15.11.11, Forlivesi, Quinto, and Vecchio, eds., Fides Virtus

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Sean Otto

The Medieval Review 15.11.11

Forlivesi, Marco, Riccardo Quinto, and Silvana Vecchio, in association with Gionata Liboni and Caterina Tarlazzi, eds. Fides Virtus: The Virtue of Faith from the Twelfth to the Early Sixteenth Century. Archa Verbi, Yearbook for the Study of Medieval Theology: Subsidia, 12. Münster: Aschendorff Verlag, 2014. pp. xvi, 524. ISBN: 9783402102282 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Sean Otto
University of Toronto

This multilingual volume is a collection of essays stemming from a meeting of the Internationale Gesellschaft für Theologische Mediävistik held in Padua in 2011. With essays written in English, French, Italian, and German, all of which presume that the reader understands Latin as well, this is not a volume for the beginner. Add to this the highly technical treatments offered by the authors, and what we are left with is a collection for specialists in medieval theology. Bearing this in mind, the volume is quite a successful collection, and the individual essays are, in general, of very high quality and of great interest to those specialists who are its intended audience.

The volume's twenty-two essays have been divided across three themes (exegesis, moral theology, and preaching and pastoral theology), together with an inaugural lecture by Paolo Bettiolo on patristic readings of faith, which forms a preface to the collection. An introduction by the editors, abstracts for each contribution, and three indices (biblicus, nominum et operum anonymorum, and codicum manu scriptorium) complete the volume. The abstracts are each written in one of the four languages of the volume, but the language of the abstract does not necessarily correspond to the language of the contribution; one would have thought that more uniformity among the abstracts would have made them more useful to the reader who might not be as strong in one language or another.

The breadth of the collection is more temporal than geographic; most of the major (western) theologians of the Middle Ages are covered, with essays on Richard of St. Victor, Peter Lombard, Peter Comestor and Stephen Langton, Bonaventure, Peter of John Olivi, Abelard, Hugh of St. Victor, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and Ockham. Lesser-known figures are also discussed: Domingo de Soto, Francis of Meyronnes, Jordan of Pisa, Johannes von Staupitz, and the almost criminally neglected William Peraldus. Some of the essays discuss multiple authors, as Bettiolo's, as well as Riccardo Saccenti's contribution on early theological summae, and Charles M. A. Caspers' piece on fides, spes, and caritas among the Modern Devout.

As is often the case with such a wide-ranging collection, the essays can feel at times somewhat disconnected from the collection as a whole; this does not take away from the quality of the scholarship, but it does tend to limit the cohesiveness of the volume, and as a result there are few who will read it in its entirety. There is the common thread of faith as a virtue running through the essays, but despite the editors' synthesis in the introduction, the collection will likely serve those looking at a particular author better than those looking for an overview of scholastic discussions of faith as virtue. All of this said, the diligent reader's efforts with this volume will be well rewarded, as there is much of great value to be discovered here. There is never enough space in a review to do justice to such a large collection, so I will discuss one or two essays in more depth, as representative of the whole.

Of particular interest, to my mind, is Richard Newhauser's piece on William Peraldus. Peraldus (c.1200-c.1271), a Dominican (sometime prior of Lyons), wrote two related treatises, one on the vices, and the other on the virtues. These circulated together and separately in dozens upon dozens of manuscripts (more than 220 partial and complete copies of the Summa on the virtues are known to have survived). These works were hugely influential, impacting even the likes of the English theologian and heresiarch John Wyclif (c. 1330-1384). [1] Yet despite this popularity and influence, Peraldus is still too little known to modern scholarship, and the only printed edition of any of his works are early modern incunabulae. [2] Included in the Summa on the virtues is a Tractatus de fide, which is an in-depth study not only of the pastoral and analytic aspects of faith, but of faith in opposition to lack of faith, i.e., heresy. This was, no doubt, of particular interest to those defending the Catholic faith from the errors of the Waldensians in Lyons, where Peraldus was prior. Newhauser argues that Peraldus conceives of faith as serving "as the antithesis to a reliance on sense perception" (396). Faith, for Peraldus, goes beyond the sensible, leads beyond the sensible; the senses must, in Newhauser's terminology, be educated, which education is "the acquisition of the virtue that sees, smells, hears, tastes, and touches beyond sensory stimulation--in the imperceivability at the core of Christian belief" (397). It is the heretics' (both Waldensians and Cathars) failure to educate their senses that leads them into error, and it was these errors, of both practice and doctrine, that Peraldus' Tractatus de fide opposed by helping "to define the Catholic community" (402).

Christoph Grellard's "La fides chez Guillaume d'Ockham: de la psychologie à l'ecclésiologie" seeks to add nuance to our understanding of Ockham's voluntarism, which he argues must not be taken too far, and must be understood in the context of an "épistémologie de part en part naturaliseé" (362). What interested Ockham most, once the epistemological questions are set aside, is a systematic understanding of faith, which could deal with both "la production des vérités de foi et l'occurrence d'éventuelles erreurs" (362). This was, of course, tied up with Ockham's controversy with Pope John XXII, whom Ockham found to be not only in error, but heretical error on the question of poverty. Grellard's reading of Ockham is that there is a certain "plasticité" in his conception of faith, since the truths to which a Catholic must adhere are revealed truths, attested in the canon of scripture. This allows for a distinction between error and heresy, and it is for this reason that Ockham had put in place a system of faith which required "l'adésion ferme au principe général de la véracité de la révélation et de l'enseignment de l'Eglise," but allowed for momentary doubt about a particular point of doctrine until such time as a definitive answer could be reached (362).

These two essays illustrate the importance of another theme that runs through several of the essays in this volume: faith's opposite, unbelief. Peraldus, Ockham, and the other authors surveyed here were all eager to understand the faith, and to protect that faith from various threats. This concern brings the level of discourse from the theoretical to the practical, as can be seen in the discussions of Peraldus and Ockham, as this was a matter of lively concern not only for theologians, but for prelates, preachers, and parish priests.

I would be remiss if I neglected to mention the passing of one of the editors, Riccardo Quinto († 3 August 2014); a prolific scholar of Stephen Langton and thirteenth-century preaching and thought, Quinto was a well-respected medievalist. This volume is fitting tribute to such a distinguished scholar, bringing together as it does a wide-ranging and consistently high-quality collection of studies on a subject closely related to Quinto's own research.



1. On this influence, see Johann Loserth, Johann von Wiclif und Guilelmus Peraldus: Studien zur Geschichte der Entstehung von Wiclifs Summa Theologiae (Vienna: Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien, 1916).

2. Newhauser, along with a group of other scholars, is helping to remedy this lacuna by producing a critical edition and translation of Peraldus' Summa on the Vices.

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