The Medieval Review 11.09.17

Bailey, Lisa Kaaren. Christianity's Quiet Success: The Eusebius Gallicanus Sermon Collection and the Power of the Church in Late Antique Gaul. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010. Pp. 288. . . $34. ISBN 978-0-268-02224-2.

Reviewed by:

Owen Phelan
Mount St. Mary's University
ophelan@msmary.edu

Christianity's Quiet Success helpfully nuances our understanding of late antique and early medieval Christianity. Bailey's study sifts through the Eusebius Gallicanus sermon collection, whose seventy-six sermons were likely composed in the mid- fifth century and compiled or gathered around the mid-sixth century. The collection allows Bailey to take a fresh look at three issues central to the study of the Late Antique Church: Christianity's embrace of local environments (as opposed to a more centralized, imperial perspective), the tension between ascetic and episcopal models of ecclesiastical authority, and the semi-Pelagian controversy. Bailey's study makes an impressive case for the importance and the complexity of pastoral care in late antique Gaul.

Bailey uses her first two chapters to establish context. Chapter One analyzes the possibilities and problems of sermons for the study of Christianity. She observes that sermons are an integral part of the liturgy and the main vehicle for pastoral care in many communities. She then suggests that sermons address large audiences in ways most meaningful to the hearers. At the same time, she recognizes that sermons can be used to assess the goals of preachers, not their achievements. With commendably substantial notes on secondary sources, Bailey engages important earlier scholarship on late antique Christianity as well as a bit of anthropology in suggesting that the Eusebius Gallicanus sermon collection will allow her to see how the power of Christian preachers was both built and limited. [1] Chapter Two explains her source. The Eusebius Gallicanus corpus is an anonymous collection of sermons gathered into a kind of preaching handbook. Bailey sets aside seemingly intractable questions of authorship, compilation, and provenance, complaining that such questions have paralyzed study of this rich and influential source base.

The final four chapters constitute her analysis of the collection. Chapters Three, Four, and Five deal respectively with three fundamental themes. Chapter Six deals with audience. In Chapter Three, Bailey unpacks how the preachers of Eusebius Gallicanus build community, which she identifies as the first priority of Gallic pastors. Across the sermons, the ideal community is governed by concord, mutuality, and consensus. This has profound implications for the structure of the community. For example, rather than a patriarchal society of the kind advocated by Caesarius of Arles, who worked around the same time, the community glimpsed in the sermons is cemented by a notion of obligation to others with salvation as a common task born by all. Pastors sit at the center of the community, not above it.

Chapter Four explores catechesis. Through an evaluation of four topics consistently addressed in the sermons (the Creed, the Virgin Birth, the meaning of Scripture, and the justice of God), Bailey teases out two key persuasion strategies in the collection: circle of faith reasoning and the rhetoric of paradox. [2] By circle of faith reasoning, Bailey means vigorous argumentation on the basis of unchallenged assumptions, reasoning self-contained by the faith of the preachers. By rhetoric of paradox, she means the presentation of reason-straining impossibilities as reassuring characteristics of divinity. She observes that these strategies are not like the more authoritarian reasoning often applied by charismatic titans like Augustine. In nearly all the sermons, she helpfully observes the low- level immediacy of the discussions. The topics and explanations are not abstract philosophical discourses, they seem to address very basic and common human anxieties, such as does God's justice require my punishment?

Chapter Five addresses sin. As with Augustine and Caesarius, the Eusebius preachers teach that Christian life should be a constant work of penance and expiation. Bailey draws out complicated and not always consistent responses to the problem of sin that weave together ascetic rigorism and pastoral flexibility. In general the collection presents an understanding approach to sin in the present, but with an intolerant judgment day looming. Key, then, to the collection's penitential approach is the anticipation of the sentence. Christians are urged to judge and punish themselves in the present so that they might not be judged harshly later. This apportioning of responsibility is distinctive from the authoritarian line often advanced by Augustine or Caesarius.

Chapter Six looks at sermons in the collection specifically addressed to monks. At least ten of the sermons were penned for those removed from secular life. That these selections are dispersed throughout the collection, for Bailey, indicates a common vision of a Christian community. Closer evaluation strengthens her case. The fundamental approach to lay and monastic communities does not differ, even if some practical adaptations are in evidence. Monks hear the same themes of harmony, mutuality, and consensus. Furthermore, several sermons condemn temptations to ascetic superiority and elitism. Just like for the laity, salvation is possible for monks, but requires great effort and should never be taken for granted.

In a Conclusion and Appendix, Bailey considers some of the wider implications of her study and lays the groundwork for future efforts. The Conclusion emphasizes the flexibility and adaptability of the tactics of pastoral care throughout the collection. What has seemed to some scholars like sharply drawn theological/ecclesiastical categories, such as Pelagian vs. Augustinian or lay vs. monastic, may in fact not have existed. Differences of theological terminology may reflect the gritty application of pastoral care rather than pristine philosophical disagreements. Christian life in Late Antiquity, Bailey concludes, was not a simple story of difference or conflict. In the Appendix, Bailey suggestively reflects on a few of the 447 surviving manuscripts containing Eusebius Gallicanus sermons. Very few consistent elements unite the manuscripts of this strikingly popular collection. Different sermons and groups of sermons are copied and re-copied from the seventh century to the thirteenth. The influence of the sermons and their specific use during the early and high middle ages, she leaves, remain to be studied.

The decision to ignore questions of authorship does lead to some awkward and unsatisfyingly abrupt discussions. Cutting through this Gordian knot is both the strength and weakness of the book. On the one hand, Bailey moves analysis of the collection forward by considering the collection as a fact in its totality. On the other hand, she often nuances her argument by comparing and contrasting individual sermons with each other and with other important sermon collections, such as those of Augustine of Hippo and Caesarius of Arles. And because of the unknown background/context of individual sermons the basis for the comparisons is not always clear and consistent.

Bailey's book is successful at the task it set for itself. Through a sensitive reading of Eusebius Gallicanus, she illumines the rich variation in pastoral approaches adopted by anonymous Gallic preachers, which likely reflect their attempts to address intensely local concerns. By analyzing how authority is constructed and how lay and monastic communities are managed by the preachers of the Eusebius Gallicanus collection, she challenges hard and fast notions of episcopal vs. ascetic models of church authority. In a similar way, she assaults too sharp a picture of semi-Pelagian controversy, using the sermons to show that pastoral need, and not doctrinaire ideology, may explain the jumble of ecclesiastical categories batted around Gaul in the fifth and sixth centuries.

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Notes:

1. On late-Antique Christianity see especially Robert Markus, but also many others. On the anthropological approach see especially Catherine Bell. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

2. The former category she acknowledges borrowing from a colleague in philosophy John Bishop, the latter from Averil Cameron. Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire: The Development of Christian Discourse. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1991.