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Dissent and Order in the Middle Ages: The Search for Legitimate Authority.

This is the proverbial "slim volume" that does what only a master historian can do - summarize scholarship on a broad and complicated issue in a way useful to both students and professional peers. At first glance the issue appears to be heresy, by R. immediately corrects that impression with his sane thesis that heresy cannot be understood apart from orthodoxy, or dissent apart from order. These two kinds of reality define each other, and the tension between them created the ideas and institutions of Christianity in its history.

The chonological scope of the book is the millenium between Chalcedon and the Reformation, but attention is focused on the period after 1000. The method is what R. calls the "history of concepts," i.e. a combination of social history and the history of ideas. The presentation is after the manner of a textbook in that terms are clearly defined, chapters are short, and each chapter is concluded with a summary. For teachers one of the great merits of the book, aside from the superb "Bibliographic Essay," is the descriptions of phenomena like Catharism and Lollardy that are longer than those in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church but shorter than the latest monographs. Antijudaism and witchcraft fall within the book's purview.

R.'s humanity and good sense are evident in his eschewing the heresy-is-good-and-orthodoxy-bad thesis. His gifts as a teacher lead him to make some clarifying comparisons between past and present. I found his treatment of Scholasticism the weakest part of the book, for R. does not seem to understand the intrinsic dynamism that made it such a force for the creation of orthodoxy and heterodoxy and that, for instance, made Eckhart's mysticism suspect.
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Author:O'Malley, John W.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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