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  • Preaching the Memory of Virtue and Vice: Memory, Images, and Preaching in the Late Middle Ages
  • Siegfried Wenzel
Preaching the Memory of Virtue and Vice: Memory, Images, and Preaching in the Late Middle Ages. By Kimberly A. Rivers. [Sermo: Studies on Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation Sermons and Preaching, Vol. 4.] (Turnhout: Brepols. 2010. Pp.xviii, 377. €70,00. ISBN 978-2-503-51525-0.)

In this well-informed and clearly written book (despite its somewhat awkward title), Kimberly Rivers has consolidated the explorations of her 1995 University of Toronto dissertation and a handful of articles published since then. She is basically concerned with the function of memory in later medieval preaching, especially among the mendicant orders. The book proceeds along historical lines and investigates various aspects of the study and use of memory from the twelfth to the early-fifteenth century. [End Page 767]

The early Middle Ages had inherited a precise technique for a speaker to remember his subject matter by assigning the latter to imaginary places he would, during delivery, visit in his mind sequentially such as the furniture of a room or the stations on a journey. This was part of the pseudo-Ciceronian Rhetorica ad Herennium. Although preachers throughout the Middle Ages studied and quoted this work, its memory technique evidently fell into disuse, with one exception: the ars praedicandi by Francesc Eiximenes, O.F.M. (d. 1409), which included a detailed account of Ad Herennium's method. None of the other two-dozen works on preaching available in modern editions refers to or advises the use of this ars memorativa, and in fact one of the earliest formal treatises on composing the sermon (by Thomas of Chobham, d. c. 1233-36), distances itself from it and instead recommends the preacher to rely on "practice and diligence" (p. 41), stressing especially the need for compositional order and coherence. Rivers leaves open the possibility that the ars memorativa was in fact taught, but clearly the advance of Scholasticism demanded and brought with it other means by which students, and by implication preachers, would fix and order material in their memory such as note-taking, dividing a text into smaller sections, assigning them to topics, and so forth. In nine chapters Rivers leads us from memoria in monastic, particularly Cistercian, meditation to the advice given to students by Hugh of St. Victor, the scholastic interest in cognitive psychology, and finally the invention of moralized pictures by fourteenth-century English friars. She then pursues the influence of the latter in France (Pierre Bersuire and Jean de Hesdin), Germany (Johannes von Werden and his sermon collection Dormi secure), and Italy (Giovanni da San Gimigniano, Bernardino da Siena, and others). Such new devices helped preachers to structure their sermons and to teach the laity about vices and virtues, and helped the audiences to remember what they had heard. In contrast to the more academic interest in "memory" among the Dominicans, she finds that Franciscans tended equally strongly to connect memory with meditation, especially in an effort to stir up emotions.A major focus of her study here lies on David of Augsburg.

This rich study follows very much in the wake of the now classic work of Frances Yates and, especially, Mary Carruthers, as well as of Beryl Smalley's bringing to light the "classicizing friars" of the fourteenth century. It takes its place in ongoing concerns with "memory," which for medieval thinkers ranged from using simple or sophisticated techniques to reflecting on practically whatever is contained in human consciousness. [End Page 768]

Siegfried Wenzel
University of Pennsylvania


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