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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/19170

Title: "Sicut Scintilla Ignis in Medio Maris": Theological Despair in the Works of Isidore of Seville, Hrotsvit of Gandersheim and Dante Alighieri
Authors: Allen, Kristen Leigh
Advisor: Goering, Joseph
Department: Medieval Studies
Keywords: Theological despair
Issue Date: 1-Mar-2010
Abstract: Sicut scintilla ignis in medio maris: Theological Despair in the Works of Isidore of Seville, Hrotsvit of Gandersheim and Dante Alighieri. Doctor of Philosophy, 2009. Kristen Leigh Allen, Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto. When discussing the concept of despair in the Middle Ages, scholars often note how strongly medieval people linked despair with suicide. Indeed, one finds the most recent and comprehensive treatment of the topic in Alexander Murray’s Suicide in the Middle Ages. Murray concludes that most medieval suicides had suffered from “this-worldly” despair, brought on by fatal illness, emotional or material stress, or some other unbearable circumstance. However, Murray also observes that medieval theologians and the people they influenced came to attribute suicide to theological despair, i.e. a failure to hope for God’s mercy. This dissertation investigates the work of three well-known medieval authors who wrote about and very likely experienced such theological despair. In keeping with Murray’s findings, none of these three ultimately committed suicide, thus allowing me to explore how medieval people overcame their theological despair. I have chosen these three authors because they not only wrote about theological despair, but drew from their own experiences when doing so. Their personal testimony was intended to equip their readers with the spiritual tools necessary to overcome their own despair. The first of my three authors, Isidore of Seville, will be treated in Chapter Two. Isidore’s works provide an excellent synthesis of patristic thought on despair and also hint at his willingness to share his own spiritual struggles in order to help his flock defeat this vice. Chapter Three discusses Hrotsvit of Gandersheim and her understanding of despair and presumption as closely interrelated mindsets that can afflict the repentant sinner. Hrotsvit’s own frequent admissions of presumption in her prefaces strongly suggest that she was also plagued with despair due to her unorthodox appropriation of the role of poeta. My fourth chapter considers Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, a poetic meditation on the ultimate fate of the desperate sinner and how such a fate might be avoided. Dante the Wayfarer will come to realize the necessity of God’s grace for those wishing to overcome sin. Indeed, all three of the writers studied consider this knowledge an important antidote to despair, proven by their own experiences.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/19170
Appears in Collections:Doctoral
Centre for Medieval Studies - Doctoral theses

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