Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Gregory of Tours: History and Society in the Sixth Century

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Gregory of Tours: History and Society in the Sixth Century

Article excerpt

Gregory of Tours: History and Society in the Sixth Century. By Martin Heinzelmann. Translated by Christopher Carroll. (NewYork: Cambridge University Press. 2001. Pp. xii, 235. $59.95.)

This far-reaching study was originally published at Darmstadt in 1994 as Gregor von Tours (538-594) ,Zehn Bucher Geschichte". Historiographie and Geseischaftskonzept im 6 Jahrhundert. It appeared during the 1400th anniversary of Gregory's death, when many learned conferences on the historian took place, especially in France. Martin Heinzelmann, long-time editor of the journal Francia, has published at least eleven articles on Gregory in addition to this book. With Pascale Bourgain, he is preparing a new critical edition of the Histories. He is uniquely qualified to shed light on Gregory.

Heinzelmann's monograph, in addition to its main argument, makes many convincing contributions. They include a resolute critique of earlier scholarship; a study of Gregory's usage of the word ecclesia; a demonstration of the value of the chapter headings for interpreting chapter contents; important discussions of Gregory's language and use of typology; and an account of the manuscript tradition. He compiles a prosopography of Gregory's extended family and searchingly considers his life; and he takes advantage, virtually for the first time, of two precious instruments for Gregory study, namely, the Montreal concordance to the Histories and Margarete Weidemann's methodical dissection of Gregory's works in her Kulturgeschichte der Merowingerzeit (1982).

Heinzelmann's goal is to discover a thematic, ecclesiological Gregory whose "historiographical interests [focused] on the development of a socio-political concept of society [that wished] to see the leadership of the Christian state entrusted to the joint government of bishops and king" (p. 1); this concept was sustained by "the typological and eschatological ecclesia as the ideological framework and background of history" (p. 189). Such abstractions are unusual in writings about our bishop. The early nineteenth-century historian, Augustin Thierry, said that Gregory's work was "comme une gallerie mal arrangee de tableaux et de figures en relief"-in other words, a succession of disconnected fragments. Heinzelmann counteracts this still current conception and interprets Gregory's history as a unified work, with a collective theme and the practical purpose of guiding Merovingian kings. …

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