medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
An item of secondary literature relevant to this point:
For Thomas Aquinas' teachings on the Law and its rites, see, John Y. B.
Hood, Aquinas and the Jews (Philadelphia, 1995), pp. 38-61.
Two places in the primary literature at which to start:
Hugh of Saint Victor on the Sacraments of the Christian Faith (De
sacramentis), trans. R.J. Deferrari (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1951), p. 188.
Peter Lombard, Sententiae in IV libris distinctae, 3rd ed., vol. 2
(Grottaferrata, 1981), p. 231: Bk IV at the beginning.
I have done a draft edition of Leonardo Dati's sermon for the Feast of the
Circumcision but have not yet published it. Other such sermons can be
J. Schneyer, Repertorium der lateinischen Sermones des Mittelalters, für
die Zeit von 1150-1350 (Münster, 1969-90).
At 01:12 PM 1/4/2002 -0500, you wrote:
>(coming not too long after the 1st of January, formerly, as learned list
>members pointed out, the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord, and the
>first-fruit of my New Year's resolution to post messages sine ira et
>studio and to confine myself to medieval topics).
>Though circumcision may become 'a big polemical theme' to anyone with a
>mind to make it such, those so minded will have to come to my neck of the
>woods, in the vicinity of Fordham Road, to find polemical themes galore,
>pizza and bagels - but let there be peace on earth and goodwill to the list.
>Thus, I'll reiterate that in order to understand the culture of the Middle
>Ages we have to divest ourselves, if only temporarily, of our modern
>prejudices. As Judith Herrin put it: she, an unbeliever, had to
>'temporarily suspend unbelief' when dealing with late antique history. And
>two modern prejudices, lurking under some learned remarks on
>'Circumcision' thread, are particularly insidious because, while as
>natural to us as the air we breathe, they had but little currency in the
>Middle Ages - hence the potential for misunderstandings. Ours is a (1)
>dialectic, (2) materialistic culture. (1) Dialectic: given two different
>entities, we live in the firm belief that they will be at war with each
>other. Other possibilities - that they may be complementary, and/or
>subordinate to each other - are hardly considered, yet these were
>precisely the possibilities that the medieval mind found most attractive.
>Thus, pace Abelard, the 'materialism' of Jewish belief and and its
>spiritualization by Christians' need not be at odds with each other. To
>the contrary, Biblical texts from my previous posting and countless others
>show that the physical circumcision was a sign ('sacrament' means just
>that) of a spiritual reality. It is, then, rather difficult to see how
>Baptism makes 'of course' circumcision 'useless and spiritually dangerous'
>and perhaps Tom Izbicki, indulging to my weakness for specific references
>and primary sources, will give us some texts in point, in addition to his
>unquestionably impressive, but a bit vague, 'sermons', 'Sentence
>commentaries' and 'some work in this area'.
>The second modern prejudice is materialism, the firm belief that there is
>nothing beyond what we can see or touch or smell. Hamlet, who knew better
>and had his doubts, was straight out of the Middle Ages, an age that
>feasted on spirituality (superstructures or mental constructions to the
>modern mind). To the medieval mind just about anything, not only the
>Scripture, could have four senses: read Alcuin's dialogue between Pippin
>and himself. In our materialistic culture circumcision is often considered
>a simple physical process, done for medical or hygienic reasons and based
>on the steadfast conviction that, Jewish or Gentile, a foreskin is a
>foreskin is a foreskin. The same literal-mindedness also surfaced in
>Hadrian's edict as reported by Prof. Alfredo Rubello as reported by
>Jeffrey Woolf, and Hadrian, blind as a bat to any significance
>circumcision had for the Jews, was not a man of the Middle Ages.
>To a man of the Middle Ages reality could be understood at different
>levels. The circumcision of Jesus was, like that of any Jewish male, a
>sign (sacrament) of belonging to God and to the Jewish people. In addition
>to that, Christians saw in Christ's circumcision - the first spilling of
>is blood - a foreshadowing of Christ's death on the cross, when He offered
>himself victim for all mankind. Ambrose, commenting on the Gospel account
>of Jesus' circumcision (Luke 2.2) saw the cutting off of the flesh as a
>sign of purification from sin (nam et circumcisio purgationem significat
>Happy New Year to one and all, Luciana
>Luciana Cuppo Csaki
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Thomas M. Izbicki
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Johns Hopkins University
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