Lay Sanctity, Medieval and Modern

A Search for Models

Edited by Ann W. Astell

Inspired by Vatican II, which attributed a special apostolate to the laity and affirmed their calling to holiness, this volume of original essays focuses on the shifting points of intersection between changing historical definitions of laity and sanctity. Ann W. Astell and ten other scholars examine a series of medieval and modern lay “saints” in order to explore how these figures perceived their own lay status and how this status has been perceived by others.

Through its examination of a series of specific historical figures and movements, Lay Sanctity, Medieval and Modern seeks answers to a set of recurring questions, such as what actually distinguishes the sanctity of the laity from that of the religious, why so few lay persons have been canonized, and to what extent the pursuit of sanctity requires lay saints to either deny or affirm their lay condition. Six essays seek to recover models for lay sanctity in the lives of early saints such as Catherine of Sienna and Angela of Foligno. The five studies of twentieth-century figures such as Elizabeth Leseuer and Jacques and Raissa Maritain suggest the emergence of new, secular ideals of lay sanctity. “These sharply etched profiles of lay exemplars and saints, both medieval and modern, enhance our understanding of what the Bible calls our great ‘cloud of witnesses.’ Anyone interested in Christian spirituality will welcome this carefully crafted and well-written volume.”

—Lawrence S. Cunningham, Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

“These lively accounts of lay holiness put flesh and color on Vatican II’s universal call to holiness. Ann Astell’s marvelous introduction alone is worth the price of the book.”

—Keith J. Egan, Hank Aquinas Chair in Catholic Theology, St. Mary’s College

Ann W. Astell is Professor of English at Purdue University and author of The Song of Songs in the Middle Ages (1990), Job, Boethius, and Epic Truth (1994), Chaucer and the Universe of Learning _ (1996), and _Political Allegory in Late Medieval England (1999).