The Medieval Review 11.12.04

Colberg, Katharina. Konrad von Megenberg Lacrima ecclesie. Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Quellen zur Geistesgeschicte des Mittelalters. Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2010. Pp. liv, 135. 25 EUR. ISBN 978-3-7752-1026-3. . .

Reviewed by:

David C. Mengel
Xavier University

Katharina Colberg's long-awaited edition of Conrad of Megenberg's (1309-1374) Lacrima ecclesie is both welcome and impressive. This treatise, an excerpt of which was printed separately in 1613 as De erroribus Begehardorum and reprinted subsequently, has long been known to those who study religion in later medieval Europe. Robert Lerner's The Heresy of the Free Spirit in the Later Middle Ages (1972), Jean-Claude Schmitt's Mort d'une hérésie (1978) and Alexander Patschovsky's Die Anfänge einer ständigen Inquisition in Böhmen (1975) all refer to the text, for example. It has been mined especially for Conrad's brief accounts of the errors "begardorum seu lulhardorum, vulgariter begardi quoad viros et begine quoad feminas nominantur" (10-11), including descriptions of individual Beghards whom Conrad encountered in Regensburg. The author and this treatise in particular deserve to be still better known, and this edition makes that possible.

Scholars remember Conrad of Megenberg (Conradus de Monte Puellarum) especially for his Latin and German writings on the natural world, such as his Buch der Natur, but he also wrote widely on church politics, canon law, philosophy and the lives of saints. This breadth is well represented by the authors who contributed to the 2006 volume, Konrad von Megenberg (1309-1374) und sein Werk. Christopher Ocker's article in that volume also offers the most recent account of Lacrima ecclesie, and the first extensive one in English. [1] Ocker's article and now especially Colberg's edition remind us that Conrad should be considered along with William of St. Amour, Richard Fitzralph, and Conrad Waldhauser as leading opponents of friars during an era of particular strife between mendicants and secular priests--a point which Hermann Meyer made already in 1914. [2]

Conrad believed that contemporary scourges such as pestilences and popular uprisings represented God's response to human wickedness (105- 8). And when Conrad looked for wickedness in the church, his eye always fell upon mendicant friars, as well as the beghards and beguines whom he associated with friars. For example, he grumbles that beghards and beguines, "especially those coming and going from foreign parts," forcefully requested frequent, "nearly daily" communion at his own church (62). When Conrad resisted their requests--because they had not first made confession within his parish or, so far as Conrad knew, to local friars either--the mendicants criticized Conrad among his own parishioners. Elsewhere Conrad accuses beguines of frequenting hospital death-beds, like vultures recruiting corpses (and the accompanying payments) for the graveyards of mendicant houses (27-8). At times, Conrad addresses an unnamed friar or friars directly-- evidence, the editor plausibly suggests, that the treatise was composed quickly, in part from previously written pieces (XVII). "Have you, friar, who profess a life of poverty, ever read Blessed Cyprian's book, De duodecim abusionibus, where 'the proud pauper' is listed among the twelve vices?" (56) Conrad rehearses the standard antimendicant complaints, especially about preaching, confession and burial--which is to say, those elements of pastoral care which friars provided in direct competition to secular priests like Conrad. He even briefly laments the troubles friars cause as inquisitors (97). Sometimes Conrad cites or echoes Fitzralph's language (but not, so far as the editor detected, that of William of St. Amour). Canon law also permeates the treatise; Boniface VIII's bull, Super cathedram (1300) is a particular favorite.

Conrad's complaints culminate in a recommended program of reform, so it was fitting that he addressed Lacrima ecclesie to the powerful papal chamberlain. He opens the treatise by praising the curia's own recent reforms, including an effort to send favor-seeking priests away from the papal curia and back to their own flocks. The Latin text of this passage does present minor challenges to the translator that the editor has not sought to remove through speculative emendation: no noun, for example, agrees with the singular verb "exiit," a word choice which, as the editor does note, may reflect an intentional echo of Luke 2:1 (exiit edictum a Caesare Augusto). The meaning is clear enough.

Sane inter cetera apostolice deliberacionis edicta nuper vestris exiit litteris sigillatis in predicta curia hostiis affixis, quatenus omnes et singuli curata beneficia seu ecclesias habentes parrochiales infra mensem recederent curia ab eadem, sicut vive vocis oraculo vestra paternitas se recipisse asseruit ab ipso, cui orbis et urbis creditum est universum (4).

Among other edicts of apostolic decision, recently and rightly there went out in the form of your letters, sealed in the papal curia and affixed to the doors, [an edict] that each and every person holding parish churches or benefices involving pastoral care must withdraw from the same [papal] court within a month, in accordance with the decree which you, Father, affirmed that you heard from the mouth of the one to whom the entirety of the city and the world has been entrusted.

With these words, Conrad attempted to establish a reforming connection with Arnaud Aubert, Archbishop of Auch, nephew of Innocent VI and papal chamberlain from 1361 to 1371. There is some irony here. A Paris master and canon of the Regensburg cathedral, Conrad himself was no stranger to Avignon, where he had repeatedly sought papal provisions for himself on multiple visits as a nuntius, including twice for the English-German nation of the University of Paris and once for Emperor Charles IV. [3] Colberg argues convincingly that Conrad probably delivered Lacrima ecclesie to the papal chamberlain during yet another official visit to the curia in 1362-63, at the start of Urban V's reign, which would make the treatise earlier than the 1364 date usually assigned to it. While at Avignon, Conrad seems also to have secured for himself an additional benefice, in Salzburg (XIV).

Conrad's recommended reforms were, for the most part, conventional: relevant canon law (understood correctly!) should be better publicized and enforced. Each year at Lent, for example, the names of those friars who have permission from their superiors to hear confession should be read in parish churches, along with the relevant chapter of Super cathedram on the limitations of friars' rights to hear confession and grant absolution (88). Beghards and other healthy beggars should be denied alms (80). Conrad also imagines the institution of a fixed limit to the number of friars allowed to belong to each mendicant house, and to the number of mendicant houses allowed in each diocese (98). With even less hope of success, he wishes for the incorporation of all friars into one of the other religious orders--Franciscans should become Cistercians, Dominicans become Benedictines, Augustinian hermits become Augustinian canons, and Carmelites become Premonstratensians (45). Conrad's wishes were not fulfilled, but his treatise now provides important insight into the struggle between friars and secular priests in later medieval cities such as Conrad's Regensburg.

It is a joy to work with such a splendidly edited text. It boasts all of the technical elements that one expects (and some that one does not) of a modern critical edition. The introduction (IX-LV) provides a brief account of the author, title, dating, content, composition, and sources. The editor also rehearses the clear evidence that Conrad of Megenberg is indeed the author of this treatise, despite two manuscripts--not to mention an article in the esteemed Verfasserlexikon--attributing it to his Prague contemporary, Conrad Waldhauser. The introduction also includes full descriptions of the complete and partial manuscripts as well as of previously printed excerpts; finally, it briefly mentions the editor's selection of a base manuscript for the edition. A bibliography includes other edited works of Conrad as well as relevant medieval and modern texts.

Separate indexes of Biblical passages, authors and texts, legal sources, names and even Latin words make it easy to locate both page and line numbers where Conrad cites or alludes to, for example, the third chapter of 2 Timothy (an antimendicant favorite), the legal opinions of Hostiensis, or the word, "lulhardus." The meticulous edition even includes a Konkordanz der Handschriften with tables that identify the pages or folia on which each of the text's twenty-one sections appear--in the new edition as well as in each of the five complete and seven partial manuscript copies (112-13). Similarly comprehensive is Colberg's account of previously printed excerpts (XXXVIII-XXXXIX), which identifies with painstaking precision even brief passages from Lacrima ecclesie which other authors reproduced (usually in footnotes) from manuscripts.

The text itself uses italicized text to mark Conrad's frequent citations and allusions; it also includes an apparatus criticus of significant manuscript variants as well as an extensive apparatus fontium. The latter represents a particularly impressive piece of scholarship. In addition to identifying the sources of the text's citations and allusions from Biblical, legal and various other medieval sources, it also provides extensive modern bibliographies. Together the critical apparatus covers more than half of most pages; on one page (10), Conrad's text covers three lines, the apparatus criticus four lines, and the apparatus fontium thirty-four lines.

When other authors have previously cited or discussed a particular passage of the text, the editor also notes this in the apparatus fontium. If the edition's text (or the editor's reading of the text) differs from theirs, she draws attention to that as well (e.g., for Lerner, 15 n. 21, 18 n. 32; for Schmitt, 19 n. 36). Ocker's 2006 article in particular receives repeated and justified criticism. Misled at times by a single manuscript's problematic variants, Ocker seriously misconstrues several passages--including the one from the treatise's dedication that is translated above in this review. Ocker (as the editor gently notes) transforms Conrad's praise for pastoral reform into implicit criticism of a supposed effort by the curia to revoke all benefices (3 n. 1). [4] Additional misunderstandings mean that his 2006 article should now be read together with this edition's corrections (e.g., 13 n. 15; 27 n. 48; 51 n. 13). This example illustrates a larger point: this edition's generous footnotes engage to an unusual degree the relevant scholarly conversations, making Colberg's volume the proper starting place both for the text and its interpretation. A disadvantage of this approach is a rather bloated apparatus fontium, and one which diverges from the traditional purpose of such an apparatus. Some of the discussion of the modern literature might better have been located in an expanded introductory essay.

The perfect, of course, can become the enemy of the good--and this exceptional edition of a relatively brief text, which covers as few as 11 or as many as 24 folia in the surviving manuscripts, has taken quite a long time to appear. Herman Meyer indicated his intention to publish the Latin text in his 1914 article. Already in 1993 Alexander Patschovsky noted in a Festschrift for Eduard Hlawitschka that Colberg was then preparing this edition for the MGH. Colberg herself indicates (V) that she had taken over the project from Sabine Krüger, the accomplished editor of several other works of Megenberg. Anyone who has edited a medieval Latin text will appreciate the difficulties of the time-consuming work, and it would be churlish to complain that Colberg's superior edition appeared later than one might have wished. Nevertheless, it is a shame that all the research published in the past two decades on beguines, beghards, mendicants and more generally on later medieval religion has not been able to benefit from an edition of this important text.

The high standards of such painstakingly researched editions might also give pause to prospective editors of medieval texts who are not willing to make so significant a commitment of their scholarly time to editing a single text. One wonders: would a greater number of editions, with less exhaustively researched apparatus, serve scholars better? Or perhaps high-quality editions like this one are, on the contrary, precisely what we need, as working editions have been rendered less essential by the increasing availability of microfilms and even digital copies of many manuscripts--at least one manuscript of Lacrima ecclesie has been digitized as part of a web-based manuscript collection, for example. [5]

Those, perhaps, are questions for future editors of medieval texts. For the rest of us, Colberg's edition of Lacrima ecclesie remains an impressive work of scholarship and a valuable resource for which we can be thankful.



1. Christopher Ocker, "Lacrima ecclesie. Konrad of Megenberg, the Friars, and the Beguines," in Konrad von Megenberg (1309-1374) und sein Werk: Das Wissen der Zeit, ed. Claudia Märtl, Gisela Drossbach, and Martin Kintzinger, Zeitschrift für bayerische Landesgeschichte. Beiheft 31 (Reihe B) (München: Beck, 2006), 169-200.

2. Hermann Meyer, "Lacrima ecclesiae. Neue Forschungen zu den Schriften Konrads von Megenberg," Neues Archiv der Gesellschaft für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde 39 (1914): 492.

3. William J. Courtenay, "Conrad of Megenberg as Nuntius and his Quest for Benefices," in Konrad Von Megenberg (1309-1374) und Sein Werk, ed. Märtl et al., 7-23.

4. Ocker, "Lacrima ecclesie. Konrad of Megenberg, the Friars, and the Beguines," 173-6.

5. Brno, Moravská zemská knihovna v Brne MK 46, ff. 96ra-105vb, available at