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Reviews 139 Bynum, Caroline Walker and Paul Freedman, eds, Last Things: Death and the Apocalypse in theMiddle Ages, Philadelphia, University ofPennsylvania Press, 2000; paper; pp. viii, 364; 18 b/w illustrations; R R P US$49.95, £37 (cloth), US$24.95, £18.50 (paper); ISBN 0812235126 (cloth), 0812217020 (paper). This collection of essays, one of many spawned by the recent millennial mome can be differentiated from others by its comprehensiveness. The 'Last Things' ofthe title were understood in the Middle Ages as death, judgment, heaven and hell. But as the editors explain in their useful introduction, eschatological thought was more complicated than such a simple four-fold division suggests. Accordingly, they substitute their o w n quadripartite description: 'death, the afterlife, the end of time (whether terrestrial or beyond earth), and theological anthropology or the theory ofthe person' (p. 1). Moreover, they suggest that none ofthese topics can be fully understood without reference to the others and hence that assembling essays on eschatological topics formerly studied in isolation, will have 'far-reaching implications'. However since none of the eleven essays can be confined to just one of their revised four categories they are arranged, in a process reminiscent of Joachim ofFiore's parallel explanatory schemes, according to a three-fold division: 'The Significance of Dying and the Afterlife'; 'Apocalyptic Time' and 'The Eschatological Imagination'. Within each division the essays are ordered chronologically. So although the period covered by the book is from the second to thefifteenthcentury it does not unfold consecutively. Thus any attempt to map changes in apocalytic sensibilities and understandings over time is difficult, although the editors provide a tentative guide to such changes (pp. 6-7). The collection demonstrates that a variety of medieval eschatological beliefs coexisted during the period, not all compatible with each other. However, the editors declare that 'the plethora of eschatological writings produced by the western European Middle Ages utilizes and deepens, rather than denies or impoverishes its multifold and contradictory traditions' (p. 9). Having considered the whole it is now time to look at the parts. A s might be expected from a book which combines papers from an American Historical Association panel, a graduate seminar on Eschatology, and some speciallycommissioned pieces, the contributions vary considerably in style and accomplishment, though the difference seems not to be related in any direct way to the age and experience of the individual scholars. It may be more a problem of the intractability of the subject matter; thus the essays which concentrate on a particular writer or object tend to come off better than more synthetic, 140 Reviews comparative, or theoretical ones. The exception here is Peter Brown's elegant and wide-ranging chapter, 'The Decline of the Empire of God: Amnesty, Penance, and the Afterlife from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages'. E. Randolph Daniel provides a useful introduction to Joachim of Fiore's apocalyptic thought and some fascinating glimpses of the less familiar A m a u de Vilanova are given by Clifford R. Backman. Arnau, famous in his own day as a doctor to kings and popes, also strove, with varying success, to have his apocalyptic writings recognised. Manuele Gragnolati examines an eschatological poem by Arnau's contemporary, Bonvesin de la Riva. The structure ofthe work ensures that Christ's passion is seen as the agent for transforming the human body from corruption to splendour. Suffering is also central to Caesarius ofHeisterbach's account ofthe death ofArchbishop Engelbert ofCologne, the subject ofJacqueline E. Jung's essay. Engelbert was not an obvious candidate for sainthood, being the very epitome of the worldly prelate. Nor could his assassination be construed as martyrdom in defence ofthe Church like that ofThomas Becket. Jung demonstrates how Caesarius sought to turn all this around by a novel emphasis on the redemptive suffering he underwent at the very end ofhis life which transformed him into a saint (for a while, at least). Anna Harrison raises the question of the kinds of relationships that Bernard of Clairvaux thought might exist between the saintly dead both before and after the Last Judgment andfindsthem somewhat lacking in communality. Many of these essays fall into the history basket, though Harvey Stahl, with...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 139-141
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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