Cover image for Spiritual Calculations: Number and Numeracy in Late Medieval English Sermons By Christine Cooper-Rompato

Spiritual Calculations

Number and Numeracy in Late Medieval English Sermons

Christine Cooper-Rompato


$109.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-09162-4

Available as an e-book

204 pages
6" × 9"

Spiritual Calculations

Number and Numeracy in Late Medieval English Sermons

Christine Cooper-Rompato

“An engaging, well-researched study.”


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  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
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Medieval English sermons teem with examples of quantitative reasoning, ranging from the arithmetical to the numerological, and regularly engage with numerical concepts. Examining sermons written in Middle English and Latin, this book reveals that popular English-speaking audiences were encouraged to engage in a wide range of numerate operations in their daily religious practices.

Medieval sermonists promoted numeracy as a way for audiences to appreciate divine truth. Their sermons educated audiences in a hybrid form of numerate practice—one that relied on individuals’ pragmatic quantitative reasoning, which, when combined with spiritual interpretations of numbers provided by the preacher, created a deep and rich sense in which number was the best way to approach the sacred mysteries of the world as well as to learn how one could best live as a Christian. Analyzing both published and previously unpublished sermons and sermon cycles, Christine Cooper-Rompato explores the use of numbers, arithmetic, and other mathematical operations to better understand how medieval laypeople used math as a means to connect with God.

Spiritual Calculations enhances our understanding of medieval sermons and sheds new light on how receptive audiences were to this sophisticated rhetorical form. It will be welcomed by scholars of Middle English literature, medieval sermon studies, religious experience, and the history of mathematics.

“An engaging, well-researched study.”
“[T]his book, with its focus on medieval numeracy, as an overlooked counterpart to medieval literacy, fills a significant gap within scholarship. It adds to our understanding of the complexity and ingenuity of medieval sermons, and it sheds new light on the multivalent understandings of number possessed by audiences.”
“[T]his study can be accessed by experts and novices alike, and it effectively illuminates how sermons used numbers and arithmetic to make a spiritual point.”
Spiritual Calculations adds greatly to our appreciation and understanding of medieval sermons and sheds light on how receptive audiences must have been to what was a highly sophisticated rhetorical form. Numbers are pervasive in sermons, and preachers employed them in a variety of ways, but they are in some ways so pervasive that their potential rhetorical effectiveness goes unnoticed. Cooper-Rompato’s study therefore makes an original and rich contribution to our greater understanding of how preachers ‘educated audiences’ in a ‘hybrid form of numerate practice’ and why they sought to do so.”

Christine Cooper-Rompato is Professor of English and an affiliated member of Religious Studies at Utah State University. She is the author of The Gift of Tongues: Women's Xenoglossia in the Later Middle Ages, also published by Penn State University Press.


Introduction: Spiritual Calculations

1. Encountering the Divine Through Number in Middle English Sermons: An Overview

2. Numbers in Dives and Pauper and the Sermons of Warminster, Longleat House MS 4: Models for Spiritual Understanding and Practice

3. “Knowing Thyself” and God Through Number in Jacob’s Well

4. Quantitative Reasoning in the Latin Sermons of Robert Rypon in London, British Library, MS Harley 4894

Conclusion: Practical and Spiritual Numeracy in The Book of Margery Kempe

Appendix: Methods of Counting and Calculation in the Later Middle Ages




Download a PDF sample chapter here: Introduction