Katherine French

title.none: Brown, Church and Society (Katherine French)

identifier.other: baj9928.0501.043 05.01.43

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Katherine French, SUNY-New Paltz,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Brown, Andrew. Church and Society in England, 1000-1500. Series: Social History in Perspective. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Pp. x, 253. $25.00 (pb). ISBN: 0-333-69145-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.01.43

Brown, Andrew. Church and Society in England, 1000-1500. Series: Social History in Perspective. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Pp. x, 253. $25.00 (pb). ISBN: 0-333-69145-8.

Reviewed by:

Katherine French
SUNY-New Paltz

Andrew Brown's book Church and Society in England, 1000-1500 appears in Palgrave's series Social History in Perspective. It signals that the wealth of scholarship on late medieval English parish life and lay spirituality has made it into the canon of medieval English history, and that students and the field itself are ready for books that synthesize of this wide ranging subject. Taking lay involvement in Christianity between the years 1000 and 1500 as his unifying theme, Brown delivers such a synthesis. Although Brown readily admits these dates are somewhat arbitrary, they allow him to explore this important topic across many changes in English religious history, not the least of which are the Norman Conquest (1066) and the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). Brown continually connects changes in lay involvement in Christianity to changes in English society and ecclesiastical organization. This is a different but complementary framework to the model of popular or local religion dominant in the 1980s and 90s. It reflects developments in the scholarship on religious practice that now include more than studies of medieval parish life. Brown's time frame also allows him to situate the fulsome literature and source material relating to medieval parish life and spirituality in the context of medieval ecclesiastical development, rather than the Reformation. From this perspective, increasing lay involvement in local religious life appears as part of a long medieval continuum; it is not a new concern from which England moved to an inevitable Reformation. When Brown concludes his book with a brief discussion of the onset of the English Reformation, he presents a variety of interpretations that take into account this long history of lay involvement in local religion. This sets up readers to think about the Reformation as more than an act of state or the symptom of widespread anti-clericalism.

Brown pays close attention to the new work in archaeology, spirituality, and local religious practice, in order to give his readers an introduction to a dynamic and interesting field. Implicit in a discussion of lay involvement are issues of class and gender. Brown continually nuances his discussions of the changing nature of lay participation in local religious life with reflections on how both class and gender make generalizations difficult. Generalizations are further hampered by the variety of local religious traditions throughout England. Brown plays off the institutional Church's desires for a uniform liturgy and organization with the realities of implementing these ideals over widely varied terrains, each with its own unique history and economic and social concerns.

Church and Society in England, 1000-1500 has six chapters plus an extensive introduction. The introduction outlines the topics and themes Brown will address, plus a brief discussion of the past methodologies that have informed studies of the laity and religious practice. Although he included a discussion of the problems of distinguishing religion from magic and anthropological models that have tried to give historians a vocabulary for this issue, he does not include a discussion of "popular religion" versus religious practice. Also missing from this introduction is a discussion of the myriad sources that scholars use to study these topics. Different kinds of sources make their appearance throughout the book, but Brown does not give them methodological consideration.

The six chapters making up the book are arranged both chronologically and thematically. Chapter One: "Anglo-Saxon Church and Society, c. 1000" looks at the connections between missionary work and ecclesiastical reform. Anglo-Saxon monasteries attempted to protect the clergy from the incomplete Christianization of the Anglo-Saxon people. At the same time, strong ties between kings and landowners meant that bishops and abbots had to accommodate lay power and lay concerns. Landowners built churches to meet their own spiritual needs and the needs of their tenants. These neighborhood churches challenged the monopoly of the minsters, churches run by monks in order to provide the laity with the rudiments of Christianity. Chapter Two: "The Universal Church and the Laity, c. 1050-1500" explores the break up of the minster system, the creation of parishes, and the rise of the doctrine of purgatory. These changes were not simply a matter of administration but also the result of changing spiritual goals for both the laity and the Church. In the wake of the Fourth Lateran Council, the Church tried to unify the liturgy and the reception of the sacraments. In seeking to control lay behavior, the Church also created social norms that the laity ultimately internalized. Chapter Three: "Saints, Cults and the Holy" argues that the proliferation of saints and local cults was both a testimony to the success of pastoral reform and a manifestation of lay priorities and concerns. The next two chapters are in some senses the heart of the book. Chapter Four: "Corporate Religion: Structures and Practices" focuses on the rise of lay involvement in the parish. Focusing on the activities of parishioners as they raised money, built churches, and founded parish guilds, Brown argues that the "diversity of such structures and the activism of lay people within them are the most striking features of corporate religion at the local level." (86) Chapter Five: "Corporate Religion: Death and the Afterlife" addresses at how parishes and guilds handled concerns for the soul and limiting time in purgatory. Brown also tries to answer the question of the impact of the Black Death on the cult of remembrance. Taken together, these two chapters argue for a vibrant local religious culture that both reflected institutional concerns and local ones. Chapter Six: "Reforming the Inner Life: Orthodoxy and Heresy" argues that heresy, particularly Lollardy, was in some sense a consequence of the Church's success. With the laity now increasingly literate and attuned to the spiritual demands of the liturgy and the Christian life, they now demanded greater personal relationships with God. In the wrong hands, internal spiritual searching could turn into heresy. The often blurred boundary between heresy and orthodoxy is perhaps no where better manifested than in The Book of Margery Kempe, which Brown discussed extensively in this chapter. Brown ends this chapter with a brief discussion of the English Reformation.

To be sure, this is a text book and not a monograph. This means that invariably some topics are given less attention than others. However, the coherence of this book's argument and the author's familiarity with newer research on the subject of lay involvement in Christianity makes it a worthy addition to a syllabus. There are not only complete notes for each chapter, but a useful list of works broken down by topic for further reading. Although perhaps too general for use in a class on popular religion, it would work very well in a class on medieval England, or in a class on the medieval English Church. Teachers of courses on medieval English literature might find some of the discussions of specific devotional texts too brief, but the book provides a nice historical context for many of these texts, even if they are not specifically discussed. With so much work on the late medieval parish directed at explaining the Reformation, this book makes a welcome addition in pushing us to look in the other direction, and see how the late medieval laity's growing enthusiasm for spiritual matters was not a break with the past, but a continuation.