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From Medieval Mnemonics to a Social Construction of Memory - page 5 / 23





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familiarizing—or textualizing—which occurs between oneself and other words in memory. (p. 13)

“Proper preparation of material, rigid order, and complete concentration,” Carruthers wrote, “are the requirements which Thomas Aquinas himself defines in his discourses on trained memory, and as we will see, are continuously emphasized in all ancient and medieval mnemonic practices” (p. 8). A well- trained memory was not just a practical gimmick for parroting politically correct answers but also a moral force, a virtue, and condition of prudence that was coextensive with wisdom and knowledge (Carruthers, 1990/1996, p. 71).

Torture, being very much a part of the Middle Ages, was not only inflicted as punishment but also illustrated in lesson books to ensure that children memo- rized certain rules. For example an illustration of a man with spears representing height, width, and length, running through parts of his body, was used to “remind” children of the equation that yields the volume of a body (height × length × width) (Piltz, 1981, p. 47). Besides using Aquinas’s technique of con- centration and rigid order, children’s lesson-book illustrations of fearful forms of human suffering were used to remind them of what was in store for those who deviated from Christian doctrine.

But this aspect of punishment was absorbed into a larger meditative frame- work, part of a trinity of qualities that theologians such as St. Thierry, David of Augsburg, and St. Bonaventure used to achieve spiritual perfection or union with God. In his essay “The Way to Religious Perfection According to St. Bonaventure’s De triplici via,” Phillips (1955) observed of St. Bonaventure’s book, “Many modern scholars have discussed the De triplici via from the point of view more in harmony with the outlook of St. Thomas than with that of St. Bonaventure” (p. 32). Phillips argued that although St. Bonaventure’s project was marked by Platonic conceptions, it viewed

union chiefly in terms of an inner ethical transformation of experience rather than in terms of a cognitive orientation of the soul toward a higher reality. . . . For St. Bonaventure, as for St. Augustine, the very meaning of mystical union lay in a realm somewhat different from that frequently associated with contemplative “vision.” (p. 33)

Phillips succinctly rearticulated the trinity described in De triplici via in the fol- lowing way:

If the De triplici via is examined in the light of Augustinian ethics, there is ample evidence that the idea of a threefold way was intended not as an analysis of succes- sive steps toward contemplation but as a description of the correlative aspects of deep and earnest spiritual effort. Memory must turn from evil, the true must be understood, and affection must draw the soul toward the good if spiritual effort is to be efficacious. This means that the De triplici via is not essentially a survey of the beginning, middle, and end of activity directed toward contemplation. It is a

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