The Virgin Mary in Late Medieval and Early Modern English Literature and Popular Culture
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The Virgin Mary in Late Medieval and Early Modern English Literature and Popular Culture is a book by Gary Waller, for Cambridge University Press, 2011.
- "Iconoclasm was the central sacrament of the reform," states Eamon Duffy. It is an assertion that is more provocative than strictly accurate, especially in its dismissive use of the term "sacrament" in association with the Anglican Church, but many historians have persuasively presented iconoclastic extremism as a defining factor in the English Reformation. The long struggle over "images" had broad and deep connections with the transformation of English society and the ideologies of selfhood, identity, gender, and sexuality that governed, or as Louis Althusser puts it, "interpleted", men and women into the grand narrative of their culture. Today, some may say the picture of the world advanced by the reformers was maybe no less false, the idolatry of the Word no less pernicious than the idolatry of the Image.
- p. 4
- As Lyndal Roper states, the body of the Virgin was a "litmus test of the separation of the divine and the human" for Catholics and Protestants and what became their "radically different theologies of the body."
All sides of the Reformation struggles agreed that deep and mysterious powers had been attributed to the Virgin and to relics and places especially associated with her. For Catholics such attributions were, with the exception of some marginal and pardonable exaggerations and a little corruption, truthful and reflected God's purposes; for Protestants such claims were false and demonic, slippages into paganism and evidence of the irredeemable corruption of the Roman Church. Reformers generally acknowledged Mary as God's chosen instrument, but rejected what Latimer saw as the foolish opinion and the doctrine of the papists, which would have us to worship a creature before the Creator."
- p. 7
- What lay behind the reformers' uneasiness about the place of the Virgin was not an upsurge of entirely new views. As Beattie comments, they believed indignantly that "the ancient goddesses and their female devotees still whisper[ed] and beckon[ed] in the cult of Mary," and saw their attacks as a return to the principles of the early Church.
- p. 8
- The reformers perceived the necessity of wholesale cultural revolution and (if possible) the rooting out not just the "structures," but the "feelings" attached to them, to use Raymond Williams's distinction. Their goal was to destroy the images and idols within people's minds. Getting it out of their heads, not just destroying buildings and sending tens of thousands of monks and nuns out into the community, was therefore crucial to the revolution. But the "fantassie of idolatrie" might be so deeply rooted, the reformers feared, that "idolatrie will neaver be left till the said images be taken awaie." Cromwell instructed his agents to remove popular "idols" as discreetly as possible but to highlight what could be presented as obvious fakes, the "certain engines and old wire with rotten sticks," which could be used for propagandist purposes. Reformers jeered that the destruction of some of the more dubious relics and images - the Blood of Hailes and the images of Our Lady of Walingham and her sisters among them - did not provoke the once revered objects to respond, retaliate, or miraculously escape: "Throw them down thrice, they cannot rise, not once to help themselves." With some successes in exposing "idols" and "false reliques," it became easier to make the case that all relics and images were fakes and needed, in the words of a 1535 Proclamation, "utterly to be abolished, eradicated and erased out."
- p. 9
- A century before, 1520s, the German Protestant Andres von Karlstadt had likewise become more vehement a destroyer of idols when he noted his own fear before the images: "a harmful fear," he records, "has been bred into me" from which he would be delivered, "but cannot." Those sentiments haunt the century of iconoclasm and epitomize the "traces" and "fades" of the virgin in England.
- p. 17.
- Beattie comments that is odd that Christianity and psychoanalysis have not come together more frequently to pose the questions of being since they both claim humanity is "marked by originating experience of catastrophic loss that gives rise to an insatiable yearning for restoration and wholeness."
- p. 25.
- English writers from the later Middle Ages to the mid seventeenth century both venerated and denigrated a body, probably a historical certainly a mythologized, body, multiple "images" of which were burnt, in the summer or the autumn of 1538, publicly or privately, certainly at the order and possibly at the house of Thomas Cromwell, in London. That seemingly definitive act, however, remains ambiguous, and did not by any means end the presence of the Virgin in the life and feelings of England. Catholic historians and theologians have argued that Cromwell, Latimer, and their generation of reformers created a huge and perhaps unhealable wound in the collective psyche of early modern England, creating a "disembodied and defeminized Culture."
- p. 27
- The reformers believed that medieval theology and devotion had sexualized the Virgin by excessive idolatrous attention to her body, and by venerating the material details, however trivial or aprocryphal, of events in Mariological history As Donna Ellington puts it, "Marys bodily human nature was the cornerstone of the entire medieval edifice of the virgin's cult." At a further level of idolatry, the veneration of bodily and material objects associated with Mary's body - a term that might appear as a modern anachronism but which was, in fact, already becoming current among Protestant polemists to deride what they saw as superstitious religious practices of pagans and catholics alike.
- p. 33
- Quite apart from the question of the truth of the diverging traditions of Christianity, the Protestant view of Mary, argues Beattie, "easily lends itself to the denigration of the female body," not only "its sexual and maternal functions," but also as the basis for both individual and relational being. That dual claim that the reformers were, in effect, empirically correct about the medieval sexualization of Christianity but at some deeper level mistaken about human sexuality - will be a major suggestion of this study.
- pp. 33-34