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Finding a Middle Way: Late Medieval Naturalism and Visionary Experience

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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.
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Keywords: Fourteenth Century; Gerson, Jean (1363-1429); Langenstein, Henry (1325-1397); Natural Philosophy; Oresme, Nicole (ca. 1323-1382); Religious Visions

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2009

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