contributor.author: David A. Salomon

title.none: Emmerson/McGinn edd., Apocalypse in the Middle Ages

identifier.other: baj9928.9407.001 94.07.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: David A. Salomon, University of Connecticut

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1994

identifier.citation: Emmerson, Richard K. McGinn, Bernard, edd. The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages. Ithaca London: Cornell University Press, 1992.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 94.07.01

Emmerson, Richard K. McGinn, Bernard, edd. The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages. Ithaca London: Cornell University Press, 1992.

Reviewed by:

David A. Salomon
University of Connecticut

The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages is a welcome addition to the interdisciplinary study of the Bible's final book. This collection of seventeen essays is organized around three broad-based themes, Medieval Thought, Medieval Art, and Medieval Culture, each section begun with an introductory essay.

The Preface, written by editors Richard K. Emmerson and Bernard McGinn, highlights the problematic nature of the book of the Apocalypse with words and phrases such as "an insistent book," "a puzzling, even an upsetting book," written "in a bizarre form of Greek," "a puzzle," "a coincidentia oppositorum, a revelation that conceals" (xi). The editors' stated intent is to present "a survey of the central role of John's Apocalypse in medieval culture" (xii), and their goal is achieved well. The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages is part of a new movement in academia; disappearing are volumes focussing on one discipline or the other, replaced by books with a history of ideas methodology.

Bernard McGinn's introductory essay to "The Apocalypse in Medieval Thought" is like much of McGinn's writing: astute, clear and enlightening. He surveys apocalyptic scholarship and concludes with Joachim of Fiore that the Apocalypse is "the key of things past, the knowledge of things to come; the opening of what is sealed, the uncovering of what is hidden" (19). Paula Fredriksen's "Tyconius and Augustine on the Apocalypse" offers an overview of North African thought on the apocalypse during the early centuries of Christianity, particularly focusing on Augustine and Tyconius who "virtually defined the content of all later Catholic commentaries" (35). The volume's third essay is E. Ann Matter's discussion of "The Apocalypse in Early Medieval Exegesis." Similar in method to her studies of the Song of Songs, Matter offers an "overview of the development of Latin Apocalypse commentary to the twelfth century" (38). As with Fredricksen's essay, the reader is asked to be aware that "each author adapted received material into new forms in response to the particular concerns of the Church of his age" (38), an idea which governs this entire volume. Among the writers Matter addresses are Victorinus of Pettau, Tyconius, Primasius, Cassiodorus, Bede, Ambrose Autpert, and Alcuin. An early conclusion is that Primasius's explanation of the apocalypse provided "extraordinary influence on the tradition" (43). The essay concludes with comment on the Antichrist, noting its actual derivation is from "ancient (certainly pre-Christian) tradition," and she duly refers the reader to Richard Kenneth Emmerson's seminal work on the Antichrist (49-50).

Robert Lerner's essay on the Thousand-Year Sabbath follows from two essays Lerner has published. The present piece treats "the revival of a literal millenialism based on the Apocalypse's 'binding of Satan for one thousand years" (51-2). Of particular interest is the discussion of the Glossa ordinaria and its influence on study of the apocalypse through the ages.

Randolph Daniel examines one of the most important figures in apocalypse study: Joachim of Fiore. As such, the essay provides a focal point for the entire volume; Daniel mentions the development of a "new spirituality" connected with the reform movements of the eleventh and twelfth centuries (76), exemplified by a shift in the depiction of Christ and thus a shift in eschatological thought in general. An interesting discussion of typological and figural interpretation of the Old and New Testaments helps to furnish a clear view of the apocalypse from a Biblical rather than merely New Testament viewpoint.

Section one concludes with David Burr's discussion of "Mendicant Readings of the Apocalypse" which "examines Franciscan and Dominican Apocalypse commentaries through Nicholas of Lyra" (89). Sixteen commentaries are examined, a formidable task for a thirteen page essay; however, with helpful references and suggestions for further reading, the essay is successful in introducing the reader to an area of apocalypse study previously ignored.

The second section of the volume concerns "The Apocalypse in Medieval Art." Although all of this section's essays are enlightened discussions, the fifty-seven illustrations appear together at the section's beginning, making for awkward reading of the essays. The reproductions, all in black and white, are however clear.

Since apocalyptic motifs in Medieval art are so important to study of the apocalypse as a whole, this section is particularly important to the editors' goals for the volume. It is indeed interesting to see, as many of the writers note, the parallels between artistic renderings of the apocalypse and discussions in contemporary literature and theology. Oftentimes one can discern a cause and effect relationship as in the development of apocalyptic artistic motifs in the fourth century and the exegesis of Tyconius (discussed earlier in this volume by E. Ann Matter) (161ff). Those first approaching this formidable subject are urged to read Peter Klein's introductory essay to this section which is a stockpile of information and insight. Dale Kinney's essay is especially important for its appendix, "Apocalypse Motifs in Monumental Art, A.D. 350-365," which catalogs thirty-seven different renderings of the apocalypse.

The only objection to this section, from the non-art- historian's point of view, might be the sometimes-too narrow focus on a single piece as in John Williams' "Purpose and Imagery in the Apocalypse Commentary of Beautus of Liebana"; but this only serves to show that this collection is accessible by both the expert and the beginner. Yves Christe's essay is the perfect companion to Kinney's: "The Apocalypse in The Monumental Art of the Eleventh through Thirteenth Centuries," which includes an instructive discussion of the differences between eschatology and ecclesiology. "Exegesis and Illustration in Thirteenth-Century English Apocalypses" by Suzanne Lewis is a good example of the way in which literature, theology and art history can be studied under one umbrella. Michael Camille's essay also links literature and art; in discussing "Visionary Perception and Images of the Apocalypse in the Later Middle Ages," Camille concentrates essentially on fourteenth-century texts and incorporates a brief look at Durer's renderings of the subject.

The final section of this volume, "The Apocalypse in Medieval Culture," is made up of essays which, in the words of Richard K. Emmerson, are "more suggestive and evocative than definitive" (294). Emmerson's introductory essay itself contributes to this when it attempts to set up the apocalypse as literary genre, suggesting "a grammar of apocalypse imagery" employing images and motifs, a visionary landscape, and apocalyptic agents. In so doing, Emmerson touches on literature as diverse as the Secunda Pastorum, Chaucer's House of Fame, the Roman de la Rose, and the Visio Pauli, concluding with an intriguing section on John himself and his role in the Apocalypse.

At first glance, the reader is puzzled by the late C. Clifford Flanigan's "The Apocalypse and the Medieval Liturgy" until he reads Flanigan's definition for liturgy: it "is not only what is written in the pages of a liturgical book. It includes the visual elements of a ritual space, what the faithful see as they perform the rites or as they enter a church to do so" (331). Given that definition, Flanigan examines the role of the apocalypse in All Saints Day, the Feast of the Holy Innocents and other dates on the liturgical calendar.

Karl F. Morrison's essay examines the apocalypse in German historical writings of the twelfth century and afterwards. Penn Szittya's essay explores that bastion of Medieval study, the Domesday Bokes, and their relationship to contemporary thought on the apocalypse. The volume's final essay is Ronald B. Herzman's "Dante and the Apocalypse" which studies the presence of apocalyptic thought in the three books of The Divine Comedy.

The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages is recommended both to the scholar and the teacher of the apocalypse. Teaching a course called "Visions of Hell in Literature," I found this collection of essays a compliment to my notes and understanding of a complex subject. As such, this volume is the perfect companion to The Apocalypse in the English Renaissance, edited by C.A. Patrides and Joseph Wittreich (Ithaca, 1984). The history of ideas approach to the subject offers the reader more than a study of theology, art history or culture alone would have. Perhaps C. Clifford Flanigan's words best sum up the book: "this discourse suggests that the study of such a subject must move beyond the citing of texts and statistics to take into account the cultural function of a traditional text within an ever-changing historical process" (351).