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Reviewed by:
  • Poets, Saints, and Visionaries of the Great Schism, 1378-1417
  • Margaret Harvey
Poets, Saints, and Visionaries of the Great Schism, 1378-1417. By Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski. (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. 2006. Pp. xiv, 240. $45.00.)

Whereas most books on the Great Schism have considered it from the point of view of ecclesiastical and/or national politics, this is a study of literary and artistic works produced in response to that calamity. It moves from a discussion of reactions to the schism of 1179, which throws some light on the later affair (via the works of Hildegard of Bingen, Elizabeth of Schönau, and John of Salisbury), to two chapters on saints and visionaries (Birgitta of Sweden, Catherine of Siena, Pedro of Aragon, Constance of Rabastens, Peter of Luxembourg, Vincent Ferrer, Marie Robine, Ursulina of Parma, Ermine de Reims, and Jeanne Marie de Maillé), followed by what the writer calls poetic visions by Philippe de Mézières, Eustache Deschamps, Honoré Bovet, and Christine de Pisan. The final chapter is about prophecy and in particular the 'pope prophecies' and Telesphorus. The work should introduce scholars who have concentrated too much on politics to a world of discourse which is not very familiar. One strength of the book is its discussion of some relatively unfamiliar authors whose works may not be readily accessible to students. Some of [End Page 306] these writers were lowly persons, and the book certainly reveals the reactions to the crisis of some very unpolitical Christians.

The book is relatively sparing in giving the political and historical background and to the present reviewer, a historian, it lacks historical nuance. The literature in question frequently reminds one of the polemics of some modern members of the Anglican communion against those who disagree with them. A dialogue of the deaf is to an extent represented here. The author says (p. 162) that the solutions in the texts discussed were "eminently reasonable, exactly what was needed to solve this intractable problem."This was so only for those who could accept the premises on which they were based. Cessio, subtractio, and even a general council all presented intractable problems, theological, legal, and political, which genuinely could trouble the consciences of those in power, and to refuse to accept what was offered was not always a sign merely of being power-hungry. "No poet or prophet can sway those who are truly determined to hang on to power"(p. 163) of course, but it was not only power politics which made the schism so intractable, despite the rhetoric on both sides which accused opponents of such sins. In all of this the political problems were probably the most important, but the theological should never be underestimated. Almost all those who spoke here had the advantage of speaking as people who could only exhort, without being daily obliged to devise policy for the Church or the nation. In the end the Council of Constance opted for a solution which blamed no one who was prepared to accept it, even two of the rival popes.

For the historian, then, much more context and background would make the work more useful. There are also a few strange errors which I suspect are the result of a literary rather than a historical approach. For instance de summis pontificibus, is translated as "the last popes"(p. 81); the 'plot' by the cardinals which was the undoing of Adam Easton and his colleagues was not pro-Clementist but seems to have been a plan to subject Urban to a committee (p. 172); "la Santità vostra"(p. 54) is surely not "your saintliness" but "your Holiness"; Sigismund certainly did not depose John XXIII; Constance did that. Students should read this book but will want to go further.

Margaret Harvey
Durham University


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