Cup of the new covenant : Cleanness and the Artes praedicandi

Brzezinski, Monica, Department of English, University of Virginia
Duggan, Hoyt, Department of English, University of Virginia
Nohrnberg, James, Department of English, University of Virginia

Most readers recognize Cleanness as a sermon, but few are familiar with the sophisticated rhetorical conventions of the genre. The tradition of the artes praedicandi sheds light both on the intentions of the poet and on the interpretive modes used by his medieval audience. Cleanness is a complex, self-conscious work designed for an audience acquainted with both sermon rhetoric and biblical exegesis.

Allegorical explication was one of the chief means of developing sermons, and Chapter 1 argues that Cleanness was designed to be read allegorically. The poem's image of the fractio panis, the breaking of the bread, is conventionally a symbol both for concealed allegory and for the kind of reading used to penetrate that allegory: rumination, a mode of interpretation traditionally associated with the poem's theme, munditia cordis. One of the techniques of rumination, verbal concordance, was used not only for reading, but also for constructing sermons. Chapter 2 describes the structure of Cleanness, which is that of a sermon whose component parts--theme, protheme, and division of exempla--concord with each other verbally and exegetically. The poem, when read with the conventions by which it was constructed, reveals itself as a sermon about the imago dei. Chapter 3 explains why Cleanness deliberately hides its main topic: rumination was thought to purify the soul and conform it to the image of God. The poem suppresses its principal idea so that a reader may reform his soul by penetrating the enigma of its text.

Cleanness concerns itself not only with clean reading but also with clean speech. One of the main objects of "clean" preaching was to provide an individual lesson for each member of the audience. Chapter 4 describes the preaching techniques which Cleanness adapts to accomplish this goal. Ironically, all readings of a text generated by medieval interpretive conventions will be substantially the same. Chapter 5 demonstrates how all possible interpretations of Cleanness achieved through rumination are harmonized into a single vision of munditia. The poet uses the image of the fractio to acknowledge this paradox, for it traditionally signifies the many become the one.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Purity (Middle English poem), Preaching -- History -- Middle Ages, 600-1500
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