I'm off to return some library books today, but due to some post-travel confusion I found myself hungry and having a free hour on my hands. So I went down to Subway (very nice staff, and the best breakfast value hands down), and I decided while I was sitting there with my free tea I would look at the library books I was about to return.
Barbara Swain's Fools and Folly was about what I would expect for a book published in 1932, and does have a number of interesting sources in the endnotes. I especially appreciate the citations from the Patrologia Latina, because that is not a beast I want to just start wading through. Nevertheless, the book suffers from the classic "disability = sin" problem, and it seems to me that Swain got the causal relationship backwards: one is not declared a heretic or sinner because one is seen to be a fool, one is a fool because one is a sinner. I.e., only an idiot (in our modern figurative sense) would act contrary to God's Law. I think this usage of the word "fool" is indeed highly figurative. She also discusses the Ship of Fools and the Feast of Fools, generalising quite a lot from a small handful of sources.
The other book, Ronald Finucane's Miracles and Pilgrims is quite excellent, and I sincerely wish I didn't have to give it back to the library today. He addresses the issue of the plurality of the medieval church, and that the small little parish of St. Margaret in Little Tiny Village is not the same Church as the Vatican. Catholicism has never been completely "top down", despite the importance of the hierarchy. There is an element of "bottom up" as well, and a great many people somewhere in the middle. This "middle Church" is where I find myself the most intrigued when it comes to disability.
There are important "top down" texts which treat with disability (Gratian's Decretals, for example, or the Fourth Lateran Council); and there are the "bottom up" parish rolls which recorded the active life of a particular religious community; and then there are the "middle" texts of the penitentials, which draw on Church Law, academic philosophy influenced by Plato, Aristotle, and Muslim philosophers, and the practical concerns of pastoral work. Perhaps that is why I am so interested in them. They're the middle ground of the discussion. I think I am going to cut this off here, because I want to develop these ideas further before committing them to the public space.
It figures (to go back to the title) that I would have these awesome thoughts the day I go to return the book. Hello, photocopier!
Meanwhile, I am now actually employed, and I have my first real shift on Saturday! Go me!
Also, watch this space for exciting news* in the world of Alison's academic career!