Finding a Middle Way: Late Medieval Naturalism and Visionary Experience
During the later Middle Ages, European theologians increasingly drew on naturalistic explanations of the world to explain supernatural phenomena. Three theologians at the University of Paris, Nicole Oresme (ca. 1323-1382), Henry Langenstein (1325-1397), and Jean Gerson (1363-1429) wrote a series of treatises on religious visionaries warning that natural or medical causes were often behind the claims of Christian and non-Christian religious visionaries. This article traces how this naturalistic analysis of visionary claims became popularized in Christian visionary treatises and considers its effect upon Christian practice as a whole. In particular, I argue that medieval naturalism developed into an explicit challenge to older, ascetic-based ideals of holiness commonly associated with the lives of Christian visionaries.