Ordini religiosi e società politica in Italia e Germania nei secoli XIV e XV. Edited by Giorgio Chittolini e Kaspar Elm. Atti della XL Settimana di studio dell'Istituto storico italo-germanico in Trento, 8-12 settembre 1997, Trento. [Annali dell'Istituto storico italo-germanico in Trento. Quaderni, 56.] (Bologna: Società editrice il Mulino. 2001. Pp. 504. euro28,92 paperback.)
The history of the engagement of the mendicant orders in the life and history of the reviving cities and towns of Italy has been fairly well served by historians, particularly since the late 1960's with the appearance of the ground-breaking studies by Jacques Le Goff on the "implantatton/insediamento " of the friars in Western Europe. Up to now, most systematic attention, however, has primarily been given to the developments occurring in Italy, especially during the thirteenth century, and with a particular focus on the Franciscans. The 1997 congress held in Trent, whose acts are now published in this volume, aimed to broaden this focus considerably by expanding the geographic terrain of inquiry to include (to some extent) the area of Germany, the chronological spectrum to encompass the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and the number of mendicant actors in these events in order to examine the roles played by the Dominicans, Augustinians, and Carmelites.
As is to be expected from such an ambitious and wide-ranging undertaking, not all of these goals were fully attained in the congress; nevertheless, it did result in a much richer, diversified, and nuanced picture of the interplay between the mendicant orders and European society in the Late Middle Ages.
The volume begins with two broad presentations sketching out previous historiographical achievements, present problems, and potential future avenues for research. Giorgio Chittolini opens with a broad panoramic view of the scholarly problems associated with the study of the intersection of the mendicant orders with the social and political life of the communes in the later Middle Ages. Appropriately for the congress, he raises far more questions than he answers. In particular, he asks why the members of the various mendicant orders had certain political leanings or biases; why-especially during the period of the Observant reforms of the mendicant communities-they came to be so highly respected and involved in the life of the cities; and how this association with power resulted in the loss of a certain evangelical vitality and consequent esteem in the eyes of their contemporaries. This final datum, he contends, would set the stage for the need for new forms of religious life that would make their appearance in the sixteenth century in order to address new spiritual conditions of the laity.
André Vauchez takes as his starting point the landmark 1977 conference on the mendicant orders in the cities of Italy, noting two significant changes in scholarship since that time: the expansion of research from the cities of central Italy to the North and finally to the more difficult terrain of the South; and a renewed appreciation for the roles also played by the monastic orders with respect to the cities. Vauchez sees the increasingly political role played by the two great mendicant orders on behalf of the papacy as a two-edged sword: developing firmer ties with both the civil and ecclesiastical hierarchies in the cities while prompting concerns (e.g., at the Dominican General Chapter of 1234) that the friars remain super partes. The dilemma is that they were in fact almost always working for the pars ecclesiae. He points out that by the end of the thirteenth and into the fourteenth centuries, the mendicants were able to exercise a certain influence on the social and political life of the communes through two new innovations: working through lay figures in the expanding confraternities of the communes and innovating a style of preaching that was genuinely holistic, encompassing all aspects (moral, social, political, and spiritual) of the human person. …