Charles G. Nauert

title.none: Herwaarden, Between Saint James and Erasmus (Charles G. Nauert)

identifier.other: baj9928.0610.022 06.10.22

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Charles G. Nauert, University of Missouri-Columbia,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Herwaarden, Jan van. Shaffer, Wendie and Donald Gardner, trans. Between Saint James and Erasmus. Studies in Late-Medieval Religious Life: Devotion and Pilgrimage in the Netherlands. Series: Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought, vol. 97. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Pp. xxxviii, 706. $243.00 90-04-12984-7. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.10.22

Herwaarden, Jan van. Shaffer, Wendie and Donald Gardner, trans. Between Saint James and Erasmus. Studies in Late-Medieval Religious Life: Devotion and Pilgrimage in the Netherlands. Series: Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought, vol. 97. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Pp. xxxviii, 706. $243.00 90-04-12984-7. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Charles G. Nauert
University of Missouri-Columbia

This collection of essays by a leading historian of the Netherlands during the late Middle Ages reflects the author's interest in both the spiritual and the social significance of Christian pilgrimage. Many chapters reflect work previously published in Dutch, but the author has incorporated recent research by himself and other scholars.

The book is divided into four broad sections. Chapters 1 through 4 discuss spiritual life during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Chapter 1 deals with a tract on meditation by Geert Groote, the founder of the religious movement known as the Modern Devotion. Herwaarden analyzes Groote's critical, but never wholly negative, views on the place of images and visions in religious life. He observes that even though his personal conversion turned Groote against academic life, he remained a highly learned man, drawing ideas from patristic and medieval authors and even from recent Parisian scholasticism. Chapter 2 is broader, studying the central role of the Eucharist and the Passion of Christ in Dutch religious devotion. It suggests that the authorities who promoted devotion to the Passion had as their "sole aim" to persuade the impoverished urban masses "to submit to their lot." This discussion leads to Chapter 3, a study of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem as both an expression of faith and an act of penitence. It traces the development of pilgrimages into a source of the indulgences offered by the late-medieval church as a way for people to manage their sense of guilt and satisfy divine justice. Unresolved theological issues concealed in the practice of indulgences and exacerbated by popular misunderstanding and by overzealous promoters emerge clearly from this discussion. The chapter also discusses several accounts of pilgrimage written not as actual journeys but as purely spiritual meditation on mental images of these shrines (which are often described in great detail so that the pilgrim's mind can move through them) made the spiritual benefits of pilgrimage available even to those who had no opportunity to undertake a costly, arduous, and morally risky journey. Chapter Four, "Medieval Indulgences and Devotional Life," continues this discussion, showing how those who promoted a specific indulgence contrived ways of evading the originally strict regulations by which the Fourth Lateran council had sought to prevent abuses. There was a strange interplay between popular desire for the spiritual benefits of indulgences and cynicism about the sincerity and moral integrity of many who made pilgrimages or promoted them.

Chapters 5 through 8 further analyze pilgrimages. Pilgrimage, Herwaarden notes in Chapter 5, was a symbol for human life, conceived as a journey toward reunion with God. Jerusalem had always been a desirable destination for Christians seeking religious inspiration, but in the early Christian centuries pilgrimages were limited mostly to wealthy and powerful individuals. There were always critics who regarded pilgrimage as unnecessary and morally dangerous. At most, it was a voluntary act to be evaluated according to the intention of the pilgrim. Pilgrims might just be seeking excitement or opportunities for disorderly living. Since early medieval European life was intensely local, pilgrims were often suspected as potential brigands. Yet pilgrimage to a holy place might be a commendable form of devotion. A properly motivated pilgrim might reap not only the benefits coming from worship at holy places but also the benefits of specific indulgences--carefully defined as years and days of remission from Purgatory or even as plenary--available only at specific holy places. Furthermore, many of the faithful and many of those who promoted pilgrimages that offered indulgences came to believe that the benefits could be achieved not only for the pilgrim but also for relatives, friends, and patrons. Originally, such benefits were intended for the living, but eventually they were also sought on behalf of souls in Purgatory.

Pilgrimage might benefit not only the reconciled sinner but also society in general. In the Netherlands more than in any other part of Latin Christendom, both ecclesiastical and secular courts developed the practice of mandating pilgrimages to a holy place specified by the court as an obligatory part of the penalty imposed. An offender not only could gain indulgences but also could contribute to the resolution of social tensions caused by the offense. Requiring an offender to undertake a difficult journey, and to absent himself (or, far less often, herself) for an extended time from the local scene, might calm lingering personal hostility. A later chapter (Eleven) pursues this point further, drawing on the author's research in Dutch court records. The roots of obligatory pilgrimage lay in the compensation-based principles of Germanic law and in the determination of rulers and judges in later centuries to provide both punishment for the guilty party and satisfaction for the family of the victim, thus forestalling the old remedy of a blood-feud. Chapter 5 also discusses a host of topics related to the details of medieval pilgrimages and concludes with a discussion of criticism of pilgrimages, never absent but especially strong among spiritually-minded Christians of the late medieval Netherlands, such as Wessel Gansfort and Erasmus.

Chapter 6 continues this discussion. Its declared topic is pilgrimages from northern Europe to Rome. The popes of the later Middle Ages (especially after the declaration of the first jubilee year by Innocent VIII in 1300) assiduously promoted Rome over Jerusalem as the best destination, in part at least because revenues from pilgrimages benefited local shrines and churches. Herwaarden cites a report that Innocent VIII "once said with a sigh" that if people knew how much grace and how many indulgences were available just from a visit to the church of St. John Lateran, they would dare to commit "far greater wickedness." This story is apocryphal, but Innocent's proclamation of the first jubilee pilgrimages and the later papal practice of proclaiming jubilee years at increasingly shorter intervals certainly acted as a marketing device. The chapter also discusses the founding of scholae or hospices for various nationalities at Rome, beginning in the eighth and ninth centuries; imperial visits to Rome; problems caused by vagabonds and false pilgrims; and pilgrims' perception of Rome as a city both holy and degenerate.

The last two chapters of this second section deal with the effect of pilgrimages on social status. Returned pilgrims were welcomed home warmly by their local community, but there was no lasting change in their place in society. Herwaarden also discusses the different classes of pilgrimage sites. Jerusalem, Rome, and Compostela always stood apart as the most prestigious destinations; but there were many others of regional or local significance. Many pilgrimages (both voluntary and obligatory) were to places close to home. Since most judicially mandated pilgrimages could be redeemed for a specified cash payment, there was a well-established set of tariffs that placed a cash valuation on each, largely on the basis of the cost and difficulty of travel.

Chapters 9 through 13 discuss the history of the Spanish shrine of St. James the Great (Santiago) at Compostela. Chapter 9 traces the origins of the legend that the Apostle James had preached in Spain. Although a few early medieval legends associate James with Spain, Santiago de Compostela was really a new cultic center, originating in the eighth and ninth centuries and becoming widely accepted as an apostolic shrine by the twelfth. There are only the most slender foundations in early Christian legend for the claim that James was buried in Spain, and the New Testament records his martyrdom in Jerusalem. About 800, a Spanish martyrology described his alleged activities in Spain. Given the medieval ability to discover relics of saints as needed, it is not surprising that shortly after 800, with the aid of a convenient miracle, Bishop Theodemir of Iria discovered the apostle's tomb in Galicia. The king ordered the construction of a church there and initiated the process that eventually translated the see of Iria to Compostela and later elevated it to the rank of an archbishopric that claimed apostolic foundation. News of the discovery spread, especially in France, largely through the incorporation the legend into books of martyrology. Compostela even tried, ultimately without success, to use its supposed apostolic foundation to usurp the role of primate of Spain from the see of Toledo.

Chapter 10 discusses the most important medieval collection of legends about Compostela, the Liber Sancti Jacobi, and its oldest manuscript, the Codex Calixtinus, preserved at Compostela since the twelfth century. Herwaarden demonstrates that its attribution to Pope Calixtus II (1119-1124) cannot be upheld, though Calixtus had lived in Spain while acting as guardian for his nephew, King Alfonso VII. He agrees with the French scholar René Louis that the Liber was compiled by a single author, the French priest Aiméry Picaud, who served a village church consecrated to St. James near the great abbey of Vézelay. The compiler claims to have spent many years wandering in search of information about St. James and, Herwaarden suggests, may even have been one of the twelfth-century Goliardi. His goal was to produce, under the name of a pope who had known connections with Spain, a sound foundation for the cult center at Compostela. Herwaarden calls it a remarkably intelligent compilation by a man who knew the shrine and its region well. The manuscript incorporates many earlier texts, placed into context by original works composed by the compiler, including a sermon claiming to be by Pope Calixtus. It is "a marvelous case of what is called a pia fraus..."

Chapter 11, on obligatory pilgrimages to Compostela, has been discussed above. Chapter 12, an assessment of the role of the Apostle James in medieval Dutch vernacular literature, finds some literary references to the shrine; but most of these consist of Dutch translations and adaptations of encyclopedic works in Latin by Vincent de Beauvais and Jacobus de Voragine. A few Dutch pilgrim-prayers relating to travel to Compostela survive, but the most popular book of prayers in the late fourteenth century, the work of Geert Groote, contains no supplications addressed to St. James. In the end, though the pilgrimage to Compostela was popular, Dutch vernacular literature gave it little attention.

Chapter 13 discusses the relation between the cult of St. James and the Reconquista, the long struggle to end Moorish rule in Spain. St. James and his shrine gradually grew into a symbol of the struggle against the Moors, and the Apostle was transformed into St. James Matamoros (the Moor-killer), who appeared astride a white charger leading Christians to victory. Herwaarden also briefly discusses the founding of the crusading Order of Santiago, but he does not pursue that topic. The rest of this chapter disintegrates into a series of short treatments of assorted topics, each of value in itself but not adding up to a coherent general discussion. Topics discussed include desire to convert the infidel; the efforts of the mendicant orders and the Spanish scholar Ram?n Lull to train missionaries; Christian-Muslim relations in reconquered districts; the cultural importance of Toledo as a center for translations of literary and philosophical texts; popular suspicion of any Christian who became fluent in Arabic (for example the future Pope Sylvester II, who was suspected of being a crypto-Muslim); the role of Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, in shaping Christian ideas about Islam; the career of the most famous king of medieval Spain, Alfonso X, who seems not to have been a friend of the cult at Compostela or the powers of St. James Matamoros, placing his own activities under the patronage of the Virgin Mary; and, very briefly, the end of the last Moorish principality in Spain, Granada, in 1492.

The final section deals with Erasmus of Rotterdam. Chapters 14 through 16 are derived from public addresses to general audiences. Their major point is that despite his assimilation of many influences that transcended his upbringing in Holland, Erasmus remained spiritually an heir of the distinctively Dutch religious mentality of the late Middle Ages. This is true even of his commitment to the humanist ideal of ad fonts (back to the sources!), for despite his devotion to classical authors, Erasmus' main emphasis involved religion and led directly to the biblical scholarship (and, Herwaarden might well have added, patristic scholarship) that was his greatest scholarly achievement.

The final three chapters deal with Erasmus' posthumous influence and reputation. Chapter 17 describes a controversy of the late seventeenth century between a French Jansenist who published a book defending Erasmus as an orthodox Catholic, and a conservative Belgian priest who charged that Erasmus' doctrines were unsound and that he had been guilty of slanderous attacks on orthodoxy, a true predecessor of contemporary Jansenist heretics. Chapter 18 is historiographical, an intriguing analysis of the ambivalence of the Basel-born historian of the Italian Renaissance, Jakob Burckhardt, toward Erasmus, the traditional cultural hero of his city. The final chapter discusses (on the basis of modern scholarship) Erasmus' surprising decision to take a doctorate in theology at the obscure University of Turin. But the real theme is how Erasmus became a champion of secular values in nineteenth-century European culture, a role that the humanist himself would not have approved. The center of discussion is an event at the University of Turin in 1876, the dedication of a monument memorializing the award of a doctorate in theology to Erasmus in 1506. Those who organized this event made Erasmus a symbol of their own commitment to modernity, secularism, and intellectual freedom; in other words, he became a symbol for the anticlerical Left in Italian intellectual and political life.

The book includes a selected bibliography of Herwaarden's publications and separate indices of names, places, and subjects, as well as several documents appended to certain chapters.