Bert Roest

title.none: von Heusinger, Johannes Mulberg OP (1414) (Bert Roest)

identifier.other: baj9928.0203.020 02.03.20

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Bert Roest,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: von Heusinger, Sabine. Johannes Mulberg OP (1414): Ein Leben im Spannungsfeld von Dominikanerobservanz und Beginenstreit. Quellen und Forschungen zur Geschichte des Dominikanerordens. Muchen: Akademie Verlag, 2000. Pp. v, 201. 119 DEM. ISBN: 3-050-03543-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.03.20

von Heusinger, Sabine. Johannes Mulberg OP (1414): Ein Leben im Spannungsfeld von Dominikanerobservanz und Beginenstreit. Quellen und Forschungen zur Geschichte des Dominikanerordens. Muchen: Akademie Verlag, 2000. Pp. v, 201. 119 DEM. ISBN: 3-050-03543-9.

Reviewed by:

Bert Roest

This volume in the Dominican history series commissioned by the Dominican Teutonia province is a reworking of the author's dissertation, which she defended at the University of Konstanz in 1996. In all, this reworking contains nine "chapters." The first of these is the Introduction. Chapters 7 and 8 are summaries in German and English, whereas chapter 9 is a critical edition of several writings by Johan Mulberg on the Beguines and related pieces. The remaining chapters (2 to 6) would amount to a so-called structural intellectual biography. For a long time, the author reminds us, it was rather old-fashioned to put one historical figure in the centre of a historical study. Yet since the mid 1990s, she signals a renewed interest in the biographical approach, particularly among mediaevalists working in the German-speaking areas of Europe. This renewed interest expresses itself in the production of intellectual biographical studies with structural overtones, focusing on relatively unknown historical protagonists, and trying to gain insight into complex historical phenomena through the exemplary testimony inherent in the life and writings of these selected individuals. Hence, Sabine von Heusinger intends to analyse the life and writings of the Dominican friar Johannes Mulberg (d. 1414). More in particular, she chooses to study this friar in the light of Dominican observant initiatives, the Great Schism, and the problem field of late medieval urban religious life, where seculars, mendicants, and lay religious groups at times engaged in bitter competition.

After her introductory first chapter, which also provides a lay-out of the work as a whole and lists previous studies on Johannes Mulberg and his Dominican circle since the work of Johann Lorenz Mosheim (1790) and Gustav Haenel (1830), Sabine von Heusinger engages in Chapter 2 with a painstaking reconstruction of Mulberg's life and career in the Dominican order. Sh e traces his youth and early studies in the Colmar and Basel area, as well as his studies in Prague, where he entered the Dominican order. Contrary to earlier historians, Sabine von Heusinger does not believe that Johannes Mulberg had obtained the title of bachelor of theology before he was appointed cursor at the Colmar convent in 1391. This is in line with new insights in the mendicant school network, which make historians more hesitant to automatically equate mendicant school programs with the academic curricula at the theology faculties with which some mendicant studia generalia maintained an affiliation. Sabine von Heusinger maintains that Johannes Mulberg did not receive an academic degree, but received an "ordensinterne Ausbildung," which would have qualified him for his future tasks as preacher, confessor and lector/cursor in Dominican houses. Throughout this chapter, the author shows a commendable grasp of late medieval Dominican sources, which enables her to chart Johannes' activities in various convents of the Rhine valley.

Chapter 3 contains a very well-documented and informative survey of early Observantist activities within the Dominican order. After a short but lucid exposition of the efforts of Raymond of Capua and Conrad von Preussen to initiate an Observant reform in the Dominican order as a whole, and comparing these efforts with comparable developments in other religious orders, this chapter provides a detailed (and at times overly dense) survey of early reform attempts in the Dominican Teutonia province from 1388 onwards, with due attention to Johannes Mulberg's initiatives to establish the Observance in Colmar and Basel. Much attention is paid to the relative failure of the Observant cause within the Dominican order, due to disagreements over the poverty regime, the lack of support among the friars, obstacles resulting from the papal schism, and infra-provincial power struggles. After 1418, when several of these problems had been resolved, the Observant cause was pursued with much more success, so that in 1475 the whole Teutonic province officially had come under Observant control.

Chapter 4 turns to the Beguine struggle in Basel which, in the view of Sabine von Heusinger, constituted Johannes Mulberg's central battlefield. The chapter starts with a short general history of the Beguine movements, relating the latent suspicions of heresy that eventually forced many Beguine groups to take on the garb and the rule of mendicant tertiary orders. Around 1400, the Basel Dominicans had become hostile to the twenty-odd local beguinages, whereas the local Friars Minor were their most ardent protectors. During Johannes Mulberg's Basel sojourn (ca. 1404-1411), he evolved into the dominant anti-Beguine spokesman and became instrumental in the demise of all the Beguine and Beghard houses in Basel. The author shows how Johannes, who found fault with the semi-religious status of Beguine communities and their 'illegal' begging activities (that turned them into economic competitors of other clerical groups), was able through his sermons, his lobbying, and his anti-Beguine writings to enlist the support of the secular clergy and all major orders (with exception of the Friars Minor), and eventually succeeded in convincing the Basel city council in 1410 to expel all Beguines from the city. Ironically, Johannes Mulberg's radical attacks on illicit financial dealings by the clergy, as well as his staunch partisanship for the by then deposed pope Gregory XII, damaged his own position to such an extent that he too was forced to leave the town in 1411.

Chapter 5 subsequently deals with Johannes Mulberg's final years, when, expelled from Basel, he continued to advocate the cause of Gregory XII, and died in the Franciscan (!) convent of Ueberlingen, on his way to the council of Konstanz. Aside from the German and English summaries (Chapters 7 and 8), the remainder of the book (Chapters 6 and 9) discusses Johannes Mulberg's literary legacy. Chapter 6 introduces Mulberg's Tractatus contra Beginas et Beghardos (based on his 1405 "Wucherpredigt," a fiercely anti-Beguine sermon held at the Basel Munster), his sermons, and related writings of opponents and later biographers. Chapter 9 finally provides a critical edition of all major texts produced during the Basel Beguine struggle. This chapter therefore not only contains Johannes von Mulberg's Tractatus, but also the Posicio Rudolfi Buchsman (OFM) in defence of the Beguine way of life, surviving fragments of Mulberg's 1405 "Wucherpredigt," and the German letters by Konrad Schlatter on Mulberg's last years and death.

The editions alone already justify the publication of this book. Moreover, Sabine von Heusinger has provided us with an interesting, if at times overly dense and source-bound, panorama of early Observant activities within the Dominican fold, and the intricate way in which early Observant reform tied in and at times seemed at odds with attempts at rescuing the unity of the Church in a period of schism.

Whatever these merits, one problem remains. As said above, Sabine von Heusinger presents her work as a structural intellectual biography, in which the life and career of a person is used as heuristic instrument to obtain insight into the complex historical phenomena of the period. It can be argued that she has provided Johannes' life and actions with a proper context: the Dominican struggles of reform, the struggle with the Beguines in the Basel and neighbouring towns, and the implications of the papal schism. This has resulted in a very satisfying reading. However, the complex historical phenomena meant to be highlighted and discovered through the biographical approach -- phenomena that the author presents in a commendable, albeit predictable fashion -- have been used throughout the book as a given interpretative matrix to make sense of Johannes Mulberg's life and deeds, instead of the other way around. This is more a critique of the allegedly innovative character of the "new biography" approach pushed forward by the school of Alexander Patschovsky than a verdict on Sabine von Heusinger's book on Johannes Mulberg. After all, it would seem that the chosen interpretative matrix used to provide meaning to Mulberg's life is a convincing one. Yet it might indicate that the "new biography" does not differ very significantly from the intellectual biographies and microhistories that we know from a slightly older historiographical past, most of which exploit already established contextual factors to give the available biographical data their special significance, rather than shedding a surprising new light on complex historical phenomena with recourse to the life of a (less well-known) historical actor.