The Medieval Review 17.03.02

Parisoli, Luca. Gioacchino da Fiore e il carattere meridiano del movimento francescano in Calabria. Collana Pensatori Italiani. Davoli Marina: Associazione Radici del Tempo, 2016. pp. 179. €9.90 (paperback). ISBN: 978-88-99017-09-5 (paperback).

Reviewed by:

David Burr
Virginia Tech

The word premessa means almost exactly what it does in English and the Premessa which introduces this book introduces the premise on which the entire work is based, namely that if we hope to understand Joachim of Fiore's thought we must see it, not only within a particular theological period, but also within its own geographical space, Italia Meridionale and especially Calabria, where Greek culture was still influential. There is much to be said for this suggestion, as well as for its implicit distinction between the sort of theology Joachim was attempting in southern Italy and the scholastic theology being created at the same time in Paris. Although Marco Rainini's 2006 book, Disegni dei tempi, rightly suggests a connection with northern European thought by comparing Joachim's figure with twelfth-century northern European "visual exegesis," there is also much to be learned from Maria Bettetini's more recent article, "Lo statuto dell'immagine, silenzioso decorazione a fonte dello spirito. Percorsi dall'epoca carolingia a Gioacchino," in Pensare per figure, edited by Alessandro Ghisalberti in 2010. Bettetini traces the course of historical evolution from the Libri carolini, according to which images in themselves, unless accompanied by verbal explanation, could (in Bettetini's words) "be considered neither good or bad, but simply useful or useless and, above all, beautiful or ugly" (51) to the point where this viewpoint was challenged by Joachim's works. (All translations from Italian in this review are mine.)

Parisoli's own thoughts on the nature of that challenge can be hard to follow at times, and that is probably as it should be for those of us who are creatures of the Latinate western European sense that images need words--lots of them--to arm them with significance. Parisoli notes that the two great monuments of interpretation in western civilization are the glosses to canon law and the gloss to the Vulgate Bible. In a world where this many words seem required, what could be meant by "thinking through figures"? Parisoli refers us, not only to the thoughts of modern psychoanalysts, but also to the early church fathers who faced the challenge, not simply of constructing a rationally ordered Christian discourse, but of converting their listeners through persuasive devotional discourse. All of this gives us some sense of a "thinking through pictures" prior to the sort of rational scaffolding erected in the Latin west--a scholasticism meant, as Parisoli says, not so much to evangelize as to demonstrate that what one believes is rational.

To be more specific, when it comes to clearing a place for Joachim's figure the most important weapons employed by Parisoli in this book are probably Pierre Legendre and Jacques Lacan. Try as the west might to pretend that human thought can dispense with symbols, it cannot. As Parisoli says, "in order to understand the Joachim problem we must supplement and transcend the traditional perspective and arrive at the perspective of Lacanian anthropology according to which we see symbolism as, in the first place, an aid in giving significance (and that is the traditional perspective), then beyond that as an image or evocation capable of doing without all linguistic explanation" (91). Thus in any complex human society both Aquinas and Joachim have a role to perform.

Parisoli notes that some of the material in this book comes from three earlier essays. In fact, much of the book gives the impression of being a collection of essays rather than a sustained argument. Themes wind through the chapters, are developed to a certain point, then disappear only to be reintroduced later. New things are said about them, but not in the form of a sustained, logically coherent argument running from the beginning of the book to its end.

Three closely related themes are important. One, as we have seen, is the distinction between the logocentric Latin west and Calabria, which still looked east to Byzantium. Another, related one is that of a distinction between a cultura normativisa and a cultura anomica. The first is identified with the Latin west and with the Roman Catholic Church, the second with Joachim. The first provides an orderly set of rules and a hierarchically structured church, while the latter puts all that in question, although not necessarily by intention or by doubting the authority of the Bible. This is a theme that appears often, but even at the end of the book one wishes it had been developed more fully. Here the words get in the way, although the direction of Parisoli's argument seems clear enough.

A third theme is the distinction between the two souls of Franciscanism, one a specifically Mediterranean soul and the other not Mediterranean. (Parisoli tries out other words like settentrionale but prefers in the end to simply describe it as "not Mediterranean" [117].) The latter is represented for Parisoli by the spiritual Franciscans in general and Angelo Clareno in particular. His affection for Angelo stems from the latter's devotion to living the Franciscan rule, but also from his remarkable effort to remain, if not completely obedient to the pope, at least as obedient as possible while persevering in his obedience to the Franciscan rule. It also stems from Angelo's sensitivity to Greek culture as he discovered it in the early Greek fathers, particularly Basil.

There are other themes, but these are the main ones. Obviously they fit together neatly. Parisoli, himself a Calabrian in his soul as well as his current residence and thus more Mediterranean than non-Mediterranean, is sensitive to the complexities involved in all such distinctions and makes it clear that his cannot be taken in an absolute sense. Olivi is mentioned, and Parisoli quotes my remark that Olivi "could be the patron saint of those who refuse to put their faith in institutions" (118). Parisoli sees my comment as summing up "the anomic dimension of Olivi's thought, which leads to the inevitable delegitimization of existing institutions" (119). One would guess that, while Olivi qualifies both geographically and intellectually for a Mediterranean soul, Parisoli prefers Angelo for all the reasons mentioned above.

In any case, the chapters on Angelo strike me as excellent. As Parisoli recognizes, it is impossible to read Angelo's Commentary on the Franciscan Rule without recognizing how much his sense of Franciscanism owed to his appreciation of early Greek monasticism. He knew Greek, had read a number of Greek monastic sources, and he spent enough time in Greece to see the monasteries. Thus he stands as a prime example of Parisoli's Mediterranean Franciscan soul looking eastward.

If I were allowed one wish about this book I would wish that the author had spent more time on Joachim. He says remarkably little about him, preferring to cite what others say about him, and even that is limited.

He does discuss the condemnation at the fourth Lateran council of Joachim's attack on Peter Lombard's doctrine of the trinity. (That may seem an inelegant way of stating the matter, but it is accurate.) The idea of an increasingly rationalistic scholastic theology coming out of Paris and going to battle with a metaphorical Joachism which aims at "saying the unsayable" becomes extremely useful when dealing with that subject, at least. Parisoli observes that, "if the metaphors used by Joachim to express the Trinity are infelicitous, insofar as they are metaphors one can say that they are only infelicitous, not negations of the Trinity itself. In fact, to deny the Trinity one would have to take those metaphors for analytical explanations, something Joachim never admitted to doing, and in fact never wished to do" (29-30).

Parisoli also addresses Joachim's view of the atonement, and here again he tends to grant Joachim little more than a low pass. At times he seems to agree with Henri Mottu that Joachim's sense of the crucifixion "is limited to Christ's humiliation and seems to ignore his domination over all things" (70). As Parisoli observes, the situation can be described in exegetical terms by saying that Philippians 2:6-7 is considered without also taking into consideration verses 8-11. "Within Joachim's universe of discourse, the Augustinian view of Christ as the central node in history can no longer be proposed...This permits us to grant more historical force to the idea of a state successive to that of Christ, the age of the Paraclete" (71), a bow to Joachim's trinitarian view of history; but a crucifixion which displays only Christ's humility and not his power remains problematic. Parisoli pursues the difficulty at some length, in the process presenting the example of Iphigenia being sacrificed so that the Greek fleet could sail to Troy, then invoking a Marxist notion of poverty, and finally turning to voluntary poverty as seen by Brian Tierney. He concludes that "one cannot say Joachim denied the triumph of the cross, but only that in the economy of his discourse it was omitted; and one cannot consider him heterodox for that, but certainly different from other Christian thinkers" (73-74).

Thus Parisoli does deal to some extent with two of Joachim's most widely discussed views, and on these he manages to provide some support, but in a curiously left-handed way. Joachim escapes judgment not through what he said but through what he failed to say. I wish Parisoli himself had said more, not about these topics, but about Joachim as an exegete. Interpretation of Scripture is an important part of the common ground shared by the Parisians and the Calabrian. How did they compare? Granting that Joachim was a different sort of exegete, what was the difference?

But the fact remains that this is a valuable book and I learned a great deal from it.

Copyright (c) 2017 David Burr

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