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The Catholic Historical Review 89.2 (2003) 295-297

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The Late Medieval Pope Prophecies: The Genus nequam Group. Edited by Martha H. Fleming. [Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, Volume 204.] (Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Arizona State University. 1999. Pp. xi, 207; 15 pls. $25.00.)

The Late Medieval Pope Prophecies focuses on nine manuscripts of the so-called Genus nequam group, the earliest of the post eventum fourteenth-century Vaticinia de summis pontificibus that ostensibly prophesied the [End Page 295] fortunes of the Church from the papacy of Nicholas III (1277-1280), through the brief pontificate of the much-admired Celestine V (1294) and the longer pontificate of the much-hated Boniface VIII (1294-1303), and into the rule of Benedict XI (1303-1304). Here edited for the first time, these texts are identified by the first words, "Genus nequam," of the first prophecy. They culminated in the "prophetic future," with the expectation of a final "angelic pope" to appear in the last days, reform the Church, and prepare it for the onslaught of Antichrist. Although in the past repeatedly associated with Joachim of Fiore—the great twelfth-century exegete whose fame attracted numerous spurious prophecies and much continuing scholarly interest—these texts probably originated in Italy, possibly in a Spiritual Franciscan milieu, in the late thirteenth century and may have been circulating as a group by 1304.

Martha H. Fleming provides an excellent introduction surveying the complex and contested issues of authorship and dating, clarifying the relationship of this group of manuscripts with later and longer versions of the papal prophecies, and setting forth her editing principles, in which she argues that "it is clear that the variants are as interesting as any possible 'established' text" (p. 15). The rigor and detail with which she describes the nine manuscripts is particularly laudable. Comprising a full quarter of the book, her study of the manuscripts is a model of careful scholarly work. The volume also includes a helpful bibliography and index.

The editor shows that from the very beginning the prophecies were composed of both text and image, noting, "Contemporary witnesses identified the prophecies with the images as often as with the texts" (p. 9). Rightly arguing that the "images serve more than a simple illustrative function" (p. 10), Fleming has designed her edition admirably. It juxtaposes a plate of each of the fifteen prophecies next to its edition, so that the reader can see the manuscript layout of prophetic text, image, and motto on the left of each opening and transcription of the Latin text with apparatus on the right. This layout supports Fleming's contention, "Nothing about the page organization suggests the primacy of one component over the other, and everything points to a special kind of complementarity between text and image" (p. 10). Longer explanatory notes follow the complete edition.

An important contribution of this volume is Fleming's study of the images, which she describes picture by picture, culminating in one tradition with a sixteenth picture representing Antichrist as "an anti-type of the Lamb of God" (p.113). The analysis of these images is convincing and helpfully assisted by twenty-one figures that reproduce variant pictures from the edited manuscripts as well as relevant analogues from later manuscripts and printed books. The MRTS series is to be praised for including this rich illustrative material, while keeping the price of the edition very reasonable.

Through her study and edition of these fascinating texts, Martha Fleming provides an invaluable service to all scholars interested in the often heated [End Page 296] polemics surrounding the papacy during the late Middle Ages and Reformation. The edition will also be welcomed by medievalists interested in prophetic and apocalyptic texts in general as well as by students of Italian politics, religious controversy, illustrated manuscripts, and literary culture, such as Dante's Commedia. This is an admirable work of interdisciplinary scholarship, which I highly recommend.


Richard K. Emmerson
Medieval Academy of America



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