09.11.27, Selge, ed., Joachim von Fiore Psalterium

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Brett Whalen

The Medieval Review 09.11.27

Joachim von Fiore and Selge, Kurt-Victor. Psalterium decem cordarum. MGH Quellen zur Geistesgeschichte des Mittelalters, bd. 20. Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2009. Pp. 467. ISBN: 978-3-7752-1020-1.

Reviewed by:
Brett Whalen
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Historians of Christian apocalypticism, above all those who work on the famous "Calabrian abbot," Joachim of Fiore (c. 1135-1202), will greet this new critical edition of Joachim's Psalterium decem cordarum with immense satisfaction. Joachim numbers among the most important apocalyptic thinkers of the Middle Ages, yet complete critical editions of his three principle works--the Liber concordiae novi et veteris testamenti, the Expositio in Apocalypsim, and the Psalterium decem cordarum)--have been lacking. This lamentable situation is starting to change with the publication of the Psalterium, the fruit of immense labor by its editor Kurt-Victor Selge and a team of contributors including Alexander Patschovsky, Joachim Boekels, and Julia Eva Wannenmacher. This new edition emerged from a joint effort by the Berlin- Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften in Berlin and the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Rome, which are working together to publish Joachim's body of writings as part of the MGH "Quellen zur Geistesgeschichte des Mittelalters" or "Fonti per la Storia dell'Italia medievale" series. The realization of this ambitious project, first conceived in 1929 by Herbert Grundmann (1902-1970) and Ernesto Buonaiuti (1881-1946), was revitalized in 1990 by Selge, Patschovsky, Robert Lerner, Gian Luca Potest, and Robert Rusconi (vi- vii). No more will readers of this important text have to struggle with the cramped, flawed typescript of the 1527 Venetian edition or its 1983 reprint; rather, they can consult this impressive volume, with its detailed prefatory materials in German that discuss the circumstances of the text's composition (xii-xxv), the manuscripts tradition behind the edition (xxv-cxliv), and the Psalterium's main ideas (cxlv-cclxxviii), followed by an annotated edition of the complete Latin text.

Joachim of Fiore, exegete, theologian of history, and monastic reformer, began work on the Psalterium decem cordarum in 1184, after his well known "spiritual revelation" during Pentecost of that same year while staying at the Cistercian monastery of Casamari (xiii- xxv). By this point, after an earlier episode of divine inspiration, he had already begun work on the Liber de concordiae and the Expositio in Apocalypsim, in addition to a number of minor tracts. According to the abbot in his introduction to the Psalterium, during this vision at Pentecost, while he recited the psalms there "appeared in my mind without delay the shape of a ten-stringed psaltery. In it, the mystery of the Holy Trinity shone forth so brightly and clearly that I was immediately impelled to cry out 'What God is as great as our God'!" (9-10). The Psalterium, completed about two years later at Joachim's home monastery of Corazzo, emerged from this vision of psaltery and his ongoing meditations into the meaning of the Bible and the shape of God's plan for history. In his later "Testamentary Letter," sent to Rome in the year 1200 as a profession of his orthodoxy and reminder of the fact that no less than three popes had given him approval to write, Joachim numbered the Psalterium among his three principal works (xvi- xviii).

In the first book (14-114), the abbot offered a careful study of the Trinity, based on his observation that the shape of the psaltery symbolized both the Greek letters Alpha and Omega: for Joachim, the three-angles of Alpha represented the three persons of the Trinity; the Omega, the unity of their substance. This image was represented various manuscripts of the Psalterium, (cf. plates 3a-3f in the Selge edition), and later in the so-called Liber figuarum, a collection of figural representations created either by the abbot or some of his followers (online at http://www.centrostudigioachimiti.it/Gioacchino/tavolaSalterio_eng.asp ). The unified yet distinct activities of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in different stages of history formed a hallmark of Joachim's theology, which envisioned a status of the Father, from Adam or Jacob until Christ; a status of the Son, from Christ until the abbot's present-times; and an imminent status of the Holy Spirit, a terrestrial "Sabbath age" that would see universal peace and spiritual harmony (this scheme complemented, did not replace, Joachim's other division of history into two time periods or tempora, that of the Old and New Testaments). As explained in the second book of the Psalterium (115-344) and elsewhere in his writings, Joachim connected each status of history with a particular form of religious life: the order (ordo) of the laity in the status of the Father; the order of the clergy in the status of the Son; and the order of monks in the status of the Holy Spirit. The order of monks, according to Joachim, would play a particularly important role in the spiritual transformations brought about during the status of the Holy Spirit. Finally, in the third, relatively brief book of the Psalterium (345-355) the abbot closed his work with a brief set of guidelines for reciting the psalms.

As noted years ago by Bernard McGinn in The Calabrian Abbot: Joachim of Fiore in the History of Western Thought (New York: MacMillan, 1985), 33, the Psalterium decem cordarum "has been less studied" than Joachim's other major works in modern times. Surely, this will change with the publication of this critical edition. Broadly speaking, a refined appreciation of the abbot's Trinitarian theology remains critical and can only improve our understanding of how the Trinity functioned in his historical schemes, including his controversial notion of a future, Sabbath age of the Holy Spirit. Although Joachim remained an orthodox figure in his own lifetime, as is well know, some of his subsequent devotees added a radical edge to their interpretation of the third status and its transformative effect on the clerical Church of the second status, earning them condemnation by mainstream ecclesiastical authorities. One imagines that scholars might also consider further the argument, advanced by Selge (xix-xii) here and elsewhere, that the Psalterium was in fact the book condemned by the second canon of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 for its attack on the scholastic master Peter Lombard, not (as traditionally believed) a now lost work by Joachim. In any event, with this new edition, the doors are wide open for a thorough-going reconsideration of the Psalterium and its place in the development of Joachim's writings. Nor is this the only exciting news for scholars and students of medieval apocalypticism. The publication of critical editions of the Liber de concordiae and the Expositio in Apocalypsim is imminent as part of the MGH "Quellen zur Geistgeschichte des Mittelalters" series, setting the stage for a new status (so to speak) in research on the important and influential Calabrian abbot.

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Brett Whalen

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill