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Faithful NarrativesHistorians, Religion, and the Challenge of Objectivity$
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Andrea Sterk and Nina Caputo

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780801451829

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801451829.001.0001

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Medieval Monks on Labor and Leisure

Medieval Monks on Labor and Leisure

(p.47) Chapter 3 Medieval Monks on Labor and Leisure
Faithful Narratives

John Van Engen

Cornell University Press

This chapter examines medieval representations of labor and modern scholars' efforts to understand the meaning of work in the Middle Ages. No history of labor and leisure in premodern Europe will make sense of persisting attitudes apart from their reshaping by medieval religious teaching and practice. Turning monks out into fields and shops validated hand work for everyone, as inviting peasant laborers into the confines of the monastery also validated the work of prayer for the lowest social ranks. To become redemptive, hand labor's value rested on its lesser social, intellectual, and spiritual standing. With idle leisure (otiositas) as the proclaimed enemy of the human soul, no one dared argue that life was leisure—all was work.

Keywords:   medieval labor, leisure, otiositas, premodern Europe, hand labor, medieval religion, monks

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