Training the Soul in Virtue: Lessons from the West

February 9, 2018 [watch here]

If our theme for this weekend is “What is Western civilization?,” there is another question with which I would suggest we need to start: What does it mean to be “civilized”?

At a minimum—one might argue—being civilized means “capable of living in cities,” that is, capable of sustaining complex interactions with other human beings. Almost immediately, however, all sorts of qualifications spring to mind. Does being civilized mean renouncing violence as such or simply living according to the law? Or is it more about not being gross or physically offensive? Not being rude or undignified? Or is it more about being productive and having particular skills? What does it have to do with manners or morals? Is it possible to be civilized without being virtuous? If not, which virtues does it require?

These are not idle questions. We live at a time in which many would argue virtue is in short supply, and yet in which signaling one’s virtue is all the rage. Many of our most prominent cultural spokesmen and women talk all the time about the ways in which other people should behave, while seemingly having no compunction about behaving in the very ways that they would censure in others. Our eyes are filled with beams as we hunt for the specks in each other’s eye, but what is it we are looking for? If you have spent any time at all attending to our ongoing “culture wars,” I’m sure you know the answer. Feelings.

“I find that really offensive” has become the mantra of the day. “You hurt my feelings” has been weaponized to mean, “You are an evil person for making me feel bad.” One person’s feelings have become the metric used to determine the virtue of others. The Good has been reduced to what feels good, and moral judgments have been reduced to an expression of preference. If I feel offended by something that someone else says or does, that is sufficient to judge the other person as vicious; conversely, if something makes me feel good, it is virtuous to pursue, regardless of the effects my pursuit may have on other people, including the unborn.

How did we get to this state? If I were writing for the internet, I might label such feel-good incoherence “medieval”—because of course everything that modernity deems culturally regressive is always labeled “medieval”—but others would locate its roots somewhat more recently. In his After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre describes this emotivism—the definition of moral judgments as “expressions of preference… of attitude or feeling”—as a peculiarly twentieth-century phenomenon, albeit with eighteenth-century antecedents.[1] More recently, Ulrich Lehner has argued forcefully in God Is Not Nice that the problem goes back to the Enlightenment, specifically the equation of religion with morality and the purportedly “rational” rejection of religion in favor of science, according to which it is human society, not God, that determines what is right or moral according to how it “feels.”[2] From this perspective, what matters is empathy, not some abstract Good.

Lehner is supported in his chronology, albeit with rather more enthusiasm, by Steven Pinker, who, in his Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, locates what he calls the civilizing force of empathy specifically in the eighteenth-century with the growth in literacy that accompanied the rise of the novel. Pinker’s description of this process is, I think, particularly telling of what it is that modern civilization values most:
Reading is a technology for perspective-taking. When someone else’s thoughts are in your head, you are observing the world from that person’s vantage point…. Stepping into someone else’s vantage point reminds you that the other fellow [sic] has a first-person, present-tense, ongoing stream of consciousness that is very much like your own but not the same as your own. It’s not a big leap to suppose that the habits of reading other people’s words could put one in the habit of entering other people’s minds, including their pleasures and pains.[3] 
For Pinker, this realization that other people have feeling interiors was the critical step in the decline of violence (in his argument) witnessed by the modern age—as contrasted specifically with the violence endemic in less civilized eras, including that of medieval Europe, when (he insists) people had no such capacity, just look at their use of torture! Not to mention their worship of a God-man who died on the cross. In Pinker’s words:
The crucifixion of Jesus, of course, was never treated lightly. The cross became the symbol of a movement that spread throughout the ancient world, was adopted by the Roman Empire, and two millennia later remains the world’s most recognized symbol. The dreadful death it calls to mind must have made it an especially potent meme. But let’s step outside our familiarity with Christianity [I am happy to hear that he assumes we are familiar with Christianity!] and ponder the mindset that tried to make sense of the crucifixion. By today’s sensibilities, it’s more than a little macabre that a great moral movement would adopt as its symbol a graphic representation of a revolting means of torture and execution…. Today such a barbarity might galvanize people into opposing brutal regimes, or demanding that such torture never again be inflicted on a living creature. But those weren’t the lessons the early [and medieval] Christians drew at all. No, the execution of Jesus is The Good News [the Gospel], a necessary step in the most wonderful episode in human history. In allowing the crucifixion to take place, God did the world an incalculable favor. Though infinitely powerful, compassionate, and wise, he could think of no other way to reprieve humanity from punishment for its sins…than to allow an innocent man (his son no less) to be impaled through the limbs and slowly suffocate in agony. By acknowledging that this sadistic murder was a gift of divine mercy, people could earn eternal life. And if they failed to see the logic in all this, their flesh would be seared by fire for all eternity.[4]
Modern Christians are okay—Pinker hastens to add—but only because they are benevolent hypocrites who “compartmentalize their religious ideology” while “[respecting] modern norms of nonviolence and toleration” in their actions.[5]

Let’s try a little exercise. I’m going to read you a text, and you tell me who is speaking.
Have mercy on me, O God, for people have trampled me underfoot; all day long they have afflicted me and pressed their attack against me. All day long my enemies trampled upon me, for there were many waging war against me [Psalm 55:2-3]. 
All my enemies plotted evil things against me; they prepared lies against me [Psalm 40:8-9]. 
Those who guarded my life  conspired together [Psalm 70:10]. 
They went outside and spoke about it [Psalm 40:7, 8]. 
All those who saw me scoffed at me; they spoke with their lips and wagged their heads [Psalm 21:8]. 
I am a worm and no man, the scorn of men and the outcast of the people [Psalm 21:7]. 
I have been made despicable to my neighbors far beyond all my enemies, an object of fear to all my acquaintances [Psalm 30:12]. 
O holy Father [John 17:11], do not keep your help from me but look to my defense [Psalm 21:20]. 
Come to my aid, Lord, God of my salvation [Psalm 37:23].
Any guesses? No, it is not me describing what it has been like these past two years after my medievalist colleagues outed me on social media for giving “Three Cheers for White Men” on my Fencing Bear blog.[6] (If you haven’t heard, these were my “three cheers”: chivalry and courtly love as an antidote against rape; marriage defined as a sacrament through the mutual consent of both bride and groom; and feminism, including the right to vote, supported by freedom of speech. I know! And for this I have been described as a fascist and a white supremacist, not to mention likened to a Nazi. Okay, the story is a little more complicated than that, but it started with my “three cheers.” I will be happy to regale those interested with my adventures over drinks!)

Back to our text. I’m sure some of you recognize the references, although perhaps you are struggling a bit with why. Yes, there’s a trick. It is not all one text. Or, rather, as a composition it is a pastiche of texts, more particularly, a series of passages taken from the psalms. In the Septuagint or Vulgate numbering: Psalm 55:2-3; Psalm 40:8-9; Psalm 70:10; Psalm 40:7-8; Psalm 21:8, 7; Psalm 30:12; Psalm 21:20; and Psalm 37:23. Now who would you say is speaking?

According to the titles of the psalms as they appear in most modern Bibles, in all but one of the psalms, the speaker is David: Psalm 21 [22]; Psalm 30 [31]; Psalm 37 [38], “for the memorial offering”; Psalm 40 [41]; and Psalm 55 [56], “when the Philistines seized him in Gath.” Psalm 70 is entitled “a prayer for perseverance.” But, as I am sure you have already guessed, this is a medieval text—and in the Middle Ages the psalms were read somewhat differently. All of the psalms were believed to have been written by David, but in medieval understanding, David himself was believed to be speaking on behalf of another. Here are the speakers of our five main psalms, according to the titles they were given in many medieval psalters:
  • Psalm 21 [22]: “The words of Christ (verba Christi) when he was suffering”
  • Psalm 30 [31]: “The confession of faith of those believing in God; the voice of Christ (vox Christi) at his Passion talking about the Jews”
  • Psalm 40 [41]: “To be read at the lection from the prophet Isaiah. The voice of Christ concerning his Passion and the betrayal of the Jews”
  • Psalm 55 [56]: “The voice of Christ to the Father”
  • Psalm 70 [71]: “The voice of Christ to the Father”[7]
So, it is Christ speaking through David’s words in our pastiche? Yes—and no. Or, rather, yes, it is Christ—but not only Christ. Why would anyone make such a pastiche of texts rather than just reading the psalms? Aha. The plot thickens!

According to the Franciscan tradition, the author of our text was St. Francis of Assisi (d. 1226), who used to say this composite psalm every day at the third hour of the day (roughly 9am).[8] Why the third hour? Because, according to the gospel of Mark, it was at this hour that Jesus was crucified, while at the sixth hour (noon) darkness covered the land. At the ninth hour (roughly 3pm), Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Psalm 21 [22]:2)—and died. Throughout the Middle Ages, these three hours—in liturgical terms, Terce, Sext, and None—were marked out as times at which it was particularly appropriate to pray in memory of Christ’s passion.

Now who do we say is speaking in our text? On the one hand, it is David, the historical author of the psalms, but on the other, according to the medieval Christian tradition—and, indeed, the Christian tradition going back to antiquity—it is Jesus speaking as Christ the Lord. As voiced daily by Francis in his prayers, however, it is Francis, himself speaking the words that Christ spoke at the hour he was crucified as prophesied by David in the psalms.[9]

What was it that Steven Pinker said enabled modern Westerners to expand their “circle of empathy” so as to get beyond the barbarous violence of the Christian devotion to the cross? Quote: “Slipping even for a moment into the perspective of someone who is turning black in a pillory or desperately pushing burning faggots away from her body or convulsing under the two hundredth stroke of the lash”—according to medieval Christian tradition, Jesus endured 5,475 such wounds—“may give a person second thoughts as to whether these cruelties should ever be visited upon anyone.”[10] In Pinker’s argument, it was above all literacy—“reading [as] a technology for perspective-taking”—that enabled this empathetic expansion, particularly “realistic fiction” in the form of the novel, which “unlike earlier epics which recounted the exploits of heroes, aristocrats, or saints…brought to life the aspirations and losses of ordinary people.”[11]

Forgive me. I am trying very hard not to laugh. Not at the substance of the argument. I think Pinker is absolutely right that reading is “a technology for perspective-taking” that helped bring about an expansion in people’s ability to adopt others’ point of view. I just think he has the chronology—not to mention the sociology, psychology, and theology—of the argument completely wrong. For Pinker, as for many modern scholars since the so-called Enlightenment, Christianity has been the problem to overcome, the relic of an intolerant and divisive ideology standing in the way of true humanitarian progress. If, for modernity, the virtuous ideal is being able to put yourself in the mind of the humble and poor, in the Middle Ages—or so scholars like Pinker would have it—no one ever tried, so focused were they on exerting power over the humble and poor through “systematic cruelty” when social pressure did not work. The story looks rather different when, as scholars, we put ourselves into the minds of the medieval Christians whom Pinker insists were incapable of empathy with their fellow human beings.

This is one of the most famous passages from the history of monasticism about the way in which monks should experience reading the psalms. It was written in the fourth or fifth century by John Cassian (d. 435), whose works were recommended by St. Benedict (d. 547) explicitly in his Rule. Throughout the Middle Ages, every Benedictine monk—and nun—worth his or her psalter would have been familiar with this ideal. In the passage, the speaker is Isaac, abbot of one of the desert communities in Egypt that—thanks to Cassian’s report of their conversation in his Conferences—became the model for all later Christian monasticism. Abba Isaac is answering a question put to him by Cassian and his companion Germanus about how monks could keep their attention from wandering in prayer. Isaac recommended the repetition of a formula, a short phrase taken from Psalm 69 [70]:2: “O God, make speed to save me; O Lord, make haste to help me.” For our purposes, what is most significant is the effect that Isaac said this repetition would have on the monks’ understanding of the psalms that they spent their days reciting in the liturgy.

“O God, make speed to save me; O Lord, make haste to help me.” Clinging continuously to this formula—Isaac assured Germanus and Cassian—the monk would find himself penetrating
…so deeply into the thinking of the psalms that he sings them not as though they had been composed by the prophet [David] but as if he himself had written them, as if this were his own private prayer uttered amid the deepest compunction of heart. Certainly, he thinks of them as having been specially composed for him and he recognizes that what they express was made real not simply once upon a time in the person of the prophet but that now, every day, they are being fulfilled in himself. 
Then indeed the Scriptures lie ever more clearly open to us. They are revealed, heart and sinew. Our experience not only brings us to know them, but actually anticipates what they convey. The meaning of the words comes through to us not just by way of commentaries but by what we ourselves have gone through. Seized of the identical feelings in which the psalm was composed or sung we become, as it were, its author. We anticipate its idea instead of following it. We have a sense of it even before we make out the meaning of the words. The sacred words stir memories within us, memories of the daily attacks we have endured and are enduring, the cost of our negligence or the profits of our zeal, the good things of providence and the deceits of the enemy, the slippery subtle tricks of memory, the blemishes of human frailty, the improvidence of ignorance. 
As we sing, we are reminded of all this. We find all these sentiments expressed in the psalms. We see very clearly, as in a mirror, what is being said to us and we have a deeper understanding of it. Instructed by our own experiences we are not really learning through hearsay, but have a feeling for these sentiments as things that we have already seen. They are not like things confided to our capacity for remembrance but, rather, we bring them to birth in the depths of our hearts as if they were feelings naturally there and part of our being. We enter into their meaning not because of what we read, but because of what we have experienced earlier.[12]
There are a number of things to note in this passage, not the least of which is the emphasis on feelings: the monk (or nun) singing the psalms is to enter into the experience of the psalmist’s feelings, to experience them as his or her own. Note, also, that this is an experience that the monk (or nun) comes to through reading, specifically reading the scriptures. Note, also, that it is experience, not commentaries—that is, other people’s explanations—that brings the reader or singer to understanding, and that understanding itself is keyed to feelings, “the sentiments expressed in the psalms”: “We enter into their meaning not because of what we read, but because of what we have experienced earlier.” It is difficult—is it not?—to imagine a more comprehensive description of the experience of empathy as trained through reading, of entering into another’s pleasures and pains by way of a text.

Here is our first lesson in virtue from the medieval West: it was not reading novels, but reciting the psalms that first trained ancient and medieval Christians in the practice of imagining the world from another’s perspective. This, as Cassian and Benedict insisted, was to be the principal goal of the monk (or nun) as he or she prayed the liturgy day after day (thus the need for a formula to keep one’s mind from wandering): to find him or herself so absorbed in the sentiments expressed by the psalmist as to experience them as if they were his or her own—sentiments including the agony expressed by David as he despaired of his life while being pursued by his enemies; sentiments including the pain Jesus experienced as he hung dying on the cross.

Nor was this a reading practice confined to the monasteries. From as early as the eighth century, long before Francis, the son of a merchant, imagined himself speaking the same words Christ spoke from the cross, lay people looked to the monastic practice of reciting the psalms as a model for their own devotions and spiritual instruction. We know this from the many psalters and other prayer books that survive copied explicitly for lay readers. We also know this from the advice that monks and nuns gave them when they asked. In a short text on the praise (laus) or power (virtus) of the psalms that circulated throughout the Middle Ages among monastics and lay people alike, the Carolingian abbot Alcuin of York (d. 804) recommended the psalms specifically as a way of training oneself in virtue and prayer. “In the psalms,” the abbot explained, “if you look with attentive mind, you will find the intimate confession of your sins and the whole supplication of divine mercy… For you will find all the virtues in the psalms, if you merit that the secrets of the psalms be revealed to you by God.” Nor was this all. Alcuin continued: “In the psalms you will find…if you push through to the spiritual understanding, the incarnation, passion, resurrection, and ascension of the Word… [as well as] the most intimate prayer.”[13]

By the twelfth century, as we have seen, even lay people like Francis of Assisi—who had no monastic training to speak of but who, like all boys and girls throughout the Middle Ages who had learned to read, knew the psalms—knew how to read them as a description of the suffering and passion of Christ. What effect did this practice have on the soul—not to mention on medieval Christians’ capacity to enter into the thoughts and experiences of other human beings?

The short answer is, we don’t really know, although to judge from the number of psalters and other prayer books still extant, it must have been immense. As I explain in my new book, Mary and the Art of Prayer, one of the most curious features of the Christian tradition is how little we know about what it was like for medieval Christians to spend their days—and nights—praying the psalms, despite the fact that in many ways, those who could write, wrote about it all the time.[14] The problem is that what they wrote—the texts of the liturgy and commentaries on the psalms—has become more or less unreadable today, even to modern Christians, so strange does the medieval practice of reading the psalms as the voice of Christ seem even to those who sing the psalms in church.

How many of you know that this is the reason that Christians sing the psalms? Because the earliest Christians identified Jesus as the Lord (Yahweh, pronounced Adonai, a.k.a. Kyrios or Dominus) and so sang the psalms as about him? How many of you reading or singing the psalms that Francis included in his daily office would understand or experience them as putting on Christ? How many of you have tended to assume, with Pinker, that it was only in the modern period that Westerners learned to empathize with another’s suffering in this way? Recall the way in which so many of our contemporaries talk about virtue and the primacy of feelings. Do you see now why I am tempted to call this emphasis on feelings “medieval”? Medieval Christianity was all about feelings and learning to read so as to make the experience of the author one’s own.

Let’s try another exercise. What happens if you read this text as Cassian recommended—as if you were its author and the sentiments it expresses your own?
To the end. A psalm of David. For the octave.  
O Lord, rebuke me not in thy indignation, nor chastise me in thy wrath. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak. Heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled and my soul is troubled exceedingly. 
But thou, O Lord, how long?  
Turn to me, O Lord, and deliver my soul. O save me for thy mercy’s sake, for there is no one in death that is mindful of thee, and who shall confess to thee in hell?  
I have laboured in my groanings. Every night I will wash my bed; I will water my couch with my tears. My eye is troubled through indignation. I have grown old amongst all my enemies. Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity, for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.  
The Lord hath heard my supplication. The Lord hath received my prayer. Let all my enemies be ashamed and be very much troubled. Let them be turned back and be ashamed very speedily.
Too much? If you were a medieval Christian, you would be accustomed to say this psalm every day. It is the first of seven psalms known as the Penitential Psalms, which were used throughout the Middle Ages as a supplement to the psalms that monks and nuns said daily in the divine office. (Here Alcuin’s influence on establishing the set as a set was significant.[15]) In the later Middle Ages they were copied as a set into the books that the laity used to say their prayers. Of all the psalms save those included in the daily office said in honor of the Virgin Mary, these were the psalms that everyone who could read was most likely to know by heart. For those who did not know the whole Marian office, in some contexts the penitential psalms were recommended explicitly to be said in its place.

This to my mind is the most important question that we need to answer in order to understand where what we call “Western civilization” came from: How did reading the psalms, including the Seven Penitential Psalms and the psalms of the Marian office, affect the way in which medieval and early modern Christians understood themselves not just as souls, but in relation to their neighbors—and God? If, as Pinker suggests, it was reading that enabled the development of the kind of empathy that we now associate with being civilized, this was the reading practice upon which Western civilization depended for over a thousand years. Not Plato or Aristotle (whom only the scholars in the universities tended to read), but King David giving voice to Christ the Lord through the psalms. In my book Mary and the Art of Prayer, I talk about some of the most important effects of this practice on the way in which medieval Christians imagined Mary and God. For our purposes this evening, I want to share with you a remarkable commentary on the psalm we just read, which will give us a glimpse into the way in which one fifteenth-century English lay reader experienced the text as a script for her soul.

The author-translator of our commentary was Dame Eleanor Hull, only child of John Malet of Enmore and Joan Hylle (Hulle); wife of John Hull; mother of Edward Hull; lady-in-waiting to Joan of Navarre, Queen of Henry IV; and friend to the scholar and priest Roger Huswyf. Married in 1413, Eleanor was widowed in 1420 or 1421; her only son Edward died in 1453 at the Battle of Castillon, the last battle in England’s Hundred Years War with France. Eleanor died in 1460 after making a will “written on paper with her own hand,” in which, among other things, she bequeathed to Roger Huswyf her “greet” and “litel portous” (breviaries), her “blue byble of Latin,” and her “sauter” (psalter), along with a “greet cuppe” (chalice). Along with her husband and son, she was a member of the confraternity of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Albans; in 1456, she and Roger Huswyf gave the Abbey a copy of Nicholas of Lyra’s great commentary on the scriptures. Although hardly a commoner, Dame Eleanor was not a nun. According to its colophon, Dame Eleanor’s commentary on the Seven Penitential Psalms is in fact a translation from an Old French original written most likely sometime in the mid-thirteenth century, but the editor of Dame Eleanor’s work notes that she was not able to locate the original French text. Dame Eleanor most likely made her translation sometime in the 1420s, soon after she was widowed.[16]

How did Dame Eleanor read our psalm?[17] To begin with, according to her commentary, one needs to know the title: A psalm of David. What is a psalm? The commentary explains: A psalm, according to the scriptures, is a hymn, that is “praise of God with song” (laus Dei cum canticum). And what is this song? “A sweet joy of the heart [delighting] in everlasting joy [which delight the singer shows] by sweet joy of pleasing notes in singing.” Not quite what you expected from the psalm that we just read? The commentary elaborates: “David, who languished with love for desire of his creator, loved deliciously with his heart, made his notes sweetly, and formed his word profitably, to give to the righteous man perseverance in his goodness, to the sinful [man] true repentance, to the repentant [man] certain hope, and to them that be dead in sin, dread of the pains of hell. And therefore to cast himself and others from the stink of sin he sang and said with sweet fear: Lord, rebuke me not in thy indignation” (3). So this psalm—indeed, the set of all seven psalms—is a love song ending in joy.

How joy? The commentary continues: Because, of course, joy is the end of penance, as every medieval penitent knew. How else should penance work? The psalm exclaims: Let all my enemies be ashamed and be very much troubled. Let them be turned back and be ashamed very speedily. Here, the commentator explains, it is as if David—speaking in “our person and answering us with words that God put in his mouth” (12)—said something like this:
Blessed Lord, I ask thee that just as thou hast received my bitter repentance and piteously mitigated my foul dreadful shame, that I who am dust and worm’s meat may dare to say to his lord and such a lord as thou art: My good God, maker of heaven and of earth, king forever and king almighty, see me here before thee, the work of your hands (opus manuum tuarum). But I alas, sorrowful and wretched, I have befouled that work of thy fair hands in the manner of vile, stinking carrion. And therefore, Lord, it is no marvel that my bold madness fear that knowledge of my shameful works [may come] to the pure recognition of thy highest presence. 
But thou, all my sweet confidence and sure sweetness of mercy, I know well and I believe it and well I have felt it, that in as much as I have the more shame in knowing my wickedness, in so much shall I be more honoured in the true honour of perfect forgiveness. And therefore I pray thee, blessed Lord, that all mine enemies may have shame of all their evil deeds by my example; and that they may be greatly troubled in their repentance with sorrowful wailings; and that they may be converted to thee alone through fear of thy judgement; and that they may be shamed so much for their great wickedness that they may together with me follow the worship of thy grace.
Hearken to the prayer of the psalmist! As Dame Eleanor’s commentary would put it: It is through shame that we come to an understanding of the great mercy of God, for it is through shame that we understand the greatness to which we are called as the work of the Creator. It is likewise through shame that we are called to penitence, and to hope for the penitence of our enemies. Why? Because Christian penitence—that is, virtue—seeks not the damnation of others, but rather prays that others learn from the example of one’s own shame. Think what our culture wars would be like if instead of using shame as a way to silence others, we sought rather their return to joy.

I would not be here speaking to you this evening if I did not believe that our culture, particularly our academic culture, were not in dire straits. I look forward to our discussions tonight and tomorrow about what we might do about it. What I hope to have suggested in the examples that I have given from the medieval tradition of the West is that the problem may not be what we think it is. It is not the case, as Pinker has suggested, that it was only in the eighteenth century that Western readers first learned what it was like to take the perspective of another human being, nor was it the case that it was only in the twentieth century that thinking about virtue became tied intimately to feelings. The problem, as I read it, is not that we look to our feelings for judgment about morals, but rather that we do not ground those feelings—as Dame Eleanor’s reading of the psalms suggested we ought—in worship of God. This is a rather different argument from that which conservatives have tended to make, so focused have we more traditionally been on invocations of logic and reason. More bluntly, the problem—as I see it—is not that our contemporary culture has come to focus so much on feelings. The problem is that we in the West have lost the roots on which this emphasis on feelings—and how to train them—was originally founded: the recitation of the psalms.

[1] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 12.
[2] Ulrich Lehner, God Is Not Nice: Rejecting Pop Culture Theology and Discovering the God Worth Living For (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2017), 44.
[3] Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Penguin, 2011), 174.
[4] Pinker, Better Angels, 13.
[5] Pinker, Better Angels, 11.
[6] Rachel Fulton Brown, “Talking Points: Three Cheers for White Men,” Fencing Bear at Prayer, June 5, 2015
[7] For these psalm tituli, see Pierre Salmon, Les “Tituli psalmorum” des manuscrits latins, Études liturgiques publiées sous la direction du Centre de Pastorale liturgique et de l’Abbaye du Mont César 3 (Paris: Cerf, 1959), 55-74 (first series).
[8] On Francis’s Office, see Laurent Gallant, “The Office of the Passion,” in The Writings of Francis of Assisi: Letters and Prayers, ed. Michael Blastic, Jay Hammond, and J.A. Wayne Hellman (St. Bonaventure, N.Y.: Franciscan Institute, 2011), 253-79; and Dominique Gagnan, “The ‘Office of the Passion’: The Daily Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi,” Greyfriars Review 7 (1993, suppl.): 1-89.
[9] On Francis’s “literal” reading of the psalms, see Rachel Fulton Brown, “Exegesis, Mimesis, and the Voice of Christ in Francis of Assisi’s Office of the Passion,” The Mediaeval Journal 4.2 (2014):39-62.
[10] Pinker, Better Angels, 146.
[11] Pinker, Better Angels, 175.
[12] John Cassian, Conferences, 10.11, trans. Colm Luibheid (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), 137-38, my emphasis.
[13] Jonathan Black, “Psalm Uses in Carolingian Prayerbooks: Alcuin and the Preface to De Psalmorum Usu,” Mediaeval Studies 64 (2002): 1-60, at 50-51, 60, my translation.
[14] Rachel Fulton Brown, Mary and the Art of Prayer: The Hours of the Virgin in Medieval Christian Life and Thought (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018), 108-11.
[15] Michael Driscoll, “The Seven Penitential Psalms: Their Designation and Usages from the Middle Ages Onwards,” Ecclesia Orans 17 (2000):153-201.
[16] For these details on Eleanor’s life and the provisions for her will, see The Seven Psalms: A Commentary on the Penitential Psalms translated from French into English by Dame Eleanor Hull, ed. Alexandra Barratt, Early English Text Society 307 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
[17] For Dame Eleanor’s commentary on this psalm, see The Seven Psalms, ed. Barratt, 3-24, my translations.

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