictions at trials by ordeal, the procedure started losing its legal force, even though it was still in use in lay courts and then the “witchcraft” proceedings of the “people,”23in which “ducking” (the ordeal of cold water) was the most favorite form of trial. Drowning was a sign of innocence – pure water would not accept a criminal (Franz 1961: 355) – or at least indicated that the accused was deprived of Satan’s help. The trials survived even longer in different magic practices and tawdry divination (Braekman 1997: 333). It would not be far from the truth to link pendulum divination, which now blossoms before our eyes, to the trials with spinning objects.

The ban imposed on the clergy sparked a general reform of the European criminal process. It first appeared in Canon 18 of the Fourth Lateran Council, incidentally, as it were, within a broader strategy of gradually excluding the ←20 | 21→clergy from all fields of activity related to bloodshed – the judiciary, military,24 or even those in which one could be exposed to blood (like surgery).

No cleric may pronounce a sentence of death, or execute such a sentence, or be present at its execution. If anyone in consequence of this prohibition (hujusmodi occasions statuti) should presume to inflict damage on churches or injury on ecclesiastical persons, let him be restrained by ecclesiastical censure. Nor may any cleric write or dictate letters destined for the execution of such a sentence. Wherefore, in the chanceries of the princes let this matter be committed to laymen and not to clerics. Neither may a cleric act as judge in the case of the Rotarrii, archers, or other men of this kind devoted to the shedding of blood. No subdeacon, deacon, or priest shall practice that part of surgery involving burning and cutting. Neither shall anyone in judicial tests or ordeals by hot or cold water or hot iron bestow any blessing; the earlier prohibitions in regard to dueling remain in force (Clerics to dissociate from shedding-blood and duels, Canon 18 of the Fourth Lateran Council).25

The older accusatory procedure has given room to the emergence of new systems of criminal procedure: an “inquisitorial system” in Continental Europe and a “jury system” in England. A novelty was vesting the court – and thus a different party than the harmed – with the power to act in an accusatory capacity;26 in the English system, the criminal procedure split into the “persecution” phase (with a presenting jury) and the “trial” phase (with a professional judge).27

←21 | 22→

This change was significant: as long as only the harmed were eligible to make accusations, certain illegal acts remained untried until the victim went to court. The Carolingian legal system introduced the institution of missi dominici, who were roving plenipotentiary inspectors authorized to enforce the law among all imperial subjects and to search for untried offenses throughout the Empire (Bruyning 1985: 197).28 However, it was as late as the thirteenth century when European judicature started implementing the procedure of prosecution ex officio, initially limited only to public offenses; the accusatory procedure with the right to retaliation was still applied in private cases (van Caenegem 1990: 101–102). The attitude of Robbrecht, the villain in the Dutch romance drama Esmoreit from the end of the fourteenth century, may indicate that criminals were not very afraid of the prosecution ex officio. When accused by his nephew, Esmoreit, of selling him to slavery and harming his mother with a false charge in the past, Robbrecht replied: “I may joust if any man dareth to accuse me of these crimes.” Even an invocation of the judgment of God (here in the form of a judicial duel) required the accuser to reveal himself and make a formal statement.

According to the new procedure, the court could initiate proceedings on its own initiative (based on observation, gossip, or denunciation), even if no one claimed to be harmed, as in the case of heresy. Bringing an action against any defendant, the court took responsibility both for handling the case properly (investigation and interrogation) and pronouncing guilt. Since judges no longer resolved cases based solely on evidence provided by the parties, they could not appeal to a higher power if the evidence was insufficient to prove guilt. What is more, the court had to collect evidence and transcribe the proceedings to have written records, which could also serve the defendant if he wished to file a complaint against the judge.

Since against the false assertion of an unjust judge the innocent party sometimes cannot prove the truth of a denial, because by the very nature of things there is no direct proof of ←22 | 23→one denying a fact, that falsity may not prejudice the truth, and injustice may not prevail over justice, we decree that in an ordinary as well as extraordinary inquiry (judicium) let the judge always employ either a public person (if he can be had) or two competent men who shall faithfully take down in writing all the acts of the inquiry, namely, citations and delays, refusals and exceptions, petitions and replies, interrogations and confessions, the depositions of witnesses and presentation of documents, interlocutions, appeals, renunciations, decisions, and other acts which take place must be written down in convenient order, the time, places, and persons to be designated. A copy of everything thus written is to be handed to each of the parties, the originals are to remain in possession of the writers; so, if a dispute should arise in regard to any action of the judge, the truth can be established by a reference to these documents. This provision is made to protect the innocent party against judges who are imprudent and dishonest. A judge who neglects to observe this decree, if on account of this neglect some difficulty should arise, let him be duly punished by a superior judge; nor is there any presumption in favor of doing things his way unless it be evident from legitimate documents in the case (Written records of trials to be kept, Canon 38 of the Fourth Lateran Council).29

Thus, the judge became a de facto a party. He was interested in identifying the culprit; otherwise he exposed himself to the charge of inefficiency. In Poland, a striking example of the implementation of this idea of judicature was the institution of so-called maleficorum iudex (Polish: sąd oprawcy, literally: “the tormentor’s court”) – a special officer appointed by a starost (in the name of the king) in order to investigate, persecute, and punish the most dangerous offenders; the nobility’s opposition resulted in the cancellation of such courts, which left behind only an echo of their expressive name (Borucki 1979: 21). The removing of responsibility from individuals as private accusers (an institution which still functions today) had far-reaching consequences; an accuser who lost a case was no longer exposed to the accused’s retaliation. Together with the institution of secret denunciation, this became a hotbed of numerous substitute trials caused by ungrounded slanders. The most important change was the qualification of two witnesses’ statements30 and a guilty plea as criminal evidence. The ultimate and lawful way of obtaining a guilty plea was by torturing of the suspect.31 Wolfgang Schild describes torture as an emergency solution, which courts ←23 | 24→started to apply after the rejection of the institution of the purifying oath and the judgment of God as measures of inquiry source of evidence (1980: 160).32

The very formation of the inquisitorial procedure – understood as an ex officio prosecution of crimes and asserting of the material truth by the court – was related to the needs of German municipal governments struggling against massive criminal activities (Schild 1980: 158; see pp. 160–162 for an outline of the typical course of interrogation with torture).

6. The prohibition of the ordeal: its functions and effects. The prohibition from having contact with blood imposed on the clergy an obligation to implement the Old Testament prohibitions which did not enter the New Testament. Thus, one may assume that this was a maneuver meant to preserve certain elements of the Old Testament’s heritage and reconcile them with the Evangelical Gospel tradition.

The ban was meant to serve innovative functions which produced numerous current and long-range effects. One may link all these effects to the formation of a new type of priesthood – more professional and pastoral, but not deprived of Biblical (that is to say, Old Testament) authority. Hugh of St. Victor provides a clear example of this combination of breakthrough and continuity by developing his conception of two epochs separated by the Incarnation.

For the Incarnate Word is our King, who came into this world to war with the devil; and all the saints who were before His coming are soldiers, as it were, coming before their King, and those who have come after and will come, even to the end of the world, are soldiers following their King.… And although in a multitude as vast as this the kind of arms differ in the sacraments and observance of the peoples preceding and following, yet are really serving the one king and following the one banner; all are pursuing the one enemy and are being crowned by the one victory.33

Hugh’s commentary still echoes the motif of Christ the King, but now His weapons are only sacraments and rites. As an Augustinian, Hugh was a proponent of the ←24 | 25→Gregorian Reform – even Pope Boniface VIII cited his words in the bull Unam sanctam (1302) which conditioned salvation on obedience to the papal authority (Cantor 1993: 495). This very radical postulate meant that the Church went on an offensive after the period of struggling to strengthen its position in relation with lay power, and especially to exclude the priest from the network of social relationships and confer on him broad and exclusive authority in pastoral and liturgical matters. The organizational transformations (which I shall discuss in a more detailed manner) are inextricably bound to a number purely religious phenomena. Our text sample provides a case in point: “as the relics were brought.”34

7. Control over relics. The cultural role of relics will be a recurrent topic in our discussion. Ysingrijn mouthed a very symptomatic expression which seemed obvious to him. He demanded a solemn oath of innocence sworn on “relics,”35 just as here and there people swear on “the Bible,” “crucifix” or all that is “holy,” treating these notions merely as figures of speech. The oath “on relics,” brought specifically for this purpose, has become more difficult since the Church prohibited the removal of relics from reliquaries. Canon 62 of the Fourth Lateran Council did not eradicate this habit, but it gave rise to a significant transformation of the role of relics:

From the fact that some expose for sale and exhibit promiscuously the relics of saints, great injury is sustained by the Christian religion. That this may not occur hereafter, we ordain in the present decree that in the future old relics may not be exhibited outside of a vessel or exposed for sale. And let no one presume to venerate publicly new ones unless they have been approved by the Roman pontiff. In the future prelates shall not permit those who come to their churches causa venerationis to be deceived by worthless fabrications or false documents as has been done in many places for the sake of gain (Regarding saints’ relics, Canon 62 of the Fourth Lateran Council).

Thus, relics gained greater durability, and their current owners found their position strengthened – with the exception of those who wanted to trade them on the market as devotional items (there were workshops in the Middle East which specialized in the production of such objects). Granting bishops the exclusive right to recognize the authenticity of relics was a normalization measure for both sides: since then, the faithful gained greater confidence that they worshiped authentic relics and all decisions regarding canonization or admission to cult came ←25 | 26→from a single center. This was also important in historical terms: on the one hand, it contributed to the centralization of the Church after the centuries-old phase of Episcopal churches – a process initiated by the Gregorian Revolution (Van Engen 1986: 532)36 – while excluding, on the other hand, secular rulers from yet another realm of church affairs. As we remember, the exchange of relics was part of the protocol of royal visits: Emperor Otto III gave Bolesław the Brave a nail from the Cross and the lance37 of St. Maurice, receiving St. Adalbert’s arm in return. In fact, the prestige of entire church provinces and states depended on the possession of the relics. Such a drastic replacement of the holder would not have been possible without problems and must have had far-reaching consequences.

8. INVESTITURE. Here we touch probably the most important mechanism of the historical process in medieval Europe, namely – the shattering of the ancient, already Roman, then Carolingian and Ottonian sacro-political unity of the Western Empire (Heer was the first to introduce the concept, 1949: 194). The political side of this process was the Investiture contest38 – a conflict over the ability to appoint church officials, which after the decline of the Carolingian Empire became a standard prerogative of secular rulers (Mercier 1986: 129–131). In the fictional universe of our passage, this is beyond the pale of doubt, as Reynaert promises, “and to make him chaplain.”39 However, the charge is not of holding a church office but of deceit – and the resulting attempt on one’s life.

It is precisely the Roman Church’s policy of opposition to this feudal practice (simony and secular investiture) that we call “Gregorian Revolution.”40 The ←26 | 27→organizational (liturgical, canonical) exclusion of kings (as well as local secular rulers of all levels) from the Church41 meant that they started gradually losing influence on the appointment of church offices.42 By regulating the manner of pope’s election (1059)43 and prohibiting secular interventions in church ←27 | 28→affairs – in particular, by limiting the institution of private churches44 and, in principle, rejecting church offices if appointed by secular rulers45 – the Church has begun cutting a separate path for itself.46 Moreover, marked by stormy twists and turns, the Church has pursued a “normal” foreign policy on this path: it often gained and changed its allies, formed and smashed coalitions, sometimes defended kings against the emperor, other times the emperor against kings, supported princes against kings, the anti-emperor against the emperor, received support from kings against local rulers – and even these configurations did not exhaust all the possibilities that were yet to arrive when municipal governments entered the political scene. The declaration of the pope’s authority over the emperor had a fairly long tradition. Already St. Ambrose said that “the Emperor is within and not above the Church,”47 and the new doctrine of Rome’s infallibility severely hindered the political pursuits of rulers. No less painful was the fact that they have lost the sacral legitimation of power, especially given their still-fresh memory of the efforts they have put to achieve and maintain it, which culminated in the establishment of a hieratic (vicar) – or even prefigurative – relationship between the emperor and Christ.48

←28 | 29→

We might suggest, somewhat cynically, that it is precisely due to this circumstance that we enjoy an extensive body of new quality literature and grand representative art. They were to become the tools in what was really at stake in the Investiture contest, which was a struggle for souls.49 Characteristically enough, it was the court of Frederick Barbarossa that initiated the knight culture on German soil with two grand celebrations (Mainz, 118450 and 1188), breaking off twenty-year efforts to subordinate Papacy to the Roman Emperor (Wies 1996: 262). In the process of this struggle, the imperial chancellery introduced a symptomatic term of sacrum imperium to counterbalance the sacra ecclesia (Wies 1996: 114).51 Heinrich von Veldeke in Eneide and Hartmann von Aue in Erec translated the theory of the Trojan genealogy of the Staufer dynasty, which Barbarossa’s chaplain Godfrey of Viterbo formulated in Speculum regnum (ca. 1183; MGH SS: 22, 21–93), into the language of epic. The first poet came closer to Frederick’s centralist view on the role of knighthood as the emperor’s adornment. Hartmann, in turn, preferred the vision of a “royal-princely republic” (Thomas 1989: 102). The exclusion from cult activities, however painful, gave secular rulers a considerable advantage over the people of the Church: they could have as many portraits as they wished. It was Philip the Fair, the vanquisher of Boniface VIII, who first understood and employed this strategy: the Pope who, in his conceit, had placed ←29 | 30→his figures in several churches, was accused of trying to turn his person into an object of worship;52 at the same time, the king was the first ruler to disseminate his images on a large scale without a fear that someone would condemn him for idolatry (Camille 1989: 281). Phillip could feel secure for everyone knew he was no longer a priest and did not initiate prayers in the church.

It was important that relics regained their extraordinary charm for quite a fundamental reason: so long as they remained an object of unbridled trade, it was hard to claim their supernatural quality. Craftsmen and merchants became the holders of holiness which turned into a commodity. However, the laws of the market also operated back then, and the market’s curse – as we know only too well – are counterfeits of products made by renowned companies. In turn, these companies tend to mobilize all their political influence to combat unfair competition. The market convention makes it possible to contend that there was a genuine demand for all kinds of relics, just as today the average consumer does not disdain counterfeits. Relics were special goods, and hence it was not so much economic as political and doctrinal factors that influenced both their origins and distribution. If we follow St. Thomas Aquinas’ position53 (which was slightly later than the Fourth Lateran Council, but all previous conceptions were only more radical), “it is God alone Who can still the desires of man and make him happy and be the fitting reward for a king.”54 It was risky because the kings received an invaluable hint on how to “make people happy” while eliminating the Church from the “reign over souls.” Whoever was able to satisfy desires or needs (however defined), entered this restricted and extraordinary area. At this point, the Church opened a front of doctrinal struggle, less spectacular, though no less fierce than a political dispute. The pioneer in this struggle was Christ himself who knew what he was doing when he drove away merchants from the temple (John 2: 14–16). The apostles Peter and John introduced the principle of incorruptibility to the new Church (Acts 8:18); rejecting the proposition of Simon ←30 | 31→the Magician, who offered them money for the gift of Holy Spirit (a prototype of Confirmation), they have set the standard for all sacraments which were not to be sold but came free. However, the history of the definition of needs has taken such a course that it is hardly possible today to get through crowded shopping streets in Western cities, even though merchants do not gather in churches (which are rather deserted) but elevate their own, no less impressive temples.55

The centralization of the papal authority was later fortified by the canon law code56 – Gregory VII57 pursued this already as a cardinal, laying the foundations for the future papal absolutism and rejecting other legal traditions of the early Middle Ages (Cantor 1993: 258). In turn, this meant that local churches could no longer easily attract the faithful by establishing new forms of cult. To reinforce their prestige, they had to put more effort into spiritual matters, mainly through sermons and hagiographic work.

Thus, the restrictions imposed on the public circulation of relics left a vacuum which had to be filled. One may say, only half-jokingly, that in the stabilized conditions even relics had changed their behavior: from then on, they had to acquire a stronger miraculous charm to attract the faithful. Analyzing the body of the illustrated hagiographies from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Barbara Abou-El-Haj associates their form with “the rivalry of cults during the centuries of pilgrimages” (1994: 67). In the thirteenth century, the most important ←31 | 32→pilgrimage routes became fixed: Compostela, Mont-Saint-Michel, Rocamadour (Chélini, Branthomme 1996: 123, 127, 131); this was accompanied by the greatest flourishing of the hospice system (p. 143) and the development of religious confraternities gathering pilgrims (p. 150). However, new pilgrimage destinations, which emerged toward the end of the Middle Ages, were no longer bound with relics (p. 168); we shall explain this question later on (see Chapter 9.1–3).

9. Satirical sources of knowledge. In the short passage of the satirical text quoted above, we have captured signs of some changes in the areas of basic social life: law and religion. It is not surprising that they appeared together in the same text. However, we may pose the following questions: did it have to be this way and how were they associated with each other? Both these fields witnessed profound and complex transformations, whose essence (that is, both cause and purpose) consisted in limiting (localizing, containing) the place of the sacred in the whole culture of the late Middle Ages. Contrary to popular opinion – not uncommon also among historians – this was not a symptom of a diminishing of its role; in other words, of secularization. In what follows I shall explain how this was possible.

Before we start the actual work (an inquiry into Reynaert’s story is not our goal), let us note a few other points which may tell us something about the society of the time. The institution of nuclear family, in which everyone creates their own household after marriage, seems to be quite stable.58 Both the wolf and the ←32 | 33→fox are almost exemplary husbands and undeniably caring fathers (in Reynaert’s case, it becomes evident in further parts of the text). Defending his wife’s (and, of course, his own) honor, the wolf acts under the influence of strong moral order. It seems that this family model was traditionally paternalistic since its very inception.59 Feudal relations were quite clear: vassals hardly exhibited any excessive respect and even the Francization of the nobility was noticed (the King of France was the senior of the Flemish nobility, while the rest of the Netherlands was usually dependent on the Empire). A sense of private ownership was already quite strong (with the stigmatization of minor thefts; in our text, we learn this on the grotesquely exaggerated example of the three successive owners of a piece of sausage). The church calendar was binding while dates were defined according to the holidays: Green Week, which closed the cycle of great liturgical celebrations, was also the special date when the king met with his vassals (and hence it was the court day, too). The promise of a church career (“and to make him chaplain…”) could be tempting for people while lulling their vigilance.60 Finally, let us make an observation regarding the field of economic history: the cities relied on the production of large quantities of canvas. Just as in the case of all other points we have already discussed, our author shares this information in passing, as a fact obvious to every Fleming; thus, we learn additionally that people of the time still used parchment, not paper, for writing.

←33 | 34→←34 | 35→

2 Bouwman, A., Besamusca, B., Of Reynaert the Fox: Text and Facing Translation of the Middle Dutch Beast Epic Van Den Vos Reynaerde, Amsterdam 2009, pp. 42–43.

3 Cf. Lurker 1989: 117 (entry: “Fox”).

4 The Salic law (Title LIV) pronounces such an individual guilty, the king refuses to take care of him, his whole property is confiscated, and whoever shelters him – including his wife – is fined (Geary 1985: 155).

5 Among the more recent ones, see, for example, H. R. Jauss, Untersuchungen zur mittelalterlichen Tierdichtung, Tübingen 1959; J. Flinn, Le roman de Renart dans la littérature française et dans littératures étrangères, Paris 1963; G. H. Arendt, Die satirische Struktur des mittelniederländischen Tierepos Van den Vos Reynaerde, Köln 1965; E. Rombauts et al., Aspects of the Mediaeval Animal Epic, Leuven 1975; A. Th. Bouwman, Reinaert en Renart. Het dierenepos Van den vos Reynaerde vergeleken met de Oudfranse Roman de Renart, Amsterdam 1991.

6 See, for example, W. Foerste, Von Reinaerts Historie zum Reinke de Vos, “Niederdeutsche Studien” 1960; D. B. Sands, The Flemish Reinaert, Epic and Non-epic, in: The epic in Mediaeval Society, H. Scholler (ed.), Tübingen 1977; L. Peeters, Hinrik van Alckmer and medieval tradition, “Marche Romane” 1978, 28; Jean-Marc Pastré, Zum Stil der deutschen und niederländischen Bearbeitungen des Reinaert-Stoffes, “Niederdeutsche Studien” 1981, 27; P. Wackers, The Use of fables in Reinaert’s Historie, “Niederdeutsche Studien” 1981, 27.

7 Władysław the Elbow-high “punished those who stood against his power with frightening severity;” King Casimir the Great ordered to “throw [Maciek Borkowic] into the castle’s dungeon, where he died a slow, cruel death of starvation” (Borucki 1979: 11).

8 Although, we should mention that legal historians often discuss the Reynaert story. See J. Graven, Le proces criminel du Roman de Renart. Etude du droit criminel féodal au XIIème siècle, Geneva 1950; F. R. Jacoby, Van den Vos Reynaerde. Legal Elements, Monachium 1970; J. Deroy, “Le discours du chameau, légat papal dans le Roman de Renard,” in: Third International Beast Epic, Fable and Fabliau Colloquium, eds. J. Goossens, T. Sodmann, Köln 1981, pp. 102–127; S. Krause, “Le Reinhart Fuchs, satire de la justice et du droit,” in: Comique, satire et parodie dans la tradition renardienne et les fabliaux, eds. D. Buschinger, A. Crépin, Göppingen 1983, pp. 139–151.

9 Actually, it was always a matter of facts – only their definition changed. As from the eighth century the idea of (material) truth began to acquire meaning in the law of the Langobard kingdom – enshrined in Edictus Rothari (643) – a new type of evidence was allowed, for instance, in writing; after the Franconian conquest, the role of the court gradually increased, which was already an adjudicating panel appointed by the ruler (Bruyning 1985: 195–196).

10 The Carolingian capitulary (capitularium; ordinances of the central administration sent as circular letters to local centers: dukes, bishops, and plenipotentiaries – missi). Quoted after P. J. Geary (1985: 280). The wergeld was a fine paid as reparation for killing a freeman. The amount of the fine depended primarily on the status and age of the victim; it was also used as a conversion unit for other crimes – as in the example discussed above (K. Colberg in Sachwörterbuch der Mediävistik 1992: 903). P. J. Geary (1985: 313–338) provides a selection of the Carolingian capitularies. A. Franz (1961: 345–347) cites a number of historical examples of the ordeal of the cross used in the eighth and ninth centuries.

11 R. Krohn in Sachwörterbuch der Mediävistik, p. 311 (s.v. Gottesurteil). In the ordeal of bread, the participant’s trouble with swallowing was the evidence of guilt (based on Russian accounts, A. Franz [1961, 336] describes a case from an Orthodox church in Novgorod: a thief who stole church vessels was subjected to this ordeal).

12 The Romance of Tristan and Iseult retold by J. Bédier, trans. H. Belloc, Mineola, New York 2012, p. 65.

13 A painting by J. Simmler presents queen Hedvigis of Anjou’s oath “on the Bible” (Borucki, an illustration after p. 32). Besides women, the clergy as well as people who were too young, too old or disabled could use representatives. Germanic legal codes regulated the work of paid representatives called “campiones” (Franz 1961: 343 with references).

14 Ibid., p. 64.

15 For more, see V. Udwin, Between Two Armies: The Place of the Duel in Epic Culture, Leiden 1999.

16 See Levack 2006: 76. J. Weismann, Talion und öffentliche Strafe im Mosaischen Recht, Leipzig 1913. For general information about divine judgment, see, among others, H. Glitsch, Gottesurteile, Leipzig 1913; S. Hardung, Die Vorladung vor Gottes Gericht, Bühl—Baden 1934; Ch. Leitmeier, Die Kirche und die Gottesurteile, Wien 1953; H. Fehr, “Die Gottesurteile in deutscher Dichtung,” in: Festschrift G. Kisch, Stuttgart 1955; H. Nottarp, Gottesurteil-Studien, München 1956; H. Liermann, Die Gott–heit im Recht, München 1969; R. Bartlett, Trial by Fire and Water: The Medieval Judicial Ordeal, Oxford 1986.

17 D. J. Birch (Pilgrimage to Rome in the Middle Ages, Woodbridge 1999) presents this as a real event.

18 W. M. Whitehill, Liber Sancti Jacobi. Codex Calixtinus, Vol. 3, Santiago de Compostela 1944 (critical edition). N. L. Frey discusses various stories of pilgrims to Compostela (See: Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago, Los Angeles 1998).

19 S. L. Keefer has discussed it in detail against the backdrop of different types of ordeal. The author quoted many details from the Anglo-Saxon tradition as shown by six Pontificals (see p. 245). He takes into consideration a version of the eleventh-century Cracow Pontifical, which contained a very complex liturgical program (see MS 2057 of the Jagiellonian Library: The Cracow Pontifical, ed. Z. Obertyński, Manchester 1967–1971). Toward the end of his paper (pp. 255–264), Keefer quotes a scenario of the “exorcism of bread and cheese” from MS 391 of the Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, which makes up for omissions found in the Cracow MS and provides an English translation of the successive steps.

20 Psalter, bible, or missal; for detailed descriptions with reference to sources, see Franz 1961: 338, 362 and 391–392; W. L. Braekman 1997: 334. Braekman quotes examples of these ordeals in later practices of detecting criminals (usually thieves) through magic and divination: see pp. 332–341 (the ordeal of the psalter or bread, with a more secular variant a sieve hanging from the top of shears) and pp. 346–348 (the ordeals of cheese and measure). An attempt to guess the result of the draw from the rotation of a missal hanging on a key (pressed into a heavily bound book) was also recorded as late as ca. 1900 in Bruges (Braekman 1997: 333, fn. 63).

21 See H. Ewers, Die Bahrprobe, Bonn 1951; S. Anger, “Die Bahrprobe in Sage und Rechtsbrauch”, in: Die Heimat, 1967, 74, pp. 12–13.

22 A. Franz 1961: 340–341provides a specific theological explanation of this trial; also see P. Browe, “Die Abendmahlprobe im Mittelalter,” in: Historisches Jahrbuch 1928, No. 48, pp. 193–194. For a large collection of formulas, see K. Zeumer in the series MGH, Leges, sec. V. Formulae, pp. 604–722; Franz (1961: 364, fn. 1) has listed other editions.

23 In fact, it was not the people but a local heir who inspired the so-called last witch trial in Poland in August 1775 (see B. Baranowski, Nietolerancja i zabobon w Polsce w XVII i XVIII wieku, Warszawa 1987, pp. 179–186). Based on her analysis of Silesian sources, K. Lamprecht also drew the conclusion that “a quite arbitrary influence of local factors” was one of the reasons behind the intensified persecution of witches (see K. Lamprecht, Hexenverfolgung und Zaubereiprozesse in den schlesischen Territorien, Köln 1995).

24 In this case, clever alternatives were devised. For example, bishop Odo [of Bayeux], half-brother of William the Conqueror, fought at his side with a mace, which could kill without shedding blood (Nadolski 1976: 424–425).

25 See Geary 1985: 468.

26 The King’s right to open an investigation (inquisitio) was already in use in the early Middle Ages (Bruyning 1985: 197); see the next footnote. P. Flade, Das römische Inquisitionsverfahren in Deutschland bis zu den Hexenprozessen, Leipzig 1902; R. Schmidt, “Königsrecht, Kirchenrecht und Stadtrecht beim Aufbau des Inquisitionsprozesses,” in: Festgabe… R. Sohm, München 1915; E. Mayer, Geschworenengericht und Inquisitionsprozess im Ursprung dargelegt, München 1916; E. Carsten, Die Geschichte der Staatsanwaltschaft in Deutschland bis zur Gegenwart, Breslau 1932; G. Kleinheyer, Zur Rechtsgestalt von Akkusationsprozess und peinlicher Frage im frühen 17. Jahrhundert, Opladen 1971; F. Meckbach, Inquisitionsrichter und Staatsanwalt – ein Vergleich, Augsburg 1976. “The inquisitorial trial is only a form which reflects the realization that the officials are entitled and obligated to prosecute crimes;” in France, throughout the first half of the thirteenth century, the accusatory procedure was still in force (Stein 1875: 574).

27 For more detailed accounts of the evolution of English law against the backdrop of social changes, see J. Hudson, The Formation of the English Common Law: Law and Society in England from the Norman Conquest to Magna Carta, New York 1996 (eleventh to thirteenth centuries) and (for the fourteenth century) A. Musson, WM Ormrod, The Evolution of English Justice: Law, Politics and Society in the Fourteenth Century, New York 1999. R. Fleming (Domesday Book and the Lain: Society and Legal Custom in Early Medieval England, Cambridge 1998) discusses the functioning of earlier common law rules.

28 “And the missi themselves, as they wish to have the favor of Almighty God and to preserve it through the loyalty they have promised, are to make diligent inquiry wherever a man claims that someone has done him an injustice” (a decree of 802). Geary 1985: 332; see below a discussion of the Polish sąd oprawcy (literally: “the tormentor’s court). H. Conrad, Die Gestalt und soziale Stellung des Richters im Wandel der Zeit, Bad Homburg 1960.

29 See Geary 1985: 473.

30 In different cases, a different number of witnesses was required, e.g. only four witnesses could exonerate someone accused of usurping a noble title (Borucki 1979: 32).

31 J. Willmann, “Die Hauptbeweismittel im Strafverfahren der Stadt Freiburg i. Br. von ihrer Gründung (1120) bis zur Einführung des neuen Stadtrechts (1520),” Goltdammers Archiv für Strafrecht 65/1918, p. 484 ff; W. Schünke, Die Folter im deutschen Strafverfahren des 13. bis 16. Jahrhunderts, Münster 1952; J. Langbein, Torture and the Law of Proof, Chicago 1976; M. Ruthven, Torture, London 1978.

32 “Die Folter war eine Verlegenheitslösung, die einzige Möglichkeit, in dem neuen Verfahren einen zunächst leugnenden Beschuldigten schliesslich doch noch verurteilen zu können, nachdem die alten formellen Beweismittel – Eid mit Eideshelfern und Gottesurteil – ihren Sinn und ihre Glaubwürdigkeit verloren hatten.”

33 Hugh of St. Victor, Hugh of Saint Victor on the Sacraments of the Christian Faith: (De Sacramentis), trans. R. J. Deferrari, Eugene, OR, pp. 3–4. “Verbum enim incarnatum rex noster est qui in hunc mundum venit cum diabolo pugnaturus…. Et licet in hac tanta multitudine diversae armorum species in sacramentis et observationibus praecedentium et subsequentium populorum omnes tamen uni regi militare et unum vexillum sequi probantur, et hostem unum persequi et una victoria coronari.”

34 “Alse die heleghe waren brocht” (line 84). This motif is omitted in Goethe’s version.

35 The Sachsenspiegel code of 1300 presents dozens of such scenes, e.g. Sachsenspiegel 1970, ff. 1v no. 3, 2v no. 3, 3r nos. 3 and 4, 3v no. 1, 4v nos. 1 and 4, 5r no. 1, etc.; it is always a standard box on a plinth.

36 G. Constable described this period as the “Reformation of the Twelfth Century” (Reformation of the Twelfth Century, New York 1996).

37 I quote these names without investigating the authenticity of these relics; perhaps, it would be more apt to say: “the so-called lance;” but, then again, leaving the nail without any further qualification would make an impression that I vouch for its authenticity. What should we do with the five skulls of St. Thomas Aquinas? (See below).

38 For general and cross-section elaborations, see: Tellenbach 1988 (recommendable for its insightfulness and conciseness) and U. R. Blumenthal, Der Investiturstreit, Berlin 1981; I. Schmale-Ott published a two-volume collection of source texts: Quellen zum Investiturstreit, Darmstadt 1980–1984). For detailed monographs, see J. Howe, Church Reform & Social Change in Eleventh-Century Italy: Dominic of Sora and His Patrons, Philadelphia 1997; P. G. Jestice, Wayward Monks and the Religious Revolution of the Eleventh Century, Leiden 1997; M. Stroll, The Imperial Abbey of Farfa: Target of Papal and Imperial Ambitions, Leiden 1997.

39 “Ende soudene maken capelaen” (line 143).

40 N. R. Cantor describes it as a global one. According to his account, four cardinals and popes were behind the conception of the revolution: cardinal Humbert (ca. 1000–1061), St. Peter Damian (ca. 1007–1072), cardinal Hildebrand (Pope Gregory VII), and Paschal II (Cantor 1993: 243–276). The participation of local churches (on the example of Verona) was noticed by M. Miller, see fn. 471 (chapter 14, section 11).

41 Since1235, the ruler no longer participated in cult activities (Petersohn 1994: 118). “The lay princes were driven out of the ecclesiastical sphere, and from now on their power was purely secular” (Tellenbach 1966: 125); in the material realm, in the case of private churches or parish staffing, certain patterns persisted. See further a discussion of Thomas Aquinas’ theological justification of the superiority of the priest over the king (Subsection 6.2). “In the twelfth century, at the latest, rex et sacerdos of the Carolingian period became a thing of the past – not only because of the Church’s Gregorian emancipation but also because of significant changes in human mentality which left no room for the trials of God or the King-Wizard. As we know, the Church itself limited the authority of the anointed by using different oils; more precisely – different for bishops’ consecration, different for the king, who was left with the catechumens’ oil only. This devaluation found its expression in a separate decree of Innocent IV” (Gieysztor, 1978: 17).

42 The beginning of the actual limitation of secular investiture came already after St. Leo IX (1049–1054), from which began a period of relative stabilization of the papacy after the nightmares of the previous 150 years (for instance, in 897, there were five popes successively removed or murdered; Mercier 1986: 119). “The object of the so-called Investiture Contest was to drive the laity out from the position which several hundred years of royal theocracy and of the proprietary system had given them.” An important aspect of the changes was also putting the bishop and the pope at the disposal of private churches and monasteries owned by the clergy (Tellenbach 1966: 117).

43 Nicholas II prescribed regulations according to which the pope could be elected only from among the cardinals; the Church finally approved these regulations at the Third Lateran Council (1179) – the pope could be elected only by the cardinals by a two-thirds majority of votes (Mercier 1986: 128 and 150). Analogous regulations, making the election of the emperor the sole prerogative of five princes electors (two lay: Czech and Palatinate; and three archbishops: Mainz, Cologne, and Trier), and two free cities (Frankfurt and Nuremberg) only contains the Golden Bull of Emperor Charles IV of 1356; Bulla aurea Karoli IV imperatoris anno MCCCLVI promulgata. Die Goldene Bulle Kaiser Karls IV vom Jahr 1356, ed. by W. D. Fritz, MGH, Fontes iuris germanici antiqui 11, 1972. It is worth mentioning that (Italian) local governments’ response to being taken over by the Church was the conviction that the mayor’s election was under the patronage of the Holy Spirit – as evidenced in London after 1406 (C.L. Kingsford, Prejudice and Promise in 15th Century England, Oxford 1925, p. 108) and later in Bristol (The Maire of Bristowe is Kalendar, by Robert Ricart, Town Clerc of Bristol, ed. by L. Toulmin Smith, London 1872, p. 414, qtd. after M. James 1983: 21, fn. 68).

44 Pope Eugene II legalized this institution in 826, but the Gregorian reform revoked it. Cf. P. Dinzelbacher, Sachwörterbuch der Mediävistik, pp. 198–199, Eigenkirche (including references).

45 The postulate contained in the treaty Adversus simoniacos (1058) by cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida, condemning simony as a heresy disrupting the apostolic continuity, became a core of Gregory VII’s lost memorandum of 1073, later repeated in the bulla Dictatus papae in 1078. This policy in general should be seen against the backdrop of contract network which grew since the tenth century and which became the essence of the feudal system. J. Lynch, Simoniacal Entry into Religious Life from 1000–1260, Ohio, 1976, investigates the extent of the phenomenon.

46 For more recent works on the history of the Church, see J. A. F. Thomson, The Western Church in the Middle Ages, London 1998 (period from the mid-fifth to the beginning of the sixteenth century); P. Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity, AD 200–1000, Oxford 1996; all Christian Churches are included in the lexicon ed. by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford 1997. History of church law: W. M. Plochl, Geschichte des Kirchenrechts, Vol. 1–5, Munich 1960–1970.

47 Ambrose of Milan, Political Letters and Speeches, trans. J.H.W.G. Liebenschuetz, Liverpool 2005, p. 159.

48 Roman Michałowski (1997) found a record of such a practice toward Otto III and English kings in the documents and iconography of the ninth and tenth centuries. There were also later political thinkers who sustained this theory in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (Constable 1995: 246–247).

49 In this way, F. Heer highlights the importance of the pope-emperor controversy; cf. canon 27 of the Fourth Lateran Council: to guide souls is a supreme art – ars artium regimen animarum, the aphorism by Gregory of Nazianzus, later adopted by Gregory the Great in Regula Pastoralis; qtd. after J. Longère, La pénitence selon Guillaume Durand (Gy [ed.] 1992: 106). For a discussion of the repercussions of this dispute in the liturgical drama, see J. Marlin, “The Investiture Contest and the Rise of Herod Plays in the Twelfth Century,” EDAM 2000, 23.1.

50 Gislebert of Mons described it around 1196 as curia celebris (La Chronique, L. Vanderkindere, Brussels 1904); similar description from 1200 can be found in Chronica regia Coloniensis, G. Waitz in: MGH, Scriptores in usum scol., 1880; for other sources, see H. Thomas, “Matière de Rome – Matière de Bretagne. Zu den politischen Implikationen von Veldekes “Eneide” und Hartmanns “Erec,” ZdPh 108/1989, Sonderheft, pp. 82–83.

51 J. Deer, “Das Kaiserbild im Kreuz,” Schweizer Beiträge zur Allgemeinen Geschichte 13/1955, p. 48 ff; W. Dürig, “Der theologische Ausgangspunkt der mittelalterlichen liturgischen Auffassung vom Herrscher als Vicarius Dei,” Historisches Jahrbuch 77/1958, p. 174ff.; O. Hiltbrunner, “Die Heiligkeit des Kaisers,” Frühmittelalterliche Studien 1968, p. 2ff; Y. Congar, “Zwei Faktoren der Sakralisierung des gesellschaftlichen Lebens im europäischen Mittelalter,” Concilium 5/1969, p. 520ff; G. Koch, Auf dem Wege zum Sacrum Imperium, Wien 1972; A. Dempf, Sacrum Imperium, Darmstadt 1973.

52 C. Sommer, Die Anklage der Idolatrie gegen Papst Bonifaz VIII. und seine Porträtstatuen, Freiburg 1920.

53 After his death, Aquinas probably became subject to this mechanism, too; a theologian, who briefly calculated the relics of his skull, concluded that Thomas must have had at least five heads.

54 “Solus igitur Deus est qui hominis desiderium quietare potest, et facere hominem beatum, et esse regi conveniens praemium.” Thomas Aquinas, On Kingship. To the King of Cyprus, trans. Gerald B. Phelan, revised by I. Th. Eschmann, O.P., Toronto 1949, p. 64. For more about advisory writings, see J. Ferster, Fictions of Advice: The Literature and Politics of Counsel in Late Medieval England, Philadelphia 1996.

55 It would be worth to compare the cubature of Saint Peter’s Basilica with some of America’s largest supermarkets – if only as a joke! Proponents of cliometrics would finally obtain a strict measure of religiosity. It is symptomatic, however, that this evidently secularizing process may assume a “sacral” form: a new shopping center for 1,000 stores is advertised as a “Shoping Cathedral” (Een kathedraal van het kopen, Amsterdam-Bijlmermeer, ca. 1990) and no one is surprised.

56 In 1999, Wilfried Hartmann and Kenneth Pennington began publishing a new series devoted to the history of canon law in the Middle Ages: The History of Medieval Canon Law. The first volume is a bibliography of early Christian and Carolingian manuscripts and literature of the Gregorian Reform: L. Kéry, Canonical Collections of the Early Middle Ages (ca. 400–1140), Washington 1999. Many journals deal with the history of canon law, including Archiv für katholisches Kirchenrecht (from 1857), Bulletin of Medieval Canon Law (from 1971, in 1955–1970 as an addition to Traditio), Revue du droit canonique (from 1951). An excellent introduction to the sources literature (including official legal documents) is the textbook edited by H. Coing et al., Handbuch der Quellen und Literatur der neueren europäischen Privatrechtsgeschichte, Vol. 1: Mittelalter (1100–150 0): Die gelehrten Rechte und die Gesetzgebung, Munich 1973.

57 Cf. H. Cowdrey, Gregory VII, 1073–1085 (Oxford 1998); see also Studi gregoriani per la storia di Gregorio VII e delle riforma gregoriana, Roma 1947–1960.

58 The other types are the patriarchal family (parents together with married sons) and the core family (one married son remains with his parents). The prevailing theory of the progressive nuclearization of the family forced by the capitalist economy is questionable: Burke 1992: 54 with a reference to A. M. van der Woude, “The Household in the United Provinces,” in: Household and Family in Past Time, ed. P. Laslett, Cambridge 1972, pp. 299–318. It is possible that this type of family, culturally constructed, was already known in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and that it favored the development of the capitalist economy (not the other way around). The constructor, of course, was the Church which preferred adult marriages, as they were economically self-sufficient, although difficult to achieve due to the rules of kinship whose aim was to make it easier to inherit for those who had legal descendants: J. Goody, The Development of the Family and Marriage in Europe, Cambridge 1983. Given the diversity of data, P. Stafford (1998: 103–125) posits short-term and cyclical changes and returns of certain models in different places and circumstances, instead of a gradual evolution of the traditional model. Weinstein and Bell (p. 246) are convinced that affective families (held together by emotional bonds) existed already in the thirteenth century.

59 For a review of the history of feudal law, see Weimar 1990: 31–98.

60 And it is so to the point that they want to take lessons in the position of readiness to receive corporal punishment (Lulofs, line 145: “he squeezed him strongly with his legs”, Vaste tusschen sine beene).

2. Language and History: The Cognitive Turn

1. Objects of historical inquiry. If someone collected more such messages and wanted to write a story of a certain period in the history of Flanders, the person might face opposition and hear that there is no unity between the word and the referent: “the text has no reference to an external reality, but is contained within itself…. [it] is seen not only independently of its relation to the external world, but also independently of its author.”61

The author should be eliminated as an important factor in the production of texts. There is no intention in texts. There is no reality, only language exists (Iggers 1997: 133). This is the radical self-definition of the methodological position known as the linguistic turn. The idea based mainly on the radically structuralist theory of language and society. “Man moves within the framework of structures … which he does not determine, but which determine him.” For historiography, this meant a world devoid of meaning, human perpetrators, human actors, and all coherence (Iggers 1997: 121). Moreover, the structuralist undermining of the idea of the continuity of history contributed to the development of a tendency among historians to “lead toward a cross-sectional rather than a processual ordering of historical life” (Schorske 1998: 232).

In this atmosphere, readers misunderstood Hayden White’s theory of historical imagination as a reduction of historical writing to literary fiction. That is not what White intended. He did admit that the way of coding facts in chronicles is identical to the story structures used in narrative prose (emplotment; White 1978: 46). But this was not a denunciation of history or an accusation that history is an activity which explains nothing. On the contrary, the fictionalization of history has a positive function; we may perceive it as an explanatory operation based on the same principle with which great works of fiction shed light on the world that we inhabit alongside the author. In both historical and fictional writing, we recognize forms of consciousness which serve to constitute and colonize the world in which it seeks to dwell comfortably. By encouraging historians to recognize the presence of an element of fictionality in their narratives, White did not intend to degrade historiography to the role of ideology or propaganda but to help historians break free from “ideological preconceptions,” which they do not recognize as such, but still follow them as if they were correct perceptions ←35 | 36→of how things are (1978: 61). In conclusion, we may say after Iggers that the “linguistic turn” was an attempt to overcome the determinism proper to the former socio-economic methods and stress the role of cultural factors, among which language occupies the crucial position (Iggers 1997: 133).

Almost at the same time as the linguistic turn in the theory of history, in philosophy, anthropology, and linguistics, there appeared schools of cognitive constructivism, which used the psychological theory of Piaget (Wadsworth 1998).62 All these schools emphasize the active role of human cognitive structures as the factors of human development and culture; the schools want to find the reflection of these factors in the history and include this fact in the historical description. Some researchers consider both currents together; for instance, Ankersmit:

“As the result of the so-called linguistic turn and constructivism, we perceive things like the French Revolution differently than trees, mountains, or rivers, which exist independently and precede our experience or reflection about them.”

The expression “the French Revolution” is a creation whose content depends on individual choices and, most often, on a consent within a scientific discipline (Ankersmit 1996: 19). There are no set historical objects; each researcher constructs the object of research; therefore, scientific activity is autopoiesis (Ankersmit 1996: 28), which differs from creating something because, with autopoiesis, the subject and object of the creative activity are the same (30).

2. Why do we understand animals? In view of the above, and remembering all that we have just learned from the short satirical, purely fictitious, and sometimes absurd text, we must reflect: Do we fall prey to the naïve and anachronistic reading of the old texts “as we like it?” Hermeneutists rightly teach about the otherness of medieval literature,63 but we should not be overeager and deny the enormity of understanding. Ganim concludes his research on the style of English epic in a similar manner64 and counts explicit – though differently ←36 | 37→motivated – self-reflexiveness among the similarities of many medieval and postmodern works.65

Interpretation is something different; in our example, interpretation decides whether we will read the creation of the Flemish version as a satirical depiction of relations at the court of the count of Flanders, growing tensions between the king of France and Flanders, or, say, an echo of the struggles of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa with the Pope. This choice will ground our conjectures on the author’s political position; it will make us identify and evaluate the means which he uses to convince us of his rightness. But even a modern text appears differently in the first reading and/or when we aim for interpretation, which we are not always ready to conduct.

Thus, the question is not why can we interpret the old text, but why do we understand so much of it? C. Behan McCullagh (1991) goes in this direction in a polemic with Derrida’s views on meaning: Derrida’s theory fails to explain how we use language to communicate as clearly and precisely as we do. It simply ignores the conventions by which we decide and know to choose – among the various possible meanings words can have – which one has been used in the case of a given text or utterance (304).

By reference to the historical reality, which Derrida is so afraid of, McCullagh anticipates the accusation that we cannot explain the conventions, which always generate the correct understanding of texts, without falling into a vicious circle.66 If we were to say that these conventions are appropriate because in conforming to them we always arrive at a correct understanding of texts, that would indeed be circular, assuming that there is no independent check of their correctness. But if we say that in our community conformity to these conventions is what we mean by calling an interpretation of a text correct, then circularity has been avoided (304–305).

It is not about a guarantee of infallibility, but about the integrity of interpretation. Although McCullagh refutes the second possible accusation of arbitrariness with an inadequate reference to De Saussure – that many a linguistic convention ←37 | 38→is arbitrary – he closes the discussion with the right conclusion: Whether they are arbitrary or not, the rules for interpreting texts generally enable quite effective communication of precise ideas, and that is what justifies them (305).

Of course, one should not be afraid of the word “arbitrariness” because of its moral tinge (voluntarism, groundlessness); the arbitrariness of social conventions is as strong as most institutions shaped in historical practice. We will repeat many times that these are phenomena which need individual contribution, even if it is very inadequate. We put aside the matter of the rules of satisfactory interpretation, which are the proper subject of McCullagh’s work.

As we return to our more modest program, we ask: Why do we understand when animals talk? Why do we laugh at those moments that the author planned? Where do we meet with the author?

This meeting place is the space of language in which we participate mentally. Its maps, landscapes, and topography fill the meanings connected with each other thanks to our ability of predication: the ability to state judgments about different subjects. It is at the level of predication that the reader meets the author, but also other readers. Most importantly, only the recognition of the existence of predication level explains the understanding of text in a foreign language. It is the predication system that we reproduce in the process of translation as what is expressed in one language or the other. In dramatic circumstances – on the eve of his execution – Jan Hus touched upon this matter because he was convicted even though none of the participants of the Council of Constance has ever read his works in the Czech original. Motivated by understandable bitterness, Hus had the right to be wrong when he said that even if they were to read his works, they would not understand them, “Because only Italians, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Spaniards, and Germans attended the Council” (quoted in Fumagalli, Brocchieri 1996: 255). Hus was wrong, his troubles began with nothing else but his proper understanding of Wycliff’s English writings, however, for any judge to pass judgment on someone who does not know the language of the investigation and trial is an uneasy moral problem. Every historian is such a judge, who not only cannot ask the witness in any language but also must judge based on residual answers to some other questions, should the historian be so lucky to have any answers at all.

3. Understanding and interpretation. Predicating, or stating judgments – according to Rita Nolan’s hypothesis (1994: 109–110) – is a cognitive function learned during first language acquisition. Mastering this ability determines a child’s transition in mental development to the phase of propositional thinking, when one may claim that a predication is true.

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Predication is not a matter of imagination, although it does participate in the building of a certain inner space in our mind, in which the contents appear that reach the area of our conscious reception. When we read in the fragment from Of Reynaert the Fox how Tybeert the cat addressed the king – “because you bear Reynaert ill will” (“dordat ghi Reynaerde zijt onthout”) – we do not have to imagine anything to know (that is, if necessary, reproduce in a similar order from memory) the few things that the text predicates about some people and objects:

– there exists a talking cat;

– in this reality, there exists the addressee of the speech (the king) and the fox;

– there is a bond between the king and the fox;

– the speaker knows the relationship between the king and the fox;

– these relations are bad;

– the fact that these relations are bad influences the behavior of the king, the fox, and others.

All these predicates form our knowledge about the represented reality. Usually, we may (partly) translate this knowledge into visual images, but one should not confuse the mental objectivization of predication with imagination; from a certain moment, it is simply impossible, for instance, in mathematics. The manner, in which these objectivizations exist in our mind, is a secret shared by consciousness: memories, dreaming, daydreaming, artistic vision, and mystical experience. Another secret of consciousness is the extent of coexistence with the vivid (sensual) image: how vivid is the picture that we make when reading a verbal portrait?

To understand a statement and determine its content, one only needs to identify the predicates. What suffices is the knowledge of a language, its vocabulary and grammar. What does it mean to know a language? It means to be able to form judgments about as many entities as possible: to formulate a statement, construct a text, hence, build a series of predications. That is why animal characters can speak in literature, everything can speak, even the language, as we read in modern poetry, in which the speaking subject is nowhere to be found. At the same time, this is why we can understand all of them – both animals and modern poets.

Nevertheless, what we can interpret is the identity of the predicating subjects, the causes and effects of systems underlying predication. In this case, we utilize knowledge from other sources, usually texts, that is, other cultural utterances. For example, we may fruitfully use the predication “there exists a talking cat” in the interpretation of the whole utterance in relation to other. The direction of interpretation will depend on the amount of knowledge that we will use for it: will it be knowledge about other animals who speak or about animals who do not speak the human language.

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Apart from a certain scope of “perception and direct action,”67 creative communication is impossible without uttering or understanding predications.68 However, there is no obligation to interpret. Everyone, who interprets, does it for a reason or with a purpose. The most important interpretation in everyday life is the determination of truth. To recognize something as true is to assume that the content of the predication agrees with the previously accumulated resource of (remembered) predications which reflect the past or present (sometimes also the highly probable future) state of the extra-linguistic reality. The other predications are most of our current experiences and established knowledge about the world. Current experiences undergo a constant comparison with the new ones. Just like any predication, we consider all knowledge accumulated in our memory to be true, as long as we do not think about it and nothing forces us to doubt. Both resistance and susceptibility to doubt may end morbidly in mania or depression.

4. The interpretative framework. Lasting knowledge also consists of beliefs about the falsity or fictionality of some predications (“Earth is flat”). Here appears the problem of negation. A simple negative sentence “This man is not a thief” must be divided into two predications: “This man is a thief” and “I claim that this is not true.” A similar thing happens with the question: “Is this man a thief?” In addition to “This man is a thief,” we mean “I want to know if this is true.”

An unknown part of knowledge gathers along with an interpretation. If the interpretative packaging fades from memory, and sole predication remains, then we will confuse levels of reality or modalities and our perception of the real world will also consist of invented or denied elements. The boundary between information about reality and story disappears. The same happens when the interpretative frame has not been properly transmitted or received. The famous example in the field of media is the alleged panic caused by confusing Orson Welles’ radio ←40 | 41→play about Martian invasion with actual events. The history of literature abounds with similarly expressive cases of reception of works rich in predications, whose recipients misrecognized their interpretative frame. Non-linguistic communication may stimulate such cases: Belin the ram, one of the two royal envoys who returned alone from the mission to Reynaert the fox, learned about this when he passed the bag with “important letters” to the king. Because this correspondence conveyed the mutilated head of the second emissary, the king wrongly assumed that Belin the ram is a crime partner of Reynaert the fox.

Furthermore, there are categories of works that deliberately obliterate the nature of the interpretative framework for propaganda, polemics, mockery, or criminal purposes: counterfeits, rumors, imitations, parodies, pasquinades, polemics (obliterature?). Counterfeits cause the most difficulties because they especially transmit signals that enable truthful interpretation, which is usually difficult to prove. The mechanism of calculated libel operates with a deference of the interpretative framework in time: before the negation of the slandered cancels the libel, the false content will remain in the memory of many; since the recipients of public media outlets never form the same circle, there will always be a certain number that has not learned about the rectification and lives in error, which is what the slanderer intends to achieve.

Thanks to these distinctions, we may manage our cognitive efforts better. On the one hand, the relationships between doses of knowledge from various cultural utterances are a matter of interpretation, which we must delimit according to the current need; otherwise, the interpretation will never end.69 On the other hand, the knowledge from communication data (vocabulary, language, and speech) – the lexical meanings, predications, and pragmatic acts of speech – is shaped only by its structure, which means that one can strive for its exhaustion. The incomplete reading of this knowledge usually stems from a deficient communicative (linguistic) competence, and it causes defects in both understanding and interpretation. Therefore, the hermeneutic schools rightly make the interpretative effort to begin with the reproduction of the knowledge implied in the linguistic layer.

5. The knowledge of texts and the knowledge of language. The theory of science recognizes the role of language as a library or encyclopedia. According to Thomas S. Kuhn, knowledge about nature and words grows simultaneously ←41 | 42→with the process of speech learning, and these are not two kinds of knowledge but two sides of the same coin that produces language (1987: 21).

In linguistics, there was another turn: there appeared cognitive semantics.70 Cognitive semantics introduces an anti-structuralist thesis that meaning is not only contained in oppositions, in difference, but inherently. Therefore, the “linguistic turn” should now receive its succession, or even substitution, with the cognitive turn, because our understanding of language is no longer the same today as it was when Foucault or Derrida formed their views.

We have observed such elements in a text, in which they most probably appeared by coincidence, and we found interesting and consistent messages about the “human acts of will” and “intentions,” about reality and its actors.

We now know that languages are not just communication tools, black boxes with a hidden mechanism; they are also tools for gathering knowledge and creating libraries. They provide a repertoire of mechanisms to reveal different attitudes toward knowledge. Some languages have developed obligatory grammatical categories to express situations when someone formulates a judgment derived from one’s own knowledge, language, or impersonal knowledge. In many languages, there are evidential constructs which allow distinguishing the indisputable truth, the probability of truth, the result of evidence, the indication of evidence, the inconsistency with the prototype meaning of a given category (“something like”), and the result contradictory to anticipation (Chafe 1986: IX).

Traditional structural semantics cannot adequately describe the meaning of many words. It is necessary to refer to certain domains of human cognition (time, space, sensory qualities, etc.) to explain such terms as the names of the days of the week or the determination of kinship. In the traditional description, the difference between the words “mother” and “father” is only one: gender. The cognitive description detects that they are comparable only to some extent (in the genetic, genealogical, and marital domain) and differ in something else entirely: the mother characterizes the birth and feeding domain, the father – responsibility and authority (Taylor 1995: 87).71

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The wolf from our story is only to some extent an animal, or it is an animal and something more: he is a husband, father, vassal, prosecutor. In Taylor’s enumeration of cognitive domains (cognitive areas), implied by the word father and necessary for its full understanding, we find the following content that constitutes the basic aspects of paternity (1995: 86):

a) the child’s genetic material (“my blood”),

b) the responsibility for the well-being of the mother and the child,

c) the domain of authority: the father is the source of authority and disciplines the child,

d) the genealogical domain: the father is the closest male ancestor,

e) the marital domain: the mother’s husband.

This paternal frame allows us to construct a prototype father. We see how much knowledge stored in this frame reflects cultural specificity and conventions. But this is the knowledge shared by the community. This sharing guarantees the stability of the prototype and the knowledge it contains. Our wolf is just a prototype father: his accusation is precisely about the losses he suffered – an astonishing thing – in all five points relevant to his identity:

a) My children may be genetically fox babies.

b) I failed as someone responsible for protecting my family.

c) I may not be the source of authority for my children who have been blinded because of my carelessness or weakness, while the villain remains unpunished and mocks me.

d) My children may not be my heirs.

e) I may not be a proper husband (cuckold!).

What is also amazing is the fact that all cognitive domains appear here. This happens very rarely. Usually, the story updates only this domain, which is important at a given point. We already notice a certain paternalism, early, too early in relation to the time of appearance of this family model. The prototype of the father may be something obsolete today, as Taylor himself admits, but it is 700 years old. In principle, however, the prototype categories combine “structural stability and flexible adaptability” and can integrate new data (Geeraerts quoted by Taylor ←43 | 44→1995: 54). New experiences and content can easily attach to the prototype category as peripheral aspects.

6. Resources of linguistic knowledge. At this point, a place appears for the expelled author who may focus attention on a domain of prototypes in an unashamedly intentional way, because they usually do not activate simultaneously. If we really are “spoken by language,” as a French thinker argued, it is in the same way that we are “walked” by our legs or “looked” by our eyes: we are “incarnated” into our bodies. There are people dissatisfied with their bodies but, after all, if they hope to change something, they will not get rid of them but convert them to their better shapes. Similarly with speech: the hardships and pleasure of literary work consist in describing your experience in your own way; stylistic virtuosity in expressing the same content with various means, achieving the effects intended by the author; these are the examples of mastering the language and, therefore, the real authorship.

The same applies to the self-creation of entities: it is possible thanks to the freedom to focus messages about oneself on selected aspects. Only a talking parrot is not an author. The freedom of authors encounters a limitation in the continuity of prototypes and its rooting of individual actions in interaction (non-text communication, see 2.7). This restriction indicates a fundamental and probably irremovable weakness of individualist theories of emancipated human which suggest that our dependence on language is a curse. We should not be afraid of language or paranoidly exaggerate the limitations that it brings. Fear unnecessarily obscures the language’s creative potential. We would be nothing without language, but we do not become parrots when we use it.

We should assume that the flexibility of prototypes allows changes that, according to Thomas Kuhn (1987: 21), constitute the “central characteristic of scientific revolutions [which] alter the knowledge of nature that is intrinsic to the language itself, and that is thus prior to anything quite describable as description or generalization, scientific or everyday.”

Cognitive linguistics reduces the motivation of linguistic structures to the wealth of different experiences, some of which are common to “all normal healthy human beings, while others are strongly conditioned by culture and the environment;” this is why we notice between languages “both significant similarities and intercultural linguistic diversity” (J. R. Taylor 1995: 191). The reservation about “healthy people” makes it possible to distinguish situations when the language prevails completely, from those when we stand above it; that is, when we are able to reflect, assess the course and meaning of a statement. In fact, “spoken by language” are those people who are unable to reflect or discuss – that is, “haunted,” mad, or utter fools. We do not belong among them as long as we ←44 | 45→can talk about it and, above all, speak about it with others. It is a matter of the metalevel of communication and recursiveness of the message check.

We should distinguish knowledge acquired and possessed by language from the perceptual coding of sensory impressions, on the one hand, and the conceptual coding of cognitive structures, on the other hand (Nolan 1994: 124). The emergence of the theory of prototypes in semantics, which opposes the theory of words modeled on Aristotle’s logical notion of concepts defined by sets of constitutive features, scholars sometimes interpret as a renaissance of Platonic ideas (Kastovsky 1988: 192). They also recall the medieval representation of universals in terms of ontological realism (in opposition to nominalism): if universals somehow exist, they do so exactly as prototype copies. We should recall here the concept of “fetishism” as a form of the functioning of the incarnate, non-arbitrary meaning of words. The Dutch writer Carry van Bruggen proposed the idea in her innovative essay “Hedendaags fetischisme” (1925).

Why do we, then, understand talking animals? Not because they just behave like people. We will still understand them when they will struggle with their problems that we have never encountered. Nevertheless, we will be able to understand and create their possible conversations. Therefore, the question must be asked: why are we able to embody other beings whom we have never seen? This seems possible thanks to the cognitive power of language. The knowledge we owe to the language allows us to make predications about fantastic beings and provides others with an understanding of these statements.

7. Processuality. After the cognitive turn, it is impossible to impose or attribute objects under analysis (captured as structures) with strict internal determinants that exclude the influence of human will. The historical panorama breaks into pieces. Deterministic structuralism should give way to the methodology of structurism (Lloyd, Elias’ figurations, see Chapter 14), which recognizes the initiative of agents that operate within structures but participate in their formation. This is a new aspect of cognitive constructivism. The theory of culture built on communication advocates “not top-down determinism, but bottom-up co-generating.”72 The ontology of works of art (Currie 1989) includes micro-history in the determining of the identity of the work of art. If we see two identical paintings made with the same paints and we cannot distinguish them physically in any way – the counterfeiter could have used materials from the period – then we consider the original the one that was created in a certain ←45 | 46→way and, therefore, in the course of a particular process. This processuality in general can actually describe all objects, not only works of art (Fischer, Ravizza 1998: 173–174): What makes an individual object what it is (and not something else) is partly a function of its actual history. Linguistic reference is a historical phenomenon; the historical view requires that the individual’s use of the term be related in some appropriate way to past uses of the term both individual and, above all, all other.

Many facts are historical, that is, processual. Fischer and Ravizza (p. 205) point to various sources of historical facts: some of them are historical based on their constitutive properties, while others based on the participants. “We do not perceive things, features, and relations separately and for themselves, but always in connection with the facts of the case [Sachverhalt]” (Tegtmeier 1992: 144).

Moral phenomena are historical, that is, processual. The existence of certain virtues is proof that in a given reality there operated procedures responsible for nurturing specific virtues (Fischer, Ravizza 1998: 182). We should thus define the transfer of matters of learning and development to the mainstream of cognitive psychology as the recognition of the historical or processual nature of behavior (Neisser 1999: 179–180), which causes that we must include the social conditioning of all knowledge73 in the philosophical theory of cognition. It will not be possible to develop certain concepts and have the ability to order them and formulate predications without participating in a long process controlled by the community. In this process, the source of knowledge about previous uses of terms is not only the standard language and texts published after thorough editing and correction. There are other, mostly interactive levels of communication. They constitute a complex apparatus, active day and night, thanks to which people may experiment with new meanings and pragmatic procedures but, above all, check standards and make sure that, for instance, “Good morning” still means “Hello” and did not begin to mean “Goodbye.”

To reverse Arthur Danto’s reflection that our knowledge of the past is limited by our ignorance of the future,74 we may say that the relative stability of the ←46 | 47→semantic language apparatus, strongly validated by the cognitive theory, gives a new and powerful clue that continuity and coherence are possible in history; and not just changes, thresholds, breakthroughs, and transformations. All of them form aspects of our cognition of the contemporary reality. By its closeness, the contemporary reality seems to us incomparably more coherent, understandable, and problem-free. That this belief is wrong stems not only from the common lack of universal consent in the assessment of all current events but also the uncertainty which lurks behind every explanation that we give to ourselves or someone else.

The tasks to search for continuity and variability in history and today are not so different. We will finish neither, so we have to limit ourselves to inventory facts or even changes, without trying to place them as moves in a process; that is, such course of events that follows a certain law, rule, plan, or intention. The easiest way to do this is to examine the fragmentary areas, hence the flourishing of microhistory. We should believe that the element of processuality in the ontology of a literary work will be conducive to empiricism. But microprocesses do not exclude macroprocesses, and may even better justify them.

8. Trivial certainty. It seems that the theory of prototypes allows a different look at the earlier stages of literature, when people relied less on fresh, revealing observation, and more on inherited patterns (topos, allegory, folklore, literature for children). As we have considered before, the flexible adaptability of prototypes, which provides a better understanding of old records, requires a constant confirmation of lexical meanings, syntactic rules, associations, pragmatic procedures, and even emotional reactions and the knowledge of standards. It does not suffice what in structural semantics was called the phatic function of expression, which confirms the existence of a communication community. It is necessary to include whole areas of trivial art, the significance of which we do not derive this time from the premises of social history.

Notably, for our purposes, a narrative can become an opportunity for us to deepen our grasp of the moral knowledge and emotions we already command. / This conception of the relation of art, especially narrative art, to morality might be called the transactional view (because of its emphasis on the transaction between the narrative artwork and the moral understanding), or it might be called, as I prefer to call it, the clarificationist view, in honor of the most prized transaction that can transpire between the narrative artwork and the moral understanding. Clarificationism does not claim that, in the standard case, we acquire interesting, new propositional knowledge from artworks, but rather that the artworks in question can deepen our moral understanding by, among other things, encouraging us to apply our moral knowledge and emotions to specific cases. For in being prompted to apply and engage our antecedent moral powers, we may come to augment them (Carroll 1998: 160).

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It is difficult to say whether this position absolves the authors that use traditional means of expression – they were often considered liars or opportunists – or we should consider this approach as undermining the modernist theory of autonomy of the work of art with its obsessive obligation to economy and originality. We have more certainty about the functioning of the principle of clarity in the creative activities of the authors and audiences of the medieval theater.

There is one more benefit to the flexible adaptability of prototypes. If one were to assume after Ankersmit (1996: 31) that there are no a priori objects of historical studies and all historians construct the subject of their research, then we should consider interdisciplinarity as subjective, while intersubjective objects of interdisciplinary research – the same for different disciplines – as not even in existence. But we do have cognitive structures present in language and literature,75 iconography and interactive forms of communication. They link between various disciplines and schools; they enable the comparability of objects while avoiding the objectivization76 pursued by the exact sciences, but which is devastating for the humanities.

Although not quite intersubjective, objects of historical studies do exist. They call to us: Do not be afraid! The news about our disappearance was greatly exaggerated. We still exist. Discover us. Process us, transform us, but do not act as if we never existed. We just could not write. We were not taught Latin. Our writings were destroyed. We were afraid to write the whole truth or write anything. You can blame us for it, but do not forget us!

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61 In this manner G. G. Iggers (1997: 121) summarizes the perspective of Foucault and Derrida.

62 Also see K. Knorr-Cetina, The manufacture of knowledge: an essay on the constructivist and contextual nature of science, Oxford 1981; E. von Glasersfeld, “Facts and the Self from a Constructivist Point of View,” Poetics 18/1989, pp. 435–448; M. Jaeger, Die Philosophie des Konstruktivismus auf dem Hintergrund des Konstruktionsbegriffs, Hildesheim 1998; A. Kolańczyk, Czuję, myślę, jestem. Świadomość i procesy psychiczne w ujęciu poznawczym, Gdańsk 1999, M. Douglas (1984) was the pioneer in cognitive anthropology; also see Amerykańska antropologia kognitywna: poznanie, język, klasyfikacja i kultura, ed. by M. Buchowski, Warszawa 1993.

63 H. R. Jauss, Alterität und Modernität der mittelalterlichen Literatur, München 1977.

64 Ganim 1983: 148: “I would question whether the experience of medieval literature is all that foreign to us.”

65 Ganim 1983: 150: “I would not be the first critic to point out that some medieval and some postmodernist texts resemble each other in achieving their impact by a radical self-reflexiveness and self-consciousness, though both the intent and affect of that self-reflexiveness differ markedly.”

66 Kiening (1996: 42) explains why it is inadequate to declare the non-existence of context or make it equal with text according to the principle il n’y a pas hors-texte (Derrida 1967: 274).

67 In this manner, the newer cognitive psychology (Neisser 1999: 186) describes the knowledge about the environment, which a child gains in the first few months of its life, that allows it to “gain immediate access to the real ecological situation;” that is, to orient itself, where it is, what it is doing, what it has done, and what it can do, for instance, grasp an object. Neisser (185) considers all this to be the knowledge of the “ecological ‘I’” which he already considers to be “an active subject.” “Direct perception is a phenomenological background, a foundation for other, less certain human convictions. It gives unfaltering sense of localization and activity and, as the ecological ‘I,’ gives the feeling of being in the world” (186).

68 It may be difficult when the situation makes us formulate an opinion. Gombrowicz phrased it well in his Trans-Atlantyk: “I’m not so foolish as to have an opinion These Days, or not to have an opinion.”

69 This is where we may expect to find one of the sources of the inflation of truth in the world of the profane (see chapter 19).

70 As part of cognitive linguistics, cf. Językoznawstwo kognitywne: wybór tekstów, eds. W. Kubiński et al., Gdańsk 1998; M. Indyk, “Badacz literatury wobec językoznawstwa kognitywnego,” in: Wiedza o literaturze i edukacja. Księga referatów Zjazdu Polonistów, Warszawa 1995, eds. T. Michałowska et al., Warszawa 1996, pp. 546–558; J. R. Taylor, Linguistic Categorization. Prototypes in Linguistic Theory, Oxford 1995; Podstawy gramatyki kognitywnej, eds. H. Kardela et al., Warszawa 1994.

71 M. Indyk, Badacz literatury wobec językoznawstwa kognitywnego (548) discusses this example, while Levy Jr., “Some Hypotheses about the Family,” ed. Dreitzel, p. 41 formulated a similar thought within the area of sociology of families: “in no moderately modern society has the difference between genders, in the context of family, been diminished to the minimum implied by physiological differences.”

72 B. Lathané, “Dynamic Social Impact: The Creation of Culture by Communication,” Journal of Communication 46.4/1996.

73 U. Neisser, “Systemy polimorficzne. Nowe podejście do teorii poznania,” in: Modele umysłu. Zbiór tekstów, ed. Z. Chlewiński, Warszawa 1999, p. 180, considers the works of Wygotski a breakthrough in this field, as they arrived in the West in 1978 in an English translation entitled Mind and Society.

74 A. Danto, Analytical Philosophy of History, London 1965, p. 15; qtd. after J. Topolski, Jak się pisze i rozumie historię. Tajemnice narracji historycznej, Warszawa 1996, p. 61.

75 Pietraszko (1995: 32) thinks in the same vein about the “structural qualities of the creative consciousness of the researcher” as the seat of interdisciplinarity; a nevertheless outdated idea.

76 Ankersmit (1996: 32) writes about the socialization and collectivization of activity.

3. Pious Spectacle

1. Knowledge of spectacles. The abandonment of the ordeal as a legal trial proved to be an important step on the path to the Sacramental Church – independent on both the secular authority and an unpredictable God’s intervention. Both were possible by imposing certain limitations on the place of the sacred in the mundane world – a more precise spatial and conceptual distinction of the place, which fell under the Church’s control as well as ordinary legal jurisdiction. To be sure, this did not come with a diminishment of the role, or “scope,” of the sacred, but rather with a change of both its ontological status and the way it manifested itself in human reality. This process had various manifestations in all spheres of life. Beginning with some remarks concerning law, politics, fine arts, sciences, and literature, we shall now shift our focus onto theater.

What distinguishes the sphere of performing arts, making it a grateful object of observation? Grateful, that is, promising despite all its ingratitude? The sphere of spectacles seems to combine and expose the highest number of factors which constitute the cultural meanings of events remembered by history. In a narrower perspective, it is a sphere where we can most clearly see all components and aspects of the creative process, which determine the ontological identity of the work of art that has endured to our times. Let us then assume that the convergence of the notion of pium spectaculum with the sphere of theater is not accidental, even though the notion itself was crucial for the cultural development of the West from the Gothic until as late as the Baroque (Heer 1949: 438).

If we are able – following the order known from the history of literature – to first define the inventory of materials and themes used by the writer, then, in order to read their “true” message, we still have to recognize the idea which unifies the work. For individual themes and, albeit to a lesser extent, even ready-made materials may alter their meanings depending on the work’s composition, which usually tells us something about the purpose behind their use. If we read a text that portrays priests or women in an unfavorable light, it is insufficient to describe it as anticlerical or misogynistic. After all, we no longer take suggestive images contained in the old sources at their face value. Of course, some may have believed that these images could provide a mirror reflection of reality, but for a long time now various research schools have tended to treat sources as symptoms of something which yet demands disclosure. Therefore, we may ask about the intention and purpose of the text, and thus about its functioning.

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In order to reveal the idea that informs a cultural statement without risking deception by appearances, it is not enough to conduct a detailed structural analysis of this statement, even though an analysis of this kind is still indispensable – it just goes by different names (recently, “deconstruction”). We have to recognize as many as possible of the elements of this statement which remain rooted in the currents and values of the then reality. Furthermore, it is essential to map the needs, or social situations, which (hypothetically) could be negotiated through this statement (through such a text), and to reconstruct the particular motivations that might have influenced the creation of certain types of works in certain milieus. In this last respect, we should not only distinguish the possible initiators (those who commissioned the work) but also assess the author’s (producer’s, performer’s) background and competencies. It would not harm to imagine the process of production (much harder than it is today, even in the case of manuscripts), performance or staging. In the end, we should also dwell on the circumstances of the work’s reception.

Even if these factors do not manifest themselves at every step of the way and rarely find their place in contemporary sources, we know that they must have had an explicit impact at that time, for without their co-existence the work would never come into being. “Explicit” does not mean “unequivocal.” For instance, motivations for sponsoring the production of performances were revealed faintly, if at all. What is more, the revealed information in this regard usually does not satisfy our critical curiosity. The first, simplest conclusion which we can already draw is that not many people could afford to organize a performance; after all, this is still the case. Moreover, this is not only a matter of costs but also the level of interest, which reflects our convictions of what is consequential and what is secondary. The organizational difficulties involved in the staging of a play – even if the stage was a temporary platform made with planks on barrels – were always so immense that we may gain comprehensive knowledge about a given society merely by explaining the circumstances of its theatrical productions. It is this knowledge that provides the key to the understanding of theatrical work.

Listing art among the activities constitutive of human history, Kenneth Burke, in his The Philosophy of Literary Form (1941), proposes a theory of what he calls “dramatic criticism,”77 which posits the structure of theater (stage, drama, ←50 | 51→backdrop, role) as a model for describing reality in both natural sciences and humanities. Burke believes we may present human actions as a kind of drama; from this follows his vision of history as an “unending conversation” (K. Burke 1941: 111). At one point, he writes suggestively that, “in the discussion of human affairs,” it is “more to be learned from a study of tropes than from a study of tropisms” (114).78 There is a whole school of thought which Clifford Geertz, in his essay “Blurred Genres,” locates against the backdrop of the methodological breakthrough in social sciences.79

2. Theater and drama. We are talking about one while thinking about the other, but we will write about both. However, we must remember that theatrical life is more than performances of dramas in which actors play characters. Karl Young (1933: 80–81) described this as impersonation, seeing it as more important than dialogue – since (contrary to what Chambers thought) there are also entirely dramatic monologues – and even more important than speech (pantomime is a kind of drama); its essence is “physical imitation:” the fact that the “actor” deliberately creates an impression of being someone else – a figure from a particular story.80 Hardison (1965: 30–32) sees the emphasis on impersonation as an excessive enhancement of the theatricality of drama, which leads to a distortion of vision insofar as one places theater in the field of play, that is to say, among the activities devoid of a practical purpose. Hence the element of artificiality or simulation, which Young attributes to acting, and which allows him to exclude church service from consideration, as in this case, the participants ←51 | 52→become whom they represent; Hardison himself opposes to it the concept of identification.

One should not confuse an incarnation of a figure with a living person who is playing a role – and it is precisely for this reason that Edwards (1982: 105) criticizes Young’s definition, pointing out that it mistakes a part for the whole: an attorney, for instance, also plays a specific role, but this does not turn the court into a theater. Of course, the defense, prosecutor, judge – all act and look differently inside and outside the courtroom. However, none of them seeks to give the impression that they are some characters from a story. As Richard Axton demonstrated, impersonation can be of many different degrees: it occurs even when the choir sings hymns to the Messiah in the name of icons carried in procession.81 Thus, in the end, Young’s approach – based on a precise distinction of what may or may not constitute a fictional theatrical narrative – starts losing its object in a variety of transitional forms.

Apart from what we tend to regard as the most vital part of theater, scholars are right to point out the whole sphere of performance understood as activities conducted according to a plan, scenario or protocol, meant for public view (often rehearsed before), but not stemming from a routine course of everyday life in public places or within some communities. Tadeusz Kowzan (1969) presented the most general classification of performances, developing the earlier conceptions by Roger Caillois and Richard Schechner. What we lost by repudiating narrow (premodern?) Young’s definition, we regain by taking into consideration the forms which do not correspond to a particular history or stem from a continuous narrative but which remain artistic constructions: they operate with the symbolic valor of the theme and the intrinsic expression of forms.

The criterion of embodying is critical, for it makes it possible to exclude from (or distinguish within) the realm of theater those situations in which people who perform a spectacle, ceremony or ritual remain themselves – or rather, “play” themselves, since they become impersonal figures that have to perform their acts according to a plan, scenario, protocol or rule; these acts are subject to a different scheme of action as its specific phase. As a consequence, they are personally and legally responsible for the course, validity, and results of the pursued scenario. However, who is a burgher dressed up as a peasant, a man in women’s dress, or the black man of the carnival night? The carnivalesque dressing-up creates ←52 | 53→characteristic identities whose oddity is “an expression of scorn toward the rules of city life” (Lenk 1966: 23). The anonymity of the participants assures safety and provides an alibi against any allegation of infringing the real order. Masquerades rarely produce a fictional or allusive consistent configuration (this would be a kind of theater); it seems that they fulfill their function precisely through “incoherence and contingency,” by creating a field for “initiative and invention of every burgher” (Lenk 1966: 24). Impersonation has its “weak” linguistic form as well, namely prosopopoeia, and even a weaker one – citation in direct speech; it can manifest itself even as an allusion to someone through a change of tone of voice, a facial grimace or a characteristic saying. In this case, the scope of mimic actions – which we tend to employ when we wish to mock somebody – depends on circumstances and participants of communication. Such moments tell us something about the ubiquity of the theatrical element in everyday communication – something that cannot be reduced to ludicity. We mimic the others’ behavior not only for fun but also when we are angry and in other situations when we wish to pass information about someone in a pragmatic way, that is, by expressing our attitude toward the transmitted content. Perhaps, this is the “natural” origin of the interactive-pragmatic model of drama, to which we shall return in the last part (chapter 21); its naturalness rests on its cognitive functions: “[human beings] produce their first acts of understanding by means of imitation; also human beings take delight in imitations … understanding is most pleasant not only for philosophers but in a similar way for everyone else, though they share in it to a short extent” (Aristotle, Poetics, trans. J. Sachs, 1448b, 5–15).

The last sentence is somewhat unfair in its imprecision: it ignores the non-textual “communication of analphabets” (see chapter 17.2). What is more, the discussed sentence stands in contradiction to the former: one cannot say that the foundation of a house influences its shape and durability “in a short extent.” At any rate, the fact that the imitative behavior (“the instinct of imitation;” Aristotle, Poetics, 1448b, 20) can be an impulse for – and a seed of – impersonation, which is both the root and trunk of theatricality (mimetic action, praxis)82 does not undermine Aristotle’s position.

That is why we can distinguish the cases of substitution of figures by an image or a person known from funeral (mainly royal) ceremonies or other – sometimes ←53 | 54→very spectacular – public rituals. Ewa Śnieżyńska-Stolot (1975: 98) calls this type of spectacles “representations of the dead.” Since the sixteenth century, the rider who represented the dead king during the funeral had not only to exhibit his armor but he was also to “fall from his horse, which, of course, was meant to symbolize the king’s death” (1975: 93). However, this kind of impersonation was a marginal phenomenon. For the “representative’s” main function – that of the sacrificer who gives offerings to the Church (1975: 95) – was not so much to remind the viewers of the past deeds and virtues of the deceased as it was to continue the execution of the king’s real tasks and duties, which, as we can see, were not completed with his death. In a sense, the representative was yet another figure of the “king’s second body” described by Kantorowicz.

Another phenomenon and research problem is the formation of the sense of the ontological separateness of staged events.83 Anecdotes about viewers who experience the events on stage as real people’s adventures would fill a volume. Perhaps, they are as old as theater itself, since they appeared at the very birth of medieval theater. Henry of Latvia recounts one such story in the third book of the Livonian Chronicle, which describes a Catholic mission:

De ludo magno, qui fuit in Riga.

That same winter a very elaborate play of the prophets was performed in the middle of Riga in order that the pagans might learn the rudiments of the Christian faith by an ocular demonstration. The subject of this play was most diligently explained to both converts and pagans through an interpreter. When, however, the army of Gideon fought the Philistines, the pagans began to take flight, fearing lest they be killed, but they were quietly called back.84

This is not the first time when a fact of crucial importance to us – a Biblical mystery staged for catechetical purposes – finds its way into chronicles thanks to a secondary anecdotic event.

It is worth quoting the question which Ernest Soens (1893: 144) posed with respect to play: those who can distinguish play from serious action should tell us what was what when, during the three months before the planned spectacle, the “devils” plundered the city and surrounding villages with the consent of the authorities in order to obtain the materials needed to organize the festival. We understand the perpetrators’ impunity; after all, they are already acting in their impersonations. On the subject of seriousness and fun, we have to agree ←54 | 55→that people of that time did not consider matters of recreation – let alone such mystery plays – as trivial. Similarly, the concepts of ludicity are territorially relative: for instance, dance seems fun to us, while for others it may be a very dramatic ritual; the South African trade unionists demonstrate by dancing across the streets – and they are not having fun during these protests!

Besides, if the essence of this phenomenon is indisputable, Soen’s apt remark still pertains: if there was nothing serious about plays, they would not be banned so often.

The question is important to us since the field of non-theatrical spectacles includes all festivities and plays whose scenarios are a social property. However, their particular course always depends on the participants’ behavior.

The research issues here include: (1) the typology of the spectacles and their orderers: the church, the ruler, the city. These parties were not utterly independent, and their intentions were not always the same (Nijsten 1988: 39); (2) the description of all institutions (media) involved in performances: jugglers, confraternities, theatres. Reflection on the audience can never be set aside.

Nonetheless, we shall devote most of our attention to dramatic literature, searching mainly for characteristic traits of the selected texts in which certain civilizational processes manifest themselves. By analyzing and interpreting certain motifs in certain traditions or particular texts related to spectacles, we will aim to provide a more general overview of the various ways in which theatrical writing has been organized so far through the description of the content of genres.

3. Pium spectaculum. This is the shortest way to describe theater in the medieval reality. Regardless of whether the tradition of theater performances persisted since the Antiquity, preserving to a limited extent the idea of theater, or whether the Middle Ages had to restore this tradition, while all its textual traces were mere metaphors85 – it is beyond the pale of doubt that theatre has functional ←55 | 56→links with other areas of social and mental life. It is well known that in social life everything is connected with everything else in an uninterrupted sequence of effects, which immediately become causes. A certain minimum of concretization should be to explain whether a certain phenomenon is only a fact that occurs as a result of some efficient cause, or we should describe it as intentional and purposeful (for it is a systemic certainty that everything has a certain impact on the surroundings). Hence, we should not easily believe claims that some facts or phenomena occurred or existed regardless of the conditions. If we simply take into account the effort to organize anything on a social scale, we have to perceive the appearance or persistence of social facts as a function a certain need and count them among the texts of culture.

Among the conditions of the theatrical expression, which I present here in a nutshell, there is one factor that I shall examine in more detail. Why religion? It may seem that, at least insofar as medieval research goes, there is no need to explain one’s interest in the religious factor. But the history of medieval studies clearly shows that this is not utterly obvious. The twentieth century, and especially its last decades, witnessed plenty of attempts to demonstrate that the Middle Ages were not so much Christian as pagan (Delumeau even goes on to write about “the myth of the Christian Middle Ages”!), that pagan (“Indo-European”!) traditions were widespread at the time, and manifested themselves in the popularity of “the most absurd practices and spells” (Koller 1991: 155).86 The work of John Van Engen (1986) can be considered as an important voice which calls historians to order. In turn, Clifford Geertz’s anthropological oeuvre contributed to changing the views on the role of religion. Hardison (1965: 14–18) accused Chambers’ fundamental work on the history of medieval drama (Chambers 1903) of ignoring the specificity of religion and being tendentious in searching ←56 | 57→for traces of paganism and anticlericalism. Later, Hardison (20–34) denounced “Darwinism” in the views and works of Chambers’ great continuator, Karl Young (1933). Today, religion seems to win its way back into favor, also in the area of literary studies which interests us most.87

However, even if we were to limit the concept of religion to pre-Reformation Christianity, it would be still impossible to describe the role this factor played in medieval theater and drama. Therefore, I do not seek to reconstruct the detailed history of theater – which, after all, is not free of gaps – in connection with the whole of the religious life of the Church and its literature, even though I will often refer to these themes. Still, my primary aim is to take a more systematic look at the central motif of the religious imagination, namely – the co-existence of drama and the sacred.

The sacred is both less and more than religion. Thus, by examining this idea, one may outline a theory of the relationship between religion and literature. In the course of the study, drama and theater lose much of their uniqueness, as they appear merely as one of the tools, mechanisms, and manifestations of the cultural organization of social life. I shall use a certain model that tends toward abstraction and does not focus on details. It is difficult to find another method in the conditions of negative necessity. After all, many facts are missing: if there are any, they remain largely undated, and if we have a chance to determine their date, it is often relative, which makes it impossible to explain their chronology… However, modeling does not exclude, but rather allows us to employ both a functional and a hermeneutical approach. Instead, it does not allow us to get lost in details while using either of these approaches. In what follows, then, we will explore the social reality to trace the factors that reveal the experience and functioning of the sacred imagination as well as its intellectual basis (chapter 4). I shall present these factors as forms of piety (chapter 5).

←57 | 58→←58 | 59→

77 Or “dialectical,” as it follows the distinction of positive, independent, and dialectical concepts in language. The latter, to be fully understood, require an antonym (for instance, “freedom”). One should understand the term “criticism” in a broad sense that encompasses the whole of culture, not only literature or fine arts. Today, the term “hermeneutics” approximates this sense.

78 Tropes are rhetorical figures. Contrary to appearances, these two fields intermingle in cognitive psychology and biological theory of cognition (see below references to Maturana 1998, Nolan 1994, Wadsworth 1998, and Schmidt 1987).

79 The fact that the title itself highlights the feature of mixed genres can be misleading, as it suggests that this was a unique phenomenon in the history of writing. Instead, the blurring of genres is often the case both at the beginning and the end of a genre’s existence, when it generates different genres or transforms itself. A. Knight had to devote a whole chapter (that is, around a quarter of his work) on late medieval genres in French drama to the problem of untypical forms. Cf. J. Trzynadlowski, “O zjawiskach międzygatunkowych w utworach literackich,” in: Zagadnienia Rodzajów Literackich, 1966, 8, pp. 147–150.

80 “The actors pretend to be the personages concerned in the story” (Young 1933: 80). Similarly, for instance, A. Pompen, “Het kerkelijk drama,” Tijdschrift voor Taal en Letteren 26/1938; O. Jodogne, “Recherches sur les débuts du théâtre religieux en France”, Cahiers de Civilisation Médiévale 8/1965; W. M. H. Hüsken (1987: 36–38) discusses both these articles, highlighting the role of impersonation as a criterion of the dramatic.

81 R. Axton, European Drama of the Early Middle Ages, London 1974, p. 72; qtd. after E. C. Dunn, “The Farced Epistle as Dramatic Form in the Twelfth Century Renaissance,” CD 29/1995, p. 373 (the article also discusses other such cases).

82 Aristotle does not use the imitative instinct as an explanation of scenic theatricality, but limits himself to the poetic, textual “imitation.” The spectacular aspect is reduced to the plastic representation or optical dimension: opseos cosmos, an ordered world of the appearance.

83 I shall discuss its function in chapter 23.

84 “Records of Western civilization,” in: Heinrici Chronicon Livoniae. The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia, transl. J.A. Brundage, Columbia University Press, 2003, p. 53.

85 E. R. Curtius discusses them in his European Literature and the Middle Ages (pp. 138–145). Cf. also M. H. Marshall, “Theater in the Middle Ages: Evidence from Dictionaries and Glosses,” Symposium 1954, 25, pp. 471–482; for a brief outline, see J. Lewański, Średniowieczne gatunki dramatyczno-teatralne, Vol. 2: Komedia elegijna, Warszawa 1968, pp. 102–105. However, there is still more evidence of the tradition of smaller-scale entertainment, performed by small groups of jugglers; see T. Gunnell, The Origins of Drama in Scandinavia, Cambridge 1995; “The Rights of the Player: Evidence of Mimi and Histriones in Early Medieval Scandinavia”, CD 30/1996, pp. 1–31; C. Davidson, The medieval stage and the antitheatrical prejudice, 1997 (an overview of critical voices against actors); J. Wasson, Professional Actors in the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, in: Medieval and Renaissance Drama in English, New York 1984 I, pp. 1–11; P. Meredith, “The Professional Travelling Players of the Fifteenth Century: Myth or Reality?”, in: Higgins 1997: 25–40;A. Dąbrówka, “The Playhouses of the Middle Ages,” in: Oggetti materiali e pratiche della rappresentazione nel teatro medieval, ed. T. Pacchiarotti, L. Kovacs «RICERCHE INTERMEDIEVALI» 8, Alessandria, Edizioni dell’Orso, 2014, pp. 171–191.

86 It is symptomatic that the majority of medieval studies translated into Polish represents this option. If we were to believe, for example, the message of L. Milis’ book (1996), we should quickly verify not only our knowledge but even get rid of the proverb “ora et labora” or the term “Benedictine patience;” the author claims that the Black Monks did not work so hard. Cf. also M. Gretsch, The Intellectual Foundations of the English Benedictine Reform, Cambridge 1999.

87 For more collections and conferences, see Religion in the poetry and drama of the late middle ages in England, ed. P. Boitani, Perugia 1988; E. Th. Lawson, Rethinking religion: Connecting cognition and culture, Cambridge 1990; Haug, Wachinger 1993c; Die Vermittlung geistlicher Inhalte im deutschen Mittelalter. Internationales Symposium, Roscrea 1994, ed. T. R. Jackson, Tübingen 1996; Ch. Kiening, “Antropologische Zugänge zur mittelalterlichen Literatur. Konzepte, Ansätze, Perspektiven,” Jahrbuch für Internationale Germanistik 5/1996, Vol. 1, ed. H. J. Schiever, Forschungsberichte zur Mediävistik, pp. 11–129; Cultures of Piety, Medieval English Devotional Literature in Translation, eds. A. C. Bartlett, T. H. Bestul, Ithaca 1999.

4. The Sacred

1. Religion as a cultural system. It is worth considering the sacred in connection with the profane, even if we do not prejudge the completeness of the world as divided into two parts. Hence, we more clearly perceive the dynamics of these two spheres, whose delimitation is fluid.

We cannot think about the sphere of the sacred as a fixed and separate being, but only as a variable set of tools – usually behaviors or rhetorical grips – which serve a purpose. Thus, we should always observe the hand that moves this tool; or at least try to identify it somehow.

Durkheim’s coupling of the sacred and the profane, which indirectly included God – as the foundation of a generalized description of religion – into sociological research, was known for a long time.88 We do not need to follow the approaches that attempt to cover the widest range of religious phenomena known to anthropology, which includes taboo in the generalization; that is, some form of prohibition, a crossing of boundaries of areas which then requires one to perform purification rituals.89 Rudolf Otto’s theory from Das Heilige (1917) also uses the theological method while introducing several new, even more mysterious terms that at most name certain aspects of the phenomenon of the sacred (the revelation of mystery, ethical imperative, aesthetic expression, dogmatic system), but they do not explain the characteristics of the sacred; that the operation of these aspects proceeds in accordance with the balance of power between rationality and irrationality is only an apparent explanation, worth as much as the statement that it is variable.

The pragmatic approach seems to be more practical because it emphasizes the culture-forming power of religion. Clifford Geertz’s position assures that religion is (1) a system of symbols that serves (2) to create strong, spreading, and lasting attitudes and motivations in people through (3) the formation of ←59 | 60→conceptions about the existence of a general order of being and (4) conferring to these concepts the aura of such factuality that (5) attitudes and motivations seem completely real (1966). In addition to his disagreement with Durkheim (and his exceptionality of the ritual), Geertz clearly emphasizes a continuation (integrationism).

The definition proves that the ideas of faith, values, and norms conveyed in works (cultural utterances) not only come from something and cause something but also serve something; that this transmission requires considerable effort and happens through intentional and coordinated actions of people; and, that transmitting finds confirmation in environments that themselves authenticate the factuality and truthfulness of faith. This view of religion as a co-creating, non-secondary, and therefore civilizing cultural system agrees with the cognitive turn and, in particular, with Bibb Latané’s dynamic social impact theory.

In this book, I am interested in this mysterious heart of religion, the sacred. The recognition of its peculiarity will protect us from the far-reaching sociologization of religion that dissolves it in the field of culture in the currently accepted broad sense of social anthropology. Even when considering the co-creative character of the religious ritual in the expression and construction of social stratification,90 Schmitt (pp. 34–35) uses Burke’s definition of culture (Popular Culture in Early Modern France) by which the former identifies the sphere of religion with the sphere of culture as a “[s];ystem of shared meanings, attitudes, norms, and symbolic forms (performances, artifacts), in which they find their expression and embodiment.”

Only an element or metaphysical dimension remains the distinguishing feature of religion because culture does not have to contain it. This probably does not happen in practice. Van der Leeuw (1997: 516–517) claims that religion is a universal phenomenon; even atheism is for him a type of a “religion of escape,” only that it has not received a historical shape; atheists, as soon as they escape the power of religion, immediately fall into the mouth of another. They can go from God to the Devil but, after all – phenomenologically speaking – the Devil is also a kind of “god.”

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2. The spectrum of sacrality (Becker’s ladder). Aware of the danger of sociologization, we use the classification of sacred phenomena developed by the sociologist Howard Becker (1967). In fact, it is an outline of a spectrum of real phenomena – that is, observable social behaviors, beyond any metaphysics – that fit between the poles of sacredness and secularity. The notions of the sacred and profane constitute only a part of this area and will receive more precise definition; but, due to their peculiarity, I will sometimes use them pars pro toto. Becker’s diagram does not provide a more accurate picture of the sacred, which we consider here, but its broad range seems revealing and useful because it shows the processual contexts of the sacred, which then enables us to understand and consider its dynamics. Thanks to Becker’s diagram, what was the reason of ambiguity now appears unified because, in all possible definitions, the bond between the carriers of the sacred and its essence will always be ambiguous (relativism, contextualism; Kehrer 1997: 38). If, however, after Becker, we assign this pair with other content – more sociological than metaphysical – then we will give them a certain degree of precision, independent of the metaphysical and conditioned only by the social context.

The spectrum of the sacred and profane is divided according to the types of attitudes and behaviors in relation to social changes. For a sociologist, sacrifice appears as a sanctification of the known, immunity or resistance to newness, defined by members of the community; sacral societies cultivate systems of value hostile to changes (Becker 1967: 315).

This theoretical assumption receives reinforcement from religious practice: the recognition of the perenniality and immutability of God the Creator as the obvious source and the ideal temple of the sacred. This happens without any doctrinal justification, at the mythological level, almost instinctively. One may formulate it clearly in relation to God – as we read in the writings of the great Augustine of Hippo91 – and the daily affairs of the Church – as we may find in the writings of the less notable Nicholas Magni (1355–1435). According to the latter, it is unacceptable to add or change anything in the service of God without the ←61 | 62→permission of the authorities, not to mention distorting, shortening, or cutting parts of the approved form of worship.92

We may count this postulate of permanence among universal anthropological data: the proper function of the ritual is to keep the continuity of experience alive (Lévi-Strauss 1993: 314).93 Thus, the ritual is a form of “social science” – quite adequate in comparison with the modern methods – thanks to the collectivity of its attributes. The ritual was a “group dance” in which everyone partook, a spell that sustained a much stronger sense of group affiliation (consubstantiality) than simulated today by typical acts of private enterprise (K. Burke, 1941: 109).

This analogy sheds light on the institutional similarity of science to religion, which surprised Thomas S. Kuhn so much. An important formal aspect of the ritual’s durability is repetition; that is, the real firmness of the ritual rules of the game and sequences that guarantee the predictability of the next configuration (Tambiah 1979: 118), which actually belongs to the definition of the ritual.

According to Becker, one may attribute sacrality to various behaviors. He argues that any social behavior with an emotional reluctance to change holds the attribute of sacrality (Becker 1967: 319). We conclude from the character of his examples that Becker does not conduct a complete reduction of the sacred to behaviors, but also includes certain values and symbols, the existence of which necessarily involves certain behaviors and attitudes. We should probably not understand the emotionality of these attitudes in terms of feelings, as personal idiosyncrasy, but rather in terms of positive cognition, as an expression of deep beliefs about the validity and significance of what is “hallowed” and should be protected from change. If we were to look for feelings somewhere, we could find them in the satisfaction resulting from the repeated experience of certain situations, which ensures their better understanding (see Carroll 1998: 160: “clarification”). It may be the source of theological justification: you ←62 | 63→are a just person when you participate in something good and contribute to its strengthening. Again, we must attribute this whole set of attitudes to the consequences of recognizing the role of God as the creator of this world. As Maria Corti noted (1979: 341) about the Trinitarian model of social structure, the divinity of the model imbues it with sacrality; that is, this divinity obliges society to remain unchanged because any change would be a trespassing against God’s plan. Hence, we suddenly are very close to diabolizing “all people who seek to change their position.”94 “The emotional reluctance to change” rather resembles the fear of losing something indispensable.

In his argumentation, Becker includes both positive and negative elements, because it is easier to assume that such attitudes are nevertheless rational.95 Moreover, his theory stems from the concept of innovation and new research in this area brought remarkable results.96

Becker’s scale distinguishes eight degrees of sacrality:

1) holiness (the sanctified sacred) includes behaviors which express an orientation to the supernatural element (God,97 gods, spirituality) which one should honor;

2) the ceremonial sacred includes secular rituals (for instance, ceremonial ship launching, military drill, lawsuit, bureaucratic procedures); they are characterized by the use of some non-functional equipment, such as banners, academic gowns, and judges’ wigs; these rituals are sometimes as irrational as in religion; it corresponds with “the general law of the ritual expression of ←63 | 64→social values;”98 Erving Goffman (1967) describes some units of verbal interaction as interpersonal rituals (for instance, apologizing, thanking) that can be placed on each of the next steps;

3) the sacred of loyalty includes the feelings that unite the collectivity: patriotism, solidarity, der Mannschaftsgeist; it manifests in sacrifice for the good of the group;99

4) the sacred of intimacy includes personal feelings: love, familial bonds, friendship, sense of belonging, integration;

5) the sacred of commemoration is usually associated with mourning and its after-effects (“of blessed memory”); here belong memorials and the celebration of anniversaries which connect with the higher sacred;

6) the ethical (moralistic) sacred: duties, obligations, often legally sanctioned; customs, often religiously sanctioned; here are possible conflicts in distinction: the morality of specific acts and people and the ethics of general directives; the ruthlessness of orders provokes the issue of “justice” and its exceptions; honor thy father… and if he is wicked?; someone is drowning… to jump or not to jump? (it depends who is drowning);

7) the sacred of decency (schicklich); politeness; “No one will sacrifice life here, but we assume various discomforts and even risks;” the impropriety of behavior appears as a demonstrative lack of respect or aggression;

8) the sacred of appropriateness (angemessen); other social control mechanisms than in point number 7; that what is accepted; in this case, a violation does not manifest bad will, disrespect, or aggression, but the lack of knowledge, self-development, and upbringing.

The order of the steps will probably not always be the same everywhere. It is a reflection of the contemporary local value scale. Literature is full of tragedies, dramas, and comedies, developed on the background of conflict of different levels of sacrality (religious commandment vs. tyrannical law, formal law vs. custom, loyalty to divine and human laws vs. emotional ties, etc.); many well-known literary heroes may be characterized as virtuosos or victims of various levels of the sacred. The same applies to social reality. If a revolution takes place in a ←64 | 65→country, it will prove useful to identify the slogans and moves of its supporters and opponents to the levels of Becker’s ladder. If in this country, after the revolution, there appears a problem with the pantheon – created earlier for the glory of the recently-overthrown tyranny, there will rise defendants of the state of affairs who, in the name of the sacred of memory (5th level, “do not disturb the peace of the dead”) will oppose the demands made in the name of the sacred of loyalty which in this case would be patriotism (3rd level: “do not worship the traitors of the homeland”). Violations of the sacred exist everywhere in various but similar forms. A brilliant author or a whim of the ingenious fortune brings many surprises. Although globally, the importance of the matter diminishes, there is no guarantee that a violation of the lower level of the sacred will always be less important in the eyes of society. At times, one may harm their position by maladjustment to the 8th level of the sacred (for instance, vulgar language) than by lack of character; even a fat and uncouth revolutionary who risked his life for a good cause may lose trust in competition with an eloquent man of the old regime, whose only sacrifice for the motherland was, say, a timely slimming treatment.

3. Secularization. In a similar vein, Becker redefines the sphere of secularity – as the field of operations of the attitude for the acceptance of change or the readiness to conduct change. However, Becker cannot expand the spectrum of profanity, also called secularization and secularity, and presents only four ranges:100

1) accompanying secularization (folgende) allows for limited freedom of social change; the constraint imposes the core of a value system that should not be changed; for instance, in a constitutional monarchy, the king may not violate the law;

2) consistent secularization; there are no limits for changes; nothing is sacred (Nichts Heiliges); for instance, modern war only apparently (and not everywhere) follows international conventions;

3) comfortable secularization (komfortable Sekularität); I do what I like (p. 324); Znaniecki calls it “sensual values;” for a long time during Saturnalia and carnivals; however, there remains a possibility of the elimination of restrictions, disorganization, and acceleration of social change (by ignoring traditional limitations and provoking new solutions);

4) adventurous secularization; experiments with stimulants and erotic excess; truancy; “everything for fun;” “do whatever you want;” the wider scope of this ←65 | 66→secularization results in a complete openness to change and disappearance of norms which equals anomy; the system of values ceases to be a system and becomes a loose collection of isolated elements without connection; another possibility is a pluralism of systems of values in societies (also in people?), their conflict or coexistence.

As you can see, secularization is not a denial but the opposite of preserving attitudes. Each of the eight levels of sacrality appears with contradictions – some of them even named by Becker – while the four-ranged spectrum of secularization organizes deeper motives of behaviors that negate or ignore the sacred and expresses their range or intensity. It is possible that the ambiguous assessment of the denials of the sacred somehow reflects the different structuring of the broadly-understood world of the profane. Moreover, in point four, there is a possibility of more detailed distinctions; the separation of the state of anomie seems the most necessary. Furthermore, one could say that the sphere of the profane also has its institutions that defend the durability of the secularization mechanism, drive the changes, and make it impossible to stop the constant pursuit of novelty and differentiation. There are whole classes of behaviors with an indisputable presence in the culture which serve this purpose (fashion reviews, charts, etc.); and, since they are irremovable, they are a kind of the sacred.

Despite its imperfections, this diagram will prove useful for us more than once. For now, we will only consider the first point, because it concerns what is closest to the traditional understanding of the sacred: the metaphysical sphere. The nature of the sacred implies that we can only describe it in a special way: by how its existence (or belief in its existence) affects people’s behavior. One should, therefore, choose from those behaviors such ones, which connect with faith in the existence and operation of the sacred. Behaviors are already a proper object of research in the social sciences, they have their own history, genetic varieties, and are – as is well-known – hereditary.101 We will refer to the abovementioned definition of religion to more accurately determine the theoretical place of the sacred.

4. The system of operations. If we are talking about a system of symbols used to create attitudes by forming imaginations, then we must ask what makes this system work. Because it is a system, what is important are not only its elements but also the links between them that explain, justify, or legitimize on the basis of some rationality; we should perceive here a system of knowledge, a theory. If the system forms images or allows to form them, if it provides components for the ←66 | 67→images or authorizations to proclaim them, it must use symbols as arguments which must explain something paradoxically, seemingly, intuitively, figuratively, associatively, or rationally. Even the symbols that signify the existence of gods or are considered to be their property, gift, or seat – such as “holy” trees, groves, mountains – must be recognized as such: someone must declare their special character, they must have an “attached instructions for use;” namely, an even fragmentary theory of functioning. In computer terms: in addition to data, the control center must be equipped with the operations that it may apply to the data. The cybernetic system does not reproduce itself, but the cultural system actually exists thanks to the human ability to devise new operations (Hays 1974: 212). Culture comes from people who not only spread symbols but also preach certain theories; that is, they add operations to the disseminated data. Like language signs, symbols cannot work if the user does not know their meaning, value, action, and effectiveness; it is the internalization of operations that is the source of persuasion and explanation. It is obvious that the knowledge of the operational side of the symbolic system is the responsibility of the researcher. It is due to the difficulty of operationalization that I do not use here the definition of religion by Helmuth von Glasenapp and Peter Dinzelbacher – although it legibly develops on the concept of the sacred, which Geertz’s does not – “Religion is faith in the existence of supernatural personal or impersonal powers with which a person establishes a relationship; a faith engaged (betätigt) in thinking, feeling, willing, and acting” (Dinzelbacher 1990: 12). “Engaged” suggests action but without any direction, purpose, or expected result. There also is no social dimension here.

Wittgenstein called for nothing else but operationality and considered the description of language forms that does not consider operationality to be an error of science (Vorlesungen über Aesthetik, part I, 5). It was before the emergence of linguistic pragmatics, which addressed the laws of the actual use of language that previously escaped systematic description, fit not within grammars, and only partially found a place in stylistics.

The status of the system offers indirect proof that the explanatory power is important for its users. If it were not for explaining, the “revelation” would not contain the “word of God” and the Bible would not be holy. Hence, the system of symbols means our knowledge about a set of symbols. The word “our” is of course theoretically unnecessary, but it reminds us that there is no other knowledge than ours, namely the one that some people have gathered. Even if we understand “us” in a particular way, then the word warns against a variety of systems of symbols that may appear on the same factual basis. Similarly, Goodenough (1964: 36) reduces the entire culture to the knowledge of operations, which he defines as

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this is all one needs to know, or what one should believe, to operate in a way accepted by others…. Culture is, therefore, a knowledge that needs to be mastered. Not things, not people, behavior, or emotions. Instead, it is the organization of all this.

Clearly, Goodenough emphasizes what we would call – in terms of generative grammar – the competence that conditions the correct performance. This is in line with the principles of cognitivism. The second part foregrounds the systemic aspect.

Rightly so, because what is important for the explanatory function are not only the actual contents carried by the symbols but also their set (repertoire) and systemicity. Especially a larger cultural system must operate with a numerous set of symbols, which must have a significant internal consistency; although, it does not have to be as complete as in an ideal mathematical theory. Without the set of symbols, the consistency will not receive enough trust and support, or it will not be permanent. We know from anthropology that peoples are quite willing and unscrupulous in their search and acceptance of new, “more effective” gods. In the history of religion, one should also expect the influence of this kind of attitude. For example, we know that the Christianization of the Saxons,102 and probably the Slavs, happened relatively easily; inconsistent systems did not have internal safeguards against the change of the pantheon, so the emergence of new elements enriched an already syncretic set of beliefs. Christianization, as Van Engen noticed (1986: 549), did not have to be a “brutal acculturation” everywhere.103

The consistency of a story usually emerges from the genealogy of the main heroes of mythology or, more generally, kinship relations. Both oral tradition ←68 | 69→and historiography employ this method. The history of Rome functioned as the story of Aeneas (Ong 1967: 204),104 and a frequent form of such a story will be that of a great, troublesome journey. Only after bureaucracy with its collection of written records replaces Gesta, “the heroic figure of the king is no longer needed” (Ong 1967: 205). In the iconography, the image, portrait of an outstanding character “played the role of one of the most communicative signs which consolidated collective memory” (Mrozowski 1997: 207).

At the same time, however, consistency appears on the level of content in allegorical interpretation which, moreover, often links people – allegedly, mythically – related. The repeatability of the cycles of events serves not only consistency but also psychological functions in (especially oral) literature and shapes the process of personality development (Haug 1990b). Furthermore, this applies to themes of family and travels; we know from fairy tales that the characters of three brothers, who consecutively do the same thing until the last one succeeds, are a compositional attempt to capture the process of the improvement of one personality in time, which was incomprehensible for folk psychology. Similarly, travels are a narrative device to show the hero’s personality development as movement in space.

5. System stability and variability. There must be elements in the symbolic resource that should not be removed without changing the essence of the system; for instance, although one can imagine it, it is difficult to predict such evolution of Christianity in which the symbol of the cross would no longer be used. The popularity of this symbol may give outside observers the wrong impression that the Cross is the deity of Christians. Meanwhile, neither the crucifix nor crossing oneself nor the Cross is God. To imagine this religion with another symbolism, it suffices to recall the first three centuries of our era. We should position the beginnings of the “career” of the cross as the main symbol of Christianity after the appearance of the relic of the Cross of Golgotha (inventio crucis; not earlier than 320 AD) and its official and solemn erection in Constantinople on September 14, 335 (exaltatio crucis).105 “Neither in catacomb paintings nor the 3rd- and 4th-century sepulchral arts has the image of the crucifixion been ←69 | 70→preserved…. The first two images of the crucifixion with certain dating come from the period around 430” (LCI 2, col. 608).

But the image of Christ suffering and dying on the cross begins to complement, then to balance the image of the living and winning Christ only from the 9th century, displacing him (not entirely) in the 13th century.106 Against this background, the question arises: to which point does the innovation not change the system. Positions vary here, depending on how many sets of symbols or statements (rules) we consider to be basic and decisive for the identity of the system. We see this, for example, in the qualification of heresy: some consider Albigenism to be a different religion107 because it rejected many principles, including Christ’s incarnation and resurrection (Mercier 1986: 154). They did not recognize the worship of Christmas, Crucifixion, or Mary; around 1200, the “threat of breaking Christianity” was very real (Kłoczowski 1973: 174). But is anachoresis not another religion?108

It would seem that the inclusion of new symbols in the system should not cause such doctrinal problems, but until the relative demarcation of the divine and human world in sacramentalism (see next chapter 5.6.), the world was treated as a deposit, a gift from God, so that people should keep it in an unaltered state, also keep in it the same reserve of information that was given; acquisition of knowledge for the sake of knowledge alone was considered vanity (vana curiositas; Corti 1979: 341).

Not all elements from the repertoire of a given cultural reality – especially the new and marginal ones – co-create structures automatically. The average users decide about everything like they do in language: whether they broadly assume changes or not. Innovations exist in the set extra-systemically, as in all the areas, in which the law of large numbers operates: an average center emerges from some processes while others remain a reserve fund, also for innovation. The former becomes the subject of historical-cultural processes (transmission and tradition), the latter persevere without the participation of social institutions of universal reach, by imitating the only available pattern. Scholars probably underestimate the reach of transmissions, traditions, and subcultural creations. How people perceive them and how they exist in society depends on the degree of internalization of the self-model in a community. If the model of ←70 | 71→its self-description receives wide acceptation, which appears in legal, moral, and religious normativity, then (in the context of Corti 1979: 341) what does not fit the model does not exist at the level of signs and has no cultural or religious significance. What does not fit exists existentially as a mistake, dissonance, negative element, (pluralizing, centrifugal) entropy; people either ignore it or – if it manifests itself clearly or painfully – use as a negative model; finally, we subject it to more determined practices of exclusion (chapter 26).109

What comes to mind in this context is an analogy with natural language: grammar decides about the language’s identity, not the number of lexical borrowings.

6. “Sacredness is, above all, real(Eliade 1958: 460). If the symbols are the seat of the sacred, then where is it situated, how wide is the set of these carriers: objects, places, activities, and events? The type, set, and binder of these symbols changes in the existing religious system. This does not undermine Becker’s theory. On the contrary, it is the continuous process of spontaneous and inevitable changes in society that happens under the control of the mechanism of sacrality. This mechanism guarantees the homeostasis of the system. Geertz also assumes that the attitudes and motivations produced by the religious system are to be strong, expansive, and permanent – and not unchanging. Therefore, we should seek Beckerian sacrality in relation to each of these areas: elements, repertoire, consistency of the system of symbols. I will consider this dynamically in chapter 6.

In the meantime, we may draw another advantage from combining both theories. Geertz (1997) posed the problem of the synthesis of two research positions, which use drama apparatus in the description of society. Burke’s position organizes into drama the whole of the symbolic acts that fill history and appear to people as objective social institutions to which they must adapt. The position derived from the theory of ritual drama perceives the powers that shape ←71 | 72→society in the continuous staging of theatrical ceremonies (the school of Victor Turner110). What do the Theater and Agora have in common? What do Temple and Tribune? According to Geertz (1997: 225), the “basis of analogy” between them is “difficult to grasp.”

And yet, what would suffice to explain the basis of this analogy and the unity of the two positions is Geertz’s own theory of religion (1966) but, for unknown reasons, the author does not notice the possibility.111 It is worth noting that in Plotinus’ theodicy, the structure of drama serves as an argument: evil is needed in the world, which would otherwise be incomplete, just as a drama loses its beauty if it presents only positive heroes.112 The analogy between the Theater and Agora is, of course, deeper than the fact that in both we deal with “a certain kind of acting.” A cultural subsystem implements its procedures of “formulating conceptions of a general order of existence” in both. Both of these spheres (here Becker helps us) celebrate their sacred. Let us not forget and add the third element that I mentioned: next to the Stage and the Parliament, there is also the Marketplace. Apart from the Pulpit and Lectern, there is also the Counter (with the always open Cash Register, of course).

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88 Fourth Council of the Lateran, 1215, operates with the categories the sacred–the profane on a practical level, in the form of order to clean altar utensils: “for it is absurd to neglect the filthiness in the sacred things which is unbecoming even in the profane” (Nimis enim videtur absurdum, in sacris sordes negligere, quae dedecerent etiam in profanis). Decree 19, Mansi, Vol. 22, col. 1007D.

89 “[A]; religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and surrounded by prohibitions—beliefs and practices that unite its adherents in a single moral community called a church” (E. Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, transl. Carol Cosman, Oxford 2001, p. 46).

90 Among others, see R. C. Trexler, “Florentine Religious Experience: The Sacred Image,” Studies in the Renaissance 19/1972, pp. 7–41. The ritual forms a relation between people and between humankind and God, which stretches far beyond the borders typically applied to the sphere of religion, because the ritual not only reveals the social differences between the patricians and craftsmen, men and women, youth (fanciulli) and adults – but also co-creates them.

91 “God is the only immutable substance or being” (De Trinitate); “but what are those higher things, if not this, in which resides the highest, immutable, and eternal equality?” (De Musica). Qtd. after A. F. Johnston, “‘At the Still Point of the turning world’: Augustinian roots of medieval dramaturgy,” in: Higgins 1997: 6. Cf. E. Przywara, An Augustine Synthesis, New York 1958, p. 98, and L. Schopp, The Fathers of the Church, New York 1948, p. 355.

92 “[N];on licet in divino cultu addere propria auctoritate ympnos, sequencias, historias novas aut quecunque alia absque superiorum approbacione, et minus licet divinum cultum approbatum et debitum corripere, sincopare aut minuere.” Qtd. after Bylina 1978: 140 who takes it from a copy of De superstitionibus, manuscript at Biblioteka Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, I F 313, k. 268r, and a partial edition in A. Franz, Der Magister Nikolaus Magni de Jawor. Ein Beitrag zur Literatur- und Gelehrtengeschichte des 14. und 15. Jhs., Fryburg 1898, p. 179. Also see K. Bracha, Teolog, diabeł i zabobony. Świadectwo traktatu Mikołaja Magni z Jawora “De superstitionibus” (1405 rok), Warszawa 1999.

93 We may even add “black rituals” here (fights, murder, cannibalism), so lasting that probably used to a certain end.

94 Potkowski (1978: 126) refers in this manner the view of the chronicler Adso of Montier-en-Der about the “many Antichrists,” among which the latter counts such that “ordinis sui regulam impugnat.” According to E. Bernheim, Mittelalterliche Zeitanschauungen in ihrem Einfluss auf Politik und Geschichtsschreibung, Tübingen 1918, pp. 74–76, Ludus de Antichristo is mostly based on a version of the end of the world, which Adso described in the middle of the tenth century. See Langosch 1943: 77; Z. Thudny, Millennium: Apocalypse and Antichrist and Old English Monsters c.1000 A.D., Notre Dame 1998.

95 On many rationalities see below, chapter 12.

96 Cf., e.g., important collections edited by Haug and Wachinger 1991, 1993.

97 The case of the immutable element in God’s nature initiated “the most famous question” (quaestio famosissima) of the late medieval theology: “was God sheer necessity or was He free and contingent in his resolutions…. The deep reason that was at the foundation of this controversy was the deep yearning to agree the contingency of God’s Providence with its immutability and infallibility;” Swieżawski 1998: 49; Bradwardine: 22.

98 Brown 1991: 129; cf. p. 28: “The social values current in a primitive society are maintained by being expressed in ceremoniał or ritual customs.”

99 Probably this is the limit of the definition of religion proposed, after Trexler, by Schmitt 1990: 34: “Religion ist ein von einer auf Vertrag begründeten Gemeinschaft geteiltes System von Verhaltensweisen der Ehrfurcht und des Respekts und die Autorität der Gruppe wurzelt in der normativen Wiederholung dieses Dekorums.”

100 These are not levels as in the case of the sacred. The first two points define the socially-regulated fields of operations while the last two – individual motives.

101 Sarles 1975: 21: “behavior, like bodies, has continuity and species specificity.”

102 About the conversions of the Anglo-Saxon kings, see N. Higham, The Convert Kings: Power and Religious Affiliation in Early Anglo-Saxon England, New York 1997.

103 The use of the theory of acculturation to describe the influence of the clergy on the rural population (R. Muchembled, Culture pupulaire et culture des élites dans la France moderne (XVe–XVIIIe siècles), Paris 1978) was rightly criticized because these groups did not represent different cultures at the time (Burke 1992: 156–157; also Kiening 1996: 40; with reference to H. J. Golomen, “Volkskultur und die Exempla-Forschung,” in: Literarische Interessenbildung im Mittelalter, ed. J. Heinzle, Stuttgart 1993, pp. 165–208). On the basis of acculturation, Pleij (1988: 349) based his theory of the civilizational offensive of the bourgeois: as a result of inoculating a part of the lower class with the “higher” culture, an elite is to form from it, which then separates itself from the rest of the lower class. This goes against the theory of Norbet Elias, who argues that the emerging new class ideologically separates itself from the upper class. In chapter 2.7, we consider the contemporary theory of bottom-up co-generation of culture, in which the very assumption of top-down “inoculation” appears useless.

104 Cf. G. M. Spiegel, “Social change and literary language: the textualization of the past in the thirteenth-century Old French historiography,” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 17/1987, pp. 129–148.

105 S. Borgehammar, How The Holy Cross was Found: From Event to Medieval Legend, Stockholm 1991; J. W. Drijvers, Helena Augusta: The Mother of Constantine the Great and the Legend of Her Finding of the True Cross, Leiden 1992.

106 Köpf 1993: 24; “Kreuz IV,” Theologische Realenzyklopädie, Vol. 19, 1990: 732–761.

107 See, for instance, F. Niel, Albigensi i katarzy, Warszawa 1995, p. 51.

108 Namely, religion for impatient writers with exuberant ego. What kind of a shepherd is the one who flees into the high mountains assumedly out of contempt for the wolf?

109 Recently, D. Iogna-Prat, Ordonner et Exclure: Cluny et la société chrétienne face a l’hérésie, au judaisme et a l’islam, 1000–1150, Paris 1998, presents this in a detailed monograph of the eleventh to twelfth century Benedictines. From the analysis of relations and views prevailing in the Cluny community – in which the key tendencies of the era flourished – Iogna-Prat concludes that the attempts to organize the Christian society inevitably led to the exclusion of non-Christians. On the perception of Islam in medieval Europe, see the collection of articles Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam: A Book of Essays, ed. J. V. Tolan, New York 1996. N. Daniel, Heroes and Saracens. An Interpretation of the Chanson de Geste, Edinburgh 1984, analyzes the literary functions of the image of the Saracens in heroic epic.

110 Geertz himself developed a theory of a “theatre state,” Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali (1980).

111 K. Burke bases his lecture on the dramatic method, similarly, on the concept of ritual drama (so his difference from Turner is artificial from the onset); in order to stay with the Greek tradition, when satire followed tragedy, Burke finishes his lecture with a burlesque story “Electioneering in Psychoanalysia” (132–137); the tragedy repeats there as a farce, with the President acting as the Sacrificial King.

112 Enneades III 2, 5, 8, 22; II 3, 18, 2; quoted after Hübener 1991: 21.

5. Forms of Devotion

Since we are dealing with the influence of forms of devotion on literature, it is important to recapitulate the main manifestations of piety. For our purposes, it would be more useful to provide a survey of organizational or institutional forms (2). For the record, let us first (1) enumerate forms of personal religious practice; otherwise, they might seem neglected. In chapter six, I shall address yet another aspect, namely – the temporal framework of religious practices, which may serve to put them in order. We should not consider all these enumerations as a brief elaboration of the phenomenology of religion;113 they simply facilitate my further investigations. I start with cataloging and later proceed to discuss the chronology, as the scope of particular forms of devotion changed in every respect and constituted a separate research problem.114

1. Religious practices. In what follows I provide a brief historical overview of forms of devotion qua ways of practicing religion and related acts, gestures, and procedures (Greschat 1983: 671 ff.); each of these practices, to a different extent, constitutes the content of organizational forms of religious life.

If we would like to initially structure them according to their increasing complexity, we should probably start with silence, which, in its purest form, occurs in certain monastic rules and accompanies other religious practices.115 If silence is a kind of sacrifice, then asceticism and fast – and, to a lesser extent, even obedience (Eph 6,5) that children should display toward their parents, servants toward ←73 | 74→masters, wives toward husbands, and subordinates toward superiors – are similar practices; it would be a manifestation of piety not as an expression of reverence, but rather as resignation from one’s will understood as a sacrifice made to God, an evidence of perseverance and an effective resistance to the instigations of the evil spirit – one may count this among the arguments of theological justification. This devotional perspective finds another confirmation in the diabolization of disobedience, expressed in the views of Johannes von Paltz (1445?–1511),116 who underscores the importance of temptation in disobedience (Burger 1990: 323); this is neither the first nor the last attempt to confer a religious sanction on a purely social norm.117

Other practices require no less self-determination, but more activity: studying the Scripture;118 meditatio – the reflection on a word or image; imagining or mental reproduction of the themes of the Passion (like the wounds of Christ) is presented as the way to obtain God’s grace (Segl 1990: 164).119 This leads us to the Devotio Moderna and its so-called exercises. At this point, we should also mention the mystical experiences, which are neither common nor recommended. In turn, prayer (oratio)120 certainly constitutes a common and recommended practice; although it is just a general name for various phenomena, they are interrelated to the extent that there is no need to get into details in this case. Prayer comes close to the verbal dimension of sacramental practices (sacramenta), usually exercised in the temple, during the service, according to the strict rules of the liturgy. In the next section, I shall discuss them in more detail as the foundation of the form of devotion called sacramentalism.

The practice of clemency (caritas), formerly realized mainly as alms, requires another kind of activity and sacrifice; in the economic realm, also tithe was often ←74 | 75→considered as an act of clemency. There is also votive offering which has a similar form but a completely different function. Sczaniecki (1978: 45) described it as a gesture of sacrifice. However, the act itself is too complex – it exceeds man’s actual behavior or attitude – to be counted among prayerful gestures “on different cultural levels”: “A rich canon, who decorated the altar that he funded with his family coat of arms, prayed in Latin, while a common woman expressed her feelings with a gesture” (Sczaniecki 1978: 49). Insofar as we do not wish to broaden the scope of ‘gesture’ beyond bodily expression, or to include complex acts and interactions extended in space and time, the most we can do is to consider the carrying of the offering as gesture and set aside the whole procedure of preparing an image according to a particular intention; in this case, we see a particular method of nurturing one’s bond with God through a voluntary sacrifice, which makes it a separate form of devotion showing not so much a level of culture as a stage of civilization. I shall further address this issue in chapter 8, where I draw more attention to the gestures and attitudes, which are inextricably linked to the discussed practices but should not be identified with them.121

Therefore, the sacrifice is a kind of solemn prayer of supplication, strengthened by a gift or some (promised) expression of thanks, which has a specific material or symbolic value (a votive plaque, pilgrimage, or other devout activities). This material value makes it similar to a donation made to the Church. The difference is that an ordinary offering, such as a simple contribution for building a church or chapel, was part of one’s concern for salvation, while the votive offering accompanied a call for help in a difficult life situation.

Despite its extraordinariness, oblation122 – the parents’ offering of a child (usually not younger than seven years of age)123 to a monastery – also belongs to the ←75 | 76→category of “ordinary” sacrifice. Modeled on the sacrifice of the Eucharist, oblation served specific social functions: getting the child onto the path of monastic life was part of dynastic politics of feudal families. On the one hand, its aim was to reduce the number of heirs, while on the other – it settled a family’s contribution to the strengthening of the Church. The popularity of this phenomenon is evidenced by the fact that already in the twelfth century oblates were perceived as a separate social group (Lahaye-Geusen 1991). The work of building the Church (Opus Dei) was one of the aspects of political power from the Carolingian times to the Gregorian Revolution, which is why religious practice belonged to “the obligations which stemmed from the social order” (Vauchez 1996: 11).124 Later, religious foundations became a means of building secular prestige (cf. Muir Wright 1993, among others).

Most of these practices are more or less strictly regulated in the official liturgical books, in the Catechism and in the Code of Canon Law.

2. Forms of religious life. When we talk about forms of devotion as ways of organizing religious life, we do not limit ourselves to formally constituted institutions, because we are not interested in the functioning of the structures of the Church as an official religious union, but rather in the types of religious practices and behaviors of pious people who make up this union.

At the very basis lays the meeting in the primitive community from the times of the catacombs and the unofficial church. We should not forget it when exploring various particular forms whose activity sometimes obscures or dominates over this elementary group. At the same time, it defines a single boundary within the area of possible forms: a group based entirely on a horizontal bond, which consists in the mutual consolidation of the faith. According to Van Engen (p. 541ff), occasional meetings at the foot of the cross were the main form of religious practice during the first millennium, followed by the phase of the parish churches.

The other extreme appears together with eremitism,125 whose piety exhausts itself in the individual’s vertical bond with God. It is as vertical as Simeon Stylites’ pillar, which, alongside the cross itself, we may consider to be the most significant question mark posed to Christians.

←76 | 77→

The society of the late Antiquity was organized in a very rigorous manner.126 Such a feature of the system tends to trigger conflicts. Essentially, there are four possible ways out of conflict situations: protest, adaptation, escape with a return to negotiations, and compromise. The exit to the periphery is a well-known civilizational factor: borders are the mainstay of freedom.127 Hermits opened the exit path. They were pioneers who did a reconnaissance and provided certainty for the community: “We can settle, our scout is not hurt.” They exemplified the anthropological transformation of a former slave into a hero during a journey with no return. Thus, they created a fairy tale in which the hero does not return to his community, but it is the community that follows him in an effort to change itself.

Therefore, the hermits were an avant-garde, but at the same time also a rearguard. Of course, they argued: “You can get there!” But the radicalism of their attitude also made others think: “Don’t stay where he did!”

For we may argue that hermits gave the conclusive experimental demonstration of the existence of the self. Or, at least, they embodied the projection of a particular ideal. They provided a clear personal example, such as a corporal leading a squad to a battle; they proved that, in this system of values, one can at least live alone. Their lives (and the lives of the saints, of course) can be considered as “epitomes of a fruitful practice,” because they influenced their adepts in the same way as exemplary results, which – according to Thomas S. Kuhn (1985: 439) – supplement the system of rules in science. Hermits – precisely as the “epitomes” – confirm the historical role of great individuals who, by drawing strength from their faith, can stand alone in the face of the authority and show their independence even from demons and natural ties (Brown 1992: 130); one may even assume that it was the “eccentrics” (or rather, holy fools) who made Christianity a mass religion (Brown 1992: 134).

However, a malicious person would say that the hermit behaved like a raven who caught a piece of cheese and flew away to a secluded place to eat it.128 After all, the rejection of social life is an easy thing to do. The fact that someone discovers ←77 | 78→some edible rootstock and mushrooms129 seems to be of little benefit to people who do not want to eat rootstock at all. The doctor cannot treat you by giving a personal example. Indeed, we should describe it as the highest possible heresy in any religious system – equally suicidal as phallic worship which enshrines the phallus to the point of excluding it from procreation. It was only the Gregorian Reform that put an end to the idea of perfection as an escape from the world and started to seek “to situate … Christian perfection, especially for the clergy, in a return to the world for the purpose of conquering it in order to Christianize it. The Gregorian movement very explicitly sought to call all Christians to the life of sanctity, while holding their proper places [in the community].”130

Nietzsche, when he was not singing but contemplating, was rarely wrong. But if he was wrong, one has to read further and sometimes only after a hundred or two hundred pages one may find the right solution. Nietzsche believed that Christianity concealed this world and diverted our attention from it, turning to the wrong notion of “the world beyond” – “as if outside the actual world, that of becoming, there were another world of being” (Nietzsche 1993: 30). He did not notice that Christianity has created this world in the first place, making its most important point by developing the theory of “the world beyond” and indicating the way of reaching it. Without a theory – that is to say, without setting a goal for oneself – one cannot take even one step. Nietzsche, a cognitive constructivist, himself admits 300 pages further (Nietzsche 1993: 315–316):

“Truth” is therefore not something there, that might be found or discovered-but something that must be created and that gives a name to a process, or rather to a will to overcome that has in itself no end – introducing truth, as a processus in infinitum, an active determining – not a becoming-conscious of something that is in itself firm and determined. It is a word for the “will to power.” Life is founded upon the premise of a belief in enduring and regularly recurring things; the more powerful life is, the wider must be the knowable world to which we, as it were, attribute being (Nietzsche 1968: 298).

One may here recall Geertz’s “aura of facticity” and “concepts of general order of being”. At the beginning of this book, I wrote that a generation must die out in order to change one scientific theory. What can we say about a theory of the ←78 | 79→whole world, then? Nietzsche acts here as if he was a foreigner who started to learn the language of a new country and every now and then discovers new rules, exceptions, categories, meanings, idioms, layers, and similarities which make things easier and more difficult at the same time; finally, he advises the nation: why do you tire yourselves so hard, just change your language! By the way, several impatient writers, including the Immoralist’s contemporaries, managed to create such better languages.

Sometimes it is hard to distinguish eremitism from monasticism since hermits were not always keen to drive away groups of their admirers. If they were utterly consistent, we would have little knowledge about them; perhaps, we would only see them as a certain literary genre, something more than Ray Bradbury’s “human books.” Unfortunately, even Simeon’s pillar had a ladder leading to its top; and people used it quite frequently. When brought together, these two phenomena can be regarded both as the first new form of Christian piety and as the first alternative organization of society (Brown 1992: 127). In turn, self-control of the body and thought (Brown 1992: 130) means an initiation into civilization understood as the taming of instincts (Elias, see chapter 13.1). The renunciation of individual will – compulsory, though different depending on a particular religious order – limits the horizontal bond between “brethren” and distinguishes the piety of the monks from that of the original community, which gathered people who did not have to renounce their personality, and who, moreover, could be fully themselves only at these meetings, when they did not have to hide their faith as in the hostile world. However, their attitude comes close to eremitism due to their commitment to the same common ideals: following St. Augustine, who described monks as having “one soul and one heart” (Erratio in Ps. 132:6), one may figuratively say that the order is a hermit multiplied by n.

Over time, there has been a stronger emphasis in the West (Aumann 1993: 83) on common living as a separate quality, different from the above multiplication. Here one may define a certain area between choral piety, which is still close to multiplication, through “polyphonic,” to essentially collective or social piety, in which certain specific interactive virtues are practiced (like helpfulness or patience). A complete disharmony of voices does not fit into a single system and is tantamount to dissidence. The most important role in the harmonization of monastic devotion played the rule of Benedict of Nursia (480–547),131 especially ←79 | 80→in its two adaptations: Benedict’s of Anagni and Cluny’s, which appeared, respectively, over 200 and over 300 years after its implementation in Monte Cassino. The Cluny reform consisted not only in strengthening the order and promoting new asceticism132 but also in establishing systematic studies and transmission of the Scripture and the Church Fathers. The aim was to deepen their influence on the lay public (mainly the nobility that defined both the shape and the vocation of the knighthood); the new institution of the converse included lay people into the monastery life, creating an intermediate formation between the clergy and the laity133 (later chivalric orders were added, followed by lay confraternities, to which I shall dedicate a separate chapter 14). Indeed, the centralization under the Pope’s authority assured the orders’ cohesion and independence from both bishopric and secular authorities.134 The reform went so far as to create a real “religious empire,” playing an important civilizational role throughout the tenth and eleventh centuries. It is not hard to imagine the importance people attached to such a center with a strong rule in the times of the fall of the empire and papacy in the post-Carolingian region: all Cluny monasteries formed a congregation reaching of as many as 1500 units. The Cistercian Order, which also created a powerful network of monasteries, was less important but it had already implemented a more democratic mode of organization (the chapter). At the time of the renewal of the empire and papacy, it was no longer the only center of stability, but it still served this function during more intensive periods of the investiture contest. Noteworthy, a similar understanding of the freedom of the Church ←80 | 81→as independent from secular authorities, including the emperor, was at the heart of the Gregorian Revolution; before that, libertas ecclesiae meant protection from kings and princes provided by the emperor (Szabó-Bechstein 1991: 150). This is also the source of the meaning of the term “free (imperial) city.”

The virtuosity of piety is orchestrated in collective monasticism. In the ascetic, enclosed rule, a new devotion developed which multiplied eremitism in terms of meditation (in the Camaldolese135 and Carthusian orders), while in most Benedictine monasteries it was rather ritual devotion – with an emphasis on liturgical formalism – which flourished until the Cistercian reform. More diversity and freedom prevailed in the apostolic activity. In the Carolingian period, Church liturgical practice also takes on the character of a virtuosic show of the priest which the faithful listen passively. Only later the pastoral character of the priesthood office was strengthened, and the participation of the faithful in the rite returned in a new, regulated form (5).

3. Biblical devotion. The Scripture appears here as the source of a norm in the shaping of life (Segl 1990: 164), not as the only source of religious gestures or acts. However, the growing canonical and liturgical tradition could long provide texts that functioned in the same way as the Scripture, which was not widely known as text until the late Middle Ages. As long as this was the case, Christianity was perceived as a religion of books136 and there was no reason, other than doctrinal-theological, to distinguish these books. Perhaps, the term “codex religion” would be better in this context including the legal meaning of the word “code” and the meaning of “codex book;” in the codex both these meanings – legal and bibliological – apply equally.

←81 | 82→

The legal meaning would belong to this term with all necessity. Celtic Christianity supplemented the Church’s practice with many solutions from the Mosaic books; through the Celtic Church, these solutions entered the continental Church of the Carolingian era and were present until the thirteenth century (Vauchez 1996: 10). This factor could have played a role in the delayed implementation of the New Law – the gospel of love which I discuss in chapters 3.6. and 18.3. According to Vauchez (1996: 10), without the Celtic and then Carolingian juridizations, Christianity would probably have fallen “into a set of superstitious practices.” What began as a “restoration of the Old Testament observances,” evolved into the juridism of the Roman Curia, which is the favorite theme of the reformists’ provocations; for instance, Marsilius of Padua in Defensor Pacis and Matthew of Cracow in De squaloribus Curiae Romanae invoke juridism as the main cause of distortions (J. Keller 1988). In fact, it is precisely legalism that Dante deplores when complaining about the growing role of money, for which he coins the oxymoronic term “cursed flower” (maledetto fiore):

That hath made wander both the sheep and lambs,

Turning the shepherd to a wolf. For this,

The gospel and great teachers laid aside,

The decretals, as their stuft margins show,

Are the sole study. Pope and Cardinals,

Intent on these, ne’er journey but in thought

To Nazareth, where Gabriel op’d his wings (Paradiso, IX, 130).

Apparently, Dante’s devotion137 is already based on the New Testament, and we are ready to forget with him that many Old Testament books are nothing more than legal codes treated as revealed religious books. But we are already fully aware of the difference between the divine and human words (“the decretals”). It is not clear why Dante begins his reflection with money, but he continues to write about lawyers. Although Dante was not the only one who complained about money, it proved to be a common measure of various human needs (Kaye 1988), and even a factor integrating the community on the international scale (Samsonowicz 1975: 56). It got to the point where it is hard to find anyone who would sincerely regret the fact that money exists. In the Western Liturgy of the Offertory ←82 | 83→or Preparation of Gifts (Offertorium), money begins to prevail over natural gifts since the eleventh century, and in Spain even from the seventh century (Nadolski 1992: 168). This requires continuous vigilance. For since Simon Magus tried to purchase the apostles’ power (and thus also their authority) for gold (Acts 8:18), such an act (simony) has been treated as heresy.138 As for the bibliological meaning of the word code (as in codex, manuscript book), which could enter into the term “codex religion,” there is a consensus that early Christianity used the form of a codex instead of the form of a scroll, and thereby contributed to its popularization. However, it was the Romans who invented the codex (before the invention of the parchment, there were even papyrus codices). Still, it was widely adopted thanks to its application by Christians for the storage of writings (John 1992: 56; Brown 1992: 120), so it is worth to consider the reverse, namely – the influence of the manuscript on the popularization of Christianity. At any rate, John believes that the invention of the codex is as important to the history of civilization as the invention of print (John 1992: 56). John Van Engen (1986: 549) would probably agree with this, as he claimed that “Christianization was not a brutal ‘acculturation,’ but it was rather an impulse built into the religious community established on the foundation of books.”139

We are interested in “Biblical devotion” as the shaping of life by and through the Church. To be sure, there are different stages: the Scripture functions differently in the period of the Church’s formation and differently in the periods of its profound reform.

One may describe the first stage as the Carolingian “civilization of the liturgy.”140 Instead of the spiritual communication between the faithful and God, what prevails at this stage is the ritual and cult attitude, which reduces religion to the performing of rites in order to win the divine favor. If people ignorant of Latin and deficient in singing participated in such forms, they were nothing more than completely passive participants of cult activities. This kind of ritualism – which manifests itself, for instance, in Charlemagne’s concern for the uniformity and literal correctness of liturgical texts and the purity of ritual vessels (Vauchez ←83 | 84→1996: 12) – has certain magical features. However, it comes closer to Judaism than to magic. After all, we should not forget about the Biblical and prayerful framework: “The ideal of the religious man is, of course, that everything should be done ritually, should in other words, be a sacrifice” (Eliade 1958: 460). The Old Testament is a story of God’s covenant with the chosen nation; in that sense, it is a series of exchanges of prayers and graces, which occurs through offering sacrifices; they are accepted if the offerers meet certain conditions and observe the ritual rules. From the very beginning, this kind of sacrifice could have been either collective or individual, which corresponds to the medieval phenomenon of the privatization of the mass, that is, the celebration of the mass not for the community but for private individuals who had personal votive intentions, or even the practice of founding or reserving separate churches, which already gained a political importance (see chapter 1.8).

It seems that in the following periods the element of sacrifice in the relationship between human beings and God has been underestimated and too easily described as magic. Possibly, in the new era, with its mystical emphasis on the suffering of Christ, not enough has been said about the element of sacrifice? Or, perhaps, it was the sacrifice of Christ that concealed other sacrificial gestures in people’s consciousness?

Biblical devotion will change depending on the predominant approach to the text; for a long time, the dominant form of lectio divina is literal reading (even longer in the case of liturgical texts); the method of allegorical reading appeared already in the third century (Origen141), but the gradual development of allegorical interpretation of certain elements of the liturgy began only in the fifth century; in turn, the Carolingian Church introduced a comprehensive allegorical interpretation of various elements of the mass – Amalarius (780?–850; Alcuin’s disciple)142 proposed it in De ecclesiasticis officiis, which was condemned by the Council of Quierzy in 838 (Nadolski 1992: 53–54). Still, this did not diminish its impact or the development of the allegorical method. 250 years later, it was perpetuated by an influential author, Honorius of Autun, who described the mass as an ancient tragedy: “In the same way our tragic author (that is, the celebrant) represents by his gestures in the theater of the Church before the Christian people the struggle of Christ and teaches to them the victory of His redemption” (De ←84 | 85→Gemma animae, Liturgica, cap. 83: De tragoediis)143. Hardison posits a close relationship between the allegorical interpretation of the liturgy and the history of the drama (1965: 39). In De sacro altaris mysterio, Innocent III unified the multitude of soteriological, eschatological, moral, and commemorative (including typological) elements that have developed throughout the centuries. He focused on the Christological values and structured the semiotics of the sacrament of the Eucharist (see chapter 22.2). In turn, Guillaume Durand’s Rationale divinorum officiorum (ca. 1290) provided a summary and consolidation of the medieval allegoresis of the mass. The entire allegorical current distanced the faithful from purely “scripturist” devotion and moved, quite logically, toward sacramentalism which, by radically limiting the physical presence of the sacred, had to open up a different spiritual space for its experience.

In the event of crisis or reform, and in ecumenical efforts, one returns as closely as possible to the Biblical text in order to find a prevailing argument (preferably on the literal level) or a new balance. The Biblical texts, however, are so diverse and multithreaded that it is quite impossible to use them as a foundation of some fundamentalism; the verbal nature of this sacred excludes the danger of fetishization. Elements of Biblical devotion function effectively in various forms of Christianity.

The fact that one may derive different religious subsystems from the Bible is not only due to the heterogeneity of this Collection of Stories. The tradition of exegesis played a more important role here. Depending on the adopted method, it was possible to either explain the comprehensiveness of the message of faith or differently construct new theologies by interpreting its selected elements. “The diversity of the Gospel was not understood as a multitude of theologies, but as an expression of God’s immense power, which manifests itself in many different ways” (Gilbert 1997: 38).

Already from the eleventh century, the Church recommended that the faithful should get acquainted with the text of the Scripture by reading and listening to it.144 As part of the Gregorian reform,145 Christocentrism became the ←85 | 86→most important theological theme, which emphasized the humanity – and especially martyr’s death – of Christ. Of course, in this case, the primary source was the New Testament. Revivers and rebellious novelists, especially Cathars and Waldensians, drew on the Bible; there are documented cases of people, even illiterate, who knew entire books by heart.146

The Devotio Moderna brought about a specific attitude toward the Scripture.147 It was probably one of the first social movements to put innovation on their banners.148 The essence of the Devotio Moderna lies in recognizing the inner life of every human being as the spiritual life proper and, consequently, placing on the individual the whole responsibility for his or her salvation: “The most difficult battles must be waged within the confines of one’s own soul” (Aumann 1993: 196). This innovation trumps all that the flagship devotional book Imitation of Christ classifies as anti-intellectualism, escapism or penitential obsession. The ←86 | 87→ideas are old, but their application is new (see chapter 18.6 below). In the Devotio Moderna we find the conviction that a historical interpretation of the life of Jesus is both necessary and sufficient for salvation, as the Bible encompasses all human affairs. This is especially true of the New Testament, which provides human beings with sufficient wisdom to shape and strengthen their inner lives and become able to secure their salvation by resisting the temptations of the world.

It was precisely Luther’s own interpretation of the Bible, supported by his own translation (1534), that provided a foundation for his reform. Maciuszko (1997: 48) described Mikołaj Rej’s preaching work as bibliocentric on an unprecedented scale; by virtue of the omission of dogmatic nuances (so characteristic of the Devotio Moderna) and setting the focus on the Scripture, Rej’s Postylla [Postil], first published in Cracow in 1557, gained considerable popularity among sixteenth-century readers, as evidenced by its four renewals, Lithuanian translation (1600), and significant reception in Ruthenia.149 Like all other Christian systems, every Protestantism had to make a broader or narrower selection, and probably none – despite their common reference to the Scripture – called for the application of all laws and norms which it contains.150 The Protestant accusations against the Church of concealing the Scripture from the people reveal (apart from all doctrinal differences) a different approach to the text, which is meant to “inform the intellect about the rational structures of the revealed mysteries;” as distinct from the medieval understanding, it is no longer an edifying text which animates spirituality (Gilbert 1997: 35). Luther treats Scripture simply as a book which allows one to learn or prove something. However, we should not forget about the rationalization of theology (sola ratione, see chapter 18.4) initiated by Anselm.151

The Reform of Trento restored the use of the Biblical text in the liturgy, radically removing almost the whole “human” text from it – only a few tropes remained of the vibrant medieval tradition.152 Liturgical improvisation and textual variations, gradually reduced since the patristic times, were utterly eliminated (Nadolski ←87 | 88→1992: 40). We can describe this process as a stabilization of the sacred in the canonical text.

4. Popular religion153 involves various manifestations of devotion associated with the broad masses as distinct from educated circles; in medieval studies, it has emerged as a separate field of research quite recently,154 together with the distinction between the problems of elite culture and those of mass (popular, folk) culture. Each of these pairs of terms makes it very difficult to provide a precise definition of the areas of the reality which they concern and to draw a boundary between them. Should we ascribe a Gothic cathedral to elite or mass culture? Is it important who ordered the cathedral (usually, though not always a feudal master), or who built it, or perhaps who used it? And what about the parish confraternity that was founded in order to build it? Following this path, one can question the usefulness of these oppositions. Cohen is explicit in claiming the uselessness of these two concepts to describe legal phenomena in medieval Europe, even though she also refers to them at some point (1986: 9). Manselli155 considers the assumption of a significant difference between popular and learned religion to be a methodological mistake, and Tellenbach strongly supports this view (1988: 82–83). Yitzhak Hen (1995), in turn, writes about the unity of the Merovingian society combined with a common “popular culture,” whose core was the liturgy in its broadest sense. Karen Louise Jolly also emphasizes the mutual assimilation of Christianity and magical beliefs against ←88 | 89→the division of phenomena into elite and popular ones.156 Referring to the reception of devotional art, Jaritz (Jaritz 1990: 2018) contends that the “people” is everyone (which does not exclude the diversity of the audience).

Now, against the backdrop of the beautiful choirs (2), in which monks sang two-part songs together with angels, we shall hear a “bim tidle bong” of a home-grown musical band. Among devotional behaviors, which I list below, one may also find such that are not reserved for this form of devotion but become its characteristic manifestations in combination with other behaviors or due to their specific execution: amateur, naively intense, within an excited community.157 This most visible, if not spectacular, mass aspect of Christianism is called Multitudinism (Kuksewicz 1986: 441). We can trace its origins back to the post-Carolingian movement of internal Christianization initiated by the Benedictine (Cluny) development of the liturgy toward the collective rite: choirs, processions with relics, pilgrimages.

Given the fact that all estates took part in church services, it is hard to classify all behaviors listed below as belonging to the realm of simple people’s religiousness. “Louis XIV … was unable to follow the liturgy. In his religious experience … he belonged to the same group as 15th-century peasants: to the people” (Chaunu 1989: 190). Quite similar is the case of the opposition between orality and literacy, which is only seemingly less charged with valuations, as the anthropologist Jack Goody assumes when he claims this pair of concepts to be better than the primitive-civilized opposition (Goody 1968).158 Discussing the state of research on this issue, Mayke De Jong (1993:13) signals a similar relativization of the distinction between oral and written cultures; instead of the orality–literacy dualism, one should speak about different combinations of the spoken and written word; in fact, differences in function, status, and permanence of expression within each of these realms may be more important than differences between these “cultures.” Jesse M. Gellrich criticizes the tendency to overestimate the influence of writing on the realm of oral communication and ←89 | 90→claims that the “oral mentality” has dominated even the highest levels of written culture.159

Pilgrimages to holy places underwent a significant evolution. Initially, people counted pilgrimage among ascetic forms of devotion (see chapter 1); after 1300, first documents about pilgrimage as a punishment for both religious and ordinary or political offenses appeared in the Netherlands (Zaremska 1993: 90–95; Herwaarden 1978). With the Pope’s consent, King Philip sent 3000 inhabitants of Flemish Bruges on a pilgrimage after the peace made in 1305 (Axters II: 417); alternative penalties were fines (Axters II: 410). A special phenomenon was the spontaneous pilgrimage to places not approved by the Church. The Crusades, in turn, were originally understood as “armed pilgrimages” (Swanson 1997: 167).

Processions can be described as an embryonic form of pilgrimages. Initially, monks made processions within monasteries to the shrines with relics. The most famous processions are the marches of the flagellants, while the most long-standing ones are those made for the Feast of Corpus Christi. A special form of procession is the Stations of the Cross, also known as the Via Crucis. It involves painting, sculpture, text, singing, music, and movement, which makes it more “interdisciplinary” than other forms of devotion; it has also the most elaborate narrative composition. At the same time, its combination of the stability of the structure with the variability of certain elements (freely expandable scenes), including the location (not only in the church, but also in the landscape160), organized a great deal of theological knowledge, provided the participants with new and broad experiences, while leaving some room for the authors’ creativity; since 1312, the Franciscans have long held a monopoly on the construction of the Stations of the Cross (Fehlemann 1990).

The growing importance of singing in the church service had a spiritual justification. In the pre-Lateran (Carolingian and Cluny) liturgy, most songs were ←90 | 91→reserved for “professionals” and adequately difficult;161 it was only in the second phase that the choir of the common faithful was allowed to participate in singing; roughly speaking, an increase in the participation of the people in ecclesiastical singing occurred only after the Fourth Lateran Council.

The undeniable realm of popular religion is the celebration of local cults, which preceded (or not) the canonization of the worshipped person. Initially, even the service to the saints had a popular character (Aumann 1993: 136). The saints were the target (as was the addressee or the “participant”) of various devotional activities, either directly or, more often, through relics and paintings. The cult of relics is often considered an emblem of popular religion, especially when it goes beyond the normalizing procedures of the hierarchy (which was virtually always the case). This is even more true with respect to the cult of images; since the time of the Eastern schism, it has been a relative form of cult concerning representations of the “saints,” not the physical objects that served as their vehicles. The Eastern schism was about images, while the cult of saints was one of the reasons behind the Western (Protestant) schism. The latter, however, was provoked by many other Catholic practices: above all, the application of indulgences and the widespread use of various sacramentals (or sacred objects),162 like the consecration of candles, wax, oil, ash, fire, palms, Easter lambs, salt, water, people (such as midwives or pilgrims).163

Some of the benedictions have entered into widespread private use in customary, non-religious contexts (for instance, the parental blessing of the newlyweds); in general, consecration practices often exhibit regional traditions: they may characterize, for instance, only Polish devotion (the blessing of traditional Easter baskets with food or the Christmas wafer) or constitute local parish traditions (like the blessing of cars and bicycles in certain parishes). Among the characteristic material sacramentals are devotional items, which can be distinguished into two types: some belong to the necessary personal equipment for participation in worship (rosaries, books, crucifixes), others are mementos of participation in sacraments (medals, crosses, pictures) or other devotional acts, such as pilgrimages to holy places and relics. Although they were known since the second century, their significant proliferation dates from the Middle Ages.164 The ←91 | 92→most visible sign of popular religion is probably the cultivation of gestures and actions (like frequently crossing oneself or repeating the same prayers over and over again). However, one should not forget that the increase in the number of signs of the cross and all repetitions of gestures (kissing the altar or the objects given to the celebrant) was an innovation brought by the “Gothic” liturgy in accordance with the allegorical interpretation of the mass which crystallized in the thirteenth century and manifested itself through a number of visible rites (Nadolski 1992: 52).

In addition, the discussed form of devotion involves various beliefs related to the spirits and the Devil or expressing faith in miracles; they are registered in folklore as folk tales and stories (Luther, an educated and witty man, called the Christian legends “liegends,” Lügendenlügen means “to lie”).165 This leads us to the last group of motifs considered specific to this form. These are “remnants of paganism” which have no place in the Church: magic, faith in demons, all so-called superstitions, relics of pagan beliefs, or natural cults.166

As an example, we may refer to the practice of kissing the earth,167 which the heretic Bishop of Herword (probably a Waldensian) recommended as an atonement: “kiss the earth and thou shalt be clean;” thus, he employed the psychological folk idea of the sanctity of the earth to oppose the Church’s sacrament of penance. The Church, in turn, also assimilated such customs as fallback solutions in articulo mortis: in the absence of the Eucharist, it was allowed to ←92 | 93→give communion per corpus Domini in the form of three blades of grass (Axters 1950: 389). Until the fourteenth century, faith in the divinity of the womb of the earth was so widespread in Europe that people treated it as a substitute sacrament for the dying without a priest.168

If one should mention spells here, it is because to some extent sacramentals – sacred objects connected to the liturgy – were used to cast them. There was no room for these heavy torts to be assimilated in doctrine. Similarly, there was no tolerance for divination – practiced out of the need to know the future and hence to anticipate God’s judgment. Less “dangerous” was dowsing applied in the search for lost objects (St. Anthony competed with this practice); the use of “superstitious practices” to search for treasure gained even less approval.

More radical was the condemnation of astrology; according to the theologian Johannes von Paltz (whose pastoral experiences I discuss here), faith in the influence of the constellation on the fate of man precludes his responsibility for his own actions; it is impossible to reward or punish him for right or wrong deeds (Supplementum: 439; Burger: 1990: 325). At most, it was admissible to speak of the constellation’s influence on the physical part of human nature, with the exclusion of the will “which is the principle that governs human activity” – as Jacob von Jüterbogk claimed in the astrological part of his treatise De potestate daemonum that “condemned faith in the determinism of the stars, that is to say, in destiny, and ultimately forbade the use of the very concept of fate” (Bracha 1999: 268).169

A similar fate awaits alchemy. According to von Paltz, no one should produce gold and silver, because it hampers the fulfillment of the history of salvation; for it is the Antichrist who makes use of gold and silver to turn Christians from their faith; the abundance of gold would make them unable to recognize it or prove they fight the temptations it provokes.170 Around 1500, however, these last two ←93 | 94→“superstitions” did not much concern von Paltz as a priest. After all, for quite some time now, we have addressed literate, that is to say, “elite” practices transmitted through writing; the use of the terms “popular religion” and “popular culture” becomes very arbitrary.

5. Sacramentalism. Sprandel uses this term to describe the form of devotion based on a formalized system of rules, which one ought to follow, under the strict guidance of the Church, to obtain salvation (1982: 90–93).171 As we read in a summary of Johannes von Paltz’s beliefs, written by his confessor around 1500 in Germany: the faithful should fully agree with the Church’s doctrine and lead their lives according to its guidance, for it is the Church that conveys God’s glory. One should obey its indications not only by professing the truths of faith and adopting Christian values but also in everyday action (Burger 1990: 308). This is an evidence that this form of devotion achieved its full development.

At the heart of this system is the doctrine of seven sacraments, which included the most important moments of life within the framework of the sacred ritual (Sprandel 1982: 263); J. Keller (1988: 657) speaks of the “official church” and legal religiousness, and is right to emphasize this organizational aspect, which became the Church’s unwitting civilizational contribution.172 The universality and obligatory character of the system favors its effectiveness: the whole Christian world is divided into parishes and every person has to belong to his or her parish; at the same time, the system guarantees the professional care of an anointed priest, a pastor, who looks after his parishioners exclusively (celibacy) and, like the whole Church, remains in principle independent of the changing secular authority (canon law). According to Brundage (1982), 20.3 % of the paragraphs of the canon law dealt with sacraments, while civil law dealt with only 6.4%.

Already the Church of the Carolingian Age outlined basic elements of this system, the Cluny practice contributed to their popularization, but they attained their mature shape only with the Gregorian reform. The condition of achieving the universality, perhaps also obligatoriness – and thus effectiveness – of the system was to concentrate the distribution of the sacraments in the Church itself ←94 | 95→since only the control over the sacraments would give sense to its mission. The defense of the ecclesiastical “power of binding and loosing” (Matthew 18:18) has become the very core of the spiritual current of the investiture contest (Sprandel 1962: 38–39). “In the Carolingian times, the king was commonly regarded as the equal of the pope, sometimes even as his superior” (Tellenbach 1966: 60). Accordingly, Amalarius dedicates his liturgical compendium De ecclesiasticis officiis “ad Ludovicum Pium Imperatorem,” describing him as: “the most honorable, powerful, and invincible Emperor, crowned by God.”173 Schild (1980: 30, No. 40) points to the image of Emperor Henry II with a stole expressing his membership in the clerical ranks and describes it as the culmination of the idea of the ruler’s sanctity and the reflection of the imperial world order.174 Among the main architects of sacramentalism was St. Peter Damian, whose ideas

penetrated and affected almost the whole culture and literature of the High Middle Ages. [Damian] was the most orthodox defender of the validity and necessity of the sacraments as the means of divine grace and the authority of the priesthood alone to administer them to the laity (Cantor 1993: 250).

Damian’s “mystical inclinations,” which, according to Cantor, stood in opposition to both these principles, were simply a reflection of the essence of sacramentalism, namely – the metaphysical turn toward the spiritual realm. In turn, we should consider the doctrine’s “uncontrollable emotionalism” and “irrational fanaticism” (Cantor 1993: 250) as a sign of the growing religious engagement and personal expression of devotion by all faithful Christians. I shall later describe it as the duress to demonstrate standards.

For the doctrine of sacramentalism, it was crucial to make a distinction between sacraments and sacramentals.175 The first one to introduce this ←95 | 96→distinction was Ivo of Chartes (d. 1115).176 Later, Hugh of St. Victor proposed its first systematic account in De sacramentis and Peter Lombard (d. 1160)177 gave it a canonical form in the fourth book of his Liber sententiarum.178 Out of the whole chaos of signs, places, behaviors, objects, gestures, and rituals, which made the sacred proliferate to the point of being nearly omnipresent, polymorphic, and ordinary, the most necessary and important signs were selected to protect them from banalization, while all the rest were moved to an open class of phenomena that we may define as the protected zone of the true sacred. In this zone, the influence of the sacred is not communicative, does not constitute a defined exchange, or goes beyond the Church: the strict selection of the sacraments often excluded the investiture rituals, as they involved the participation of the king (Sprandel 1962: 36).179 Using sociological terms (Spencer’s model of social change in the formulation of P. Burke 1992: 132), one may say that the influence of internal factors leads to a structural differentiation and change from an inconsistent homogeneity to consistent diversity; in this case, the external world only provides an impulse for adaptation.

To put it figuratively: from different sparks and pieces of burning coal scattered all over the place, a bonfire of sacraments was lit, which we can approach for a short time and only in order to do something specific (put some food to roast, ←96 | 97→take it out, or add some wood); one cannot keep standing by a bonfire and rummage around in it. However, one can remain in a certain distance to warm up and make use of its light, or stand even farther away just to feel the comfort that the fire flashes in the darkness and someone watches over it.

Sacramentals are signs of the inclusion in the Church, which, by giving sacramentals, provides a “continuous prayer” for a person, undertaking or thing; it is as if they were to be kept permanently under God’s care through the intercession of the Church, which, as we know, never stops praying, thereby maintaining a “force field” and bringing “effects, especially spiritual ones,” (Code of Canon Law, canon 1166).

These “signs” are various gestures and whole liturgical ceremonies of prayer,180 which constitute (1) the setting for the administration of the sacraments and (2) the essence of the celebrated and given sacramentals – they include, as listed in canon 1169, consecration (dedication), blessings (benedictions), spells (exorcisms, canon 1172); a few special consecrations give the consecrated persons the so-called character, that is: “a certain spiritual and indestructible sign” forever ingrained into the soul181 as an “internal effect of certain sacraments,”182 namely – Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders; these are one-time sacraments, they cannot be repeated.183 The third, special group of sacramentals includes objects used for worship, which were previously blessed or consecrated, and thus withdrawn from secular use (canon 1171).

←97 | 98→

Both the regrouping of the disordered mass of sacraments brought about by tradition and the distinction of the “true” sacraments and sacramentals resemble the scale of sacrality proposed by Becker. These orders are quite independent of each other, but they prove the existence of a certain gradation in the described matter.

There were more sacraments before, sometimes as many as thirty (Schneider 1995: 49); certain approaches (shared especially among lawyers) considered as sacraments only Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist, or only those rites that came from the apostolic tradition and were unrepeatable (Häring 1976). Pseudo-Dionysius counted funeral ceremonies and holy orders among the sacraments, while Peter Damian included even the anointing of bishops or kings, the blessing of hermits, the consecration of virgins, or the feet-washing on Maundy Thursday.184 In De sacramentis, one of the first systematic accounts of this subject, Hugh of St. Victor also recalls the Old Testament sacraments: circumcision and Sabbath.185 What we have earlier described as sacramentals, Hugh calls “minor sacraments,” which precede even less important “consecrations.”186 The starting point for Nicholas Häring’s (1976: 483) reflections on this issue is the following statement: the canonist and theologian entered the twelfth century with St. Isidor’s (d. 636) claim that there were three sacraments, and at the end of the century both agreed that the accurate number was seven. It is only since the ←98 | 99→Fourth Lateran Council that the number of sacraments became fixed, but it was only at the London Synod (1237; Franz 1909, Vol. 1: 10) and the Council of Lyon (1274) that seven sacraments were mentioned explicitly; however, already the previous Council announced the orthodoxy of the account by Peter Lombard, who determined this number before 1164; sacraments changed their form in the course of time (for instance, the Eucharist for the faithful was significantly reduced to bread only; the Eucharist in both forms was reserved for the priest and adults after the Confirmation). The final list of sacraments was not determined by any strict criteria: neither the establishment by Christ nor the transmission of grace, nor the so-called character or uniqueness, but the universality of the liturgical custom (Häring 1976: 493). As early as the fourteenth century, sacraments became part of the encyclopedic canon of knowledge, as we can see, for instance, in the bas-reliefs of the Florence Cathedral’s bell tower (1340–1350): the upper row has twenty-eight fields divided into four sevens – planets, virtues, liberal arts, and sacraments. In Gothic churches of Eastern England, baptismal bowls are decorated with bas-reliefs representing seven sacraments.187

Sacraments, like sacramentals, should also be understood as signs.188 However, they are even more complicated due to their multilayered symbolic nature; in their final form, formulated in Peter Lombard’s textbook Liber Sententiarum (IV, Dist. I–XXXVII, PL 192, pp. 839–932), they are not only St. Augustine’s “sacred signs” but “signs of God’s grace and an invisible form of grace;”189 the theological essence of this distinction rests on the following two concepts: the containing or transmission of a sign of grace and the causing of grace, that is, opening the subject to the promised grace (Napiórkowski 1995: 38). This reinforces the communicative character of sacraments. In people’s communication with God, it is only sacraments – perhaps with the exception of revelations – that have a performative quality.190 St. Augustine captures its essence, when he writes that the ←99 | 100→sacrament is a visible word, verbum visibile.191 For the application of sacraments entails a change in reality: the position of man in relation to God and other people is completely different before and after the sacramental sign is performed. Moreover, they are not utterly homogeneous, which is the result of their recollection in the order of application: the course of life is defined by Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage,192 and the Last Anointing (a late medieval name, today it is called the Anointing of the Sick, as in the early Middle Ages; also referred to as the viaticum); Penance (confession, the sacrament of reconciliation) and the Eucharist serve to maintain the bond with God on a regular basis; the sacrament of Holy Orders, available only to the chosen, guarantees the correctness of all other sacraments.193 The latter and Marriage (only this sacrament is not given by the priest, but by the engaged couple to themselves) are a matter of choice, others are in principle obligatory and indispensable for individual salvation.

Since Christians baptized children (Matthew 28:19), it received functional complementation with the participation of a conscious individual: Confirmation, sometimes called the Second Baptism. The latter sacrament is being administered by the bishop, who has the opportunity to convey the Holy Spirit to all the faithful of his diocese through the old apostolic ritual of laying hands on a person (now optional) and the anointing with the cross (historically later). In the historical perspective, Confirmation is a vocation to convert, to transform the world under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (see chapter 20.1).

The sacrament of Penance probably played the most important civilizational role.194 The Fourth Lateran Council gave the final identity to the act of confession ←100 | 101→and the priest as a confessor (Boyle 1982: 230); it imposed on parishioners the obligation to confess their mortal sins once a year to their parish priest, who was reminded of the absolute obligation to maintain secrecy. The purpose was to cement the community and protect it from the infiltration of the “alien.”195 In 1310, the Synod of Trier forbade priests to give absolution to people who were not their parishioners without the consent of their parish priest (Axters 1960: 406). The priest’s role was not only to ask questions from the list of sins in one of the Libri poenitentiales and to inflict statutory penance according to the Canones poenitentiales but also to become a doctor of souls (medicus animarum).

Numerous textbooks on confessions, moral sums, accounts of the Ten Commandments, compendia of virtues and sins, collections of sermons and exemplars, and general pastoral aids helped fulfill the duty of the cura animarum (Boyle 1982: 230). The beginnings of these genres in the circles of Peter the Chanter (Summa de animae consiliis) date back to the year 1200, which is still the period of the philosophy of cathedral schools. The proliferation of such works reached its peak in the half-century after 1215, with the most influential Summa de casibus poenitentiae196 written in 1222–1229 (and revised in 1234) by Raymond of Penyafort (1180?–1275), a Dominican friar from Barcelona. The text was anchored in the canon law quite easily thanks to the fact that its author developed a collection of papal decrees from the hundred years since the Decretum Gratiani; the collection called the Decretales was promulgated by Gregory IX in 1234 (the author was his chaplain and confessor from 1230 to 1236). Summae confessorum contains a discussion of the principles of theology and law in relation to human behavior patterns, often shown by a casus. Around 1300, the sums became less legal but more theological and moral in character; the most famous Summa by John of Freiburg (Johannes von Freiburg) from 1298 includes the comments of Thomas, Albert, and other Dominicans; in turn, Summa by Astesanus of Asti ←101 | 102→(1317) includes the thought of Alexander of Hales, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, and other Franciscans (Boyle 1982: 236); the dates of publication of these works coincide with the publication of the successive collections of the canon law – the Decretals of Boniface VIII and Clement V.197 Sprandel mentions also handbooks for inquisitors, like Le manuel des inquisiteurs (1503; a papal document, based on earlier partial studies), as the latest examples of this current.

In turn, the sacrifice of the Eucharist provided an opportunity for the most significant doctrinal disputes. This was one of the most sensitive points of the Church’s teaching, because even the Franciscans, whose devotion was set against the sacerdotal supremacy (Cantor 1993: 445), observed the sacramental principle, according to which the priest was the only minister of the Eucharist. This means that this point in the doctrine was firmly established already in the thirteenth century. The sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist were considered to be sacramenta maiora.

The Last Anointing played a less spectacular role. However, it is this sacrament that shows the essence of the process of spiritualization of the sacred with an unprecedented clarity. It originated from the Anointing of the Sick (James 5:14–15), which was meant to give hope for recovery. The Florentine Council (1439) finally transformed it into the sacrament for the dying, recommended only when there is no chance to avoid the death of the sick person. Thus, the hope for healing was replaced with the hope for forgiveness of sins (Burger 1990: 315) and the influence of the sacrament was redirected from concern for the body to the service for the salvation of the soul. In particular, it was a matter of correcting the error of the invalid grief for sins, motivated merely by the fear of punishment (attritio); after all, what counts from God’s perspective are only voluntary obedience and true grief (repentance, contritio). It was precisely the Anointing that was to make up for this difference (von Paltz’s Supplementum, p. 391, qtd. after Burger 1990: 323).

The new and central role of the priest has yet another aspect in the context of sacramentalism. In the legally constituted parish community, the parson has gained a key position not only as the sole minister of the sacraments. Preaching became the crucial aspect of pastoral work, whose effectiveness depended not so much on the function itself as on personal influence of the priest. The main function of preaching was to stimulate the faithful to repent, but because it employed the living word in national languages, it also provided a comprehensible ←102 | 103→and flexible framework for the formalized sacraments; what is more, it paved the way of conscious participation in worship in the parish and facilitated communication in the native language.198 For priests, preaching opened up a field of creativity and forced self-education, while for lay people, who did not know Latin,199 it offered an opportunity to express their religious experiences. Christa Ortmann (1992) explores the theory of the national language as a vehicle of its own cultural function on the example of non-Latin texts by female mystics.200

6. The co-existence of forms of devotion. In Part 2, I shall provide a more detailed interpretation of the comparison between popular and sacramental devotion, discussing the transformations in the ontology of the sacred (see especially chapter 8 which concerns the process of spiritualization). The essence of the differences between popular religion and sacramentalism lies in the altered status of the sacred. For now, let us merely note that, already in the discussed period, the awareness of this difference was clear. Typically, and quite obviously, religious treatises condemned superstitions, usually associated with paganism. The following passage from von Paltz’s collection shows that the superstitions, which grew around the Anointing of the Sick, did not mean any return to paganism; rather, they were outcomes of religious phantasies related to the sacrament that they never undermined:

a widespread error: oil treatment leads to the death of the anointed person; bees die in the house of the anointed; if the husband recovered after the anointment, he cannot have a sexual intercourse for a year; a pregnant woman (after this kind of treatment) may die in childbirth, especially if she is to give birth to a boy; if she will not die, the child will suffer from jaundice; you must keep a candle lit until the person is fully healed; women lose their natural skin color and girls lose their hair; those who dance, even once, after the anointment commit a mortal sin – for a year, they should not touch the ground with a bare foot (von Paltz; Burger 1990: 313).

←103 | 104→

Johannes von Paltz touched the essence of the differences between these two, already fully Christian, forms of devotion by opposing the duty of the cura animarum to the popular multiplication of prayers: in his opinion, listening carefully to one sermon contributes to the salvation of the soul more than repeating the same prayer, which has no or little significance (non valet vel parum valet); such a practice is justified only in the absence of a preacher (Burger 1990: 321).

In what follows I do not address the forms of devotion described by Max Weber as virtuosic (monasticism, mysticism), even though they also exhibit signs of changes in the status of the sacred. In this context, it is particularly instructive to trace how mysticism acquired new forms and influences. To some extent, mysticism repeats this characteristic focus on the average individual believer brought about by devotional behaviors shaped in monasteries (for instance, individual meditation inspired by a picture).201 Mendicant orders initiated a great breakthrough. Thanks to their open formula, they have restored the model of individual devotion known from the eremitic tradition, bringing it close to everyone’s daily life. The most spectacular manifestation of the popularization of the virtuosic model was the flagellant confraternities, while the most productive in terms of custom formation was the “third order” movement.

←104 | 105→

113 See G. van der Leeuw (1997); M. Eliade (1958); G. Kehrer (1997); G. Bataille (1996); B. Welte, Filozofia religii, Kraków 1997; E. Gilson, Bóg i ateizm, Kraków 1996; M. Weber, The Sociology of Religion, Boston 1993.

114 For more recent studies, see G. J. Snoek, Medieval Piety from Relics to the Eucharist, a Process of Mutual Interaction, Leiden 1995; J. C. Hirsh, The Boundaries of Faith: The Development and Transmission of Medieval Spirituality, Leiden 1996 (especially the English material of the 11th–16th centuries); since 1991, a yearbook Studies in Spirituality is being published in the Netherlands.

115 On silent prayers see Nadolski 1989: Vol. 1: 115–120, with bibliography. In literature, silence is related to non-verbal communication; V. Roloff, Reden und Schweigen. Zur Tradition und Gestaltung eines mittelalterlichen Themas in der französischen Literatur, München 1973; U. Ruberg, Beredtes Schweigen in lehrhafter und erzählender deutscher Literatur des Mittelalters. Mit kommentierter Erstedition spätmittelalterlicher Lehrtexte über das Schweigen, München 1978; C. L. Hart Nibbrig, Rhetorik des Schweigens, Versuch über die Schatten literarischer Rede, Frankfurt a. M. 1981.

116 A German priest, Luther’s contemporary belonging (like Luther) to the Order of St. Augustine. B. Hamm, Frömmigkeitstheologie am Anfang des 16. Jahrhunderts. Studien zu Johannes von Paltz und seinem Umkreis, Tübingen 1982.

117 For more about obedience and predictability see chapter 13.

118 The origin of Biblical devotion. See further (3).

119 Carruthers (1998) describes the monastic meditation theories and practices, associating them with the role of memory in rhetoric understood as a school of creative thinking. Hugh of Champagne, Tractatus de memoria complectens tres libros in laudem memoriae, PL 192, p. 1299–1324; Hugh of St. Victor, De modo dicendi et meditandi, PL 176, p. 878.

120 M. Nédoncelle, Prośba i modlitwa, Kraków 1995; B. Jaye, “Artes orandi” in: Artes praedicandi, artes orandi, M. G. Briscoe, B. Jaye (ed.), Typologie des Sources du Moyen Age Occidental 61, Turnhout 1992; Carruthers (1998: 311, fn. 154) refers to John Cassian’s Conlationes patrum and Hugh’s De modo orandi, PL 176, p. 977–988.

121 Even lying prostrate must have a prayer intention that is constantly actualized (unless it is the sacrifice of uncomfortable lying). This subtle difference, even more difficult to grasp in the case of meditation, was accurately captured by Andrzej Mleczko’s comic drawing, which presents one monk asking another: “Are you meditating or just sitting like this?”

122 Early medieval oblation was explored by M. De Jong, In Samuel’s Image: Child Oblation in the Early Medieval West, Leiden 1996; in the context of children abandoning: J. E. Boswell, “Expositio and Oblatio: The Abandonment of Children in the Ancient and Medieval Family”, The American Historical Review 1984, 89, pp. 10–33. As a pedagogical issue, it appears already in Peter Damian’s treatise De perfectione monachorum, especially in the following chapters: XX. Admonitio puerorum and XXI. Exhortatio juvenum vel adolescentium (PL 145, pp. 318–319). See also chapter 17.4.

123 Coulton 1935, Vol. 4: 97–103.

124 Cf. M. Alberi, The Evolution of Alcuin’s Concept of the Imperium christianum, in: Hill, Swan 1998: 3–17; P. Cramer, Baptism and Change in the Early Middle Ages, c.200–c.1150, Cambridge 1993.

125 R. Przybylski (Pustelnicy i demony, Kraków 1994) published four essays and four “sermons” concerning eremitism.

126 This is vividly described by Brown 1991; cf. his Society and the Holy in late Antiquity, London 1982.

127 For instance, it was runaway slaves who created the egalitarian Cossack community between three powerful states (A. Hirschman, Exit, Voice and Loyalty, Cambridge Mass. 1970; qtd. after: P. Burke 1992: 83).

128 Cf. further on the privatization of the liturgy in Biblical devotion.

129 Such a training can teach one some things, but there is no exercise for certain types of malice. If, for example, Jacques Derrida stood at a fair with a basket of mushrooms he had picked, we would never buy these mushrooms.

130 M. H. Vicaire, The Apostolic Life, Chicago 1966, pp. 82–83; qtd. after Aumann 1993: 140.

131 See Benedicti Regula, Wien 1977 (2nd, corrected edition). Claude Peifer, “The Rule in History,” in: The Rule of St. Benedict, T. Fry (ed.), 1981: 126; qtd. after Aumann 1993: 104.

132 G. Duby describes it in quite critical terms as an aristocratic and therefore languid life-style.

133 On the importance of the conversi (lay brothers) for writing also in the subsequent period see, among others, Löser 1999; Ordensstudien I: Beiträge zur Geschichte der Konversen im Mittelalter, K. Elm (red.), Berlin 1980; K. Schreiner, Gebildete Analphabeten? Spätmittelalterliche Laienbrüder als Leser und Schreiber wissensvermittelnder und frömmigkeitsbildender Literatur, in: H. Brunner, N. R. Wolf, Wissensliteratur im Mittelalter und in der frühen Neuzeit. Bedingungen, Typen, Publikum, Sprache, Wiesbaden 1993, pp. 296–327; Ch. Bauer, Geistliche Prosa im Kloster Tegernsee, Untersuchungen zu Gebrauch und Überlieferung deutschsprachiger Literatur im 15. Jahrhundert, Tübingen 1996.

134 For a summary of the Cluny reforms see Milis 1996. The Cistercian spirituality: Zisterziensische Spiritualität: theologische Grundlagen, funktionale Voraussetzungen und bildhafte Ausprägungen im Mittelalter, C. Kasper, K. Schreiner (ed.), St. Ottilien 1994. For more on medieval monasticism see C. H. Lawrence, Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages, London 1989.

135 The founder, St. Romuald (d. 1027), and his meditation school were remembered by his pupil, Bruno of Querfurt, in the Polish Life of the Five Martyrs Brothers (Vita quinque Fratrum Eremitarum martyrum in Polonia, ed. R. Kade in MGH SS XV 2, pp. 716–738; ed. by J. Karwasińska, Monumenta Poloniae Historica, Nowa Seria 4/3, Warszawa 1973, pp. 27–84); they were members of the Camaldolese monastic community murdered on November 11, 1003 at the order of someone from the surroundings of king Bolesław Chrobry. Romuald’s meditation is discussed by M. Carruthers (1998: 112–115); on p. 311, footnote 151, inexact information about Bruno, “who went as a missionary to Russia, where he was martyred in 1009.” In fact, he was murdered during the Prussian mission in the Lithuanian borderlines (Sudovia) by the Yotvingians (“im Grenzland Sudauen … durch heidnische Jatvjagen” – D. Berg, Bruno von Querfurt, VL Vol. 1, p. 1054). On H. Łowmiański’s map of Prussian lands, Sudovia is located at the present Polish-Lithuanian border (Ł. Okulicz-Kozaryn, Dzieje Prusów, Wrocław 1997, p. 9; on Bruno’ mission see pp. 232–233.

136 In German, there is a word Buchreligion.

137 The intensity of Dante’s reception is testified by the nearly simultaneous appearance of two ambitious editions of his Inferno: The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri: Inferno, ed. R. M. Durling, New York 1997 and a collection of commentaries to this book: A. Mandelbaum, “Inferno: A Canto-by-Canto Commentary,” eds. A. Oldcorn, Ch. Ross, Lectura Dantis, Vol. 1, Berkeley 1998; W. Ginsberg, Dante’s Aesthetics of Being, Ann Arbor 1999.

138 See above chapter 1.8. The heretical interpretation of simony is discussed by J. Gilchrist, “Simonia Haeresis,” in: Proceedings of the 2nd International Congress of Medieval Canon Law, Vatican City 1965.

139 The role of books in medieval devotion is explored in M. Manion, B. Muir, The Art of the Book: Its Place in Medieval Worship, Trowbridge 1998.

140 A term coined by Delaruelle (qtd. after Vauchez 1995: 12). Hen (1995) treats the liturgical books of the Merovingian period (fifth to eighth century) as a source of knowledge on the society of the time.

141 Commentarium in Canticum canticorum and Homiliae in Canticum canticorum.

142 For a new critical edition of his works see J. M. Hanssens, Amalarii episcopi opera liturgica omnia, Vols. 1–3, Vatican 1948–1950.

143 Qtd. after L. M. Clopper, Drama, Play, and Game: English Festive Culture in the Medieval and Early Modern Period, Chicago 2001, p. 51.

144 Not accidentally, finishing of the Glossa ordinaria – full commented edition of the entire Bible belonged among the next century’s biggest intellectual achievements. On the apparatus of the propagating of the Bible’s text but primarily its content see A. Dąbrówka, “Sposoby wykorzystania przeszłości w kulturze religijnej i edukacji,” in: Przeszłość w kulturze średniowiecznej Polski, eds. J. Banaszkiewicz, A. Dąbrówka, P. Węcowski, Vol. 1, Instytut Historii PAN, Wydawnictwo Neriton Warszawa 2018, pp. 479–511.

145 J. Leclercq, “Die Bibel in der gregorianischen Reform,” Concilium 2/1966, pp. 507–514.

146 “Vidi et audivi rusticum ydiotam, qui Iob recitavit de verbo ad verbum” (A. Patschovsky, Der Passauer Anonymus: ein Sammelwerk über Ketzer, Juden, Antichrist aus der Mitte des 13. Jahrhunderts, No. 8, 71, Stuttgart 1968; MGH, t. 22; qtd. after Segl 1990: 163).

147 J. M. E. Dois, Bibliografie der Moderne Devotie, 1936; A. Hyma, The Brethren of the Common Life, 1950; M. A. Lücker, Meister Eckhart und die devotio moderna, 1950; M. van Woerkum, “Florentius Radewijns. Leven, geschriften, persoonlijkheid en ideeën,” in: Ons Geestelijk Erf 24/1950, pp. 337–364; C. van der Wansem, Het ontstaan en de geschiedenis der Broederschap van het Gemene Leven tot 1400, Leuven 1958; Th. P. van Zijl, Gerard Groote, ascetic and reformer, Washington 1963; R. R. Post, The Modern Devotion, Leiden 21968; G. Epiney-Burgard, Gerard Groote et les débuts de la dévotion moderne, Wiesbaden 1970; H. N. Janowski, Gerard Groote, Thomas von Kempen und die Devotio Moderna, Ölten 1978; Moderne devotie. Figuren en facetten. Tentoonstelling ter herdenking van het sterfjaar van Geert Groote (1384–1984), exhibition catalogue, Nijmegen 1984; Geert Groote & Moderne Devotie. Voordrachten gehouden tijdens het Geert Groote congres, eds. J. Andriessen et al., Nijmegen 1985; G. Rehm, Die Schwestern vom gemeinsamen Leben im nordwestlichen Deutschland. Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der Devotio moderna und des weiblichen Religiosentums, Berlin 1985; G. H. Gerrits, Inter timorem et spem. A Study of the Theological Thought of Gerard Zerbolt of Zutphen (1367–1398), Leiden 1986; De doorwerking van de Moderne Devotie. Windesheim 1387–1987, eds. P. Bange et al., Hilversum 1988; J. Stoś, “Jakuba z Paradyża teoria człowieka. Przykład ujęć antropologicznych kierunku devotio moderna,” Studia Paradyskie 3/1993, pp. 129–150; P. J. J. van Geest 1995. For an English collection, see Devotio Moderna. Basic Writings, Mahwah, various editions.

148 According to W. Reinhard (1993), it is only Romanticism that defines modernity as a distinctive feature. In the mid-fourteenth century, ars nova appeared in music and via moderna in philosophy.

149 A broader context is explored in J. T. Maciuszko’s work Ewangelicka postyllografia polska XVI–XVIII wieku. Charakterystyka – analiza porównawcza – recepcja, Warszawa 1987.

150 For a general history of the Protestant dogmatics, see O. Ritschl, Dogmengeschichte des Protestantismus, Leipzig 1908–1927.

151 On Protestant Scholasticism, see B. G. Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy: Protestant Scholasticism and Humanism in Seventeenth-Century France, Madison 1969; cf. also J. Plall, Reformed Thought and Scholasticism, Leiden 1982.

152 Pius V eliminated the tropes in his Roman Missal (Nadolski 1992: 128).

153 German Volksreligion, French religion populaire.

154 For an extensive bibliography of works dealing with popular religion, see D. Yoder, “Introductory Bibliography on Folk Religion,” in: Western Folklore 30/1974, pp. 16–34; for more recent studies, see P. Dinzelbacher 1990a. There is an abundance of general monographs on popular religion, for instance: R. and Ch. Brooke, Popular Religion in the Middle Ages. Western Europe 1000–1300, London 1984; E. Delaruelle, La pieté populaire au moyen âge, Turin 1975; G. Maillet, Religion et traditions populaires aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles, Chalons-sur-Marne 1978; R. Manselli, La religion populaire au moyen âge, Montreal 1975; K. Schreiner, Laienfrömmigkeit im späten Mittelalter. Formen, Funktionen, politisch-soziale Zusammenhänge, ed. E. Müller-Luckner, München 1992; from a literary studies perspective: P. Trouillez, “Volksgeloof in de middeleeuwen. Een beeld vanuit de Canterbury Tales,” in: Tijdschrift voor Geestelijk Leven 40/1984, pp. 403–423; iconographic sources: G. Jaritz 1990; the scope of religious practices in the High Middle Ages and during the Protestant Crisis: E. Duphy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400–1580, New Haven 1992. A selection of texts ed. by J. Shinners, Medieval Popular Religion, 1000–1500: A Reader, Peterborough 1997.

155 R. Manselli, La religion populaire au moyen âge, Montreal 1975, p. 14.

156 Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context, Chapel Hill 1996.

157 In this sense, we can compare this phenomenon with the stylistic layers in vocabulary; in German, there is also a term that describes forms of devotion as styles – Frömmigkeitsstil, for example, in Heer.

158 R. Finnegan opposed this view in the collection she edited with R. Horton, Modes of Thought. Essays on Thinking in Western and Non-Western Societies, 1973; qtd. after De Jong 1993: 12.

159 J. M. Gellrich, Discourse and Dominion in the Fourteenth Century: Oral Contexts of Writing in Philosophy, Politics, and Poetry, Princeton 1995; qtd. after R. S. Sturges in rev. TMR 97.11.01. Gellrich criticizes, among others, M. Irvine’s, The Making of Textual Culture: “Grammatica” and Literary Theory 350–1100, and S. Justice’s, Writing and Rebellion. Also see Kultura piśmienna średniowiecza i czasów nowożytnych. Problemy i konteksty badawcze, eds. P. Dymmel, B. Trelińska, Lublin 1998 (Res Historica, Vol. 3).

160 In Poland, the special term kalwaria developed for via crucis outside of churches, where stationary chapels were built, situated around existing towns; such urban arrangements could determine the image of the town that the word kalwaria replaced its official name (e.g. Góra Kalwaria).

161 On the reduction of the singing of the faithful see Janota, Studien zur Funktion und Typus des deutschen geistlichen Liedes im Mittelalter, München 1968.

162 See the definition below, p. 5: Formulas of the benediction, e.g. in the Pontifical of the Archbishops of Halyč in the 15th century (f. 189–192); apart from those listed further in this text, there were also benedictions of cheese, eggs, and honey.

163 See Segl 1990: 166.

164 M. Pisarzak, “Dewocjonalia,” in: EK 3, p. 1226.

165 J. Matuszak, Das “Speculum exemplorum” als Quelle volkstümlicher Glaubens-vorstellungen des Spätmittelalters, Siegburg 1967; M. Keen, The Outlaws of Medieval Legend, London 1977 (phantasy).

166 See Gurevich 1988; Hen 1995; Meens 1998; see also D. Harmening, Superstitio. Überlieferungs- und theoriegeschichtliche Untersuchungen zur kirchlich-theologischen Aberglaubensliteratur des Mittelalters, Berlin 1979; V. Flint, The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe, Oxford 1991; R. Kieckhefer, “The Specific Rationality of Medieval Magic,” American Historical Review 99/1994, pp. 813–836; De betovering van het middeleeuwse Christendom. Studies over ritueel en magie in de Middeleeuwen, eds. M. Mostert, A. Demyttenaere, Hilversum 1995; K. Bracha, “Kritik an den Glaubens- und Verhaltensformen und an der Aberglaubenpraxis im kirchlichen reformatorischen Schrifttum des Spätmittelalters”, in: Christianity in East Central Europe. Late Middle Ages. Proceedings of the Commission Internationale d’Histoire Ecclésiastique Comparée, eds. J. Kłoczowski et al., Lublin 1966, Vol. 2, Lublin 1999, pp. 271–282.

167 In Bavarian: “Chuss auf di erden;” H. Moser, “Bayerische Volksfrömmigkeit,” in: Bayerische Frömmigkeit. 1400 Jahre christliches Bayern. Ausstellung anlässlich des eucharistischen Weltkongresses in München, Monachium 1960, p. 38; qtd. after Segl 1990: 174.

168 W. Wackernagel, “Erde als Leib Christi,” Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum 6/1848, p. 288 ff; Segl 1990: 175.

169 “Vnde ordinacio humanorum actuum, quorum principium est voluntas, soli deo attribui debet quia omnia diuine prouidencie subduntur non constellacionibus celestibus et ideo prohibere ne hoc fati communiter vtantur.” Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Cod. 18378, k. 266vb; qtd. after Bracha 1999: fn. 35.

170 Burger 1990: 325; this view appears in von Paltz, Supplementum Soelifodinae, p. 440; it can be found also in Der Antichrist und Die Fünfzehn Zeichen vor dem Jüngsten Gericht, a reprint of an anonymous Strasburg print of 1480, Hamburg 1979, pp. 6 and 15. Perhaps this is why one of the Popes commanded that alchemists should give back to the Church as much real gold as they produce with their art.

171 For general accounts see J. W. C. Wand, The Development of Sacramentalism, 1928; W. Knoch, Die Einsetzung der Sakramente durch Christus. Untersuchungen zur Sakramentaltheologie der Frühscholastik, Marburg 1983; G. Tellenbach 1966 describes the political context this phenomenon (see especially chapters 2.3: The Sacramental Conception, pp. 47–50, and. 3.3: Success of the Papacy, pp. 112–125).

172 For an account of the role of law in the Gregorian revolution see K. G. Cushing, Papacy and Law in the Gregorian Revolution. The Canonistic Work of Anselm of Lucca, Oxford 1998; see also Lex et Sacramentum im Mittelalter, ed. P. Wilpert, Berlin 1969.

173 “Gloriosissime Imperator, et magnificentissime ac centies invictissime, a Deo coronate” (PL 105, p. 985–1242). In the (later) Middle Ages, the Emperor’s title of gloriosissimus was transferred onto “bishops and popes” (J. Sondel, Słownik łacińsko-polski dla prawników i historyków, Kraków 1997, p. 413).

174 It is also included in the Book of Gospels of 1014–1022, Cod. Ottobon. year 74, Bibl. Apostolica Vaticana.

175 A. H. Bredero (1986) underscores the importance of this distinction for the development of Christianity. See also F. Probst, Sakramente und Sakramentalien in den drei ersten christlichen Jahrhunderten, Tübingen 1872; A. J. M. Shamon, Sacramentals and blessed objects, Oak Lawn 2000; A. Kirchgässner, Heilige Zeichen der Kirche, Aschaffenburg 1959. R. Scribner discusses the sacramentals in popular religion, “Magie und Aberglaube. Zur volkstümlich sakramentaler Denkart in Deutschland am Ausgang des Mittelalters,” in: Dinzelbacher, Bauer 1990: 253–274; for more about the sacramentals, see Nadolski, pp. 217–220 (with further distinctions: consecrations, benedictions, exorcisms, pp. 221–253); L. Eisenhofer, Handbuch der katholischen Liturgik, Vol. 1, Roma 1932, pp. 100–113; Rituale Romanum, a new section of De Benedictionibus (1984) contains particular formulas. The most comprehensive account is still A. Franz’s two-volume work (1909).

176 “Ivo was the driving force behind the development that led to the determination of the number of sacraments…. in many places, he makes a very clear distinction between the sacraments and other symbolic signs of the Church” (Sprandel 1962: 35). Let us add that Ivo saw this difference elsewhere than it is established today (for a detailed discussion see N. M. Häring 1976); cf. also the history of dogmatics, e.g. R. Seeberg, Dogmengeschichte, Vol. 3, 4, 1932, pp. 282 ff.).

177 P. Delehaye, Pierre Lombard, Montreal 1961; M. L. Colish, Peter Lombard, Vol. 1–2, Leiden 1994.

178 Distinctio II. 1: Jam ad sacramenta novae legis accedamus: quae sunt Baptismus, Confirmatio, panis benedictio, id est, Eucharistia, Poenitentia, Unctio extrema, Ordo, Conjugium. PL 192, p. 841D. The critical edition in the series “Spicilegium Bonaventurianum” 4–5, Grottaferrata 1971–1981. For a review of its reception Repertorium Commentariorum in Sententias Petri Lombardi, ed. F. Stegmüller, Vols. 1–2, Würzburg 1947.

179 In the second part of his Liber de lite, Geoffrey of Vendôme presented a theory which equated the symbols of investiture with sacraments (Sprandel 1962: 37).

180 Sometimes they were quite complex “spectacles,” not devoid of drama, e.g. the Bishop’s rite of reconciliation for penitents in the pontificale of Wilhelm Durand, Pontificalis ordinis liber (ca. 1294), ed. By M. Andrieu, 1940; its description is given by B. Nadolski (1992, Vol. 3, 101–102); cf. also J. Longere, 1992: 125–133. Historical texts available in numerous printed sacramentaries, pontificals, etc.; for a monograph of benedictions see e.g. The Benedictional of Archbishop Robert, ed. by H. A. Wilson, London 1903; Corpus benedictionum pontificalium, ed. by E. Moeller, Vols. 1–4 of the “Corpus Christianorum Series Latina” 162, Turnhout 1971–1979. Maledictions (curses) are a separate phenomenon: L. K. Little, “Malédictions monastiques aux IXe et Xe siècles,” Revue Mabillon 58/1975.

181 This is confirmed in full by the decrees of the Council of Trent, session 7 of Can. 9; qtd. after Plater-Zyberk 1937: 14.

182 St. Thomas Aquinas, De Sacramentis; Summa Theologiae, III 64, 5; qtd. after Plater-Zyberk 1937: 14.

183 A decree of the Council of Florence, 1438–1445 (Napiórkowski 1995: 39); see also Häring 1976: 492 et seq., and his, “Character, signum, signaculum,” Scholastik 31/1956, pp. 41–69, 182–212 (after Häring 1976: fn. 75, 90).

184 In sum, Damian distinguished twelve sacraments (Napiórkowski 1995: 37); for more on the number of sacraments see B. Geyer, “Die Siebenzahl der Sakramente in ihrer historischen Entwicklung,” Theologie und Glaube 10/1918, p. 331 ff.; A. Müller, Feiern des Glaubens. Die Sakramente der Kirche, Freiburg 1976.

185 Circumcisio et observantia Sabbati; Summa Sententiarum, PL 176, p. 41–174, here p. 120. C. Rudolph described Hugh’s De Sacramentis as the first Summa (1999: 3). Hugh did not consider marriage as a sacrament (Häring 1976: 484); his contemporary Abelard, in turn, does not refer to penance as a sacrament in his treatise Ethica (Häring 1976: 489).

186 De minoribus sacramentis et sacris; De Sacramentis Lib. II, pars IX; PL 176, p. 471/472–477/478). Ibid. part 8, chapter 8. Quare in specie panis et vini Christus sacramentum corporis sui et sanguinis instituit (p. 469A). It is therefore incorrect to claim (ODCC, 1435a) that it was only Peter Lombard who linked the sacraments to their establishment by Christ. (Liber sententiarum IV, Dist. II: De sacramentis novae legis; PL 192, p. 841). The exact distinction between the sacraments and the sacramentals was made by Alexander of Hales before 1245; in approx. the same time the new word sacramentals appears in the last chapter of De sacramentis by William of Auvergne (Franz 1909, Vol. 1: 11; definition on pp. 13–14). For more see H. Weisweiler, Die Wirksamkeit der Sakramente nach Hugo von St. Victor, Fribourg 1932.

187 G. M. Gibson 1989: 23 with the example on ill. 2.2, p. 21. A. E. Nichols analyses the iconography of 33 preserved objects out of about 40 made between 1463 and 1544 (1991). For an account of sacramental themes in Dutch early art see G.B. Lane, The Altar and the Altarpiece: Sacramental Themes in Early Netherlandish Art, New York 1984.

188 It is already underscored in the titles of handbooks of sacramentology: Napiórkowski 1995 and Schneider 1995.

189 “Sacramentum enim proprie dicitur quod ita signum est gratiae Dei et invisibilis gratiae forma, ut ipsius imaginem gerat et causa existat” (IV, dist. I.2; PL 192, p. 839).

190 For the concept of performative see J. Searle, “A classification of illocutionary acts,” in: Proceedings of the Texas Conference on Performative Presuppositions and Implicatures, eds. A. Rogers et al., Arlington 1977, pp. 27–45.

191 In Joannem 80, 3; PL 35, p. 1840; qtd. T. Schneider, p. 59; cf. also the concept of the “causing of grace.”

192 P. L. Reynolds, Marriage in the Western Church, Leiden 1994.

193 The exceptions to the principle that only priests are ministers of the sacraments were a result of various extraordinary circumstances. In the Brabantian miracle Spel vanden Heiligen Sacramente van der Nyeuwer Vaert from ca. 1500 (cf. our Chapter 19), the knight Wouter of Roosbeke, in a monologue encouraging his warriors to fight with the Prussian Saracens, gives them the following advice if they get wounded: “Confess to yourself, and God will forgive you for your anger” (“Wilt u biechten tegen u selven spreken, // God sal u vergheven al u mesdaet”). Similar exceptions have been quite numerous. For Luther, they constituted one of the proofs of the superficial nature of priestly mediation: since there are situations in which the sacraments are validly given by ordinary people, why cannot they be always valid?

194 Before proceeding further, let us recall the theory of N. Elias: the modern personality is based on self-control and empathy. B. Nadolski gives an extensive account of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (1992, Vol. 3: 81–132, with literature). For a collection of articles which takes into account literary sources: Handling Sin. Confession in the Middle Ages, eds. P. Biller, A. J. Minnis, Woodbridge 1999. It is difficult to clearly define the role of marriage; the Church did not invent it, but the redefinition of legal regulations in the sacramental spirit has probably played a certain role (Donahue 1976: 277): the twelfth century “sacramental theory places great trust in human choice, entrusting two people, at least in this sacrament, with the work for their salvation – without any required ceremony, without the participation of the Church, even with the help of the rest of society.”

195 B. Nadolski 1992, Vol. 3: 103–104; a reference to M. Rigghetti, Storia liturgica, Milan 1979.

196 The tenth critical edition, X. Ochoa, L. Diez, Rome 1976.

197 ODCC, 461, 1369; G. Fransen, Les Décrétals et les Collections de Décrétals, Turnhout 1972.

198 S. Wenzel examines the issue of temporary bilingualism on the example of English-Latin “macaronic” sermons from 1350–1450: Bilingualism and Preaching in Late-Medieval England, Ann Arbor 1994.

199 Latin itself described such people much more concisely, with one word: “idiota.”

200 Several English texts, which defend the dignity of vernacular speech as a language of theology and as a vehicle of the revealed word, are discussed by N. Watson in the article “Conceptions of the Word: The Mother Tongue and the Incarnation of God, in: New Medieval Literatures,” in: eds. W. Scase, R. Copeland, D. Lawton, Vol. 1, Oxford 1997 (qtd. after rev. M. Calabrese, TMR 99.03.16); see also The Idea of the Vernacular: An Anthology of Middle English Literary Theory, 1280–1520, eds. J. Wogan-Browne et al., University Park 1998. I shall return to the issue of language in the context of subjectivity (see e.g. chapters 21.1 and 22.6).

201 Gibson 1989: 6 with a reference to: S. Ringbom, “Devotional Images and Imaginative Devotions: Notes on the Place of Art in Late Medieval Private Piety,” Gazette des Beaux Arts 73/1969, p. 164.

6. The Ontology of the Sacred

The relationship between the ontological status of the sacred and forms of devotion is not simply causal. The change in ideas or theories that embraced the ontology of the sacred influenced the forms of devotion more than the other way around, but they were the environment in which these theories could develop. Sometimes, we should assume an inseparable connection here, as between the meaning of the word and its sound form, which co-exist and develop together.

1. WHAT EXISTS? The issues of ontology are not a typical subject of literary studies. Let us take a moment to remind and orientate ourselves in the complexities of philosophical positions regarding existence.

Instead of dissecting the key word “exist,” which requires no explanation, let us carelessly ask like in a social game: Does darkness exist? A wave on the water? The reflection in the mirror? Colors?202 Heat? A hole in the sleeve? The ozone hole? A ditch? An image in a concave relief?

We will rather say that darkness does not exist as such, but this is how we call the lack of light.203 The last four questions also speak of something that is not there. But does this lack exist? Is there a shadow? These questions certainly make us enter dangerous grounds. How can you say that something like darkness does not exist, if you still hear the breath of the diligent Creator, who has just separated it from the light (Genesis 1)? And if the shadow does not exist, how can the shadow of the saint that falls on the sick heal him (Acts 5:15)?

The answer to the question about the existence of the image in the concave relief determines such a trifle as whether our carving of God’s image breaks one of God’s commandments. The carved depiction appears only by the lack of substance; it is not a figurine, so it cannot become an idol or object of idolatrous worship.

Among the various ontological positions, the two most popular refer to the basic categories of being: spirit and matter. Materialistic monism assumes the existence of matter only, while reducing everything else to its function. Dualism allows for the existence of a separate sphere of spirit that is independent and irreducible to the function of matter: spirit is to precede matter. Moreover, there were various positions, including the gradualistic one, which assumed a gradual transition from matter through material-corporeal beings to purely spiritual, then introducing complicated ←107 | 108→hierarchies and affinities of the latter. Both these poles and intermediate areas come together by imagination that bridges them by allegory. The linking role of allegory that merges the images of the world explains its eternity and the richness of forms.

2. HOLINESS AND REVELATION. Depending on the religious system and cosmological ideas, people will name ontological positions differently and in relation to the manner in which the sacred exists. Some locate the sacred in various particular entities (animism), some with elements or areas of nature (the sea, the wind, the sky, the underground world), others even identify it with nature (pantheism), or straightforward deny the existence of the sacred altogether (atheism). The Judeo-Christian religious system that we examine here distributes the sacred in both spheres: the observable world and the spiritual dimension – on earth and in Heaven. The spiritual sacred does not cause much trouble, except for the thorny issue of manifesting its power in the physical world. The latter, in turn, finds it difficult to establish communication with the metaphysical world of the sacred. The two spheres depend on each other.

Biblical theology distinguishes between “the true sanctity possessed only by God,” and consecration “that withdraws certain persons and things from ordinary life and places in an intermediate state, which simultaneously hides and reveals God’s holiness.”204 So as not to get embroiled in what “really” happens between the two realms,205 we can effectively describe their relationships in the convention of communication and the exchange of symbolic acts of such varying readability as the acts of interpersonal communication; that is, not always intentional, often ambiguous, and requiring interpretation. What corresponds with it is the communicative essence of the sacraments based on the word addressed to God along with the forms of piety that act “in the name” of God. Hence, the invocation replaces the expected Word.

In both spheres, the concept of holiness is far from clear-cut. It appears in various roles – of attribute, gift, or purpose – and concerns different addressees: the saints, the people of God,206 also only those whom God will choose (in the New Testament, first those who received the Holy Spirit), the Laws, the holy places like ←108 | 109→temples or the holy city, and sacred periods of time. Metaphorical and occasional uses blur the image, so the search of a systematics should require verification of those uses in terms of their universality; nevertheless, the Bible is a singular text and the many statements are but narrative elements, not representations of beliefs. In the doctrinal tradition, there were various phases of accumulation and reduction of the understanding of holiness, even for divine persons; suffice to mention the long discussions about the distribution of holiness in the womb of the Trinity. The subordination of certain forms of holiness to others constitutes a loophole for the changes in the recognition of not only the manifestation of the sacred of God but also the existence of beings who bear the subordinate sacred. These changes may appear in a given religious system or be a way to break it down.

The foundation of a religion usually comes with a historical Revelation. In the Judeo-Christian system, it is “always religious,” hence it holds no technological secrets or other gifts as in cargo cults, but the self-affirmation of God, the sign of divine presence, vigilance, and will.207 In the scholastic lecture of Spaniard Ramon Marti, the actual revelation meets four conditions: it carries the truth, happens in circumstances full of good and morality, is aided by miracles, and contains a certain law or command that leads people to worship God.208 However, traces of the cargo cult occur even in Judaism, so vigilant about the immateriality of God: the Old Testament God is surprisingly ubiquitous; not only does he act in dramatic moments whenever the hungry need manna but he also literally follows each step of his chosen people, as if flying in a balloon over them like a prudent commander, one rank higher than Moses, strolling unseen at night through the camp. Perhaps, this prompted Thomas Aquinas to reserve pure religiosity of revelation for the New Testament only:

Because the priesthood of the gentiles and the whole worship of their gods existed merely for the acquisition of temporal goods (which were all ordained to the common good of the multitude, whose care devolved upon the king), the priests of the gentiles were very properly subject to the kings. Similarly, since in the old law earthly goods were promised to the religious people (not indeed by demons but by the true God), the priests of the old law, we read, were also subject to the kings. But in the new law there is a higher priesthood by which men are guided to heavenly goods. Consequently, in the law of Christ, kings must be subject to priests.209

←109 | 110→

However, the original revelation is not as important to our considerations as the matter of the current presence of God. Biblical theology distinguishes its various forms.210 The presence of God may be (1) material; (2) real, but not material, when it manifests itself in signs like storm, thunder, or wind; (3) spiritual, in the Holy Spirit, encountered by visionaries; and finally (4) in the cult, which means in “the truth,” “in true worship,” among believers, as a spiritual bond between people who profess one God. The fourth type of presence is objective among believers, who eat God’s body, drink his blood, and host his Spirit, or subjective in individual faith, its internal presencing, the placement in one’s soul of a constant realm open to the sacred as a certain body of knowledge and attitudes.211 We may literally understand this as a partial transplant of the sacred to the individual soul – as a private Arc of Covenant – or only as the terminus of a network, a terminal of a larger power through which it can spiritually communicate with the individual.

We cannot unequivocally determine which of these forms of presence really appear and which one we may only deduce from signs. Nevertheless, we must bear in mind that the attempts to explain this ambiguity and persuade others made the history of the Western civilization witness its most bloody moments.

3. THE PRESENCE OF THE SACRED. Hearing and visual revelations in verbo-conceptual, visionary, and oneiric form212 constitute facts that testify to the workings of the sacred; hence arise always new sources of evidence of their factuality.

Gregory of Tours (c.538–594) argues that the revelation is an ongoing process (de Nie 1985: 92); some miracles not only reflect spiritual meanings but also spontaneous interventions of the all-knowing providence, which no one asked for but were objectively desirable; for instance, a boat with a saint cannot sink, even if no one calls for divine help. Miracles express certain needs (de Nie 1985: 110), therefore it is not so important to personally experience revelations ←110 | 111→or miracles; we need but to know about them to trigger our desire that is stronger than reasonable certainty.

We draw knowledge from those who bring knowledge. Moreover, this knowledge is sufficient foundation for the specific rationality. Because we cannot distinguish “beliefs from knowledge, given there is no collision between the two forms of conviction;” for example, the Germanic people did not define their attitude to deities as faith, but simply by saying that “the world exists including deities and spirits” (Piekarczyk 1976: 432). This collision only occurs due to the spread of a single pattern of rationality. One may only avoid the collision by its forceful imposition or clear separation like the one proposed by Ockham between theology and philosophy (see subsection 25.6). The same applies to the reception of works of art whose symbolism “leaves too much room for the recipient’s invention,” which sometimes makes it “a fallible medium of communication” (Samsonowicz 1997: 139). These are our problems, because the scope of freedom of interpretation inadvertently facilitated functioning without collisions.

Even relics, symbols, and related rituals – in which the sacred “radiates” on the faithful – are not the only things that function as tangible signs of the presence of the sacred. New evidence of factuality emerges from every level of the religious system: what confirms its operations is every socially observed manifestation of attitudes placed in its interpretative framework. Regardless of the nature of this theological frame that determines the manner of existence of the sacred, there occurs a “collective revelation:” there crystallizes the social structure of meanings that the individual must use to shape himself (K. Burke 1941: 108).

We may speak about the role of emotional cognition in the Middle Ages as crucial to understanding the phenomenon of religion, but it is better to speak about cognition through a different rationality, without negating the social and psychological role of emotions.213 Knowing about the new large charge of emotionality in the New Testament, we may wonder what triggered the realization of the gospel of love for good only after one thousand years from its publication. Considering the historical conditions of the process of changing piety, we attribute this to the organizational weakness and political entanglement of the Church. Only the relative stabilization of a sufficiently large organization created the minimal basis of factuality, on which one could deepen the religious experience. The individual human soul directed its hopes toward the loving and suffering deity, which is how Cantor (1993: 252) describes the essence of Peter Damian’s new ←111 | 112→piety that introduced a new quality to medieval religiosity beginning with the eleventh century. That is, there emerged a fundamental change in the understanding of the relationship between God and humanity: between the Old and New Testaments. The Early Medieval, Old Testament piety foregrounded formal worship and obedience while Byzantine caesaropapism actually maintained a “completely de-Christianized” power (Fumagalli 1996: 125), so in their place came personal experience promoted by northern Italian monasticism and the intensification of religious experience in municipal Italian communes (Cantor 1993, Fumagalli 1996). This striking emotionality of medieval devotion derives from its collective character, as explained by cognitive psychology: “Almost every human exchange involves feelings on both sides…. In an ideal case, they are mutually “attuned” between partners who achieve a sort of coordinated synchrony of feeling” (Neisser 1999: 188–189).

In each case, we can talk about the strengthening of the group’s conviction about the system’s factuality due to the increased frequency of stimuli that confirm its actions. The social factors could play a role: the attractiveness of the position of a parish priest, who enjoyed prestige, came from the upper classes, had a guaranteed living conditions and sometimes a good income.214

In the context of the new role of love in religious experience (“loving deity”), we should pay special attention to the ideology of courtly love and the concept of using it to build the entire social order; not only a certain part of court relations. Christelrose Rischer read this idea from the autobiographical poem of the judge from Styria, Ulrich of Lichtenstein (d.1276), entitled Frauendienst. The author, a Minnesinger, believes that Minnesang may be “a medium through which one could construct an ideal society” (Rischer 1992: 156). However, we must note serious voices that indicate the genesis of this secular ideology in the clerical environment similar to the first troubadour, William IX, Duke of Aquitaine.215 Jean Leclercq also speaks of a “partly unconscious” osmosis between the circles of court and monastic poets, before they closed themselves in separate environments: monasteries and castles (1992: 351).

4. THE COEXISTENCE OF DIFFERENT MEANINGS AND MULTIPLE RECIPIENTS. Depending on the spiritual structure of the pantheon, there may appear different levels of the presence of the sacred in the sphere of matter and the spirit on different levels of the spiritual hierarchy. Similarly peculiar and depending on ←112 | 113→the religious system are the forms of piety or rituals, as well as the boundaries that divide them. The higher levels of material existence “perfect” themselves so much that they smoothly pass into the sphere of ideal or spiritual existence. That is, the ontological boundary between the material and spiritual existence vanishes at an ingraspable point, and to utter or experience it becomes unavailable to mortals.

We will recognize the reflection of this situation in the vagueness of the ontological status of the representation of the deceased, “the ambivalent standing-recumbent position” of the gisant, characteristic of medieval tombstones. According to Jarzewicz, the sense of this ambiguity is to show two aspects of death in one depiction:

Tombstone figures seem to assume the recumbent position only in the eyes of the mortal who walk on earth and remain on this side of the border…. On the other hand, the standing position – the representation of a person as alive and “wholesome” – emerges when the observer assumes the perspective from the above, which in many cases is impossible; for instance, in tombstones with canopies (Jarzewicz 1998: 30–31).

In this context, Weckwerth speaks of a look from the perspective of God. Here, too, one could talk about the danger of different colliding perspectives, if we disallowed the many “patterns of rationality” in the sphere of artistic creation. Even the scope of the Revelation partly depends on the fact that its parts do not collide with each other, let alone the collective revelation and its important source – works of art – whose “collisionality” we readily appreciate, although this makes them a “fallible medium of communication.”

The simultaneity of perspectives or the consonance of different possible meanings of the same word or motif will return in the description of the comic and the metaphorical. The allegorical method openly plays with ambiguity by creating “simultaneous realities”216 and allowing for “oscillating meanings” in the composition of characters.217 The principle of recapitulation218 – concentrating content in sections that represent a larger whole – leads to the approximation and close compilation of meanings. The nature of these extracts depends on ←113 | 114→whether their juxtaposition suggests the continuity of history219 or whether it is merely a demonstration of a catalog or an encyclopedic resource. All this belongs to typically medieval creative techniques that operate with time and space in their own way, just like the spatialization of time in simultaneous composition of a painting: it gathers episodes remote in distance and space in a single depiction. Strictly speaking, this is not about simultaneity but rather synoptism,220 which etymologically means simultaneous perception and is the goal of such composition, not the suggestion that these episodes happened simultaneously. What really connects them is the processual bond: episodes rarely are independent events but a consequence of several phases of a single process, perceived as one event. We notice it best in the pictures, “in which all personae utter certain sentences, expressed in the inscriptions on banderoles, from which we can arrange a dialog” (Lewański 1966: 23). Scholars observed a certain method of reflecting the passage of time in a synoptic image with a complicated program in the works of Hans Memling (1430–1494). The successive stages of the Passion of Christ take different places in one picture, but the beginning and the end appear as dawn and dusk. What truly exists at the same time in the so-called simultaneous theatrical play are only the mansions, synoptic by necessity, whereas the action is successive; however, in a way, it is a simultaneous whole. The authentic simultaneity of sensual perception and understanding of different simultaneous stimuli is something different, and the above applications utilize this aesthetically.

Part of these solutions reflects the origin of the building material of the work of art (“the imposed structures”); another proves the presence of experimentation with the means of expression; yet another reveals the participation of direct communication of the recipient’s content, which generally diminishes with time in favor of indirect communication encoded in literary images. As Johan Nowé (1995: 3) shows, the stage direction of The Alsfeld Passion Play (1501) is characterized by a balance between the spectacle and the symbolic presentation of the performance; that is, between the moves of the drama characters that develop the action, and the lecturing signals directed to the audience. Contrary to this tendency, the persistence of the procedure of addressing the audience in ←114 | 115→violation of theatrical illusion may be a feature of a certain genre or aesthetics (see chapter 25).

The final result consists of the elements of contingency, helplessness, carelessness, but also respect and fear. We must especially remember the latter one when considering religious materials. If the audience comprised people and God, then the type and scope of messages addressed in both directions allows one to draw conclusions about the character of these recipients, as understood by the contemporary artists. Despite such high-level approach, this summary of the ambiguity of motifs and the multiplicity of points of view is useful. The range of direct symbolic messages, which almost entirely convey worship rituals destined for the divine recipient, decreases in the works of religious art.221 However, its indirect pictorial messages are not immediately directed to the human audience, but some of them still is supposed to reach the sacred. As long as this occurs, we deal not with the secularization of art but with a change of its language. This change means an adjustment in the means of expression according to the change in the way of existence of the sacred; partly by contributing to this change and, perhaps, even by being the change itself.

←115 | 116→←116 | 117→

202 A four-year-old philosopher once explained that “actually, this is all but color”.

203 We are unaware that we already agree with the classics: “mathematicians call this way the space devoid of light.” Plutarch 1988: 164–165.

204 Słownik Teologii Biblijnej 1994: 974.

205 At least since Kant, the division of the world into “the physical” and “the metaphysical” lost its importance in everyday life. Schopenhauer hurled unrefined insults at the philosophers who failed to pass this threshold.

206 This is how the Old Testament calls Israel, the priestly people chosen to lead other peoples; which is why the “Jewishness” of circumcision was often regarded as the necessary introduction to the baptism of pagans. Luther, in his treatise “An den christlichen Adel deutscher Nation, von des christlichen Standes Besserung” understood this as the vocation of all the baptized to become priests. See our chapter 5.3.

207 “Objawienie,” Słownik Teologii Biblijnej.

208 Qtd. after N. Daniel, Heroes and Saracens. An Interpretation of the Chanson de Geste, Edinburgh 1984, p. 126.

209 Thomas Aquinas, De regno ad regem Cypri / On Kingship to the King of Cyprus, transl. Gerald B. Phelan, Toronto 1949, I.15: 111. Augustine wrote the first five books of the City of God “against those who believe that we should worship gods for their worldly support.”

210 “Obecność Boga,” Słownik Teologii Biblijnej.

211 The reversal of the direction of defining God’s presence is easier with the objective bond: as a whole, it gives some definition of God; it is more difficult to define God’s presence on the basis of a summary of subjective bonds. Probably this is why religion with the idea of God implied only by subjective links is impossible. Or is it the ideal religion?

212 About dreams that transfer “the commands of God, saints, or angels,” see Michałowska 1996: 242 ff; A. C. Spearing, Medieval Dream-Poetry, Cambridge 1976; S. F. Kruger, Dreaming in the Middle Ages, Oxford 1992; K. Speckenbach, Traumbücher, in: VL 9, pp. 1014–1028; also there, different texts with the word “Traum” in the titles.

213 See chapter 16 and the results of K.-H. Zur Mühlen about the linking of the realms of feeling and will in the psychology of Augustinianists and in devotio moderna.

214 Van Engen 1986: 548. About the role of prestige, see chapter 9.

215 H. Brinkmann, Entstehungsgeschichte des Minnesangs, Halle 1926, 1971, 1971; see Jaeger 1985: ft. 440ff.

216 The notion introduced by C. Erickson, The Medieval Vision, Oxford 1976, p. 8; qtd. after N. Crohn Schmitt 1982: 312. Erickson applies simultaneous realities to her interpretation of the allegorical drama The Castle of Perseverance.

217 See Linke (1995, Bk. 2: 129–42) below about the Erfurt Morality Play.

218 See Sheingorn, Bevington 1985: ft. 798.

219 Happé (1997: 76–78) analyzes the apt examples from Giotto di Bondone’s Paduan frescoes (1318). Internal references transferred over the linear narration inform their cohesion: retrospections, anticipations, echoes, similes, and contrasts.

220 Hess (1997a: 671) remarks about that issue by pointing to the caption to the illustration for the miracle play about King Clovis, but he only sees the parallelism of the two compositions, which I explain as significant difference; see “Miracle de Clovis,” in: Miracles de Nostre Dame par personnages 1876–1893.

221 Nowé (1995: 3–23) discusses the reduction of the cult element in theatre on the basis of the liturgical drama.

7. The Sources of the Spiritualization Process

We have found that the concept of the sacred belongs to the imponderables222 that people see in places that others indicate to them. Let us not go further into doctrinal considerations, but instead limit ourselves to the global distinction of the possible carriers of the sacred into symbols that have a material motivation and completely arbitrary language signs (chapter 8).

1. THE SPIRITUAL EXISTENCE OF HOLY SACRED. How to briefly present the history of the holy sacred (first degree on the Becker scale)? First, in the holy history, it is “everywhere.” According to Amalric of Bène, posthumously condemned together with his followers at the council in Paris in 1210, “God is in everything, everything identifies with him and God, being in everything, works in everything” (Kuksewicz 1986: 196). This theological view was picked up and developed by the Parisian group of students who claimed, among other things, that the Holy Spirit incarnated in every human being, “so that every man may be considered a part of the deity” (Kuksewicz 1986: 179). They understood the sacred substantially: since it has been given to man, it lives with him and changes his nature; spiritual communication that requires constant communication is a different matter.

After Lateran IV, the sacred was limited to seven sacraments – what the Protestant churches reduce even more – which in some respects return to the Old Testament formula.223 The most radical is the ideology of Wycliff and the ←117 | 118→Lollards,224 who proposed a religion completely devoid of the social dimension, reduced only to the relationship between God and the faithful (S. Knight 1986b). After one hundred years, the postulate returned in the German “spiritual church” (Geistkirche), mainly associated with the figure of Thomas Müntzer and, periodically, Sebastian Franck (Franck 1966: 21): “God is and works in everything except sin. He is everything in everything, and if sin were something, not nothing, He would be sin as well.”

According to Franck, after the death of the apostles, the Church exists only spiritually, so it is superfluous to recreate the external figure; Christians and pagans form the Church, they have one God, and whole history is their Bible (Franck 1966: 124, also Wolgast’s introduction, pp. XV–XVI).

The very idea of separation develops in the spirit of reduction not only of the place of the sacred in the world but also its connectivity with this world. It finds culmination in deism that recognizes God as the creator but excludes his further influence on his work. Another process is spiritism, in which demons substitute God (see Neoplatonic Spiritism, subsection 11.4), and seventeenth-century materialistic secularization that replaces all spiritual factors with the game of nature forces (here, for example, see the Arabic doctrine of intelligences moving the celestial bodies; Crombie 1960, Vol. 2: 236). The eternity of natural forces was proved by Siger from Brabant in Questiones super Librum de causis.225

However, in religion, the connection between the sacred and the world remains the key issue. Even from the Catholic perspective, the process was in ←118 | 119→development, suffice to consider Saint Ignatius Loyola226 who worked hard in the name of spiritualization, so that the object or field of theological virtues – faith, hope, and love – was not human, but only God. The deprivation of the virtues of faith, hope, and love of reference to God is one of the contemporary objections to the liberation theology.227

2. THE REDUCTION OF THE SACRED. Recognizing the general historical development of religious phenomena, Eliade (1958: 462) finds a double process:

(1) on on the one hand, the continual brief appearance of hierophanies with the result that the manifestation of the sacred in the Universe becomes ever more fragmentary;

(2) on the other, the unification of those hierophanies because of their innate tendency to embody their archetypes as perfectly as they can and thus wholly fulfil their own nature.

Thus formulated, the general theory of the reduction of the sacred explains the emergence and constant maintenance of the doctrine of sacramentalism in the church, which does not reject apostolic and universal Christian ambitions, but essentially holds two worries: (a) for placing the effects of the actions of the sacred in the spiritual sphere; and (b) for regulating and restricting access to the sacred.

We must remember that the church did a lot in the pioneer period to achieve the status described in point (1). The conviction about the supernatural sanctions that protect the church and explain its rapid growth was intensively disseminated and influenced the social reality of late antiquity (Brown 1992: 4). We speak about the dusk of the Roman Empire, when the episcopal churches in cities manifested as an ecumenical force that levelled differences, favored the poor, and replaced the “cultural monopoly” of the old elite (Brown 1992: 76). Brown counts regular custody of the poor to the particularly effective measures of the bishops; this action provided them with great authority and moral advantage over the notables and governors, although the latter spent more money on sporadic “games” combined with the distribution of “bread” (Brown 1992: 98).

At that time, there emerged the double-track in the eschatological views: the literal approach assumed a (soon) catastrophic end of the world,228 while the ←119 | 120→metaphorical approach, instead of millenarism, proposed “rather a psychological or spiritual judgment than the literal final judgment after the end of times” (Ovitt 1983: 7).229

The achievement of an unquestionable position of Christianity in the political arena, while retaining the orientation toward the “other world” was the way to save the foundation of rationality and avoid collision (Piekarczyk 1976: 428–434) between the old practical everyday knowledge and the new belief in the higher order; which is the essence of religion according to Geertz. If we define rational action as following the rule (Fuller 1992), then following the rule that promises a spiritual effect does not easily lead to a dissonance between intent and effect. If we use the Weber-Kmita-Nowak definition, the action is rational, if it is based on knowledge about the predicted consequences230 – the determination of spiritual consequences will not cause an easy disappointment, because their effects will only come in another life. Eliade (1958: 461) writes about the second method:

It can happen that this resistance to a total absorption of life by the sacred arises even within the bosom of the Churches; it is not unusual for the latter to have to defend man against the excesses of religious, and especially of mystical, experience, and against the risk of secular life’s being totally abolished.

The presentation of the process of Christianization as a “brutal acculturation” omits the other side – the constant struggle of the Church’s authorities with new religious movements. Lateran IV (Canon 13; Geary 1985: 467) even formally forbade “the inventing” of new Christian orders. Apart from purely organizational ←120 | 121→matters, we may attribute this to the cultural nature of this religion: it must care for balance and social harmony by regulating excessively stormy spontaneous processes and taming the ambitions of priests and charismatic sectarians. Should one compare Eliade’s theory to Becker’s definition of sacrality, it again confirms the sufficiency of determining the sacred in terms of immutability; the second process described by Eliade speaks precisely about the stabilization of the sacred. In turn, the first process in Eliade’s theory seems excessively dynamic, so that it may adequately describe such phenomenon of sacrality; however, the embarrassing wealth of religious movements certainly confirms this, as does the heterogeneity of pre-Gregorian Christianity (the episcopal churches). Besides, we do not have full knowledge in this case, because most religious processes have spread in the sphere of oral tradition, which always aspires to eternity and sanctifies immutability, but its only tool is human memory which, despite all spells, does not go back farther than three to four generations. The same applies to the scenarios of rituals described in anthropology: despite the strictly regulated, stereotypical repeatability of a ritual sequence, its subsequent performances are never identical; there appear contextual elements that depend on the expectations and interests of the participants (Tambiah 1979: 115). In the oral tradition, the equivalent of ritual are certain “literary” genres that help to remember and repeat the content. It is highly probable that at the beginning of expanded genres lay “simple forms,”231 so poorly regulated that they basically do not know evolution, but only extended variation.

←121 | 122→←122 | 123→

222 Even etymologically; and we dare to say so even against father Gregory, who believed that the transfer of holiness finds a physical realization: a thing once touched by a saint is, thus, hallowed and noticeably heavier (De virtutibus sancti Martini 1, 11; MGH, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum I 2, eds. W. Arndt, B. Krusch, Hannover 1885, pp. 451–820; qtd. after de Nie 1985: 108). Whenever necessary, a saint can nevertheless become lighter; for instance, when the body of Adalbert of Prague was to be compared in weight to gold, and such exchange requested the Prussians, his body became “unexpectedly light, as not having any weight at all” (“Cuda św. Wojciecha,” Plezia 1987: 90).

223 In spite of the development of Rabbinic Judaism in contemporary Europe, which introduces innovations showing some similarities with Catholicism. Cohen, Horowitz (1990: 227) illustrate this on the example of the Jewish ceremony of marriage: association with a holy day (Friday before the Sabbath), its transfer to the synagogue, obligatory presence of a rabbi (sacral officiant) during the wedding from the fourteenth century. We should also mention here mystical movements. More on Jewish acculturation in medieval Europe, see I. G. Marcus, Rituals of Childhood, Yale 1999.

224 That is how his supporters were called in the first official document with this name dated 1387: “The Lollards commonly attacked clerical celibacy, transubstantiation, obligatory oral confession, indulgences, and pilgrimages; and they held that the validity of priestly acts was determined by the priests’ moral character and that endowments, the Pope, the hierarchy, and ‘private religions (of monks, friars, and canons) were all unscriptural” (ODCC 1998: 999). M. E. Aston, Lollards and Reformers, London 1984; A. Hudson, Premature Reformation: Wycliffite Texts and Lollard History, Oxford 1988; in a broader context: M. Lambert, Medieval Heresy, Oxford 1992.

225 Published by A. Marlasca in 1972 (Krop 1992: 51). Other works by Siger: De aeternitate mundi, ed. by R. Barsotti, Münster 1933; Questions sur la Physique d’Aristote, ed. by P. Delehaye, Louvain 1941; Ein Kommentar zur Physik des Aristoteles aus der Pariser Artistenfakultät um 1273, ed. by A. Zimmermann, Berlin 1968; Questions sur la métaphysique, ed. by C. A. Graiff, Louvain 1948; Quaestiones in Metaphysicam, ed by. W. Dunphy, Louvain-la-Neuve 1981.

226 I. Loyola, Exercitia spiritualia, in: Pisma wybrane, Kraków 1968; an aspect of the influence of Loyola’s work was studied by K. Mrowcewicz, “Polska poezja medytacyjna XVI stulecia – od Dantyszka do Grabowieckiego,” in: S. Nieznanowski, J. Pelc 1994: 333–363.

227 S. Fel, “Instrukcja o chrześcijańskiej wolności i wyzwoleniu,” EK 7, col. 279.

228 Ovitt (1983: 5) ascribes the greatest influence here to the views of Lactantius from “Institutiones divinae,” PL 6, col. 111ff.

229 Here is a line that originates from Origen’s De Principiis, in which the idea of purgatory also appears (“the notion that the punishment of the wicked will not be eternal” was a view rejected by Augustine of Hippo).

230 J. Kmita develops M. Weber’s principle – that a rational individual selects the means it considers appropriate for a given purpose – on the basis of decision theory: “a rational individual picks from a set of possible actions the one that maximizes its preferences.” L. Nowak limits Kmita’s principle to the “conditions of subjective certainty;” that is, the choice is based on the prediction that the measure will work in the expected way. Next, Nowak introduces limitations that operate before the decision; the set of considered variants is not absolute for it depends on the social position of the individual: on the scope of its freedom. On this basis, Nowak creates detailed distinctions of operations: sub-rational does not exhaust all options, counter-rational realizes other people’s preferences, and irrational realizes the opposite of others’ preferences. M. Weber, The Methodology of the Social Sciences, Glencoe 1949, p. 34; J. Kmita, Z metodologicznych problemów interpretacji humanistycznej, Warszawa, 1971, p. 28; both qtd. after Nowak 1993: 208–212.

231 The hypothesis and notion formulated by A. Jolles, Einfache Formen – Legende, Sage, Mythe, Rätsel, Spruch, Kasus, Memorabile, Märchen, Witz, Halle 1930.

8. The Material Symbol and the Linguistic Sign

If a given religious system restricts the sacred – and it must do so for its coherence and durability – it will have to limit its incarnate presence in real and pictorial symbols. This results from the susceptibility of materially motivated symbols to the appropriation by another cultural (sub)system like politics or magic. Particularist religious cults, like idolatry or iconolatry, easily emerge from the religious system, because they quickly multiply and soon sprout in different places. Newly developed, they must necessarily have a local character, because while “every natural object is liable to become a hierophany” (Eliade 1958: 460), there are few items, “birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things” (Romans 1:23) suitable for the role of an idol in every culture, climate, and economy. Finally, these cults do not last; after all, even the golden calf was not eternal, as its followers soon discovered, while acheiropoieta exist due to the constant inflow of energy from the outside.232

By transferring the presence of the sacred to the spiritual world and limiting it, the religious system must of course sustain communication with this metaphysical entity. Various signs can cope with this demand for tools of transcendence in varying degrees, among them the abstract or perfect language signs already distinguished in the same apparition. Between them, we may place gestures, which are already a separate field of research,233 and which are included in larger units of interaction in the spectrum of behaviors.

Although linguistic signs also easily pass into other systems – after all, they are indispensable almost everywhere, like in literature – but they do not have the ←123 | 124→value of material factuality and immediate visibility. Linguistic signs are more difficult to receive, but do not pose a threat to the initial system, as they can even serve as its carrier, even if we do not always recognize them as such. However, the meanings of words do not age,234 easily transfer retaining their identity, even in the guise of a different language and culture; they have an unrivaled value of universality. An equally important feature of words is the discursiveness of their meaning. On the one hand, we can extract words and divide them into factors but, on the other hand, we may link them with other words by a network of obvious connections. These connections form a whole system that enables linguistic signs to motivate each other – even though they may be arbitrary – with which they readily supplement a deficit in motivation that they have in comparison with material symbols.

The meaning hidden in a word may store the knowledge of the old times and, above all, it may serve as basis for a system; a fact that positively distinguishes words even from the material symbols, which are indestructible thanks to their abstract nature and not because we can freely reproduce them; instead, because their pattern exists in memory: the destruction of all crosses in the world would do nothing to the symbol. Moreover, symbols cannot defend themselves against definitions contrary to their original message and easily lose their identity.

We may also redefine language signs, which happens always and everywhere, also in religions, but they can at least defend themselves with the rules of language and logic; they are sometimes tied to hundreds proper names, idioms, phrases, proverbs, motifs, texts, which limits the pace and scope of innovation and forces them to change openly; not by concealing but declaring their dissimilarity from the old. Along with the many uses, what exercises additional control is the inertia of the linguistic system, which has to somehow respond to the proposed change, without which we cannot build understandable statements with new terms. This control is not automatic; the controllers must be people who understand semantics alongside the logical definitions and relationships between the terms. The system that lacks such competent critical listeners grows chaotic and eventually loses all coherence and stability. Vice versa, when the group of critical participants expands, they scrutinize more definitions and make ←124 | 125→the system more coherent, strengthen it (reform), or break (schism). The same mechanism operates in the sphere of the practice of power (see chapter 5).

The limitation of the place of the sacred was also well-known in the history of Judaism. In the name of the purity of worship and elimination of worship “on the high mountains, on the hills and under every spreading tree” (Deuteronomy 12,2) there appeared a prohibition “not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please” (Deuteronomy 12,13), “not in any town the Lord your God gives you,” but “in the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name,” which finally meant Jerusalem, to be visited three times a year (Deuteronomy 16,16; STB, 568). By the way, it proves that even without idols, the threat of idolatry remains. Because the sacred may occupy a real place (territory), or be transmitted by touch,235 radiate to the temple, and make it a sacred space. The sacred may even radiate to further areas.236 An extreme example may be Gregory of Tours’ exemplum about throwing a nail from the Cross into the Adriatic. The action not only subdued the storm that threatened the pilgrims but also calmed the sea forever, on which now blow only timid winds that help the sailors (In gloria martyrum, 5; de Nie 1985: 104). The less of such radiation, the less place for the sacred in this world. However, we must remember that the only receiver of this radiation is faith, while knowledge about the sacred place or the conviction about its constant presence in a place sets the attitude of the faithful. People are helpless in front of this knowledge, even if they want to avoid the influence of ←125 | 126→what is holy, like the two beggars, the blind and the lame, who were so happy with the financial fruits of their illnesses that they fled in the face of the procession with the relics of Saint Martin. The two beggars feared the relics will cure them, which will take away their jobs; however, fleeing in panic they stumbled upon the procession anyway and the relics did restore their health.237 They did not want it, but they believed it may happen.

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232 The bibliography of non-linguistic communication is given by M. Mostert (1995: 105–107) in three sections: gestures, fine arts and material culture, and music.

233 People knew about gestures earlier; the most influential medieval definitione of gesture was written by Hugh of Saint Victor. See J. C. Schmitt, La raison des gestes dans l’occident médiéval, Paris 1990, p. 358. R. Suntrup, Die Bedeutung der liturgischen Gebärden und Bewegungen in lateinischen und deutschen Auslegungen des 9. bis 13. Jahrhunderts, München 1978; W. Habicht, Die Gebärde in englischen Dichtungen des Mittelalters, München 1959; H. Delling, Studien über die Gebärdensprache in der Dichtkunst und Bildkunst des frühen und hohen Mittelalters, dissertation MS, Lipsk 1925; A. Roeder, Die Gebärde im Drama des Mittelalters, München 1974; gesture in the context of acting is considered by M. Herrmann (1914: 137–270); C. Davidson, “Stage Gesture in Medieval Drama,” in: Atti del IV Colloquio della Société Internationale pour l’Etude du Théâtre Médiéval, eds. M. Chiabo, F. Doglio, Viterbo 1984, pp. 465–478.

234 That is, onomasiologically understood meanings: that, which is signified by words; a vast amount of fragments of reality (the sky, water, field, forest, hand, or head), which we somehow name, remains the same, even though the words that we use to call these things change in time and space.

235 According to Gregory of Tours, everything that touches the sacred body becomes sacred (sacratum); In gloria martyrum 6; qtd. after de Nie 1985: 104. This is probably the basis for some devotional memorials like attactum, a piece of material rubbed against relics or even a sacred image (from family collections: “A veil rubbed against the image of Our Lady of Częstochowa” glued to a microreproduction of the painting from Częstochowa, around 1960). Cf. the exemplum about the injured clothing: the Pope Saint Gregory the Great gave “certain princes” a relic of the dalmatic of Saint John the Evangelist, but as they were dissatisfied with the gift, he cut the fabric, which shed blood; Tubach No. 1107; Legenda Aurea: 224–225; also see Gregorius Magnus, Epistolae IV, No. 30.

236 It somehow radiates further on to those present, when people who have taken refuge in church have been granted the right of asylum, which is honored since the seventh century; Vauchez 1996: 11. Today, the police also cannot simply expel a group of refugees from a church. R. G. Bindschedler, Kirchliches Asylrecht und Freistätten in der Schweiz, Stuttgart 1906; M. Siebold, Das Asylrecht der römischen Kirche mit besonderer Berücksichtigung seiner Entwicklung auf germanischem Boden, dissertation, Münster 1930; R. Reck, Das Totschläger-Asyl der Reichsstadt Reutlingen 1495–1804, Tübingen 1970; L. Bärnreuther, Asylrecht und Freiungen im fränkischen Raum, Würzburg 1968.

237 Legenda Aurea: 836. The miraculum was adapted for a theatre play by André de la Vigne in Moralité de l’Aveugle et du Boiteux as a supplement to his hagiographic play Vie de Saint Martin, played in 1496. Knight 1983: 7, summarizes the debate about the play’s genre with an allegorical interpretation.

9. The Stages of Spiritualization

At first, we have a belief in the omnipresence of the sacred – not only in the Scriptures – but it is not yet ontologically diversified from the profane. Before we begin to construct an overarching scheme, let us consider a small section for a brief overview of the process.

1. AN EXAMPLE OF SPIRITUALIZATION. Even such a remarkably popular form of piety as pilgrimage was subject to spiritualization. After the period of prosperity and stability in the thirteenth century (see chapter 1), new places of pilgrimage no longer emerge from the worship of relics. Instead of new relics, the pilgrims seek Marian sanctuaries associated with the worship of Madonna238 and the growing faith in miracles through her intercession. The number of Marian sanctuaries quickly multiplies, so that in the Middle Ages everyone has them within a day’s reach (Chélini, Branthomme 1996: 164).239 We observe the phase of total spiritualization in the fifteenth century – especially in the circle of Devotio Moderna – during which many incline to the Benedictine idea of a spiritual pilgrimage,240 which one may conduct by walking around a monastery, a house, a city, or any area. One may support the illusion of traveling in the imagination with imitations of famous places, figures, and paintings (Chélini, Branthomme 1996: 165); finally, with special book guides.241 Due to its inaccessibility to many ←127 | 128→ordinary believers, the monastic life itself gained its spiritual form, preserved in the ideal of the Religion of the Heart or the Abbey of the Holy Ghost; the essence of the ideal was the translation of the monastic rule into a metaphorical model of the behavior of lay people.242 Wessel Gansfort243 (1419–1489) described the idea of spiritual purgatory, in which we find the beginning of the Protestant negation of purgatory: that is, even here the Reformation is spiritualism, which did not reach extremes, for which Franck and other radical activists hated the “too moderate” Luther.

The chivalric culture refers to a special form of pilgrimage in search of a mythical relic: the Holy Grail. The legendary motif of the cup from the Last Supper, in which Joseph of Arimathea was to later collect the blood of the crucified Christ and then celebrate the first Mass, had many versions in literature, which mostly revolve around the task of Christianizing chivalry. Chrétien de Troyes’ Perceval (1180) presents Grail as the vessel for the Host. Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzifal244 (1220) still suggests the Grail’s relationship with the biblical, mysterious sacred;245 the miraculous powers that we know from exempla emphasize the importance of baptism.246 Two novels from the beginning of the thirteenth century contributed to the consolidation of the prevailing Eucharistic tradition ←128 | 129→(and, therefore, the sacramental tradition as well): Robert de Boron’s Le Roman de l’Estoire dou Graal and the anonymous Queste del Saint Graal. Especially the last one, written by a monk, describes the (thoroughly symbolic) spiritual perspective of the knights’ journey: they go to the Heavenly Jerusalem, and find a Spiritual Palace, where a Graal liturgy is celebrated; only Galaad receives the privilege of contemplating the mystery of Saint Graal thanks to his outstanding moral qualities that exceed the earthly life.247

At different levels of culture, we see three principal phases of the process of the spiritualization of the sacred: (1) a period of constant physical presence at a specific place in relics (usually of a saint) that one may adore; (2) the sacred that manifests its existence incidentally, by answering the prayers with graces or manifesting to a chosen few; (3) the sacred that one can contemplate and access only by spiritual means.

2. THE SAINTS. The institution of the holy person248 itself is a certain limitation of the supreme sacrum, which appears through intermediaries. However, the sacred (mutually) enlivens and supports the unfettered worship of the saints: they resume the gospel miracles by stocking on wine, bread, and food by intercessory prayer; these themes appear in all vitae (Gurevich 1988: 78). Holiness is inextricably linked to miraculousness: saints constantly appear as mages and doctors (Gurevich 1988: 90); their ministry often is more temporal than spiritual. Like mythical heroes, they accumulate the best values of the group and focus the expectations posed to the kings. Beside securing temporal deficits of security and prosperity, a saint embodies the hopes of the lay people to ←129 | 130→participate in his holiness (Gurevich 1988: 91); this purely religious dimension begins to dominate.

The religious dimension manifests itself in the frequently described monopolization of the miracle by the saints approved by the Church, who takes control of the miracle as a “tool of social engineering.” Using Geertz’s terminology, we will talk about the strengthening of the belief in the factuality of higher being through a demonstration of the supernatural power. This argument will prevail in the construction of hagiographies; besides, over time, miracles appear only after death and sometimes raise greater interest than the current activity of the saintly people, P. Brown remarks with surprise. Swanson (1997: 155) explains this with the utilitarian approach of the faithful: what counts is not why someone became a saint, but what power he now has as an advocate of the living. There are examples of saints during life – of their creation or self-creation – and of the problems with the faithful, whose disappointed expectations often led to disgrace.249 The shift to the influence of saints after death becomes understandable, when we associate it with the increase in faith in the miracles by the intercession of the Virgin Mary. We read in this a manifestation of the awareness that the sacred is indeed beyond the ontological boundary (see below for transcendentalization), but it does not mean it is weaker. Saints lived among us, now they are in Heaven: this view holds an approximation of or at least a certain path to God. The miracle that comes not from physical relics but from the holy person already in Heaven250 seems even stronger because the belief in Heaven is stronger.

Despite this positive coupling, there is tension or a gap on the level of existence caused by the ontological remoteness of the sacred. The gap will be filled by the increase in the number of places of worship (see above). However, this tension results not from the imbalance between the separation of the sacred and the strengthening of faith, but from the fact that the sacred is one, while everyone carries faith inside themselves and must cultivate it in their place with family and friends. This is one of the aspects of the development of subjectivity: identity does not grow out of anything, it does not hatch by abiogenesis from the virgin soil of personality but results from the redistribution of external values, that is, their overtaking by individuals and personal representation.

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The matter will appear different on the plane of biographical construction of holiness. What is essential here is the factor of temporal and most secular prestige: a postulate supported by people with high social status has a greater chance of widespread acceptance. Thus, the saints almost always come from outstanding families, which provides them with an indisputable and – more importantly – supra-class prestige. The concern for this class neutrality or openness (nothing new in this religion) probably explains the observation that the nobility of saints becomes irrelevant in the face of their sanctity, which would not so much become the peak achievement of piety as the sublime form of power (Borst 1973: 382). Otherwise – as Bertold of Regensburg observed – why has no peasant become a saint?251 The peasant had no way to achieve prestige. Thus, one can agree that holiness is a sublime form of power. However, generally, it is simply spiritual power that loses its sophistication when excluded from the sacral frame.

There are other forms of assuming a secular value that end in its obscuration or even complete annexation. The prayer gesture was borrowed from the feudal culture. It is part of granting fiefdom: if the lord sits, the pleader kneels with folded hands; if the lord stands, the pleader also stands. The illustrated code of Saxon law, Sachsenspiegel,252 which regulates most fiefdom relations, depicts the lord’s acceptance of a request by his grasp of the pleader’s hand (e.g., ff. 1v no. 1 and 2) and rejection by the lack of this gesture and the turn of the head away from the pleader (1r No. 5). In this way, the lord received vassal’s tribute and gifts (Sczaniecki 1978: 50). In the commentary to his translation of Parzival (Lam 1996: 51, 8), the translator A. Lam more concisely interprets the gesture of commendation in the Germanic tradition: “The defeated folded his hands in a sign of surrender, the winner grasped them in his hands” (p. 411). Sachsenspiegel depicts more complicated situations with additional hand gestures; many illustrations show the lord indicating the type of fiefdom granted with his other hand (2v no. 5); the renewal of the contract appears in the form of a vassal with five hands (6v no. 3).253

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Apart from the rare cases of canonized soldiers, like the first protagonist of a hagiography, Martin, “civilian” saints were often stylized as knights. Saint James the Apostle wore armor even in the fifteenth century, when he became the patron of Spain and his role as patron of pilgrims weakened (Herbers 1994: 247). Thus, in the New Latin “first European tragicomedy” of Fernandus Servatus by Carlo and Marcellino Verardi (1494), Saint James the Apostle must still enter the stage of history in 1492 because an assassination threatened the life of the Spanish King Ferdinand (H. N. Peters 1966: 33). Christ himself was long presented in royal majesty; for instance, in van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece polyptych, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. The persistent applying of the attributes of an earthly ruler to Christ either has a two-sided function or means something else depending on the ideological framework; there were periods and environments, in which this served the sacralization of the king-defender of the Church. If it only was to build a glorious image of Christ, we should understand it as speaking in a known language that uses external and ideological means to build authority. From the eleventh century, the Church is a special monarchy (Duby 1980: 178). For instance, Hödl (1986: 63) suspects the annexation of the notion of nobility (nobilis), to which Neoplatonic theologians (Richard Fishacre, Master Eckhart, Ulrich von Strassburg) gave theological meaning by replacing the “dignus” of Thomas Aquinas, thus opposing the existing use which – they had to know about it – had a specific “class” meaning in contemporary society. According to Hödl, this would be the influence of Neoplatonic deification of humans following the biblical idea of “image and likeness” of man to God and stepping toward grounding the concept of human participation in divinity through cognition and intellect; not only through love as in earlier mystics.254

After exceeding the threshold of social acceptance and prestige, there could only occur the interception – which would annex and expel the previous element – or spiritualization and weakening. The same thing happened with love. The minute the troubadours described love, the poets-mystics metaphorized it, the writers-theologians spiritualized and reserved it only for metaphysical relationships – so the teachers-catechists recognized the love between people as unworthy of its name. After the assimilation stage into the value system (enculturation),255 the notion undergoes reconstruction from the inside.

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This is evident in the emergence of a new type of saint and character of the central cult: the human dimension of Christ, his sonship, suffering, and sacrifice. Simultaneously, the lives of kings after the break of the sacral-political unity – from around the thirteenth century – can no longer appear as vita (Sprandel 1982: 63).

3. THE NEW VENERATION OF MARY, propagated from the eleventh century and fully visible in the fourteenth (Sticca 1973: 80), has some features of secondary monopolization of the miracle – this time in the person of Mary – which probably also corresponds to the second process of Eliade’s theory of revelation; the unification of hierophany after a period of excessive dispersion. More importantly, we see here more than a reduction of the sacred to recognized relics. The new worship refers not to the carnal relics of Mary, because there are none; not counting the ear wax from her ears (aurium sordes) that received worship for the early Christian belief that the immaculate conception happened through the ear, which heard the divine word passed by the angel (conceptio per aurem).256 The more people valued all other remains of Mary, from tailoring utensils257 to the whole house, but it was a different quality. Generally, the holiness of Mary reveals her influence without the material mediation of carnal remains; it uses symbols whose material power is completely arbitrary: a human-made figure or painting258 that sometimes aspires to miraculous origin. 259 In various alleged ←133 | 134→revelations, this medium can be accidental – for instance, an arrangement of light reflections somewhere on the glass – or purely visionary. Tradition complements the shortage of material motivation of miraculous figures and images with messages about “self-referential” revelations or interventions, which explicitly prove that a given artifact has been accepted as representation by the depicted; a method typically used by its earthly owners to strengthen their ownership. A special place is occupied by paintings attributed to Luke the Evangelist – a painter.260

In the Christological motifs of theology and literature, as well as in the iconography of Christ, one notices the emphasis on his passion that appeared with the beginning of the twelfth century. Previously, there dominated the presentation of Jesus as a priest and sage (soter; popular in catacomb painting), the “good shepherd,” or Messiah; then appeared the motif of Christ Pantokrator: the divine ruler of the world (Pochat 1986: 95); the time from the fifth to the thirteenth centuries knew the motif of the Lamb of God (most popular in the fifth and sixth centuries, LCI3, pp. 7–14); finally the West inclined to the image of Christus Rex in the royal majesty with the glory and triumph of the resurrection.261 In the dialogic treatise Cur Deus homo (1098),262 Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109) ←134 | 135→justifies the importance of Christ’s humanity as the Redeemer who accomplishes his mission as a human. “Why should only the God-human provide redress that saves people?”263 Because only man should do it, but only God can. The essence of this mission is, therefore, “to give infinite compensation for the sins of the world in the place of humanity” (Rahner 1987, 494), and to allow its renewal, usually called the restoration of likeness. Some interpretations replace the “sins of the world” with the Original Sin, which most spectacularly disrupted the harmony of the world during its creation. The outline of this solution (the science of recapitulation, see chapters 11.2 and 17) already appears in the writings of Irenaeus (d.202) and Pope Leo the Great (d. 461). Irenaeus includes Mary in the work of redemption, whose obedience “atoned for the disobedience of Eve,” just as he describes Christ as the second Adam and “the center of the history of salvation.”264 Pope Leo emphasizes the divinity of Christ as the co-author of the decision to save people after their fall and the importance of his voluntary acceptance of the servant’s role in the work of repairing the human race. 265 Paradoxically, on the backdrop of the spiritualization process, later perspectives more strongly emphasize other aspects of Christ’s earthly life.

We will come back to the role of Christ’s humanity and Marian miracles in the parts devoted to drama (subsections 16.6 and 19), but we again emphasize here the uniqueness of Mary and Jesus as saints, due to the separation of holiness from relics or spiritualization. They both lived on earth and now reside in Heaven; they left no bodies after them, except for Jesus’ foreskin and blood. The main vein of the cult therefore focuses on what is beyond the ontological boundary. As a transitional phenomenon, we may consider the placement of three consecrated ←135 | 136→hosts in the altar, if the church’s founder had no relics at his disposal.266 A special example of a monastery that did not have a relic of its patron but was worshipping only its sanctity was the Monastery of Saint Saviour and Saint Bridget of Syon, East Anglia, founded at the beginning of the fifteenth century by Henry V (Gibson 1989: 21). Since people now had to cross the boundaries of worlds – life and death, and then salvation and condemnation – it is right to call this effect of spiritualization, based on such a radical distance of the recipient of worship, transcendentalization.267 Transcendentalization is accompanied by a compensatory multiplication of evidence for miraculous interventions in this world. We may treat it as a symptom of a transitional state, when people become accustomed to the new status of the fully metaphysical sacred (Perpeet 1987). However, we should venture further: it is about providing evidence of the parallel existence of metaphysical reality despite its separation behind an impassable border (aim: the maintaining of the belief in the factuality of the existence of the higher power). The next step is equally important: it strengthens people in constant vigilance over maintaining in Christianity the sphere of unholy things, the whole world of the profane. Let us not underestimate the reverse side of the miraculous interventions in this world: these are the signals sent by the rightful ruler to the user, so that he retains loyalty and ascertains that the entrusted world does not return to paganism or simply fall into the hands of the Enemy. Literary means (see chapter 23) and interactive communication media played an important role in fulfilling and driving this bloodstream of information (see chapter 14).

Let us consider prayer for our description of these transformations in the forms of piety related to the physical sacred.

4. THE FUNCTIONING AND EVOLUTION OF PRAYER also shows signs of spiritualization. Although the nature of prayer is by definition spiritual, the functions in which it appears may not be very metaphysical. Many wrote about the persistence of faith “in the visible effectiveness of prayer in everyday life” (Sprandel ←136 | 137→1982: 88), how prayer is a magic spell understood not as a request for a specific intervention but as a magical procedure.268 The exemplum of Bede the Venerable is a good example: the man that prays for the soul of his supposedly deceased brother frees him from prison, in which he truly resided (Historia Ecclesiastica, chapter 4, 22). Preachers and theologians fight the superstition around prayer, or the magical approach (e.g. Nicholas Magni, see Bylina 1978). Moreover, there happen concessions to the “quantitative value of prayer” (Bylina 1997: 411) visible in the official career of the Holy Rosary (essentially a mantra).

However, this refers in the contemporary material culture to the general development of all measures as the basis for the exchange of goods and knowledge of the world; economics and science, mentality and methodology. So if a poor member of the confraternity could say thirty Pater Noster and Hail Mary instead of paying six groszys in cash as a contribution (Kantak 1933 I: 324) the adjustment of this conversion seems only natural. The longer time of prayer balanced the higher amount of money: after all, for a long time, Pater Noster and Hail Mary were used as time units. This sheds light on the matter of the so-called desacralization of time. While remaining within the reach of religion itself, if prayer is a gift, its multiplication does not necessarily mean a magical understanding:269 after all, God expects prayers. Perhaps only when there appear exchange expectations like fifteen Pater Noster for the release of fifteen purgatory souls, we may talk about “prayers approximating spells” (Bylina 1997: 412). The preachers fought against it, but the mistake was the human pride of certainty about the automatism of divine reaction. The reflex itself is based on the common-sense judgment about the value of intensification of prayer, because the essence of the procedure remains within the boundaries of the obligation to care for souls in purgatory. But even in the numerical structure of the Dominican Rosary (fifteenth century), there lies a rich theological program. Fifteen subjects of meditation divided into three cycles – the joyful, painful, and glorious – that cover the most important circumstances and stages of incarnation. Each cycle holds five secrets of ten Hail Mary, preceded by one Pater Noster and closed by one Gloria Patri. One usually meditates on a single cycle, while all three cycles ←137 | 138→require three prayers of the Holy Rosary; the full 150 Hail Mary is called Marian Psalter.270

One should also not hastily prejudge the magic of benedictions (Bylina 1997: 412). Even if they were used in hiding (that is, without a priest), we should always first think about them as prayers – for protection, sacrifice, or the blessing of God – but also faith and support-seeking. Thus, we should treat as magic only the “servicing” treatments that use the sacred without faith in divine help, calculated for provoking and instrumental use of the power presumed in a blessed object, as if in a chemical reaction, regardless of the divine will. However, even when someone stole the Host, we should not only read into that the intention of magical use but also an indirect proof of the universal and strong faith in the Host’s extraordinariness. In the prayer frame of interpretation, other “attitudes toward the sacred” (Bylina 1997) lose a lot of their magical character that some scholars, including Delumeau, Le Goff, and Gurevich, too easily attribute to them.

Mrozowski (1997: 209ff) described a few examples of the almost literal placement of someone in the prayer frame; among others, Przechna, the donator of the Greater Poland Antiphonary (before 1350, the Archdiocesan Archives in Poznań – illustration 7, Mrozowski 1997: 210). Przechna ordered her portrait to appear in the beginning of the songs, thanks to which she had to be “sung” as part of the artwork and, thus, it carried her soul to the place all prayers go.271 Mrozowski calls it sacralization because this place was reserved for the saints.272 However, this is not a common rule, as there also happen “portraits” of authors in initials, so we do not necessarily have to describe this as the usurpation of sacrality. Instead, we may call this perpetuation of the act of prayer: the donator will now sing this prayer forever. It is hard to believe the portrait is the “soul” – perhaps, only the soul could aspire to holiness without blasphemy – if we consider, for instance, Mikołaj Słupek’s missal, in which the donator presents his ←138 | 139→soul in the form of a naked child.273 But even if the spiritual Recipient of prayers appears in the illustration, the sender may be understood in earthly-temporal terms. For instance, King David (not his soul) kneels in a medieval knight’s costume next to a horse and a squire holding a sword, the crown rests on the lute; he prays to God floating in a cloud.274

We may consider that the following is a votive frame: “the offering of a gift to Heavens” in the form of the donator’s image, which simultaneously represented him and contained his part (likeness) to propitiate a blessing (Witkowska 1978). The variety of votive intentions is troublesome. May we juxtapose the “more primitive Cracow’s townswoman” carrying “her own wax image” to the Church with the canon who prayed in Latin and also donated the altar? If we remember the most famous examples of votive offerings – such as the one connected with the birth of Bolesław III Wrymouth275 – we will have to admit that it is not about the difference in education between particular groups of believers, but about civilization shifts that mean a move from the symbolic to discursive expression. Within the forms of piety, among others, this manifests itself in the fact that wax or metal figures known from the thirteenth century gradually give way to plates with an image, and then only text.276 As we see, the sender also went the long way from the motivated symbol to the text.

←139 | 140→←140 | 141→

238 Rodericus, the Archbishop of Toledo, appeared as a spokesman for the rising worship of Mary already during Lateran IV. He undermined the cult of Saint James the Apostle as the patron of the pilgrims and apparently already considered the excess of temporality in worship as something inappropriate, for he was sour about this form of piety: “I would not like Mary to be buried in my cathedral so that believers would trample over her every day instead of praying to her in Heaven” (Herbers 1994: 257).

239 Noteworthy, there is a parallel with economics: “markets were carefully spaced out, this system must have placed most villagers at a convenient day’s journey from a market” (D. Matthew, Atlas of Medieval Europe, Charlottesville 1992, p. 142); J. Masschaele, Peasants, Merchants, and Markets. Inland Trade in Medieval England, 1150–1350, New York 1997. R. H. Britnell, The Commercialisation of English Society 1000–1500, New York 1996. For a general history of medieval entrepreneurship, see E. S. Hunt, J. M. Murray, A History of Business in Medieval Europe, 1200–1550, Cambridge 1999.

240 J. Leclercq, “Monachisme et pérégrination du IXe au XIIe siecle,” Studia Monastica 3/1961.

241 One of the more popular was written in 1492 by Felix Fabri, Die Sionspilger, ed. by W. Carls, Berlin 1999. The author of this publication used here a latinized form of his surname that actually was Felix Schmid (c.1437–1502) and belonged to a Dominican friar, the prior of Basel until 1468. The journey took 208 days and lead to Jerusalem, Rome, and Santiago de Compostela. One of the earliest such publications was Geistliche Meerfahrt, written by the Dominican nun Margaretha Ursula von Masmünster (c.1400–1447/8), while one of the latest appeared around 1600, Eyn geistliche bilger fahrdt / zu dem heiligen Land, by another Dominican nun from Unterlinden near Colmar. Cf. Classen, [Review], The Medieval Review 99.11.06.

242 On the basis of an anonymous handbook Abbey of the Holy Ghost, MS British Library, Harley 2406, f. 61; cf. Riggio 1991: 264. Also see Whitehead 1998: 1–24. Falvey (1991: 50) remarks a similar program (“a cell in the mind”) used in charity work by Saint Catherine of Siena (Catarina Benincasa). Santa Caterina da Siena, Epistolario, ed. by U. Meattini, Rome 1979, pp. 1298–1302, offers her correspondence with the confessor about her care for a convict in 1375.

243 The following collection of articles presents the person of Gansfort: Wessel Gansfort (1419–1489) and Northern Humanism, ed. by F. Akkerman, G. C. Huisman, A. J. Vanderjagt, Leiden 1993.

244 For the overview of the knowledge in the matter, see Hasty 1999, A Companion to Wolfram’s “Parzival”, Woodbridge 1999.

245 The terms “the fruit of salvation” and “similar to the Kingdom of Heaven” (238, 21, 24) connote paradise.

246 The Grail remains invisible to pagans and only appears after baptism (813, 19–21, p.380).

247 D. Śliwa, “Graal w literaturze,” Encyklopedia katolicka: Vol. 6, col. 3–4. Noteworthy, the subject of one of the first new Latin tragicomedies was the pilgrimage of the Duke of Pomerania to Jerusalem: J. von Kitscher, Tragicocomedia de iherosolomitana profectione illustrissimi principis pomeriani, Lipsk 1501 (H. Peters 1966: 34 with reference to M. T. Herricka, “Tragicomedy, Its Origin and Development in Italy, France and England, Illinois Studies in Language and Literature 39/1955, pp. 16–62).

248 For hagiography, see M. Goerlach, Studies in Middle English Saints’ Legends, Heidelberg 1998; Medieval Saints: A Reader, ed. M.-A. Stouck, Peterborough 1998; S. Coue, Hagiographie im Kontext: Schreibanlass und Funktion von Bischofsviten aus dem 11. und vom Anfang des 12. Jahrhunderts, Berlin 1996; Holy Men and Holy Women: Old English Prose Saints’ Lives and Their Contexts, ed. P. E. Szarmach, New York 1996; Saints. Studies in Hagiography, ed. S. Sticca, Binghamton New York 1995. The introduction and Polish bibliography appears in W. Schenk, “Kult świętych w Polsce. Zarys historyczny,” Roczniki Teologiczno-Kanoniczne 13.4/1966, pp. 77–102; J. Starnawski, “Drogi rozwojowe hagiografii średniowiecznej w Polsce,” in: Nieznanowski, Pelc 1994: 11–41.

249 Swanson 1997: 151–154. For a whole monograph devoted to this single matter, see A. M. Kleinberg, Prophets in their own country: living saints and the making of sainthood in the later middle ages, Chicago 1992.


ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2019 (July)
Medieval Drama Religion and Civilization Art History Social History Historical Anthropology Cognitive Psychology
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 576 pp.

Biographical notes

Andrzej Dąbrówka (Author) Mirosław Kocur (Author)

Andrzej Dąbrówka is Professor at the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences. His writings and scholarly editions cover medieval literary theory, early drama and theater, theory of historiography, medieval chronicles, preaching, Netherlandic studies, literary medievalism, and digital humanities.


Title: Theater and the Sacred in the Middle Ages