Julie Hotchin

title.none: Felten and Jaspert, eds., Vita Religiosa im Mittelalter (Julie Hotchin)

identifier.other: baj9928.0110.003 01.10.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Julie Hotchin,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Felten, Franz J and Nikolas Jaspert. Vita Religiosa im Mittelalter: Festscrift fur Kaspar Elm zum 70. Geburtstag. Berliner Hisorische Studien, band 31. Berlin: Duncker and Humblot, 2000. Pp. 985. ISBN: 3-428-09965-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.10.03

Felten, Franz J and Nikolas Jaspert. Vita Religiosa im Mittelalter: Festscrift fur Kaspar Elm zum 70. Geburtstag. Berliner Hisorische Studien, band 31. Berlin: Duncker and Humblot, 2000. Pp. 985. ISBN: 3-428-09965-6.

Reviewed by:

Julie Hotchin

The question of the vita religiosa, at the heart of Kaspar Elm's scholarly oeuvre, is the organising principle for this celebration of his contribution to the field of medieval religious studies. As the editors outline in their introduction, Elm's interest lay less in the traditional history of monastic orders and more in the region between institutionalised and unregulated forms of religious life. He inquired into lay, popular and female piety at a time when these themes were not topical within the field. The collection of essays gathered in this volume attempts to reflect the breadth and interests of Elm's work: "49 contributors from 10 countries mark out the broad span of monastic, canonical and generally clerical way of life, and examine forms of medieval semi-religiosity and lay piety in Europe from England and Palestine, from France to Poland". (xiv) Although the volume goes some way towards achieving this aim, the collection offers in the main studies of institutional religious life, whether of the various religious orders or ecclesiastic figures and their politics, with an emphasis on Germany. This reader would have welcomed further exploration of groups regarded as semi- religious or even heterodox that professed to live according to the vita religiosa.

The contributors were each invited to write an essay addressing an aspect of the " vita religiosa in the middle ages". This assemblage reads like a 'who's who' of the leading figures in the field, including Caroline Bynum, Giles Constable, Michel Parisse, Jan Van Engen, Joachim Wollasch, Adrian H. Bredero, Andre Vauchez and Gert Melville. The result, while lengthy (the volume runs to nearly 1000 pages), is nevertheless a rich storehouse of sources, insights and commentary on many of the diverse expressions of religious life in the Middle Ages. The volume offers something to interest a broad variety of readers, but the fact the contributions are primarily in German, with a small number in English, French and Italian, may restrict its audience among Anglo-American scholars to specialists in their respective fields.

The editors have sought to bring some unity to the diversity of these contributions by structuring them thematically into six sections. Each addresses a different aspect or interpretation of the vita religiosa, progressing more or less chronologically. In effect, this leads the reader through explorations of religious life from early Christianity to the sixteenth century reformation. The themes unifying these sections address early monasticism and missionary activity, the development of new religious orders from the twelfth century, the crusades and the Latin East, the mendicants, and religious reform and lay piety in the later middle ages. As in any collection of this nature, many contributions address more than one theme, and other groupings would have been possible. One such is female expressions of the vita religiosa. At first glance the collection appears to grant little attention to women's presence in either institutional or unregulated forms of religious life, although several contributors provide valuable analyses of female monastic life and its relationship to male-dominated structures. The addition of an index in a collection of this size would have made it easier to identify and pursue themes such as this that emerge across the individual contributions.

The first section, "Alte Kirche, Mission und fruehes Moenchtum" contains seven essays broadly concerned with the challenges faced by individuals and institutions in establishing and maintaining aspects of religious authority in response to shifts in their social and cultural circumstances. Four essays in particular develop a theme exploring the role of the individual in creating and establishing models of authoritative behaviour intended to guide the actions of others. The section (and book) opens appositely with Susanna Elm's study of how Gregory of Nazianzus sought to create a new model of episcopal leadership through his meshing of traditional and contemporary authorities. Essays by Karl Suso Frank ("Grimlaicus, 'Regula solitariorum'"), Michel Parisse ("Restauer un monastere au Xe siecle. L'exemple de Gorze"), Robert Brentano ("Samson of Bury Revisited") and Joachim Wollasch ("Sterben und Tod im Leben des Abtes Petrus Venerabilis von Cluny") examine this process within cloistered religious life, both anchoritic and cenobitic. The close studies of the vita of Abbot John of Gorze and the writings of Abbot Peter the Venerable illuminate the role of key individuals in shaping the contours of the institutions of which they were a part. The final essay in this section by Marek Derwich extends a question posed some years ago by Jan Van Engen to Eastern Europe: "Gab es eine Krise des Benediktinertums in Polen in der zweiten Haelfte des 12. Jahrhunderts?" Derwich's study (which he answers in the negative) heralds a number of other studies of religious life in Eastern Europe within the volume.

Discussion in the second section turns to two of the new monastic orders that developed from the turn of the twelfth century: the Cistercians and the Augustinian canons. Of the seven essays in this section, all but one concentrates on aspects of Cistercian monastic life. Knut Schulz's study of the little known vita of Eckenbert is a valuable contribution to the understanding of the popularity of the Augustinian reform movement among the urban patriciate in the region around Mainz, and in particular highlights the joint activities of the founder and his wife in leading this new community ("Das Leben des hl. Eckenbert und die Stiftsgruendungen in Frankenthal (um 1125)"). Schulz, together with Adriaan Bredero ("Der Beitrag Wilhelms von Saint-Thierry zur Heiligsprechung Bernhards von Clairvaux und der biographische Wert seines kultbezogenen Textes aus historischer Sicht") also illustrates the extent to which the hagiographical tradition of monastic founders offer insights into the historical circumstances of their social context, actions and personality. Together with Parisse's essay in the previous section, these contributions demonstrate how, with careful contextualisation, monastic hagiography offers an important source for apprehending the complex relations and interactions associated with the foundation or reform of a community. These tensions are examined further in the final essay in this section, in which Ludwig Schmugge outlines the "small drama" that arose when a monk from the Cistercian abbey of Eberbach attempted to introduce the regular life into the female community of Tiefenthal, c.1440 ("Johann von Ystein und die Aebtissin von Tiefenthal, oder: Wie man einen Zisterziensermoench um seinen guten Ruf bringt"). In this instance the nuns of Teifenthal successfully resisted the attempt to reform them and discredited the monk responsible. This incident questions how the distinctions of gender and class influence events towards possibly unexpected outcomes, and challenges narratives of monastic reform in which women are represented as lacking the agency to resist.

The remaining contributions in this section address aspects of Cistercian administration (the practice of visitation and education within the order) and economic development (the convergence of political and economic interests associated with the foundation and growth of Cistercian foundations in Silesia and the significance of wine and salt as economic products to the Cistercians).

The emphasis in the third section is on the Crusades, the military orders and the Latin east, covering Eastern Europe, Italy and Palestine. The section opens with Victor Elbern's analysis of the iconographical significance of the Jerusalem Cross (" Crucis edita forma. Gestalt und Bedeutung des sogenannten Jerusalemer Kreuzes"). The following essays each consider how crusading ideology influenced the self- understanding and mission of the new monastic and military orders. Giles Constable ("The Place of the Magdeburg Charter of 1107/8 in the History of Eastern Germany and of the Crusades"), Rudolf Hiestand ("Bernhard von Clairvaux, Norbert von Xanten und der lateinsiche Osten"), Thomas Frank ("Der Deutsche Orden in Viterbo (13.-15. Jahrhundert)") and Jurgen Sarnowsky ("Der Johanniterorden und die Kreuzzuege") each offer thoughtful re-examinations of their chosen topic grounded in close and perceptive readings of the sources. The conclusions of Constable and Hiestand, in particular, both present different but complementary perspectives on the influence of "crusading ideas and their application on the frontiers of Christianity" (296), in relation to the eastward expansion of Germany and the relationship between the expansion of the reform orders (in particular the Cistercians and Praemonstratensians) and the establishment of the military orders in Jerusalem.

The focus on new religious orders continues in the fourth section, in which the contributors address aspects of the self- conception and political engagement of the Dominicans and Franciscans. Hans-Joachim Schmidt ("Legitimaet von Innovation. Geschichte, Kirche und neue Orden im 13. Jahrhundert") and Juergen Miethke ("Paradiesischer Zustand--Apostolisches Zietalter--Franziskanische Armut. Religioeses Selbstverstaendnis, Zeitkritik und Gesellschafts theorie im 14. Jahrhundert") examine models fundamental to the development of a distinct identity within the mendicant orders. Schmidt considers the way in which both orders reconceived the notion of history as a dynamic process, suggesting that they each developed a consciousness in which they perceived themselves as active agents of change to achieve spiritual ends. Miethke re- examines the debate over poverty fundamental to the Franciscan self-conception. He illustrates how what could be viewed as an overly theoretical debate went to the heart of the order's self-understanding as well as organisational unity. Gert Melville also addresses organisational unity, in this case within the Dominican order (" Fiat secretum scrutinium. Zu einem Konflikt zwischen praelati und subditi bei den Dominikanern des 13. Jahrhunderts"). He challenges the myth of unity symbolised by the Dominican General Chapter through close analysis of the resistance and negotiation arising over legislation within the Chapter during a ten-year period. Melville highlights the factional aspects of Dominican administration, but also demonstrates how the passage of Dominican legislation was ultimately based on considerable give and take. The remaining essays in this section concentrate on political relationships between the mendicant orders and the secular and ecclesiastical realms, especially the political dimensions of the role of friars as advisors, confessors and diplomats at royal and princely courts.

The fifth section, "Reform and Reformation", elaborates on themes explored earlier in the volume concerning monastic reform in particular, and questions of reform more broadly, from a later medieval perspective. The opening contribution by John Van Engen shifts attention from concerns of the new religious orders and their engagement with the world to perceptions of those who chose to live as religious within the world ("Friar Johannes Nyder on Laypeople Living as Religious in the World"). Van Engen's perceptive essay examines a little known text written by this friar in which he catalogues the various possibilities for adopting a religious life in the world, supported by canonical precedent. Two aspects of Nyder's work are significant for female religious life: firstly women were prominent among the groups he identified and discussed, and secondly he exhibits a remarkable moderation towards groups living "semi-religiously". Tore Nyberg ("Gnadenberg in der Oberpfalz 1451: Religiosen begeben sich unter die Jurisdiktion des Ordinarius") and Andreas Ruether ("Schreibbetrieb, Buecheraustausch und Briefwechsel: Der Konvent St. Katharina in St. Gallen waehrend der Reform") both contribute detailed studies of the contests and negotiation associated with attempts to more closely regulate female monastic life. Drawing on unpublished material relating to the internal administration of the house (visitation records for the male and female communities at the Brigittine house of Gnadenberg) and narrative records (a chronicle and "sisterbook" from St. Katherine's), each demonstrate the institutional impacts of reform and the difficulties faced by those who sought to introduce change. These studies, together with those of Schulz and Schmugge, offer important considerations of women's participation in regulated and semi-religious forms of the vita religiosa.

The volume concludes with a section devoted mainly to explorations of medieval piety and belief, including the cult of the saints and the liturgy. Caroline Walker Bynum ("Miracles and Marvels: The Limits of Alterity") furthers her contribution to a recent historiographical debate on wonders and monsters with an elegant exploration of the medieval categories of mirabilia and miracula. She critiques the way in which the modern world tends to fix on the medieval period as one populated with the bizarre and grotesque, and instead draws extensively on medieval authors to demonstrate how these categories developed in ways that encouraged a search for natural causes and a resistance to the "bizarre", rather than the reverse. Arnold Angenendt similarly challenges prevailing ways of perceiving the middle ages, arguing for a reappraisal of late medieval spirituality and religious practice--in this case the study of the liturgy--to be undertaken outside the shadow of decline represented by Jan Huizinga ("Die Liturgie bei Heinrich Seuse"). He examines how the trend towards interiorisation characteristic of later medieval piety was expressed in liturgical practice through the figure of Henry Suso. Angenendt outlines Suso's distinctive visual spirituality and praxis, demonstrating how he incorporated images and visions as a means of enhancing the sacramental nature of his liturgical experience. It would be worth considering the implications of Suso's praxis on others, especially given his pastoral relationships with Dominican women.

Perhaps not surprisingly for a collection of this nature, the majority of contributions provide micro-historical studies, based on close readings of little known documentary material, or offer new interpretations of better known material. The methodological approaches employed by contributors are primarily textual and historical, with the exception of an art historical study of the Jerusalem Cross (Victor Elbern). These local studies highlight the ways in which broader processes of historical change are rooted in personal interactions shaped by regional interests, economic concerns, personal influence, private decisions and not least religious considerations. This approach not only illuminates specific moments in history, but also offers stimulating re-appraisals or reconsiderations of the broader contexts in which they occurred. Finally, in terms of production, the volume is elegantly presented and, apart from a few typographical errors, carefully edited. It will take its place as a fitting tribute to the scholarship of one of the leading figures in the field of medieval religious and social history.