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The Catholic Historical Review 88.2 (2002) 318-319

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Book Review

Exaltation of the Cross:
Toward the Origins of the Feast of the Cross and the Meaning of the Cross in Early Medieval Liturgy

Exaltation of the Cross: Toward the Origins of the Feast of the Cross and the Meaning of the Cross in Early Medieval Liturgy. By Louis van Tongeren. [Liturgia Condenda, 11.] (Leuven: Peeters. 2000. Pp. x, 342. C= 45.00.)

The Dutch school of liturgical studies is quickly becoming one of the most significant sources of contemporary scholarship in the field of worship. It participates in the series, "Liturgia Condenda" (Liturgical Foundations), which has recently produced a number of studies on the liturgical year (Gerlach on the Ante-Nicene Pascha, Roll on the origins of Christmas) as well as a major new volume on feasts and festivity. Louis van Tongeren's study is an excellent addition to this project and to the field of heortology (the study of feasts) in general. The author is part of the faculty of theology and liturgical institute at the Catholic University of the Brabant in Tilburg, the Netherlands.

After surveying the Eastern origins of the September 14 Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, situating it in the dedication rites of the Holy Sepulchre in fourth-century Jerusalem, van Tongeren analyzes the Roman and Frankish texts for the feast in the medieval West. In order to introduce the specific texts he provides a fine, readable, and economic introduction to the transmission of the various sacramentaries and lectionaries from Rome to the North in the course of the seventh and eighth centuries. In addition to Roman and Frankish Mass texts, Van Tongeren also deals with the feast of the Holy Cross in the Divine Office as well as the Cross hymns (especially of Venantius Fortunatus) and indigenous Gallican and Spanish material with regard to the May 3 Feast of the Finding of the Cross culled from collections of blessings.

In the course of the work, van Tongeren argues that the sober and classical theological motifs that characterized the Roman texts for the Exaltation of the Cross were transformed by the editors of the books in Frankish territory into a feast whose theology is far more forcefully paschal in character and which gives a much more active role to Christ himself. The reason for the latter is the anti-Arian and anti-adoptionist movements in early medieval Gaul and Spain. And so the development of this feast and its transmission north of the Alps is an example of what nowadays would be called "inculturation."

In addition, van Tongeren judges that the texts which have come down through both the Roman and the Frankish sacramentaries and lectionaries have [End Page 318] much more in common than the later medieval Cross piety of Bernard of Clarvaux and Francis of Assisi, who both focused on the suffering of the human Christ.

The book was originally written as a dissertation and shows many of the marks of a painstaking analysis that might have been conceived to reap more fruit in terms of theological differences between Roman and Frankish texts. That is to say, at times the analysis of particular texts seems a bit forced and repetitious. Nonetheless the author is a reliable guide through the thickets of early medieval liturgical developments and highlights a number of fascinating concepts like "recirculation" which takes the Old Testament motif of death through the wood of the tree in Eden and transforms it through the image of the tree of life, the Cross.


John F. Baldovin. S.J.
Weston Jesuit School of Theology
Cambridge, Massachusetts



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