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From Medieval Mnemonics to a Social Construction of Memory - page 6 / 23





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treatise on systematic use of meditation to achieve an ethical reorientation of inner life. (p. 33)


Martin Luther (1483-1546) renewed Christian liberty by asserting funda- mentally that the free human possessed his or her own free conscience. Averse to the programmatic medieval integration of conscience, casuistry, and the cure for souls, Luther burned the books of canon law and the “cases of conscience” of Angelus Carletus de Clavasio. Spiritual direction was to be found not in the socially constructed world of casuistry but instead, in the faith of the individual. A system of casuistry that made conscience and morality operative in the world could not be sustained in the framework of Protestantism (Nelson, 1965, 71; Nelson, 1981, 43-49). Whereas earlier medieval society made perfection the supreme goal, the Protestant accepted external restraints while seeking internal freedom. Independence, discipline, self-determination, and self-reliance were exemplary qualities of a Protestant. Those who had doubts about their ability, faith, and goodness suffered from anxiety, mental anguish, loneliness, and alienation. Those who felt lonely and alienated were treated in asylums. This method of treatment preceded modern advances in psychiatry and psychoanalysis (Rubin, 1979).

As nation-state building and bureaucracy replaced feudal and medieval soci- ety, the importance of memoria declined. Power had to be exercised in an imper- sonal and rule-bound manner. “As life became more calculable, emotion became more restrained,” noted Evans (1996, p. 13) in his book on capital pun- ishment in Germany. The state had become responsible for managing force, whereas civilians mimicked the example of the power elite and acted “civilly,” rather than socially composing their own “rules of conscience.” Considering the 17th and 18th centuries from a political and cultural perspective, Elias (2000), who lived from 1897 to 1990, examined the construction of civilized behavior developing in Europe’s elite. Formalized manners and privatization of bodily habits signaled the internalization of restraint in matters of emotion. Such was the social outcome of a chaotic, turbulent, and violent transition from medieval times to capitalist nation-state building. Modernity and the new urban lifestyle required compromise, diplomacy, and the sublimation of emotions. Foucault (1975/1995) and Elias studied the relationship of state building to punishment and found that calculated and bureaucratically arranged punishments replaced public displays of violent impulses. Evans observed, “State stability and imper- sonal rule, giving rise to a process of ‘conscience formation,’ were thus two major factors in the ‘privatization of repression’” (p. 15).

Medieval notions about self-consciousness, casuistry, the Forum of Con- science, and the hierarchical schema for perfection were replaced by the indi- vidualized ethic of doing God’s work in civilized, disciplined, orderly, and

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