Rather than consult a few high-minded, well-known theologians (who would be a ninth century theologian, anyway . . .), Demuleau consults confession guides, almanacs, the private reflections and commentaries (especially) on the lives of the Egyptian anchorites. These last became a model for institutionalized monasticism, even as the latter phenomenon became accepted and regulated under ecclesiastical law. One theme Delumeau brings up at the beginning and (this reader hopes; it's been so long I can't honestly remember with what success he does so) develops throughout the work is that much of the contemptus mundi literature, at least in its earliest manifestations, was considered part of the disciplined life within a monastery. While certainly containing much that was current in the Christian thought of late-antiquity - especially the neo-Platonism of Augustine and the Cappadocians, John Chrysostom and Origen - it became regularized through repetition. The results . . . well, Delumeau provides more than a sample. From a 12th century English monk, Serlon of Wilton:
The world passes, fleeing like time, like the river, like the breeze . . .
The world passes, the name passes quickly, and the world with the name,
But the world passes more quickly than its name . . .
Nothing exists in the world but the world which passes . . .
The world passes; eliminate that which passes, the world passes . . .
The world passes, Christ passes not, adore Him who passes not (ellipses in original)
From an unknown 13th century author comes this section of a much longer poem:
In this world every man
Is born into affliction;
And human life is lived in sorrow.In the end it terminates with the suffering of death
Before being raised to the Holy See, future Pope Innocent III, then just plain old Cardinal Lotario di Segni, wrote a De Contemptu Mundi which included the following cheery thoughts:
More harmful than any beast
Life which should be called death,
Which one should hate, not love
Worldly life, sickly thing
More fragile than the rose
Worldly life, source of labors,
Anguished, full of suffering
Worldly life, future death,
Worldly life, evil thing
Never worthy of love
Lest anyone think Lotario's disgust at life was limited to general statements at our current vale of tears, he offers the following disquisition on our origins as flesh and blood:
Man is formed of dust, mud, ashes, and what is even viler, of foul sperm . . . Who can ignore the fact that conjugal union never occur without the itching of the flesh, the fermentation of desire and the stench of lust? Hence any pregeny is spoiled, tainted and vitiated by the very act of its conception, the seed communicating to the soul that inhabits it the stain of sin, the stigma of fault, the filth of iniquity - in the same way that a liquid will corrupt if it is poured in to a dirty vessel . . .
Funny enough, these kinds of ideas still abound in some manner, fashion, or form.
At one point Delumeau points out just how far these reflections have fallen from the Biblical testimony. After the citation from Cardinal Lotario on life in general, on p.15, Delumeau writes:
We here find ourselves far from the Book of Wisdom (2:1-21), where a well-known passage definitely depreciates worldly life, but places this depreciation, most significantly, in the mouth of the ungodly: "For they say to themselves, with their misguided reasoning: 'Our life is short and dready . . . The breath in our nostrils is a puff of smoke . . . Our life will pass away like wisps of cloud, dissolve like the mist . . . Yes, our days are the passing of shadow . . .' This is the way they reason, but they are misled."
Whether it has roots in the Biblical witness or not - and an argument exists that the kind of world-denying asceticism on display does have a basis in at least some Biblical texts - the widespread nature of this world-denying, even life-denying asceticism, and its extreme content, certainly gives one pause.