contributor.author: Christine F. Cooper-Rompato

title.none: Goodich, Miracles and Wonders (Christine F. Cooper-Rompato)

identifier.other: baj9928.0804.026 08.04.26

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Christine F. Cooper-Rompato, Utah State University, christine.rompato@usu.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Goodich, Michael E. Miracles and Wonders: The Development of the Concept of Miracle 1150-1350. Church, Faith, and Culture in the Medieval West. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007. Pp. xii, 148. $99.95 $99.95 978-0-7546-5875-7. ISBN: 978-0-7546-5875-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.04.26

Goodich, Michael E. Miracles and Wonders: The Development of the Concept of Miracle 1150-1350. Church, Faith, and Culture in the Medieval West. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007. Pp. xii, 148. $99.95 $99.95 978-0-7546-5875-7. ISBN: 978-0-7546-5875-7.

Reviewed by:

Christine F. Cooper-Rompato
Utah State University
christine.rompato@usu.edu

Goodich's Miracles and Wonders, appearing in the Ashgate series Church, Faith and Culture in the Medieval West, explores the increasingly strict guidelines applied to miracle accounts in canonization investigations during the period 1150-1350. The desire on the part of the church to ensure the accuracy and credibility of miracle accounts developed in response to disbelief voiced by skeptics, heretics, and non-believers. Goodich sets up the fourfold aims of the book in the conclusion: first, "to explore the relationship between reason and revelation in the medieval understanding of miracles"; second, "to link the desire to provide a more rational foundation to the Christian belief in miracles with the rise of heresy and other forms of disbelief"; third, "to compare and contrast 'popular' and learned understanding of the miraculous," and fourth, "to trace the application of the rules of evidence in the examination of miracles in the central Middle Ages" (117). This fascinating and provocative study draws on rich source material and will be of great interest to many.

The book opens with a heartfelt preface by Gary Dickson entitled "Appreciating Michael Goodich," who passed away in 2006. Chapter one ("Introduction") introduces a number of themes that are developed in the study and explores the historical value of miracle accounts. The details included in accounts, Goodich suggests, "may assist us in recapturing the voices of otherwise inarticulate folk" (4), an effort that he acknowledges is problematic because of the many different voices present in miracle accounts, as well as the way in which miracles conform to expectations that "may rob any particular case of its credibility" (6). He then raises a number of important questions about miracle accounts, some of which he promises to address in the book but which left this reader wanting a fuller discussion of all the questions.

Chapter two, "Signa data infidelibus non fidelibus: The Theology of Miracle," ambitiously attempts to set forth the understanding and theology of the miracle throughout the Middle Ages. It discusses the preoccupations of medieval scholars with classifying miracles and explores their attempts to distinguish divine miracles from demonic or magical occurrences that merely appeared miraculous. Goodich analyzes in some detail the influential approaches of Augustine and Aquinas toward the miracle, summing it up quite succinctly by declaring that "compared to Augustine, Aquinas preferred to view the miracle not as an acceleration of nature, but rather as the suspension of nature's normal processes" (21). Goodich emphasizes the important role of the miracle in combating heresy, and the impulse to authenticate the miracle so that its veracity was unquestionable. He argues that by the early fourteenth century, "a theoretical foundation had thus been amassed which could guide the notary and hagiographer in the credible presentation of the miracle. All of the commissions appointed by Rome to investigate miracles employed distinguished theologians who were familiar with scholastic arguments.[...] The introduction of Aristotelian sources to the schools in the mid-thirteenth century enabled the application of the premises of natural philosophy to the attempt to limit the number of phenomena regarded as miraculous..." with the effect that "[t]he systematic analysis of the miracle by scholastic theology enhanced the credibility of the Christian miracle in the face of continuing doubts voice by non-believers, heretics and wavering Christians" (26).

Chapter Three, "The Miracle in Contemporary Sermons," argues that beginning in the thirteenth-century sermon literature produced by high-ranking ecclesiastical figures deemphasized the miracle account in order to focus on the virtues of the saints as models for the audience. Goodich examines the sermons of "spokesmen" of the church including Odo of Chteauroux, cardinal bishop of Tusculum and chancellor of the University of Paris, and Pope Clement VI, and concludes, "In sum, while the performance of the miracle remained one of the principle achievements of the saint, the learned preacher preferred to stress virtues and acts of charity and to use the life of the saint as a means of encouraging the believers to penance" (45).

While it offers an intriguing argument, this chapter has several problems and raises a number of unanswered questions. Goodich claims, "The often blatant absence of references to miracles...indicates the clear desire to encourage believers to think more about the exemplary quality of the saint than about his alleged supernatural powers, which critics such as Guibert of Nogent, Erasmus, Thomas More and others, not to speak of heretics and nonbelievers, regarded with skepticism or even disdain" (31). To make his point more convincingly, Goodich would need to have included more contemporary criticism of miracles, rather than referring to More and Erasmus. Goodich also claims that "the temptation to report undocumented, questionable miracles, and thus do scandalous damage to the church, required a reasoned treatment of the nature of the true miracle" (36). How damaging was the undocumented miracle to the church in the central Middle Ages? More evidence of particular discredited miracles and their damage would be helpful. Lastly, Goodich mentions that at least 60,000 sermons survive from this 1150-1350. Of course it would be a life-long work to characterize the attention paid to the miraculous in all of these, but I am not entirely convinced that the sermons in this chapter are representative of those produced by other church spokesmen. This particular chapter therefore could have been developed as a book on its own, and I anticipate the questions raised therein will generate much discussion.

The following three chapters are perhaps the strongest of the book, with their provocative arguments and wealth of source material and detail. The exciting fourth chapter, "'Popular' Voices of Doubt," explores the ways in which doubt (of Jews, nonbelievers, heretics, skeptics, and blasphemers) encouraged those conducting canonization investigations to be more rigorous in applying uniform standards to the recorded miracle. Goodich pays much attention to the important role of doubt in the miracle itself and cites many examples in which doubters are punished with divine vengeance. He argues that these are not just examples to bolster the saint's fame or prove his/her efficacy; rather they illustrate the important role of doubt in the community and were regarded as an effective tool against heresy and disbelief in general, for "[m]edieval hagiography fulfilled a propagandistic role against heretical doctrine and all available media were harnessed to this end" (51).

In this chapter Goodich classifies and explores several different kinds of doubt or "blasphemy" in the miracle accounts. Blasphemy could arise from political opposition, as well as in response to suspicion of clerics who profited from miracles or invented false ones. Goodich also notes that heretical views such as those of the Waldensians "found occasional echo in hagiographical reports of blasphemy" (64). His last section, "Divine Vengeance," explores how blasphemous acts, including theft from pilgrims or failure to confess before approaching a relic, are punished by divine vengeance, which Goodich links in part to a kind of "local patriotism which informed every shrine" (65). The blasphemer of miracles becomes a threat to social unity, and the vengeance miracle demonstrates a desire to control that threat and to reintegrate that person into the community.

Chapter Five, "Theory and Public Policy: Canonization Records," picks up the argument that beginning in the thirteenth century the church stressed the virtuous life of the saint over his/her miracles. At the same time, Goodich argues, the popular focus on miracles was not diminished. Since saints' lives were effective means for combating heresy, the church recognized that there was a need to apply the highest standards of proof to the alleged miracle, especially since Satan could perform what looked like a miraculous act, or the uneducated could mistakenly interpret something non-miraculous as miraculous. The canonization process therefore adopted the "inquisitorial method of inquiry" and relied on credible witnesses who testified before qualified judges (70).

Goodich offers the case of Elizabeth of Thuringia (d. 1231) as an example of the stricter regulations applied to testimonies in canonization investigations. According to Goodich, hers is "the first dossier in which we can judge the standards employed to determine the reliability of reports of miracles" (72), and the first case in which we can compare several witnesses' testimonies attesting to the same miracle, for the notaries recorded the degree to which witnesses' testimony agreed or disagreed. That "raw testimony" can then be compared with the papal bull and subsequent biographies, to appreciate what standards were in place. Goodich also claims that Elizabeth's case is the first that "explicitly indicates the impact of Augustinian theology and early scholastic thought on the definition of the miracle" (74). I believe that more discussion of the role of the candidate's gender in relation to perceived doubt would have been helpful in this chapter.

In this chapter Goodich also briefly discusses Phillip of Bourges, Louis IX of France, Pope Celestine V, and Thomas of Hereford, and how their cases demonstrate concern about the degree of agreement among witnesses. Although Hereford is not discussed in great detail, Goodich argues, "this document concerning Thomas of Hereford, and the others that preceded it, indicate that curial officials were very much concerned to ensure that only those miracles which conformed to the highest standards of verifiability were accepted. Although few internal records survive, they all indicate that genuine efforts were made to integrate the rules of evidence taken from Roman law into the inquisitorial procedures developed in the early thirteenth century... The foundation of this conscientious enterprise was undoubtedly the fear that heretics, Jews, and skeptics--some of whom appear in contemporary saints' lives--could easily put the faith to ridicule and scorn should unreliable cases of supernatural intervention be authorized by the church" (85). Although I remain not entirely convinced about the central role that doubt played on the articulation of miracle accounts, I do anticipate Goodich's argument will inspire much scholarly conversation.

Chapter Six, "Canonization and the Hagiographical Text," is quite exciting as it offers two different kinds of case studies in order to demonstrate the developing stricter standards for miracle accounts included in canonization bulls. Beginning in the thirteenth century, those officials in charge of determining authenticity of miracles in canonization cases were instructed to ask witnesses a list of questions that "reduces the miracle to a series of over 30 elements which will guarantee its reliability, authenticity, and credibility in accordance with the standards of contemporary theology, philosophy, and canon law" (88). Goodrich's first case study analyzes a miracle account from Urban IV's canonization bull of Richard of Chichester concerning a child crushed by a wheel of a runaway cart. Goodich breaks down the account in relation to the 30 questions or elements, including such categories as, "If said miracles occurred above [supra] or against [contra] nature" and "If...faith or devotion had grown among those persons at whose invocation or petition said miracles had occurred" (90); he concludes that the account fits nearly all the requirements.

The second case study, "A Hagiographical Topos: The Child Rescued from Drowning," examines a number of thirteenth-century accounts of children who drowned and then were miraculously revived. The details of these accounts increase "as the church became more bureaucratized and the standards for achieving canonization became more stringent" (94). Goodich points out many fruitful avenues for further study offered by these miracles, including notions about childhood and peasant understandings of time. While the examples are fascinating, the chapter did leave several questions unanswered. There does appear to be substantial evidence to prove that a great number of miracles related to dangers of childhood were recorded in the central to late Middle Ages. Why do the miracles involving children increase so dramatically during this period, and how is this increase related to the sharpened scrutiny of miracles insisted upon by canonization investigators? Were there generally more witnesses to children's deaths, or were children's deaths more easily verifiable? Once again, this chapter could have been developed into a much longer study.

The final chapter, "Vidi in Somnium: The Uses of Dream and Vision in the Miracle," argues that because dreams and visions could not be "proved" in way that other miracles could be, they were generally not included in papal bulls of canonization. They were, however, extremely popular miracles and represent a large body of miracles discussed during canonization processes. Goodich explores the many ways in which dreams and visions appear in the accounts. Most interesting are his accounts of papal dreams, those dreams or visions that help to convince a pope to canonize a particular holy person. He suggests, "despite the growing attempt to base belief in the miraculous in rational foundations, even the pope might chasten his learned legalism with a cautious belief in the providential role of the dream and vision" (105). An example of this is Innocent III, who was allegedly persuaded to announce the canonizations of two saints after receiving a prophetic dream. Dreams and visions could also encourage local authorities to initiate canonization investigations and proceedings.

In many ways the conclusion to the book would work well as an introduction, for it sets out the argument of the book most clearly and states how Goodich first became interested in the work, as he noticed the "growing legalistic desire of those entrusted with their [miracle tales'] composition to ensure accuracy and credibility" (117). Goodich has a tendency not to lead with his argument, but rather to come to his main points at the end of chapters. Therefore, it is not surprising that the most succinct articulation of his project is found in the conclusion.

In sum, this is an extremely interesting and stimulating book, and it suggests a number of further avenues for research. Perhaps the book's main weakness lies in its tendency to prove its arguments anecdotally, which is of course difficult to avoid when dealing with such a large body of evidence that has not been systematically and statistically analyzed. The manuscript was in its final stages of revision when Professor Goodich passed away, so any criticism of the book must be tempered with the understanding that it was a work in progress. I must emphasize how stimulating I found this study; I must also express my profound appreciation for Michael Goodich, whom I never met but whose work has had a profound effect on my understanding of medieval hagiography.