“The Trinite is our everlasting lover”: Marriage and Trinitarian Love in the Later Middle Ages

Isabel Davisa1

a1 Birkbeck College, University of London (e-mail: i.davis@bbk.ac.uk)

This essay is a history of an analogy. It charts a perceived relationship between the Trinity and the conjugal family in Anglo-French lay culture in the later Middle Ages. The association had long been known within theological discussions of the Trinity, antedating the works of St. Augustine, but his disapproving assessment was enduringly to inhibit its use. This essay shows the way that the analogy reemerged in the fourteenth century, bleeding through its theological bandages into debates about the ethics of human relationships. Where this interrelationship has been considered before by medievalists, it has been in criticism of William Langland's Piers Plowman. This essay treats that poem, too, but also maintains that the synergy between marriage and the Trinity was not only the preoccupation of an eccentric poet but had a much more widespread cultural relevance. Indeed, I gather here a range of material, both literature and art, from across Europe between roughly the end of the thirteenth to the mid-fifteenth century; within that evidence, I identify a shared interest in reanimating the apparently exhausted topic of Trinitarianism and the family.

(Online publication October 07 2011)

Isabel Davis is Lecturer in Medieval and Early Renaissance Literature at Birkbeck College, University of London (e-mail: i.davis@bbk.ac.uk).


I would like to thank the following for their encouragement, suggestions on, and readings of this work: Laura Salisbury, Richard Rowland, Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Clare A. Lees, Jane Gilbert, Anthony Bale, Paul E. Szarmach, Jacqueline Brown, and the anonymous readers at Speculum, the Medieval Urban Household Group at York, and the audiences at the papers delivered at the Universities of Sussex and Manchester.