To what extent was there a "new consciousness of self" in the twelfth century?

Essay by blippo_ukUniversity, Bachelor'sB, May 2004

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Although it is universally recognised that there was a sixteenth century renaissance, a body of historians now argue that there were in fact three renaissances in Western Europe. These two earlier renaissances took place in the seventh and twelfth centuries, and in the latter some argue that we see an emergence of man coming to terms with his 'self' or his 'individuality.'

It is important here to define what we are looking for in this essay. Indiscriminate use both terms would certainly lead to confusion, the terms 'self' and 'individuals' are too easily mixed up and confused with one another. The 'individual' is a modern concept; to the people of the twelfth century 'individual' was just a technically term in the study of dialectic. To us, the 'individual' is a person who acts entirely independently from other forces, a man unconstrained and able to grow into whatever he makes himself.

If we try to retrospectively apply this concept to the twelfth century we fail to understand the era we are examining.

Twelfth century conception of the nature of the self and what we call personality was different tours today. Persona was a word not describing one's individuality, but describing the mask one might put in front of himself as an actor. J.F. Benton states the matter in a metaphor of direction, "in the Middle Ages the journey inward was a journey toward self for the sake of God; today it is commonly for the sake of self alone... Hugh of St. Victor for example equated 'ascent to God' with 'entry into yourself.'" The modern secular person setting out to find himself would strip away all the layers of "conformity and contrived artifice" to find what truly lies inside. In medieval times the persona was not what lay within but what...