Eric Saak's scholarly work in the late Middle Ages has characteristically been exhaustive by nature. Take, for example, his comprehensive High Way to Heaven: The Augustinian Platform between Reform and Reformation, 1292-1524, a nearly 900-page tome of impressive breadth, depth, and scholarly insight. Now Saak undertakes another monumental task: one of producing six volumes for Brill by developing a new series focusing on late medieval catechesis of which the present work is the first. From the outset Saak knows he has his considerable work cut out for him and immediately has to qualify his task. His intended focus for all of these volumes is a fourteenth-century Augustinian Hermit from Germany, Jordan of Quedlinburg (d. 1380)--an overlooked, prolific, and, as Saak notes, "unoriginal" author (6). Still, Jordan's commentaries are remarkable compilations of a considerable intellectual and creative ability, even if Jordan rarely offers his own take on the subject matter. Saak emphasizes that despite his unoriginality, Jordan "composed more sermons, extant in more manuscripts, than any other Augustinian before Martin Luther" (16).
Due to the ample source material, Saak offers not a critical edition in the traditional sense, but what he calls a "study edition," or critically reliable and readable translations. His volumes are not exhaustive in their mining of original manuscripts, but they offer critical access to an all-too-long-ignored author and area of study. Saak succeeds in presenting the source material in a way that makes readers want more, and with five substantial volumes to come they will no doubt get their wish.
The volume at hand provides a needed introduction to Jordan himself and a side-by-side Latin/English version of Jordan's Commentary on the Lord's Prayer and Exposition of the Tree of the Virtues and Vices. The high-quality translation is straightforward, clear, and functional; Saak's rendition of Jordan's poetry in the latter commentary is an enjoyable highlight. A modest recommendation would be that in future volumes Saak simply translate all names from their Latin origin into their more recognizable English versions. Here Saak is not entirely consistent. For example, he leaves the Latin name Synai (93) the same in the English, rather than "Sinai," but then helpfully translates Hugo into English as "Hugh of St. Victor" to avoid confusion (109). He leaves Moyses the same in English (95) but then later shifts to "Moses" (147).
Saak includes an extensive apparatus criticus and detailed footnotes: herein lies the greatest contribution of the volume. Saak is right to focus more on his own late medieval area of expertise and in a typical manner does exhaustive work showing how Jordan was influenced by Anselm, Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, Henry of Friemar, the Glossa Ordinaria, some patristic authors, and a handful of classical Greek and Latin writers like Aristotle and Seneca. Saak most beneficially establishes Jordan's influences upon Gabriel Biel, Pierre d'Ailly, Ludolph of Saxony, Eggelinus, and Martin Luther (34-51).
The greatest shortcoming of the work is that Saak does not have much time to go back and look at many of the early patristic and medieval influences on Jordan. Saak does not discuss, for example, how the essential structure of the Commentary of the Lord's Prayer is primarily influenced by Augustine's Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount and Hugh of St. Victor's On Five Sevens. Indeed, there is a deeply tangled web of influence in such late medieval catechetical works, and Jordan's work is very complicated in this regard. It is difficult to know whether Jordan is more influenced by Thomas Aquinas or the sources that Aquinas quotes in his own analysis of the Lord's Prayer (henceforward LP), namely Augustine, Cyprian, and the like. One suspects that as an Augustinian, Jordan's debt to Augustine is particularly crucial, but that is not explored here with much detail.
The entire series focuses upon late medieval catechetical writings and Saak astutely points out that later medieval texts often transcend their authors, which he notes is something that "we so often forget with our author fetishes and hangups with originality" (18). He adds, "there is still no general treatment of catechetical literature or instruction for this period" (24). Jordan's work no doubt took on a life of its own and influenced Reformation scholars, but the link between Jordan's catechetical writings, Luther's catechisms, and Calvin's Institutes still needs closer examination. Saak's volumes will be invaluable in this process. As Saak concludes, "the impact of Augustine and the Augustinians in the later Middle Ages was central to the origins of the Renaissance and Reformation, and thus to the transformation from medieval culture to early modern. It is still an impact largely uncharted" (15).
Saak likewise begins a valuable conversation presenting a preliminary scholarly analysis of the catechetical works concerning the LP. He concludes that there were basically five general categories in which scholars used the LP in commentaries during the Middle Ages. They are 1: liturgical commentaries; 2: religious or popular manuscripts intended for private devotion, such as prayer books; 3: catechetical works, or what he calls catechetical tables (which Saak does not develop much); 4: pastoral writings, such as sermons or Thomas's Summa; and 5: academic expositions used at universities, in particular at mendicant studia, or lectures on the Bible. However, as soon as Saak sets up these categories he notes that many explanations of the LP do not fit neatly into any one category and must be seen as encompassing a variety at the same time (33). Certainly, Jordan's commentary on the LP is a case in point, because it is readily found in manuscript collections of sermons and at other times in academic lectures (30-31), which in their content sometimes address private and public devotional practices and in other instances comment on liturgical and pastoral concerns in a catechetical manner (29-30). Jordan's commentaries, or better yet his various manuscript versions of commentaries on the LP, often encompass all five categories at once, which raises the question of how useful such categories are in the first place. Saak is forced to conclude, "...so many, if not most of the late medieval treatments of the Pater Noster, transcends contemporary attempts at classification" (34).
The actual text of Jordan's Commentary on the Lord's Prayer is presented here in a way that reveals not only the complexity of late medieval catechetical texts, but also their beauty. Jordan's sophistication permeates the work by setting up a complicated structure that compares the seven petitions of the LP to other areas of Christian thought lining up with the same numerological concerns--that is other biblical and theological lists of sevens. There were of course the seven vices, virtues, gifts of the Holy Spirit, Beatitudes, and fruits of the Spirit, the last being split into seven groups of fruits. According to Saak, "what [Jordan means by this sevenfold structure] is that the LP is so efficacious that by praying it, virtues are infused into our souls, with each virtue associated with a given petition, and the vices are excluded from affecting our souls. The efficacy of divine grace and prayer in the context of sanctification is what is meant in this regard and the effect of praying the prayer on the ontological status of our souls" (323). Saak concludes that the virtues and vices were in the later Middle Ages, and especially for Jordan "habits of the soul as much as, if not more than specific virtuous and vicious acts...only a good tree can produce good fruit" (323). For Jordan, the mere act of praying the LP had its own wondrously efficacious power to produce what it asked for.
By systematically moving through each of the seven petitions and comparing them to the other groups of seven, Jordan systematically creates a mnemonic device for catechetical use that is simultaneously an interpretive method. By way of illustration, the first petition on hallowing of God's name excludes the first vice of pride, and consequently promotes its counterpoint the first virtue of humility. Likewise the first petition humility encourages the first beatitude of peace, as well as the first gift of the spirit of wisdom, and the fruits of the spirit of faith and peace because these flow naturally from humility. While the scheme is repeated through all seven petitions, Jordan pulls together a remarkable variety of sources in a way that creates a narrative of how the LP is the source and center of all wisdom that in the end reveals the great mysteries of faith and the will of God. Clearly Jordan is building on the writings of Augustine and Hugh of St. Victor, but he is also moving beyond them, to create his own addendum to a tradition of over a millennium of interpretation on the most beloved prayer in Christendom. Jordan concludes his commentary by referring to Cassian suggesting that the LP is the "fullness of perfection" that it "lifts one to that ardent prayer experienced by few, which transcends all human sense, and is distinguished by no sound of the voice, nor by the movement of the tongue, but rather the mind illumined with the infusion of that heavenly light...[that] gushes forth the prayer to God, only bringing into view in that most brief point of time such great things that the mind, returning to itself cannot easily relate or recall" (189). Ultimately, the LP itself leads the faithful beyond the simple seven petitions themselves into a mystical relationship with the divine.
The Exposition of the Tree of the Virtues and Vices is also thankfully appropriately paired with the LP treatise because as Jordan says the tree is nothing other than the LP that produces the fruit of virtues and eliminates the vices. Saak does not have much time to analyze the vast tradition of medieval illustrations concerning the tree of virtues and vices, but he points to those sources.
Saak in the end skillfully demonstrates that "it is not just Jordan, but the late medieval Augustinian authors in general who deserve once again to be heard" (12) and that Jordan's influence was "of significant value and importance far beyond the late medieval Augustinian tradition" (51). As a result, Saak's study edition deserves close examination to further scholarship concerning late medieval catechesis. Indeed, Saak rightly points out that, "both the translation and the Latin text on which it is based are therefore new creations, serving though to represent instrumentally Jordan's work of nearly 700 years ago in the hope that by doing so, Jordan's voice, now however distant and distorted, might, to the extent possible, be heard once again" (69). I for one eagerly await the next volumes and am glad Saak gives Jordan voice once again after 700 years of relative silence.