Building on recent critical conversations in the history of the emotions, this article examines how the language of compassion came into English culture and how it was deployed for theological and political purposes. It traces the growth of compassion in England in the early fifteenth century via two of its earliest theorists, Nicholas Love and Margery Kempe, and it shows how compassion functioned as a keyword, registering a series of challenges and confusions in its meaning that represented a cultural change—including increased focus on the humanity of Christ—which demanded new affective and social practices. In this cultural shift, Nicholas Love and Margery Kempe theorized what it meant to “suffer with” Christ not only affectively but also cognitively, theologically, and socially. Compassion became, for Kempe and Love, the locus from which to identify devotional practices as orthodox while also claiming spiritual authority.

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