Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

Oculi carnis, oculi mentis: why seeing is not believing in Capgrave's Life of St Katherine

James, Sarah (2014) Oculi carnis, oculi mentis: why seeing is not believing in Capgrave's Life of St Katherine. The Review of English Studies, 65 (270). pp. 421-437. ISSN 1471-6968. (doi:10.1093/res/hgt085) (KAR id:37457)


This article explores Capgrave’s interest in the nature of visual phenomena as revealed in his Life of St Katharine. Noting that much previous scholarship locates this text in the context of late-medieval Lollard anti-image polemic, the article offers an alternative reading, establishing Capgrave’s interest in a broader intellectual context. The importance of Augustine’s theory of signs and his tripartite schema of physical, spiritual and intellectual vision to Capgrave’s work is demonstrated, as are medieval technical treatises concerned with the physiology of perception. Through a close reading of Book Three of the Life of St Katherine, the article argues that Capgrave uses his text to examine the problems inherent in human visual perception, specifically in relation to encounters with the divine, which highlight the human tendency to rely on the oculi carnis rather than the oculi mentis. It concludes that the Christian message of the text, with its focus on the development of the use of the oculi mentis, is complicated to transmit and difficult to follow, but that Capgrave’s enthusiasm for the nexus of ideas focused on the visual relishes this complexity and the intellectual challenges it presents.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1093/res/hgt085
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BT Doctrinal Theology
P Language and Literature > PE English philology and language
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
Depositing User: Sarah James
Date Deposited: 14 Dec 2018 15:19 UTC
Last Modified: 29 May 2019 11:38 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.