Babette S. Hellemans
This article proposes to describe the oxymoronic aspect of twelfth-century ascetic life, as it is couched in the semantics of marital ‘love-talk.’ By extending Christian asceticism to the field of marital semantics, I hope to come closer to a more intellectual kind of spirituality, situated in the philosophical discourse of the ars dialectica. While it is commonplace to state that affective speech in the twelfth century is a constitutive element of Western ‘spirituality’—up to the point that this period is sometimes credited with being the founder of an individual love-talk—the nature of a ‘matrimonial’ love-speech firmly located within monastic walls is far from self-evident. Furthermore, there is the issue of physical desire in both Christian worship (hymns, liturgy) and reflective, religious language. This ‘incarnation’ of love inside the history of Christianity was coined by the twelfth-century reformer and intellectual Bernard of Clairvaux in the most tangible terms possible, especially in his Sermons on the Song of Songs and in his devotional texts on Mary. However, it is not a broad claim with regard to the status of ‘spirituality’ within history that dominates the present article. If anything, this contribution could be characterized as exploring the opposite of the common semantics of spirituality: the argumentative and dialectical speech on the one hand and the fragility of poetry on the other, glooming beneath the surface of a meandering Christian tradition. My analysis of the work of Peter Abelard (1079–1142)—a fierce opponent of Bernard—will demonstrate a rather radical view of ‘spirituality’ as a sometimes veiled (integementum) and sometimes shattered specimen of medieval love-talk.
A Collection of Critical Essays
Edited by Babette S. Hellemans
Contributors are: Michael T. Clanchy, Peter Cramer, Lesley-Anne Dyer, Juanita Feros Ruys, William Flynn, Babette Hellemans, Taina M. Holopainen, Eileen F. Kearney, Constant J. Mews, Eileen C. Sweeney, Ineke Van ‘t Spijker, Wim Verbaal, and Julian Yolles.