Robert Lerner

title.none: Audisio, The Waldensian Dissent (Robert Lerner)

identifier.other: baj9928.0011.003 00.11.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Robert Lerner, Northwestern University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Audisio, Gabriel. The Waldensian Dissent: Persecution and Survival c. 1170-c. 1570. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Pp. x, 229. 59.95. ISBN: 0-521-55029-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.11.03

Audisio, Gabriel. The Waldensian Dissent: Persecution and Survival c. 1170-c. 1570. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Pp. x, 229. 59.95. ISBN: 0-521-55029-7.

Reviewed by:

Robert Lerner
Northwestern University

Good news, bad news. I suppose I must report the bad news first. Audisio, professor at the University of Aix-en-Provence, wants to write an up-to-date survey of medieval Waldensianism for beginners. But the work he presents is neither up-to-date nor a reliable survey. It is not up-to-date for two reasons. Although the present volume is an English translation of a French text published ten years before the translation, no attempt has been made to convey the results of the intervening decade of scholarship either by revision or postscript. Consequently some important new work has been ignored, as, for example, Alexander Patschovsky on Waldensian literacy, Ivan Hlaváek on new inquisitorial fragments for Bohemia, and Lutz Kaelber's seminal study, Schools of Asceticism. But even in terms of the state of scholarship as of 1989 Audisio's study is deficient since his knowledge of the German and English secondary literature is thin. If we turn to the coverage of Waldensianism in the second edition of Malcolm Lambert's Medieval Heresy (1992), we will see what synthesis of the most recent work really means.

Audisio's lack of bibliographical expertise inevitably vitiates the reliability of his account. He states that "although the Franco-German frontier had been reached in the early thirteenth century, the expansion eastwards occurred . . . only in the fourteenth century" (70), but this is simply untrue given the evidence of heavy Waldensian settlement in the south-eastern German-language area as of the 1260s transmitted by the "Passauer Anonymous" and recapitulated by Patschovsky and Peter Segl. Similarly, he asserts that Waldensians "were never more than a tiny minority" of any population, except perhaps "within a particular village" (61). But the evidence presented by Patschovsky in his breathtaking Quellen zur boehmischen Inquisition shows that Waldensians amounted to much more than a tiny minority among the German-speaking communities throughout south-western Bohemia and conceivably were often in the majority. Audisio's confident labelling of the Waldensians as a "sect" in terms of the Weber-Troeltsch church/sect dichotomy (219), ignores bibliography that reaches the opposite conclusion in terms of arguments he does not consider.

Bibliography aside, there are too many mistakes. We are told several times that the Poor of Lyons were condemned by the Fourth Lateran Council (16, 21-22, 41), but the canons of the Council contain no such condemnation. We are told that in the fourteenth century "Austria was . . . the region where the densest populations of Brothers were to be found" (35), but this ignores Bohemia and contradicts a quotation Audisio himself offers in the same paragraph whereby an inquisitor of 1315 states "there may be more than 80,000 heretics in Austria, but in Bohemia and Moravia their number is infinite." As for the proposition that Waldensians after the mid-thirteenth century "inevitably" were "crofters and herdsmen" (37), this is belied by the existence of Waldensians in the fourteenth century in cities such as Mainz and Strassburg. Audisio places the three-way papal schism in the fourteenth century (38), and states without qualification that "[when] capital punishment was pronounced, judicial records were burnt at the stake with the prisoner" (62), whereas numerous sentences of consignment to the secular arm do indeed survive.

The volume is not reader-friendly. The translation at best is lame: "fastidieux" is left as "fastidious," "re'tifs" as "restive," and Peter Payne, "interpre`te de Wyclif" becomes Peter Payne, "Wyclif's interpreter." Moreover, Cambridge Press failed to take adequate precautions against the pitfalls intrinsic to a translation made by someone who is not conversant with the subject matter. Thus the Malleus maleficarum comes out as "The Sorcerers' Hammer" and one of its authors as "Jacques Sprenger"; the German Hussite Epping appears as "Epinge." Nor did anyone think to replace the recommendations for a French audience that the best introductions to the Hussites are French works by Macek and Molnar. Audisio's highly rhetorical and sententious style does not travel well, but at least his exporters should not have shipped his work at cut-rate.

Nevertheless, there is also good news. Audisio began his career as the author of an extremely fine dissertation on the Waldensians of the Luberon region from 1460 to 1560 (published in 1984), and he has continued to do significant work on southern European Waldensians in the transitional period from the late Middle Ages to Reformation. The second half of the present book concisely summarizes that work. Audisio is able to draw on three different categories of source material for the period and area in question: extensive inquisitorial records, a report written by two Waldensians in 1530 about their community's beliefs and practices, and notarial instruments that reveal aspects of Waldensian daily life. The documentation is unprecedentedly rich and Audisio exploits it masterfully to recreate a fascinating sub-culture. Three topical chapters treat respectively adjustments in doctrine, organizational strategies, and the written and spoken word. Audisio finds that Waldensian doctrine was pared down over time. Even the enduring shibboleths of opposing oaths and disbelieving in Purgatory were undermined in practice: the Luberon Waldensians did take oaths when necessary and offered suffrages for the souls of the dead. Nevertheless they preserved their own non-Catholic identity in various ways, not only by holding to key tenets in principle but especially by adhering to the ministry of their itinerant masters, known in this region as "barbes." So tightly-knit were the Luberon Waldensians that they seldom married beyond families of co-religionaries: drawing on 800 surviving marriage contracts Audisio determines that his subjects practiced endogamy in at least 89% of the cases.

Students of heresy--or "dissent" as Audisio prefers to say--will find the three topical chapters on the late-medieval Waldensians of Provence and neighboring regions most rewarding. Which points to an ironic conclusion: intended as a synthesis for the beginner, this book can be recommended most as a summary of specialized work useful for the specialist.