15.09.06, Barthélemy and Grosse, eds., Moines et démons

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Karl Morrison

The Medieval Review 15.09.06

Barthélemy, Dominique and Rolf Grosse, eds. Moines et démons: Autobiographie et individualité au Moyen Âge (VIIe-XIIIe siècle). Hautes Études médiévales et modernes, 106. Genève: Librairie Droz, 2014. pp. viii, 218. ISBN: 978-260-0013-758 (paperback).

Reviewed by:
Karl Morrison
Rutgers University (Emeritus)

Moines et démons could seem, in its conception, part of Jacques Le Goff's (l924-2014) rich legacy, silently absorbed into the common ethos of cultural historians. In his remarkable book, The Medieval Imagination, Le Goff startlingly wrote: "...I must confess that there is a gap in my discussion of the medieval imagination, for I have become more and more convinced that its center, its pivot, was Satan, medieval Christianity's most important creation. Satan was the orchestrator of feudal society... In this world...Satan called the tune, as I hope to show in a subsequent work." [1] Admittedly, Le Goff himself, and the distinguished scholars who have contributed to this volume, carry an older legacy, Voltaire's, whose aphorism that the Devil was the whole of Christianity retains captivating pungency as a subject of general debate. Yet, as to method, the analogies in social anthropology among the authors of Moines et démons are more direct with Le Goff and his aphorism that Satan was the "pivot" of medieval imagination than with the sage of Fernay. Indeed, the precise subject at issue is very much of fairly recent investigation: the construction of individualistic self-awareness (connaissance de soi [or moi] a distinct and possibly isolated and self-determining agent canonized in the genre of autobiography. One innovation of Moines et démons is to make Satan, or rather demonology, the pivot of investigation.

It is worth wondering how far the moines so closely studied in this book were aware of their conscience d'être un individu in quite the same way as today's scholars, who read it with different eyes, sometimes as a project démonique. One demanding aspect of the joint venture in Moines et démons was to assess the readings of themselves reached by moines in the ferocious tension that, according to their mentalités, pushed and pulled them between the "mystery of iniquity" and the "mystery of righteousness."

Indeed, as I read this book, I was fascinated to realize that a major characteristic of the studies was summed up by a not-too-simple contrast between the authors and their subjects. That is, between the analytical first principles of the moines, governed by mystery, and those of the scientific disciplines of the authors. At the end of the review, I shall return to the silhouette of this contrast left in Moines et démons.

Ascetic tradition from the subapostolic period continuing far beyond the early Gothic age placed the pivot of human existence in what Justin Martyr (ca. 100-ca. 165) called the "mystery of the Cross," which the demons could not understand or, consequently, mimic with illusory counterfeits in pagan myth and rite, as they had done with other aspects of the Gospel. Though Justin's writings were lost to the Latin Middle Ages, the centrality of the mystery of the Cross remained general in the era under review in Moines et démons. In general and in detail, it received a comprehensive, imaginative, and dazzling visual expression on the so-called Cloisters Cross (ca 1150-1160), an iconographical programme that, so far as we know, omitted demons, though, on the testimonies reviewed in Moines et démons, the persons who made and revered the Cloisters Cross in their liturgies recognized that demons could be present among and within them, as demoniacs interrupted Jesus teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum (Luke 4:31-36).

One lays this book aside with a sense of divergences among the scholarly contributors which arise from fragmentation, not so much among the contributors as among their source bases and the categories of stories that the scholars have found and chosen to contribute to their discourse. However, there are signs that the sense of divergence is rooted primarily in epochal fragmentation between the mentalités of the witnesses, the moines who have certain distinct objectives and questions, and those of ourselves, the interrogators, whose objectives and questions are not theirs.

Moines et démons presents twelve studies, each by a different author. Most of them were delivered as papers at a conference held at the German Historical Institute in Paris (28 May 2010), jointly sponsored by the German Historical Institute, the École des Hauts Etudes, and the University of Paris-Sorbonne. In the years following the conference, the shape of the collection developed beyond the original design.

Two papers were added to the initial eight (Parick Henriet's report on a collaborative research project, "Les démons de Valère du Bierzo [VIIe siècle]" and Florence Chave-Mahir, "Un combat singulier dans l'image. Moines et moniales face aux démons aux XIe et XIIe siècles"). Indeed, the post-conference inclusion of Henriet's enlightening article appears to reflect a change in the project's design expressed in a shadow of uncertainty between the title page and the sense of the participants in the seminal conference in 2010. [2] One collaborator died soon after the conference and before revising his article for publication (Paul Gerhard Schmidt, "L'abbé Richalm de Schöntal placé sous la haute surveillance des démons" [169n]). I include in the number of articles two substantial essays of orientation (Walter Berschin, "Biographie et autobiographie au Moyen Âge" and Jean-Claude Schmitt, "Conclusion"). In addition, the collection includes a preface, an introduction, and brief excerpts (in Latin and in French translations) from four texts of the period under review. Four (of twelve) studies were drawn from earlier publications (Berschin, Chave-Mahir, Rubenstein, P. G. Schmidt).

The case can be made that, by and large, the authors have made a practice of working on the cusp of historical study, chiefly in Latin philology or historical anthropology. While their actuarial cohorts range from 1937 to after 1967, they have also crisscrossed disciplinary lines to explore common frontiers. Apart from these affinities, there is a geographical one as well. Most participants have their professional homes in the Ile-de-France, two in central France (Lyon, Poitiers), and--if we count the Director of the German Historical Institute in Paris as a Heidelberger instead of a Parisian--four in southwestern Germany (Bavaria, Baden-Wittenburg). One exception is based in the Outre-Mer (the United States).

The only contribution by a woman highlights several absences, only the first being that of women from among the original presenters (2010). Paradoxically, while Chave-Mahir distilled her article in Moines et démons from a landmark study (L'Exorcisme des possédés dans l'Eglise d'Occident [Xe-XIVe siècle] [Turnhout: Brepols, 2011]), much in the article witnesses to the collection's discontinuities. Just as the presence of her article in Moines et démons accents the absence of women from the list of speakers at the symposium in 2010, her evidence concerning Julianna of Nicomedia in "Un combat singulier dans l'image" points back to another absence, an intended one, from the collection: the Greek patristic era, when the demonology of concern in Moines et démons took shape. Her evidence regarding Radegunde indicates the absence of women from other accounts of monastic spirituality which are treated in the book, indeed from accounts written in an age (tenth through the thirteenth centuries) conspicuous for the growth of Mariolatry and the feminization of mystical theology through meditations and exegeses on the Song of Songs. Predictably, like the book from which it was extracted, "Un combat singulier dans l'image" addresses a context quite other than that of the original Moines et démons conference. To be sure, Chave-Mahir's article has much to do with biography, but the biographies she reviews are substantially distinct from autobiographies. For the eight illuminations that form the substance of her study were made to illustrate lives of saints who died between two and eight hundred years before the paintings were made. In this connection, it can also be said that the hagiographical materials treated in Klaus Hebers' masterly article ("La peur du pèlerin dans l'au-delà. Un regard sur l'hagiographie ibérique") are hard to connect with biography or autobiography in the period under review (ca 950-ca 1200), or, for that matter with monasticism strictly construed.

There is a corresponding lack of commonality among source bases. Excellent as it is in itself, Chave-Mahir's article is the only contribution in this volume concerning art history, specifically iconography. Thereby, it points to yet another fragmentation in the subject reflected in this collection of studies. It does that in two ways: first, by witnessing to the absence of other art-historical studies, but also by addressing the extreme fragmentation and unregulated improvisation of ritual exorcism in the central Middle Ages. As in other essential regards, Jean-Claude Schmitt indicates a major line of inquiry when he refers to images and texts as deux modes de sublimation (185). And yet, without further elaboration, it is not clear where such perception were intended to lead in the context of Moines et démons.

The deux modes de sublimation did indeed receive notable development in the performance arts of liturgy in the period under review. But the formless plethora of exorcism practices as performance art had yet to be consolidated, standardized, and monopolized by the clergy as they eventually were in the fifteenth century. Even then, despite the universal effect promised by the invention of printing, the tenacity of what were regarded as local "superstitions" remained for successors of the Council of Trent to master.

The eight studies devoted to specific monastic writers are independent, and quite naturally they have few historical connections apart from an agreed phenomenology of identity. The sources are notably heterogeneous in origin. Though two are from Iberia, the one was written in Leon (Bierzo) before the Muslim conquest, and the other in Galicia (Compostela) some 400 years later, long after the Conquest. A cluster of five (Rather of Liège/Verona, Andrew of Fleury, Raoul Glaber, Guibert of Nogent, and Abelard) ranged in time over nearly two centuries, and came from different areas of river valleys in northern France and Flanders. To be sure, quite contrary to the Benedictine vow of stability of place, some traveled widely, but such were the discords that impelled their itinerancy, that the degree to which they were rooted in any place is hard to estimate. Abelard's beleaguered abbacy at Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys is a measure of how narrowly territorial lines of ethnic alienation could be drawn. Much of Abelard's career was of flight from one monastery to another in search of refuge.

Two further subjects (Othloh of St. Emmeram and Richalm of Schönthal) lived two centuries apart in different sections of Bavaria, and, in their own ways, also experienced estrangements from monastic brethren. Quite naturally, the writings these authors brought out of their conflicts refract the clashing--even life-threatening--dissonances of their collective lives. However, the studies in Moines et démons establish that numerous courses were conceivable, some of them demon-free. Abelard took hardly any notice of Satan and his demons, apart from a rare flick of conventional rhetoric. In so far as they recorded any demonic phenomena, other authors referred to demonic visitations in quite different modes of preoccupation. It seemed right to some that demons were God's ministers in testing or punishing human beings, or that, more guardedly, they imposed specific afflictions with God's permission. Understandably, such collaborative ideas confused the idea of a clean-cut warfare between good and evil.

Contributors accent inherent characteristics of particular testimonials by underscoring the difficulty in categorizing reports of demonic intrusions. Efforts to establish typologies achieved little (Delaran, "Relire Raoul Glaber," 73). Demons were "polymorphs," readily changing their appearances into illusions of things they were not, intruding under multiple and shifting names and personifications with such mind-numbing, disordered rapidity that the scholastics gradually framed a system of discerning spirits as a special branch of inquiry (Schmitt, "Conclusion," 183-184).

What does a little messiness matter? After all, Babylon, the city of Satan, was confusion while Jerusalem, the city of God, was perfect harmony and order. However, the moines were giving witness to what, for them and their brethren, were credible experiences. By contrast, the scholars were watching the moines at a distance in the act of self-portrayal. Admittedly, both these objectives could be the soi comme 'sujet chrétienne' pris dans un dynamique de la conversion intérieure (Schmitt, "Conclusion," 183). But it does not matter so much whether the sujet chrétienne is credible if observers regard their stories as myths people told about themselves, valuable for their implications psychomatique (Schmitt, "Conclusion," 183) and the writing, especially when shared with an editor or amanuensis, as a dialogue thérapeutique in which the subject emerges from trauma victorious (Schmidt, "L'abbé Richalm de Schönthal placé sous la haut surveillance des démons," 169-170). In such cases, the stories may represent a psychological truth, but not always a credible historical one. All the same, the anecdotes of demonic ambushes, violating the living and the dead, by no means indicate in any author the sense of security that enables recovery from trauma.

The moines were engaged in a transvaluation of their inherited conception of the world in which they lived, moved, and had their being, and of themselves in it. With unprecedented upheavals of their age, they had reason to sense the times of the present turning into the past of the future announcing the Last Times, when the Devil, like a lion ever hungry for prey, raged full of fury because his time was short, seven angels emptied seven bowls of wrath upon the earth, and the Babylon of the whole world became a home for ravening demons and every evil spirit. [3] Bernard Clairvaux (1090-1153) interwove the narratives of demons and human beings into a single drama of self-love, dividing in the last scene. For the grandiose, prideful self-love of wicked demons and human beings would be crowned by eternal annihilation. But, surprisingly, the humble, self-denying self-love of the good for God and neighbor would rise to a transcendence, a loss, of individuality. After death, Bernard wrote, they will be taken into glory by the transcendent deification of their human wills, melted and poured into a sea of endless light and dazzling eternity, even as they remain themselves. [4]

It is hard to follow the contributors to Moines et démons in connecting the phenomenon of individuality as characterized by them with the individuality as sujet chrétienne taken for granted by the moines, so dependent for its formation on trauma, including satanic torments, and culminating in loss of individuality. However, it is also rewarding to look for connections.

Within the outlines of the narrative of salvation history exegetes had extracted from Scripture, moines found the connective method of detecting similars in dissimilars, honed to a sharp edge by Scriptural interpreters, their tool of choice in discovering the soi comme 'sujet chrétienne' pris dans un dynamique de la conversion intérieure. Even more, they found it indispensable for indigenising the game of demonic predators and human prey they found in Scripture to their own experience. In this way, they repeated the indigenation process that Hugo Rahner found in Late Antiquity. Then, he wrote, Christian interpreters translated classical myths into the framework and "idiom" of Christian theology, as, for example, they re-cast the myth of Odysseus tied to the mast into the symbolism of the Crucifixion, "the mystery of Christ crucified," and, from that, "to the saving secret of the 'wood' [to which] the Christian binds himself in order to reach his blessed home." The truth in the story of Odysseus "now becomes a truth in a Christian context." In its new context, on a high, abstract level, it belonged to the "great mystery" embodied in the union of Christ and the Church. [5] The method of finding similarities in dissimilars, grounded in Scriptural exegesis, readily allowed an analogous transfer of demons from myth, passing as the shadow-land of "superstition," to mystery--or indeed, from one mystery to another: that is, from the "mystery of iniquity" to the "mystery of our religion."

The shared perspective of the contributors to Moines et démons is quite different. For, lacking the archaeology of ideas, what points or method of cross-over could there be for "unredeemed daemonic forces that lie dormant and threateningly within the human soul," what similarity, between the numinous mystery of myth and a modern, secular context without mystery or transcendence? Are there exact equivalences between what the moines recognized as a struggle "against the cosmic powers of this present darkness" (Ephesians 5:32, 6:12) and a "projet démoniaque" (cf Gross, "Rather de Vérone," 29; Dalarun, "Relire Raoul Glaber," 55)? [6]

A close reading of this book brought me to think once more about a fundamental condition for the craft of intellectual history. The discrepancies between the mental universes in which artifacts were created and which they encapsulate, and the alien worlds of modern scientific analysis. I thought for example of the difference between how differently ritual objects are regarded and put to use in their indigenous worlds, and in the alien universes of museum exhibits. Manifestly, what Schleiermacher called "divinatory intuition," the imaginative reconstruction of a whole lost world from a small sculptural fragment, has no place in modern historical analysis. However, it is also evident that, in seeking antecedents of a modern conception, such as individualism, historians by the very definition of their subject privilege over other data those perceived to be germane to it. As this review indicates, I have found in the book the discrepancy between the conscience d'être un individu expressed in medieval texts known to me and the conscience d'être un individu that is the constituent leitmotiv of this book a divergence so strong as to be considered among the book's contents and most significant contributions. It is all a matter of what one thinks a sujet chrétienne.

I now turn, as promised, to the silhouette left in Moines et démons by the categorical disparity between the mentalité shared, in idiosyncratic degrees, by the moines, oriented toward mystery, and the distinctly modern, scientific principles of analyses applied by the contributors to the book. I say "silhouette" because what survives is the profile of an absence which seems to me at the center of the moines' concern and passions. The obligatory test verses from Scripture were few. Though there were a number of allusions in the New Testament to sacred mysteries, the major one was 1 Timothy 3:16 (mega estin to tes eusebeias mysterion, translated in the Vulgate as manifeste magnum est pietatis sacramentum, and into English, as I read it, "great is the mystery of godliness"). The key test verse for evil was 2 Thessalonians 2:7 (mysterion anomias, literally "the mystery of lawlessness," or "the mystery of iniquity"). The back-up for this verse was in the description of the Great Whore in Apocalypse 17:5. There, a name, a mystery, was written on the forehead of the woman: "Babylon the great, mother of whores and of earth's abominations."

Evidently, supernatural mysteries are not equivalent with human actions (such as puzzles, enigmas, or crimes to be riddled out). Indeed, as imported from pre-Christian occultism and mystery cults, they are detected only by divine revelation, and never completely unraveled. They are known by entering into them, not from outside them by logical deductions from first principles. This disparity between the witness of the moines and the profile of that witness in Moines et démons could but shape the boundaries of imagination and probability traced in the analytical discourse.

By contrast with the moines in their autobiographical moments, the contributors to this do consider self-consciousness, not primarily as a sujet chrétienne, but as a subcategory of a particular culture socially and/or psychologically determined and amenable to a wide range of Christian inflections. And yet, indisputably, the cognitio sui had a radically different framing structure than the conscience de soi variously shared by the contributors. The cognitio sui of the moines was still framed to contours of a closed world, like a perfect sphere, created in hierarchy or ladder of being, a universal scale of proportional affinities in descending degrees of similarity. In its very nature, it was not an order of polar opposites, but rather one of both/and paradoxes, above all those of dissimilar similarity and discordant harmony, which were made to include even the paradoxes of Incarnation and Atonement. Evil, as Augustine wrote in his classic formulation, had no independent being, but was the absence of good. The collaborators on Moines et démons frame their thought, not to contours, but to the laws of physics governing movements, the interactive play of forces in an infinite and open universe. Pascal's antipathy to Descartes's marked one envoi of the closed world, balancing opposites in paradox. John Donne expressed the same valedictory perspective: "And new philosophy calls all in doubt /...then they see that this / Is crumbled out againe to his atomies. / 'Tis all in peeces, all cohaerence gone." The world's beauty had "decay'ed or gone." Instead of "round proportion embracing all," disproportion had torn pure form into "eight and forty sheires," and humankind sought out, not its beauty, but its "eccentric parts".

In this darting of fragments, Donne also picked up a decisive change in the way of thinking about human personality in isolation: "For every man alone thinkes he hath got / To be a Phoenix, and that then can bee / None of that kinde, of which he is, but hee." Earlier, the world's "round proportion" had displayed beauty comprising variety, proportion, integrity, and the mysterious quality known as claritas, a compelling power of illumination. Feeding on "the supernatural food, religion," individuals had had their places in the order of things, and had been so great that God had come down to earth to woo humanity. In the "new philosophy" "magnetique force alone" drove the "sundred parts in one," and, shrunken in mind and body, "what a trifle and poore thing" of isolated particles the human race had become ("An Anatomie of the World," ll. 208-260).

What came to mind as I read Moines et démons was not simply that the moines and their scholarly analysts were playing different games, but rather that the game played by the scholars obscured their own subject, the moines' game, both the plays in the game the scholars were reporting and its basic rules. I am bound to give some brief indications in which I consider the report differs from the action on the field. Two points mentioned earlier will already have hinted at some essential discrepancies.

First, we have referred to one point of overarching supernatural importance in self-awareness among religious in the period of review that goes unassessed in Moines de démons: the mimesis of Christ and Christian rituals by demons, within the limits of demonic understanding. Here, we have encountered an ambivalence of good and evil which was richly and increasingly articulated into the later Middle Ages, and posed perennial and, through pursuit of what has been called the satanic aspect of divinity, corrosive doubts on central tenets of Christian theology. [7]

The second point, only a little less weighty, is the relegation of women religious to the sidelines, off the field, in discourse on conscience d'étre un individu among monastics in the high Middle Ages. Writings of women religious are replete with references to the complementarities of gender, not least repetitively with the definition of each gender by degrees of full or defective manhood. Complementarity of a higher, supernatural mystical level also enter general awareness by way of the diffusion and evolution of the cult of the Virgin, and, with startling and complex ambiguities in meditations on the maternity of God and Jesus, and, indeed, on the maternity of monks gestating and birthing Jesus in the bowels of their hearts.

Let me briefly suggest how encompassing these two points is needed to draw the representations in Moines et demons into closer alignment with the sujet chrétienne of self-awareness in the texts and period under review. Three categories stand out in high relief: pain (or trauma), divine justice, and the limits of experimentation.

In the scenario of redemption, as prescribed in the Rule of St. Benedict, pain of self-denial and ascetic renunciation belonged to the imitation of Christ, and joined the suffering of the monk to that of Christ. By sharing in the sufferings of Christ, monks labored to share in his kingdom. By contrast, in the scenario of demonic temptation, pain compounded with pain climaxed with the victims' rejection of their Christian identities. Mimesis of the baptismal covenant was imitated by apostasy in a covenant with demons. Early in his memoirs, Guibert of Nogent enlarged his anecdotes with the general rule: "demons admit no one to their evil doings except those whom they have first stripped of the honor of their baptism through some terrible sacrilege" (I.25-26. Archambaut trans., 88-89). But, even without a formal act of breaking faith (diffidatio), demons had undermined their victims' fidelity to God by mental and physical suffering, indeed by exploiting monastic disciplines designed to ingrain habits of traumatic memory and authentic or fictive consciousness of guilt.

When temptation came, and apostasy from good to evil overturned the baptismal apostasy from evil to good, moines endured the trauma of realizing that they were capable of the greatest transgressions, even against themselves. They suffered the added shock of seeing in demons, the terror of remembering, the barbari they had been and still were in their animal selves, savage and unredeemed. If they did not break, through pains of lust or fear, and stepped back from acts of outright betrayal, they could still lose faith. Shattered by intense anguish of his temptations, and driven to distraction by the deafening, mocking laughter of the battalions of attack demons around him as they spun him through the air, tossing him like a ball over land and sea, Othloh of St. Emmeram witnessed to this state of dissociation.

His demonic torturers had mocked him, asking why, if God were just and almighty, he left Othloh to suffer, even though Othloh had abandoned the world and was suffering great agonies for love of him. Where was the justice in that? Othloh was a fool to be tortured by doubting Scripture's truth and God's existence. Scripture spoke with a forked tongue, sanctimonious verbiage here, but pandering to human vanity everywhere else. If there were an almighty God, the demons added as a parting shot, the world would not be as incoherent as it is, and God would not have left Othloh to quake and writhe in his fear-filled doubts.

Othloh's own desperate need to find justification for the workings of providence thus moved from pain to doubts of divine justice. Here, the primordial mimesis of God and godliness by demons had agonizing confusion thanks to the omnipotence of God and the inscrutability of his ways. Grounded in the inconsistencies and enigmas of Scripture itself, theodiceal doubts plagued exegesis from the earliest apologists onward. Scripture itself held barriers to dismissing doubts of Scripture's truth and God's existence out of hand as flagrant blasphemy. One such barrier was an array of polymorphisms corresponding with those of demons. Long improvisations on the satanic character of the sacred preceded the reformer, Peter Damian's (1007-1072), admiringly smart epithet for the archdeacon Hildebrand, soon after Pope Gregory VII (ca 1015/1028-1085): "holy Satan."

God had acted under many guises, as the Spirit hovering over the deep at Creation, one of the strangers visiting Abraham to seal the Covenant, Moses' burning bush, and figuratively as Moses's brazen serpent suspended as a healing fetish, a symbolic anticipation of Christ crucified. The perfect vision of Christ as he is, Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, is reserved to the next life. Here, believers see him under many masks; he appears "to those whom he pleases, but as he pleases, not as he is." "What you see is what emanates from him, not himself." Bernard's disciple, William of St. Thierry (1065-1148), took up this theme when he wrote: "The Lord God of all is to be adored and worshiped beneath the mask of many faces... [When he ascended into heaven after the resurrection, Jesus said] I withdraw the mask of my humanity from your sight..."[8] The Apostle Paul too claimed a chameleon ability to "be all things to all people" and recommended it as a technique of evangelism (I Corinthians 9:22). The moines knew that deceitful illusions mimicking the gospel and the works of Christ ran through the demons' whole predatory sport of entrapment and slaughter, but there was also duplicity in the apparitions of Christ himself, and the work and discipline of his faithful people, indigenizing the precepts of Scripture in their own lives. Indeed, the major discipline of imitating Christ and the saints towered over the whole task of reforming the image of God which sin had deformed in human hearts, into likeness to images of the perfect Image of God in Him. The Apostle Paul (I Corinthians 7:12-31) urged believers to prepare for eternity by modeling their behavior on virtues they aspired to, but did not yet have.

Mystics understood the dangerous ambivalences in this lethal rivalry of masqueraders, a dramatic version of the paradigmatic relationship between dissimilar similars. In the dramatic Symphony of the Blessed with which she concluded her gigantic book of visions, the Scivias, Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) represents Satan mocking the Virtues (and the virtuous) with the taunt that they do not know who they are. Indeed, when she reflected on the torturous disorientation of people tossed hither and yon by their lack of any enduring attachments and their constant seeking for something else--self-deceptive confusions characteristic of Lucifer's devotées who abandoned God in the dark faithlessness of their worldly infatuations. Yet, in a convergence of opposites, a transient loss of identity also characterized her experiences of being absorbed into the light of God, never unconscious in ecstasy, but still not knowing herself in body or in soul, except as nothing. Bernard of Clairvaux appears to have considered this loss of identity as eternal in the absorption of the souls of the blessed into the bright ocean of God's essence. Doubts raised by theodiceal questions about divine justice therefore led through crossed lines of polymorphism to the loss of identity, whether with demons in eternal fires or with the blessed, no longer reflecting, but being, the glory in the face of Christ.

During the period under review in Moines et démons, moines sensed that, urgent as they might be, experiments to find answers to these fundamental doubts danced on the razor's edge between faith and blasphemy. Three answers ventured to do the impossible, to square the circle, by retaining belief in the truth of Scripture and the perfections of God while neutralizing the doubts. All presented new stress fractures in the structure of dissimilar similarities. All three challenged the conscience d'être un individu. All were patchwork remedies, compromises not capable of withstanding major upheavals.

The first was indifference to suffering, exemplified toward the end of the period under review by Francis of Assisi (1181/2-1226), who embraced a self-denying detachment summed up in perfect obedience, analogous with the indifference of a corpse yieldingly subject to the wills of others and attending only to his own worthlessness and humility.

In the West, a second solution to the nightmare of living into the demonic as mirror of the human came to a woman, Hrotswitha of Gandersheim (ca. 935-ca. 1002), professed as a canoness. A little earlier than to Aelfric of Eynsham (fl. ca. 955-ca. 1012), she found the exotic legend of Theophilus in Latin translation by Paul the Deacon (ca. 726-ca 799). Her discovery dovetailed with the dawn of the cult of the Virgin. Theophilus was a proto-Faust, a cleric who owed his rise in the clerical hierarchy to a bargain with the devil, in which, by a fatal act of diffidatio, he broke faith promised to Christ and the Virgin Mary, and gave it to Satan. However, he repented and, with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, was pardoned by Christ. Hrotswitha ends her story of a first apostasy from God that damned Theophilus and a second apostasy of repentance from Satan that redeemed him from the first one with a vision of Theophilus's soul ascending to heaven and an affirmation that Christ's life, death, and resurrection enabled Christians to resist Satan's temptation and to return God's love with love. Hrotswitha's parable of Theophilus re-intruded the demonic side of the sacred, the hiddenness and severity of God's judgments, and, with the Virgin's intercession, opened another door to compromising dread of divine justice.

There was no uniform response to the theodiceal questions, no single way of healing Othloh's double wound. Abelard demonstrated the impasse of tradition in Sic et Non. In another way and on other grounds, advocates of the double truth also sought to evade the impasse between philosophy and faith. The metaphors of connectedness--painting and subject, abyss calling to abyss, and road and destination--had served as cross-over devices between verbal and visual thinking into one connaissance de soi. But the labyrinth was not a cross-over device. It was a dead-end with the Minotaur at its heart. In his excited and undisciplined way, a deeply conservative theologian, Walter of St. Victor (fl. 1175, d. 1180), decried what he considered the impasse of scholasticism by re-inventing the labyrinth as a metaphor of the vicious circle, lethal in its closed circularity. He declaimed against the new scholastics of his age, especially Peter of Poitiers, Peter Lombard, Abelard, and Gilbert de la Porrêe. The labyrinth's return to currency in this sense during the twelfth century marked the beginning of an age in which it became a common metaphor for closedness, reaching the apex of its currency in the age and writings of such diverse writers as John Calvin (1509-1564), who wrote of all of human minds as labyrinths to themselves, and John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) who depicted autonomous and divided Christian communions in the same terms. In Moines et démons, Rubenstein captured this sense when he wrote that Guibert of Nogent had encountered the Minotaur in the labyrinth of himself (Rubenstein, "Guibert de Nogent et ses demons," 130-131).

Given the discussion it deserves to receive, the discrepancy in Moines et démons between the sujet chrétienne of the moines and that of the scholars is among the most arresting and potentially fruitful results of this collaborative investigation. Out of sight, between the elegant lines of Moines et démons a paradigm change is moving by way of compromises toward its consummation in the perennial crises of modern Christian identities in the West. Those erudite and perceptive lines constitute the profile of an absence of the connaissance de soi known as a sujet chrétienne in the age under review, perhaps outgrown through the centuries, as science withdrew from mystery, and saluted for a last time in Pascal's antipathy toward Descartes, and yet authentically, potently, Christian in its ambivalences and paradoxes.



1. Jacques Le Goff, The Medieval Imagination, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 15.

2. On the title page, the range of the book is stated as "VIIe-XIIIe siècle." Yet, the editors and endorsers of the book certainly place its center of gravity between the mid-tenth and the mid-thirteenth century. See Barthélemy and Grosse: "à partir du Xe siècle" through "les blanches églises de l'an mil et au cours des siècles suivants..." (vii); and Vauchez: "le haut Moyen Âge" (1). Schmitt takes account of Henriet's contribution on seventh-century materials (176), and afterward refers only to the singularity of "la période comprise entre le Xe et le début du XIIIe siècle..." (178).

3. See Patrick J. Geary, Phantoms of Remembrance: Memory and Oblivion at the End of the First Millennium (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996).

4. Bernard of Clairvaux, On Loving God, 9-11.

5. Hugo Rahner, Greek Myths and Christian Mystery (London: Burns and Oates, 1963), 376-377.

6. Rahner, Greek Myths and Christian Mystery, 212.

7. See the seminal article by Richard Kieckhefer, "The Holy and the Unholy: Sainthood, Witchcraft and Magic in Late Medieval Europe," in Scott L. Waugh and Peter D. Diehl eds., Christendom and Its Discontents: Exclusion, Persecution, and Rebellion, 1000-1500 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), esp. 310-312 and 327-334 (an enlightening distinction of the ambivalence between magicians, in league with demons, and necromancers, who, like Christ, commanded demons without being in thrall to them).

8. Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs, vol. 2, trans. Kilian Walsh (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1983), serm. 31.1-3, pp. 124-127; William of St. Thierry, Exposition on the Song of Songs, trans. Columba Hart (Shannon, IR, 1970), pref. 17, p. 14.

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