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21.09.17 Deane (ed.)/Rowan (trans.), Herbert Grundmann (1902-1970): Essays

21.09.17 Deane (ed.)/Rowan (trans.), Herbert Grundmann (1902-1970): Essays

Perhaps known best for his highly influential book Religiöse Bewegungen im Mittelalter (1935; Religious Movements in the Middle Ages, trans. Steven Rowan, 1995), Herbert Grundmann also explored many of the themes raised in his book in a series of essays published throughout his career. The more significant of these articles that examine the history of heresy and its relationship to broader social and religious trends, the medieval church's response to heresy, women's religious and literary history, and the apostolic movement of the Middle Ages have now been translated and compiled, along with Grundmann's obituary written by his student Arno Borst, in a single volume edited by Jennifer Kolpacoff Deane. The ideas expressed in these essays, originally published between 1927 and 1968, have anticipated and shaped much of the scholarship on medieval religious and cultural history of the 20th and 21st centuries and are clearly reflected in the work of Borst, Robert Lerner, Marjorie Reeves, and Deane herself, among many others. The collection and translation of these essays not only serves as a testimony to their importance but also provides the opportunity for a wider audience to engage in the ideas and approaches developed by Grundmann.

The collection of essays, arranged chronologically, begins with "The Profile (Typus) of the Heretic in Medieval Perception," which reveals Grundmann's approach to medieval heresy as a matter of intellectual history and addresses the creation of a stereotyped image of the heretic and how that image shaped the response to individual expressions of heresy from the 11th to the 15th centuries. Grundmann also expresses one of his central insights, which will shape his book on religious movements and subsequent work, that heresy must be understood, indeed can only be understood, in connection with "the 'actual', official Middle Ages" (17). He asserts further that the heretical movements of the Middle Ages must be seen as "a single facet of the broader developments of [their] time" (17). Having defined these fundamental principles, Grundmann describes the profile of the heretic as created by medieval commentators, who drew from Augustine of Hippo, the Bible, and the Church Fathers in establishing this profile. The heretics' characteristics included pride, secrecy, falsity, the appearance of piety--traits, Grundmann observes, applicable to all and evidence of the unity of heresy. While the profile may reveal little of the heretics' actual beliefs to modern scholars, it was used to identify and define heretics and heresies throughout the Middle Ages to the extent that "it actually created heresies that never existed in reality" (27).

In the second chapter, "Women and Literature in the Middle Ages: A Contribution on the Origins of Vernacular Literature," Grundmann again anticipates later scholarship in his analysis of the role of women in the development of German secular and religious literature in the vernacular. From the 11th to the 14th centuries, each of the major developments in literary history, Grundmann argues, was inspired and shaped by women readers, mainly because women, lay and religious, read, whereas most noble lay men did not. Identifying numerous aristocratic and royal women of the 11th and 12th centuries, Grundmann notes that, while they had some Latin to allow them to read Psalters, these women inspired the composition of religious texts in German to respond to their spiritual desires. German courtly literature of the 12th century was first delivered orally because poets like Wolfram von Eschenbach and lay nobles did not read, but aristocratic women were expected to read and again inspired the composition of vernacular poetry and even transcribed these works themselves. Grundmann discerns a similar pattern of development in the emergence of religious and mystical texts in the late 13th and 14th centuries; sermons delivered in German were then written in Latin for other preachers but sermons and devotional texts and other spiritual works were compiled in German to respond to the needs of women.

In the third and longest essay in the collection, "Litteratus-Illitteratus: The Transformation of an Educational Standard from Antiquity to the Middle Ages," Grundmann considers the meaning and significance of the terms litteratus and illitteratus from antiquity to the late Middle Ages, noting that the terms were not pejorative and reflected differing educational patterns. The evolving meaning of these concepts throughout the Middle Ages "offered a sort of seismograph of intellectual history" (58). Drawing from Scripture and the writings of Gregory the Great, Benedict of Nursia, Cassiodorus and others from the late antique world, Grundmann explains that illitteratus did not mean "uneducated" but rather unable to read Latin. Indeed, the Apostles were understood as illitteratibecause they knew no Latin or Greek, and more broadly illitteratus meant participation in an educational world distinct from the Latinate book culture of the litterati. As Latin became more of a learned language ever more distinct from Romance and other vernaculars, the term litteratus came to refer more particularly to the clergy, who were expected to be able to read and write, while illitteratus was reserved for the laity, whose education, even among the elite, followed a different path. In the 11th and 12th centuries, Grundmann continues, the status of the literate improved as literacy rates increased and reading and writing became more important tools of government and society. At times, the term illitteratus was used critically in reference to rulers who could not read or heretics who interpreted Scripture incorrectly. The same term, however, could be applied positively to figures like St. Francis of Assisi, who, like the heretics, sought to live the apostolic life. Recalling arguments made in his article on women and vernacular literature, Grundmann observes that women's lack of access to learned Latinate culture stimulated the development of vernacular secular and religious/mystical texts from the 12th to 14th centuries. As in his other works, Grundmann stressed the importance of the close reading of texts and placing those texts in the broader cultural context to understand better medieval society.

In "Heresy Interrogations in the Late Middle Ages as a Source-Critical Problem," Grundmann develops further themes first enunciated in "The Profile (Typus) of a Heretic" and offers a close reading of inquisition records to discern the ideas and goals of the inquisitors and their subjects and their shared place in the intellectual world of late medieval Europe. Examining the case of Marguerite Porete and the council of Vienne which judged her, as well as heresy interrogations in conciliar accounts from 1381 and 1485, which are edited in the article, Grundmann demonstrates how the construction of the heretic shaped the process of interrogation at inquisitions. He also describes the complex process of the depositions themselves: questions posed in Latin but then translated into the vernacular and responses offered in the vernacular but then recorded in Latin. The questions themselves showed little interest in the real beliefs of those being deposed and were shaped by the inquisitors' knowledge of the Fathers' description of ancient heresies. In his commentary on the conciliar accounts, Grundmann clearly demonstrates how interrogators asked a series of stock questions that were designed to provide expected answers about the nature of the heresy. Grundmann cautions scholars to avoid seeing heretics and heresy through the eyes of the inquisitors and to avoid interpreting heresy through the categories inquisitors imposed. Awareness of the practices of the inquisitors and of those being interrogated will help scholars understand heresy better and recognize inquisitors and heretics "as partners of an intellectual world" (162).

"Oportet et Haereses Esse: The Problem of Heresy in the Mirror of Medieval Biblical Exegesis" continues Grundmann's exploration of medieval heresy, its documentation, and the relationship between heresy and the medieval record of it. In particular, Grundmann considers how medieval writers addressed the implications of Paul's assertion that "there must be heresies" (1 Cor. 11:19) and passages from Song of Songs (2:15) about foxes in the vineyard and Judges (14:4-5) about foxes captured by Samson. The essay offers a broad survey of commentary on these passages from Tertullian and Augustine and the Church Fathers through Carolingian authors to Pope Innocent III and Thomas Aquinas and mendicant scholars, and of how the passages shaped attitudes toward the approach to and treatment of heretics from late antiquity to the later Middle Ages. While fully engaged with the question of the existence of heresy in their works of exegesis, these commentaries on heresy "reflect not so much the heresy of their time as [they] depict [the authors'] relationship to the patristic tradition and their own self-consciousness as learned men" (214). As in his earlier work, Grundmann again lays out the challenges of dealing with medieval accounts of religious dissent and the likelihood that these accounts were shaped more by the Fathers than by the heretics they sought to describe.

The volume concludes with Grundmann's response to an international colloquium on heresy in 1962 and published in Hérésies et sociétés dans l'Europe pré-industrielle, 11e-18e siècles (1968) and Bort's very sympathetic obituary. In his brief essay "Learned and Popular Heresies of the Middle Ages," Grundmann notes that heresies, like all religious movements of the Middle Ages, were rooted in the desire to understand Scripture better and apply it to lived experience. This was true of both learned heretics, like Wycliff and Hus and other scholars, and "popular" heretics. He also raises the question about the value of a too-clear distinction between "learned" and "popular," and the complicated relationship between heresiarchs, scholarly or popular, and their followers, noting, among other things, changes over time between what was originally taught and what the heretics came to believe. As he had in earlier works, Grundmann again emphasizes the shared intellectual heritage of both heretics and the orthodox and the importance of recognizing that, with few exceptions, the "heretics" understood themselves to be true Christians.

As influential and original as Grundmann's work is, it is not without its weaknesses. His intellectualist approach tends to lead him away from more serious engagement with the social and cultural trends of the Middle Ages, which is something of a paradox considering Grundmann's emphasis on treating heretics and heresy as part of the broader religious and intellectual fabric of the period. It may be, too, that he overstates his argument concerning one, all-inclusive religious movement stretching from the 11th to the 13th century, and, in fact, his work pays too little attention to the beginning of that period for it to be truly applicable. Moreover, like many others, he may be too willing to read accounts of heresy as simply indebted to the Church Fathers. Despite these reservations, Grundmann's work is essential reading for those interested in medieval religious and intellectual history because of his insistence on the close reading of the texts, emphasis on understanding religious and cultural history in its broader intellectual context, and innovative approaches to the history of literacy and women, among his many other insights. This very welcome translation of some of Grundmann's more important articles will provide the opportunity for those not yet familiar with Grundmann's work to become acquainted with it and for those who know that work to renew their engagement with his ideas.