Elizabeth A. Dreyer

“The Transformative Role of Emotion in the Middle Ages: Deliverance from Lukewarm Affections”

The role of affectivity in medieval Christianity is rich and complex. Although medieval Christians inherited Neoplatonic distrust of the affections and the scholastics privileged reason in their summae, they lived in a culture rich in religious symbol that evoked profound spiritual emotion and mystical passion. Biblical texts provide the primary wellspring for medieval theology and spirituality -- the prophetic passion for justice; the emotions of the Psalms; medieval fascination with the Song of Songs; Jesus’ cross and resurrection; the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. This essay focuses on key images and themes related to religious affections – erotic/spousal imagery, the human Christ, the Holy Spirit as fire and bond of love. It interprets select foundational texts -- Anselm of Canterbury, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Catherine of Siena – with an eye to their original context as well as to their implications for 21st century theology and spirituality.