contributor.author: Candace Barrington

title.none: Jussen, ed, Ordering Medieval Society (Candace Barrington)

identifier.other: baj9928.0207.002 02.07.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Candace Barrington, Central Connecticut State University, cbarrington01@snet.net

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Jussen, Bernhard, ed. Translated by Pamela Selwyn. Ordering Medieval Society: Perspectives on Intellectual and Practical Modes of Shaping Social Relations. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000. Pp. 1, 376. 65.00. ISBN: 0-812-23561-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.07.02

Jussen, Bernhard, ed. Translated by Pamela Selwyn. Ordering Medieval Society: Perspectives on Intellectual and Practical Modes of Shaping Social Relations. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000. Pp. 1, 376. 65.00. ISBN: 0-812-23561-4.

Reviewed by:

Candace Barrington
Central Connecticut State University
cbarrington01@snet.net

This collection of essays examines the cognitive categories used by medieval people and modern historians to organize and perceive medieval society. Drawing initially on the work of medievalist Karl Schmid and secondarily on the French sociologists, these essays challenge a once-dominant mode of German medieval studies, "constitutional history". In doing so, they re-image a more dynamic and less hierarchical Middle Ages. In "Counting Piety in the Early and High Middle Ages," Arnold Angenendt, Thomas Braucks, Rolf Busch, and Hubertus Lutterbach trace the medieval church's ever expanding bookkeeping mentality that signaled "a deep break between the piety of the ancient church and that of the early Middle Ages." (24) This system of exchange attempted to maintain an equilibrium between men and God. It flourished after the seventh century with the appearance of penitentials, which classified and tariffed almost every sin and its corresponding penance. Based on this accounting logic, penitents could replace long periods of fasting and exclusion with a calculated equivalence, such as monetary payments, tallied prayers and chanting, or corporal pain. Ultimately, sinners could use the same bookkeeping logic to select and pay proxies, substitute alms for misdeeds, or purchase votive masses. Thomas Lentes's "Counting Piety in the Late Middle Ages" extends the preceding study to the late Middle Ages when counting became an essential component of piety. Prayers to saints became a recognized currency for purchasing the saints' protection, and indulgences allowed the individual to pre-plan for any sin unexpiated at the time of death. (Residual punishments at the moment of death could be the consequence of one of several unfortunate bookkeeping lapses: dying before a final atonement, a confessor' s miscalculated imposition of too light a penance, or a forgotten and unconfessed sin.) Mercantile precision, record keeping, and quantification characterized both religious and lay piety: rosaries, prayer books, and indulgences documented and recorded piety. Of course, this arithmetical piety was not without its critics who emphasized inner virtues rather than acts of piety. Nevertheless, even these critics encouraged the bookkeeping mentality when they acknowledged the importance of numbering and listing for the "transmission of catechetical knowledge". (74)

In an essay dating from the mid-1980s, Otto Gerhard Oexle confronts the scholarly truism that medieval trifunctualism was just an ideological ploy with no basis in social reality. "Perceiving Social Reality in the Early and High Middle Ages: A Contribution to a History of Social Knowledge" argues instead that medieval modes of conceiving social reality--in particular the "three estates"--"partially grasped individual aspects and elements of reality," thereby rendering "a piece of social reality comprehensible and [expressing] a behavioral maxim within these elements of experience and interpretation of the world and society." (101) Plato's and Augustine's metaphysics underlie the impulse to account for and order members of society according to an idealized social model. Specific historical realities, however, provided the impetus for particular interpretations and invocation of specific models. For instance, Aelfric's division of society into three ordines--laboratores, bellatores, and oratores--occurred in response to Danish invasions and the question of whether monks and clerics should bear arms. Similarly, apparently out-dated models could be remolded to accommodate contemporary perceptions of newly distinguished groups of people. During the twelfth century when new strata of persons emerged--most notably the urban artisans and merchants and the university-trained educators and practitioners--the trifunctional schema was adjusted accordingly. The urban burghers were incorporated into the third estates with the peasants, thereby defining a class of men by their work. And the university men joined the clerics, creating an estate of men marked by their learning and mode of thinking. In short, the trifunctional categories both recorded and intensified social change.

Bernhard Jussen's "Liturgy and Legitimation, or How the Gallo- Romans Ended the Roman Empire" takes up the question how bishops in Gaul uniquely supplanted the imperial nobility as the empire disintegrated. He finds the answer in the process whereby the bishops adopted the aristocracy's habitus. Because the Christian liturgy provided the only viable field for legitimate representation and ceremony, bishops were able to step into the gap left by the dissolving empire and yet unformed kingdoms. With its ceremony and vestments, the bishopric provided the aristocracy with the necessary distinguishing dignity. The semantic slipperiness of dignitas eventually allowed the nobility to appropriate the office by insisting that dignity wasn't conferred by the office but was a prerequisite for the office. Their primary competitors for spiritual dignity were the itinerant ascetics. In order to control them, bishops co-opted their attributes and power by adopting and ritualizing the 'positive' practices of the itinerants and punishing the negative.

Jospeh Morsel's "Inventing a Social Category: The Sociogenesis of the Nobility at the End of the Middle Ages" deftly guides the reader through a series of phenomena which shaped an important socio-genetic moment in late-medieval Franconia. Here, the socio-politically dominant people did not emerge as a social entity called the "nobility" until around 1400. Prior to 1400, terms from the semantics field--"edel"--referred to persons of high rank. And "adel" ("nobility") referred to a quality of a person or action--not as a category of people until fifteenth century. This semantic and lexical change, when "adel' shifted syntactically from an adjective to a substantive, from a quality to a social group, marks the "discursive emergence of the nobility". (206) Despite this late emergence, the nobility portrayed itself as if it had always been there.

In a pair of short essays, Gerd Althoff examines how two forms of public display stabilized social relations. The first, "(Royal) Favor: A Central Concept in Early Medieval Hierarchical Relations", examines the form and content of expressing favor, or gratia, an important element of exchange in the system of fealty. He looks at three aspects: the lord's withdrawal of favor, the lord's bestowing favor, and the vassal's reciprocal bestowal or withdrawal of favor. The withdrawal of favor meant that the vassal would be excluded from the group that continued to enjoy the lord's favor. Restoring favor would require the intervention of an intermediary. Bestowing favor generally fell in three area: giving gifts, publicly showing preference, confidential conversations. Either way, public performance was essential to expressing favor. In "Satisfaction: Peculiarities of the Amicable Settlement of Conflicts in the Middle Ages", Althoff briefly outlines another ritualized act--satisfaction--that frequently replaced violent conflict resolution. Satisfaction was a public performance and a central aspect of the transgressor's atonement. It was worked out by mediators who predetermined and guaranteed that the public gesture would be accepted. These gestures allowed the aggrieved to act generously in public; they allowed his opponent to maintain honor. Although this means of mediated conflict resolution has never completely disappeared, it was gradually and substantially displaced by the king's courts after the eleventh century.

In extending recent reconsiderations of horizontal associations and their role in maintaining peace in the late Middle Ages, Oexle's second contribution to the volume--"Peace Through Conspiracy"--examines the role of sworn associations in creating and maintaining peace in the earlier centuries of the period. Many of these associations were based on oaths binding members to aid one another, and as a result sent a message to outsiders to beware the joint force of the sworn community. Within the association, the principle of consensus defined the relations between individuals and the group. At the same time, this principle of free entry created several paradoxes that attracted contemporary criticism. Proponents of authoritative rule noted that each group's particular rules sometimes contradicted universal rules imposed by the monarch. Others claimed that the rules of fraternias that governed the limited association should rightly govern relations between all men, not just this particular group. And finally, the peace that the group enforced within and for the group often meant ignoring the violence of outsiders or imposing violence on outsiders. These tensions show how individuals used the associations to control and resolve conflict in ways that suited their particular interests, an aspect of medieval culture that hints at "something of the modernity of the Middle Ages". (308)