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21.02.01 Boulton (ed.), Literary Echoes of the Fourth Lateran Council in England and France

The Medieval Review

21.02.01 Boulton (ed.), Literary Echoes of the Fourth Lateran Council in England and France


The collective aim of this group of nine informative and well-argued essays is to show the ways in which canons of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 encouraged an efflorescence of pastoral literature both in the vernacular, for direct lay consumption, and in Latin for the learned who preached to the laity in the vernacular. In "The Fourth Lateran Council and Vernacular Pastoralia: An Introduction," Boulton surveys religious writing in Latin, French, and English. Here, Honorius Augustodunensis' Elucidarium figures importantly, as do vernacular French texts in England, from which pastoralia in Middle English were derived. Boulton notes that in England bishops often drove the production of this literature (e.g., Robert Grosseteste, Edmund of Abingdon, Alexander Stavensby, Walter Gray, John Thoresby), whereas in France royal sponsorship was more likely (King Philip III for the Somme leroi, Louis IX's Enseignements for his children).

Archbishops' activities appear in Andrew Reeves' "'The Nourishment of God's Word':Inter caetera (Canon 10) in England." Required to convene councils for the purpose of spreading the decrees of Fourth Lateran, several archbishops produced statutes promoting the basic teaching of Christian doctrine. The mechanisms for teaching doctrine remained to be devised, and the trickle-down from educated archbishops to preachers whose formation was apt to be less learned could be problematic. Reeves argues that although parish clergy were not as informed as one might have hoped, "in a great many cases" pastors did indeed competently transmit "the nourishment of God's word" (73).

Boulton next offers "French Treatises on Confession, Mass, and Communion in the Thirteenth Century," turning to the impact of Canon 21's requirement for annual confession and the receiving of the Eucharist. Here, Grosseteste plays an important role; his Perambulavit Iudas, for example, became part of the large collection known as theCompileison. In Paris Robert de Sorbon composed a Traité de confession, also known as the Miroir du monde. William Waddington's Manuel dés pechiez (of which the Anglo-Norman Text Society [ANTS] has just brought out Delbert Russell's new edition), is an important example of a text that served both clergy and laity. Exceptionally, the lay author Jean de Journi, in his Disme de penitanche, encouraged other laypeople to formulate and freely offer their confessions before being coaxed by the priest to do so. On the continent, it was once more the kings who commissioned pastoralia: in 1372 Jean Golein translated work by Guillaume Durandus for French king Charles V, and in the first half of the fourteenth century, Jean de Vignay translated Hugh of St. Cher's Latin for King Philip VI of France.

Peter J.A. Jones, in "Humor at the Fourth Lateran Council," discusses the deliberate cultivation of humor as a pastoral tool, promoted by Innocent III as a "moralizing rhetorical device" and "a tactic of exerting power in court politics" (100). In this, Jones claims that Innocent, who himself possessed a sharp wit, anticipated religious fabliaux of the thirteenth century such as the Jeu de la feuillee and those of Rutebeuf and Jean Bodel (122). Innocent's views were conflicted, however, palpably so in the canons, where fear of blasphemous mockery competes with evidence of humor's value to illuminate and inculcate morals, especially through the ridicule of human sins.

With "Papal Discussions in a Chanson de geste: the Depiction of Crusade, the Lateran Council, and the Split Personality of the Canso de la Crozada," Carol Sweetenham explores the influence of Fourth Lateran on the shape and content of the two-part Old Occitan Canso. The first part of the poem, known through its modern French title, La Chanson de la Croisade contre les Albigeois (Song of the Crusade against the Albigensians), was composed by William of Tudela, who sympathized with the crusading ethos but stopped writing in 1213. The continuator of the poem, known only as the Anonyme, did not support the idea of crusade, and by building upon William's portion, the Anonyme is able to undermine the crusade ethos of his predecessor. The Lateran Council functions "literally and ideologically as a turning point in the narrative" (143).

Boulton's third contribution, "Guillaume le clerc de Normandie, Innocent III, and the Fourth Lateran Council," traces Guillaume's debt to Innocent III's De miseria humane conditionis or De contemptu mundi (On the misery of the human condition or On contempt for the world) in two works, the Besant de Dieu and Treis moz. Citing Innocent's De miseria as one of his sources, Guillaume apparently wrote these works to seek patronage from a bishop who had attended Fourth Lateran.

In "Structures of Thought in Robert Grosseteste's Chasteau d'amour and the Tateshal Miscellany," the latter a collection of moral, devotional and theological/philosophical texts made for Joan of Tateshal, Anna Siebach-Larsen sees Joan engaged particularly with Grosseteste's theology of light, elaborated in his Chasteau d'amour. In the copiously illustrated Tateshal codex (now Princeton University Library Taylor Medieval MS 1), two visual depictions of Joan herself show her as larger than was usual in patron portraits, suggesting to Siebach-Larsen Joan's own agency in the fashioning and use of the codex. Joan's reading of the Chasteau is of special interest, for by grasping the function of light and color, Joan could "access the transformative power of the verbal and the pictorial images...to model herself after [the Virgin] Mary, becoming a shining, clear member of the community of saints" (196).

In "Learning from an Anglo-Norman Apocalypse: Oxford, University College, MS 100," Daron Burrows, editor of The Abingdon Apocalypse for the Anglo-Norman Text Society ([ANTS] Oxford, 2017), introduces readers to a further Anglo-Norman apocalypse text, the Prose Apocalypse of Oxford, University College, MS 100. Prose Apocalypse versions are extant in no small number, for thirty texts have been identified (of which roughly twenty are in Anglo-Norman, the French of England); yet no critical edition exists of the Oxford MS, in spite of strong evidence that it was hugely popular in the wake of Lateran IV. Burrows' introductory study of the manuscript provocatively suggests to him that by the end of the thirteenth century the pastoral thrust of Lateran IV had been so successful that some of the laity "may have felt sufficiently spiritually empowered and enlightened to assert their own agency in navigating the path to ultimate salvation" (228).

In the only essay concentrating on lay responses to Fourth Lateran, "Confessing Something New: the Twenty-First Canon of the Fourth Lateran Council and English Literature," Wendy R. Larson reminds readers that confession was not new in 1215: it was rather a newly established privatization of the public confession and penance that preceded it. Canon 21 made confession a routine, required act. Working through Michel Foucault's observations about confession in The History of Sexuality, Larson provides a number of penetrating observations about the "production of subjectivity" during a confessional exchange, and about the "implied permission to speak" that confession afforded. Following an examination of John Gower's Confessio amantis, Larson turns to Chaucer's Canon's Yeoman's Prologue and Tale and Hoccleve's La Male Regle to show how the two texts "play with the conditions and rhetoric of confession," leading to "the creation of memorable speakers confessing themselves into being" (243).

The volume stems from papers given at the conference "Concilium Lateranense IV-Commemorating the Octocentenary of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215," held in Rome in 2015. Another volume containing a further nine articles that originated in the same conference is Jews and Muslims under the Fourth Lateran Council: papers commemorating the octocentenary of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), ed. Marie-Thérèse Champagne and Irven Resnick, with an introduction by John Tolan (Turnhout: Brepols, 2018). It is a pity that, for whatever reason, all eighteen essays could not have been combined into one volume, so as to avoid any hint that they might appeal to necessarily discrete modern audiences. Wendy Larson, Daron Burrows, and Maureen Boulton, with her mention of Jean de Journi, whet our appetites for more work along the lines that their essays trace or touch upon concerning lay reception of Fourth Lateran's canons.​