Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Jacob's Ladder in the Middle Ages

Early in the monastic system there had been set out the idea of a progressive movement upwards, imagined in terms of the ascent of Jacob’s Ladder. To go up represented humility, to go do, pride. But at first the steps were defined as signs or tokens of humility, not as stages of growth. With the second half of the eleventh century came the various social malaises that stirred a desire for the life of a hermit: an acute inner conflict with a new need of solitariness. Even the old Benedictine orders were affected, for instance in Anselm. In his account of the Ladder he recasts the twelve rungs mentioned in the Rule and turns the Ladder into the Mountain: the rungs become seven steps, which are set out in a more logical order, with greater stress on the inner life. The corporate element in monastic life is played down and the steps are seen as concerned with the individual who struggles alone with himself, through self-knowledge, grief, confession, persuasion of guilt, acquiescence in judgment, suffering or punishment, love of punishment.

-- Jack Lindsay, The Troubadours and their world


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