Dennis Trout

title.none: Howard-Johnston and Hayward, eds., The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Trout)

identifier.other: baj9928.0008.009 00.08.09

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Dennis Trout, University of Missouri,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Howard-Johnston, James and Paul Antony Hayward, eds. The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages: Essays on the Contribution of Peter Brown. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Pp. iv, 354. $74.00. ISBN: 0-198-26978-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.08.09

Howard-Johnston, James and Paul Antony Hayward, eds. The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages: Essays on the Contribution of Peter Brown. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Pp. iv, 354. $74.00. ISBN: 0-198-26978-1.

Reviewed by:

Dennis Trout
University of Missouri

"The writings of [Peter] Brown and his supporters and critics on notions of holiness in late antiquity are informed on all sides by the willingness to appropriate new historical methods, draw on other disciplines, and exploit the results of investigations in neighbouring fields in order to ask fresh questions of old sources and to suggest novel answers to long- standing questions." (205) Such, at least, is the appearance of the post-Rise and Function of the Late Antique Holy Man" Mediterranean landscape from Kiev and the banks of the Dnieper, where some scholars of medieval Rus' still envy a bit the methodological daring of their late antique colleagues. Often the simple lay of the land is more distinct at a distance, for Paul Hollingsworth's observation explains without fanfare why the last few years have seen so many conferences and publications dedicated to the state-of-the-question of the revolutionary ideas expressed by Brown first in his "Holy Man" article of 1971 (which twenty-five years later he himself would call "an ambitious venture in interpretation"; JECS 6 [1998] 362) and then in 1981's The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago).

In February 1995, for example, Brown and others gathered at Squillace under the banner of the Istituto di Studi su Cassiodoro e sul Medioevo in Calabria to present the papers now available under the title "Il culto dei santi" in Cassiodorus 2 (1996). In March 1997 another group, again including Peter Brown, assembled at the University of California in Berkeley for a conference entitled "Charisma and Society: The 25th Anniversary of Peter Brown's Analysis of the Late Antique Holy Man," whose papers then appeared in the Journal of Early Christian Studies 6 (Fall 1998). Drafts of several of the papers published in the volume under review here were first presented at Oxford in the summer of 1996, where the quarter-centenary of Brown's "Holy Man" article determined the theme of the After Rome Seminar. But these events and proceedings are only the most public reminders of the fact that it is largely due to Peter Brown's inimitable command of ideas and language that the ways we think about and study late antiquity and the early middle ages have been so drastically transformed over the course of the last three decades. The footnotes alone in the three volumes just mentioned are irrefutable evidence that Peter Brown has jump- started two generations of new scholarship on the rise, roles, and functions of holy men and women and the cults devoted to the tombs and relics of the holy dead. Indeed, the bibliography in this area is now perilously deep and swift.

James Howard-Johnston and Paul Hayward's The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages presents eleven papers and an introductory essay that have, in varying degree, taken Brown's "Holy Man" as their "focal point". (4) Brown's "Holy Man" has, of course, evolved considerably since 1971, when some readers first met him in the Journal of Roman Studies (reprinted in Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity [Berkeley 1982]). He has shed some of his pretensions, become more three-dimensional and less gender bound. Scholars, Brown included, have refined, complicated, and challenged the original image of the late antique holy man as new-style patron of prosperous Syrian villages or as urban 'stranger', healer, and confessor standing aloof in the liberated but unstable early Byzantine world. Brown himself looked back to Augustine's West for contrasts in The Cult of the Saints, and he has subsequently recast and modified his ideas. In "The Saint as Exemplar in Late Antiquity" (Representations 1.2 [1983]) he countered his previous clinical and 'functionalist' interpretation with a move towards the affective and pedagogic dimensions of the holy man, now seen less as an outsider and more as a figure who fulfilled the double role of "Christ carrier" and representative of the "central value system". (15) Brown's 1993 Tanner lecture, "Arbiters of the Holy: The Christian Holy Man in Late Antiquity," (Authority and the Sacred [Cambridge 1995], 57-78) advocated viewing holy men and women as agents of the 'Christianisation' flagged in the book's subtitle, as negotiators, that is, in competition with the representatives of other explanatory systems. But while the "Holy Man" was becoming a "facilitator for the creation of new religious allegiances and of new religious patterns of observance" [60]), Brown now also openly acknowledged (without exploring) the tendentious qualities of many of the Lives that served as evidence for the activities of these holy men (e.g., 63). Tellingly when, after the summit at Squillace, this same paper appeared in Cassiodorus in 1996 it carried the subtle title change, "Arbiters of Ambiguity: A Role of the Late Antique Holy Man." The picture, Brown admitted, was becoming constantly less tidy. Brown's "Holy Man" is scheduled to reappear in volume 14 of the Cambridge Ancient History. Till then, we may note that the index entry for "holy men" in volume 13 of that series leads the reader not to Brown's chapters on asceticism and christianization but to Arnoldo Marcone on social relations and Averil Cameron on education and literary culture.

Much of this and a great deal more about the genesis of the original "Holy Man" Brown himself recounts in his reflections in the first chapter of the Berkeley proceedings (JECS 6 [1998] 353-76). What he does not do there, however, is what many of the contributors to that volume and to the Oxford volume feel is the necessary next step. For Susanna Elm (in what must be an example of the "modish language" of the Berkeley collection remarked upon by Howard-Johnston [23]) that step entails the "retextualization" of the holy man and the exploration of "the power of the saint as a fully textual persona". (349) For Howard-Johnston in the introduction to the Oxford volume this methodological progression similarly requires focusing attention upon Lives as "created artefacts". Understandably then, while Brown's "Holy Man" article provided the inspiration for this collection, nevertheless most of the contributors to The Cult of Saints concentrate upon "the formation of hagiographical texts, their role in promoting cults, and the social forces which stood to gain from their promotion". (6) The cult of the saints seems to loom up ever higher between us and the (usually) 'real' holy men and women of late antiquity and the middle ages who have been fashioned and distorted as well as celebrated by hagiographers and impresarios. The historian's job is not thereby made obsolete, of course, but it does require the acquisition of further tools of discernment and discretion if she is to pursue "traditional historical inquiry". (20)

These tools are wielded with varying degrees of precision in The Cult of the Saints, whose chapters are distributed more or less evenly across five 'areas'--the cult of the saints 'in Peter Brown', in Eastern Christendom, in Western Christendom, in medieval Rus', and in Islam--and whose authors consider texts ranging from the apocryphal acts of the second century through the vitae of late antiquity proper to the fourteenth-century Life of Stephen of Perm and the sixteenth-century pilgrimage guide of Ibn-al-Hawrani. Peter Brown's 'presence' actually becomes both more shadowy and more exemplary as the book's chapters move outward from the Mediterranean and advance in time, but the influence of his work is readily detectable throughout. In his introductory chapter James Howard-Johnston provides perceptive resumes (7- 14) of the book's eleven other chapters. More briefly, the topics and main arguments of those chapters are as follows.

In chapters two and three two leading scholars of late antiquity directly assess the contributions of Peter Brown. While acknowledging the phenomenal impact of Brown's work, both Averil Cameron and Philip Rousseau nevertheless dwell significantly upon what the latter calls "the problem of textuality". (50) Cameron's essay is synoptic and inquisitive; Rousseau's cutting and substantive. Cameron, for whom Brown is "a historian through and through" (31), isolates three areas for renewed attention: the relationship between "the broader issues of asceticism and the concept of the Christian holy man" (36), the degree to which the "exemplary" nature of hagiography demands narratological and literary-critical modes of analysis, and the problems posed for the historian by the 'constructed' quality of most Lives. Rousseau, avowing that "it is always dangerous to take 'reality' for granted" (49), also moves away from social anthropology towards discourse studies. Nevertheless, it is the authority of the flesh and blood holy man that interests Rousseau, an authority which, he argues, was rooted in the ascetic's status as a "new kind of teacher" representing "a new kind of paideia". (57).

In Part II (Eastern Christendom) Claudia Rapp turns to collections of letters addressed to or written by late antique holy men ("the closest thing to the oral ideal that has survived" [81]) in order to illustrate the unspectacular intercessory role that holy men, at the center of prayer communities conceived of as spiritual families, may have played on a regular basis. In his essay Paul Magdalino attends to the agency of several tenth-century texts, especially the Life of Andrew the Fool and the Life of Basil the Younger. He argues that these two "hagiographical constructs" (112), Andrew and Basil, must be seen as inhabiting coordinated compositions designed to contribute to the contemporary Constantinopolitan dialogue about sanctity, for they apparently critique the religious establishment by locating holiness outside of the ranks of monks and clergy.

In Part III (Western Christendom) Paul Hayward addresses directly Brown's work on the cult of the saints, seeking to "demystify the role of sanctity". Rather than looking for the social and cultural order that might be implicated in the cult of the saints, Hayward is, as many others now are, concerned to see saints' Lives as "a kind of propaganda" (124) disguising in varying degree struggles for the faith and over authority within the Christian community. Gregory of Tours becomes a case in point, for Gregory's picture of a dominant "culture of tomb-centred sanctity" (125) seems to Hayward to distort a sixth-century Christian Gaul that was also home to living holy men. Hayward's cults of the saints are "fiercely political" (138) while his reconstruction is acutely historicist, positioning the cults of the saints as highly rational, but not unimaginative, solutions to "difficult questions about the precise fates of persons of great importance to particular communities". (139) Paul Fouracre, also suggesting that Brown's perception of the solidity of cult-based episcopal authority in the sixth-century takes Gregory of Tours too much "at his word" (146), argues (building upon an article of Julia Smith) that the seventh century was a time of "a burgeoning culture of sanctity" (156) distinguished by the activities of holy men and the foundation of new and varied kinds of cults. Only in the Carolingian period, Fouracre maintains, was this unruly process of transformation by which leaders made "sanctity a normal attribute of power" (165) truly tamed, channeled, and centralized under royal authority. Finally, Ian Wood, with only slight reference to Brown, sets out a line of inquiry that would explore the vitae of later missionaries as a "chain of narratives" (168), increasingly auto-biographical, linked at the outset to Willibald's eight- century Life of Boniface. It was Bede's Ecclesiastical History, Wood contends, that stimulated much mission hagiography, but in keeping with the volume's theme, Wood emphasizes that the history of mission (as we know it) is really a "history of texts". (182)

Part IV (Medieval Rus') presents two papers. Paul Hollingsworth, whose observation introduces the present review, surveys political development in tenth- and eleventh-century Rus' as the prelude to an examination of the way in which churchmen, with limited success, employed the cult of Boris and Gleb to stem inter-princely violence and christianize East Slavic society. Richard Price returns to mission hagiography, extending the inquiry into medieval Rus'. He stresses the "narrative parallels" (235) between the fourteenth-century life of Stephen of Perm and the lives of Martin and Patrick with particular attention to contests that pit the missionary against a pagan holy man or demons. It remains unclear, however, how such textual accounts contributed to religious or cultural transformation. Finally, in Part V (Islam) Chase Robinson argues that in contrast to Brown's holy men, who "served to keep late Roman society in balance, Muhammad threw his into massive imbalance". (249) Robinson recognizes few historical links between the holy men of later Islam and those of late antiquity. Despite the Caliphs' attempts to restrain jihad, for example, a marginal stream of prophetic holy men maintained the link between warfare and piety that had fueled the Arab conquests while another line of miracle workers arose in the wake of the suppression of prophecy after Muhammad. Josef Meri then concludes the volume with an essay that asserts the centrality of the cult of the saints in medieval Islam by considering the development of cult sites, the evolution of a theology and etiquette of pilgrimage, and the proliferation of pilgrimage guides.

In 1971 Peter Brown noted that to take issue with all implications of the view of holy men that was current when he undertook his (now) seminal study would have involved "rewriting the social and religious history of the Roman world" (Society and the Holy, 108). Thirty years on that utterance has a prophetic ring. It is not too much, perhaps, to say that this re-writing has been one of the more engaging historical projects of recent decades. That we are roiling in mid-stream is obvious from the variety of claims and counter- claims being tossed about in this and like-minded volumes that commemorate as they extend and critique Peter Brown's work.