contributor.author: Nancy Bradley Warren

title.none: Waters, Angels and Earthly Creatures (Nancy Bradley Warren)

identifier.other: baj9928.0501.020 05.01.20

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Nancy Bradley Warren, Florida State University, nwarren@english.fsu.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Waters, Claire M. Angels and Earthly Creatures: Preaching, Performance, and Gender in the Later Middle Ages. Series: The Middle Ages Series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. Pp. xi, 282. $55.00 (hb). ISBN: 0-8122-3753-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.01.20

Waters, Claire M. Angels and Earthly Creatures: Preaching, Performance, and Gender in the Later Middle Ages. Series: The Middle Ages Series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. Pp. xi, 282. $55.00 (hb). ISBN: 0-8122-3753-6.

Reviewed by:

Nancy Bradley Warren
Florida State University
nwarren@english.fsu.edu

Claire Waters begins her examination of medieval preaching with the premise that the preacher occupies a hybrid position. Like the angels, they are God's messengers, but they are also embodied, earthbound human beings who must connect with earthly audiences. Waters turns her attention to an impressive array of texts, ranging from artes praedicandi (preachers' handbooks) to sermon collections to the Canterbury Tales. She interrogates these texts through an equally impressive, and impressively wielded, set of theoretical tools drawn from the work of theorists of gender and performance, including Irigaray, Butler, and Derrida. The overarching arguments of this book focus on "the conflicted cooperation between authority and authorization" which is "a manifestation of the fundamentally hybrid nature of the preacher's calling" and on "women's preaching in the context of and as a formative influence on ideas about men's preaching" (8). As she states in her Introduction, the book's first four chapters "address the building blocks of the preacher's role" (9), and these chapters focus primarily on male preaching, although women's preaching does figure in from time to time. The final three chapters look at actual and fictional female preachers.

Waters's interest in boundaries and sites of liminality runs throughout the book and prompts her to questions that lead to fresh, productive insights. The first chapter, "The Golden Chain of Citation," addresses the definition of an institutionally authorized preacher. Waters explores the surprisingly permeable boundaries of a category the medieval Church tried valiantly, although not entirely successfully, to define as absolute and inhabitable only by those (male) individuals who had a place in an approved, authoritative lineage. This chapter, one of the most theoretically sophisticated in the book, brings to bear theories of performative speech accessible through "the modern chain of citation that links Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida, and J. L. Austin;" her aim is to interrogate "how changes in the conception of preachers' authority clustered around the problem of citation, of both authoritative words and authoritative individuals" (14). Waters considers the complications of determining what counts as preaching and who can / does preach when the boundaries between such categories of speech as prophecy and preaching are so fluid. Drawing once again on the concept of hybridity, she argues that preaching lies "between the purely charismatic speech of prophecy (the ultimate expression of personal authority) and the purely sacramental speech of priesthood (the ultimate form of official authorization)" (27).

In Chapter two, entitled "Holy Duplicity: The Preacher's Two Faces," Waters turns to the Canterbury Tales, examining the Parson and the Pardoner as "exemplum in bono and exemplum in malo" of the "appropriate relationship between the preacher's human body and his spiritual task" (32). The Parson's body, she argues, is virtually absent from the Tales; it is "an abstract reflection of his office" and as such is effaced in a manner impossible in the physical performance of preaching. He is an instance of ideal, but in practical terms unattainable, "holy simplicity" (48) held as an ideal. The Pardoner, on the other hand, presents a case in which physicality is foregrounded and excessive; he is duplicity incarnate. However, all preaching, even by virtuous preachers, entails a necessarily Janus-faced quality, since the preacher must have "one face toward God and one toward the people" to be effective (45). While these faces would ideally be the same, such a paradigm means that all earthly preachers are in some respect duplex rather than simplex. Hypocrisy in preaching is a thus an especially pressing issue, particularly since the preacher's body is not itself a reliable "index of his virtue" (44). In her exploration of anxieties about hypocritical preachers, Waters also considers the fraught relationship between acting and preaching.

The third chapter, "A Manner of Speaking: Access and the Vernacular," addresses "the preacher not only as a translator in a linguistic sense, but also as a mediator between cultures" (10). The preacher must once again span a divide, balancing Latin learning and the needs of an audience who speaks the vernacular. Waters discusses exempla as a method of bridging the "divide" between "the supposedly learned preacher and his supposedly unlearned flock" (63). She also focuses on the preacher as "common man," one with a responsibility "to make himself similar to his audience in whatever ways are compatible with his office and with good behavior" (69). This chapter represents an important contribution to the well-established critical conversation about relations between Latin and vernacular in later medieval religious culture. Waters's argument that vernacularity is "crucial...in establishing a clerical identity that is often seen in opposition to it" (58) is particularly insightful.

Examinations of the vernacular in the context of later medieval religion must almost inevitably raise questions of gender, and in the next chapter Waters turns her attention in this direction. "'Mere Words': Gendered Eloquence and Christian Preaching" considers the anxieties prompted by preachers' need to use rhetoric, long associated with the feminine, and their need to express spiritual truths in worldly language. Waters provides a survey of perspectives on the "potential dangers of rhetoric" (74) from classical and patristic writers, giving special attention to Tertullian and Augustine. What emerges is a strong association of secular eloquence with sexual sin combined with an awareness that rhetoric has undeniable benefits for Christian persuasion. She then notes that in medieval preaching manuals, while there is still a latent fear of the perils of rhetoric, a "rapprochement" has occurred, and the "fear of the feminine seems...to be much more metaphorical than actual" (85). In such writers as Alan of Lille, the advantages of eloquence outweigh its dangers. Medieval theorists of preaching, recognizing the hybridity entailed in needing to express God's truth in human language, exhibit "increasing willingness to disentangle the threads of idolatry, femininity, and superficiality that ran through rhetoric" (95).

Waters extends her consideration of gender and language to take on gendered human bodies in chapter five, "Transparent Bodies and the Redemption of Rhetoric." This fascinating reading of lives of medieval female saints who engaged in preaching makes the case that "[t]heir legends helped neutralize the dangerous allure of the superficial by showing how physical and verbal beauty could be united to serve, rather than threaten, the greater good of preaching" (97). The chapter includes detailed analysis of multiple versions of the legends of St. Katherine of Alexandria and Mary Magdalene. One thing that puzzled me a bit in this chapter was her choice of texts, especially for Mary Magdalene. She chooses the legend by Pseudo- Rabanus Maurus, which is, as she says, "actually a twelfth century Cistercian work" (115), and Jacobus de Voragine's thirteenth-century version from the Legenda aurea. Given that her declared focus is on the later Middle Ages, I wondered why she did not discuss the Digby Mary Magdalene play, which would have given her an interesting opportunity to extend her analysis of preaching and drama, or Osbern of Bokenham's life of Mary Magdalene from the Legendys of Hooly Wummen. Given that its author is a friar, there might well be fertile territory there for considering aspects of preaching traditions.

Chapter six, "The Alibi of Female Authority," moves to historical medieval women who engaged in preaching. Waters argues that the central question for "would-be women preachers of the later Middle Ages... [was] ...how the authority of a woman's experience could be manipulated so as to let her speak like, though never as, a cleric" (123). To address this question, Waters explores the strategies embraced by a "triumfeminate" of female preachers-Hildegard of Bingen, Birgitta of Sweden, and Catherine of Siena. As she notes, all of these women lived in times of ecclesiastical upheaval, and all engaged in powerful criticism of clerical abuses. Waters's reading of similarities and differences in the moves these women made to enable themselves to engage in preaching is astute. Her conclusion that Hildegard, Birgitta, and Catherine are able to succeed where Margery Kempe fails because the members of the "triumfeminate" engage more successfully in shifting the terms of the debate about female authority is particularly interesting. She might, however, have added a welcome dimension to this chapter by engaging more fully with the institution of monasticism in connection with female preaching.

Waters's final chapter is entitled "Sermones ad Status and Old Wives' Tales; or, the Audience Talks Back." In this chapter she considers sermons ad status (as she explains, sermons "which addressed audiences according to their professional or social group" [143]), the literature of estates satire, and, of course, the Wife of Bath, who is, in Waters's view, "both the natural inheritor of clerical privilege and the figure who definitively upends its claims to ultimate authority" (143). Here and elsewhere, her discussion of the sermons leads smoothly into her discussion of more canonically literary texts, particularly the Canterbury Tales. She notes the ways in which the developments in preaching that she outlines "contributed to the creation of an authoritative lay voice" (159). The textual analysis in this chapter is deftly handled; particularly impressive is her exploration of the use of the word "preche" in the Canterbury Tales. She observes that in the Tales speech that is called preaching is strongly associated with corruption and self- interest. As she observes, the Parson never refers to his own speech using the term "preaching," and, while the Wife of Bath never calls herself a preacher, those characters who wish to "label and contain her speech" do (165-66).

This is an excellent book which will be of value for scholars of literature and religion alike. My one quibble, hinted at above in my puzzling about Waters's choice of texts for the legend of Mary Magdalene, is that it is not entirely clear how Waters intends to define "later medieval." Many of the texts she discusses come from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, while she does not address other texts from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that might be relevant to her project. This is not necessarily a problem for the book itself; indeed, I find its scope admirable. It might, though, mean that scholars and students of twelfth- and thirteenth-century religious literature, who perhaps do not think of their period as the "later Middle Ages," might miss this wonderful book.