- On Morals by William of Auvergne
A professor of theology at the university of Paris in the 1220s and bishop of Paris from 1228 until his death in 1249, William of Auvergne was also a prolific author. The seven parts of his massive Magisterium divinale et sapientiale [Teaching on God and Wisdom], an encyclopedic theological and philosophical work written and revised over many years, cover more than 1100 folio pages in the 1674 edition of his collected works, still the standard reference for the majority of his writings in the absence of modern critical editions. Over the last several decades, Roland J. Teske has published a series of English translations of portions of William’s Magisterium and other works, the latest of which is the book under review.
A successor to Teske’s translation of On the Virtues (De virtutibus, Milwaukee, 2009), On Morals (De moribus) is the second of six sections that make up the larger treatise De virtutibus et vitiis [On the Virtues and the Vices], itself the seventh part of the overall Magisterium. The text used for the translation is that of the 1674 edition, [End Page 154] with conjectural emendations noted in the footnotes; it does not appear that any manuscripts were consulted. Teske attempts to identify William’s quotations and provides an index of scriptural references and an index of other works cited by William, but further annotation is minimal. The introduction gives basic information about William’s life and summarizes the work translated.
Where On the Virtues discusses general questions related to virtue, On Morals takes up nine specific virtues: faith, fear, hope, charity, piety, zeal, poverty, humility, and patience. With the exception of humility, who is naturally too humble to speak in her own praise, each of the personified virtues speaks in the first person, describing her benefits to her possessor and the sins and contrary dispositions against which she is a defense or a remedy. For the most part, these are presented in broadly applicable terms, with plentiful quotation from and allusion to scripture and tradition, but the particular concerns of a thirteenth-century bishop occasionally shine through, as in William’s extended condemnation of supposedly zealous reformers of religious life who kill souls with the violence of their efforts at correction, instead of healing them by means of a more judicious approach (pp. 104–14), and his defense of the compatibility of monastic corporate ownership with individual poverty (pp. 143–50). A recurring image is that of virtue as a shrewd businesswoman laying up treasure in heaven, in ways that range from charity’s partnership in the good works of all who share in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (pp. 51–53) to patience’s conversion of earthly tribulation into payment of the penitential debt owed for sin (pp. 217–22), among others.
While the translation is generally accurate and readable, typographical errors and infelicities are disturbingly frequent. Also, what reader requires no explanation for “Parasceve,” better known as Good Friday (pp. 82–83), but needs to have references to various coins rendered as references to dollars and nickels (pp. 49, 152, 228)? However, Teske has once again made an interesting medieval text available to students and others without Latin, and we can only hope that he will continue to add to his already impressive contributions in this regard.