Janice Pinder

title.none: Fulton, From Judgement to Passion (Janice Pinder)

identifier.other: baj9928.0406.011 04.06.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Janice Pinder, Monash University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Fulton, Rachel. From Judgement to Passion: Devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. Pp. xvii, 676. $40.00 0-231-12550-x. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.06.11

Fulton, Rachel. From Judgement to Passion: Devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. Pp. xvii, 676. $40.00 0-231-12550-x. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Janice Pinder
Monash University

This is an important and ambitious book that offers a fresh look at a fundamental aspect of later medieval religious practice, "the imitative devotion to Christ in his suffering, historical humanity and to his mother, Mary, in her compassionate grief"(3). Its purpose is not to describe, or chart the appearance of, this devotion but to explain its origins and initial development. It asks why this devotion was so important in the Middle Ages, where it came from, and why it appeared when it did, so this is no simple mapping of the appearance of the phenomenon in liturgical and literary texts; rather, it promises a historical investigation of a large-scale change in "a whole imaginative and emotional climate" (5), that is, the development of the notion that the Christian could (and should) feel not only awe and gratitude for Christ's sufferings but also compassion.

The book deals with the themes of devotion to Christ and Mary successively, tackling in the first three chapters two approaches to Christ's humanity-first in the Eucharist, then in prayers to Christ crucified--and then, in the last five chapters, the imagining of Mary's response to her son's suffering first in the prayers of Anselm of Canterbury and then in commentaries on the Song of Songs of Honorius Augustodensis, Rupert of Deutz, Philip of Harvengt and William of Newburgh.

The substance of the book is a series of textual studies, and at one level it can be read simply for what it has to say about these authors and texts. However, they are situated in a greater narrative, presented as a series of exemplary moments in the change that is being mapped by this book at the same time as explanations are being sought for it, for Rachel Fulton sees the authors as both witnesses to, and agents of, the change she is investigating. She shows connections between them, and with other texts and images of their time. Although individual chapters can be read independently for their discussion of specific texts, the book rewards reading from end to end, although at 470 pages, with a further 221 pages of notes, this is a long journey. Fulton's publishers have been generous in allowing long quoted passages from the texts under consideration; while this gives the book a somewhat leisurely pace, it is valuable for readers not familiar with the texts themselves, and it is one of the achievements of this book that the quite detailed passages of textual analysis are woven into the overall argument and on the whole do not distract from it or hold it up.

In the first three chapters, the development of the two elements of later medieval devotion to the humanity of Christ is explored: the real bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and devotion to Christ's suffering during the crucifixion. Fulton justifies beginning with the question of the Eucharist by arguing that the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is the "experiential, intellectual and symbolic centre of late medieval devotion to Christ in his humanity"(9).

The first chapter is concerned with the reasons behind the composition of the pivotal text in the growth of sustained theological interest in this topic in the ninth century, Paschasius Radbertus's De corpore et sanguine Domini, composed to explain the teaching on the Eucharist to novices of Saxon origin, a generation after the forced conversion of the Saxons by the Franks. In contextualizing the composition of this text, Fulton considers the nature of conversion and the catechetical needs it engenders, referring to Augustine's De catechizandis rudibus, (on the importance of speaking language of catechumens), and much of this chapter is taken up with an effort to characterize the Saxon cultural milieu Paschasius was translating this religious teaching into, and to explain the nature of its difference from that of the Franks. To illustrate features of Saxon (pagan) religious thinking, Fulton uses another attempt at translating the Christian message--the Old Saxon poem recounting Christ's life, the Heliand, pointing out ways in which it was structured to promote Saxon identification with Christ. The identification of the features that were translated by Paschasius and others into the new milieu allows Fulton to present a picture of the figure of Christ as it existed just before the beginning of the change she explores in the succeeding chapters: both man and god, but warrior and judge, not object of compassion.

The second chapter turns to the emergence of devotion to the humanity of Jesus, seeking to pinpoint the historical catalysts (as opposed to the prevailing conditions) for it, and it is here that the central argument of the book begins. Fulton's thesis is that it was the failure of Christ's judgment to come about in 1000 or 1033, and the effects of this failure on people like Peter Damian, Lanfranc of Bec, Berengar of Tours, John of Fecamp and Anselm of Canterbury. Fulton examines accounts by Ademar of Chabannes and Rodolfus Glaber of events from the first three decades of the 11th century and in particular, of visions of Christ on the cross in judgment. She positions herself in the debate over the significance of these events on the affirmative side, arguing for the tendency of human beings to situate themselves in a narrative--in this case the impending end of the world and judgment of all. She argues that it is the anxiety occasioned by the failure of this "defining narrative" that provoked, on the part of Peter Damian, and in the Hildebrandine reform and the debate between Lanfranc and Berengar, an attempt to reaffirm the past through appeal to tradition. In the case of Peter Damian and the eremitical movement, too, she sees extreme ascetic practices as a response to the fear the kind of judgment suggested by the visions of the crucified Judge: the only way of averting damnation when confronted by the wounds of the Savior was to bear the same wounds on their own bodies. Her argument then is that the first step towards compassion for Christ's sufferings was this preoccupation with the need to repay a debt to escape judgment.

The next step is the subject of the third chapter, which examines prayers to the crucified Christ. Acknowledging that Anselm of Canterbury is generally seen to be at the origin to the devotion to the humanity of Christ, it seeks to determine the nature of Anselm's contribution and to explain it, by comparing his prayer with earlier examples of the genre in collections of private prayers, with the prayers written by his contemporary, John of Fecamp, and with his own later work, especially the Cur deus homo?. Fulton argues that the "reasoned approach to Christian faith" (190) that Anselm developed--that is, that only love and sorrow were appropriate responses to Christ's sacrifice, since there was nothing with which he could repay it--allowed him to take elements of the tradition of prayer to the crucified Christ and refine them in a way that addressed the fear of judgment and transformed it.

As well as representing a turning point in the process of change that is the subject of the book, Anselm provides a bridge between the two parts, since the second part opens with a consideration of his prayers to Mary. As in the preceding chapter, these prayers are contrasted with the previous tradition of prayers to Mary as queenly intercessor and stoically grieving mother, and more urgent petitions from the eleventh century. Anselm's contribution is presented as establishing, through reference to the events of her life, her relationship with Christ the Judge, with the aim of moving petitioner from contrition to love by remembering Mary's own pain. Thus what was new about Anselm's response to Christ's death was not only that it replaced repayment with love and sorrow, but that it found an effective, appropriate way of doing this was to identify with Mary.

The remaining chapters deal with the way the relationship between Mary and Christ is presented in Marian commentaries on the Song of Songs. The significance of these is that they used the Song of Songs as a way of dramatizing this relationship and providing Mary with a speaking part. While there is more Marian interpretation of the Song of Songs than the four commentaries studied here, Fulton has chosen these ones because their authors read the Song of Songs as a coherent narrative, using it as a vehicle for their own devotional relationship with Mary and Christ and translating Mary's life and relationship to Christ into a model of life for Christians generally. It is this idea of the commentaries being in each case a record of or vehicle for the author's own religious experience that governs the argument of these four chapters, which attempt to account for the individual orientations of the commentaries in terms of the authors' personal histories and events and doctrinal debates they may have been touched by.

In this section, as in the rest of the book, which ranges over the works of many authors and a wide span of centuries, there may well be points made that specialists in individual fields will dispute. However, Fulton acknowledges and makes present in her text the scholarly debate in the areas she touches on, in a way that is lively as well as scrupulous. While it no doubt contributed to the length of the book, I found her practice of bringing the actors of debates into her text in order to engage with them, rather than relegating them to indigestible bibliographic footnotes, refreshing and enlightening. This book should find a place in the library of anyone who is interested in the religious sensibility of the Middle Ages.