17.05.03, Daileader, Saint Vincent Ferrer, His World and Life

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Taryn E.L. Chubb

The Medieval Review 17.05.03

Daileader, Philip. Saint Vincent Ferrer, His World and Life: Religion and Society in Late Medieval Europe. The New Middle Ages. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. pp. 282. ISBN: 978-1-137-53293-0 (hardback) 978-1-349-57181-9 (paperback).

Reviewed by:
Taryn E. L. Chubb
East Central University

Philip Daileader's book on the life of St. Vincent Ferrer is a much-needed contribution to scholarship on the Dominican friar. There are a few early hagiographies of Vicent Ferrer, most notably Pietro Ranzano's Life of St. Vincent Ferrer, written shortly after his canonization in the mid-fifteenth century, and Francisco Diago's Historia de la vida, milagros, muerte y discipulos del bienaventurado predicador apostolic valenciano san Vicente Ferrer de la Orden de Predicadors, written in the sixteenth century. Many more hagiographic and biographic texts have been published in subsequent centuries, but these works often present a one-sided picture of the saint's life, in which his good deeds and miracles are highlighted, while the motivations behind his actions and the consequences of those actions are minimized or ignored. Furthermore, many of these works were written several hundred years after the friar's death and rely heavily on legend and selective documentary evidence.

Saint Vincent Ferrer, His World and Life: Religion and Society in Late Medieval Europe deftly navigates through the long history of hagiographic and biographic accounts of the saint's life to provide twenty-first century readers with a more nuanced consideration of Ferrer's preaching, travels, and involvement in political and ecclesiastical affairs. Daileader has meticulously documented Ferrer's activities using a number of primary sources, including manuscripts of his sermons now in libraries in Avignon, Barcelona, Clermont-Ferrand, and Toulouse as well as edited volumes of sermons, printed versions of treatises written by or attributed to Ferrer, and records of his correspondence.

The book begins with an introduction clearly stating the author's primary goals: first, to provide an account of Vincent Ferrer's life, especially the final two decades from 1399 to 1419, with a particular focus on the friar's understanding of his mission and his apocalypticism. Understanding these two elements of his final twenty years is also important, according to Daileader, in helping to connect the various activities in which Ferrer was involved. Furthermore, Daileader assesses the ways in which Ferrer either adapted to or failed to adapt to societal changes in Europe following the Black Death and examines the long-term impact of his work in the areas of conversion, moral reform, and peacemaking. As Daileader points out, this consideration of Ferrer may also help historians understand the depth and breadth of apocalypticism in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and why Spain transformed over the course of those two centuries from "a place of considerable religious diversity" (3) into a place that eliminated its non-Christian populations. Finally, Daileader acknowledges the challenges facing any historian studying Vincent Ferrer: the fact that he was canonized in 1455, 36 years after his death, resulting not only in a number of uncritical early sources about his life, but also in the pride Valencians have taken in his canonization in subsequent centuries, which continues to color his treatment in Spanish scholarship. Such writers tend to ignore aspects of Ferrer's life that are uncomfortable or that might be seen as incongruous with his sainthood. Daileader makes clear to the reader that he has "striven to treat Vincent critically, but fairly" (3) and ends the introduction by stating his final goal for the book, which is to elucidate how and why Ferrer produced certain responses in those with whom he came into contact.

In the seven chapters of this book, Daileader leads the reader through a roughly chronological account of Ferrer's life, but the chapters are also each intended to address specific aspects of the friar's activities. This results in some overlap between chapters in both recurring themes and chronology and, while Daileader does clearly acknowledge such overlaps, including a timeline of the types and locations of his activities, especially from 1399 onward, would be a valuable addition to future editions of the text.

Chapter 1, "Valencia, Avignon, and In Between," takes the reader through the first forty years of Ferrer's life, providing the historical context for his childhood in Valencia and the first half of his adult life traveling outside of his native city. Daileader highlights events such as the 1348 pogroms against Jews in Valencia, the first treatises attributed to the friar, his interest in the works of Thomas Aquinas, the beginnings of the Papal Schism, Ferrer's early encounters with Pedro de Luna, his first documented thoughts about apocalypticism (somewhat different from those he would espouse later, according to the author), his involvement with the royal family, and his relationship with the Valencian jurats. All of these aspects of Ferrer's early life would come to bear on his later activities, as Daileader details in the subsequent six chapters.

The second chapter, "Legatus a latere Christi: Provence, Lombardy, and In Between," begins with a helpful discussion of the various versions of the story of Ferrer's vision (which the friar himself never directly acknowledged having experienced). In short, God, St. Francis, and St. Dominic appeared to Ferrer and implored him to go out into the world and preach about the coming of Antichrist. From that time on, the friar called himself legatus a latere Christi, a title that would have signified his association with both Christ and the pope to people in late medieval Europe, thus giving Ferrer unique status and power. This chapter also continues the story of Ferrer's relationship with Pedro de Luna, by then known as Benedict XIII, and details the friar's travels. Daileader also includes a discussion of Ferrer's specific ideas about Antichrist as espoused in his sermons as a prelude to the deeper examination of late medieval opinions about Antichrist and the evolution of the friar's own views on the subject in chapter 6.

Daileader turns to Ferrer's return to his homeland in the third chapter, "Iberian Return and the Compromise of Casp," which details the friar's involvement in the complicated business of selecting a successor to Martí I, who died in 1310 without designating a successor. The ensuing discussions and deliberations, for which Ferrer served as one of three Valencian delegates, along with his brother Boniface, are referred to as the Compromise of Casp. The Ferrer brothers appear to have been appointed specifically to represent Benedict XIII's interests and Vincent Ferrer, in particular, later found himself in the position of defending his decision to vote for Fernando de Trastámara. The friar's return to Iberia found him traveling frequently throughout the peninsula at the request of various clergy and rulers not only to preach, but also to promote moral reform and assist with peacemaking efforts in various cities and towns.

Chapter 4, "Moral Reform and Peacemaking," offers a discussion of these activities, particularly in the region of Valencia, where the friar confronted such immoral acts as gaming and gambling, prostitution, and the practice of magic. He worked to implement new laws and ordinances to combat these sinful behaviors. Ferrer also spent time following his return to Iberia brokering peace agreements between rivaling groups, including Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Most of these moral reforms and peace agreements appear to have been short-lived, but appreciated by the clergy and local governments who had asked him to intervene.

Chapter 5, "Segregation and Conversion," is a study of Ferrer's interaction with Iberian Jewish and Muslim populations, mostly in Valencia. Daileader addresses Ferrer's response to the pogroms of 1391, his preaching to Jews and about Judaism, his involvement in implementing (if not actually crafting) the Laws of Valladolid, and reports of the friar speaking Hebrew in his sermons, which resulted in conflicts with a number of rabbis. There is also discussion of Jews at some times and in some places being required to attend Ferrer's sermons as well as his relationships to conversos. The various arguments the friar used against Judaism and Islam are also included in this chapter, along with an analysis of the approaches he took to preaching to different groups. Daileader makes the important point, based on the evidence of his actions and the text of his sermons, that Ferrer's apocalypticism and missionary work in the last two decades of his life appear not to have been closely intertwined.

In chapter 6, "Antichrist, 1403," Daileader notes the changes in Ferrer's apocalyptic preaching, specifically his linking of the arrival of Antichrist to the schism and a shift in the dates he predicted for Antichrist's birth and the end of the world. There is a section of the chapter devoted to placing Ferrer into historical traditions of apocalyptic thought, leading to a discussion of whether or not he should be considered an apocalyptic preacher at all.

The final chapter of the book, "Final Journeys: Perpignan, Vannes, and In Between," opens with king Fernando's request for Ferrer to travel to Tortosa in 1413 to participate in the Tortosa Disputation. Daileader outlines the complexity and steady breakdown of the relationships between Fernando, Ferrer, and Benedict during this period, as Fernando and other rulers put increased pressure on Benedict to end the schism. In 1416, Fernando asked the friar to leave Aragon to attend the Council of Constance to argue on behalf of Aragon for the "unification of the church" (169). The Council would eventually bring an end to the schism, but Ferrer was a reluctant participant. Ferrer spent the rest of his life caught between the Aragonese kings he helped to put on the throne and Benedict, whom he had supported as the legitimate pope since the 1380s.

In his conclusion, Daileader acknowledges the biographical nature of this book and the limitations of the genre, but he also points out that it addresses broader historical questions about apocalyptic thought in the late medieval period and how Spain, once one of the most religiously diverse parts of Europe, eventually came to expel non-Christians. Daileader also tackles the complicated question of where a story like that of Vincent Ferrer should end. Ferrer was canonized in 1455 and one might ask why, if this book relies in part on records from the canonization process, a lengthier discussion of his canonization is not included. There must be chronological limitations on a study such as this and the lines between biography and hagiography have been consistently blurry when it comes to Vincent Ferrer, so a reluctance to delve into his canonization is understandable. However, considering the broader questions Daileader proposes to address, further attention could be given to the century or so following the friar's death, including the process of his canonization. This would at the very least provide further evidence about Ferrer's impact on late medieval apocalyptic thought. The friar's image tradition, for example, developed in earnest during this period and in numerous examples (both Italian and Iberian), is depicted with few attributes other than a banderole unfurling over his head in the manner of a Gothic speech scroll that includes the text from Revelation 14:7: "Fear God and give honor to Him; for the hour of judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven and earth." The number of images of Ferrer, both single panels and entire altarpieces emphasizing Ferrer's association with the apocalypse and clearly identifying him as a preacher, that were produced in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Iberia and Italy suggest that there is still more to be said about his apocalypticism and the ways in which those ideas continued to be promoted following his death. This might also allow for further discussion of the question of Spain's changing attitudes toward Jews and Muslims in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, at least as they may have been related to Ferrer's work.

That said, Daileader's book is a valuable text for historians of this period and, because of his engaging writing style and ability to succinctly explain major historical events, perhaps also of interest to members of the general public who want to learn more about religion and society in late medieval Europe. The bibliography he includes at the end is quite thorough and a much-appreciated resource for anyone working on Ferrer. Daileader provides context for these sources in the appendix, which addresses issues of authorship for treatises attributed to the friar as well as the methods through which his sermons were recorded and the canonization process, especially as it relates to canonization documents. On the whole, Saint Vincent Ferrer, His World and Life: Religion and Society in Late Medieval Europe skillfully brings together a number of sources about Ferrer and considers these sources through the critical and analytical lens of Daileader's training as a historian, which results in a text that will surely be one of the most widely consulted for information about Ferrer, his ideas, and his activities for some time to come.

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