JOHN of FECAMP
 

 


Confessio Theologica, substantially contained in PL 40 909-936, c. XII-XXXVII

Libellus de Scripturis et Veteris Verbis Patrum ad Eorum Praesertim Utilitatem qui Contemplativae Vitae sunt Amatores  [pseud.] Medit Sancti Augustini, XII-XXXIII; (Book of the Writings and Sayings of the Ancient Fathers, of particular value to those Who love the Contemplative Life)


JOHN of FECAMPAlso known as Jeannalin (Little Johnny), on account of his diminutive stature, Ascetic writer, b. near Ravenna about the beginning of the eleventh century; d. at Fécamp, Normandy, 22 February, 1079. He studied at Dijon under his compatriot William, Abbot of St. Benignus, whom he had accompanied to France. Under this skilled master John acquired an extensive acquaintance with all the sciences, making a special study of medicine, of which he is reckoned by Bernier among the cleverest exponents trained in the monastic schools of the Middle Ages. When William was commissioned to reform the Abbey of Fécamp and to establish there a colony of Benedictine monks, John again accompanied him and discharged under him the office of prior until 1028. In this year, worn out by his labours in the service of the Church, and seeking a more tranquil refuge for his old age, William appointed John his successor as abbot and retired to Italy. Taking his master for his model, John succeeded in winning an almost equal renown, and, if his authority was exercised with an defending the privileges of his house against every attack. In 1052, on the elevation of Helinard to the archiepiscopal See of Lyons, John was invited to succeed him as Abbot of Dijon. At first he retained also the abbacy of Fécamp, but, finding himself unable to carry the double burden, he resigned this office in 1056. Towards the close of his life he undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, desiring to see before his death the sanctified places towards which his thoughts had so often turned during his meditations. Seized and thrown into prison by the Turks, it was only in 1076 that he could return to France. He then retired to Fécamp.

As Abbot of St. Benignus John had been brought into close relations with Emperor Henry III — after 1038 also King of Burgundy — and with his spouse, Agnes of Poitiers. After Henry’s death his widow placed herself entirely under the spiritual guidance of the abbot, and for her John composed a series of ascetical works. These were entitled [NB recent studies group a number of his texts in the Confessio Theologica, often wrongly attributed to Augustine]the “Liber precum variarum”, “De divina contemplatio Christique amore”, “De superna Hierusalem,” “De institutione viduae,” “De vita et moribus virginum”, “De eleemosynarum dispensatione” (P.L., CXLVII, 147 sqq., 445 sqq.). A good indication of John’s value as a writer is afforded by the fact that the “De divina contemplatione” was for a long time regarded as a work of St. Augustine, although it is now certain that it was composed either wholly or partly by John. Some letters dealing with incidents in the life of the cloisters are also collected in P.L. loc. cit., 153 sq.
 

From the end of the eleventh century, one of the activities of prayer began to be the object of a special kind of literature, which came to include two genres. The first consisted in the extension of texts in which Augustine addressed God or himself in prayer (e.g., the Confessions and Soliloquies). John of Fécamp (d. 1078) composed three successive editions of a long prayer of praise and supplication. The edition entitled The Theological (i.e., "contemplative") Confession was afterwards divided into short sections which, combined with similar selections from Augustine and other authors, was widely read under the title of Meditations of St. Augustine.
 

Un maître de la vie spirituelle au XIe siècle: Jean de Fécamp / par Jean Leclercq et Jean-Paul Bonnes
Author(s): Leclercq, Jean, 1911-1993
Series: Études de théologie et d'histoire de la spiritualité 9
"Textes" by Jean de Fécamp: p. [107]-230

 


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