Sydney Medieval and Renaissance Group – AGM Meeting Seminar

Professor Constant Mews, Monash University
Plague, Injustice, and Last Things In Early Medieval Ireland

Online via Zoom, Wednesday 13 April 2022 at 1930 AEST.

Reflecting on global catastrophe is a recurring theme in many religious traditions. In the New Testament, the Book of Revelation has provided a particularly powerful evocation, inspired by the books of Daniel and Ezekiel of forthcoming calamity prior to the coming of a new heaven and new earth. Its message had a particular meaning in early medieval Ireland, which did not escape the globally destructive plagues of the sixth and seventh centuries CE. This paper will introduce the Twelve Abuses of the Age, from seventh-century Ireland, as a plea for justice, which it saw as being suffocated by the abuses of the age. The Twelve Abuses urges moral behaviour on twelve types of bad behaviour in society, climaxing in ‘a people without law’. I shall argue that it is written within an apocalyptic perspective in which the bad behaviour of the king was seen as potentially leading to ecological disaster. As such, it deserves to be connected to other texts of an apocalyptic nature popular in early medieval Ireland that sought to make sense of a world always on the edge of seeming disaster.

Constant’s résumé:

Constant Mews, D. Phil, has had a long and distinguished career as Professor of Medieval Thought and Director, Centre for Religion Studies, Monash University, Melbourne. His most recent honour is election to the Council of the Medieval Academy of America (MAA). Constant is an authority on medieval religious thought, especially on the medieval philosopher and theologian, Peter Abelard, and on interfaith dialogue. Specifically, he is internationally known as the author of The Lost Love Letters of Heloise and Abelard: Perceptions of Dialogue in Twelfth-Century France, and of many studies of their contemporaries, including the German visionary and musician, Hildegard of Bingen. He is deeply committed to promoting religious literacy in a multi-religious society, and thus to interreligious dialogue.