Wayward Monks and the Religious Revolution of the Eleventh Century

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Wayward Monks and the Religious Revolution of the Eleventh Century. By Phyllis G. Jestice. [Brill's Studies in Intellectual History, Volume 76.] (Leiden: Brill. 1997. Pp. x, 309. $115.00.)

Dr. Jestice has written a provocative and wide-ranging examination of monastic reform, the role of some monastics in the Church reform of the eleventh century, and the emergence within Benedictine monasticism of some new ideas about monastic spirituality and an expanded role of monks and ascetics in the world. Yet, readers should be warned that the rigor and clarity of Ms. Jestice's argumentation waxes and wanes, she often does not cite the most current scholarship, and the book contains some topographical as well as factual errors.

The book contains an introduction, a conclusion, and seven chapters, which form the body of the text. Jestice begins her introduction with a statement of her main argument that "the driving force behind monastic reform was the issue of monks' active involvement in the world:" She addresses the "state of the question" and explains how she intends to provide "an alternative theory on how and why monastic life diversified in the eleventh and twelfth centuries." For this "alternative theory" she offers an altered orientation, choosing to focus on the German empire including Italy during the tenth and eleventh centuries.

The first three chapters provide a topical overview of the worldly and spiritual dimensions of monasticism in the tenth century (chap. 1), investigate the changing notion of monastic mission and new interpretations of the concept of stabilitas (chap. 2), and examine recluses as the links between monks, stability, and monastic work in the world (chap. 3). While these chapters present the essential background of emerging ideas, one has to question how widespread some of them were within the broad range of monasticism in the empire. Moreover, the author underestimates the use of monasteries in imperial missionary activity in the tenth century (e.g., St. Maurice, Corvey, and probably Memleben) and perhaps overestimates the number and impact of recluses on monks.

Chapters 4 and 5 address monks and monastic reform in the early eleventh century. This reviewer found these chapters to be the most uneven and least rigorous in the book. The first sections of chapter 4 suffer from over-generalizations and lack of focus, whereas the last three sections present interesting ideas and relatively solid scholarship. One senses that Ms. Jestice pushes her hagiographical sources too hard and thus portrays a Benedictinism that was on the verge of collapse from the number of monks about to stream out the doors. Much of this literature indeed does demonstrate a growing diversity of thought and opinions, but the author seems to overstate her case. …

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