Isabel Davis

title.none: Newhauser, ed., In the Garden of Evil (Isabel Davis)

identifier.other: baj9928.0704.001 07.04.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Isabel Davis, Birkbeck College, University of London,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Newhauser, Richard. In the Garden of Evil: The Vices and Culture In the Middle Ages. Papers in Mediaeval Studies 18. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2005. Pp. xxiv, 568. ISBN: $94.95 (hb) 0-88844-818-X (hb).

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.04.01

Newhauser, Richard. In the Garden of Evil: The Vices and Culture In the Middle Ages. Papers in Mediaeval Studies 18. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2005. Pp. xxiv, 568. ISBN: $94.95 (hb) 0-88844-818-X (hb).

Reviewed by:

Isabel Davis
Birkbeck College, University of London

Criticism often replicates, whether intentionally or not, whether in its structure or style, aspects of the genre/text that it scrutinizes. In this present volume, Richard Newhauser makes explicit in the introduction that the book's structure is modelled on the form of the medieval treatises on vices and virtues. As in those treatises, this book is in two parts; the first investigates the historical development of the vices (de vitiis in communi); the essays in the second treats each vice in particular (de vitia in speciali) (xiii). In the first section the essays focus on particular bits of evidence, studying individual writers, manuscripts, pictures or practices. Together they produce a valuable and varied study of the way that the schema of the seven capital vices developed and played out within late Antique and medieval culture. The essays in the second part borrow evidence from various sources to produce special treatments of individual vices. Those in the second may provide beginning students with some starting points for thinking about the particular character of any one sin in particular. One essay in the second half, though, by Bonnie Kent on luxuria, deserves special mention. It is particularly successful because it chooses a special areas of focus--William of Ockham--considering the way that the conspectus of the vices fitted, or rather didn't, with moral theology like Ockham's, which often found the taxonomic approach to sin unwieldy and reductive. In doing so she creates a significant and suggestive study which will be useful both for those interested in lust as a sin and the explosive impact of William of Ockham in medieval thought.

In the Garden of Evil also mimics the impulses of the summae of the Middle Ages in its ambition to be comprehensive and complete. It attempts a level of comprehensiveness which is admirable and it is useful to have an integrated survey of this kind collected in one place. Although this is a multi-authored volume, it is tied up very coherently and Newhauser's editing work has given this the quality of a single-authored volume. Despite these similarities it does not purport, like the summae, to produce a sense of a finished and entirely tidy taxonomy. As Newhauser usefully points out in his introduction, many of these essays discuss the "limitations of [the] list" (ix). Indeed, it often analyses the practice of tabulation and offers an interesting assessment of why and how the medieval world catalogued and ordered its understanding of hamartiology. The reader will be disappointed, Newhauser adds, if they expect to find "the isolated and laboratory-like refraction of culturally important concepts into their 'unit ideas'" (ix).

As well as resisting unnatural division, this volume will also be a useful addition to undergraduate bibliographies because it challenges any notion of the homogeneity of medieval religious culture, untangling the differing concerns of different genres of religious writing--from, for example, the writings of the Church fathers, to sermons, summae of sin/vice, poetry like William Langland's "Piers Plowman" and thirteenth-century Bibles moralisées. It will dislodge the idea that the seven deadly sins were ubiquitous and unchanging, indicating the variation that contributed to their construction and that existed in their dissemination. For example, Columba Stewart considers Evagrius' eight, rather than seven, logismoi; Carole Straw looks at how the vices were differently configured by Cassian and, then, reconfigured by Gregory; Kent considers those parts of Christian philosophy which rejected the schema of the seven deadly sins. Edwin D. Craun investigates the conventions that governed the reactions and responses, the excuses which the discourse of sin encouraged, demonstrating the plastic and intelligent ways that the literature on vice was consumed.

There are parts of this book that are a little too detailed for undergraduates and are clearly aimed at those interested in particular parts of the larger story told here. For example, although Nigel Harris and Newhauser's essay on conflictus literature looks right up to later, renaissance emblematology, the detail in their sometimes narrow comparison of the format of early fourteenth-century Bavarian manuscripts will legislate against its use in the classroom, although it will no doubt interest scholars at work in similar and related fields.

There are some essays that don't entirely fit into this essay collection. In particular Ruth Mazzo Karras' essay on sodomy extrudes awkwardly from the first part of this book. Although she addresses texts which pertain to the culture of the vices in the period, her essay is not really concerned to deepen our understanding of the seven capital vices in communi. Indeed, as she tries to link sodomy to luxuria it may have fitted better, but still not perhaps seamlessly, into the second part of this volume. Although an essay on sodomy might have engaged more fully with the subject of this book, this essay will more likely appear in the bibliographies of those working on sodomy than on those interested in the development and schematization of the vices. The essay on sloth by Rainer E. Jehl, which links accedia to the modern conception of psychological "burnout," is also not as interested as this book's readers might be in exploring the nuances of a medieval idea. In skewing its investigation to make a comparison which, for this reader at least, seems so distant and different as to be irrelevant, it fails to really get to the heart of the medieval history of accedia. Its own interest in the medieval world is in monastic, and particularly eremitical, estimations of sloth and yet it leaves itself too little space to consider the polyvalence of monastic cultures as they have been demonstrated, for example, by G. R. Ovit, The Restoration of Perfection: Labour and Technology in Medieval Culture.

This volume has a number of intriguing threads, which tie its essays together, and which future scholars will want to follow through the larger labyrinth. In particular, there are a number of essays in this volume which consider medieval understandings of psychology and the way that the vices and their corresponding virtues intersected with medieval theories on the passions and affections. As Stewart puts it in her discussion of Evagrius, the systematization of the vices created "a menu for moral and psychological assessment" (4). Edward Peters, in particular, offers a thoughtful consideration of moral theology as "palaeopsychology." Concatenation and the connectivity between the sins is also variously considered; whilst some writers like John of Rupella, as Silvana Vecchio notes (123), resist the notion that the sins flowed one into another, other writers and texts, such as the Bibles moralisées investigated by Gerald B. Guest, saw the boundaries between sins as worryingly permeable (103). Inevitably sinfulness produces questions of instigation and whether the disobedient will or external fillips are responsible for moral aberrance. Various essays--such as those by Mienolf Schumacher and Stewart--consider the vices, then, in relation to demonology and the temptations that are introduced to the human soul from the outside. Conversely several of the other essays consider Augustine's work on the free will and, although Augustine is nowhere interested in cataloguing sins, his necessary influence on the inventories and assessments of sins produced by others. The other name that comes up repeatedly in the volume is, of course, Aristotle's and there is, for example, an on-going consideration of his influence on Thomist philosophy.

Given the subject matter of this volume it is perhaps surprising that none of these essays, excepting perhaps Peters', adopt what might be described as a theoretical approach. Writing on sinfulness is clearly germane to thinking about medieval technologies of the self and it might be expected that these essays would consider, for example and at least, Foucault's work on surveillance or confession. Readers should not expect to find any engagement with Agamben, say, despite the regular interest here in shame. Many essays, like for example Mirelle Vincent-Cassy's on drunkenness, are unfailingly empirical. Further, there are several essays which maintain a singular silence quite in the face of modern theoretical discussions. For example, Ruth Mazzo Karras' work on sodomy footnotes, but doesn't really engage with recent queer theory as in the work of Carolyn Dinshaw.

However, this is a useful contribution to the literature on the vices, extending the work that has already been published by Morton Bloomfield, Siegfried Wenzel and Patrick Boyd. It leaves much work still to be done but will no doubt offer an invaluable resource for those keen to undertake it.