Preview of my Kalamazoo paper


Next Thursday, I’ll be presenting at the International Medieval Congress on “Creation and Conversion in Northern Europe.”  The general idea is that creation featured heavily in both medieval missionary preaching and in the conception of what those missionaries were accomplishing.  The subject was first suggested to me by a reading of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History.  Creation, God as Creator, nature miracles, they cropped up all over the place, particularly in connection with missionary work, and I began to wonder why.

It wasn’t the easiest subject to study, far harder than I assumed when I first proposed the paper.  Turns out, medieval authors weren’t particularly interested in laying out an explicit theology of conversion, nor were they forthcoming about what missionaries actually said to their audiences.  Nevertheless, I believe I’ve found some interesting stuff, with a lot of potential for further investigation, though I’m not sure how interested I am in pursuing that potential going forward.  The general idea of the various permutations of conceptions of creation in the Middle Ages (and earlier? later?), absolutely, but perhaps not in the realm of the missionary project.

My contention is that there is a coherent theological outlook that lay behind Carolingian/Anglo-Saxon (perhaps also the Irish) missionary work, one deeply linked to an understanding of creation and described well by Romano Guardini here:

These churches in their turn carried forward the blessed work, sanctifying space itself by spreading cemeteries, chapels and wayside crosses over the land.  The very land became hallowed by the presence of the Church at large.  Each church building itself through the supernatural rite of consecration symbolized and enfolded the whole of Creation.  Every part of a church building from the direction of its main axis to its most minute appointments was invested with a divine meaning which fused the cosmic picture of the world with the course of sacred history into a symbolic whole.

Guardini, The End of the Modern World, 20

I argue that what Guardini describes in the landscape was consciously occurring everywhere, from within the minds of monks in their cells to amidst the pagans of the Saxon wilderness.

That’s the basic idea, come get some specifics next Thursday at 10am in Kalamazoo.

Satisfying Your Deepest Desire

The desire to take a class with me, of course!

During the Spring and Summer quarter, I’ll be teaching at the Graham School, in the Spring on Nature in the Middle Ages and in the Summer on Medieval Travel.  Here are the course descriptions, first, nature:

All the creatures of the world are like a book, a picture and a mirror to us,” so wrote the medieval poet and philosopher Alain of Lille. Our task in the course is to understand how medieval men and women read that book of nature, both by exploring the philosophy of nature and investigating the practical encounter with the natural world in the daily life of farmers, hunters, travelers, and saints. Using the seven days of creation as our framework, we will learn how the people of the Middle Ages thought about stars and planets, birds and beasts, plants and human beings, and how their understanding of nature shaped their lives and thought in ways that still resonate today.

And travel:

It is commonly believed that the Middle Ages was an age of stagnation and stasis in which people lived narrow lives, confined geographically and intellectually to small villages and family farms. This course challenges that belief, demonstrating that the era was one of dynamic movement in which people motivated by curiosity, by conquest, by gold, and by God traveled throughout Europe to the edges of the known world. We will explore these journeys in the words of missionaries, pilgrims, crusaders, and adventurers as they pushed the boundaries of European consciousness towards China, into the far north, and across the Atlantic. Our goal is to understand why medieval men and women traveled, what they sought, what they found, and what they brought back with them.

The classes are open to everyone and will run for eight weeks on Monday afternoons at the Gleacher Center downtown.  They’re going to be a lot of fun, I’m really excited.  If you’re interested, follow these links: Nature & Travel to see the syllabi (also linked on the Teaching page above), register, etc.  There’s also going to be an open house at Gleacher on the 15th, if you’d like to swing by and chat with me about the courses and/or check out other offerings.

Don’t be the only one on your block who doesn’t get references to Mandeville’s Travels and the Cosmographia! Think of the shame when you can’t even explain the basics of Gregory of Nyssa’s anthropology! Be cool!  Sign-up today!

I’ll be presenting at the Patristic, Medieval, and Renaissance Conference at Villanova late next month. Conference Program here. A lot of very interesting looking talks, should be fun.

I’m not very good at coming up with titles. I think this is my 5th with the form “The _______ of/in Honorius Augustodunensis.”