One Lung, The Priesthood, and Summa Theologica Suppl. IIIae, Q. 39, Art. 6: school me

Francis I, the new pope, has only 1 lung. Note that.

Here is Aquinas on a newly relevant question:

Article 6. Whether lack of members should be an impediment?

Objection 1. It would seem that a man ought not to be debarred from receiving Orders on account of a lack of members. For one who is afflicted should not receive additional affliction. Therefore a man ought not to be deprived of the degree of Orders on account of his suffering a bodily defect.

Objection 2. Further, integrity of discretion is more necessary for the act of orders than integrity of body. But some can be ordained before the years of discretion. Therefore they can also be ordained though deficient in body.

On the contrary, The like were debarred from the ministry of the Old Law (Leviticus 21:18, seqq.). Much more therefore should they be debarred in the New Law.

We shall speak of bigamy in the treatise on Matrimony (66).

I answer that, As appears from what we have said above (3,4,5), a man is disqualified from receiving Orders, either on account of an impediment to the act, or on account of an impediment affecting his personal comeliness. Hence he who suffers from a lack of members is debarred from receiving Orders, if the defect be such as to cause a notable blemish, whereby a man’s comeliness is bedimmed (for instance if his nose be cut off) or the exercise of his Order imperiled; otherwise he is not debarred. This integrity, however, is necessary for the lawfulness and not for the validity of the sacrament.

This suffices for the Replies to the Objections.

I don’t pretend to be a Canon Lawyer (IANACL). If you are a canon lawyer, or a suitable imitation thereof, please weigh in below. And let me make this obvious, in case any non-medievalists wander in: I’m not raising these questions as someone hostile to Catholicism. I’m not trying to dislodge the newly minted Francis. I’m just a humble medievalist.

Now, obviously, Aquinas and the Levitican law concern only what they decide are visible disabilities. I do wonder, however, if the late antique decree that barred the priesthood to self-castrators still applied to the medieval church, which I ask only because castration is not, in typical habits, thought to be visible (rather, as we see with Chaucer’s uncertainly gendered Pardoner, castration troubles the operations of visibility and meaning-making).

In other words, visibility doesn’t always work in any obvious way to classify impediments as significant. For still more on issues of visibility and disability, see Greg Carrier here. Also recall last year’s précis of Maaike van der Lugt’s “L’humanité des monstres et leur accès aux sacrements dans la pensée médiévale” [The humanity of monsters and their access to the sacraments in medieval thought], here, where I summarize her summary of some thirteenth-century quodlibetal material:

And then, finally, we have the problem of intersexed people. The church authorized their marriage, but only if they adopted either a feminine or masculine role, and stuck with it. Those without a preference were to remain chaste. Choosing which gender dominated was a knotty problem: some thinkers emphasized genitals, others secondary sexual characteristics (a beard, for example), and others comportment and behavior. Baptism wasn’t a problem here, although in cases of doubt, the priest should give the child a masculine name, which could easily be made feminine if necessary (Robert would become Roberta, Gerald would become Daphne, etc.). Those intersexed people thought to have a dominant masculinity could even be ordained as priests.

We therefore have a kind of muddled field of visibility and invisibility in the notion of the priest’s being a proper, bodily representative of Christ on earth. With all due respect to Aquinas, all that’s clear to me at the moment is that there’s no single authority on whom we can rely.

Finally, for our readers with Google Books access, I direct you to Irina Metzler on the topic of medieval priests and disability, and for additional, relevant material, see Carol Rawcliffe, who summarizes British medieval legislation on disabled priests as part of her discussion on priests with leprosy. The key point from both works? Dispensations are possible, and, in practice, whatever these cultures marked as disability was nonetheless marked without its being a great impediment to the priesthood. Present under erasure, in a way.

In short–again, IANACL–because it is an “invisible” disability (though one now made visible perhaps to develop a supercrip narrative, as suggested here), and, furthermore, because Francis, like any priest, could simply obtain a proper dispensation, having only a single lung (or having, say, three lungs) presumably would not be sufficient to bar a man from the Papacy.

I’m inviting further discussion from people who actually know things about disability studies, canon law, and the complicated (and still very hot) issues surrounding the notion of the priest as representing Christ.

de monstro possunt fieri monstruosae quaestiones, or, an apology for an omission

“Le monstre sert d’outil conceptuel, au même titre que d’autres cas limites comme l’embryon ou le cadavre, pour penser la personne humaine et les rapports complexes entre âme et corps, forme et matière.”

[The monster serves a conceptual purpose, in the same capacity as other limit cases, like the embryo or the cadaver, for thinking about the human person and the complex links between soul and body, form and matter.]

I’ve spent the last month, not blogging, obviously, but rather hitting a tight deadline to produce 6k words about skin. Depending on reviewers, publishing schedules, and our developing environmental eschaton, you’ll see what I did sometime in…2014. Maybe sooner. Unless I paraphrase some of my ideas here first. For now, let’s just say that I had a lot of fun conceptualizing skin through object-oriented philosophy rather than psychoanalysis (those prices!). In essence, I was looking in instead of (inside my skin) looking out.

But today I’m here to confess something. I’m proud to have an essay in The Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous on “Centaurs, Satyrs, and Cynocephali: Medieval Scholarly Teratology and the Question of the Human.” I’m also ashamed, though, because I somehow missed an important essay, Maaike van der Lugt‘s “L’humanité des monstres et leur accès aux sacrements dans la pensée médiévale” [The humanity of monsters and their access to the sacraments in medieval thought], available for download here. I’m ashamed, because it’s a great article, but also because I’m a big fan of her work on barnacles and because her book on WORMS (hello!) somehow didn’t get cited in my worms paper. That will be corrected.

So, apologies, Professor van der Lugt, if you happen to be reading this. I hereby swear to follow your career with interest.

In the meantime, if your French is pas si bon (and–the Parisians know–mine is barely enough to get by), I’ll summarize some of my favorite bits from it, starting with the last line, a kind of punchline from Hugh of Pisa: “de monstro possunt fieri monstruosae quaestiones” (23 n91; concerning monsters, monstrous questions can arise).

The article concerns itself primarily with the baptism of conjoined twins and the ordination of intersexed people, mapping the differences and overlaps between canon and civil law (the former concerned with the sacraments, the latter with inheritance and paternity). It occasionally touches on disability, pygmies (included mummified pseudo-pygmies, traded by merchants), and the heterogeneous offspring of bestiality. Needless to say, discussions of monsters inevitably mean discussions of the so-called norm: questions of gender determination, for example, are universally applicable in a society–like theirs, like ours–that divides so much labor according to gender roles.

So. The article opens with two accounts of conjoined twins, one near Florence in 1317, the other in 15th-century Paris, the first denied baptism as a bad omen, the other baptized (as Agnes and Jeanne) shortly before they died; their body would be displayed for three days to the people of Paris (see here, item 508). Fascinating! Here follow some of my favorite bits:

  • the observation, via Aristotle, that all children not resembling their parents are already some kind of monster, insofar as the sperm didn’t manage to reproduce the image of the father;
  • Peter Abelard’s proposal that satyrs come from the union of servents and nonhuman animals, which means that they’re human, since one human parent suffices for a creature to be human, regardless of its appearance;
  • An anonymous mid-13th-century commentary on the human body, added to the Summa of Alexander of Hales, arguing that blemmyae, lacking heads, could be considered human only if some other part of their body has an organ that serves as a brain; preferring not to grant humanity to cynocephali; and identifying the internal organs rather than external appearance as the key element for determining humanity. The important organs are the brain, heart, liver, and testes. If these are human, so’s the creature. On the other hand, says our writer, since monstrosity is punishment for sin, then monsters are ipso facto human, since animals of course can’t be sinners;
  • Later in the 13th century, a Franciscan Quodlibet argues that, yes, pygmies are human, since they have human proportions; by similar reasoning, a child born with legs coming out of its sides isn’t one. The Franciscan also observes, on the topic of the spawn of bestiality, that human sperm is not powerful enough to convert other sperm into being human: see also mules [semen hominis non est tante virtutis quod possit convertere aliud semen ad suam speciem sicut asinus non convertit semen eque, sed facit tertiam partem (10 n40)];
  • Albert the Great, a dubious source tells us, stopped the execution of herdsman thought to have fathered a peculiar calf; au contraire, said (pseudo) Albert: the stars had aligned oddly! But in Holland in 1464, Willem Boudewinszn, a lover of cows and the father of one–or so he admitted under torture–was executed and burned, along with the cow he (confessed he) loved (11 n46);
  • Nicholas Oresme in 1370, countering the argument that humanity can be determined on the basis of form, argues that children born blind, deaf, and “nulla ratione utentes minus quam canis” (having less reason than a dog) should be baptized, though they seem far more monstrous to him than, say, a blemmye (12-13, n50). (van der Lugt also directs us at Aquinas);
  • On the question of baptizing conjoined twins: obviously, they should be baptized, but how many times? Quodlibets at the end of 13th and beginning of 14th century often considered the problem. Two heads might be sufficient cause for two baptisms, but several medieval theologians, following Aristotle, gave priority to the heart, not the head. Of course, there’s no easy way to determine whether an infant has two hearts, so we encounter recommendations that the second baptism be conditional (and, on this point, I said: HELLO Erkenwald! My favorite Middle English conditional baptism). Pierre de la Palus suggests that if a spot on the monstrous body can be found in which a wound or a stab transmits pain only to one head, but not both, then two baptisms will be required;
  • The quotlibets continued to worry at the problem of married conjoined twins: what if the twins have only one vagina between them? Then consummation for one would be fornication for the other, while the husband of one would be committing adultery and incest at the same time as he carried out his proper marital duties on the other. But nature makes nothing in vain, and, possibly, says Eustache de Grandcour’s quodlibet, they may have one vagina, but two uteruses [et possibile erat quod habuerint diversas matrices];
  • And then, finally, we have the problem of intersexed people. The church authorized their marriage, but only if they adopted either a feminine or masculine role, and stuck with it. Those without a preference were to remain chaste. Choosing which gender dominated was a knotty problem: some thinkers emphasized genitals, others secondary sexual characteristics (a beard, for example), and others comportment and behavior. Baptism wasn’t a problem here, although in cases of doubt, the priest should give the child a masculine name, which could easily be made feminine if necessary (Robert would become Roberta, Gerald would become Daphne, etc.). Those intersexed people thought to have a dominant masculinity could even be ordained as priests.

There’s much, much more, particularly in the footnotes. If your French is up to it, and you’re into monsters, gender, and the human as a question (and if you’re reading this blog, I suspect you are), then this is an article you’ll love. Highly recommended.

Who’s Your Daddy? Bestiality and Baptism

3287837195_a514feb114I’m in the midst of an editing marathon right now, but to let you know I’m still alive, I’ll share this.

In “Les Cynocéphales: Étude d’une tradition tératologique de l’Antiquité au XIIe s” (Cahiers de civilisation médiévale 24 (1981): 117-29, at 123, Claude Lecouteux speaks about how the question of the necessity of baptism made monsters a theological topic. For monsters born from bestiality, baptism was generally required:

Ainsi dit l’ancien rituel romain suivi par de nombreux rituels provinciaux. Toutefois, certain théologiens, s’appuyant sur Aristote, distinguaient si un homme or une femme avait eu commerce avec une bête; dans le premier cas, le monstre issue d’un tel accouplement devait être baptisé sous condition car c’était peut-être un homme; il ne pouvait l’être dans le second cas, car il n’en était certainement pas un. Depuis qu’on ne croit plus à la fécondité de telles unions, le Droit Canon a été modifié sur ce point.

This is what’s said by the ancient Roman ritual, followed by many provincial rituals. However, certain theologians, relying on Aristotle, distinguished between whether a man or a woman had had “commerce” with a beast; in the first case, the monster issued from such a coupling should be baptized conditionally because it was perhaps a human; it couldn’t be so in the second case, as it was certainly not human. Since the fertility of such unions is no longer believed in, Canon Law has been modified on this point.

He cites Lucius Ferraris, Bibliotheca canonica, ed. Bucceroni (Rome, 1885), volume I, p. 499. Unfortunately, I’m having some trouble tracking down the appropriate passage. However, thanks to the dubious gift of Google Books, I did find this, which speaks of a certain “Tractatus de Baptismo,” which considers a “monstrum genitum ex muliere et bruto, tum etiam ex viro et bruto femella, quod Auctor ibi possibile ponit, per nos impossibile praedicari.” There’s science again, stepping in our fun. Since my school skimps on research money, and since the online PL has recently stopped being useful (the baleful hand of Migne chills us even now), and since I’m honestly too busy to write this post, I can’t track this down any further, at least right now (although Suzanne Magnanini’s treatment of monstrous generation might be useful). But maybe you know something? Or maybe you’re just amused by an odd legal tidbit.

Delirious Melons, and Other Ancient Snark

2801381202_44dc0c1c27_bIn this several months-long absence, I’ve been plugging away at my book manuscript in hopes of an October submission. I’m ahead of schedule, but getting to that point meant much else that is important to me fell away, even as I frenzied myself in what I would have otherwise left alone.

To get back in the game, I’ll share over the next week or so some of the amusing bits I’ve run across while, uh, plugging. Here’s one: Irenaeus of Lyons’ parody of the specialized terminology of Gnostic cosmology in his Against Heresies I.11.4

There exists a certain royal Pre-principle, pre-unintelligible, pre-insubstantial and pre-prerotund, which I call Gourd. With this Goard there coexists a Power which I call Supervacuity. This Gourd and this Supervacuity, being one, emitted without emitting a Fruit visible in all its parts, edible and sweet, which language calls Cucumber. With this Cucumber there is a Power of the same substance, which I call Melon. These Powers, Gourd and Supervacuity, and Cucumber and Melon, emitted the whole multitude of Valentinus’ delirious Melons. For if one must accomodate ordinary language to the first Tetrad and if each one chooses the terms he wants, who would keep him from using these last terms, much more worthy of credence, in ordinary usage, and known by all?

I could tolerate nonacademic complaints about academic jargon much better if they were all packaged like this!

Like all of you, I hope, I’m a fan of ancient snark, although perhaps I ought not to be: it’s probably immoral for me, for example, to admire the snark of an anti-Catharist, if only for what the Cathars (or so-called Cathars?) suffered. I offer this to you (again, as I did in Sept 2006), then, in the hopes of inviting attacks from your good consciences: from Eckbert of Schönau’s (yes, they were related) Sermon 6, “Contra secundam haeresim de esu carnium,” of his Sermones contra Catharos:

Miror si Dominus creator omnium rerum, quando hominibus concessit ut ederent carnes, ignorabat hanc vestram sanctam rationem, videlicet immundos fieri omnes qui ederent carnes, pro eo quod omnis caro ex concubitu nasceretur. Heu! quod non habebat catharum unum, qui ei hanc sapientiam in aurem susurrasset, in illa hora quando dedit potestatem edendi carnes Noe et filiis ejus! (PL 195:37A)

It is quite extraordinary that when the Lord, the creator of all things, allowed men to eat flesh, he ignored your “sacred reason,” namely that because all meat is born from coitus, everyone who eats meat becomes unclean. Alas! that he didn’t have any Cathar about who could have whispered this wisdom to him in his ear in that hour when he gave Noah and his sons the power to eat flesh!

Image via

“And the fervor of his devotion increased so much within him that he utterly transformed himself into Jesus through love and compassion.”

St-Francis-Receiving-The-Stigmata-1240-50A young man, disrespectful of institutional religion, is hailed by two women as Jesus. He allows himself to be crucified, wounded in five places. Elsewhere, another pious soul, caught up in the new fervor of imitatio Christi, crucifies himself on a hilltop on a Good Friday, is taken down half dead by passing shepherds, and recovers fully in a few days.

The first is a familiar story, somewhat muddled, but it takes place in the 1222, in Oxford, rather than the first century. Instead of Mary Magdelene and another Mary (Matthew 28:1; but cf. Mark 16:1, Luke 24, and John 20:1), it’s simply “duabus mulieribus,” one an old practitioner of the dark arts, and the other the young man’s sister. The second story, from Jacques de Vitry’s Sermones Feriales et communes, likewise recalls Gospel narratives both deliberately–the hilltop and Good Friday–and accidentally–the shepherds, the return to (full) life after a few days.

The latter exemplum may in turn recall another thirteenth-century pious self-mortification, that recorded by Margaret of Oingt in her life of Beatrice of Ornacieux (d. 1303) in acts meant for our admiration rather than disgust:

She evoked the Passion of Our Lord so strongly that she pierced her hands with blunt nails until it came out at the back of her hand. And every time she did this, clear water without any blood gushed out. Soon after, the wound closed and healed so well that nobody could see it any more. (49)

I bring these stories together as a companion to Jeffrey’s post below, on the mocking Jew of Lincoln, whose heckling, as Jeffrey suggests, “seems to be speaking a thought likely on more minds than his own.” The Jew is made by Gerald to bear the burden, and to materialize the problems, of dissension and uncertainty within the Christian community. Might we do something similar with the crucifying Jews of the thirteenth century, those accused of reenacting the Passion upon stolen Hosts and kidnapped Christian children? Considered within the field of the pious (and excessively pious–and what perfect piety is not excessive?) stories above, within the field of the various imitatio christi of the thirteenth century, what role are Jews and their purported crimes made to play?

I ask in part because of the first story, from Ralph of Coggeshall’s Chronicon Anglicanum, appears sandwitched within two other stories, one about a Christian who mutilates himself to become a Jew, and another about a Jew who mutilates the dead, with the help of an employee (a Christian (?) boy), to learn the future, the very temporal realm from which Jews–witnesses of the past–should be barred.

Presented without any further comment, because I have no further thoughts yet, here’s a fuller picture:

Anno Dominicae incarnationis MCCXXII, dominus Stephanus, Cantuariensis archiepiscopus, tenuit consilium suum apud Oxoniam post Pascha; ubi inter caetera exordinavit quemdam diaconum apostatam, qui pro amore cujusdam mulieris Judaicae se circumciderat: qui exordinatus, a ministris domini Falconis combustus est. Adductus est ibidem quidam juvenis incredulus cum duabus mulieribus in concilio, quos archidiaconus ejusdem provinciae accusavit crimine pessimo incredulitatis; juvenem scilicit, quod nollet ecclesiam intrare, nec divinis interesse sacramentis, nec patris catholici adquiescere monitis, et quod se crucifigere permiserit, quinque vulnera in corpore adhuc apparentia gestans, Jesumque se vocari a mulieribus illis gaudebat. Accusabatur una mulierum veterana, quod maleficis incantationibus ex longo tempore esset dedita, et quod juvenem praedictum suis magicis artibus ad tantam dementiam ac talem convertisset. Unde ambo, de tali crimine convicti, jussi sunt inter duos muros incarcerari quousque deficerent. Alia vero mulier, soror praedicti juvenis, libera dimissa est, quia impietatem illorum revelavit.

Eodem anno, quidam Judaeus nigromanticus puerum quemdam pretio conduxit, quem in cute recenti cuiusdam mortui collocavit, ut sic, per quasdam incantationes nigromantiae, futura posset prospicere; puero ad interrogata respondente de quibusdam futuris quae ei quasi praesentialiter apparebat. (190-91)

In the Year of the Incarnation of Our Lord 1222, Lord Stephen, Archbishop of Canterbury, held his council at Oxford after Easter; when among others he judged a certain apostate deacon, who circumcised himself for love of a certain Jewish woman: after being defrocked, he was burnt by the servants of the Lord of Falco (?). There was led forward into the hearing a certain unbelieving youth with two women, whom the archdeacon of that province had accused of the crime of the worst unbelief; namely, that the youth refused to enter a church or to take part in the divine sacraments or be content with the warning of the Catholic fathers and had allowed himself to be crucified, bearing the appearance still of five wounds on his body, and that he was called Jesus by these women who praised him. One of the women was accused, because she had been dedicated to wicked incantations for a long time and because she had converted the aforesaid youth by means of her magic arts to such insanity. As for these two, having been convicted of such a crime, they were commanded to be imprisoned between two walls until they died. But the other woman, the sister of the aforesaid youth, was set free, since she had revealed the impiety of the others.

In that same year, a certain Jew, a necromancer, paid a certain boy to collect the skin of those who had recently died, so that he might, by certain necromantic incantations, see into the future; the boy, when interrogated, spoke about future things that appeared to him as if happening presently. [my lousy translation]

(thanks to Gavin Langmuir, “Thomas of Monmouth: Detector of Ritual Murder,” Speculum 59 (1984): 820-846, at 836 n55 for directing me to Ralph and Jacques).

Cistercians and Cluniacs: St Bernard’s Apologia to Abbot William

878746Bernard faced two mutually incompatible tasks: to calm the squabbling of (reformist) Cistercian and (presumptively sybaritic) Cluniacs, to maintain his good relations with Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, and, in a larger sense, to prevent scandal to the church. The first chunk of the treatise moves along nicely: he accuses his fellow Cistercians of being moralizing hypocrites who have done no better than find an uncomfortable road to Hell (35). He spins out an allegory on Joseph’s multicolored coat as a symbol of the various orders of the church, all coexisting harmoniously in their difference, and thus forming a “manifold unity” (44), and then assails those who, scorning others, have “the long, large log of pride” (46) in their eyes, while forgetting that “humility in furs is better than pride in tunics” (48). So far, so good: Bernard sounds like the Augustine of Confessions and Against the Manicheans in his insistence on the spirit, not the letter, of the law, and on abstinence as a moral, rather than physical, thing.

However, after writing “You [Cistercian:] keep [the Rule:] more strictly; he, perhaps, keeps it more reasonably” (51), Bernard turns to a satiric assault on Cluniac excess. But the excess may be primarily in Bernard’s rhetoric–and, for that matter, his logic; given what he argued in the opening, how can he insist that “any vice that shows up on the surface must have its source in the heart” (61)?

A minor point: he batters the Cluniacs because of their inadequate taming of the flesh; but then he sneers at them for their elaborate dishes, helpfully offering that such dishes oppress more than repress the stomach (56). The point may well be that excessive pleasure leads to its opposite, but, given the context, we can’t help but think of the Cluniac egg-eaters as punishing their flesh in their own peculiar way, by (over)filling instead of emptying the stomach.

While [author:Jean Leclercq|104640]’s introduction wisely reminds us of the textuality of Bernard’s treatise, warning us of its imperfect utility for social history, nevertheless, Bernard–and Leclercq’s introduction for that matter–contain some interesting material: on eating (Peters Damian and Venerable warn that the seas and land will be denuded of animals to feed monastic appetites, although both are worried, not about animals, but about the bad effects on human abstinents (17-18)); on clothing and textiles (apparently catskins, especially imported (!) catskins, were a la mode for monastic bedspreads (60)); warfare (contra Le Goff on Yvain, Bernard speaks of arrows and spears flying in warfare(58)–also note that Bernard speaks of soldier’s cloaks as suitable for kings (61),which says something about the changing status of the milites); disability (“sick” brothers, as a sign of their sickness, staggered around on with walking-sticks, so “earning” themselves better food (58)); on architecture (the beauty of a church inspires richer donations (65), a point not lost on university endowment officers!); and, most famously, interior decoration. Here we find Bernard’s assault on the “ridiculous monstrosities in the cloisters”:

Here is one head with many bodies, there is one body with many heads. Over there is a beast with a serpent for its tail, a fish with an animal’s head, and a creature that is horse in front and goat behind, and a second beast with horns and the rear of a horse. (66, and also see Aelred’s Mirror of Charity, where he characterizes such decorations as “the amusements of women” (qtd 67 n169), and, of course, the opening bits of Horace’s Art of Poetry)

My only complaint, apart from Bernard’s logic, is the shortness of this volume. Given that (at least) two Cluniac responses to Bernard survive, and given that this book is only 60 or so pages long, there’s no reason the responses couldn’t have been translated with this, except, of course, that this is a product of Cistercian publishers. Thanks, whited sepulchers!

Note that this work also translated in The Cistercian World. It would be nicely paired on a syllabus with the [book:Libellus de diversis ordinibus|5883772].

Burning to Read: : English Fundamentalism and Its Reformation Opponents, James Simpson

2093675Several months ago, visiting family, someone mentioned that he had just returned from a sermon on Ezekiel 16. We asked, “what did the pastor say?” “Do what God wants or else.” If you don’t know Ezekiel 16, have a read: it tropes Israel as a foundling that God raises, pimps out, marries, and then casts out for sleeping around. It might not strike you that “do what God wants or else” is the best or even an adequate reading of the strange sexuality of this chapter, but, armed with Simpson’s Burning to Read, you can at least have a sense of the faithfulness of such an interpretation to early modern “Evangelical” (Simpson’s locution in preference to the anachronistic “Protestant”) hermeneutics and soteriology. Likewise you will understand why I recall that Romans 3:23 (“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”) was the favorite verse of my fundamentalist upbringing.

Simpson’s book, admittedly polemic, seeks to uproot claims that the liberal tradition begins with the ‘liberation’ of reading and interpretation in the early 16th century. His secondary purpose is to recuperate Thomas More and to reveal William Tyndale as champion of intolerance. David Daniell, Tyndale’s modern day promoter and (to put it kindly) anglophile, gets kicked down the stairs repeatedly: this is a thrilling bonus. As Simpson argues, evangelical reading practices simultaneously idolized the ‘mere’ text, jettisoned non-textual contexts (such as traditions, reading communities, historical situation, and different speech situations), atomized the reader, made adherence to scripture impossible, and set up this very impossibility as the foundation of spiritual life (since one’s own sense of failure was a sign, *perhaps,* that one belonged to the Elect). Despair, paranoia, and the secret impulses of fundamentalism sprang up in ground fertilized by Tyndale and Luther, points Simpson makes alternately by close reading of treatises and Psalm translations by Henrican courtiers (most of whom were on the verge of execution) and by citing casualty figures for the religious persecutions and religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Burning to Read never quite clarifies what this despair &c sprang up in place of. This is odd, since Simpson is a medievalist. As a result, the medieval church implicitly comes off much better than it should (and I’ll let aside Simpson’s explanation for More’s persecution of Evangelicals: short version: he blames it on *Evangelical* reading practices!). Given that the book is semi-popular rather than strictly scholarly, I can’t expect it to have the citational apparatus of, say, The King’s Two Bodies. Nonetheless, I wonder at the absence of any reference to Pelagianism. I also wonder at the absence of any reference to Reginald Pecock’s Repressor of Over Much Blaming of the Clergy (1450). In defending the mainstream Church from the Lollards’ refusal to hear any argument but those derived from scriptura sola, Pecock “asserts that whoever ‘expresseli’ bids any ‘gouernance’ to be carried out…’includingli’ bids all those further (unspecified) things to be done which logically flow out of the said ‘gouernaunce.’ Therefore one cannot rightly insist ‘that needis ech gouernaunce of Goddis … lawe and seruise muste be groundid expresseli in Holi Scripture'” (qtd from Alcuin Blamires, “The Wife of Bath and Lollardy,” Medium Aevum 58 (1989), at 228). Pecock’s argument helps encompass ecclesiastical traditions, the sacraments, &c, all this seemingly non-scriptural ‘dross’ that the Evangelicals scorned, within scripture, while rescuing scripture from mere textuality, returning it to the vitalism of communities of faith as a lived experience. Surely this treatise, and the late 14th- and 15th-century English debates to which it belongs, belongs in Simpson’s book? Without it, the debates of Tyndale, Luther, and More appear to be sui generis; with it, we would have been much better able to isolate the conditions that enabled Evangelical ascendence and all its nasty aftereffects.

As a side note, the discussion of Josiah (who provides a model for the bloody effects of the ‘rediscovery’ of scripture) could have been made even more useful had Simpson observed that the struggles described are, so far as I know, actually within “Judaism” between the centralizing Temple Cult and the dispersed Shrine Cultists, rather than–as it’s portrayed in Scripture–between Hebrews and purportedly “foreign” deities.

I should in closing emphasize that the last two paragraphs are grousing, ungenerous given how much I enjoyed the book, its argument, and its limpid prose. I simply wish, then, that Simpson, or his publisher, had provided a page labeled “for more on these issues see” followed by a list of relevant books on the relevant late medieval controversies