Janet Sorrentino

title.none: Mews, ed., Listen Daughter (Janet Sorrentino)

identifier.other: baj9928.0412.001 04.12.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Janet Sorrentino, Washington College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Mews, Constant J., ed. Listen Daughter: The "Speculum Virginum" and the Formation of Religious Women in the Middle Ages. The New Middle Ages. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Pp. xiii, 306. $49.95 0-312-24008-2. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.12.01

Mews, Constant J., ed. Listen Daughter: The "Speculum Virginum" and the Formation of Religious Women in the Middle Ages. The New Middle Ages. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Pp. xiii, 306. $49.95 0-312-24008-2. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Janet Sorrentino
Washington College

The Psalmist asks, "What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me?" Twice he responds, "I shall pay my vows to the Lord, O may it be in the presence of all His people." So it is that many religious women and men seek to show their devotion to God through the extraordinary rigor of making, then performing, vows. The "white martyrdom" of the triad--poverty, chastity, and obedience--perhaps loses its powerful witness through familiarity. It is not easy to renounce the world, and ample evidence shows that nuns and monks did not always keep the discipline they promised. Thus monastic saints recognized the essential need to teach, rebuke and encourage one another. This ministry of exhortation over time built a corpus of didactic literature of which the Speculum Virginum is an extraordinary example. Composed in the twelfth century, the treatise consists of a dialogue between a male monastic teacher, Peregrinus, and a female religious disciple, Theodora. The author of Speculum Virginum (hereafter SV) sought to strengthen the resolve of his disciple so that she--and other readers--could live as virgins dedicated to God. In the SV, one finds a comprehensive theology of the cloistered religious life.

The present volume, Listen Daughter: The Speculum Virginum and the Religious Formation of Women in the Middle Ages, edited by Constant Mews, is a collection of essays dedicated to explaining the remarkable medieval dialogue; the cooperative product truly magnifies its object. Published by Palgrave in The New Middle Ages series, the volume comprises eleven individual essays plus introduction, with six black-and-white photo reproductions of images from the London, BL Arundel MS 44. Barbara Newman renders a graceful English translation of large segments of the treatise. There is a short, useful index. The volume remains true to its central goal of illuminating the SV text while each essay also contributes to other themes important to medieval scholars: cura monialium, pedagogical uses of textual and visual imagery, vernacular religious literature, music, textual transmission and elaborations in Mariology.

In the introduction, Constant Mews discusses the historiography connected to the SV. The text was widely studied from the mid-twelfth century to the Reformation. Thirty Latin texts, twenty-six vernacular and two additional fragments (the latter identified by Morgan Powell) testify to continued interest. After the fifteenth century, the text was largely ignored until the mid-twentieth century when art historians began to revive interest in its illuminations. The present volume ushers an important text into the mainstream of monastic studies, studies of women religious and twelfth-century religious culture.

Who wrote the SV? Mews cites witnesses who identified Peregrinus as a monk of Hirsau who was known to be a respected author and furthermore was specifically identified as the author of the SV. Among these witnesses, Johannes Trithemius (1460-1517 C.E.) identified Peregrinus as a pseudonym for Conrad of Hirsau. Mews argues that the monastic reform at Hirsau welcomed rational inquiry in the struggle for spiritual excellence, and the reformers there acknowledged women's ability to exercise reason; a treatise such as the SV was consistent with that spirit of reform at Hirsau.

In chapter one, Mews explores the themes "Virginity, Theology and Pedogogy." Mews discusses the virgin as one who would be both physically free from sexual intimacy and free from the theological and social obligations to marriage. Virginity dominates the virtues of spiritual excellence in the SV, but a virginity nuanced by the contemporary influence of reason. The essential struggle of spirit with flesh is viewed not solely in terms of the physical passions, but also in terms of total devotion and humility. Physical purity and integrity are presented as important in imitating the life of angels but the "real threat to the religious life comes not from sexual pollution but from pride and complacency" (21-22). Although the treatise claims to be written for religious women, its instructions were applicable as well to male religious who, in choosing virginity of body and spirit, adopted the feminine role of the bride of Christ. Mews compares Peregrinus' reasoning to earlier contemporaries such as Anselm of Canterbury. Peregrinus reasoned that both flesh and spirit, if rightly directed, lead back to the Creator (27). Religious women and men hoped to develop perfect harmony between spirit and flesh, not completely to obliterate the latter.

Jutta Seyfarth stimulated recent interest in the SV with the release of her critical edition of the treatise in 1990, making the Latin text and German translation available to the scholarly community. That edition studied the manuscript transmission of the Latin and vernacular texts. In her essay (chapter two), Seyfarth investigates two subjects: the place of one manuscript L (London, Arundel MS 44) in the manuscript transmission, and the identity of the treatise's author. With regard to the first, Seyfarth argues convincingly that the early extant manuscripts derive from a lost original from the Augustinian Abbey of Andernach (48). The second inquiry concerning the identity of the author is equally complex. The name of the male interlocutor in the SV's dialogue, Peregrinus, may function simply as a topos, the type of the monk as pilgrim. Library catalogues, however, suggest an active author-monk named Peregrinus, who composed the SV as well as other works. Johannes Trithemius identified that Peregrinus as Conrad of Hirsau; the library catalogue of Hirsau from the late twelfth century confirms the presence of books by a Peregrinus without listing titles. The lost exemplar for the SV Seyfarth posits came from St. Mary's in Andernach on the Rhine. Richard of Spingiersbach founded this house of canonesses for his sister in 1128; he assigned a certain Conrad to act as her spiritual advisor. In the surviving records, then, one can find reference to more than one Conrad and more than one Peregrinus with a connection to the SV. Seyfarth is less willing than the other contributors to accept Conrad of Hirsau definitively as the author, although she agrees fully that the mid-twelfth century monastic environment in Germany and manuscript evidence suggest Hirsau as a strong possibility. Julie Hotchin (chapter three) considers cura monialium in the context of the monastic reform associated with Hirsau. The possible connection of SV's author with the abbey of Hirsau raises important issues about the pastoral care of nuns affiliated to Hirsau. Since both men and women responded to the monastic revival, a tension developed between the mandate to separate the sexes and the clear example of the early apostolic communities when they worked together in their pursuit of holiness. Literature of spiritual formation developed for women in religious life, and by necessity, also literature instructing monks or canons how to direct women entrusted to their care.

Drawing on the work of Urban Küsters as well as her own research into religious women of southern Germany, Hotchin traces the literature supportive of mixed communities within the apostolic vision of Hirsau's community. She demonstrates the striking presence of female religious communities in the Hirsau orbit, and argues that the didactic literature "provided models of the ideal structuring of relationships--of authority, comportment, and space--required between men and women sharing a religious life" (74). Hotchin conveys the excitement that attended the growth phase of monastic revival. She just as adroitly describes the retrenchment following the II Lateran Council (1139 C.E.) pronouncement forbidding women to celebrate the liturgy together with men. Hotchin then draws the connection to SV, written to females and their male guides, showing that the "anxieties" endemic to the mixed communities resulted in instructions that "echo contemporary preoccupations" (73).

(Chapter four) In medieval Christian Europe, two virgins represented the ideal of purity and holiness: Jesus and Mary. Perceptions of the Blessed Virgin Mary evolved throughout the period: obedient daughter of God, exalted Mother of God, God-bearer, Queen of Heaven, perpetual virgin, exemplar of all excellence in motherhood, in womanliness, in humanity (95). Kim Powers examines Peregrinus' advice to Theodora about the intricate connection between (1) BVM (2) the virgin bride of Christ as represented in the church, and (3) the virgin brides of Christ as represented in monastic life-male and female. Powers argues that Peregrinus' theology of the virgin represents a "quantum leap" in Mariology. She analyzes Peregrinus' patristic sources for his theology of virginity and finds an exalted view of Mary integral to that theology (86). In particular, Ambrose's De Institutione Virginis and Paschasius Radbertus' work on the Assumption figure prominently in Peregrinus' Mariology.

Ambrose had integrated the nuptial imagery in the Canticle of Canticles with Mary as the virgin bride, and related it further to the cloistered life for women. Like Ambrose, Peregrinus aligns Mary with the Bride in the Canticle, the queen in Psalm 44 and Wisdom in Proverbs 8. By identifying Mary with the personification of Wisdom in Proverbs 8 (SV 5: 130-39), Peregrinus exalts her significantly, since the passage implies a pre-existence and eternal presence of Mary with her Son. Exalted titles for Mary appear in the SV, titles such as "intermediary [reconcilatrix], renewer [reparatrix], and creator [operatrix]. These are active, public roles, not normally ascribed to women in antiquity" (99). Powers attributes the high Mariology to Origin's influence as incorporated by Ambrose; she also credits twelfth-century politics when temporal queens had gained both political and ritual stature.

Morgan Powell (chapter five) examines the use of the SV in monastic reading practice. He found a brilliant example in the life of St. Birgitta of Sweden. Peter Olavi, her mentor and biographer, recounted how he was reading to Birgitta from the SV when she experienced a rapture of the spirit (112). Not only does the event describe a singular example of the way the SV text was used, it also illustrates a practice in the pastoral care of religious women, that is, male guides reading to female disciples rather than nuns reading for themselves. The SV itself seems to incorporate such reading practice, as Powell points out, so the text itself became a medium of pastoral care. In listening to the SV the female monastic received the Word of God. Thus Theodora explained "This voice (Christ) let me hear through you (Peregrinus); this law let me read through you" (116).

How did such a reading practice reflect on female literacy? Powell raises this natural question in his essay. The ecclesiastical society in which the SV was written perceived itself in a fixed hierarchy of "immutable" orders. Among these, the literate clergy ranked highest of all. "Women, like layfolk, were summarily classed as auditores, a term often used synonymously with illitterati and laici in opposition to the preaching, literate cleric" (114). The church recognized the need for visual images or picturae to function as scripturae for the illiterate. Thus in the composition of the SV, Powell argued that the actual literacy level of women need not coincide with the assumed convention; individual women still could be literate in the highest sense, yet their order in the society and hence in the SV would nevertheless render them as hearers of the word. Therefore, the text and its carefully designed cycle of visual images modeled the world as it was then understood. It is furthermore significant that the large majority of the SV manuscripts came from male monasteries. "The Speculum is a model, handbook and sourcebook for male magistri engaged in the instruction of women's communities" (113). Powell concluded that the SV text with its images as a medium of pastoral care represents genuine innovation in medieval pedagogy.

(Chapter six) The earliest manuscripts of the SV contain an Epithalamium, or Bridal Song. Caroline Jeffreys identifies four parts: (1) 129 rhymed verses in couplets; (2) verses excerpted from the Song of Songs Qualis est dilectus; (3) the first verse of the Marian hymn O sancta mundi domina; and (4) another musical composition Audite o lucis filiae. This musical section of the SV appears in four sources, three of them neumed.

The initial letters for the 129 couplets form two acrostic verses, O qualis es and O quam miranda. The rubric for these acrostic verses includes the term alternim, implying the alternating work of two choirs, an instruction further confirmed by the instruction akrostikon A and akrostikon B. Jeffreys provides the texts for the songs with English translation true to the poetic sense of the original Latin.

Musicologists also will be glad to have access to the musical settings at the end of the essay. Jeffreys notes that the verse and respond pattern appear like the psalmody used in the offices; furthermore, the order in which the Epithalamium songs appear in the Einzelnblatt copy parallels the variable portions of standard monastic Lauds. Jeffreys concludes that the Epithalamium in structure, content and performance was a sung response to the SV treatise. As such, it participated in the liturgical innovation in psalmody mentioned by Anselm of Havelberg in his Dialogue (137-8).

Janice Pinder (chapter seven) compares the SV to two other texts: De claustro animae, written by Hugh of Fouilloy for male religious, and the anonymous De modo bene vivendi, written for religious women (but with one version adapted for a community of men). Her inquiry wrestles with the gender paradigm identified by Barbara Newman that "advice to women was distinguished by an emphasis on virginity, a lack of a notion of spiritual progress, and a lesser attention to communal life than is found in texts addressed to men" (160).[[1]] Pinder extrapolates two essential themes in religious reform literature contemporary to the SV: (1) concern for the interior life and a demand for congruence between inner and outer spirituality; (2) a complete separation from the world by conversion, enclosure and perseverance. Pinder acknowledges that texts addressed to women greatly emphasized virginity and enclosure, and therefore used static images such as the mirror and the garden to symbolize religious life. Pinder, however, finds other metaphors present in the SV and comparable texts that still emphasized spiritual values of enclosure and virginity, but used more dynamic imagery than is usually recognized.

For example, all three treatises offer metaphors for conversion to monastic life. The SV employs the imagery of a new bride leaving her home; it is characteristically feminine, but still dynamic, as the bride must choose and leave. De modo uses several dynamic biblical images among them the merchant who sells all he has for the purchase of what is truly valuable. In Hugh of Fouilloy's De claustro animae the imagery for conversion adopts the rescue (like Apostle Paul) from a shipwreck and the role of warrior in the fortress of the Lord (164).

Representations of enclosure with dynamic metaphors also appear. In Hugh's treatise, the fortress image was again employed. In the SV, the enclosed garden represents life for the virgin, but Pindar argues that, far from reflecting a static image, the bride waits there because it is the place where she can receive the kiss of the Bridegroom. In De modo bene vivendi, the imagery associated with enclosure evokes places of safety: the land shown by God to Abraham, the desert in which the Israelites waited after the exodus, and again, a fortress.

Sabina Flanagan (chapter eight) asks why the author should choose to convey his advice in the literary form of a dialogue. Two basic types of dialogue emerge from her analysis. The first was Platonic, as exemplified by Cicero, in which the author is not present as a speaker in the dialogue. In the second type, Boethian, the author presents as a speaker. Accepting Peregrinus as an assumed name for the author, Flanagan locates the SV as Platonic. She classified twelfth-century dialogues by subject matter, for example, dialogues between members of different orders, and those relating saints' lives or natural histories.

Flanagan also considers the relative equality of interlocutors. She posits a range from radical disparity between a master and disciple to relative equality (191). She would place the SV in the middle since Theodora does contribute substantively to the discussion, and her words and questions are frequently approved by Peregrinus. Still, Theodora more often addressed him as her superior (venerable brother or father) than as an equal. Such disparity accords with the gendered aspect of the text. Ultimately the choice of dialogue as a genre may have rested with the author's wish to delight his audience (male religious) After all, according to Conrad of Hirsau in Dialogue on the Authors an author's purpose includes the delight of his audience (186).

(Chapter nine) Elizabeth Bos takes up the pedagogical importance of the SV relative to texts of spiritual formation from medieval France and England. Bos' paper, like Pindar's, considers whether medieval literature for spiritual formation treated the ideal of virginity differently according to the gender of its anticipated audience. Both papers take Barbara Newman's work as a point of departure, especially Newman's proposition that for religious women, authors tended to treat virginity as a static achievement rather than a dynamic process, even though authors did distinguish between physical integrity and spiritual chastity (203). Bos argues that in French and English treatises written to direct female religious experience, whenever virginity refers to spiritual chastity rather than physical integrity, less difference can be discerned between texts written for men and those for women.

Spiritual advisors extolled physical virginity not so much as a status to be lost as the achievement of a "victorious spiritual struggle" (207). Thus, the French and English authors Bos studied warned virgins against complacency, lest (as warned by Peter of Blois) they be "lame" entering heaven, having the "foot of virginity" intact but not the "foot of humility." Similarly, Bos cites authors who praise religious life for women who were no longer physically virgin.

Authors of letters of spiritual formation emphasized physical virginity for women as in contrast to marriage, its secular counterpart. They pointed out the dangers, physical and spiritual, for married women. Marriage as the alternative to physical virginity gave their writings a gendered emphasis, but the form and goals of religious life deemed most suitable for both men and women remained the same. Bos concludes that the form of religious life--monasticism--and the goals to which it tended--charity, humility and obedience--characterized treatises addressed to both men and women in their joint quest for total sanctification.

Fiona Griffiths (chapter ten) examines the Hortus deliciarum (=HD) commissioned and produced by Herrad of Hohenbourg, and compares it to the Speculum virginum. Herrad took the reins of an abbey impoverished by the wars of investiture, without the support of male clergy, and in conflict with Ebersheim over land. Herrad negotiated successfully a cura monialium that would allow the abbess to retain her position of authority. Her authority resonates in HD as she confidently makes traditional theological texts and contemporary scholarship available to nuns. The HD has a remarkably different character from the instruction given by Peregrinus to Theodora in SV, the latter framed in virtues of simplicity and virginity with its content drawn primarily patristic sources.

The Hortus Deliciarum outlines the history of salvation in four distinct sections reminiscent, Griffiths reminds us, of Peter Lombard's divisions in the Sententiae. As teacher and spiritual leader for the nuns of Hohenbourg, Herrad provided an educational text replete with the most current scholarship, in which the works of Peter Comestor, Peter Lombard, Honorius of Autun, and Rupers of Deutz dominate the collection rather than exclusively the traditional church fathers. She coordinated the assistance of Augustinian canons, Griffiths suggests, using them as intermediaries for obtaining scholastic texts. The treatise, moreover, accomplishes a remarkable combination of text and illustrations.

The discussion of the HD is so fascinating that one almost forgets that the volume is dedicated to the SV, but Griffiths does not make that error. She finds generally that the character of the two texts is quite different but points to a possible link in the nuns' intellectual heritage in the psycomachia cycle, a set of miniatures illustrating the battle of virtues and vices. "The image of women teaching women that is suggested in the Hortus is very different from the model of female learning presented in the Speculum...[with] a nonhierarchical collaboration between religious men and women during this period that the text implies" (236). If, as Morgan Powell suggests, the SV's system of text and image served to assist male magistri in their pastoral care, it seems that with the HD nuns in Germany found a text they could use themselves.

Urban Küsters (chapter eleven) writes of the Middle Dutch translation of the SV, of which twenty-five manuscript witnesses remain as Spieghel der Maechden (=SM). Küsters argues that the SM stood as a fundamentally important text in the Devotio moderna, a revival of piety in which women again needed to define their form of religious life. He demonstrates that the translation of the SV coincided with the beginning of the Modern Devotion. Members of the Devout created ties with monastic orders because of their ambiguous legal situation in the church.

The Utrecht chapter of the Devout comprised around one hundred dependencies, mostly female. Wermbold of Buscoep organized and pastored these communities together with Aleid Cluten of St. Cecilia's, adopting the Third Rule of St. Francis. A 1410 manuscript of SM belonged to one of these communities of sisters reformed by Wermbold. Küsters gives manuscript evidence that suggests strongly a close tie between the production of SM and the Utrecht chapter of the Devout. The production of the SM and the initiation of the Utrecht communities of sisters occupied the first half of the fifteenth century. After 1450, the diffusion of SM seems associated rather with Windesheim and the Augustinian Rule in the southern part of Holland, and with significant diffusion of the text in the North and Northwest parts of Germany, where Küsters found ten versions.

Küsters speculates that this second life for the SV may be due to Wermbold's personal interest in it. Wermbold may have accomplished the translation himself, and perhaps he and his associate Aleid Cluton saw their own collaboration in the Utrecht reform mirrored in Peregrinus and Theodora.

I highly recommend Listen Daughter for all pursuing research about religious women, pastoral care, pedagogy in the Middle Ages, monastic and religious reform, and medieval spirituality. Most undergraduates will have some difficulty assimilating the technical aspects presented in the essays, but I would consider the volume important for any medieval collection as well as graduate and professional libraries.

NOTES [[1]] Barbara Newman, From Virile Woman to WomanChrist: Studies in Medieval Religion and Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), 19-45.