Liber Confortatorius: The Book of Encouragement and Consolation, by Goscelin of St. Bertin


Liber Confortatorius: The Book of Encouragement and Consolation, by Goscelin of St. Bertin

Edited and Translated by Monika Otter

D.S. Brewer, 2004 – Reprinted in paperback in 2012
Library of Medieval Women series
ISBN: 978-1-84384-204-1

Goscelin’s Liber Confortatorius is extraordinary both as an example of high-medieval spiritual practice and as a record of a personal relationship. Written in about 1083 by the monk Goscelin to a protegee and personal friend, the recluse Eva, it takes up the tradition of St Jerome’s letters of spiritual guidance to women, and anticipates medieval advice literature for anchoresses. As a compendious treatise, it has much to tell us about the intellectual interests and preoccupations of religious people in the late eleventh century. As a personal document, it allows a fascinating and uncommonly intimate insight into the psychology of religious life and the relationships between men and women in the high middle ages. This English translation is presented here with notes and introduction.

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Review by Jay Rubenstein: Emotional, erotic exchanges between master and discipline–whether male and female or both male–are not uncommon in medieval sources, but Goscelin’s reaction to Eva’s departure seems to transcend rhetorical convention. Most comparable treatises–whether epistolary, autobiographical, or theological–are dedicated to a specific reader but clearly intended for a wider audience, bringing to mind, the example of Abelard’s Historia calamitatum. Goscelin, however, stresses in his introduction that he wrote this book for Eva alone, and that other readers, should they discover the text, ought to return it at once to the woman for whom it was intended. And indeed readers of this translation will feel at times that they have stumbled onto awkward and private scenes. – Click here to read the full review from The Medieval Review




Excerpt:  Prologue

The excluded to the enclosed; the solitary in the world to the solitary from the world; one who is known to Christ and to Love, writing to his only soul.

The Eva of whom I speak is Christ’s darling, left alone in the house for God’s sake; she is become the night raven in the house. Far from her homeland she seeks her true home. Or, rather, she has escaped from the turbulence of the world to the peace of God; escaping from mortal sufferings, she is seeking the eternal joy, which is God. May he receive her who received Mary Magdalene, who in the inexhaustible bosom of his kindness gathers and embraces every soul that comes to him. May he receive his darling and stranger; for the Lord has heard the poor, and has not disdained the prisoners. If by any chance this pilgrim letter, entrusted to uncertain winds but commended to God, should stray into alien hands, I pray that it may be returned to her from whom alone it is manifestly intended, lest someone appropriate what is not meant for him. This secret between two people is sealed with Christ as mediator, offering in sacrifice nothing but virginal simplicity and pure love. Far be from this pure encounter the whisper of scandal, the lecherous eye, the pointing finger, the spewer of hot air and the dirty snicker. The story is long, the words are awkward and feeble; he who does not like it should not read it, and should leave alone what was not written for him. But whatever happens, I would rather be ridiculed by the raised eyebrows of strangers than not to do justice to love. Since this exhortatory letter is growing beyond moderate length, let it be divided into four segments, like way stations where in may pause on the journey and catch its breadth.

See also: Goscelin of St. Bertin’s Book of Consolation for the Anchoress Eva from Hermitary.com

See also: Long-Distance Love: The Ideology of Male-Female Spiritual Friendship in Goscelin of Saint Bertin’s Liber confortatorius from the Journal of the History of Sexuality