Exemplarity and its Limits in the Hagiographical Corpus of Thomas of Cantimpré

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Exemplarity and its Limits in the Hagiographical Corpus of Thomas of Cantimpré

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Title: Exemplarity and its Limits in the Hagiographical Corpus of Thomas of Cantimpré
Author: Smith, Rachel
Citation: Smith, Rachel. 2012. Exemplarity and its Limits in the Hagiographical Corpus of Thomas of Cantimpré. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation examines the hagiographical corpus of the Dominican preacher
Thomas of Cantimpré (c. 1201–1270), a critical early respondent to the burgeoning
women’s religious movement in the Southern Low Countries. Writing at a time when
both lay and religious spirituality were being radically refigured in light of new
organizational structures and devotional practices, Thomas’s hagiographical corpus
reflects the diversity of vocational possibilities available for women and men in this
period at a time of great religious experimentation and innovation. Using historical,
literary, and theological methods, the dissertation examines the ways in which Thomas’s vitae struggle with the question of how lay and religious, male and female readers might, in Thomas’s words, “take up” the different kinds of figures Thomas offers as models for practice and objects of devotion. Each of the vitae offer unique solutions to this question even as they represent different sorts of persons as exemplary. An important assumption governing the dissertation is that hagiography is a vital part of the spiritual and theological tradition of Christianity. Thomas’s vitae, I argue, attempt to articulate a theology of exemplarity in order to address the issue of what constitutes sanctity, who can become a saint, and by what means sanctity is attained. For Thomas, exemplarity is animated by theological notions of incarnation and scriptural revelation. Christ, as manifest in his life and in the words of scripture, is the great exemplum for embodied lives. For each of Thomas’s saints, Christ is both the singular figure who saves and the one in whom the saint participates, raising the question of how the individual human being embodies and exemplifies Christ’s singularity. Thomas’s Lives will be shown, in the course of their narratives, to illumine the tension between the singularity of Christ and its repetition in the saintly figures represented in the vitae and the readers of those vitae. Exploration of this tension reveals great richness in Thomas’s works, showing that Thomas’s narrative voice often speaks doubly within a single vita, thematizing the limits and possibilities of exemplarity and its hagiographical representation.
Terms of Use: This article is made available under the terms and conditions applicable to Other Posted Material, as set forth at http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:dash.current.terms-of-use#LAA
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:9385642
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