Sacred Biography: Saints and Their Biographers in the Middle Ages / Edition 1

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Though medieval "saints' lives" are among the oldest literary texts of Western vernacular culture, they are routinely patronized as "pious fiction" by modern historiography. This book demonstrates that to characterize the genre as fiction is to misunderstand the intentions of medieval authors, who were neither credulous fools nor men blinded by piety. Concentrating on English texts, Heffernan reconstructs the medieval perspective and considers sacred biography in relation to the community for which it was written; identifies the genre's rhetorical practices and purposes; and demonstrates the syncretistic way in which the life of the medieval saint was transformed from oral tales to sacred text. In the process, Heffernan not only achieves a more contextually accurate understanding of the medieval saints' lives, but details a new critical method that has important implications for the practice of textual criticism.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"With this splendid book, Heffernan offers a provocative reassessment of the nature and importance of medieval saints' lives. Arguing that modern scholarship, bound by its historical-critical methodology, has not understood the underlying principles of this genre, the author focuses on the goals and assumptions, intended audience, and rhetorical and literary characteristics of what he terms 'sacred biography.'...For those interested in understanding the mentality of the Middle Ages through its most popular form of religious writing, this book offers a perfect entry. Highly recommended."—Choice

"Heffernan has read widely and reflectively in the vast field of medieval hagiography and given us a book on the subject that probes deeply the nature of the documents and the vagaries of our response to them."—Church History

"This excellent book attempts to bridge the gulf separating medieval from modern sensibility with regard to issues of authority and judgment in biographical writing....Logical, thorough, and well-documented....It is now, and will be for some time to come, the most substantive study of the subject, providing a fair assessment of the work of earlier pioneers, establishing a far-ranging and comprehensive bibliography, and offering new, fresh insights on the writing, context, and reception of "sacred biographies."—Modern Philology

"Will be influential in shaping future perceptions and analyses of medieval saints' lives."—Mystics Quarterly

"A challenging and substantive contribution....Can be recommended for its wealth of information and for its multitude of suggestions that should reinvigorate and redirect the reading of these texts by others interested in the field."—Theological Studies

From Barnes & Noble
The author assesses how the stories of the medieval saints, oral tales transformed into sacred text by Gregory of Tours & others, are valuable historical narratives of the time and the church, & not "pious fiction."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195079074
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 10/28/1992
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

1 From Logos to Canon: The Making of a Saint's Life 3
2 Sacred Biography as Historical Narrative: Testing the Tradition, Gibbon to Gadamer 38
3 Sanctity in the Cloister: Walter Daniel's Vita Sancti Aelredi and Rhetoric 72
4 A Theology of Behavior: Communio Sanctorum and the Use of Sources 123
5 The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas and the Imitatio Christi 185
6 Virgin Mothers 231
Select Bibliography 300
Index 319
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