14.03.05, Ott & Vedriš, eds., Saintly Bishops and Bishops' Saints

Main Article Content

Nora Berend

The Medieval Review 14.03.05

Ott, John S. and Trpimir Vedriš. Saintly Bishops and Bishops' Saints: Proceedings fo the Third Hagiography Conference organized by the Croatian Hagiography Socety 'Hagiotheca' and the International Hagiography Society, Proeč. Zagreb: Hagiotheca-Humaniora, 2012. Pp. xv, 279. ISBN: 978-953-56205-1-8.

Reviewed by:
Nora Berend
University of Cambridge

The volume, which is the outcome of a conference held in Poreč, Croatia in 2010, covers a broad range of periods, from St. Augustine's use of the Passio of Perpetua and Felicitas to late medieval sermons on St. Stanisław of Cracow. It also includes a wide variety of geographical areas, from Rome through London and Sweden to Byzantium. This is one of the strengths of the book: the reader can gain an understanding of the ways in which bishops, alive or dead, influenced the formation and maintenance of communities across medieval Christendom. Bishops were significant in Christian communities because of their religious position, and consequent authority. They were also able to draw on ecclesiastical culture in the service of shaping social memory. Bishops authored and commissioned hagiographical writings, changing or inventing traditions to meet needs in the present. Many bishops themselves came to be seen as saints, and their memory in turn was put to use by later communities. Yet no single pattern adequately describes the variety of what it meant to be a saint bishop. From administrators to ascetics, and from warriors to theologians, a saintly bishop came in many forms. That is why it is so satisfying to have a collection which addresses many aspects of this complex topic. Unfortunately, however, the book does not have an index, therefore readers will not find it easy to track down particular themes.

John S. Ott's introduction highlights the questions concerning bishop-saints. After that, the volume is organized in a rough chronological order. The first four articles focus on the fourth and fifth centuries. Thomas J. Heffernan ("Gender and the Sources of Authority in St. Augustine's Sermons on Perpetua and Felicity") raises the intriguing question of whether St. Augustine's subordination of female heroism to a theological lesson had a negative impact on the Passio's popular transformation. While celebrating the martyr, Augustine was uncomfortable with the story of a daughter's confrontation with paternal authority. He therefore reinterprets Perpetua's behaviour as "exposing the malign spirit" (8) placed in her father by Satan. Marianne Sághy ("Martyr-Bishops and the Bishop's Martyrs in Fourth-Century Rome") investigates a fourth-century list tracing Rome's bishops back to St. Peter, which served to create a history of episcopal sanctity. John Marcus Beard ("Public Displays of Asceticism: Holy Bishops and the Conversion of Gaul in the Vita Sancti Martini") revisits Sulpicius Severus's Life of St. Martin, to argue that Sulpicius's "redefinition of the role of bishop" (46) played a significant role in the spread and institutionalization of Christianity, and the model helped to consolidate the power of the Roman church. Ville Vuolanto ("A Self-Made Living Saint? Authority and the Two Families of Theodoret of Cyrrhus") analyzes the writings of Theodoret, arguing that he tried to fashion himself into a saint, deriving his own authority both from ascetics and from his upbringing at home.

The following three articles focus on the early medieval period. Marina Miladinov ("Putria Tecta, the Bishop and his Martyr: Mutual Patronage and Configuration of Power in Byzantine Istria") studies Bishop Eufrasius's selection of saints at Poreč, concluding that he promoted saints preferred at the imperial court and in the Ravennate church, as well as local cults. Luciana Cuppo ("Benedict, Father of Monks, in the Chronicle of Mellitus, Bishop of London") addresses the reasons which a seventh-century bishop in London had to promote the cult of St. Benedict: the promotion of the Benedictine order itself as well as as "a reevaluation of intellectual work in the Benedictine order" (99). Vadim Prozorov ("Where He is, Thither will the Eagles Be Gathered Together: The Metropolitan Status of the Bishop of Spalato From the Decline of Salona Until the Councils of Spalato in 925 and 928") maintains that Spalato already obtained metropolitan privileges over the see of Salona before the Councils at Spalato in 925 and 928. Four articles then treat the central medieval period. Rachel S. Anderson ("The Businessman Saint: Bishop Æthelwold in the Liber Eliensis") traces how the tenth-century bishop's reputation changed over time, in particular how his political role was written out of earlier Vitae, only to be incorporated at the end of the twelfth century. Evan A. Gatti ("In the Apse or in Between: The Benedictional of Engilmar and Traditions of Episcopal Patronage in the Apse at Poreč") demonstrates how the apse at Poreč, as a liturgical site, had an active role in inspiring later commissions of art-works, which all served episcopal legitimacy. Stephanos Efthymiadis ("The Place of Holy and Unholy Bishops in Byzantine Hagiographic Narrative, Eighth-Twelfth Centuries") discusses how the traditional equation between monastic practices and sanctity was called into question in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, without, however, benefiting episcopal sanctity. Victoria Smirnova ("No Way to Salvation for German Bishops? The Case of St. Engelbert of Cologne") engages with Caesarius of Heisterbach's ideas on the clash between the worldly engagement of German bishops and their ability to attain salvation, and argues that Engelbert is presented in ways similar to martyred kings.

The final articles present topics from the late Middle Ages. Janine Larmon Peterson ("Episcopal Authority and Disputed Sanctity in Late Medieval Italy") investigates one of the results of an increasing assertion of papal power in the late thirteenth century. Some bishops supported candidates to sanctity as a way to challenge papal power, when they had their communities' opinion to consider. Sari Katajala-Peltomaa ("Bishops Fighting with Demons in Swedish Canonization Processes") analyzes the episcopal use made of cases of demonic possession, one of the means through which bishops tried to assert spiritual leadership over the laity. Sherry L. Reames ("Popular Images of Saintly Bishops in Late Medieval England") studies the vernacular retelling of the stories of saintly bishops for lay audiences, and the changes these entailed. Finally, Stanislava Kuzmová ("The Pastor Bonus: St. Stanislaus of Cracow in Sermons and Bishop-Saints as Exemplars in the Late Middle Ages") shows that St. Stanisław was presented as a role model for clerics in the fifteenth century. The collection is a good addition to the growing literature on different aspects of medieval sanctity.

Article Details

Author Biography

Nora Berend

University of Cambridge