Paupertatem voluntariam possidete : ‘possessing poverty’ and the development of devotional narratives in the medieval Dominican Order, 1221-1363.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis explores the response of the Dominican Order to enduring questions regarding the meaning, purpose and presentation of religious poverty. From Christianity’s inception, the Church has struggled with the question of how to deal with the fundamental Christian ideal of poverty in a religious institution that is not poor. Nowhere was this more prevalent than in the thirteenth century which saw the foundation of the Franciscan and Dominican Orders, who each placed poverty at the centre of an apostolic preaching ministry. While the Dominicans are considered essential agents of late‐medieval religious change, their close historical and ideological proximity to Saint Francis has meant that sometimes the particularities of their engagement with poverty have been overshadowed. Scholarly analysis of Dominican poverty is somewhat fragmented, dispersed in broader histories concerning the order or its various intellectual and institutional activities, and in those which discuss the intense religious and social change that characterised the period. The picture that is currently available of poverty’s role and meaning within the Order is accordingly limited in both scope and depth.
This thesis provides a concentrated and unified exploration of the way that the Dominicans constructed, navigated and articulated concepts of poverty in historical and hagiographical narratives composed in the Order’s first one hundred and fifty years. The thesis moves beyond treating poverty exclusively as a material condition by tracing its development from its beginnings as a preaching tactic used to convert heretics to a multi‐dimensional symbol and tool of religious authority and access to the divine. Augmenting the existing scholarly tradition, the thesis provides deeper insight into poverty’s meaning to the Dominicans’ selfpresentation and in their devotional and spiritual lives. It establishes poverty as a dynamic devotional force, which collapsed and/or bridged boundaries between the spiritual and material worlds in conception and performance.