15.02.20, Morenzoni, ed., Preaching and Political Society

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Laura Carlson

The Medieval Review 15.02.20

Morenzoni, Franco. Preaching and Political Society: From Late Antiquity to the End of the Middle Ages / Depuis l'Antiquité tardive jusqu'à la fin du Moyen Âge. Sermo: Studies on Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation Sermons and Preaching, 10. Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. Pp. vi, 340. ISBN: 9782503544236 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Laura Carlson
Queen's University

The close and, at times, reciprocal relationship between medieval preaching and political society may be fairly well-established, if not, at points, self-evident to many scholars. Yet focused studies of the interdependence of these two medieval cultural spheres have rarely been the focal point of scholarship. As such, a volume such as this is a welcome addition to new analyses of preaching as a frequently politically-charged activity within the medieval world. This multi-lingual volume of twelve new essays in French and English, edited by Franco Morenzoni, attempts to right this oversight by a sweeping look at the political, social, and cultural context of preaching from late antiquity to the final years of the pre-modern world. Most of the essays can be described as case studies, either examinations of previously unedited or unpublished materials, or examinations of preachers or sermons as related to specific political or social milieus.

With such broadly-defined subject matter, many of the essays highlight inherent methodological issues of how to define precisely not only the performative act of preaching and its written correlation, the sermon, but also the lack of a pervasively suitable, let alone helpful, definition of "political society". This nebulousness has not gone unnoticed by the editor. In his introduction, Morenzoni is cautious to highlight the ambiguity of "preaching," largely leaving to each individual contributor to define the context of the term as they see relevant. What the twelve contributions often prove--in subsuming their studies of sermons and preaching as related specifically to political society (another concept Morenzoni, among other contributors, hesitates to conclusively define)--is that the framework for preaching is not only highly dependent upon spiritual and societal norms, but also malleable in terms of the immediate political contexts of given regions or periods.

The vagueness of language and terminology do appear to have weighed heavily on both the contributors and Morenzoni. Conspicuously, as he points out, although the term "preaching" (or the French prédication) is liberally applied throughout the volume, many contributors consciously avoid using the term "political society," "political community," or "political nation," save three (Linda Jones, Beverly Mayne Kienzle, and Teresa Rupp), all of whom write in English. Certainly delineation in what is meant by the terms society, government, political legitimacy, monarchy, etc., factors heavily in the majority of the contributions. Conceptualization of "political society" takes on different roles within these contributions; at some points, political society appears widely construed. Beverly Kienzle situates the thematic use of the Cross within sermons since the patristic period, localizing her argument around the "political" context of the crusading movement. Rosa Parrinello examines the sixth-century work of Severus of Antioch, situated within the political and religious turmoil of the Monophysite Controversy in the eastern Mediterranean.

Invoking such names as Raymond Cazelles and Gerald Harriss as instrumental in the reconstruction of "political society" as a historiographical concept in the medieval world, Morenzoni appears eager for readers to consider potential divides across linguistic lines among the contributors regarding their use of this concept that could be considered quite broadly defined. Indeed the relative agency of medieval preachers within political society is conceptualized of quite differently among the contributors. Interestingly two of the English contributors, Beverly Mayne Kienzle and Catherine Royer-Hemet, contextualize their sermons as more affected by than affecting of current political society. In their work, the sermon is reflective of current political climes rather than consciously affecting change. Other contributors, such as Linda G. Jones, take the opposite perspective: arguing that preaching, or elements therein, could in and of itself constitute change in political society; preaching as affective rather than reflective.

The scope of the volume is, as the title suggests, impressively broad, ranging from the late antique to the late middle ages. That said, the majority of the essays hover around the High Middle Ages, which is perhaps understandable in light of the development of the more formal artes praedicandi of the period. However, in consideration of the fact that most essays pose the relevant question of the limits and constraints of the "preaching" or "sermon" genre, it is interesting that more essays did not engage with the emergence of the genre during the late antique or early medieval period. It is also interesting that all of the essays, save one, focus exclusively on the Christian context of preaching. Only Linda Jones' "A Case of Medieval Political 'Flip-Flopping'? Shifting Allegiances in the Sermons of Al-Qadi 'Iyad'" takes the question of the intersection of preaching, politics, and society out of a Christian framework, discussing the extent of political loyalties demonstrated by Islamic preachers' (khatibs) inclusion of caliphal names at the end of Islamic khutbas.

The framework for the individual essays varies considerably. Some take a wide-angled approach, such as Beverly Mayne Kienzle's "Preaching the Cross: Liturgy and Crusade Propaganda," a longue-durée examination of the theme and use of the cross in Christian preaching. Most focus on unedited or unexamined sermon collections of preachers in a defined political context. Sophie Delmas uncovers previously-unexamined thirteenth-century sermons of Eudes de Châteauroux, whose themes largely work as commentaries on both royal and papal power. Political society here is framed somewhat conceptually. Delmas' focus is largely on the imagery and symbolism within Eudes' sermons as well as the feasts or holy days on which they were to be given; an abstract construction of political society as evidenced by Eudes' use of specific biblical or allegorical themes. Other essays take a more direct approach in construing preaching as highly political in and of itself. These can be grouped into two broad groups: essays that discuss sermons or preachers as inherently reflective of a political society versus those that treat sermons and preachers as particularly affective within a political society. Among those essays in the former, we find a variety of defined political contexts: preaching material about a specific political agent, such as M. Cecilia Gaposchkin's discussion of preaching material on Saint Louis (Louis IX), or the wider framework of preaching within a political community, such as Anne Hudson's "Preaching Civil Liberties in Medieval England," Jean-Paul Boyer's "Spirituel et temporel dans les sermons napolitans de la première moitié du XIVe siècle," and Letizia Pellegrini's "Prédication et politique dans la péninsule italienne au XVe siècle." In some, such as in Hudson's discussion, the question of the genre of preaching is subsumed within a particular intersection of religious belief and political action. For Hudson, this takes shape regarding the embodiment of religious values within spiritual communities vis-a-vis political society. Her essay uses the framework of preaching to analyze the role of civil disobedience in late medieval England among Lollard or Wycliffite thought. Although generally regarded as a movement characteristically focused on civic disobedience, Hudson reveals new insights into Wycliffite thought that push this conclusion to a heavier emphasis on the inherent civil liberties of the individual; a reaction to both what was perceived as both a corrupt Church and English government. Other contributions--such as Gaposchkin's essay on Saint Louis, which takes a wider approach at looking at a selection of sermons dedicated to Louis IX--reflect a wider pan-western European interest in the rights and nature of rulership. The shared theme of these sermons, the rulership of Louis IX, provides a window into emergent constructions of the ideal medieval king. In such a discussion, the spheres of religion and political society are inherently fused, as the sermons emphasize the fundamental Christian nature of the ideal king. Others, such as Pellegrini's discussion of preaching in fifteenth-century Italian peninsula, focus on the literary context of preaching and sermons much more explicitly, positing a thoughtful new conceptual framework regarding the questionably arbitrary division between medieval and modern preaching. The focusing of her analysis of observant reform preaching within the Italian peninsula is purposefully chosen as the often-used locale for the emergence of the "modern state" (321). As such, she posits an insightful relationship between the new expressions of political power in the Italian communities and the multi-tiered impact of observant preaching within ecclesiastical, social, and a newly sociological context.

In contrast, those essays which examine a specific preacher or sermon-writer's engagement with political society often highlight previously unedited or unpublished materials. Most of the foci of these essays are well-known for their preaching or overall ecclesiastical writing, ranging from Catherine Royer-Hemet's analysis of the pro rege sermons of Richard Fitzralph of Armagh, who infamously "has no need for introduction" (174), to two essays on the sermons of Pierre Roger (also known as Pope Clement VI) by Philippe Genequand and Ralf Lützelschwab. All three to some extent focus on the immediate context of the performative action of the sermon. For Richard Fitzralph's sermons, that context is London processions during the Hundred Years War. Royer-Hemet's analysis reveals the age-old debate between one's career ambitions with one's inner moral compass. Richard Fitzralph's pro rege sermons illustrate how medieval preachers often adapted their sermons in order to suit particular and explicit political needs, in this case, support for the English king against the French. In this case, form suits function, both on a larger political scale (to drum up English support for anti-French military activity) and also in terms of the personal political goals of Fitzralph (royal support in thanks for the coveted appointment as the Archbishop of Armagh). The two essays on Pierre Roger (Clement VI) necessarily take a different perspective: a new analysis on an Avignon papacy often characterized by an intensely secular court and the height of the papal monarchy. These two articles both look to overcome the traditionally negative perspectives of Clement VI's pontificate, as Lützelschwab quotes "a misfortune for both the papacy and for the Church" (227). Both Genequand and Lützelschwab offer a reappraisal of this association, focusing largely on Clement's rich intellectual background as demonstrated by his extant writing. Genequand looks at two sermons dating before his papal election in 1342, responses to the crusading enterprise associated with Philippe de Valoise. In addition to providing a new light to Clement's intellectual life before his papacy, Genequand pertinently notes the various genres and sub-genres of medieval sermons (in this case, collationes), highlighting the accordingly vast differences in theme, vocabulary, and tone. Although Genequand is careful not to over-emphasize the distinctions between these types of sermons, it does raise the larger pertinent question as to the extent of the genre of medieval sermons. As other contributors to this volume frequently note, often our ascription of a work as a sermon may be providing an artificial and at times perhaps even anachronistic label. The two sermons highlighted in Genequand's essay comment on the established theme of the inextricably intertwined political and religious nature of the crusades. Yet the more interesting approach Genequand takes is an examination of the two sermons as a commentary on the respective roles of king and pope within a fourteenth century crusading context. We should not be surprised that the future Clement VI is keen to emphasize pontifical supremacy; however, he relegates this rhetoric as secondary to the more immediate goal of convincing Philippe de Valoise to lead a new crusading army to the Holy Land. The second of the two essays dedicated to Pierre Roger/Clement VI in this volume, that by Ralf Lützelschwab, takes a more introspective view of the pope's often unrecognized intellectual prowess, as evidenced by his control and manipulation of the college of cardinals, particularly as Lützelschwab argues, in the use of cardinals as political agents, that is, legates and representatives of the pope in the major courts throughout Europe. Accordingly, Lützelschwab confines his examination to sermons given by Clement either at the time of an elevation of a new cardinal or the return of a papal legate from a political mission abroad.

Most scholars would hesitate to delineate strictly the spheres of church and state in the medieval period. Accordingly, it will perhaps be unsurprising to many that specific actions and writings traditionally associated with the ecclesiastical realm had a contributive or reflective effect on the overall political milieu in which preachers, sermon-writers, and perhaps most importantly the audiences of preachers lived and worshipped. Yet the specific form and function of preaching has rarely faced the attention it does in this volume. The case examples provided here will provide scholars a focused look at the role of preaching in specific political societies or contexts, either as affective or reflective (and certainly, at times, both). The methodical footnotes and, at points, extensive bibliographies that accompany each essay will be a handy reference guide to any looking to follow in these scholars' footsteps. To attempt an examination of preaching as a genre from the late antique to the late medieval period is certainly an ambitious one. Although it would not be fair to describe the volume as comprehensive, the gaps in periods, cultures, and regions prevent it from being so, the contributions here provide excellent case studies of preaching and political society in the medieval world.

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Author Biography

Laura Carlson

Queen's University