From this darke world: The active and the contemplative ways of life in SpenserShow full item record
|From this darke world: The active and the contemplative ways of life in Spenser
|Davis, C. Pruitt
|Doctor of Philosophy
|For Edmund Spenser, as for other writers of the Renaissance, one of the most important questions concerning man was: What is his chief end or greatest good? Is his choice of a way of life to focus upon activity or contemplation? Although as Christians, Renaissance writers must assert that man was created for the glory of God and destined, if not corrupted, to find his happiness in enjoying forever the blessed vision of God in eternity, there still remained the question of his best choice while subject here to time, change, and mortality. It is necessary, then, to consider whether Spenser can advocate a kind of contemplation that transcends reason; what he regards as the relationship of the active and the contemplative ways of life; and finally whether what he regards as best for man in the fulfillment of eternity is identical with the best way for man in the process of his temporal life. To provide the frame of reference that Spenser and most of his readers would have in mind as the background against which the merits of the active and contemplative ways of life might be debated, it is necessary to survey the medieval discussions of meditation, contemplation, and ecstasy, and, indeed, the entire mystic way. The writings of St. Augustine, Dionysius, Richard of St. Victor, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Dante constitute in large measure that frame of reference. However, Spenser is a product of the Renaissance. The triumph of reason in matters of faith, a process which can be seen to begin in the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas and which for Spenser is resolved in the via media of Richard Hooker, is also, then, an essential step in the development of Spenser's thought. Throughout The Faerie Queene Spenser puts a premium upon the active life expressing the pursuit of honor, but he does not ignore the contemplative way of life and the value to be derived from true contemplation. Contemplation for Spenser, however, although it may well be equivalent in certain respects to the ecstatic vision that crowns the purification and meditation of the mystic, is essentially more rational than suprarational. Spenser's justification of process and of contemplation as the basis for proper action is also the subject of his Fowre Hymnes. Contemplation according to Spenser is not a way of life here and now, but only a foretaste of eternal life and a justification and ultimate rationale of the active obedience to God that still lies ahead. The tension between the active and the contemplative ways of life can thus be expressed in terms of the justification of process itself. Contemplation without action is mere idleness; but action without vision, that is, without contemplation, is futile.
|Gossman, Ann M.
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- Doctoral Dissertations