Wonder and devotion : imagery and sacred objects in Dominican writing, 1215-1311
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The Dominican friars in northern France produced an extensive programme of theological writing, notable both for its erudition, and its all-encompassing treatment of varied theological topics. Despite an abundance of Byzantine patristic material discussing the veneration of images, Thomas Aquinas produced a very slight discourse on imagery in his Summa Theologiæ. This thesis argues that the traditionalist nature of Dominican scholarship made the friars reluctant to afford religious imagery a greater space than the Latin Church Fathers had allowed. However, Dominican preaching and devotional writing discussed imagery at much greater length. The Nine Ways of Prayer describe St. Dominic’s habit of prayer before images of Christ crucified, and the Legenda Aurea of Jacobus de Voragine shows several miracles involving images. In writings for novices and laity, the friars discussed imagery at far greater length. This thesis aims to trace categorisations of sacred objects in Dominican writing, seeing how the image was treated differently from relics, the idols of ‘pagans’, and the consecrated Eucharist. This methodology combines historiographies of popular piety and spirituality. Such a method allows the historian to see how scholastic methods of categorisation seeped into popular piety. The thesis argues that because images depicted human emotion, religious imagery, especially crucifixes that showed Christ dying, they were useful to promoting Dominican piety. This interior piety which focussed on interior penitence and the emotional focus on Christ’s Crucifixion was a trend promoted by the friars, and was a fundamental departure from the more practical nature of lay piety. Relics and the Eucharist could be ‘spiritualised’, evoking personal devotion as well as working marvellous wonders. Images were physical matter, concrete objects which reminded the devotee that Christ had taken human form. This materiality marked the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy after the Fourth Lateran Council against various dualist heresies. In this manner, the image was vital both to Dominican piety, and to the Order’s doctrinal mission.