The Form of Christ’s Passion: Preaching the Imitatio Passionis in Late Medieval England
This essay is part of the ‘Forms of Faith’ cluster, curated by Mary Raschko and Elizabeth Schirmer. Attending to the representations of Christ’s Passion in late medieval English sermons, this essay explores how preachers depicted Christ’s suffering body not only as the paradigmatic site of affective devotion, but also as a site of formal, physical, and spiritual imitation. This essay considers how a diverse set of late medieval sermons offer models of the imitatio passionis: Holy Week sermons from Mirk’s Festial describe Christ’s sufferings and explain liturgical re-enactments of the Passion to deepen parishioners’ understanding and compassion; a contemporary macaronic sermon, ‘Christus Passus est’, employs an exemplum to make visible the stakes of understanding Christ’s Passion as a part to be played; and a set of lollard Passion sermons explore the rhetorical and moral possibilities of attempting to imitate the singular form of the Passion. This essay suggests that the sermons meditate on the Passion itself as form, exploring the varied ways that parishioners might assume a form that is both exemplary and inimitable. This dialectic of singularity and exemplarity also plays out in the formal practices of the sermons; while these sermons communicate the importance of imitating the Passion, they also formally catalyse that relation, rhetorically modelling the mimetic structures of identifying with Christ.