Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Economy of Redemption

Stock Photo #4042-1860, United Kingdom, Kent, Canterbury Cathedral, Corona Redemption Window, Crucifixion, Medieval stained glass

The Crucifixion from the Redemption Window in the Corona Canterbury Cathedral, 
Image: Peter Barritt / SuperStock 

As we are now in Passiontide and the Triduum approaches it seems very appropriate to draw attention to a very interesting recent series of points made on the Medieval Religion discussion group about attitudes to the actual practical process of Redemption by the faithful in the central Middle Ages and beyond.

It started with an enquiry from James Bugslag who had been reading Andre Vauchez's  La saintete en Occident, and he was interested in following up one of the many threads in that book. Vauchez claims that the theme of redemption had known a great success in the West at the time when penitential spirituality was at its height. He does not specify this time, but appears to mean approximately the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Bugslag was looking for sources or studies of redemption and its relationship to penitential spirituality, not so much in terms of the saints (which is Vauchez's interest) but in a more pastoral context.

Dr. David Zbíral, an Associate Professor at Masaryk University (Study of Religions) in Brno replied with what he termed some first and marginal hints not related directly to the redemption of mankind by Christ, but to the economic thought which underpins this idea, and, he suggests, even more since the period originally indicated.

He argued that with the rise of the profit economy, counting, and the economic thought related to that (changes so aptly described in Little’s Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy), Salvation begun to be regarded, more than before, in economic terms, mainly those of debt and (calculable) compensation (how many years, how many Masses, how to assure and finance them etc.).  

New penitential practices around the doctrines of Purgatory and the cura mortuorum in general witness to that, and here Jacques Chiffoleau remains the great classic with his "La comptabilité de l’au-delà", but see also Dominique Iogna-Prat, "Les morts dans la comptabilité céleste des Clunisiens aux XIe et XIIe siècles“, in: id., Études Clunisiennes, (Les médiévistes français 2), Paris: Picard 2002, 125-150, and G.Todeschini, Il prezzo della salvezza: Lessici medievali del pensiero economico, Roma: La Nuova Italia scientifica 1994.

Zbíral adds that he is also sure that the growing interest in the humanity of Christ also boosted thinking about redemption. In material culture, to begin with, it is evident in the naturalistic depictions(the predominance of the Crucifixion.

He says that one of the interesting questions he would pursue on this topic would be what the growing "economization" of the strategies of Salvation does with the idea of redemption (itself a term with an economic root, re-d-emptio, and economic concepts attached to it. The friars were the foremost bearers and propagators of this economic view of Salvation, which brings us closer to the original question as to pastoral care.

He would also be inclined to look at St Thomas Aquinas’ reformulation, once again closer to economic thought, of St Anselm’s satisfaction theoryof the Redemption.

This struck me as an interesting thread, and line of thought. To some extent an anticipation of Weberian type models as to links between religious practice and the economic circumstances of individuals and societies.

In asense it suggests, as I am always inclined to beleive and argue, that medieval life was not so different from that of subsequent centuries, or, indeed, of our own times.

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