Neslihan Senocak

title.none: Roest, Franciscan Literature (Neslihan Senocak)

identifier.other: baj9928.0610.003 06.10.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Neslihan Senocak, Bilkent University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Roest, Bert. Franciscan Literature of Religious Instruction Before the Council of Trent. Studies in the History of Christian Traditions, vol. 117. Leiden: Brill, 2004. Pp. xxi, 673. $280.00 90-04-14026-3. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.10.03

Roest, Bert. Franciscan Literature of Religious Instruction Before the Council of Trent. Studies in the History of Christian Traditions, vol. 117. Leiden: Brill, 2004. Pp. xxi, 673. $280.00 90-04-14026-3. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Neslihan Senocak
Bilkent University

Bert Roest's second book on the Franciscans is refreshing above all for its subject. As he explains in the introduction, his book challenges the generally accepted belief that the Middle Ages were an age of hair-splitting questions of scholastic theology and that only with the dawn of the Renaissance humanism were texts of religious instruction for the clergy and laity produced. For the reader accustomed to seeing the word "Franciscan" associated with the great names of scholastic theology, this book will be an eye-opener. In eight chapters, Roest surveys the massive literature that the Franciscans produced for religious instruction before the Council of Trent, which begins a new era. The material discussed encompasses works written by Conventuals, Observants, Capuchins as well as those related to the Poor Clares and the Third Order. The chapters deal with, respectively: (1) Franciscan sermons; (2) rules, rule commentaries and constitutions; (3) rules and treatises for novice training; (4) catechisms; (5) confession handbooks; (6) instruction manuals for the Mass and Divine Office; (7) works of religious edification; and (8) prayer guides.

The book is intended not as an interpretative or argumentative contribution to scholarship, but rather as a compendium of existing sources, and it does this job remarkably well. Roest, who is also the co-owner of the Franciscan authors website (, has written his book by drawing on the vast bibliography of this online catalogue. For each of the eight categories, the author provides the reader with all the major Franciscan works along with a brief summary of their content and information about their author. This large volume (673 pages) is very thoroughly footnoted, and points the reader in the direction of the recent secondary sources on a particular medieval work or author. No doubt, it will be a fundamental starting point for future researchers.

In the introduction, Roest says that this book is a natural sequel to his first book, A History of the Franciscan Education (Leiden: Brill, 2000) which dealt with classroom texts and "scientific" works of the Friars Minor. He seems, therefore, to see texts of religious instruction also as a product of the educational programme in the Order. But how justified is this view? In what way did the Order's educational programme, which was heavily influenced by scholastic methodology, contribute to the creation of these works of religious instruction? There is certainly room for further studies in this field to clarify exactly which aspects of this educational programme were influential in the formation of these texts, and whether certain types of works were more readily influenced by the scholastic formation of the friars than others. For example, when speaking of texts for novices, the author observes that "there was a strong continuity between high medieval monastic manuals for novice training and their later medieval Franciscan counterparts" (217). However, catechistic texts like commentaries on the Ten Commandments or Pater Noster were part of the compulsory academic exercises (237), hence were products of the scholastic education.

Chapter Five on confession handbooks is essential reading for anyone who wants to explore Franciscan interest in the study of canon law, a theme which remains largely neglected. The works of Johann von Erfurt, Jean Rigaud, Durand de Champagne and many others reveal a depth of knowledge of canon law which shows a significant degree of involvement of the Friars Minor in legal study.

Another question, quite difficult to answer, that Roest's book brings to mind is how widely such works of religious instruction circulated, and how accessible they were to the ordinary friar. The author does make an effort to answer this question by giving a list of existing manuscripts for certain works and pointing to their popularity, whenever possible. Still, for many of the works mentioned, we have little or no information about their circulation.

Perhaps one point of regret is the organization of the material. For example, chapters 3 and 8 are sub-divided according to period, chapter 4 according to geographical location, and chapter 7 according to genre. Since there is no consistent categorization according to period or region it is not possible to speculate about whether the nature of texts of religious instruction changed over time or had local variations. Nevertheless, this book deserves a place in the library of every student of medieval religious and intellectual history.