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  • Renaissance Monks: Monastic Humanism in Six Biographical Sketches.
  • Erika Rummel
Franz Posset . Renaissance Monks: Monastic Humanism in Six Biographical Sketches. Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions: History, Culture, Religion, Ideas 108. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2005. xv + 196 pp. index. illus. bibl. $156. ISBN: 90-0414431-5.

In this book Franz Posset sets out to examine a figure underrepresented in Renaissance studies: the humanistic monk. The author details the lives of three Cistercians and three Benedictines.

Conrad Leontorius (d. ca. 1511) was praised by Abbot Trithemius for his poems and his commentary on Baptista Mantuanus. As secretary of Abbot Jean de Cirey, Leontorius traveled to Italy and, in the tradition of humanists, collected books there. His correspondence reveals contacts with the Alsatian humanist Jacob Wimpheling and the Hebraists Johann Reuchlin and Conrad Pellican. Indeed, a letter from Leontorius prefaced Reuchlin's De verbo mirifico (1494). His friendship with the Basel printer Johann Amerbach led to collaborations on a number of [End Page 573] biblical editions published between 1498 and 1508 and on editions of the Church Fathers Augustine and Ambrose. In each case Leontorius served as proofreader, provided emendations, and wrote prefatory material. In 1509 he acted as Amerbach's messenger to Reuchlin, discussing with him the projected edition of Jerome. The achievements of Leontorius's fellow Cistercian, Bolfgangus Marius (d. after 1542), pale by comparison. Marius authored a number of poems, including a short epic, Christi Fasciculus (1515). We must take Posset's word for it being "a sophisticated type of evangelization of humanists by the linguistic means to which they were accustomed" (98). Marius also engaged in historiography, composing a chronicle of his monastery. The third Cistercian singled out by Posset is Henricus Urbanus (d. 1535). His qualifications for inclusion in this book are not entirely convincing. He did not write or publish anything and is so little known that Posset has to rescue him from confusion with the better-known reformer Urbanus Rhegius. Apparently it is the monk rather than the reformer who is depicted on Crotus Rubeanus's well-known Rectorate Page. I cannot, however, convince myself that "the criterion for inclusion [on that page] was being a 'humanist'" (4). After all, it contains the names of Johannes Lang, Johannes Draco, and Jodocus Menius — not to mention Luther himself — none of whom are known as humanists.

Benedictus Chelidonius (d. 1521), who belonged to the circle of Willibald Pirckheimer, lived at the Schottenkloster in Vienna from 1518 and there made contact with Conrad Celtis. He was the author of poems and the compiler of an anthology of poems on the passion of Christ, for which Albrecht Dürer produced a series of woodcuts. A poet of some fame, he was asked to provide Latin translations for the captions of Emperor Maximilian's Triumphal Arch. As a humanist, Chelidonius's interests also extended to historiography. He wrote two poems on the history of his monastery, contributed a dedicatory poem to an edition of Otto Freysing's Gesta Friderici, and wrote an epic on contemporary political events. A fellow Benedictine in Augsburg, Vitus Bild (d. 1529), corresponded with the poet laureate Jacob Locher and with the imperial historiographer and mathematician Johann Stabius as well as with Heinrich Bebel, professor of rhetoric at Tübingen, and Conrad Peutinger, the Augsburg antiquary. Bild himself was a Latin teacher in his monastery. His collection of books, primarily concerned with rhetoric, evinces his humanistic interests. According to Posset, he subscribed to the ideal of trilingual studies, but focused on mathematics and astronomy-astrology. Nicolaus Ellenbog of Ottobeuren (d. 1543) shared those interests. As his correspondence with Reuchlin shows, moreover, he was a keen student of Greek and Hebrew and compiled an anthology of Platonic writings in Ficino's translation.

Posset provides a wealth of biographical data along with painstaking documentation. Of particular interest is his careful study of the monks' attitudes toward Reuchlin, Luther, and the Reformation. Posset's findings confirm the need for a nuanced approach to the relationship between monasticism, humanism, and the Reformation. The monks apostrophized here all supported Reuchlin and endorsed his call to study the biblical languages. They did not embrace Luther's theological [End Page...


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pp. 573-575
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