Joerg O. Fichte

title.none: Burrow and Wei, eds., Medieval Futures (Fichte)

identifier.other: baj9928.0102.016 01.02.16

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Joerg O. Fichte, University of Tbingen,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Burrow, J. A. and Ian Wei, eds. Medieval Futures: Attitudes of the Future in the Middle Ages. Rochester: Boydell Press, 2000. Pp. vii, 188. $90.00. ISBN: 0-851-15779-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.02.16

Burrow, J. A. and Ian Wei, eds. Medieval Futures: Attitudes of the Future in the Middle Ages. Rochester: Boydell Press, 2000. Pp. vii, 188. $90.00. ISBN: 0-851-15779-3.

Reviewed by:

Joerg O. Fichte
University of Tbingen

The collection of essays, Medieval Futures: Attitudes to the Future in the Middle Ages, edited by John Burrow and Ian Wei, must be seen as an effort to extend the traditional scope of investigations into the medieval understanding of the future and exceed and complement the study of apocalyptic and/or millenarian writings. Thus, the apocalyptic tradition, briefly mentioned in the general introduction and in Jean-Claude Schmitt's introductory essay outlining man's attitudes to the future such as "expectation, hope, planning, speculation, competition, lotteries, credit, life expectancy" (4), is not the focal point of this book published in the portentous year 2000. Rather, the editors have assembled a number of essays that are grouped under three headings: "Thinking about the Future" (three essays), "Prophesying Futures" (two essays), and "Providing for Futures" (four essays). The four essays gathered under the last heading make up more than half of the whole book.

Although the nine papers represent a wide range of disciplines, the study of literature, theology, history, and law, they raise a number of common issues, such as the use of the future not only for the purpose of shaping it but also for achieving present effects. Fixing the present and extending its legal validity by stipulating future contingencies seems to have been a favorite and frequently used approach taken by the members of the aristocracy in their attempts to provide for their heirs (cf. the papers by Bull, Brand, and Brown). Yet not only did present and future form a continuum, but the past was also included in this temporal sequence. Valid predictions about the future based on experience and prudence necessarily involved the knowledge of past events, as Ian Wei's and John Burrow's papers prove. The knowledge of past events also shaped the nature of prophetic utterances, since "prophecy often depended on the authority and tradition associated with particular texts..." (xii) (See the papers by Purdie and Roberts). The same holds true for poetic utterances which shape the future by memory, as the paper by Boitani illustrates.

Finally, the different conceptions of the future can be related to different social groups and the emergence of new mentalities. The concept of quantitative time began to replace the concept of qualitative time, and the introduction of clocks on town halls and church steeples promoted the secularization of time, that is, the segmentation of time into equal portions that could be measured mechanically. As has been observed before by LeGoff and others, these developments plus the emergence of the merchant class created a new awareness of time in a money-based society, a time consciousness that differed from that of the clergy and the aristocracy. To put it bluntly, time became money, a development that forced both civil and ecclesiastical authorities to redefine the time- honored relationship between the two in the area of money saving, money spending and money investment. Different aspects of these changes as they affect the future are discussed in the papers of Schmitt, Bull, and Wei.

The introductory essay "Appropriating the Future" by Jean- Claude Schmitt is a survey of the various approaches taken to the future. These approaches are grouped under four headings: 1. Speaking in the Future, 2. The Uses of the Future, 3. Knowing and Influencing the Future, and 4. The Prophet and the Priest. Schmitt posits two historically opposed concepts of the future: "The older of the two is represented by the word futur: the future, the futura, cannot be fully known, but it is located within a framework of understanding, foresight and action that is fixed, above all in the case of the eschato-logical time of religion or the cyclical time of ritual and the liturgy." To this he opposes "the modern notion of 'time-to-come' (avenir), which designates future that is open, completely unforseeable, and irreversible, a time without God, the product of the 'disenchantment of the world'." (6) According to Schmitt, this new form of the future is associated with Renaissance thought and finds its expression in the utopia, which breaks with eschatology and millenarianism. (16) This supposed change is an unwarranted assumption, as the emergence of a Protestant eschatology and the increased production of Protestant millenarian tracts prove. Rather than being subsequent stages of viewing the future, they are contemporaneous in Europe until the end of the seventeenth century and in the American colonies well into the eighteenth century, when an increasing secularization of time took place with the establishment of the Enlightenment.

Ian Wei's "Predicting the Future to Judge the Present: Paris Theologians and Attitudes to the Future" focuses on five points of the theological debate: 1. provision and planning for the future, 2. predicting the future to solve present problems, 3. predicting the future in theory, 4. prophecy in theory, and 5. prophecy as a problem in the present. "For the masters, the key was the drastic and radical separation of natural knowledge of the future from prophetic knowledge." (35)

John Burrow, in "The Third Eye of Prudence", addresses the treatment of prudence within the medieval system of cardinal virtues. "The third eye of prudence looked forward, at its furthest range, to the last things, death and judgement; but it also made possible what would now be called middle- and short- term planning." (47)

Piero Boitani, in "Those who will call this time ancient: The Futures of Prophecy and Poetry", explores Dante's invention of a poetic future by linking fame, writing, truth, and prophecy. "...this eschatological vision of the future... is founded on his theological view of history, that is, of the past,... and on his political convictions, that is, on his view of the present." (58) Ironically, Dante's ideas of the future soon became dated, i.e., his "apocalyptic and political prophecies proved to be completely wrong..." (64-65), but the poetry of Commedia proved prophetic in ways not anticipated by Dante: the glorification of characters condemned to Hell by him like the two adulterous lovers, Paolo and Francesca.

Phyllis Roberts, in "Prophecy, Hagiography and St Thomas of Canterbury", presents us with three major examples of Becket prophecies, in order to demonstrate that the power of the saint lived on long after his death: legends that circulated after the martyrdom in 1170, Becket prophecies that came to be associated with the sanctification of the English monarchy and were used to legitimize the rule of fourteenth- and fiteenth- century kings, and prophecies linking Becket to anti-royal propaganda in 1538.

Marcus Bull, in "The French Aristocracy and the Future, c.1000- c.1200", uses the crusade encyclicals and charters to document the changing value system (both spiritual and material) of the aristocracy. The essence of the crusade message was the appeal to the audience to submit to a series of negotiations. "First, a lord or knight should reflect on his past actions. He should then reach a clear verdict on his past life by locating himself in the present on what amounted to a scale that measured sinfulness...,And finally he was to project that sense of moral positioning into the future by pondering its implications for his fate in the afterlife." (98)

Paul Brand, in "In perpetuum: the Rhetoric and Reality of Attempts to Control the Future in the English Medieval Common Law", points to a change in the English common law in regard to land grants. The intentions of the grantor to endow his heirs for several (at least two) generations without alienation of the property were being more respected by the English courts. "But this was to give too much control to the dead and by the middle of the fifteenth century entailed land was again becoming alienable by each generation." (112)

The longest essay (50 pages), "The King's Conundrum: Endowing Queens and Loyal Servants, Ensuring Salvation, and Protecting the Patrimony in Fourteenth-Century France", by Elizabeth Brown, explores the legal background of Philip V's grants to his wife, Jeanne of Burgundy. Departing from the usual language of the charters, Philip added exceptional clauses to protect his donations to his wife against laws, customs, ordinances, decrees, statues etc. "The formulae used in his acts testify to a belief that the king of France could regulate the future by fiat." (146) Although Jeanne was able to keep the county of Burgundy, she lost most of the legacies her husband had bestowed on her. Thus, Philip V's rhetorical tactics were only partially successful in controlling the future of the living.

Rhiannon Purdie, in "Dice-games and the Blasphemy of Prediction", looks at such popular dice-games as plus points and hazard and links them to the sins of blasphemy and greed. "The irresistible appeal of dice-games lay in the very elements that gave the moralists such cause for concern: the feverish pursuit of money; the spice of the illicit; and most of all, the desire to put one's future and fortune at the mercy of Chance. (183-4)

As should have become apparent from the brief digests of the nine papers, medieval futures are studied by scholars from various disciplines, who have combined their scholarship to produce a fascinating and learned book on a subject, the future, that has always been dominated by the numerous studies of millenarian and apocalyptic writings. This collection of essays will be of interest to a wide range of readers, historians, theologians, experts in medieval law, as well as to literary scholars. The two editors are to be congratulated on assembling such a group of outstanding scholars from different disciplines to contribute to a collection which is both fascinating and impressive in its variety.