Penn Press logo
Ruling the Spirit
Search the full text of this book:

Powered by Google

Ruling the Spirit
Women, Liturgy, and Dominican Reform in Late Medieval Germany

Claire Taylor Jones

232 pages | 6 x 9
Cloth 2017 | ISBN 9780812249552 | $65.00s | Outside the Americas £52.00
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the Middle Ages Series
View table of contents and excerpt

"In this erudite and original study, Claire Taylor Jones shows convincingly the changing and often surprisingly imaginative role of the Office in the spiritual and institutional lives of Dominican nuns. . . . The archive on which Ruling the Spirit draws is a remarkable testament in itself to Jones's achievement in this book, which blazes new ground in the study of the liturgical cultures of the medieval West."—The Medieval Review

"[A] very impressive achievement that will demand to be taken into consideration in further studies of the region and women's religious life within it."—Reviews in History

"At the focus of Claire Taylor Jones's Ruling the Spirit are not works written by German Dominican nuns but rather texts for these women penned primarily by friars from the early fourteenth to late fifteenth centuries . . . [B]y assuredly emphasising the uniformity of message which underlined these writings, the author shows their vital importance for understanding women's spirituality and notions of reform in the later Middle Ages."—German History

"This important study of medieval liturgical culture focuses on a particular setting but has broad implications for our understanding of liturgy and mysticism, connections between those phenomena, relations between religious women and the men charged with their service and oversight, and pre-Reformation conceptions of reform. It makes a powerful revisionist argument that should lead to discussion in and beyond the study of medieval religion."—The Journal of Religion

"Claire Taylor Jones has written a sure-footed, authoritative account of the Divine Office and its importance in Dominican spirituality, especially for German Observant women. Anyone interested in the history of medieval liturgy, the Dominican Order, Observant reform, or more broadly, women's spirituality and mysticism, should read her book."—Barbara Newman, Northwestern University

Histories of the German Dominican order have long presented a grand narrative of its origin, fall, and renewal: a Golden Age at the order's founding in the thirteenth century, a decline of Dominican learning and spirituality in the fourteenth, and a vibrant renewal of monastic devotion by Dominican "Observants" in the fifteenth. Dominican nuns are presumed to have moved through a parallel arc, losing their high level of literacy in Latin over the course of the fourteenth century. However, unlike the male Dominican friars, the nuns are thought never to have regained their Latinity, instead channeling their spiritual renewal into mystical experiences and vernacular devotional literature. In Ruling the Spirit, Claire Taylor Jones revises this conventional narrative by arguing for a continuous history of the nuns' liturgical piety. Dominican women did not lose their piety and literacy in the fifteenth century, as is commonly believed, but instead were urged to reframe their devotion around the observance of the Divine Office.

Jones grounds her research in the fifteenth-century liturgical library of St. Katherine's in Nuremberg, which was reformed to Observance in 1428 and grew to be one of the most significant convents in Germany, not least for its library. Many of the manuscripts owned by the convent are didactic texts, written by friars for Dominican sisters from the fourteenth through the fifteenth century. With remarkable continuity across genres and centuries, this literature urges the Dominican nuns to resume enclosure in their convents and the strict observance of the Divine Office, and posits ecstatic experience as an incentive for such devotion. Jones thus rereads the "sisterbooks," vernacular narratives of Dominican women, long interpreted as evidence of mystical hysteria, as encouragement for nuns to maintain obedience to liturgical practice. She concludes that Observant friars viewed the Divine Office as the means by which Observant women would define their communities, reform the terms of Observant devotion, and carry the order into the future.

Claire Taylor Jones teaches German at the University of Notre Dame.

View your shopping cart | Browse Penn Press titles in Religious Studies | Join our mailing list

Penn Press | Site Use and Privacy Policy
Report Accessibility Issues and Get Help | University of Pennsylvania
Copyright © 2021 University of Pennsylvania Press | All rights reserved