Silence as praise: the rhetoric of inexpressibility in German dominican theology and practice (1250-1350)
thesisposted on 01.03.2017 by Baudinette, Samuel Keith Chaulk
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The Order of Preachers is generally thought to be far from silent. The important vocational role of preaching and teaching doctrine often emerges as the sole motivation underlying the Order’s spirituality and the friars are commonly portrayed as vociferous disputants, preachers and inquisitors. Yet some of the most important spiritual and mystical figures of the medieval Order, such as Meister Eckhart (c.1260-1328), emphasised repeatedly in their sermons and treatises the need for an inner contemplative silence attached to recognition of the divine ineffability. By considering Eckhart in his wider context as a member of a German Dominican School related to the studium generale in Cologne from 1250-1350, this thesis demonstrates that a current of respect for silence was an important aspect of German Dominican theology and practice. The interest in negative theology amongst Dominican theologians like Albert the Great, Ulrich of Strasbourg, Thomas Aquinas and Meister Eckhart provided the impetus for a re-evaluation of silence’s role in the life of the spirit. Through their adoption of the heavily Neoplatonic apophasis found in the Corpus Dionysiacum and the categorical negation of divine attributes advanced by the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, these Dominicans crafted a rhetoric of inexpressibility connected to the silent praise of God in Psalms 64:2. This silent praise of the divine, grounded in the contemplative model of the Order, came to inform the mystical practice of the German laity in the fourteenth century. Transforming the monastic practice of silence into a soteriological virtue in their vernacular sermons and treatises, Eckhart and his confrères argued that silence as detachment was a spiritual ideal incumbent upon the wider Christian community. The scholastic debates about silence which formed a part of the theology of the German Dominican School in the thirteenth and fourteenth century had a direct impact on contemporary religious practice.