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Angels and Earthly Creatures

Preaching, Performance, and Gender in the Later Middle Ages

By Claire M. Waters

Publication Year: 2011

Texts by, for, and about preachers from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries reveal an intense interest in the preacher's human nature and its intersection with his "angelic" role. Far from simply denigrating embodiment or excluding it from consideration, these works recognize its centrality to the office of preacher and the ways in which preachers, like Christ, needed humanness to make their performance of doctrine effective for their audiences. At the same time, the texts warned of the preacher's susceptibility to the fleshly failings of lust, vainglory, deception, and greed. Preaching's problematic juxtaposition of the earthly and the spiritual made images of women preachers, real and fictional, key to understanding and exploiting the power, as well as the dangers, of the feminized flesh.

Addressing the underexamined bodies of the clergy in light of both medieval and modern discussions of female authority and the body of Christ in medieval culture, Angels and Earthly Creatures reinserts women into the history of preaching and brings together discourses that would have been intertwined in the Middle Ages but are often treated separately by scholars. The examination of handbooks for preachers as literary texts also demonstrates their extensive interaction with secular literary traditions, explored here with particular reference to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

Through a close and insightful reading of a wide variety of texts and figures, including Hildegard of Bingen, Birgitta of Sweden, and Catherine of Siena, Waters offers an original examination of the preacher's unique role as an intermediary—standing between heaven and earth, between God and people, participating in and responsible to both sides of that divide.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright Page

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p. 5-5

Dedication Page

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pp. 6-7

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-xi

"Jacob saw a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, on which angels were ascending and descending," writes Alan of Lille at the beginning of his Summa de arte praedicatoria. Later he interprets this image as one of preaching: "for preaching instructs now in divine matters, now in morals,...

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pp. 1-11

Who has access to the divine? How is that access achieved, and how transmitted? And what responsibilities does it carry with it? The medieval preacher, whose office required him to struggle with these questions, was a bridge between divine and human, between an eternal truth and a particular...

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1. The Golden Chains of Citation

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pp. 13-30

The holy man was fortunate to live in a time when, although his license to preach might be questioned, his unsupported assertion of immediate authorization from God was still likely to be accepted. Writing some eight centuries later, around 1320, Robert of Basevorn expressed what was by...

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2. Holy Duplicity: The Preacher's Two Faces

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pp. 31-56

THE PREACHER'S ABSTRACT ABILITY TO FORM part of a clerical lineage was only one part of his task; once established in his role he still needed to demonstrate his ability to perform that role convincingly. The problem is neatly encapsulated in the contrasting preachers of the Canterbury Tales.1...

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3. A Manner of Speaking: Access and the Vernacular

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pp. 57-72

ALONGSIDE QUESTIONS OF OFFICIAL authorization and self-presentation medieval preachers, like modern ones, had to consider the purely practical aspects of how to get their message across to audiences. Fundamental among these was, of course, the question of language. Unlike modern...

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4. "Mere Words": Gendered Eloquence and Christian Preaching

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pp. 73-95

THE DEEP-SEATED CHRISTIAN MISTRUST OF language posed a significant problem for medieval preachers. How could "mere words," human eloquence, rightly express a divine message, given rhetoric's involvement in the worldly snares of spectacle and seduction? The anxiety over the "seductive...

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5. Transparent Bodies and the Redemption of Rhetoric

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pp. 96-120

IN MANY CONTEXTS THE IMAGE OF THE woman preacher was used primarily as a limit case for acceptable activity, and considerations of female preachers often seem to function mainly to justify exclusion, as we have seen. A major strand in this justification was the idea of the female body's...

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6. The Alibi of Female Authority

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pp. 121-142

IF DISCUSSIONS OF MANY ASPECTS OF preaching-authority, performance, style, even language-express their concerns about the preacher's humanness through images of fictional or hypothetical women, how did actual women ever manage to address the church? Strikingly, the debate about...

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7. Sermones ad Status and Old Wives' Tales; Or, the Audience Talks Back

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pp. 143-167

THE PREACHER'S ATTEMPT TO ESTABLISH AN authoritative voice in which he could convey Christian doctrine was always a vexed one, and nowhere is this more clear than in the late medieval genre of the sermon ad status. These sermons, which addressed audiences according to their professional...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 169-170


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pp. 171-248


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pp. 249-269


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pp. 271-282

E-ISBN-13: 9780812204032
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812237535

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2011