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Document Details :
Title: To Be Martha or Mary during the Great Western Schism
Author(s): BELLITTO, Christopher M.
Journal: Studies in Spirituality
Volume: 29 Date: 2019
During the Great Western Schism (1378-1417), the question of whether to live an active or contemplative life was not an academic exercise. Humanists and theologians, bishops and priests, church statesmen and high-ranking lay people had to decide whether and how to be involved in the shifting landscape of ecclesiastical and secular politics. This essay explores the question by examining the exegesis of Luke’s gospel story of Martha and Mary offered by three late medieval French figures: Pierre d’Ailly, Jean Gerson, and Nicolas de Clamanges. Their treatment of the gospel lesson of Martha and Mary reveals their self-understanding of the dangers of negotiating the vitae activae et contemplativae when two and then three papacies compromised spiritual life not just at the highest curial levels but in urban and rural parishes as well as in lecture halls throughout Europe, especially at their home of the University of Paris. Their statements allow us to posit a biographical analysis of how they saw their own situations as well as the role of the pastor, the professor, and the church politician during the Schism. By looking at the way these players discussed the emblematic comparison of the vita activa and the vita contemplativa, we may glimpse how fraught was the pragmatic and political late medieval answer to the question: to be Martha or Mary?