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Women and the Church in Medieval Ireland c. 1140-1540 (review)
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184 Reviews Parergon 21.1 (2004) Grant seems to imply that reason characterised medieval thought despite theology. In his definition of reason, he understands the concept as a purely human quality in the medieval period, as contrasting with faith (p. 10). As Constant Mews pointed out in his review of Grant’s work in The Medieval Review (TMR 02.09.11), ratio is better translated as ‘order’ rather than reason. Even though Grant self-consciously attempts to avoid secularising reason, his approach posits rational enquiry as operating independently of any theological base. There is little analysis, in God and Reason, of the fundamental Trinitarian and christological debates in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in which Aristotelian and Neoplatonic epistemology was problematised. This period was characterised by a worldview which centred around the notion of love of transcendent wisdom, or philosophia, rather than a notion of reason per se. This wisdom revealed itself through both scripture and the natural world. Grant presents little about the tradition of the study of Plato’s Timaeus and is particularly weak on the medieval reception of Neoplatonic thought in and around that of Aristotelianism. In fact, Grant’s separation of the domains of natural philosophy and theology in the thirteenth century universities brushes over the background of mutual inter-dependence of these disciplines, particularly in the schools of the twelfth century. Despite the need for clarification on these points which have continued to baffle scholars, God and Reason is to be commended for its scholarship and ambition, and as required reading for those tackling medieval intellectual history in Western Europe during the period 1100 to 1400. Its clear prose and bold tackling of complex philosophical, theological and scientific issues provide a much-needed demystification of the phenomenon of high medieval scholasticism. Jason Taliadoros Department of History University of Melbourne Hall, Dianne, Women and the Church in Medieval Ireland c. 1140-1540, Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2003, hardback; pp. 252; 23 b/w tables and illustrations; RRP £27.50, EUR37.50; ISBN 1851826564. This admirable study commences with a careful catalogue and explanation of the sources available for the study of medieval Irish women, noting the difficulties of the subject. Women whose religious contribution was noted in Reviews 185 Parergon 21.1 (2004) the period under examination tended to be from influential families; the records discussing them originated in manorial courts, locals churches, episcopal archives, vernacular annals and so on, and often these records have to be closely scrutinised to extract ‘any small clues about the interaction between women and the institutions of the church’ (p. 18). Hall’s approach is twofold; in the first part of the book she takes a broad approach to issues of women’s piety, and in the second part she focuses on convents, making interesting use of what is known of their physical environs as well as the records surviving from them. A strong theme that emerges from Hall’s researches is the intricate and intimate relation between the aristocracy and the church where money was concerned. Much of the evidence for lay female piety is of a financial nature: the commissioning of pieces of statuary or other furnishing for a particular church; church fabric maintenance; the endowing of masses for the souls of the dead; and the commissioning of religious literature are all public expressions of piety that involve the donation of substantial amounts of money to the church. This leads to a discussion of major donations, such as real estate, found in wills. Hall notes the smallness of the sample of wills from Ireland, as compared to England (p. 33); significant patterns may be identified, however, some of them surprising. Although married women were not legally able to bequeath goods, wills survive in which they did just that. Despite the arduousness of the tasks, women did take on the role of executor of their husbands’ wills. Some widows, like their unmarried sisters, ended their lives in convents. Convents are the focus of the bulk of this book. Hall starts with lay women’s patronage of religious institutions, discussing cases of women as sole donors of property, through joint donor (usually with their husbands), as founders of monastic institutions...