Dangerous Sanctity: John Capgrave's The Life of St. Norbert and its Literary and Cultural Significance
Date Thesis Awarded
Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only
Bachelors of Arts (BA)
Monica Brzezinksi Potkay
John W. Conlee
George D. Greenia
John Capgrave's Life of St. Norbert ingeniously reveals how the preaching restrictions of the fifteenth century create division within the Church, even to the point of branding a saint as a heretic, and he responds to these restrictions through Norbert's own defense of preaching. Capgrave's rhetoric of defense against the many preaching restrictions of the fifteenth century noticeably compares to a Wycliffite rhetoric of defense. Through this Wycliffite rhetoric, Capgrave indirectly compares his protagonist to those who were condemned as heretics by the late medieval Church; even more significantly, the translation suggests that such a rhetoric actually came from a traditional Church rhetoric, emphasizing a unity between those whom the Church persecuted as Lollards and the traditional Church. Furthermore, Capgrave's text explicitly compares Norbert's story to that of Paul's, the ideal Christian preacher. Paul, too, could be called a Lollard by Capgrave's Church. Paul preached without specific ordination from a religious authority. He also resisted the legalism of the religious authority of his day, preaching a unity that comes only through the message of Christ. Most significantly, as a saint, Norbert resembles Christ. Because of this comparison, a saint by definition is an imitatio Christi (imitation of Christ). If, then, Norbert's qualities as a poor preacher causes him to resemble both Paul and Christ, what keeps the Church from including Paul and even Christ into this definition of heretical "other." In order to create a true sense of unity within the Church, the Church must rid itself of the legalism which so blatantly divided it.
Staples, James C., "Dangerous Sanctity: John Capgrave's The Life of St. Norbert and its Literary and Cultural Significance" (2010). Undergraduate Honors Theses. William & Mary. Paper 697.
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Thesis is part of Honors ETD pilot project, 2008-2013. Migrated from Dspace in 2016.