“May the discursive structure stand for the seal”

IN THE TWO CENTURIES following the turn of the first millennium, literate individuals in Western Europe rarely if ever resorted to mediated expression, to indirect communication by means of the written word, without expressing some sense of the absence of immediacy, that is, of personal presence. When Bishop Arnulf of Lisieux ( d. 1181) could not attend a council in London, he sent a letter “so that the page might take the place of his person and the letter might faithfully bring his voice to life.” Slightly earlier, Bernard of Clairvaux ( d. 1153) sought to reassure his correspondents about the authenticity and representativeness of two letters to which he was unable to affix his seal. In one letter, he wrote: “I do not have my seal handy, but the reader will recognize the style because I myself have dictated the letter.” The other letter states: “May the discursive structure stand for the seal, which I do not have handy.” Bernard expects readers to notice his personal presence, however immaterial, within the fabric of the text, through its style and diction. His secretary and biographer, Geoffrey of Clairvaux (or of Auxerre, d. after 1188), emphasized this conflation of person and text by entitling Chapter 8 of his biography: “On St. Bernard’s writings and the image of his soul expressed in them.”

Medieval Identity: A Sign and a Concept
Brigitte Miriam Bedos-Rezak
The American Historical Review
Vol. 105, No. 5 (Dec., 2000), pp. 1489-1533