John France

title.none: Landes, Gow, and Meter, eds., The Apocalyptic Year 1000 (John France)

identifier.other: baj9928.0410.003 04.10.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: John France, University of Wales, Swansea,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Landes, Richard, Andrew Gow, and David C. Van Meter, eds. The Apocalyptic Year 1000: Religious Expectation and Social Change, 950-1050. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Pp. xv, 360. ISBN: $35.00 0-19-516162-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.10.03

Landes, Richard, Andrew Gow, and David C. Van Meter, eds. The Apocalyptic Year 1000: Religious Expectation and Social Change, 950-1050. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Pp. xv, 360. ISBN: $35.00 0-19-516162-9.

Reviewed by:

John France
University of Wales, Swansea

This is a book with very complex origins. An unsigned preface tells us that it began as a book project (though it does not say by whom) which evolved into a conference at Boston, November 4-6 1996. Of the 15 essays, 5 were not given at the conference. One of these is a translation of a 1977 article by D.Verhelst, "Adso of Montier-en-Der and the Fear of the Year 1000" which argues forcibly that this writer testifies to the existence of much apocalyptic fear in tenth century. It is a pity that the author suggests that the destruction of the Holy Sepulchre in 1009 "took on an apocalyptic meaning" (87), but only on the basis of a single citation of a twelfth-century chronicle which must be derivative. Another is a translation of a distinguished 1989 article by J. Fried, "Awaiting the End of Time around the Turn of the Year 1000," and it is good to have this in English. The other three, by D.F.Callahan, R.Landes and D.C.Van Meter, were presumably written specially for this volume. The essay by R.Newhauser, "Avarice and the Apocalypse" apparently appeared in a different form in a volume of essays published in 2000. In a final section entitled "Tools and Sources" there is an essay on "The Astronomical Situation around the Year 1000" by B. E. Schaefer and a collection of translated texts by van Meter. So in its origins and content this is a very diverse book, but this is not to say that it is a random collection.

In the preface we are told the writers were surprised because many of the scholars who attended the conference challenged "our very hermeneutic (sic)." This is never elaborated, so it is difficult to say what interpretation was challenged or how because on the evidence of the book all the contributors more or less agree that apocalyptic expectation was high in the period under study, though there are differences of emphasis amongst them. What makes this statement particularly intriguing is the tone of the (anonymous) Preface and the Introduction by R.Landes. In the former one exponent of the view that the world was not seized by millennial terror about the year 1000 is dismissed as producing "facile polemic" (vi), and some views are dismissed because they are those of "the senior professoriate" and "made in ignorance" (vii). In Landes' Introduction a scholar is charged with "misrepresenting the arguments of other historians" (3) and there is a series of extremely sharp comments (4-5) about those who are not disposed to accept that millennial expectation characterised this period. It has to be said that in Landes' own contribution to the volume on "The Fear of an Apocalyptic Year 1000: Augustinian Historiography, Medieval and Modern," he is much more measured and scholarly in tone.

Clearly we are here in the presence of a very fierce controversy. It is certainly true that Landes' views about the millennium excited a lot of hostile comment in France. However, there were reasons for this. By the 1990s a major shift was becoming evident amongst French medievalists. In particular, the emphasis on sudden change around the year 1000, intimately associated with G.Duby, was being replaced by a more evolutionary view espoused by D. Barthélemy. Landes' views must have seemed out of step in the context of this very marked shift in historical attitudes. The changes amongst French medievalists were pretty explosive, and Landes seems to be a case of collateral damage: after all, the main area of interest turned out to be feudalism and the controversy there completely overshadowed academic interest in the "Terrors of the Year 1000." Moreover, most historians would reflect that the notion that there is a hidden tradition of apocalyptic expectation which was submerged and concealed by an "Augustinian orthodoxy" (6) is one that poses problems for historical method in the broadest sense. Can we really construe Gerbert of Aurillac's silence on the year 1000 (7) as evidence of widespread apocalyptic expectation? Is the silence of Thietmar of Merseburg on the same subject evidence, and of what kind? It is very hard to believe in a submerged tradition and a conspiracy by early medieval writers to suppress apocalyptic expectation when Landes himself, and some of the other contributors, notably Fried and Van Meter can, at the very least, show evidence that such feelings existed, sometimes drawn from those who are accused of suppressing it. Of course such evidence is not common, but then in the early Middle Ages much of our evidence about currents of feeling, ideas or even simply events, is obscured by the paucity of contemporary sources and the sheer difficulty of many of interpreting those which survive. There is no need to envisage a special conspiracy to silence one particular aspect of contemporary feeling. Moreover, theological speculation was not common in the early middle ages and the Church had not evolved an inquisition to discipline it. The "Persecuting Society" had not yet formed itself.

The essays in this volume are organised in three sections, with a fourth on "Tools and Sources" (as noted), and this appears to be a thoroughly sensible structure. The essays themselves are densely argued and always interesting. In Section I, "The Apocalyptic Year 1000 in Medieval Thought," G.Lobrichon's "Stalking the Signs: The Apocalyptic Commentaries" suggests interestingly that there was an upsurge in exegesis of the Apocalypse especially around the year 1000. But, as he admits, there was not a great tradition of such exegesis anyway, so could this be related to the spread of learning rather than to expectations of the end? S.R.Cartwright, in "Thietland's Commentary on Second Thessalonians: Digressions on the Antichrist and the End of the Millennium," discusses a contemporary of Adso whose commentary largely adheres to Augustinian norms, but seems to be inspired by the gloomy state of the world of the tenth century. It is suggestive that he is a contemporary of Adso, but it is not clear that either of these writers was doing anything more than expressing fears in apocalyptic language natural to Christians in difficult times. R.Newhauser, in "Avarice and the Apocalypse," discusses concern with avarice as sin and sign of a coming end, and this is particularly interesting because simony was soon to become the preoccupation of church reformers.

Section II, "The Apocalyptic Year 1000 in Medieval Art and Literature," opens with an essay by Yves Christe, "Apocalypse and Last judgement around the Year 1000," which seems to take to an extreme the argument that there was what I have called a "hidden tradition," by suggesting that there were few representations of the most "'apocalyptic' sections of the Apocalypse" in the period 800- 1150 because of "doctrinal decisions undertaken by the highest authorities of the church" (151). We are entitled to ask who these authorities were, how and when they took such a decision, and to treat the whole suggestion with a good deal of scepticism. But M. Godden's "The Millennium, Time and History for the Anglo-Saxons" is an interesting and scholarly reflection, while R.M.Evitt's "Eschatology, Millenarian Apocalypticism and the Liturgical Anti- Judaism of the Medieval Prophet Plays" provides an excellent study of this fascinating genre, though not all the material she discusses is of much relevance to the period covered by this volume. In "Visualizing the Millennium: Eschatological Rhetoric for the Ottonian Court," S.E. von Daum Tholl suggests convincingly that imperial iconography was suffused with apocalypse images. D.F. Callahan's "The Cult of St Michael the Archangel and the 'Terrors of the Year 1000'" is another and valuable contribution to the long debate on this phenomenon.

Section III, "Historiography of the Apocalyptic Year 1000," opens with Landes' own essay which has already been noted. This is perhaps the most lucid encapsulation of his case on apocalyptic expectation, and its careful judgements reflect the skills of one who has recently produced a distinguished edition of Adhemar of Chabannes. In "Eschatological Imagination and the Program of Roman Imperial and Ecclesiastical Renewal at the end of the Tenth century," B. Arnold argues that the apocalypse was invoked in imperial circles because the empire was seen as holding Anti-Christ at bay. This can be read interestingly with Daum Tholl's essay. W.Prideaux-Collins demonstrates with admirable clarity in "'Satan's Bonds are extremely Loose': Apocalyptic Expectation in Anglo-Saxon England during the Millennial Era" that Anglo-Saxon scholars were not, as has often been thought, immune to eschatological ideas. D. C.Van Meter's "Apocalyptic Moments and Eschatological Rhetoric of Reform in the Early Eleventh century: The Case of the Visionary of St Vaast" is a fascinating study of the way in which biblical exegesis can be caught up in local quarrels.

This is a very stimulating volume which contains some very weighty essays, but two things about it disappoint. The first is that there is no dissenting voice from the central thesis that apocalyptic expectation was strong and widespread in this period. The thunder of controversy rumbles only at a distance in the Preface and Introduction. The second is that nobody took a long view of apocalyptic expectation. Joachim of Fiore is mentioned only once (75), yet here was another of the upsurges of apocalyptic interest noted by G. Lobrichon. Would study of that perhaps enlighten the debate about the Year 1000?

A final note: Perhaps the contemporary most cited by the contributors to this volume is Rodulfus Glaber.[[1]] The Histories is not an easy work. It was written over a period of about 20 years and there are signs that it was revised in places during that time. It is focused on the two millennial years, 1000 and 1033, but I am not at all clear what significance he attributed to them, especially as he went on writing for some 12 years after the latter date. There are many passages which can be interpreted to suggest that there was expectation of some startling events around these millennial years, but they can be used in quite different ways. In one passage (Book 4.21) Glaber refers to the Anti-Christ. He says that "some," wanting to know why so many were going to Jerusalem about the year 1033, consulted the "more watchful" (the sense could be "more fearful" or even "more perceptive"): "some" (of the more watchful) responded that this portended nothing other than the coming of Antichrist. He concludes this passage by remarking that "We will speak no further of this matter," which suggests that he could have said more, but ends with the empty piety that he is sure that on the last day the faithful will be justly judged. You can make of that what you will, but it seems to me that he is pretty sceptical of any notion of the imminence of Antichrist.


[[1]] Rodulfus Glaber Opera, ed. J.France (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989).