Law, sex, and anti-Semitism in Gonzalo de Berceo's Milagros de Nuestra Señora

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Timmons, Patricia Lee

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This study of the hierarchical aesthetic of the Virgin Mary as Holy Advocate contextualizes within a historical framework of Church reforms and canon law the ambiguity in relation to Christian doctrine of topics related to law, sex and anti-Semitism in Gonzalo de Berceo’s Milagros de Nuestra Señora. The analysis of the Virgin’s intermediary dynamic entails attention to Berceo’s use of legalistic stylistic devices in the context of devotional poetry. The miracles studied here reveal three triadic orders of hierarchical mediation that characterize Berceo’s scheme of Marian mediation within the context of the neo-platonic medieval logic. These triadic orders of mediation provide a model for perceiving the manner in which Berceo’s text engages and participates in the discourses, both popular and orthodox, of the Gregorian and Lateran reform eras. Some of these discourses include, for example, debates between the cleric and the knight, and between the cleric and the Jew, faith and reason, the philosophy of Abelard, monastic reform rhetoric, the Bible, law, marriage vs. fornication, and the dogma of transubstantiation, to name a few. The logic of the triadic hierarchy of mediation in the Milagros provides the means to link and fuse secular and religious concepts. The ascending order of ‘clergy-canon law-Virgin Mary,’ for example, belies the role of the clergy in this process of fusion as interpreters and implementers of canon law. The fusion of the secular belief in the ‘sinlessness’ of simple fornication and the sacred doctrine of the sacrament of confession is enabled by means of the triadic structural link of ‘clergy-confession-Virgin Mary.’ In the miracles about Jews and Christians, the fusion of secular and sacred law that enables the sanctioning of murder, the validation of the efficacy of religious images, the legitimacy of intermediary dogma, and the doctrinal orthodoxy of prefiguration, unfolds through the triadic order of mediation structured as ‘laity-Church-Virgin Mary.’ In the Milagros, the direction of the Virgin Mary’s intermediary activity serves to harmonize the contradictions inherent in the application of sacred concepts to secular circumstances.