The Medieval Review 16.06.28

Longère, Jean, ed. Iacobus de Vitriaco: Sermones vulgares uel ad status I . Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis 255. Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. pp. cxiv, 791. €470.00 (hardback). ISBN: 978-2-503-54532-5 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

John Arnold
Birkbeck, University of London

This is a superb edition of very considerable interest and importance, and a handsome addition to the Corpus Christianorum series. It was deservedly awarded the Prix Gobert by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in 2015. One hesitates to say that it forms the crowning glory in the illustrious career of M. Jean Longère, because it is an edition of only the first 36 sermons from this particular corpus, and one therefore hopes that the labour will continue; nonetheless, it bears testament to his long engagement with medieval sermon studies and with the oeuvre of Jacques de Vitry in particular.

Jacques de Vitry is of course well known to many medievalists. Born c. 1165, probably in the region of Champagne, and became a canon at Saint-Nicolas d'Oignies c. 1208 (I follow here Longère's chronology, which posits the move to Oignies prior to a spell studying in Paris in 1210). There he met Marie d'Oignies, whose biography he later wrote. From 1211 onward Jacques de Vitry was engaged in "une intense activité de prédicateur" (ix), including preaching support for the Albigensian crusade, and for crusade to the Holy Lands, where he himself travelled in 1217, having been elected bishop of Saint-Jean-d'Acre. He returned permanently to Europe in 1225, and renounced the see of Acre in 1228. The following year Gregory IX made him cardinal of Tusculum (now Frascati). He died in 1240 at Rome.

He created and delivered his sermons in Liège, in various other places when preaching the Fifth Crusade, and in Acre. 410 sermons are extant, written for various and diverse audiences, and he himself collated and textually arranged a goodly proportion of his surviving oeuvre: at the end of the prologue to his Sermones de tempore he sets out a six-fold division of his works, five of which follow the ecclesiastical calendar (four sets of sermons for Sundays and feast-days, a fifth for saints days), and the sixth being sermons for various categories of audience (secundum diversitatem personarum)(xxiv). [1]

Longère's edition very usefully presents manuscript information regarding the other sermon series (xxvi-xlvi) but then turns to the focus of the edition: those sermons ad status, which exist in eleven complete manuscripts, and in a further eight partial ones (details of these given xlviii-lxix). Schneyer lists 64 sermons ad status; but in fact, Longère points out, he missed one (sermon 53), and mis-ascribed the audience of another (sermon 54, which is not ad potentes et milites but ad cives et burgenses).[2] The present edition, as said, presents the first 36 sermons, and is based upon 10 manuscripts, grouped into four "families" (xlviii); half of these manuscripts are from the thirteenth century. The base manuscript used is Trento, Biblioteca comunale 1670 (F 55), a thirteenth-century exemplar; textual variants within the other nine selected manuscripts are noted at the foot of each page, but as Longère comments, do not affect the meaning or interpretation to any great extent. The notes also provide references for texts quoted within the sermons, and separately to biblical passages (often cited quite fully in any case within the main text by de Vitry himself). A prefatory page to each sermon provides precise manuscript details for its appearance, and cross references to Schneyer, to Tubach's Index exemplorum and to Crane's edition of the exempla found therein. [3] The edition concludes with an index of biblical citations, and an index of other authors and works cited by de Vitry.

The sermons themselves are not written reports of the words originally spoken (or presumed to have been spoken; de Vitry makes no claim about particular contexts of delivery), but are formal Latin presentations, very carefully worked up and tailored, carefully subdivided into sections--a feature found in the original manuscripts, albeit as marginal notations rather than via the typographic layout used in the edition. The 36 presented here are mostly addressed to various groups within the clergy: "To prelates and priests" (sermon 3), "To clerics and other secular canons" (sermon 10), "To black monks (i.e. Benedictines)" (sermon 22 and 23), "To white and grey monks (Cistercians)" (sermons 24 and 25), "To Benedictine nuns" (sermon 27), "To the Brothers minor (Franciscans)" (sermons 35 and 36). But we have also "To scholars" (sermons 15 and 16), "To vowesses of the white or grey monks of the Cistercian order, and others" (sermon 28), "To judges and advocates" (sermons 17 and 18), "To hermits and solitaries" (sermons 33 and 34) and to churchmen involved in particular tasks such as "To theologians and to preachers" (sermons 19, 20 and 21). The prologue reflects upon the task of preaching, giving brief advice on the advisability of preaching simply and clearly to the laity, and noting that "external examples" will be more effective than the quoting of authorities or the presentation of refined arguments (11: Magis enim mouentur exterioribus exemplis quam auctoritatibus uel profundis sententiis); noting also however that whilst vernacular exempla were particularly useful in affecting the laity, they had benefit for others too.

And one of the many things which this edition allows, indeed, is a full sense of the context of the exempla that were until now mainly familiar to a wide scholarly audience via Crane's edition of the tales alone. Thus, for example, we meet the story of a scarecrow placed in a field to guard it against birds, the birds initially fearing it, but then, having realised that it wasn't actually going to do anything, perching upon it and befouling it with their droppings. Such are those prelates, de Vitry says, who present themselves via the dignity of their order, but do not in fact conduct themselves in an exemplary fashion, "from whence those subject to them do not fear them but deride and befoul them" (sermon 3, 65-66). This, one can now see from the full edition, is preceded by a fairly lengthy sermon which provides biblical example after biblical example of prelates and their bad behaviour, their responsibility not only for their own sins but for those subject to them. This de Vitry expands to take in the necessity that all priests serve not only "by the vessels of the body, but with a pure heart", and then glosses a passage from the apocryphal book of Esdras (Veni ad portam stercoris et consideravi murum Ierusalem dissipatum et portas combustas igni)--priests are the portam stercoris (the gate out of which the city's excrement and waste would be taken) because "they carry away the filth of sin in confession," but should they themselves fall into sin, the city, as in the passage cited, is ruined. Thus the scatalogical theme enters the sermon well before the birds alight upon the scarecrow.

One could continue at length--there are many riches herein. Others, more expert than myself, will doubtless explore in much greater depth; the massive labours of Jean Longère will allow many to experience these works and to profit greatly. We are considerably in his debt.



1. As Longère remarks, he does not here list the series Sermones feriales vel communes traditionally ascribed to him. Longère provides full bibliographic information on editions and studies of the other sermons.

2. J. B. Schneyer, Repertorium der lateinischen Sermones des Mittelalters, fur die Zeit von 1150-1350, III: Autoren: I-J (Munster, 1971), 212-221.

3. T. F. Crane, The Exempla or Illustrative Stories from the Sermones vulgares of Jacques de Vitry (London, 1890); F. C. Tubach, Index Exemplorum. A Handbook of Medieval Religious Tales (Helsinki, 1969).

Copyright (c) 2016 John Arnold

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