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Retrieving the imago agens in the structure of systematic theology and spiritual exercise: a search inspired by the illumination of the Master of the early fourteenth-century Luttrell Psalter

Citation: Marshall, Christina (2022) Retrieving the imago agens in the structure of systematic theology and spiritual exercise: a search inspired by the illumination of the Master of the early fourteenth-century Luttrell Psalter. Doctoral thesis, School of Advanced Study.

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This thesis examines the role of the imago agens in psychagogical practice within systematic theology in order to interpret the hitherto unrecognized imago agens in the illumination of the Dominican Luttrell Master. It is an interdisciplinary study, creating an area for manuscript studies, memory studies and systematic theology to interact. The field of manuscript studies has produced vast scholarly research on the historic, economic, and social aspects of the Psalter but not recognized the signs of theological discourse in the illumination. This is because theology is considered to be derivative of cultural constructs rather than formulative of them.

The imago agens, a visual rather than a pictorial image, is a key feature of the ars memorativa dating back to the fifth century BC Greek poet Simonides, the deliberate arranging of memorial triggers in the form of images against a personalised background scene. It is a cognitive object that, through memory, enables the human mind to compose with fresh understanding. Aristotle took the ars from rhetoric into dialectic to enable the discussion of unsolvable problems. It entered psychagogy in philosophy and was later taken by rhetoricians such as Augustine into the service of monastic spiritual exercises. The ars depended on intentione, tuning one's soul to God. The imago agens was used in systematic theology as an element in psychagogy, the guidance of the soul through the spiritual exercises of meditation, right judgement and examination of conscience, originating in Ancient Greek philosophy.

Augustine believed Cicero to be the author, not simply a user of the Rhetorica ad Herennium, the first century BC record of the ars and this gave the Rhetorica and the ars an authority and use that lasted into the sixteenth century. Cicero defined a particular use of the imago agens as keeping hold within memory things that can scarcely be embraced by an act of thought. For Augustine, seeking to understand how one could even communicate about a God who was infinitely greater than any words, this became a way of holding transitory thoughts about the intransitory. A bad memory was not a forgetful one but a disorganized one and known as fornication, being unfaithful to God. Augustine's rhetorical and psychagogical structure in de Trinitate is based on the imago agens. He also contributed to the ars through the development of ductus, moving effectively between memory places. De Trinitate was the structural basis for Eriugena's Periphyseon, where he too uses both the imago agens and a Holy Spirit-based psychagogy. He also gives theological shape to the imago agens through his reading of Dionysius and Aristotle on dissimilarity as a clearer means of understanding the transcendent than similarity.

Eriugena's psychagogy provides the idiosyncratic opening image of the Luttrell Psalter. The role of the ars memorativa, given fresh life by Albertus and Aquinas, is to lead the patron of the Psalter to atonement through contemplation of an imago agens based on the opening lines of Periphyseon. For Dominicans the ars contributed, never forgetting grace, both to the ethical life here below and the on-going relationship with God that would allow one to partake in the beatific vision. It was both a practical aid in university dispute and extempore preaching but also eschatological. These memories and the ability to manipulate them, would survive death.

Creators: Marshall, Christina and
Subjects: Theology
Keywords: Rhetorica ad Herennium, ars memorativa, Augustine, Eriugena, Dominican, Luttrell Psalter
Divisions: ?? HEY ??
Collections: Theses and Dissertations
  • 31 December 2022 (accepted)


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