Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Synagoga and Ecclesia

Got Medieval has a post about Synagoga and Ecclesia, the personifications (one of my colleagues insists on "anthropomorphizations" -- phooey on that) of the Old Law and New Law.

By the way, what do feminist scholars have to say about always personifying these abstract concepts in the feminine?


  1. Anonymous10:39 AM

    I realise this is not the answer but only a step towards, but I think that this is possibly not a medieval attitude issue but a Roman one, or at least Late Antique, because the reason these personifications are female is because the Latin words for them are feminine, no? And furthermore they run in a long tradition of depicting abstracts as a female figure, seen on almost any Roman Imperial coin you choose to pick up, not least Roma who becomes Britannia on modern British coinage, but who is herself based on Athena... So we have here I think two questions, one about why early Latin speakers gendered nouns as they did, and then the secondary one of what having a language with that gender set does to the heads of its medieval users... One could maybe work on this by looking at treatment of nouns that Latin and Old German tongues gender differently? I couldn't do it but I'd be interested in the results.

  2. Instead of actually answering your question, I'll recommend Barbara Newman's *God and the Goddesses: Vision, Poetry, and Belief in the Middle Ages*. (Why work when I can cite?) Newman argues that these figures are better conceived of as allegorical goddesses--daughters of God, in fact--than as personifications, and that they constitute the "third pantheon" of medieval Christianity (the first being the saints, the second being the pagan gods of antiquity).

    It's been too long since I read the book to recollect, right now, much of her argument about that particular issue, but it'd be a good place to look for a feminist-inflected reading of those figures.

  3. Damn I saw a play about this the last week, usually in medieval times this didn't exist ever, but seems like there was a secret association, but actually there areno prove of this.