Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Last week, I led our session on Ranulph Higden’s Ars componendi sermones, beginning with this auspicious tweet:

What we found out, unfortunately, was that I can’t livetweet my own presentation. I quickly forgot about Twitter in the demands of leading discussion on a dense and knotty text. I’ll try again next time, I guess.

I wanted to talk about Higden because his treatise on preaching is one of the briefer and yet more useful treatments of preaching in the Middle Ages: Higden ably summarizes much of the tradition of thematic or “modern” preaching in a text which moves quickly and economically from point to point. Writers in what J.J. Murphy calls the ars praedicandi tradition were often prone to immense lists of the thousand-and-one ways that one could discuss a topic, but Higden (uncharacteristically, for the guy who wrote the Polychronicon) doesn’t let himself get too far off the rails. The text provides a brief, practical guide for the working preacher, without diverging from the received tradition of thematic preaching. So it’s a great introduction to one of the most under-studied but influential topics in medieval studies. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the text is readily available in both an edited edition of the Latin and a recent English translation, both by Margaret Jennings.

We spent most of our time together last week going carefully through my summary of the text, a necessary task given the proliferation of examples in even this brief text and the unfamiliar terminology of medieval rhetoric. Distinguishing between theme, antetheme, and protheme took up a good chunk of our time, as did parsing the language of amplification and division. I won’t reproduce my full summary here, but you can view and download my handout if you like. However, I do want to put up a few definitions for reference, to help clarify the sometimes opaque vocabulary of medieval rhetoric; then I’ll share my characterizations of Higden’s rhetoric, for reference and disputation.

Key Terms in Medieval Preaching
Note that these terms are based on Higden’s discussion of the art, but they can be used as working definitions for reading other artes praedicandi.
Theme: a passage of Scripture containing one to three words which can be exposited and exemplified to communicate the main point of the sermon. The theme is often selected according to the liturgical calendar or other occasional criteria.
Antetheme or Protheme: These two terms are used interchangeably by Higden to refer to a kind of abstract or summary of the sermon’s main point. Higden states that the antetheme/protheme, which comes early in the sermon, ought to include a variety of elements which have to do with establishing the value and validity of the sermon.
Amplification or Division: Amplification and division are another set of roughly interchangeable terms. Either term is a shorthand for the numerous ways in which the theme can be explained and proven: through biblical exegesis (both using the threefold senses of Scripture and textual strategies such as analysis of the Greek and Hebrew vocabulary), through examples drawn from life or legendary material, and other matters. The most expansive portions of Higden’s treatise focus on strategies for amplification/division.
Subdivision: Using the strategies of amplification/division to exposit sub-points within the larger division of the theme. So the main point (theme) will be divided into a select number of points, which are amplified/divided from the theme; in some sermons, then, those points will themselves be subdivided.
The “Key”: Higden’s explanation of the “key” is somewhat opaque. My best stab at explanation: the “key” is an additional amplification/division which clarifies the original point (see Higden, ch. XVI).

Higden’s Rhetoric
Here I’ve attempted to characterize Higden’s rhetoric in a couple of ways, first by using diagrams (akin to our contemporary use of such diagrams as the rhetorical triangle), and then through a description of the type of rhetoric his treatise advocates. These are very much a work-in-progress, so disputation is welcome.

The Structure of a Sermon
How a sermon ought to be ordered according to the “modern” practice, as given by Higden:
Statement of the theme -> Antetheme/Protheme -> Prayer for guidance -> Introduction of the theme -> Division -> Subdivision (optional) -> Conclusion

Elements of Preaching Rhetoric
Akin to the rhetorical triangle, my characterization of the elements Higden thinks are in play during a sermon. I have diagrammed them using interrelating arrows, because in my view for Higden all of these elements are continually influencing one another.
Preacher <- -> Congregation <- -> Text of the sermon <- -> Text of Scripture <- -> Occasion <- -> The Church <- -> God

Methods Employed in Interpreting the Theme and Delivering It
Natural reason, grammatical exegesis, threefold sense of Scripture (historical, tropological, anagogical), literary criticism, exempla.

Characteristics of Higden’s Rhetoric
Higden’s rhetoric is copious: it is highly concerned with expanding on the original point using what the classical tradition of rhetoric would call the rhetorical canon of copia. The preacher begins with a short theme and expands upon it to create a complex and multifaceted argument.

Higden’s rhetoric is kairotic: it is constantly aware of the particular time in which the sermon takes place. Higden devotes a lot of space to discussing how to adapt sermons to particular occasions, whether feast days or saints’ days or other liturgical events.

Despite this copiousness, Higden’s rhetoric adheres to a low or middle style: Higden does not emphasize the flights of language practiced in a high style, but encourages the preacher to use only simple verbal ornamentation and not get too full of himself. Sermons should thus be copious in content (because their source, Scripture, is itself more copious than human beings can account for), but not too highly ornamented in style.

Higden’s rhetoric is formal: some variation is allowed in the structure of the sermon, but not much–at least not if you want to be a modern preacher.

Higden’s rhetoric is emergent: rather than attempting to manipulate the audience into attention and obedience, Higden’s rhetoric focuses on drawing forth from Scripture something which will be useful to the audience. The orator is to function as a servant to the audience, not a master–to the point that even attempting to seize their attention is only acceptable in certain ways, “as long as this is inoffensive to God” (Higden 49). The orator should subordinate his own desires to the demands of the liturgical calendar, the immediate needs of the audience, and the imperative to glorify God. Rhetoric thus emerges out of the interaction of these elements with the preacher acting as a mouthpiece rather than a master of the material. I thus describe Higden’s rhetoric as emergent.

There’s lots more to do in the study of medieval rhetoric (a hugely neglected field–but I won’t get on that soap box here), and this is only a preliminary stab at the material–but hopefully it gets some of you thinking and investigating in this area. I’m very much at the beginning of my work on it myself. Let me know if you have thoughts or objections, or if you’ve found or done work on the topic.

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Presentation by Amanda C. Barton 2.6.12

To introduce our discussion of The King’s Two Bodies, I turn to Marie Axton’s comment on the peculiar metaphor of the two-bodied monarch:

Prior to England’s break with Rome and immediately after, English common lawyers “were formulating an idea of the state as a perpetual corporation, yet they were unable or unwilling to separate state and monarch. Their concept of the king’s two bodies was an attempt to deal with a paradox: men died and the land endured; kings died, the crown survived; individual subjects died but subjects always remained to be governed. Perhaps the lawyers were unwilling to envisage England itself as a perpetual corporation because the law had always vested land in a person” (12).

Hence, in Tudor common law we see an articulation of “pre-nation” abstractions of the corporate state.  It is important to note that this metaphor is separate from, but related to, the notion of the subjects as the members (ie, body parts such as hands, feet and stomach) of the state and the monarch as the head. The the metaphor of the two-bodied monarch is also distinct, looking even further back, from the metaphor of the king marrying the land.  However, there are some important themes of notions of corporality and the relationship of abstract state and physical land running through all of these that are important.

Detail from the frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, depicting the monarch as the head of the state's corporate body.

History and Reception

Published in 1957, Kantorowicz’s study, which ranges across the Middle Ages and late Antiquity, was immediately well-received and has remained an important text. Reviewers compared Kantorowicz’s methodology to Frederic William Maitland’s Domesday Book and Beyond: Three Essays in the Early History of England (1897). Despite near universal acclaim, reviewers, even those who praised the text, took issue with aspects of the text: 1) its “too-much-ness,” the excess of material at the expense of cogency (Antony Black called it “a masterpiece of erudite confusion”; 2) not enough discussion of practical politics, how did this metaphysical legal theory affect day-to-day court cases?; 3) despite the nimiety, it was thin on discussion of the papacy.

Kantorowicz was born in Posen, Prussia (now Poznan, Poland) in 1895. He held a post at Frankfurt from 1930 to 1934, when he refused to take the oath to Adolf Hitler. In 1938, he left Germany for the US and accepted a position at Berkeley. He moved to Princeton in 1951 after leaving UC-Berkeley because he refused to take the loyalty oath required during McCarthy’s anti-communism investigations.

The Argument <<l’état c’est moi>>

The King’s Two Bodies explores the paradox of the two-bodied sovereign in Renaissance and medieval jurisprudence: the king has both a body natural and a body politic; the king is immortal, never underage, incapable of doing or thinking wrong, invisible, cannot judge but is “the Fountain of Justice,” is omnipresent in all his courts. Kantorowicz’s study attempts “to understand . . . certain axioms of a political theology, which mutatis mutandis was to remain valid until the twentieth century, began to be developed during the later Middle Ages”(xviii). “Political theology” is associated with Carl Schmitt’s description of authoritarian governments; Kantorowicz prefers this term to “political thought” used by his reviewers because “theology” encompasses metaphysical aspects of this legal philosophy and its relationship to medieval Christian theology.

Kantorowicz explores the christological nature of the discussion of these legal speculations, by beginning his study with a specific case in Tudor jurisprudence and working backwards through the Middle Ages. He notes that through this conception the king acquires a character angelicus, the body politic represents the “Immutable within Time” (8). This development seems most particularly indebted to the organic unity of the “sacred” and “secular” during the Middle Ages, that is, the line was not nearly as bright, and there were “cross-relations between Church and State” in nearly every century (193). For example, consider the imperial appearance of the sacerdotium. Perrhaps most useful, Kantorowicz analyzes the semiotic switch that takes place between the terms corpus verum and corpus mysticum (the terms for the Host and the Church) and how it influenced medieval notions of corporation.

Pertinent passages from Plowden’s Report

. . . by the Common Law no Act which the King does as King, shall be defeated by his Nonage. For the King has in him two Bodies, viz., a Body natural, and a Body politic. His Body natural (if it be considered in itself) is a Body mortal, subject to all Infirmities that come by Nature or Accident, to the Imbecility of Infancy or old Age, and to the like Defects that happen to the natural Bodies of other People. But his Body politic is a Body that cannot be seen or handled, consisting of Policy and Government, and constituted for the Direction of the People, and the Management of the public weal, and this Body is utterly void of Infancy, and old Age, and other natural Defects and Imbecilities, which the Body natural is subject to, and for this Cause, what the King does in his Body politic, cannot be invalidated or frustrated by any Disability in his natural Body. (Kantorowicz 7).

For when the Body politic of King of this Realm is conjoined to the Body natural, and one Body is made of them both, the Degree of the Body natural, and of the things possessed in that Capacity is thereby altered, and the Effects thereof are changed by its Union with the other Body, and don’t remain in their former Degree, but partake of the Effects of the Body politic. . . . And the Reason thereof is, because the Body politic wipes away every Imperfection of the other Body, with which it is consolidated, and makes it to be another Degree than it should be if it were along by itself. . . . And the Cause [in a parellel case] was not because the Capacity of the Body natural was drowned by the Dignity royal . . . , but the Reason was, because to the Body natural, in which he held the land, the Body politic was associated and conjoined, during which Association or Conjunction the Body natural partakes of the Nature and Effects of the Body politic. (11)

The King has two Capacities, for he has two Bodies, the one whereof is a Body natural, consisting of natural Members as every other Man has, and in this he is subject to Passions and Death as other Men are; the other is a Body politic, and the Members thereof are his Subjects, and he and his Subjects together compose the Corporation, as Southcote said, and his is incorporated with them, and they with him, and he is the Head, and they are the Members, and he has the sole Government of them; and this Body is not subject to Passions as the other is, nor to Death, for as to this Body the King never dies, and his natural Death is not called in our Law (as Harper said), the Death of the King, but the Demise of the King, not signifying by the Word (Demise) that the Body politic of the King is dead, bu that there is a Separation of the two Bodies, and that the Body politic is transferred and conveyed over from the Body natural now dead, or now removed from the Dignity royal, to another Body natural. So that it signifies a Removal of the Body politic of the King of this Realm from one Body natural to another. (13)

Selected bibliography

Axton, Marie. The Queen’s Two Bodies: Drama and the Elizabethan Succession.  London: Royal Historical Society, 1977.

Kantorowicz, Ernst H. The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U P, 1985.

Maitland, Frederic William. Domesday Book and Beyond: Three Essays in the Early History of England. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge U P, 1897.

Schmitt, Carl. Political theology: four chapters on the concept of sovereignty. Trans. George Schwab. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1985. 

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