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Flamma virtutis : a socio-rhetorical investigation of the fire miracles in the Vita Caesarii Bekkering, Denis John

Abstract

The authors of the vita of Caesarius, the bishop of Aries from 502 to 542, attribute numerous miracles to a man who himself provided little comment on contemporary miracles, and was completely silent regarding the popular relic cult of his day. This disparity in focus has led to the scholarly categorization of Caesarius and his biography in two separate cultural spheres; one representing a waning patristic focus on practical action, and the other anticipating the voracious Merovingian appetite for thaumaturgy. While both perspectives are true, the latter has largely ignored the fact that the authors of Caesarius' vita were intimate disciples of the bishop, and that they engineered miracle narratives in the bishop's biography in order to endorse the practical actions that Caesarius had promoted in his own large collection of sermons. In response to recent scholarly demand for new methodologies in the investigation of late antique miracle accounts, this study applies the "socio-rhetorical" analytical approach of the New Testament scholar Vernon K. Robbins to three distinctive miracles in the vita; those in which Caesarius extinguishes destructive fires. It is demonstrated that the fire miracle accounts are invested with implicit and explicit rhetorical structures that could either be readily understood by an audience, or authoritatively interpreted by a preacher on Caesarius' feast day. In addition to associating Caesarius with scriptural holy men, and reinforcing the need for the protective presence of his body in Aries, the authors of the bishop's vita inserted the analogous symbol flamma virtutis in the second miracle account. This symbol echoes similar analogues in Caesarius' corpus of preaching, which were used to effectively illustrate for the bishop's audience the practical path towards proper Christian living.

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