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4 - Performing Friendship in Richard Rolle's Incendium amoris

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 May 2017

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Summary

Rolle, Friendship, and Performance

The hermit-mystic Richard Rolle (c.1300–1349), one of the most prolific authors of the fourteenth century in England, seems initially an odd figure for a treatment of friendship. The facts of Rolle's life suggest one for whom literal solitude was the sine qua non of contemplation, one who did not get along with others, and one who considered people at best impediments to the spiritual life (Incendium amoris, p. 257, lines 8–10), at worst carnal temptations (p. 172, lines 18–19). Rolle fears the pleasure that derives from sociability but can sometimes be disenchanted by friendship tout court; he writes that his worst detractors were once his most trusted friends. Problematizing thirty years of scholarship on medieval solitaries’ busy social lives, Rolle pointedly affirms his rationale for solitude: ‘Ego enim in solitudinem fugi quia cum hominibus concordare non potui’ (‘I fled into solitude because I could not get along with people’, p. 220, lines 34–5).

Nonetheless, Rolle is deeply interested in friendship and community, even in his most self-concerned writing. Rolle lived during a time when many hermit-mystics would have been inveterately social. Bernard McGinn argues for the communal, ecclesiological nature of mysticism, even if Rolle does not always conform to this model. And Jonathan Hughes demonstrates that fourteenth-century hermits in Yorkshire like Rolle had intimate connections, however problematic, with their lay patrons, often influencing lay piety, devotion, and readership. Rolle wrote endearing English treatises of spiritual guidance for religious women, and in his role of mentor developed a spiritual friendship with one of them, an anchoress named Margaret Kirkeby. But I do not wish to argue (as have some valuable studies of friendship for medieval coenobites and solitaries) that Rolle ‘had’ a friend; this essay examines, more broadly, Rolle's rhetoric of friendship and, specifically, his textual construction of friendship as a spiritual phantasm that enables contemplation to proceed to fruition.

In Rolle's Incendium amoris (The Fire of Love), an early work pivotal to the development of his authorial career, ideas of performed friendship and community structure his mysticism. I first demonstrate that solitude is communal for Rolle; he requires the strictest solitude only to imagine his liturgically oriented participation in a celestial, canorous community, enabled through affect.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2017

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