Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Lament for Lost Solitude?
Monastic Devotion Cultivated in the Secular Landscape
Lauren Mancia, Brooklyn College CUNY
November 10 2017
CUNY Graduate Center
365 5th Ave (btw 34th and 35th Streets) 
in the English Studies Conference Room (4406)
John of Fécamp, the eleventh-century abbot of the Norman monastery of Fécamp, has been called "the greatest spiritual writer in the epoch before Saint Bernard"; his devotional work the Confessio Theologica was a text prescribing the most emotionally extreme devotional practices known to his particular monastic world. And yet, Abbot John also acknowledged that there were limited benefits to being wholly absorbed in the "cloister of the soul"; in fact, to John, the world outside of the monastery was surprisingly useful to a monk's religious cultivation. In this talk, I will show how John's political and economic actions in the world beyond the cloister were at their core pastoral, ultimately serving to bolster contemplative and devotional feeling in both others and himself. Historians analyzing important abbots have often interpreted abbatial engagement with the world in a black-and-white way, either as a task despised by brilliant spiritual abbots "longing for the lost solitude" of the monastery, or a task revealing of the cunning minds of abbots who were actually political lords in their hearts. In this talk, I will paint a more nuanced picture, showing how John's worldly, pastoral actions, though seemingly far from prayerful, were actually directed towards his contemplative prescriptions and his desire to be 'awake' to proper devotional emotion.