Rodney M. Thomson

title.none: Knowles and Brooke, Monastic Constitutions of Lanfranc (Rodney M. Thomson)

identifier.other: baj9928.0508.022 05.08.22

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Rodney M. Thomson, University of Tasmania,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Knowles, Dom David and Christopher N. L. Brooke, eds. and trans. The Monastic Constitutions of Lanfranc, rev. ed. Series: Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001. Pp. lviii, 259. $74.00 0-19-924798-6. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.08.22

Knowles, Dom David and Christopher N. L. Brooke, eds. and trans. The Monastic Constitutions of Lanfranc, rev. ed. Series: Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001. Pp. lviii, 259. $74.00 0-19-924798-6. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Rodney M. Thomson
University of Tasmania

Some time in the 1070s Lanfranc, first Norman archbishop of Canterbury (1070-89), drew up a set of customs for monks, addressed to Prior Henry and the monastic community of his new cathedral. These customs--or Constitutions as they are better known--are a conservative compilation from pre-existing collections already in use on the Continent. Meant, of course, to supplement and fill out the Benedictine Rule where necessary, their range of subject-matter is restricted: chapters 2-81 (in the modern numbering) concern liturgical observance, while 82-115 deal with "the administration and discipline of the house," beginning with the duties of the monastic officials, followed by a mixed bag of items such as shaving, bloodletting and silence, with a notable emphasis on punishment for faults.

Since 1951 the standard edition (with facing translation) and discussion of this document has been that of Dom David Knowles, in the series then known as Nelson's Medieval Texts. As Christopher Brooke notes in the first sentence of his new preface, "David Knowles published the first edition of this book in a very different world," and this is partly the justification for a new edition rather than a mere reissue. Knowles presented the Constitutions to his readership as a monk himself, an insider addressing an audience well acquainted with the Latin rite. As a distinguished "insider," of course, his discussion still has much to offer; still, most modern readers need more help in understanding the tradition with which he was utterly familiar, as Brooke acknowledges.

Almost all of the content of the 1951 edition is still here, but with updating as required, and with the addition of substantial new material and information. In 1967 the original edition was reproduced in the series Corpus Consuetudinum Monasticarum, in which a "lavish" Index verborum was added; this is, helpfully, retained here also. The text and translation are much as Knowles left them, but the translation has been lightly revised, and the manuscripts re-collated. Knowles did not appreciate the authority of Hereford Cathedral, MS P. v. 1, early and probably written at Canterbury; that is now corrected in establishing the basis of the text. Likewise, Knowles's annotations have largely been kept, but carefully revised to incorporate recent scholarship, and to make them more accessible to modern readers.

The extensive and important Introduction should be read in conjunction with the judicious remarks of H. E. J. Cowdrey, Lanfranc: Scholar, Monk, and Archbishop (Oxford, 2003), 154-60. The various sections into which the Introduction is divided are the work of different hands: the opening general remarks (xv-xxviii) are untouched Knowles; the section on audience, date and sources is new work by Brooke; the section on manuscripts and editions (xliii-liv) is shared work, basically Knowles, revised and supplemented by Brooke. One might conclude from this that the Introduction lacks homogeneity, but this is not so: the two writers enjoyed a warm friendship while Dom David was alive, and both express their consummate scholarship in clear, elegant, jargon-free prose which it is a joy to read, and which should stand as an example to a generation in which academic writing has, generally speaking, experienced a sharp decline from such qualities.

One area in which the new edition marks a substantial improvement on the old is its account of the seven manuscripts (plus a fragment in Norwegian!), and records of eight lost copies. The surviving manuscripts all seem to derive from a single ancestor at Christ Church Canterbury. The most important of them all, it has recently been shown, was written by the precentor Eadmer (famous for his biography of Lanfranc's successor Anselm) and sent off to Durham early on. The lost copies were mostly from places near Canterbury: Battle, Dover and Rochester. Bury St Edmunds is more distant, and so is St Albans where, however, Abbot Paul of Caen (1077-93) was Lanfranc's nephew. In addition, Cowdrey points out that the Constitutions were either used or adapted (admittedly over a period of time) at St Augustine's Canterbury, Crowland, Evesham, Westminster, Winchester and Worcester. Both Brooke and Cowdrey are reluctant to believe that Lanfranc intended the Constitutions for universal application throughout English monastic communities. Nonetheless, the evidence for their widespread use is impressive; at the very least other leaders of abbeys and cathedral priories were keen to get hold of them.

As Brooke admits (xxxiii), three puzzles remain unsolved. Two of them--why the word "abbot" is constantly used in the document, and why the feast of St Dunstan is not mentioned at all--are really different aspects of the single one just discussed: were the customs really designed particularly or exclusively for Christ Church Cathedral Priory (of which the archbishop was titular abbot), or for wider use? The remaining puzzle is why "a monk from Bec should wish to impose customs primarily Cluniac in his own communities." Brooke points out that the difficulty may be more apparant than real, since nothing is known of the Bec customs prior to the early twelfth century. However, other explanations are possible. The recently founded, relatively poor and austere Bec did not have a high profile in late eleventh-century England, whereas Cluny most certainly did (see e.g. B. Golding, "The coming of the Cluniacs," Anglo-Norman Studies 3 (1980), 65-77, 208-12). Moreover, while Lanfranc and his Norman confreres wished to regularize monastic life in England, they did not wish to do so on a pattern of extreme poverty or austerity. The Cluniac model may have represented a strategic choice, a choice not necessarily made by Lanfranc alone (see Cowdrey, "William I's relations with Cluny further considered," in his The Crusades and Latin Monasticism (Aldershot, 1999), no. VIII).