- A Fish Out of Water? From Contemplative Solitude to Carthusian Involvement in Pastoral Care and Reform Activity ed. by Stephen J. Molvarec and Tom Gaens
The papers in this volume were presented at the 2008 conference “Late Medieval Spiritual Renewal in the Low Countries Influenced by the Carthusian Order,” which was held at the former charterhouse of Zelem, near Diest, Belgium. Two long essays in English by the editors, dealing with the broad theme of monastic renewal and Carthusian interaction with the world, anchor the volume. They are complemented by seven shorter contributions, four in English and three in Dutch with very extensive English summaries. These seven essays address Jan Ruusbroec’s stay at the Charterhouse of Herne against the background of the condemnation of Meister Eckhart (Rob Faesen, English), interaction between Denys the Carthusian and Franciscan tertiaries (Hildo van Engen, Dutch), Geert Grote’s correspondence with the reform-minded Cistercian abbot of Kamp about the inner spirituality required for reforming laxity regarding private property (Rudolf Th. M. van Dijk, Dutch), possible Carthusian influence on the celebration of the Feast of the Visitation at Tongeren (Pieter Mannaerts, English), Denys the Carthusian and discretio as inner reform (Krijn Pansters, English), a Carthusian role in the dissemination of the cult of Catherine of Siena in the Low Countries (Geert H. M. Claassens, Dutch), and the role of a Carthusian prior chosen by a Dutch curial cardinal to reform hospitals in the Low Countries and beyond (Frans Gooskens, English).
Coeditor Stephen Molvarec’s contribution admirably surveys—on the basis of intensive studies of Carthusian texts, monastic archives, and other archives—Carthusian involvement in the ecclesial world from the twelfth century onward, including Carthusians as reform bishops. Molvarec then studies late-medieval “worldly” involvement by means of the French royal Carthusian foundation at Paris, one of the earliest of the many late-medieval charterhouses founded on the edges of large cities. Coeditor Tom Gaens ranges widely and perhaps a bit disjointedly through the controversies of late-medieval reform, beginning with the monastic aspects of the Modern Devotion before considering Carthusian influence on Benedictine reform at Melk-Tegernsee against the background of the Council of Constance (specifically the controversy over abstinence from eating meat) and issues of private property ownership in both monastic and reformist clerical circles in the Low Countries. [End Page 915]
Gooskens’s article on hospitals brings to light a Norbertine and Windesheim network behind hospitals of various sorts (one for lepers, another for twelve indigent retirees modeled on Cusanus’s hospital in Cues on the Moselle), noting that the Carthusians were interested in these sorts of institutions as way to reduce the number of donates clamoring to be admitted to charterhouses. Van Dijk shows how Grote’s spiritual insights developed in part during three years spent with the Carthusians at Monnikhuizen contributed to what eventually became a small regional Cistercian reform congregation that drew heavily from former Devotio Moderna communities.
Claassens does detective work to trace the Latin and Middle Dutch transmission of the Vita of St. Catherine, since her canonization dossier itself states that Stephen Maconi sent a copy to Ghent at the same time that he dispatched other copies to kings and notables across Europe. (Maconi, the former “scribe” for Catherine, entered a charterhouse in accord with her dying “command” and became Prior-General of the order, 1401–10).
Some typographical and syntax blemishes mar the volume (e.g., Elzas [p. 79] and “Carthusians received to all the good works of the Dominican Order” [p. 99]); they most likely arise from the book’s Dutch-English language frontier.
Each essay is workmanlike in execution and rich in intrinsically interesting insights. A Fish Out of Water offers a feast for hungrily curious scholars of late-medieval religious life—no red meat here, but plenty of tasty nourishment nonetheless.