Medieval -- Christendom and Christianity in the Middle Ages: The Relations between Religion, Church, and Society by Adriaan H. Bredero and Translated by Reinder Bruinsma

Article excerpt

Christendom and Christianity in the Middle Ages: The Relations between Religion, Church, and Society. By Adriaan H. Bredero. Translated by Reinder Bruinsma. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1994. Pp. xii, 402. $29.99.)

Adriaan Bredero, professor emeritus of medieval history at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, has, over a distinguished career, published many scholarly articles and two important monographs, Cluny et Citeaux au douzieme siecle (Amsterdam, 1985) and Bernardus van Clairvaux (1091-1153): tussen Cultus en Historie (Kampen, 1993). The present collection of essays, assembled mostly from lectures, reviews, and previously printed pieces, first appeared in Dutch in 1986, and then in a second edition of 1987. This translation is based on the latter, but the author has made further revisions and added a chapter on the early Franciscan Order, which had been separately published in Dutch in 1988.

Despite its composite character, the volume embodies an overall plan and purpose. Convinced that a proper historical understanding of anything requires a grounding in its social context--a point he reiterates repeatedly--Bredero expresses concern that contemporary conceptions of the Catholic Church are too often unaware of how Christianity has been shaped by forces peculiar to past times (p. 277); in particular, he worries that the idealization of the "Christian Middle Ages" can blind believers to necessary distinctions between the transcendental values of the tradition and those elements which were temporally conditioned and might therefore be changed, or--to put it another way--to "how medieval the Christianity of our times still is" (p. ix). To combat this ahistorical tendency, Bredero intends to show in this collection that the medieval Church was not a static or unchanging entity, but one which possessed "the ability . . . to experience at crucial moments an aggiornamento, an adaptation that prevented its degradation from an institution of salvation into a relic of the past" (p. 8). Such an awareness, he implies, will facilitate the aggiornamento called for in our own day by the Second Vatican Council, helping to ensure both the preservation and the purification of the tradition.

Bredero begins with a supple, frequently insightful overview of the development of European Christianity from the early Middle Ages to the fifteenth century, and then proceeds to investigate individual elements in that process: the topics treated include the significance of Jerusalem in religious thought and practice, the nature of the pax Dei movement and its impact on medieval society, changing conceptions of sanctity, the slender boundary between reformist impulses and heresy, and the character of medieval anti-Semitism. His arguments evince wide learning and an impressive ability to draw perceptive, often imaginative conclusions from the evidence. Nonetheless, it should come as no surprise that the studies which leave the greatest impression are those on subjects in which he has special expertise: a chapter on Cistercians and Cluniacs is notably strong, and the periodic references to Bernard of Clairvaux are unfailingly enlightening. …