Robert Grosseteste on confession as cognitio experimentalis: A multidimensional approach to medieval memory
thesisposted on 11.02.2022, 12:40 by Rosamund M. Gammie
This thesis examines how Robert Grosseteste († 1253) saw in the act of confession the ultimate manifestation of cognitio experimentalis, or experiential knowledge (Prooemium to the Hexaëmeron §61). In the act of confession Grosseteste is adeptly able to combine the Augustinian notion of memory as the habitus of God (Confessions 10.25) with the Aristotelian concept that from sensation comes memory, from memory comes experience and from experience, knowledge of the universal (Metaphysics 1.1). I explore the concept of memory in Grosseteste's works in a number of ways to arrive at this conclusion, each chapter examining a distinct feature of memory and its purpose. Starting with corporeal sensation I establish memory's role within Grosseteste's epistemology and the dynamic nature of memory, recollection, and imagination within this paradigm. I then approach spiritual sensation; it is here that Grosseteste's originality in his lux and lumen distinction is so central, complicating the usual metaphoric language of spiritual sensation with frequent somatic inferences.
Having established the centrality of sensation to Grosseteste's theology and epistemology I move on to determine his knowledge of the ars memorativa and the relationship between memory and the written and spoken word. In doing so I show in my final chapter how Grosseteste is able to combine these various strands of memory in the act of confession. It is in confession where memory's autobiographical nature arises; not only its relationship with human experience and sensation but in the penitent's ability to search and at times manipulate it for meaning and to bring one closer to God. It is here, in this act of verbal, experiential recollection, that Aristotelian experimentum is given its theological polish by firmly emphasising the centrality of man's agency in God's creation.