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Waters, Claire M., Translating Clergie: Status, Education, and Salvation in Thirteenth-Century Vernacular Texts.

Waters, Claire M., Translating Clergie: Status, Education, and Salvation in Thirteenth-Century Vernacular Texts (Middle Ages), Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016; cloth; pp. xv, 289; 6 b/w illustrations; R.R.P. US$69.95, 45.50 [pounds sterling]; ISBN 9780812247725.

With the increasing focus on the instruction of Christian doctrine for all medieval Christians, especially but not solely after Lateran IV (1215), how did papal decrees pertaining to theological doctrine translate into meaningful discourse with the Christian faithful? According to Claire M. Waters, put simply, one approach was through the appearance of vernacular texts that 'taught' pupils in their own language.

Waters's book, Translating Clergie: Status, Education, and Salvation in Thirteenth-Century Vernacular Texts, focuses on a series of Old French texts from a variety of genres. Through her chosen texts, Waters argues for the significance of the relationship between the teacher and pupil that she identifies through the descriptor 'status'. The status of educator was not static, however, but evolved as the need for teachers of Christian doctrine and orthopraxis increased. Thus, while the first educators were preachers, monks, and scholars, soon the pupil (novitiate, cleric, lowly educated parish priest, jongleur) became the teacher. The topic of education and arguably the reason for the vernacular texts' popularity was the need for all Christians to achieve salvation. Death and the final judgement with its resulting consequences--Purgatory, Heaven, Hell--were universal and applicable to all Christians.

Waters has selected texts that have a strong extant manuscript tradition. Through her careful reading of them, she exemplifies well her thesis that the Old French texts under scrutiny should be understood as didactic texts, concerned with the education of all Christians on their salvific journey. On a minor note, I wonder if some background on the scholarship of medieval didacticism pertaining to popular texts might have added to Waters's contention; there are a number of scholars (Nora Scott, Daniel T Kline, Roy J. Pearcy) who have promoted the idea that all medieval writing was didactic, even the most ribald of texts. This would not only help background her exposition of the fabliau, Le Vilain qui conquist paradis par plait, as a didactic text but also support the reading of a wider range of other popular genres through the paradigm of instruction.

The featured texts start with two translations of Honorious Agustodunensis's Elucidarium that had a limited audience within a clerical environment. This point of departure, however, reveals how doctrinal educators used an existing system of education to expand their reach into lay circles. The remaining chapters feature texts whose content would have been better known to the laity: the Gospel of Nicodemus; several fabliaux; and Marian miracles. Waters contends that edification was achieved through a process of dialogic didacticism, or teaching through dialogue. The featured dialogues are presented in a variety of forms, including authorial address, teacher-pupil discourse, or are embedded in the narrative; and the pupil was essentially every Christian, not just the characters in the tales.

The strength of this book lies in its judicious selection of texts, careful reading of the teacher--pupil relationship, and its historical and socioreligious contextualisation. Waters adds to the growing scholarship on authorial identity of popular texts. She justifiably notes that the authorship of the featured texts stemmed from a monastic and scholastic environment, hence the 'clergie' of the title. Such authors were ideally educated to produce didactic sources in the vernacular. The inclusion of a fabliau in a study of didacticism is striking in that the fabliau as a genre is rarely included in the corpus of instructive texts; they are better known for their humour. Yet, Waters's careful exposition of the fabliau about the peasant who argued his way into heaven reveals how one Paris university student at least, Rutebeuf, engaged humour to teach how all Christians could earn their place in heaven. Such an analysis not only opens the door for more popular texts to be examined for their didacticism but also leads to questions regarding the authorial identity of the many extant but anonymous, popular Old French texts (and here I mean not an individual identity; rather, author background such as ex-university scholars). Furthermore, while Translating Clergie focuses on dialogic didacticism, there is also scope to examine in more detail the narrative content of many Old French popular texts to add to the growing scholarship on the range, extent, and purpose of medieval didacticism.

Waters's erudite work goes to the heart of lay education in medieval society. While her lesser premise argues for the significance and influence that French vernacular texts had on the development of ME texts, the central focus here is firmly on the argument that vernacular texts had a didactic purpose to educate the laity on matters pertaining to religious instruction: predominantly salvation. It is this premise, carefully argued, developed, and supported, that makes this book an interesting read and opens up questions regarding the purpose of many Old French popular texts.

KATHRYN SMITHIES, The University of Melbourne
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Author:Smithies, Kathryn
Publication:Parergon
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2016
Words:827
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