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23.02.07 Portnykh (trans.), Humbert de Romans, Traité sur la prédication de la croisade

23.02.07 Portnykh (trans.), Humbert de Romans, Traité sur la prédication de la croisade

De predicatione crucis, written in the late 1260s by Humbert of Romans (ca. 1190/1200–1277), is the most important extant text for the study and understanding of late medieval crusade preaching. It is the only systematic medieval treatise on how to preach the cross, which the former crusade propagandist and later master general of the Dominicans wrote as a handbook of crusade preaching for members of his own order and others who were commissioned to preach the cross for one of the many crusades of the thirteenth century and throughout the later middle ages. The treatise has survived in as many as 23 manuscripts, mostly from the fifteenth century, six of which contain an abridged version. Evidence that the treatise was popular and in demand is also provided by a printed incunable edition of 1495. This survival rate reflects the increased crusade activity and accompanying propaganda during most of the fifteenth century aimed at combatting the Hussites and resisting the steady Ottoman advance on Europe. But the treatise’s popularity was most certainly also owed to its enormous usability. The 45 chapters are arranged didactically. As Humbert points out at the beginning, the different texts are to be used flexibly: by inexperienced preachers as a learning tool, by experienced preachers as a source of inspiration, and by advanced preachers as a guide towards excellence and perfection (53). Chapters 2-26 are short sermon outlines, which each offer a central theme followed by an invitatio in which the audience is formally called upon to take the vow of the cross. Interspersed are suggestions for adding liturgical chants (cantus) to complement and frame the recruitment events. Each of these chapters could be used by preachers as an instruction for easily putting together a recruitment event or they could be quarried for combining single themes and passages into individually tailored sermons. This section is followed by three chapters addressed to experienced preachers who were in the habit of designing their own sermons: a list of passages of the bible which could serve as themes for crusade sermons, a checklist of nine properties required of a preacher of the cross, and another one of six areas of knowledge necessary for successful crusade preaching. In the remaining 15 chapters, Humbert teaches preachers of the cross the history of the wars by the people of God against their enemies with the help of extracts from various historiographical texts and the bible. In most manuscripts, the final chapter consists of a copy of the version of Pope Urban II’s sermon at the Council of Clermont from Baudri of Bourgeuil’s Historia Ierosolymitana. Humbert of Romans’ De predicatione crucis thus stands as a practical and comprehensive carry-along handbook for anyone tasked with preaching the cross.

Valentin Portnykh’s French version is the only translation of De predicatione crucis into a modern language to date. It is based on Portnykh’s expert editions and studies of the Latin text. [1] The French translation is preceded by a short introduction in which Portnykh discusses the date and the manuscript tradition as well as the composition and possible usage of the treatise. He also places the text within Humbert’s œuvre and in its wider historical context. These introductory remarks are rather brief, but they offer sufficient references to the Latin edition and to other studies for those who want to engage more deeply with questions of origin, structure, and usage of the text. The translation into French is very readable and makes a good effort to stay close to the Latin original as concerns terminology and sentence structure. Biblical references are included in brackets in the main body of the text, which leaves ample room for explanatory footnotes. This is where the translation excels and offers much additional value to the edition of the Latin text in the Continuatio Medievalis series, which next to the editorial footnotes only has references to other source texts and quotes of the bible. In contrast, the French translation also includes references to modern academic works and thus places the text of the De predicatione within recent scholarly discourses. This is extremely valuable for the student of crusade propaganda to whom this translation is ultimately addressed.

The inclusion of additional reference material mitigates in part the regrettable fact that the French translation is not part of a parallel edition with the original Latin text, following the example of the Oxford Medieval Texts series and similar publications. Although the Latin text of the Continuatio Medivalis series is referenced in the French translation by the respective page numbers in the margins, this is no replacement for the comfort and benefit of being able to compare the two versions in a facing edition. Even if the knowledge of Latin is dwindling among the student population, teachers would no doubt have welcomed the chance of being able to raise students’ awareness of the original and to study key terminology in Latin (which does not require full knowledge of the language). For those expert in Latin, the additional references included in the French version would have been extremely valuable for study purposes alongside the original Latin. But then, of course, there is the question of affordability. The price of a facing Latin/French edition would probably be prohibitive for most students, whereas the €45 price tag for the French paperback or e-book translation might just about pass.

This excellent French translation of Humbert of Romans’ De predicatione crucis raises the question of a translation into English, which would be equally welcome and useful. With a potentially much larger customer base and more competitive pricing, even a parallel Latin/English edition might perhaps be feasible.



1. Humbertus Romanis, De Predicatione Crucis. Cura et studio Valentin Portnykh auxilium praestante Christine Vande Veire. Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis, 279 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2018). The shorter fifteenth-century version is edited in Valentin Portnykh, “The Short Version of Humbert of Romans’ Treatise on the Preaching of the Cross. Edition of the Latin Text”, Crusades 15 (2016), 55-116. See also Valentin Portnykh, “Le traité d’Humbert de Romans (OP) De la prédication de la sainte croix. Une hypothèse sur son utilisation dans les guerres saintes du XVe siècle,” Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique 109 (2014), 588-624.