Seminar: “Monastic Reform and Statute in the Late Middle Ages: The Celestine Constitutions and the Minim Rule”
Robert Shaw (Mellon Fellow, PIMS)
The call for 'regular observance' in monastic life that resounded in the Late Middle Ages often appears allied with a hidebound interpretation and enforcement of normative texts. These norms frequently included not only traditional 'rules' but also more recent proscriptive statutory outlays, often created by reformers themselves. The predilection for precision that later medieval reformers could evoke can seem to reinforce impressions of disciplinary decay and, to modern eyes, suggest an essential spiritual vacuousness: the core of religion can seem lost within institutional demands. Thus, the historian Jean Leclercq once spoke pejoratively of the 'literalism' of later medieval reform efforts.
This seminar looks to reconsider this outlay by turning to the history of two later medieval congregations: the Celestines, a reformed Benedictine group with late thirteenth century roots, and the Minims, a new mendicant order and a product of the second half of the fifteenth century. Both had loose Italian eremitic roots, but both reached pinnacles of public impact as well organised orders in France. And both, within these progressions, produced normative texts of a statutory rigour uncommon in earlier periods - the Celestine 'Constitutions' and the Minim 'Rule' – and well articulated structures to enforce them. Without ignoring the more mundane contexts of their creation - internal exigencies, external pressures -, these long neglected texts will be examined with sensitivity to their spiritual meanings, both to the monks themselves and within the elite and urban cultures in which these congregations ultimately found so much success.