This dissertation examines the role that religious ritual played in basic Christian instruction during the early Middle Ages. It studies how rituals of instruction transformed in the Latin West between Late Antiquity and the early medieval world, and how these rituals contributed to the larger Christianization of society. The dissertation makes two main arguments. First, that as the Patristic catechumenate declined, the festivals of Rogationtide and Lent altered in order to provide a new space for Christian formation. Early medieval Christianity inculcated and transmitted its doctrines and practices in a radically different social and political world than Christianity’s Mediterranean homeland. The medieval clergy, thus, had to adapt the ritual framework of instruction to respond pastorally to the new social context of their age.
Secondly, that these changes in the context of instruction led to new emphases in the content of instruction itself. In particular, communal, sacramental, and moral norms gradually replaced doctrine and individual spirituality as the focuses of instruction. Rituals of basic instruction, like Rogationtide and Lent, helped to form the local communities of the Latin West. Contesting the interpretation of these festivals allowed people in the Middle Ages to provide competing visions of how the community should be structured. The recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, in particular, became the unifying ritual act of Christendom, invoked as a text of ritual power by all ranks in society. Yet, even as Christian instruction transformed between antiquity and the Middle Ages, deep continuities remained.
This dissertation devotes particular attention to preaching and teaching on the Lord’s Prayer and creed during the early Middle Ages and to evidence for the usage of these two texts in popular practices. The Lord’s Prayer and creed, however, serve only as two useful lenses through which Christianization and instruction can be evaluated. Christian formation always involved much more than just the teaching of these two texts. Medieval law, theological treatises, narrative sources, sermons, and liturgy are all essential sources testifying to developments in the social and religious position of basic instruction across the early medieval Latin West.