The Medieval Review 13.11.06

Pollmann, Karla, and Meredith J. Gill. Augustine beyond the Book: Intermediality, Transmediality, and Reception. Series in Church History: Religious History and Culture. Leiden: Brill, 2012. Pp. xxiii, 362. $144.00. ISBN: 9789004222137. . .

Reviewed by:

Mark Vessey
University of British Columbia
mark.vessey@ubc.ca

"Augustine was unknown in the Middle Ages." Eric L. Saak's bon mot at the beginning of a chapter on "Augustine in the Western Middle Ages" in the recent Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Augustine (2012) captures a truth more likely to be acknowledged nowadays than before by historians, namely that (to quote Saak again) "it is not Augustine we are after." Augustine--that Augustine--died in Hippo Regius in 430. His name has since been attached to a variety of discursive and material objects. Some of the attachments can be traced back to his lifetime; such is the case, notably, for his authentic texts (Writings) and for ideas and doctrinal positions attributable to him on the basis of them (Thought). Because of Augustine's remarkable fertility both as a thinker and as a writer, those reputedly core elements of his Nachleben continue to fascinate multitudes. Not only are they (still) not Augustine, however; for many periods and milieux, including Augustine's own, they may not even have been the core of what was (mis)taken for him.

The volume under review is a parergon of the newly published Oxford Guide to the Historical Reception of Augustine (Karla Pollmann, editor-in-chief). Impressively, it already resets the sights for all future reception-study of Augustine, by removing the criteria of authenticity and attributability that the OGHRA generally has to observe. Indeed, the very notion of "reception" is put under extreme pressure by many of the collection's contributors. The titular Augustine of Augustine beyond the Book is whatever can be shown to have counted or figured as (saint) Augustine (of Hippo), in any medium or combination of media. As the historical Augustine already confessed, "Augustine" in history is a complex, continual enactment or performance. To put it another way, (his) reception-history is a history of other people's productions.

A few specimens--chiefly but not exclusively "medieval"--will give a sense of the scope, style, and interest of this wide-ranging and generous anthology. (For a full list of contents, see below.)

Augustine may have been "noteworthy for his lack of interest in the visual" but, as Karla Pollmann reminds us, "such considerations have never stopped his reception" in visual media (37). Painters of the Renaissance and Baroque had a field-day, spurred by the visions of a thirteenth-century pseudepigraphist, who had the bishop recall a mystical visit paid to him in Hippo by Jerome, at the instant of the latter's death in Bethlehem. In her essay, Meredith J. Gill offers a subtle analysis of the counterpoint of Renaissance paintings of Jerome and Augustine in their respective studies, and also of the play of light and shadow in later, Baroque figurations of these two fathers, an effect that she interprets as the reflex of an authentically Pauline-Augustinian understanding of grace (79-93). Primed by this and other samplings of the visual repertoire, readers turning next to Carolyn Muessig's account of "Images and Themes Related to Augustine in Late Medieval Sermons" may fancy that they already see the preacher's scenes brought visibly to life, even though in this case the "strong imprint of Augustine on late medieval pastoral literature" (144) is documented without reference to impressions from other contemporary media.

Augustine's role as a commentator-figure in medieval drama is evoked by Dorothea Weber (97-99), as prologue to discussion of three examples of a new vogue, dating from the late fifteenth century, for Latin dramas focused on his conversion, derived from the Confessions. Goran Proot extends the coverage of this genre to works composed and staged by Jesuit and Augustinian fathers in the southern Low Countries in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. "That only four known plays [from this region] deal with Augustine," he writes, "may suggest that the themes were not very appropriate for the professional stage." On the other hand, Weber references "at least twenty-five Baroque plays with this content, the texts of which no longer remain" (102).

A cluster of papers provides a multi-angled view of one of the most potent Augustines of all time, constituted by the ensemble of the Meditationes, Soliloquia (not to be muddled with the authentic Soliloquiorum libri duo) and Manuale--another prodigy of thirteenth-century monastic pseudepigraphy, or, as Julia Staykova nicely characterizes it in an essay investigating the cross-confessional fashion for these pieces in sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England, "a masterpiece of collective Augustiniana which stands at one remove from Augustine's authentic work but continually reverts to it through habits of quotation, emulation and reader response" (151). In a sequel focused on the Dutch Republic in the seventeenth century, Feike Dietz uncovers part of the rich tradition of visual and textual representations of Augustine in Catholic emblem books: for this tradition of affective piety, the same pseudo-Augustinian triad of opuscula was central, complemented (contaminated?) here and there by excerpts from texts originating with the real Augustine of Hippo. John Exalto confirms that Dutch Protestants, while less lavish with their visual media, had the same affective preference. Tabulating the printed Augustiniana available in the Dutch language between 1500 and 1700, Exalto finds the Meditationes anthology accounting for no fewer than thirty-three out of sixty-four items; outside academic milieux, Dutch readers of this period thus "knew Augustine primarily through a medieval-mystic lens" (209).

Two other essays deserve special mention for the quality and breadth of their analyses. The first is Eyolf Østrem's account of "The Renaissance Reception of Augustine's Writings on Music," which successfully belies every term in its title (except possibly the last), by describing a medieval-to-early-modern trajectory of mounting "deception" (sic) in which Augustine comes to be "used as a general authority, for purposes which are entirely dictated by contemporary trends and concerns, with little or no roots in his writings," to conclude pithily: "The sixteenth-century Augustine has written a whole lot more than his fourth-century namesake" (242). The other is Pablo de Felipe's masterly delineation of the fates of the antipodeans between ancient and modern geographies, using the "commonplace" of Augustine's statements at City of God 16.9 as a guiding thread from late antiquity onwards.

More than any gains achieved by the deployment of the alluring concepts of intermediality and transmediality, it is the marshalling into one book of so many exploratory essays in the unconfinable historiography of the latterday production(s) of Augustine that gives Augustine beyond the Book its special scholarly charge. As the examples mentioned above suggest, this release of previously pent-up data also has the effect of over-riding other quasi-statutory limits, including those of epochs. The Augustines variously known and unknown, recognizable and misrecognized, in late antiquity, in the middle ages, in early and later modernities, are often too intimately--sometimes too haphazardly--interrelated for it to be possible or desirable for us to unshuffle them neatly into periods. In this respect, Augustine beyond the Book is a further vindication of the decision taken by publisher and editor-in-chief of the OGHRA to arrange the entries of that reference-work in a single alphabetical sequence, prefaced by historical surveys, rather than to divide them chronologically between volumes.

As new handbooks, companions and introductions combine to bring Augustine to book again for a readership passing beyond all books, there is much to be said for a strategy of randomizing the units of Augustinian reception-and-production across times. Amid this controlled dispersal of recovered Augustinemes, what other historical figures--not all of them necessarily named after Augustine--may yet emerge? "I am scattered in times whose order I do not understand," declared the author of Confessions (11.29.39, trans. H. Chadwick), waiting to be gathered into the Book of Life. For every eschatological gathering, an historical scattering. What deconstruction already seemed to promise in the case of Augustine, reception-history is beginning to deliver.

Contents:

Introduction (Karla Pollmann and Meredith J. Gill)

Part One: Visualizations of Augustine

1. Art and Authority: Three Paradigmatic Visualizations of Augustine of Hippo (Karla Pollmann)

2. The Reception of Augustine in Orthodox Iconography (Vladimir Cvetkovic)

3. Reformations: The Painted Interiors of Augustine and Jerome (Meredith J. Gill)

Part Two: Dramatizing Augustine on Stage

4. Augustine and Drama (Dorothea Weber)

5. Augustine on Stage in the Southern Low Countries in the Early Modern Period (Goran Proot)

Part Three: Augustine in Confessionalized Contexts of Spirituality and Devotion

6. Images and Themes Related to Augustine in Late Medieval Sermons (Carolyn Muessig)

7. Pseudo-Augustine and Religious Controversy in Early Modern England (Julia D. Staykova)

8. Under the Cover of Augustine: Augustinian Spirituality and Catholic Emblems in the Seventeenth-Century Dutch Republic (Feike Dietz)

9. Orating from the Pulpit: The Dutch Augustine and the Reformed Godly until 1700 (John Exalto)

Part Four: Musical Variations on Augustine

10. The Renaissance Reception of Augustine's Writings on Music (Eyolf Østrem)

11. A Musical Relecture of Augustine's Conversion: La Conversione di Sant' Agostino by Maria Antonia Walpurgis and Johann Adolf Hasse (Sabine Lichtenstein)

12. St. Augustine in Twentieth-Century Music (Nils Holger Petersen) Part Five: Augustine beyond Himself

13. The Antipodeans and Science-Faith Relations: The Rise, Fall and Vindication of Augustine (Pablo de Felipe)

14. Beyond the Books of Augustine into Modern Psychotherapy (Alexandra Pârvan)

Bibliography

Index Nominum et Rerum