Author: Harkins, Franklin T
Date published: December 1, 2011
doi:10.1017/S0009640711001363 Preaching the Memory of Virtue and Vice: Memory, Images, and Preaching in the Late Middle Ages. By Kimberly A. Rivers. Sermo 4. Tumhout: Brepols, 2010. xvii+377 pp. euro70.00 cloth.
This monograph, which grew out of a 1995 doctoral dissertation at the University of Toronto, demonstrates well the central role of memory and mnemonic techniques in preaching across Europe from the thirteenth to the early fifteenth century. Rivers argues that the mendicant orders inherited from the early Middle Ages both simple mnemonic techniques of rhetorical practice and a tradition of monastic meditation based on memory images. As ihey received and used these mnemonic traditions, Dominicans and Franciscans of the thirteenth century found themselves in a new educational and pastoral context that welcomed - indeed, even demanded - an image-based system designed for orators. Consequently, the friars began to insert what Rivers calls 'Verbal mnemonic images" into their sermons and exempla collections in order to aid the recall of both preachers and listeners (4). Her overarching thesis is that such verbal images as allegories of castles and forts, careful schemas of seven (for example, the seven vices and virtues), and various verbal picturae and imagines not only served as ordering devices that facilitated memory for mendicant preachers and their lay audiences but also provoked affective responses that enhanced listeners' devotional and penitential practices.
Rivers divides her study into three major parts, each of which consists of three chapters. Part 1 , "The Transformation of Memory in the High Middle Ages," opens with an examination of the medieval sources of mnemonic techniques and the nature of memory methods in twelfth-century monasteries and schools (chapter 1 ). Over half of this chapter is devoted to a detailed consideration of the mnemonic teaching of Hugh of St. Victor, whom Rivers understands as epitomizing the twelfth-century tendency to articulate memory methods in writing. Chapter 2 treats the mendicant contribution to memory theory, demonstrating how thirteenth-century curricular changes in rhetoric, logic, and cognitive science allowed a positive re-evaluation of the memory method of Ad Herennium. One of the key contributions that this book makes to scholarship on medieval memory lies in Rivers's treatment of the specifically Franciscan contribution to mnemonics through her adept analysis of Guibert de Tournai's De modo addiscendi (chapter 2), David von Augsburg's De exîerioris et interioris hominis compositione (chapter 3), and Francese Eiximenis's Ars praedicandi (chapter 4). After introducing part 2, "Constructing the Preacher's Memory," with an examination of Francese 's treatise in the context of others on the art of preaching, Rivers surveys medieval justifications for the use of images in preaching (chapter 5) and considers the picturae of the classicizing friars as a principal example of medieval mnemonic exempla (chapter 6). By demonstrating how these mnemonic "pictures" likely functioned in such homiletical aids as the Fulgeniius metaforalis of John Ridevall, O.F.M., and the Commentary on the Twelve Prophets of Robert Holcot, O.P., to facilitate the sinner's reconciliation with God, Rivers insightfully advances the work of Beryl Smalley, Frances Yates, Mary Camithers, and Siegfried Wenzel on the classicizing friars. Part 3, "The Spread of Mnemonic Exempla," surveys what Rivers describes as "the kind of craze for the classicizing friars' pictures and their classicizing homiletics that took off on the Continent during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries" (254), specifically in France (chapter 7), Germany (chapter 8), and Italy (chapter 9).
Making adroit use of previous scholarship on medieval mnemonics and preaching, Rivers provides a close reading of relevant late medieval sources set within their contexts of historical production and religious usage. As a number of these sources are available only in manuscripts or early printed editions (for example, Jean de Hesdin's Commentary on Titus, the Dormi secure attributed to Johannes von Werden) and have received insufficient scholarly attention, Rivers's careful contextual analysis sheds significant new light on late medieval memory and preaching. One weakness of the book is its failure to make use of the most recent scholarly works on the topics treated. Rivers treats Hugh of St. Victor's teaching on memory in considerable detail, for example, because, in her words, "the degree to which memory skills underlay his educational programme has not been fully recognized" (8), nor has "the extraordinary degree to which Hugh equates memory work with the historical level of Scripture" (57). Yet Rivers fails to use recent works such as Franklin T. Harkins, Reading and the Work of Restoration: History and Scripture in the Theology of Hugh of St Victor (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2009), whose opening chapter treats memory as the foundation of Hugh's pedagogical program, and Boyd Taylor Coohnan, 7Ae Theology of Hugh of Si. Victor: An Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), which also considers the role of memory practices in salvation. Even when Rivers claims to be drawing on "recent" scholarship - when she notes, for example, that "Hugh's mnemonic methods have recently received a good deal of attention" (47) or mentions "Janet Coleman's recent observation" concerning the Ad Herennium (282) - the works she cites date to the early 1990s, the period when Rivers "began the study of mnemonics and medieval preaching" (xi). Although the volume surely wouïd have benefited from the integration of more recent studies, Preaching the Memory of Virtue and Vice promises to make a significant contribution to current scholarly understanding of the intersection of memory, preaching, and religious experience in the late Middle Ages.
Franklin T. Harkins