John France

title.none: Jestice, Wayward Monks (France)

identifier.other: baj9928.9809.013 98.09.13

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: John France, University Of Swansea,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Jestice, Phyllis G. Wayward Monks and the Religious Revolution of the Eleventh Century. Brill's Studies in Intellectual History, No.76. Leiden: Brill, 1997. Pp. x, 310. $106.00. ISBN: ISBN 9-004-10722-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.09.13

Jestice, Phyllis G. Wayward Monks and the Religious Revolution of the Eleventh Century. Brill's Studies in Intellectual History, No.76. Leiden: Brill, 1997. Pp. x, 310. $106.00. ISBN: ISBN 9-004-10722-3.

Reviewed by:

John France
University Of Swansea

The "Crisis of Western Monasticism" used to be an established feature of medieval historiography, but the idea that Benedictine supremacy splintered in the face of lay revulsion against its laxity has of late come into question. This valuable book considerably develops new ideas about Benedictine development, especially those of Van Engen, while taking into account and never disparaging the work of writers who established the more traditional view. It is the more valuable in that Dr. Jestice has sought to base her work upon a study of the Empire rather than the West Frankish lands. The book is centred on a study of those who appeared to infringe upon the parameters of traditional Benedictine monasticism, thereby enlightening us as to its nature and the challenges facing it.

The impulse to change, the author suggests, came from the desire of the Benedictines to accommodate themselves to the new challenges of the eleventh century, and in particular to the need to purify the wider church. Not the least of this book's virtues is a careful attempt to define the traditional Benedictinism of the tenth century, which she sees as founded on the work of Benedict of Aniane and the Carolingian legislation. There is a sensible recognition that while this body of written material formed a valuable platform upon which the early reformers could work, there was always diversity in Benedictinism, and this in itself is an area which needs more research. The persistence of the Rule of the Master and other rules long after the Carolingian legislation needs exploration.

But there can be little doubt of the author's insistence, in Chapter 1, on the centrality of stability to the Benedictine experience. The paradox that monks gained moral authority and capacity to influence the world by their withdrawl from it, is nicely explored, and extended in a very interesting Chapter 3 on Recluses and their special position. The powerful influence of these Holy Persons was remarkable and a good range of them in all their variety is described. Perhaps we could add to them the frustrated monk, Hervè, who, as Treasurer, rebuilt the church of Tours, but chose to end his days in a simple cell [Glaber, Histories 3.iv.14-15]. But the moral worth which attracted the admiration and patronage of the world beyond the cloister in turn made demands upon monks and changed their vocation.

In Chapter 2 Dr. Jestice explores the way in which the Ottonians pressed Benedictines into service as missionaries to the pagans of eastern Europe, despite controversy within the church and resistance in the monasteries: gradually, after c.970, the monks embraced missionary activity and sought to justify participation and to explain why it did not offend against the Rule. Lay demand for missionary activity, for teaching, for spiritual advice, and the attractions of participation in pilgrimage, drew monks into the world, exposing them to criticism and forcing them into self- justification. Dr. Jestice is admirably clear in describing the process and skilful in her choice of illustrations. The new pressures, Dr. Jestice suggests, meant that the old convention which allowed the community to shelter behind the Abbot as the active front for the monastery in secular affairs, broke down. More and more ordinary individual monks, perhaps inspired by the need to apply the precepts of the Bible to everyday life, felt the need for contact and dealings with the world which so eagerly recognised their authority.

A potent cause of this involvement was the cause of reform. In Chapter 4 the author points to the way in which simony and its consequences deeply offended monks and drove them from their houses, sometimes even to the creation of new congregations like the Camaldolese, sometimes into lives of individual preaching and wandering, sometimes into seclusion. Out of this turmoil in the eleventh century, the author suggests, was emerging a new and more active Benedictinism, exemplified by the reforms of Poppo of Lorsch, Richard of St. Vanne and William of Dijon. This discussion, in Chapter 5, is perhaps the most unsatisfactory part of the book, though this is hardly the author's fault as the sources are very unsatisfactory. It is very difficult, as the author notes, to see quite what needed reforming in many of the important houses these men ruled, and even more difficult to see what changes they introduced and therefore quite why they were such controversial figures. Dr. Jestice suggests that these Lotharingian masters were imposing a new and more active type of Benedictinism, but perhaps the reality is simpler. These men were deeply involved in the high politics of the age: William of Dijon was connected to the royal house of Italy and an ally of the Carolingian Bruno, bishop of Langres. While an abbot was by custom excused the rigours of stability and seclusion, such a man would inevitably have enemies who would use any stick to beat him. Perhaps more on the political context might have helped the discussion at this point.

Chapter 6, on "Monks and the Roman Reform," is a very lucid analysis of the involvement of monks in the reform of the church as a whole. More importantly for the themes considered here, Dr. Jestice clearly sets out the problems this involvement created for monks, and there is a particularly perceptive analysis of the dilemmas of Peter Damian and the Vallombrosans. But perhaps the most revealing part of the book is Chapter 7 on Anti-Gregorian Propaganda and the Monastic Crisis. Because the monks supported Gregory VII, the Benedictine principle of stability was turned against them by the opponents of reform. In the end this was so telling that Urban II disavowed the most radical of his Benedictine allies whose support had become so controversial. Houses like Hirsau and Vallombrosa were so influenced by this that they rewrote their histories to obliterate memory of the radicalism which had driven them beyond the monastery walls into the fierce arena of the Investiture Contest. Benedictine stability triumphed indeed, but at a price, as Dr. Jestice shows in her Conclusion. Many left the order for the more outward-looking Augustinian canons, others for a life of preaching and settlement in new communities -- some of which, of course, emerged as rivals to Benedictinism in the twelfth century.

This study is extraordinarily well-written, carefully and logically constructed and supremely clear. It is a pleasure to read. It significantly extends the discussion of monastic development and its involvement in the Investiture Contest, and brings to attention a body of source material bearing on the empire which has been neglected. There are some bibliographic omissions. For a book much concerned with the relationship between the cloister and the world it is odd that there is no reference to M. Bull, Knightly Piety and the Lay Response to the First Crusade. The Limousin and Gascony c.970- c.1130 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993) which explores this interaction. The long discussion on Abbo of Fleury would have profited from knowledge of M. Mostert, The Political Theology of Abbo of Fleury (Hilversum: Verloren, 1987) while on Urban II some mention is surely needed of A. Becker, Papst Urban II (1088-99) 2 vols. (MGH Schriften, 19; Stuttgart, 1964-88). But these are minor blemishes in a book which is extremely learned and beautifully clear.