Academic journal article Magistra

A New English Translation of Jean Gerson's Authentic Tract on Joan of Arc: About the Feat of the Maid, and the Faith That Should Be Placed in Her*

Academic journal article Magistra

A New English Translation of Jean Gerson's Authentic Tract on Joan of Arc: About the Feat of the Maid, and the Faith That Should Be Placed in Her*

Article excerpt

A critical edition and study published by Daniel Hobbins in 2005 put scholarly understanding of Jean Gerson's support for Joan of Arc on a new footing. Clearing away a great deal of earlier controversy, Hobbins demonstrated that the short tract properly entitled Super facto puellae et credulitate sibi praestanda or "About the Feat of the Maid, and the Faith that Should be Placed in Her," is the only authentic work Gerson produced about Joan of Arc. A number of factors had clouded earlier scholarly views. For one thing, this treatise had more often been printed and discussed under other titles including De mirabili victoria cuiusdam puellae ("On the Miraculous Victory of the Maid") and De puella aurelianensi ("On the Maid of Orléans"). More importantly, it was generally preceded in early printed versions of Gerson's works by another treatise of questionable authenticity labeled De quadam puella conversante inter armigeris in habitu virili ("On a Certain Maid Living Among Men-at-Arms"), leading to disagreement about whether one, both, or neither of these works should be attributed to Gerson.

Amidst this confusion, some scholars had argued that "About the Feat of the Maid" was not actually an authentic Gersonian text, but Hobbins' exhaustive examination leaves no doubt. Every single surviving manuscript (at least fifteen) attributes this text to Gerson; within six months contemporaries were crediting the work to him in extant correspondence; wellinformed authors continued to do so over the next several decades, as did the earliest printed edition; and Hobbins convincingly demonstrates contextual, textual, and conceptual correspondences with Gerson's known works on related topics. On the other hand, Hobbins just as clearly shows, based on the same kind of manuscript, contextual, and textual evidence, that there is no reason to believe that De quadam puella was written by Gerson, as some scholars had previously argued. Hobbins is not the first to advance these conclusions, but his minute study of the manuscript evidence has at last put the debate to rest: Jean Gerson made his one and only statement on Joan of Arc in "About the Feat of the Maid," dated (specifically in many manuscripts) to 14 May 1429, just six days after Joan's famous victory at Orléans.

The present article seeks to make the tract more accessible by presenting the complete work in English for the first time, in a translation based on Hobbins' new critical edition. The following brief introduction places the text in the context of Gerson's career, gives a summary of the writing process and contents of the work, and considers Gerson's support of Joan in light of recent scholarly interest in his attitudes toward female mystics.

A Chancellor in Exile

Jean Gerson (1363-1429) was one of the most influential academics, administrators, and authors of his age, rising from humble beginnings in Champagne to the top of the academic ladder. Arriving in Paris by 1377 with a fellowship at the College of Navarre, he was bachelor of arts by 1381, bachelor of theology by 1387, licensed as doctor of theology in 1392 and then chancellor of Notre Dame - and thus titular head of the University - in 1395, taking the place of his mentor, Pierre d'Ailly. After passing through a difficult period in Bruges around 1400 when he sought (unsuccessfully) to rid himself of the chancellorship, he returned to Paris, where he was actively involved in efforts to end the Great Schism (1378-1417) and reform the university.

He also strove to write for a wide audience beyond academic circles, in both French and Latin, even while continuing his duties of preaching and teaching. Unfortunately, in the power vacuum created by King Charles VI' s intermittent insanity, France was descending into civil war between the Burgundian and Armagnac/Orléanist factions. After the assassination of Louis of Orléans in 1407, Gerson found himself increasingly entangled in this violent partisan feud. …

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