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In the Brother Cadfael episode, what was Cadfael's view of faith and religion? How...

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survivor713 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 7, 2010 at 9:21 AM via web

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In the Brother Cadfael episode, what was Cadfael's view of faith and religion? How does his outlook compare to his contempories?

I also need to get a better understanding of the morality of the times as dictated in the film, as well as how women were viewed and what the Medieval English valued in terms of character, morality and ethics?

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ecofan74 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted June 29, 2010 at 4:44 AM (Answer #1)

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In the British series, Brother Cadfael, Derek Jacobi plays a monk in medieval England.  Like some of his literary counterparts, Cadfael is representative of a perspective on the relationship of faith and religion to the world.  In the Middle Ages, religion (often termed "theology") was the "Queen of the Sciences," meaning that all other forms of inquiry was subordinate, and also in service to it.  Much of this was reinforced by the stronly rationalistic tendency in medieval thought.  Reason was a tool by which the works of God could be known (to an extent). 

The series presents Brother Cadfael as a challenger to this point of view.  That is not to say that Cadfael is antagonistic toward the Church or the faith, but his perspective is portrayed more broadly than that.  Cadfael, a monk with a penchant for solving crimes, is an empiricist.  Empiricism refers to the reliance on experience for meaningful knowledge of the world.  Rather than trusting on revelation (God revealing knowledge to him), Cadfael actively seeks to gain knowledge directly from nature, generally in the form of clues.  As far as faith and religion are concerned, Cadfael believes that they have their sphere.  There are some aspects of the world where an empirical method is the more beneficial method.

Cadfael seems much different than many of the other characters in the series, not just in the one episode.  The other characters serve as a foil for his investigative abilities.  His method and abilities seem all the more impressive when there is no meaningful (empirical) competition from those around him.  In the larger historical context, empiricism gained ground in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.  Some of its most important exponents were Roger Bacon, Robert Grosseteste, and Albertus Magnus, just to name three.

The episode also reveals medieval attitudes toward women and also what medieval societies valued in terms of character and morality.  Women were generally viewed with a degree of distrust, specifically those women who were not virginal - an attitude that goes back to Eve's falling to temptation in Genesis.  In general, what Cadfael represents does not reflect what most in his life situation as a monk would prefer to see in terms of character.  Important among them characteristics for monks were humility and devotion.  The former tends to work against sticking out from the crowd, and the latter tends to not play well with competing viewpoints, empiricism in this case.    

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