Scott DeGregorio

title.none: Clark, The 'Gregorian' Dialogues (Scott DeGregorio)

identifier.other: baj9928.0410.014 04.10.14

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Scott DeGregorio, University of Michigan, Dearborn,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Clark, Francis. The 'Gregorian' Dialogues and the Origins of Benedictine Monasticism. Series: Studies in the History of Christian Thought, vol. 108. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Pp. xii, 464. $161.00 90-04-12849-2. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.10.14

Clark, Francis. The 'Gregorian' Dialogues and the Origins of Benedictine Monasticism. Series: Studies in the History of Christian Thought, vol. 108. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Pp. xii, 464. $161.00 90-04-12849-2. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Scott DeGregorio
University of Michigan, Dearborn

Francis Clark's The 'Gregorian' Dialogues and the Origins of Benedictine Monasticism argues that The Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great concerning the Miracles of the Fathers of Italy is not a late sixth-century work by that pope but a late seventh-century work by a forger. If one's first reaction is an eerie sense of deja vu, it is because the same thesis framed Clark's 1989 two-volume work The Pseudo-Gregorian Dialogues. With those volumes now out-of-print, a new book is needed, Clark claims, both to update the present state of the question and to revise and simplify the massive case outlined in the earlier volumes. This new book, however, still very much depends on the two earlier volumes, as is clear from the many times Clark directs the reader to the full dossier of arguments to be found there.

Clark's argument remains fundamentally the same--indeed much of it is reprinted from the first book. A brief summary of it runs as follows. The Dialogues, albeit not by Gregory, nevertheless contain a significant amount of genuine Gregorian material. The text of the work should thus be viewed in terms of two separable strands--the forger's main narrative and the "IGPs" (= "Inserted Gregorian Passages"). Discrepancies in style, syntax, orthography, thematic content, spiritual purpose, and historical accuracy provide clear signs that the text of the Dialogues has been so composed. The IGPs, which comprise about 25% of the text, were derived by the forger from different sources. Some were taken from Gregory's published works, but the majority were excerpted from his unpublished authentic writings, for example the file of passages he had discarded from earlier drafts of his surviving works, or the large archival reserve of transcripts of his expository discourses, both of which were stored in the Lateran library in Rome. The inclusion of such material in the Dialogues thus points to the vocation of the forger: himself a scriniarius in the Lateran secretariate, he had all-too-ready access to such material. Around 680, this forger--whom Clark calls "The Dialogist"--concocted the document known as the Dialogues, freely inserting genuine Gregoriana into it so as to give the work an authentic Gregorian coloring.

Clark's book tells this story over the course of a staggering 25 chapters totaling 452 pages and organized into 4 parts. Part I reviews the authorship controversy from the Reformation until the twentieth century; it details the arguments and heated counter-arguments that predated Clark's own intervention (Chapter 1) and narrates how the latter sought in 1989 to re-open the question and the responses that have since emerged (Chapter 2). In a revealing sentence (the general sentiment of which I shall address below) Clark here explains that what drew him to study the issue was the great disparity he perceived between, on the one hand, "the treasure-chest of spiritual wisdom in Gregory's doctrinal and pastoral works, and his enlightened letters guiding the life of the church," and on the other "the text of The Lives and Miracles of the Fathers of Italy" (22), which throughout is debunked by Clark as inane, vulgar, and utterly beneath the ability and ideals of "the real Gregory" (a phrase Clark uses repeatedly). Part II lays out the "internal evidence" against Gregorian authorship, the essential key being the IGPs. Instead of reprinting the full Latin text with the IGPs underscored as the 1989 volumes did, Clark now offers just an abridged summary of the case, treating a few representative IGPs (Chapter 3) and then, in the ensuing chapters (Chapters 4-9), examining the incongruities in vocabulary, orthography, style, syntax, authorial attitudes, doctrinal anomalies, and historical discrepancies that he alleges differentiate them from the text's non-Gregorian sections. Part III examines the external evidence, namely the contemporary documents (e.g. Gregory'sThe Letter to Maximian, the pseudo-Gregorian In I Regum, the Liber Pontificalis) and the historical data (e.g. dates, manuscript evidence) that would appear to prove that Gregory wrote the work but which, in Clark's analysis, are made to tell otherwise. While seven of the chapters in this section (10-12, 16, 17, 21, 22) recycle much from the 1989 volumes, six of them (13-15, 18-20) feature new material on St. Benedict and his rule and cult, for Clark wishes to strengthen his case for arguing that the first recorded appearances of the Dialogues in the late seventh century are co-ordinate with, and a cause of, the flourishing and spread of Benedictinism that is known to have begun at that time. As the final section, Part IV features three chapters (23-25) on the Dialogist and his milieu, a table of dates relating to the Dialogues and Benedictine monasticism, and an annotated list of the 80 identified IGPs.

Those not convinced by Clark's previous arguments won't, I suspect, be convinced by those offered in his new book. True, the recent turn of events surrounding what used to be known as Gregory's commentary on Kings (= In I Regum), which has turned out to be a forgery precisely of the kind Clark wishes to apply to the Dialogues--i.e. one in which Gregorian and non-Gregorian writings are mixed--may seem to bolster his case (as Clark himself gleefully acknowledges). But in general the argument he re-presents in The 'Gregorian' Dialogues and the Origins of Benedictine Monasticism suffers, inevitably, from some of the same defects of his 1989 project. Many readers, I suspect, will be quick to object to the very rigid distinction he draws between his "real Gregory"--for Clark an enlightened and rigidly sober exegete and preacher--and the gullible spinner of tall tales and vulgar stories he associates with the author of the Dialogues. By Clark's own admission, these two personae can in no way be reconciled; it is not possible that the author of the Moralia would want to besmirch his literary reputation and lofty spiritual sensibility with the "tall tales" (49) of hagiography. That view, however, not only indicates a skewed understanding of hagiographic convention but also forces the Dialogues itself into too narrow a conceptual frame, for in the Middle Ages the work was read not only for its hagiographic value but for a range of spiritual and theological purposes as well. Moreover, for Clark's argument to work, the Dialogues cannot be the only domino to fall; a long row of them must fall in succession as one seemingly genuine text once believed to authenticate Gregorian authorship of the work must accept the stigma of forgery as well. And so it is that, in Clark's hands, the testimonies found in a litany of external witnesses--Gregory's own letters among them--are all rejected as spurious or exposed as interpolations. In this connection, it is interesting to note that Clark nowhere mentions the Visio Baronti, an anonymous seventh-century text that, as John Contrenti has recently shown (Speculum 78 [2003]: 673-706), makes extensive use of the Dialogues. The work (ca. 678-79) dates from precisely the time Clark's pseudepigrapher is alleged to be at work, yet the fact that the anonymous author of the visio relies heavily on the latter, as Contrenti adroitly shows, (see esp. pp. 681-90 of his article) can only suggest a period of reading and reflecting on the text that antedated his own composition -- suggesting, perhaps, that the traditional date of 593-94 is correct after all. Do we have here one more piece of evidence for the authenticity of Gregory's work, or yet another domino to fall in Clark's ever-expanding row of early medieval forgeries?

Anyone interested in Gregory the Great, his Dialogues, or the history of the authorship controversy surrounding it should read Clark's new book. Like its predecessor, this one too, no doubt, will provoke a mixture of responses, some favorable, some unfavorable. Clark does manage to achieve his main stated goal of simplifying--in the hope of convincing a larger readership--the presentation of the daunting case he laid out in 1989. Time will tell whether that effort has won him more supporters or yet more detractors.