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Piety as a Call to Action: Christian Devotion Encouraged through Representations of the Adult Life of Christ

  • Author(s): Koford, Caitlin
  • Advisor(s): Farmer, Sharon
  • et al.

This study examines a set of model sermons written by Maurice de Sully c. 1160CE. The sermons were extremely popular throughout the later middle ages as evidenced by their existence in eighty-four manuscripts from the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries, and nineteen printed editions from the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The sermons are evidence of an unexplored trend in Christian piety focused on the adult life of Christ including his parables, miracles, and ministry that stands in contrast to the more well-known affective piety of the later Middle Ages, which tends to focus on the early life and Passion of Christ. Maurice de Sully did not promote passive reflection on the Passion but rather encouraged ordinary believers to reform their behavior, and actively lead good, Christian lives by participating in confession, receiving penance and by spreading the Christian Word. He did so using stories from the adult life of Christ, taken from the New Testament. The image cycles associated with the sermons of Sully also represent this trend in devotion.

Chapter one concerns the twelfth century world of Maurice de Sully in Paris, and the model sermon collection that he wrote there. While the sermons of Maurice de Sully are less studied than those of his more academically inclined contemporaries, such as Peter Comestor, Peter the Chanter and Peter Lombard, I reveal the ways in which his sermons actually relay pertinent theological information, especially concerning the Gospels, to lay audiences. Chapter two addresses the actual reception of the sermons and their intended message by investigating them in their manuscript context. The focus is on vernacular manuscripts and their use by lay audiences. Chapter three turns to an in-depth look at one fourteenth-century manuscript in particular, BnF français 187, in which the form of piety expressed in Maurice de Sully’s sermons is particularly evident. In this manuscript the sermons of Sully are highlighted by a beautiful narrative image cycle focused on the adult life of Christ, which I analyze.

Chapter four steps away from Maurice de Sully and his model sermon collection. In this chapter I examine the long and short versions of the Meditationes Vitae Christi, an extremely influential and heavily used devotional text also created in the mid-fourteenth century that survives in both Latin and the vernacular. The Meditationes serves as a most valuable study in devotional trends, and I use the contents of the long version of the MVC to enhance my study of the sermons of Sully. Finally, chapter five moves forward from the fourteenth century to the late fifteenth century, when Maurice de Sully's sermons first appear in print in Chambéry, the capital of the duchy of Savoy, in 1484CE. The sermons were reprinted a total of nineteen times, and several of the prints contain woodcut illustrations. This chapter investigates the narrative woodcut illustrations found in the 1484 printed edition, in particular. This image cycle, like the one found in BnF français 187, also focuses on the adult ministry of Christ and highlights the teaching potential of Maurice de Sully’s sermons.

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