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The Way of Vice and Virtue: A Medieval Psychology Eva Kimminich The principal concern of medieval thinking was man's spiritual welfare. It was deeply rooted in the dichotomy of the generally negatively defined body and the positively evaluated soul with the redemption of the soul—and also the body—as the main aim. This central idea runs throughout the thought and imagery of the Christian Middle Ages. In iconography, literature, and drama we can take note of increasing differentiation with regard to the presentation of the vices, which are treated with much greater specificity in the later Middle Ages than had been the case in late antiquity or the early medieval periodsl—e.g., in the time of Aurelius Prudentius (c.348-405), whose PsychomachiaZ is a seminal text with regard to our study. The increasing sensitivity with which the symbols and their attributes were handled must be considered the result of more acute psychological observation and analysis of human conduct and the motivations behind the way people behave or misbehave. Sinfulness was initially often connected with the influence of demonic powers or with planetary influences. The association between the planets and behavior in particular was based in the pre-Christian and Neo-Platonic worldviews of late antiquity , which in many cases tended to see the human being's physical and moral condition as dominated by planetary deities. Such deities were believed to implant positive or negative qualities in the soul on its descent through the celestial spheres down to earth—views which subsequently continued to receive attention in Christian theology. For instance, Martin, Archbishop of Braga (c.520-80), in his De Correctione Rusticorum represented the planetary deities as malign: Jupiter as a magician and adulterer , Venus as a whore, and so forth.3 In his view these qualities 77 78The Way of Vice and Virtue were indicative of die lapsarian state of man, whose natural tendencies toward sin were thus displayed. The Church Fathers—for example, St. Augustine (354430 )—had allocated responsibility for a human being's spiritual welfare to the person himself. Not surprisingly, differing interpretations were developed.4 While St. Augustine did not deny the influence of the stars, he nevertheless stressed free will and grace as stronger forces in the psychological battle of man against vice.5 In Augustine's view, sin is the renunciation of God caused by man's pride, while self-love is the result of surrender to one's sensual desires, the various kinds of concupiscence which negate his better self and lead him to become guilty. He argued that only active sinfulness will turn Original Sin, which is inherited along with the human condition, into personal guilt tiiat cannot be set aside by any human action and, unless grace intercedes, may result in eternal damnation. Accordingly, as is well known, he differentiated between a temporal city devoted to selfishness and a heavenly community devoted to good, between die earthly city (civitas terrena) and city of God (civitas Dei). In the former—the synonymous name of which, civitas diaboli, points to the end which die unregenerate, whose devotion is to this city, will endure—two alternative ways of life are open to the human being so tiiat he himself would be responsible for the fate of his soul. A colored woodcut in the edition of St. Augustine 's De Civitatis Dei printed at Freiburg in 1494 illustrates the author writing down his ideas; at his right, the people of Zion are shown in the heavenly Jerusalem, while at his left is Babylon, founded by Cain, with the devil on its pinnacles.6 The virtuous life and the vicious life are symbolized by the narrow and arduous path on die one hand, and die broad and comfortable avenue on the other. For Augustine, the choice was between these two paths, one the way of temptation and the otiier leading away from such surrender of oneself to die world. The efforts of die individual Christian tiierefore had to be directed toward recognizing the direct connection between his conduct in his earthly life and the reward or punishment awaiting him in the next world. A more optimistic tradition has been traced to Origen...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 77-86
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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