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REVIEWS Ann W. Astell. Eating Beauty: The Eucharist and the Spiritual Arts of the Middle Ages. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006. Pp. xiii, 296. $39.95. Ann Astell’s latest book studies the Eucharist not from a historical or social perspective, as much recent scholarship has done, but from an expressly theological one. In her own words, she is interested in the ‘‘theological aesthetics’’ of the Eucharist, a phrase that she defines via Robert Viladesau to describe the study of theological objects as aesthetic and of aesthetic objects as theological (p. 16). Specifically, she reads the Eucharist as the vehicle by which beauty enters the world and reads her subjects’ eucharistic devotion as illustrative of their own understandings of beauty. As she does so, she refers to their own ‘‘theological aesthetics ’’—hence ‘‘Bonaventure’s theological aesthetics’’ or, more broadly, ‘‘Cistercian theological aesthetics’’ (pp. 128, 72)—thus suggesting that her approach is their approach and that a fundamental continuity links the medieval past to the present. This justifies the extended historical scope of the project, which extends from Bernard of Clairvaux to the twentieth-century philosopher Simone Weil. It also bridges the spiritualities that Astell studies with her own, which is expressed directly in two of her own poems included in an appendix. Embodying the duality of the phrase ‘‘theological aesthetics,’’ the book is both theology and literary criticism. The basic argument of the book is that ‘‘every genuine spirituality’’ (though it’s not clear what it takes for a spirituality to qualify as genuine , aside from its Christianity) seeks to restore the paradise lost through original sin, a restoration that the Eucharist enables (p. 257). The first chapter to explore this is also the strongest: Chapter 2 (Chapter 1 is the introduction) demonstrates compellingly that the eucharistic host was often figured as the antidote to the Edenic apple, making one form of eating a corrective to another. To eat the Eucharist is to eat from the Tree of Life, or Christ. This eating restores paradise by implanting in each person, through the Eucharist, a key virtue that is consonant with his or her religious vocation. This virtue, in turn, develops into a way of life that restores the beauty of paradise both to the individual and, PAGE 465 465 ................. 16596$ CH13 11-01-10 14:08:11 PS STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER though the individual, to others. Chapter 7, which Astell calls the other theoretical chapter, determines the relationship of the Eucharist to beauty in the aesthetics of Simone Weil and Hegel, locating beauty in Weil’s Eucharistic devotion and siding with her against Hegel to conclude that the Eucharist is the basis of art which transmits beauty to the world. Chapters 3–6 consider four virtues, each appropriate to a different religious order, that undo original sin. With reference to Bernard of Clairvaux and Gertrude of Helfta, chapter 3 identifies curiosity as original sin according to Cistercians, or elsewhere more generally to ‘‘monks,’’ and humility as the virtue which reverses it. Chapter 4 uses Bonaventure’s life of Francis to define concupiscence as original sin for Franciscans, and poverty as its virtuous antidote. Chapter 5 primarily focuses on Catherine of Siena, though it also discusses Dominic, Catherine of Genoa and the Peruvian saint Rose of Lima, to establish a Dominican concern with preaching as the remedy for the original sin of gluttony. Chapter 6 characterizes disobedience as original sin and obedience as its opponent according to Jesuits, focusing on Ignatius of Loyola and Michelangelo (who, she notes, was not a Jesuit). Throughout, she is interested in how the saints discussed embody a key virtue communicated to them through the Eucharist. In spite of the title of the book, however, the Eucharist generally remains in the background of the study, serving as the largely implicit source for each saint’s virtue, which is Astell’s true focus. One might object to the rigidity of the order-based distinctions, themselves not always faithful to order (again, Michelangelo is with the Jesuits), or to the grouping of figures separated by sometimes substantial temporal or spatial distance, but Astell does not pretend to describe the historical development of different spiritualities or...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 465-467
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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