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The Custody of the Eyes

  • Suzannah Biernoff
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

The final chapters of this book concern the relationship between vision and redemption. As such, they range over territory that is probably closer to modern notions of the Middle Ages than either carnal or scientific vision. ‘Medieval vision’ is likely to bring to mind enraptured saints and mystics, miraculous visitations and religious art (as the layman’s visionary substitute): not the mundane spectacle of nature or the sensual pleasures of the fleshly eye. Yet the supermundane was only one aspect of redemptive vision. In this chapter and the next I will outline three basic kinds of spiritual discipline, each associated with particular techniques for regulating and exploiting the relationship between bodily and ‘interior’ sight. The first of these technologies of redemption involves the enclosure or custody of the bodily senses; the second uses forms of analogy to elevate the soul’s gaze from sensory things to a realm of higher, transcendent truths. The third model of redemptive vision—the subject of Chapter 6— fosters a heightened sensitivity to sensory (and especially visual) experience as a means of communion with an increasingly human God.

Keywords

Thirteenth Century Internal Sense Optical Illusion Spiritual Exercise Sensory Appetite 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs (28.10), quoted in B. McGinn, The Growth of Mysticism vol. 2 of The Presence of God: a History of Western Christian Mysticism 4 vols (New York: Crossroad, 1994), 187.Google Scholar
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  3. 44.
    Coleman, Ancient and Medieval Memories , 176, 191. On the medieval ars memorativa see also: M. J. Carruthers, The Book of Memory: a Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Lewis, Reading Images 242–59; and F. A.Yates, The Art of Memory (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), 63–113 (chapters 3 and 4).Google Scholar
  4. 70.
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    John Scotus Eriugena (c. 810–c. 877), De Divisione Naturae (5.3), quoted in Eco, Thomas Aquinas , 139.Google Scholar
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    Coleman sees both strategies as an attempt to negotiate the rift between reason and sensation produced by dualistic habits of thought. Ancient and Medieval Memories 218–19. Bonaventure (1221–74), for example, writes of ‘this universe of things’ as ‘a ladder whereby we may ascend to God’. The Journey of the Mind to God in Late Medieval Mysticism , ed. R. C. Petry Library of Christian Classics, 13 (London: SCM, 1957), 133 (1.2). Elsewhere in the same work mirror and ladder images are integrated, the ‘sensible world’ as mirror forming the ‘first step’ of Jacob’s ladder: 135 (1.9).Google Scholar
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    On Bonaventure’s concept of analogy, see E. Gilson, The Philosophy of St Bonaventure , trans. I. Trethowan and F. J. Sheed (London: Sheed, 1938), chapter 7: ‘Universal Analogy’, 204–37.Google Scholar
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© Suzannah Biernoff 2002

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  • Suzannah Biernoff

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