Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Reforming Saints: Saints' Lives and Their Authors in Germany, 1470-1530

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Reforming Saints: Saints' Lives and Their Authors in Germany, 1470-1530

Article excerpt

Reforming Saints: Saints' Lives and Their Authors in Germany, 1470-1530. By David J. Collins. [Oxford Studies in Historical Theology] (New York: Oxford University Press. 2008. Pp. xvi, 227. $65.00. ISBN 978-0-195-32953-7.)

The title and subtitle of this book conceal the specificity of its important principal subject matter- namely, the substantial body of hagiographical writings produced by dozens of German humanist authors in the late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries. Despite oversights by generations of modern scholars who apparently "want the humanists to be something other than they were," Collins demonstrates that " [w]hen we allow the humanist authors to speak in their own voice, what we find is that they were exuberant writers about the saints" (pp. 14, 18). The book thus undermines simplistic and mistaken associations of Renaissance humanism with disdain for the "medieval" cult of the saints. Overlapping with some of the concerns in Alison Knowles Frazier's study of hagiographical writing of Quattrocento Italian humanists, it sheds revealing light on a neglected chapter in the history of Catholic hagiography between the Golden Legend and the Acta Sanctorum, a chapter long overshadowed by the traditional association of humanism with the Reformation and the latter's rejection of the cult of the saints.

Collins's deeply researched book is based on a meticulous analysis of more than forty free-standing Latin lives of saints that deal with men and women who were active in the German lands of the Holy Roman Empire, accounts that were either written or revised between 1470 and 1530. Many of them were published, whereas others remained in manuscript; some were revised in telling ways, others translated also into the vernacular. Collins finds no single, simple pattern among his authors- some of whom were more deeply marked by humanist training than others- but rather a variety of complex relationships to the sources with which they worked, the princely or civic patrons with whom they collaborated, and the audiences and devotional practices toward which they directed their vitae. …

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