The Unlettered Word in the Early Fourteenth Century Dominican Doctrine of Intellection
Revd Christina Marshall-ten Wolde (Heythrop, University of London, PhD student)
Aberdyfi is a village of seven hundred inhabitants in which six Christian denominations have places of worship and interdenominational fellowship as Aberdyfi Christians Together. Controversy arose among the laity when the phrase “this is the word of the Lord” was introduced as a response to the Old Testament and Epistle readings in the Eucharistic liturgy of the Anglican Church in Wales. The main worry was the “reduction” of the living Word/word to the printed word on the page as sacred and perhaps even talismanic. This, however has its roots, in the pre-printing age, in a Dominican concern, as revealed in their attitude towards memory, for the primacy of the mental concept as unlettered thought, in analogy to the culturally-conditioned word constituted by letters.
Thomas Aquinas was more renowned before the Reformation as the doctor of memory rather than as a doctor of theology. For him, however, the two were theologically linked in that the abstraction process from the sensual input involved in intellection and its related memory was a mirroring of Christ’s incarnational relation to God as the imprint of his very being (Heb 1:3), a classical memory image. Both reflect the analogical nature of the word that needs to be understood in its rich variety as well as in but its unitary sense. In their heatedly contested role as confessors and preachers, the Dominicans were concerned with bringing the laity to such an understanding, thus enabling their spiritual and moral development and their eventual acquisition of the beatific vision. However the divine word might be defined, it does not exist in a vacuum but enters the temporal world. With time and space comes memory, initially as a basic survival tool that acquires theological heft in the Passover and Eucharistic narratives in which the memorial becomes present reality. The Dominican position, seemingly in contradiction to the modern mindset, actually speaks anew in favor of the multivalent understanding of the word that transcends the culturally confined wor(l)d of letters.