To What Extent Was There A "New Consciousness Of Self" In The Twelfth Century?

2465 words - 10 pages

Although it is universally recognised that there was a sixteenth century renaissance, a body of historians now argue that there were in fact three renaissances in Western Europe. These two earlier renaissances took place in the seventh and twelfth centuries, and in the latter some argue that we see an emergence of man coming to terms with his 'self' or his 'individuality.'It is important here to define what we are looking for in this essay. Indiscriminate use both terms would certainly lead to confusion, the terms 'self' and 'individuals' are too easily mixed up and confused with one another. The 'individual' is a modern concept; to the people of the twelfth century 'individual' was just a ...view middle of the document...

Benton also points out that the people of the twelfth century had very basic and limited ways of describing what defined a man's personality. He gives example of how Matthew of Vendôme condemned one of his rivals as treacherous and as a scoundrel for the very simple reason that Arnulf of Orléans had bright red hair! 'National characters' or stereotypes were also used. The English for example were said to be great drinkers and had tails, the French pompous, delicate and womaniser and the Germans crude and insane at social occasions. Whether these 'stereotypes' were accurate or still continue to be are matters of much debate.This 'stereotyping' is tied into the great importance that was attached at the time to the belonging of groups. According to C.W. Bynum the people of the period "felt an urgency, unlike anything we see in the early Middle Ages, about defining, classifying and evaluating what they termed 'orders' or 'lives' or 'callings.'" A broad study of religion in the twelfth century provides the most marked evidence of this; competitive religious groups were dotted all over Europe. Whether we look at the Benedictines, the Cistercians, the Franciscan and Dominican friars, the Cathars, Waldensians or any heretical movement one rule holds true; their constant analysis of other orders also caused a process of continual self examination and redefinition. The knock-on effect of this was that each member knew exactly what was his role was, and it was integral that he complied with this if he was to fulfil his role in society. Another example is the emerging code of chivalry, where men were judged upon their 'knightly virtues' and their success in upholding them. This 'role playing' meant that a medieval person either applied their life to their model or they gained their identity from it. Within these groups there was little room for the 'individual' to thrive, men were judged upon their success in carrying out their 'role' in society; there was little concept of man being his own man.The Gregorian reforms of the church itself led to it being more focused upon itself as a group, and also led to it having much improved infrastructure and communication. Ideas could spread through the church like wildfire, thus making the climate much more temperate and accommodating for theological argument, study and ideas; intellectualism was in a positive position to thrive. One option for a budding intellectual was to attend one of the many monastic schools throughout Europe or one of the great Universities such as Paris or Bologne. Alternatively there was a growing movement for students to flock to a master who could instruct and teach them. Peter Abelard did this himself, attending for example the school of Anselm at Laon. He found it to his disliking and left, thus demonstrating a growing typicality at the time that students would flock to the master that they wanted to study under. Among the most popular masters, including Peter Abelard, were...

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