- The Franciscan Stimulus Amoris in Counter-Reformation Controversy: the Recusant Goad of Divine Love, Douai 1642
Prologue: The Stimulus Amoris and the Pricking of Love
The Latin religious text known in the Middle Ages as the Stimulus Amoris must be considered a key text of late-medieval Franciscan spirituality, and one of the texts from the Franciscan milieu that was most widely copied and disseminated throughout the Middle Ages among monastic as well as lay readerships.1 In a recent study, Falk Eisermann has demonstrated that the Stimulus Amoris was subject to a particularly productive reception with multiple adaptations through centuries, and that the text to a large extent was without one clearly discernible, normative form. The Stimulus Amoris, in other words, appears to have been regarded as an open text that could be, and in fact was altered, excerpted, shortened and augmented in countless ways.2 But Eisermann also suggests that there was throughout the later Middle Ages an idea of a Stimulus Amoris both as a unified textual identity and as an authoritative work undoubtedly authored by the Franciscan Saint Bonaventure. Today, however, we consider the most likely author of the Stimulus Amoris to have been the Franciscan friar Jacobus Mediolanensis, or James of Milan, who was most probably a lector towards the end of the thirteenth century in the Franciscan convent Domodossola in Piedmont. Eisermann concludes further that two main versions of the text can be clearly distinguished: the first and the earliest form of the text being the original Franciscan and, we can now say, pseudo-Bonaventuran contemplative treatise by James of Milan of approximately twenty-three chapters, possibly written for the spiritual benefit of the Poor Clares and itself a medley of various sources [End Page 259] (including some ‘authentic’ writing by Bonaventure).3 A later redaction provides a complete re-arrangement of the contents of the original treatise, it inserts miscellaneous material to nearly double its length, and it divides the entire content into three books.4 Two features of this later adaptation are worth pointing out here: Firstly, the Passion-centred chapters of vivid and imaginative imitatio Christi that were embedded in James of Milan’s shorter treatise (predominantly chapters 14 and 15) now occur at the beginning of the longer redaction, being evidently regarded as the best entry into the text for late-medieval audiences with a predilection for fervent Christocentric meditation. Secondly, the longer redaction omits or reduces some of the original’s experimentation with fervent and physiological Christocentric language. The most notable part of such language is a striking nuptial imagery and a sustained exploration of Christ as a mother, in which the narrative persona is imagined as a foetus inside Christ awaiting his delivery, eventually to re-enter Christ’s uterus again and again.5 We may speculate that such rather striking and audacious elements of meditative theology were deemed inappropriate as the text came to circulate increasingly among enclosed and lay audiences from about the later part of the fourteenth century.
Like James of Milan’s original work, the later expanded Stimulus Amoris contains a tableau of meditative themes, catechetic expositions, rapturous outpourings, advice of discretio spirituum, and instruction in the active and contemplative lives. This makes the experience of reading the Stimulus Amoris rather like reading a devotional miscellany that contains multiple texts and genres. The text provides wide-ranging guidance in the discipline of Passion meditation and in how to read Christ’s crucified body correctly to enable penitential responses through a process of imaginative re-creation of the Passion events, empathy, and conformity with Christ. It is also a text remarkable for its sensory mystical vocabulary; [End Page 260] in fact, it is a characteristic feature of several parts of the Stimulus Amoris that imitatio Christi is conceptualized as an unio mystica. However, for all its tropes of interiority, mystical detachment, and visionary praxis, the Stimulus Amoris should also be seen as a text that prepares for active charity and the fulfilment of secular commitments. The text is part of that large body of spiritual guide literature, whose voguish commixing of mystical fervour and social, domestic anchoring came to appeal greatly...