Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"And the fervor of his devotion increased so much within him that he utterly transformed himself into Jesus through love and compassion."

by KARL STEEL

A young man, disrespectful of institutional religion, is hailed by two women as Jesus. He allows himself to be crucified, wounded in five places. Elsewhere, another pious soul, caught up in the new fervor of imitatio Christi, crucifies himself on a hilltop on a Good Friday, is taken down half dead by passing shepherds, and recovers fully in a few days.

The first is a familiar story, somewhat muddled, but it takes place in the 1222, in Oxford, rather than the first century. Instead of Mary Magdelene and another Mary (Matthew 28:1; but cf. Mark 16:1, Luke 24, and John 20:1), it's simply "duabus mulieribus," one an old practitioner of the dark arts, and the other the young man's sister. The second story, from Jacques de Vitry's Sermones Feriales et communes, likewise recalls Gospel narratives both deliberately--the hilltop and Good Friday--and accidentally--the shepherds, the return to (full) life after a few days.

The latter exemplum may in turn recall another thirteenth-century pious self-mortification, that recorded by Margaret of Oingt in her life of Beatrice of Ornacieux (d. 1303) in acts meant for our admiration rather than disgust:
She evoked the Passion of Our Lord so strongly that she pierced her hands with blunt nails until it came out at the back of her hand. And every time she did this, clear water without any blood gushed out. Soon after, the wound closed and healed so well that nobody could see it any more. (49)
I bring these stories together as a companion to Jeffrey's post below, on the mocking Jew of Lincoln, whose heckling, as Jeffrey suggests, "seems to be speaking a thought likely on more minds than his own." The Jew is made by Gerald to bear the burden, and to materialize the problems, of dissension and uncertainty within the Christian community. Might we do something similar with the crucifying Jews of the thirteenth century, those accused of reenacting the Passion upon stolen Hosts and kidnapped Christian children? Considered within the field of the pious (and excessively pious--and what perfect piety is not excessive?) stories above, within the field of the various imitatio christi of the thirteenth century, what role are Jews and their purported crimes made to play?

I ask in part because of the first story, from Ralph of Coggeshall's Chronicon Anglicanum, appears sandwitched within two other stories, one about a Christian who mutilates himself to become a Jew, and another about a Jew who mutilates the dead, with the help of an employee (a Christian (?) boy), to learn the future, the very temporal realm from which Jews--witnesses of the past--should be barred.

Presented without any further comment, because I have no further thoughts yet, here's a fuller picture:
Anno Dominicae incarnationis MCCXXII, dominus Stephanus, Cantuariensis archiepiscopus, tenuit consilium suum apud Oxoniam post Pascha; ubi inter caetera exordinavit quemdam diaconum apostatam, qui pro amore cujusdam mulieris Judaicae se circumciderat: qui exordinatus, a ministris domini Falconis combustus est. Adductus est ibidem quidam juvenis incredulus cum duabus mulieribus in concilio, quos archidiaconus ejusdem provinciae accusavit crimine pessimo incredulitatis; juvenem scilicit, quod nollet ecclesiam intrare, nec divinis interesse sacramentis, nec patris catholici adquiescere monitis, et quod se crucifigere permiserit, quinque vulnera in corpore adhuc apparentia gestans, Jesumque se vocari a mulieribus illis gaudebat. Accusabatur una mulierum veterana, quod maleficis incantationibus ex longo tempore esset dedita, et quod juvenem praedictum suis magicis artibus ad tantam dementiam ac talem convertisset. Unde ambo, de tali crimine convicti, jussi sunt inter duos muros incarcerari quousque deficerent. Alia vero mulier, soror praedicti juvenis, libera dimissa est, quia impietatem illorum revelavit.

Eodem anno, quidam Judaeus nigromanticus puerum quemdam pretio conduxit, quem in cute recenti cuiusdam mortui collocavit, ut sic, per quasdam incantationes nigromantiae, futura posset prospicere; puero ad interrogata respondente de quibusdam futuris quae ei quasi praesentialiter apparebat. (190-91)

In the Year of the Incarnation of Our Lord 1222, Lord Stephen, Archbishop of Canterbury, held his council at Oxford after Easter; when among others he judged a certain apostate deacon, who circumcised himself for love of a certain Jewish woman: after being defrocked, he was burnt by the servants of the Lord of Falco (?). There was led forward into the hearing a certain unbelieving youth with two women, whom the archdeacon of that province had accused of the crime of the worst unbelief; namely, that the youth refused to enter a church or to take part in the divine sacraments or be content with the warning of the Catholic fathers and had allowed himself to be crucified, bearing the appearance still of five wounds on his body, and that he was called Jesus by these women who praised him. One of the women was accused, because she had been dedicated to wicked incantations for a long time and because she had converted the aforesaid youth by means of her magic arts to such insanity. As for these two, having been convicted of such a crime, they were commanded to be imprisoned between two walls until they died. But the other woman, the sister of the aforesaid youth, was set free, since she had revealed the impiety of the others.

In that same year, a certain Jew, a necromancer, paid a certain boy to collect the skin of those who had recently died, so that he might, by certain necromantic incantations, see into the future; the boy, when interrogated, spoke about future things that appeared to him as if happening presently. [my lousy translation]
(thanks to Gavin Langmuir, "Thomas of Monmouth: Detector of Ritual Murder," Speculum 59 (1984): 820-846, at 836 n55 for directing me to Ralph and Jacques).

2 comments:

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

These are rich materials to ruminate over. The conjunction between sanctioned Beatrice of Ornacieux and the heterodoxy performed by the would-be Jesuses is likewise provocative.

The sandwiching that you point out of incredulitas by Jews with that of Christians seems fairly standard in these episodic lists. The academic Simon of Tournai appears in Gerald of Wales’s Jewel of the Church just before the mocking Jew of Oxford, declaring “God Almighty! How long will this superstitious sect of Christians and this modern invention endure!”

Likewise, the association of Jews with necromancy and other "dark arts" lurks in the stories I've been looking at as well. Thus of Hugh of Lincoln Matthew Paris writes:
After the boy had expired, [the Jews] took his body down from the cross and disembowelled it; for what reason we do not know, but it was asserted to be for the purpose of practising magical opera­tions.
I think the reason for this linking is pretty clear in the materials you present: all forms of unbelief seem to collapse into one, so that Jewish dubiousness and pagan (in the sense of "countryside," nonstandard, unorthodox) practice are placed in the same space.

PS I like that you use "unbelief." I've been inspired by John Arnold's work to use it as well, since he gives it such a capacious and flexible definition: "the absence of something expected … divergent, ‘superstitious’, heretical and skeptical viewpoints … intriguingly varied forms of dissent and divergence from the orthodox norm.” It's also a pretty good translation of incredulitas.

theswain said...

My immediate reaction was to think of "charlatanism" if you will: stories of false Christs, false prophets, false seers etc all over the High Middle Ages, historically and literarily, at least in the first story.

As Jeffrey, and you now, have noted, the imitatio Christi produces both those who imitate from devotion and those who imitate for other, more nefarious, reasons; an analogue might be that when determining the nature of the saint and the nature of the possessed, there is often in medieval manuals not a great difference in behavioral manifestations.

It is interesting that you juxtapose the two tales of crucifixion, of imitating Jesus to each other...very intersting, not sure what all to make of it, but food for thought.