MultiSession History, Society, and the Sacred in the Middle Ages, Part 2: Part II: Thinking about the End

AHA Session 223
Medieval Academy of America 4
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Simmons Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Kate E. McGrath, Central Connecticut State University
Kate E. McGrath, Central Connecticut State University

Session Abstract

This session will be linked with another session, co-sponsored by the Medieval Academy of America, entitled “History Society and the Sacred in the Middle Ages I: Thinking about the City.”  Our session, the second of two, will stay with some of the threads picked up during the previous one but move them towards the End of Time.  In doing so, the session seeks to fundamentally reconsider the role of apocalypticism in the Middle Ages, caring less about the debate over apocalyptic expectation (whether or not people believe the end was near) than about the implications of apocalyptic ideas (how it mattered that people talked about the end). 

Matthew Gabriele will begin the session by looking at two prominent tenth-century authors, Abbot Odo of Cluny and Abbot Adso of Montier-en-Der.  Both spoke about the nearness of antichrist but, in a way, recoiled at the idea and simultaneously advocated against that nearness, urging a return to how thing once were – urging reform.  Next, Daniel F. Callahan moves the discussion into the eleventh century by considering the Aquitainian monk Ademar of Chabannes, his understanding of Jerusalem, and the implications of that understanding in the origins of the First Crusade.  Jerusalem too was caught between past and future, seen both as the city of the incarnate God but also a vision of the heavenly city spoken of in the Book of Revelation.  Finally, Phillip Haberkern brings us to the cusp of the Reformation, using the letters of Jan Hus to map out how the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries thought about the contours of sacred history.  Hus and his Bohemian followers thought they lived next to an imminent End, an idea that guided their subsequent actions.

Together, these three papers will speak to the tension between past and future in medieval thought, the persistence of apocalyptic ideas in that period, and how those ideas moved people to action.  The session will be of interest to medievalists of all stripes but should also engage the AHA’s wider membership in the session’s discussions of religion, apocalypse, and the power of ideas in history.