‘Sin and Fear: The Emergence of a Western Guilt Culture, 13th-18th Centuries’ by Jean Delumeau

Translated by Eric Nicholson. Published by New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990

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Delumeau’s work is a sort of tour de force through the Museum of Spiritual History, wherein one can see “more than 600 years of guilt-instilling efforts.” “My book must therefore not be taken either as a refusal of guilt or the need for a consciousness of sin. On the contrary, I think it will shed light on the excessive sense of guilt and ‘culpabilization’ … that has characterized Western history.”

This extraordinary fresco draws the evolution of a pessimistic and punitive attitude regarding earthly life, which spread throughout Europe between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. Delumeau sees its origins in the ascetic ideals, in the “contemptus mundi” [“scorn of the world”], in the gloomy sense of sin and human frailty which, from the medieval monastic environment, widened in society thanks to what the author calls a “pastoral of fear”, that is, a pervasive pedagogy carried out by the sermons, the books of edification, the macabre iconography; a pedagogy of the rest parallel to the terrifying series of calamities and horrors of war that punctuated and terrified those centuries, and they had to appear as many punishments in search of a fault.


Contents:


Introduction: A Cultural History of Sin

PART ONE: PESSIMISM AND THE MACABRE IN THE RENAISSANCE

1. Contempt for the World and Mankind
An Old Theme
The Reasons Behind “Contempt for the World”
A Constantly Recurring Theme in the Fourteenth
to Sixteenth Centuries
The Mystics’ Version
A Philosophy for all Christians
Justification by Faith and the Need for Despair
Along the Borders of the Protestant World:
A Return to Otherworldliness

2. From Contempt for the World to the “Danse Macabre”
“Familiarity” with Death
The Components of the Macabre
The Longevity of the Monastic Concept of Death
Death and Conversion
The Legend of the Three Living and the Three Dead
The Danse of Death and the Danse Macabre

3. Ambiguity of the Macabre
The Danse Macabre: A Sermon
The Macabre and the Resurrection
The Macabre and the Misfortunes of the Age
The Macabre and Violence
Diverging Significations

4. A Sinful World
“An Age of Tears, Anguish, and Torment” (Eustache Deschamps)
The Dream of the Golden Age
World Upside Down, Perverse World
Proliferation of the Monstrous
Wickedness

5. Fragile Humanity
The Disappearance of Reason
Fate
Melancholy

PART TWO: A FAILURE OF REDEMPTION?

6. Focusing the Examination of Conscience
A Theology of Sin
The Penitential Regimes
Confessors’ Handbooks and Confession Manuals
Sin in Lay Literature

7. The Realm of the Confessor
Envy
Lust
Usury and Avarice
Sloth
The Iconography of Sin

8. Original Sin
Original Sin at the Heart of a Culture
The Origin of Evil and the Earthly Paradise
The Authority of Saint Augustine Against Attenuated Guilt
Original Sin and Opinions on Childhood
Sanctuaries of Resuscitation: “A Vain Tenderness” ?

9. The Mass of Perdition and the System of Sin
“Many Are Called But Few Are Chosen”
Criminal Man and Terrible God
A Collective Guilt Complex

10. Religious “Uneasiness”
The Doctrine of Pain
The Disease of Scruple
The Difficulty of Death


PART THREE: AN EVANGELISM OF FEAR IN THE CATHOLIC WORLD

11. The Diffusion of a Religious Doctrine
From Conviction to Tactics
The Documents

12. “Think on It Well”
The “Preparations for Death”
Sermons and Hymns

13. The Tortures of the Afterlife
Hell
Purgatory, or Temporary Hell
Toward the Infernal
Temporary Hell in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

14. A “Lynx-eyed” God
Judgment or Vengeance
The Limits of Divine Benevolence

15. Sin and Sins
Deadly and Venial Sin
The Classification of Sins
“Avarice”
Marriage, a “Dangerous” Situation
Impurity

16. The Ascetic Model
“Nothing so Pleases God as a Thin Body”
The Rejection of Amusement

17. The Difficulty of Obligatory Confession
Sacrilegious Confessions
Sacrilegious Confessions and Shameful Communions

18. The Catholic Doctrinal Campaign: An Attempt at Quantification


PART FOUR: IN THE PROTESTANT WORLD

19. ‘You Are a Terrifying Word, Eternity”
Must One Instill Fear?
Theology and Pedagogy

20. Shared Aspects of the Protestant and Catholic Doctrinal Programs
The Emphasis on Death
Other Last Ends and the Contemptus Mundi

21. Eschatology and Predestination
The End Is Near
Predestination and Election
Fear of Reprobation

Conclusion

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