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JEAN GERSON, APOSTLE OF UNITY: HIS CHURCH POLITICS AND ECCLESIOLOGY. By G.H.M. Posthumus Meyjes. Translated from the Dutch by J.C. Grayson. Studies in the History of Christian Thought. Leiden: Brill, 1999. Pp. xxv + 440. $145.

Were this volume only a translation of Posthumus Meyjes's 1963 award-winning dissertation, Jean Gerson: Zijn kerkpolitiek en ecclesiologie, it would represent a significant contribution to the literature on the Parisian chancellor. Since its appearance, that dissertation, published contemporaneously under the same title, has been obligatory reading for Gerson scholars. Unfortunately, as the author himself concedes, its availability only in Dutch was restricting, and many of those citing the work seem to have used it more for its footnotes than its substance. Now, however, the author and his publisher have seen fit not only to alleviate the linguistic obstacle to this important work, but have presented a revised and expanded version, addressing critics of both the original and the scholarship appearing in the interim.

The book is divided into two approximately equal parts. The first, under the rubric of Gerson's church politics, provides a historical context for the second, devoted to Gerson's ecclesiology, by charting the chancellor's course through the Great Schism, from advocate of via cessionis and opponent of substractio oboedientiae to eloquent proponent of auctoritas concilii. The careful narrative allows development of the theme of church unity as Gerson's constant and preeminent value, engendering a corresponding abhorrence of pertinacia as all that lay between schism and heresy. This chronological review of Gerson's career and writings also permits the author to correct various misapprehensions stemming from the uneven editorial work of Glorieux, such as the inclusion in his edition of Gerson's works of Tractatus pro unione Ecclesiae, a 1392 treatise ascribable to Gilles Deschamps. This inclusion, however, has led some researchers to misconstrue Gerson's views regarding the function of church doctors, if not to falsely attribute to him premature recognition of the via concilii.

It is regrettable that P. devoted so little attention to Gerson's efficacy. With the exception of a discussion of the restorative consequences of Gerson's sermon Ambulate following the disconcerting flight of John XXIII to Schaffhausen after the second session of the Council of Constance, P. is clearly more concerned with how events influenced Gerson than with how Gerson influenced events. Granted that this volume is an intellectual history, perhaps it is still venial to lament lost opportunity to rebut Howard Kaminsky's characterization of the chancellor as an "ineffective natterer."

Part 2 represents the most thorough investigation of Gerson's ecclesiology available, including the most detailed analysis of De potestate ecclesiastica, since Schwab's 1858 study. What emerges is Gerson's understanding of the Church as a divinely ordained, and thus immutable, hierarchy, an ecclesia docens, instituted to transmit salvation to the ecclesia audiens. This corpus mysticum represented a pseudo-Dionysian hierarchia subcoelestis, preserved through its essence, a semen, that held it immutable. While the Church, like any body, demanded a head, should the pope, the caput secundarium, be disabled, God through Christ, the caput primarium, would send forth the Holy Spirit and by such influxus provide whatever the Church lacked.

Consistent with this view, Gerson rejected notions (to use Tierney's terminology) of personification and delegation for a conciliar theory of mimesis. For him it was axiomatic that a council represented as a microcosm, the macrocosm of the actual hierarchy, for which reason its inerrancy was assured. This emphasis on the hierarchy distinguishes Gerson's perspective both from the Marsiglian congregatio fidelium and the Ockhamist ecclesia universalis. The desire to maintain the integrity of that hierarchy as totality, according to P., also leads to the less than logically satisfying consequence of Gerson's attempts to consider that hierarchy in a distributive (supremitas) and collective (latitudo) sense simultaneously. Gerson, however, emphasized the latter, an inclination that P. traces particularly to the influence of Henry of Ghent, and that, with decentralizing, antiabsolutist consequences, I find analogous to the medieval doctrine of merum imperium.

The least satisfying analysis is P.'s discussion of law, particularly epikie. For Gerson, epikie and aequitas were synonymous, and any attempt to distinguish between them is futile. More important, and as the author ultimately concedes, for the chancellor, epikie, or aequitas, represented a rule of interpretation, not of abrogation. He realized that all human law was subject to the contingencies of time, place, and person, but equally regarded law from a functional standpoint that invites historical or even comparative analysis. It is not insignificant that in the 16th century, Charles du Moulin, discussing law, equity, and the legislator, supported his method of interpretation not with citations from Bartolus and Baldus, but from Gerson.

Despite these observations and occasional editorial lapses resulting in confusing changes of type-face and misspellings, the appearance of this well-documented volume assures that P. will remain mandatory reading for Gerson scholars for the foreseeable future.

University of Arizona, Tucson

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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2001

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