Sherry L. Reames

title.none: Walters, TThe Feast of Corpus Christi (Sherry L. Reames)

identifier.other: baj9928.0806.026 08.06.26

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Sherry L. Reames, University of Wisconsin-Madison,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Walters, Barbara R., Vincent Corrigan, and Peter T. Ricketts. The Feast of Corpus Christi. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006. Pp. xviii, 562. $70.00 (hb) 978-0-271-02924-5 (hb). ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.06.26

Walters, Barbara R., Vincent Corrigan, and Peter T. Ricketts. The Feast of Corpus Christi. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006. Pp. xviii, 562. $70.00 (hb) 978-0-271-02924-5 (hb). ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Sherry L. Reames
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Although its title and size might suggest a much broader subject, this book focuses squarely on the origins of the Corpus Christi feast and its liturgical celebration in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. The book was produced as a joint effort by its three co- authors. Barbara Walters, who began the research as a project in the sociology of religion, explains in the preface that she enlisted Corrigan and Ricketts to provide the specialized expertise she lacked in musicology and medieval languages. Corrigan has contributed critical editions of the words and music of the Corpus Christi liturgy from seven important early manuscripts, together with analytic indices of the musical items and modern English translations of the Latin texts. Ricketts has provided annotated critical editions and translations of twenty Old French poems from liturgical Psalters that were evidently designed for beguines in the diocese of Liège during the same period. Together, the contributions of Corrigan and Ricketts comprise some 75% of the book's total length. But Walters evidently played the leading role throughout the process. She is responsible not only for the introductory essay on the feast's founder, Juliana of Mont Cornillon, and her community, but also for the overall design of the book and even the detailed introductions to the sources edited by her co-authors. As a result, she deserves much of the credit for the book's strengths but also bears the most responsibility for its weaknesses.

Walters' long opening chapter on "The Feast and Its Founder" offers a helpful introduction to the critical tradition on the establishment of the Corpus Christi feast in the thirteenth century. Like most recent scholars, she emphasizes the initiative of Juliana of Mont Cornillon, who first promoted the idea of a special annual feast to celebrate the giving of Christ's body in the Eucharist, and gradually recruited key allies in and around Liège--including the recluse Eve of Saint-Martin, the Dominican theologian Hugh of St. Cher, and Jacques of Troyes, archdeacon of Liège (the future Pope Urban IV)--who went on to further the cause. Walters gives relatively little attention to the final implementation of the feast by the fourteenth-century popes Clement V and John XXII, but devotes several pages to the tradition surrounding Thomas Aquinas's authorship of what would become the standard liturgical texts for Corpus Christi. Other sections in this opening chapter provide more information about Juliana and her social networks, and attempt to fill in some of the most relevant historical and intellectual contexts: local issues in thirteenth-century Liège, "the politics of heresy," the history of beguines and other religious women in this region, textual communities and women's contributions to them. Some of these topics are discussed much too briefly and cryptically, but there is enough documentation to send readers to better sources for clarifications and further information.

The central goals of Walters' project become increasingly clear as the first chapter proceeds. Like many current historians of late-medieval religion, she wants to emphasize the fruitful connections between lay piety, especially in women's communities, and the male-dominated realms of Latin liturgy and intellectual theology. More problematically, she wants to have Juliana of Mont Cornillon recognized as an author in the full sense of the term, given credit not only for founding the feast of Corpus Christi but for composing its first liturgy--a liturgy that Anneke Mulder-Bakker has credited with influencing Thomas Aquinas's own understanding of this feast (Lives of the Anchoresses: The Rise of the Urban Recluse in Medieval Europe, trans. Myra Heerspink Scholz [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006], pp. 78-117). When she attempts to build on Mulder-Bakker's argument, it seems to me that Walters goes too far both for consistency (since in effect she wants to promote Juliana to an intellectual level quite separate from that of other laywomen) and for historical plausibility. Mulder-Bakker carefully defined Juliana's role as "the intellectual author" (91) who spent years thinking about the theology of this new feast, in consultation with her circle of friends and advisors, and choosing appropriate quotations and allusions for its liturgy. For the actual composition of the liturgical texts and melodies, Juliana's vita clearly says--and Mulder-Bakker affirms--she recruited a young cleric named John, who despite his youth must have had skills that she lacked, although she could and did edit his work. Walters proposes a less cautious scenario in which Juliana herself composes the whole liturgy and sings it to John (21-25)--reducing him in effect to her scribe, analogous with the male disciples who simply recorded the utterances of other holy women in this era. The special problem with this idea in Juliana's case is the genre of the Corpus Christi liturgy. Although Juliana is sometimes loosely characterized as an Augustinian nun, she was raised and spent most of her adult years on a farm, not in a cloister, attached to a religious community that did not observe any monastic rule until late in her life. Many sources describe her as a beguine; and although she was unusually well educated, her religious experience was certainly closer to that of a beguine than a choir nun. According to her vita, she knew the psalms by heart, loved to sing the Magnificat, and cherished the Mass and the various feasts of the liturgical year, which she observed with fervent prayer and emotion whether or not she could be in church. Like the beguines whose simplified version of the divine office is emphasized elsewhere in the present book, she presumably had a Psalter that could be used as a "lay breviary," but there is nothing in her vita that suggests any close familiarity with the more complicated office liturgy that Walters wants to credit her with expertly imitating.

Part II, "Materials for the Study of Corpus Christi: Sources," consists primarily of Corrigan's editions and translations of the lessons and sung texts from seven early manuscripts, representing three different liturgies for the divine office: the earliest one, "Animarum cibus," attributed to Juliana and the young cleric John and preserved (except that later lessons have replaced the original ones) in The Hague, MS. KB 70.E.4; "Sapiencia edificavit," a monastic liturgy sometimes attributed to Hugh of St. Cher and preserved in a Strahov manuscript in Prague; and "Sacerdos in eternum," the standard Roman office attributed to Thomas Aquinas, in several variant forms. Some of the manuscripts also give special texts and music for a Mass of Corpus Christi, and Corrigan's editions include those as well. He and Walters have performed a great service to future historians, literary scholars, and musicologists by providing reliable modern editions of all these Latin liturgical texts, music and all. Corrigan's translations from the Latin generally look trustworthy and helpful as well, though I noticed some awkward wording and a number of minor inaccuracies.

Nonetheless, this part of the book is much harder to use than it should be. The editions themselves run from page 117 to 425, with no running titles or clearly visible breaks between the offices to help readers find their way around. Some of the terminology is potentially confusing (fourth nocturn of a monastic office, e.g.), and there are many unfortunate inconsistencies. For example, Corrigan's tables on pp. 79-91 use three different notational systems to designate the various musical items in the manuscripts, and Table 7 introduces a new and unexpected set of abbreviations, some but not all of which can be deciphered by consulting the List of Abbreviations back on pp. xii- xiii. Much more serious problems are created by having two brief, separate, and sometimes conflicting introductions to the liturgical manuscripts, one by Walters (57-76) and the other by Corrigan (77-92), instead of a single introduction that could lay out all this complex and technical material in a clear and systematic way. Future users of this book may well find themselves struggling, for instance, to figure out the relationship between Corrigan's seven manuscripts and Walters' differently ordered table of twelve (58-59). Parts of Walters' account are essential for understanding the relationships among the manuscripts, but some passages are almost impenetrable, since she is trying to cover some very complex issues in too little space and apparently getting tangled up in some of the details herself. On p. 60 (to cite a small and obvious example) she obscures a French scholar's point about a missing item in one manuscript by mistranslating "se trouvait sur un premier feuillet" as "is found on the first page." On p. 74 she misinterprets the sense of a Latin quotation about the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, taking "prandium" and "cena" as "dinner" and "supper," respectively, instead of "late breakfast or luncheon" and "principal meal of the day." The same paragraph has several smaller slips in translation, and both this page and the next two are clogged with errors ranging from obvious typos to completely opaque references.

Part III, "Poems from the Mosan Psalters," presents the first critical editions and English translations of the twenty vernacular poems that survive in the important group of Psalter manuscripts that Judith Oliver and earlier experts have identified as having been written for religious women in the same milieu that produced the Corpus Christi feast--that is, the diocese of Liège in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Like the Latin liturgical texts in Part II, the Old French poetic texts assembled here will be immensely useful to future scholars, despite some weaknesses in their presentation. Walters' introduction to these texts is much clearer than her introduction to the Latin ones, and her enthusiasm for them is contagious; but she gets far beyond her depth when she attempts to connect them with several other genres of medieval literature, with the liturgies for Corpus Christi, and with Juliana's vita. The critical introduction and notes by Peter Ricketts, who actually edited the poems, are much more scholarly. I am not fluent enough in Old French to critique Ricketts' interpretations of the texts, but many of his translations seem awkward and hard to follow. His explanatory notes are helpful as far as they go, but the poems are so full of metaphors and allusions to other sources that it may take many years of additional work by literary scholars before all their cruxes are explained. At any rate, both he and Walters are to be thanked for the start they have made on this big project.

As Walters explained at the end of Part I, by bringing together the texts from the Latin liturgy and the Mosan Psalters, she hoped to demonstrate "the significant power and influence of lay religious women on interpreting and communicating the central theological doctrine of the thirteenth-century Church." Although the present book does not quite manage to provide such a demonstration, it performs a great service by calling attention to these fascinating sources and bringing them together in a form that encourages other scholars to pursue the important questions that she, her collaborators, and recent historians like Mulder-Bakker have raised.