The Medieval Review 14.01.04

Cullum P.H, and Katherine J. Lewis. Religious Men and Masculine Identity in the Middle Ages. Gender in the Middle Ages, 9. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2013. Pp. x, 214. $99.00. ISBN: 9781843838630.

Reviewed by:

Katherine Allen Smith
University of Puget Sound

In the past decade, masculinity studies has become one of the most vibrant sub-fields of medieval studies, producing an ever-growing volume of excellent scholarship on a multiplicity of medieval masculinities: men as kings, knights, bishops, monks, priests; as husbands, fathers, lovers, adolescents, and saints. P. H. Cullum and Katherine J. Lewis have been leaders in this field since their 2004 essay collection, Holiness and Masculinity in the Middle Ages (University of Wales Press) drew attention to the ways in which scholars' focus on 'feminine' models of sanctity throughout the 1980s and 1990s had effectively ignored the construction of the 'masculine' in medieval hagiography and devotional culture. For the collection under review here, which grew out of a conference held at the University of Huddersfield in July 2012, Cullum and Lewis defined the much wider field of inquiry of "medieval men's relationship with religion" (3). Nevertheless, the majority of the eleven contributions here focus on the experience of Christian men in Latin Christendom during the later Middle Ages, with a strong geographical orientation toward Northwestern Europe and especially England. Furthermore, the authors who focus on Christian men base their arguments largely on sources written from male clerical perspectives. While this focus limits the extent to which contributors can make cross-cultural, regional, or temporal comparisons, it makes for a rich collection that will be of great interest to scholars of clerical and lay masculinities, the hagiography and cults of male saints, and men's piety.

In the Introduction the co-editors situate their project at the end of two decades of work on medieval masculinity. Readers unfamiliar with this scholarly landscape can use Cullum and Lewis' incisive commentary and rich footnotes to orient themselves, while those already familiar with the field will find ample food for thought in their suggestions for further research. Taking stock of how the field has evolved since the mid-1990s, the editors highlight several interpretive advances that have contributed to our current understanding of medieval men's definition (and self-definition) in terms of religion: the recognition of the existence of multiple masculinities, which might conflict or overlap in different settings; the reconstruction of various models of clerical masculinity defined in relation to the traditionally masculine roles of father, husband, and warrior; and the "geo-cultural specificity" (6) of religiously inflected masculinity, as manifested, for instance, in attitudes about clerical celibacy that varied from region to region and over time. Cullum and Lewis remind us that scholars have by no means exhausted what our sources can tell us about medieval masculine ideals and men's subjectivity. To point out just a few examples, much research remains to be done on the crusading movement's reflection and creation of masculine identities, on relationships between clerical men which might be understood in "homosocial" or "homosexual" terms, and on medieval men's (versus women's) participation in the devotional life of the Church.

The essays are organized in chronological order, beginning with Michael L. Satlow's "From Salve to Weapon: Torah Study, Masculinity, and the Babylonian Talmud," the only essay dealing with non-Christian masculinities. Satlow's story begins with Late Antique rabbinic rejections of the traditional Roman association of masculine status with the domination of others and the construction of an alternative learned masculine ideal grounded in Torah study. While Late Antique rabbis, like contemporary Christian theorists, coded resistance to evil as masculine, Jewish scholars rejected the ascetic lifestyle that was a primary vehicle through which Christians demonstrated prowess in the "battle against desire" (18). But in the Babylonian Talmud a new model of masculinity emerged that was still grounded in Torah study but reimagined in explicitly aggressive, competitive, and martial terms. Given Satlow's concluding remarks about the long-term influence of the Babylonian Talmud on later medieval Jewish culture, it is a pity that the collection lacks additional essays tracing the evolution of Jewish masculinities in Europe from the twelfth century onwards, the period dealt with by most of the other contributors.

Rachel Stone's essay, "Gender and Hierarchy: Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims (845-882) as a Religious Man," is a model of how to use prescriptive and polemical texts as sources for masculine self-definition. Stone draws attention to the parallels between the Carolingian and Gregorian reform programs' concerns with disciplining male clerical sexuality in ways sometimes thought to have precipitated a "crisis of masculinity." In her perceptive reading, however, Hincmar and his male clerical contemporaries emerge as men confident in their manhood, inhabitants of a stable conceptual world with clear social, moral, and gender hierarchies, in which moral failure was (contrary to the expectations of modern scholars) not automatically understood in terms of "feminine" weakness. Stone's piece is suggestive of the dangers of projecting later medieval (or, for that matter, modern) attitudes back onto the Carolingian period, and offers tantalizing glimpses of the distinctive moral world of the Carolingians.

Elite clerical masculinity is also the subject of Jennifer D. Thibodeaux's essay on "The Defense of Clerical Marriage: Religious Identity and Masculinity in the Writings of Anglo-Norman Clerics," which finds in four Anglo-Norman treatises from the late eleventh and early twelfth century a unified and sophisticated discourse supporting clerical marriage. Like Stone, Thibodeaux paints a picture of a group of men, the elite secular clergy, confident in their identity as men and willing to use all of the textual weapons at their disposal to defend this identity--which was, in Normandy in this period, founded on a long tradition of legitimate clerical marriage--against monastic reformers whom they cast as sodomical, effeminate "half-men" (61). Thibodeaux's perceptive analysis of this polemical material complements and augments recent studies documenting the domestic lives and households of individual clergy in England, France, and Spain. [1]

Essays by Kirsten A. Fenton and Joanna Huntington examine constructions of masculinity in two well-known narratives by twelfth-century English clerics: the Historia Anglorum of Henry of Huntingdon, which Fenton reads as evidence of its author's personal response to clerical celibacy and violence; and the Gesta Herwardi, which Huntington mines for evidence of "clerical constructions of lay masculinity in a period of religious reform" (80). Fenton's "Writing masculinity and religious identity in Henry of Huntingdon" makes a strong case that Henry's descriptions of reform councils must be read in light of his own identity as a married archdeacon, and her analysis reinforces Thibodeaux's point that both proponents and opponents of clerical celibacy were struggling for control of a common discourse of pollution and purity. Her reading of what clerical violence meant to Henry personally would have been stronger had she connected her hagiographic evidence more firmly to the complex realities of Henry's world, in which the upper clergy frequently participated in warfare. In "The Quality of His Virtus Proved Him a Perfect Man:' Hereward 'The Wake' and the Representation of Lay Masculinity," Huntington emphasizes monastic authors' desire to define a model of lay masculinity that emphasized not only those accomplishments that lay elites themselves valued--martial prowess, bravery, the acquisition of a wife and patrimony--but submission to churchmen's authority. Both of essays confirm that significant tensions, if not quite a "crisis," arose out of the eleventh- and twelfth-century redefinition of both clerici and laici as men.

In "Episcopal Authority and Gender in the Narratives of the First Crusade," Matthew Mesley uses the example of Adhemar, bishop of Le Puy, to explore ideals of masculine behavior as presented in early narratives of the expedition. This is a welcome contribution to the sparse scholarship on crusading masculinity, and Mesley carefully distinguishes between the presentations of the bishop in various sources, some of which (e.g., the Chanson d'Antioche) present him unambiguously as a warrior-cleric, others of which spiritualize his martial accomplishments and emphasize his moral guardianship of the army. But it would be desirable to distinguish more clearly between the different models of clerical masculinity represented in and by these sources, since priests like Fulcher of Chartres and Raymond of Aguilers, monks like Robert the Monk and Guibert of Nogent, and bishops like Adhemar himself defined themselves as men in subtly different ways that reflected their different spiritual responsibilities and worldly connections.

The lives of two little-known saints is the subject of Marita von Weissenberg's essay "'What man are you?:' Piety and Masculinity in the vitae of a Sienese Craftsman and a Provençal Nobleman." von Weissenberg describes her two subjects, Pietro Pettinajo and Elzear de Sabran, as embodying a "spiritual masculinity" (113) that embraced components of both secular manhood (e.g., the exercise of power through citizenship or lordship, the fulfillment of responsibilities to fellow craftsmen or vassals) and clerical manhood (e.g., Christomimetic piety, patience, and continence--here, within the bounds of marriage). She makes a strong case that her subjects were venerated as saints because of, rather than in spite of, their attentiveness to worldly obligations, and in so doing suggests how we might move beyond a view of clerical and lay masculinity as inherently oppositional.

Late medieval English models of masculine sanctity are the focus of essays by Katherine J. Lewis and Catherine Sinok, whose analyses of vitae of King Henry VI and the Augustinian prior John of Bridlington emphasize these texts' sources and possible audiences. Both authors draw attention to the "vocational specificity" (147) of sainthood, but come to different conclusions about its continuing importance in the century and a half before the Reformation. Lewis's "Lay Sanctity and the Rewriting of Henry VI's Manliness" skillfully demonstrates the indebtedness of Henry's hagiographer John Blacman to specifically royal paradigms of masculine holiness. Using these paradigms allowed Blacman to invert contemporary criticism of the late king (thus Henry's chastity could be reread as evidence of saintly, and masculine, self-control). This narrative strategy was dependent, presumably, on the distinctiveness of saintly and worldly, or courtly, masculinities. On the other hand, in "John of Bridlington, Mitred Prior and Model of the Mixed Life," Sanok argues that "a relatively uninflected masculine identity" (148) emerged in late medieval England as the traditional divide between clerical and lay manhood broke down. Rather than embodying a specifically Augustinian, monastic, or broadly clerical masculine ideal, John of Bridlington was all things saintly to all men (and at least some women, judging from Margery Kempe's devotion to him), a generic presentation that Sanok sees as evidence for "an emerging sense of a shared public" (158) in fifteenth-century England.

James G. Clarke's masterful study of "Why Men Became Monks in Late Medieval England" shows that in the decades around 1500 male monastic professions were on the rise, as large numbers of men joined religious houses, drawn by spiritual concerns as well as the prospects of continued education and enhanced social standing. Unlike early medieval postulants, these men typically came to the regular life not as oblates or middle-aged converts but as adolescents or young adults who saw monastic life as a prestigious lifelong career path. Nor was this an unmanly career, or one that enabled men to shirk the responsibilities of male adulthood; as Clarke shows quite convincingly, the last generations of medieval English monks helped their families accrue social and spiritual capital through their spiritual and administrative accomplishments.

Twenty-five (now twenty-six) years after the publication of Caroline Walker Bynum's Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (University of California Press, 1987), P. H. Cullum applies some of Bynum's questions to late medieval English laymen in "Feasting Not Fasting: Men's Devotion to the Eucharist in the Later Middle Ages," and finds that these men "could and did have devotional experiences which were expressed in terms very similar to those used by medieval women" (187) described by Bynum. At the same time, Cullum finds that while food was an important aspect of laymen's piety, unlike Bynum's female subjects male contemporaries imitated Christ by showing hospitality and distributing food to guests and the poor, rather than by denying themselves food. Like all of the previous essays, Cullum's is suggestive of how much work remains to be carried out on the piety and subjectivity of medieval religious men. The editors and authors have amply demonstrated that this is work well worth doing, and have elegantly modeled how it ought to be done. --------


1. For instance, Ruth Mazo Karras, Unmarriages: Women, Men, and Sexual Unions in the Middle Ages (University of Pennsylvania, 2012), Chapt. 3: "Priests and Their Partners;" Janelle Werner, "Promiscuous Priests and Vicarage Children: Clerical Sexuality and Masculinity in Late Medieval England," in Negotiating Clerical Identities: Priests, Monks and Masculinity in the Middle Ages, ed. Jennifer D. Thibodeaux (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 159-181; and Michelle Armstrong-Partida, "Priestly Marriage: The Tradition of Clerical Concubinage in the Spanish Church," Viator 40/2 (2009): 221-253.

Copyright (c) 2014 Katherine Allen Smith

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