Across the bridge of sighs: reading a Christian theology of melancholy

Wilson, L.C. (2017) Across the bridge of sighs: reading a Christian theology of melancholy. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Abstract

In this thesis, I will proceed by the examination of exemplary texts in the western Christian understanding of, and engagement with, the concept of chronically melancholic and destructively sorrowful states. I will begin with influential texts from the ancient west and near east, such as The Book of Job, and the Pseudo-Aristotle, that have provided the touchstones and archetypes of the subject throughout – and beyond – the historical period covered, as well as contemporary narratives whose concerns and themes instructively throw salient features of the former icons into high relief. Thereafter, I shall trace these themes and their development through the work of those Christians who have most powerfully and significantly dealt with the concept of melancholy theologically.

In doing so, I will argue, certain significant patterns of interpretation and thematic weighting become apparent. In the narratives surrounding melancholy heroes, we find a personal interlocution with the divine that characteristically takes place in a public context. This is because they contain both a revolutionary critique, and radical reintegration, of a fractured society along compassionate lines. This compassion is interpersonal empathy in the face of the ultimately incomprehensible contradictions and limitations of human life - both in terms of theodicy, and the particularities of every individual’s melancholy, which is grounded in the metaphysically-ambiguous nature of humanity, whose limitations reflect our melancholic distance from divine consummation - the very atmospheric dynamic of contemplation itself.

From Evagrius to Kierkegaard, sorrow is the kernel and fulcrum of both sin and moral development. To paraphrase Camus, sorrow is the theological question.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Milbank, John
Keywords: Theology, History of Ideas, Melancholy, Monasticism, Dante, Kierkegaard
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BT Doctrinal theology
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of Humanities
Item ID: 41910
Depositing User: Wilson, Laura-Claire
Date Deposited: 20 Jul 2017 04:40
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2017 01:11
URI: http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/41910

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