• Patricia Ranft
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Thus we come to the end of our tale. I have not attempted to rewrite the history of work, only to clarify and deepen our understanding of the role religious played in advancing new attitudes toward work and workers. This does, however, further our understanding of medieval society during the crucial eleventh through thirteenth centuries. Damian, the greatest eleventh-century innovator of religious thought and life, was the first to encourage people to look at work differently, and, fortunately, they did so. Slowly but surely medieval religious society’s perception of work changed, and this change paralleled the larger society’s new and more creative engagement with the material world. Damian’s attitudes were more appreciative of the positive aspects of work and consequently rendered more respect for the worker than was common prior to the millennium. Manual labor in particular was rescued from predominantly negative connotations and from the understanding that it was mainly punitive and fit chiefly for the lower classes. Instead, work was now seen also as rewarding and as an opportunity for all classes to take advantage of To work was to follow in the footsteps of the Son and to participate in the creative activity of the Father. To work was to live the vita apostolica, to perfect the image of God within, to strive for imitatio Christi. Thus, by promoting the sanctifying aspects of work religious provided a new motive for labor.


Thirteenth Century Labor Shortage Fourteenth Century Social Utility Radical Alteration 
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© Patricia Ranft 2006

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  • Patricia Ranft

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