The image of the wanton Christ-Child in the apocryphal infancy legends of late medieval England.
Dzon, Mary Christine.
359 leaves.
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Electronic version licensed for access by U. of T. users.
Source: Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 65-05, Section: A, page: 1772.
dissertation note
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Toronto, 2004.
general note
Advisers: A. G. Rigg; Joseph Goering.
Medievalists tend to assume that devotion to the Christ-Child in the later Middle Ages was part of a movement of affective piety that encouraged feelings of tenderness and compassion for Christ in his suffering humanity. My thesis questions the sufficiency of this generalization to account for medieval religiosity by examining apocryphal infancy gospels within the context of other religious literature in which the Christ-Child appears. Modern readers are surprised by the Middle English childhood of Jesus poems' description of Jesus as a "wanton" boy. Yet this adjective is appropriate since the boy Jesus of these legends loves to play with other children, behaves mischievously and resists the efforts of his parents and teachers to control him. The late medieval focus on the humanity and corporeality of Christ and the more positive valuation of children that emerged by the later Middle Ages help account for the apparent acceptability of the portrayal of Jesus as a "wanton" boy. Contrary to the thesis of Philippe Aries that medieval people lacked a conception of childhood as a distinct phase of life, a variety of medieval sources indicate that people were well aware of behavior peculiar to children. Medieval intellectuals had theories explaining this behavior, such as that children's love of play was derived from their natural need to exercise their growing bodies and also from their desire to avoid the burdensome task of learning. Although medieval people would not have been willing to explain the Christ-Child's behavior according to the Augustinian theory of original sin, they might have been willing to employ a physiological explanation. It is likely, too, that medieval Christians found the legends' image of a heroic, vigorous Christ-Child appealing because other devotional works of literature and art emphasized Christ's passivity as a helpless babe and suffering man. My thesis demonstrates that Christians in the later Middle Ages did not simply respond sentimentally to the Christ-Child. They imagined him as a powerful and all-knowing God and as a "wanton" child beyond the control of mere mortals.
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