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Els Rose, Ritual Memory: The Apocryphal Acts and Liturgical Commemoration in the Early Medieval West (c. 500-1215)

vol. 40, Mittellateinische Studien und Texte, Paul Gerhard Schmidt ed., Leiden: Brill, 2009, XII + 334 p., € 132.00 ($183.00), ISBN 978-90-04-17171-8.
Joseph Vietri
p. 414-417
Référence(s) :

Els Rose, Ritual Memory: The Apocryphal Acts and Liturgical Commemoration in the Early Medieval West (c. 500-1215), vol. 40, Mittellateinische Studien und Texte, Paul Gerhard Schmidt ed., Leiden: Brill, 2009, XII + 334 p., € 132.00 ($183.00), ISBN 978-90-04-17171-8.

Texte intégral

1The book examines the role Apocryphal literature played in the Medieval Church. Rose presents a well documented and grounded argument. She argues that while there was an accepted biblical canon, apocrypha, which was questioned and seen as suspect by many medieval church officials, was being used in the liturgy more liberally and to different degrees throughout Western Europe. This becomes apparent when Rose begins examining liturgical commemorations of saints. Such an argument is both interesting and enlightening for Medieval Studies. While many see the Middle Ages as being dominated by an authoritarian Church, Rose clearly depicts a more fluid Church with different views concerning textual sources and their use. The role of apocrypha is also highlighted as being examples for proper Christian life. Apocryphal literature, and its application in the liturgy, was targeted at Medievals to show how good Christians ought to live.

2This book was written in a systematic way, firstly by examining individual saints and then by grouping similarities together. Rose recognises that the study of apocrypha has been done in the past for individual saints, but never has the influence of apocryphal text on liturgy been done in a systematic way. This study, therefore, brings a new way of interpreting apocryphal influence on liturgy to academia. This systematic method is also very effective and shows similar patterns in the worship of saints.

3Rose begins her study by narrowing down the saints she will explore. Bartholomew, Philip and James the Lesser, Matthew, Simon and Jude are selected. These choices are interesting in that these are Apostles who are not given as much focus as the others, like Peter and Mark for example. By using these six apostles, Rose was able to examine the apocryphal works concerning each Saint and analyse the application or borrowed ideas of these works in commemorative events. The author clearly demonstrates, through the comparison of the apocrypha and liturgy, that many ideas, like biographical information concerning the saints, were in fact taken from apocryphal works. While apocryphal texts were not always accepted, Rose shows how these sources were in fact being used to celebrate the memory of the Saint on their feast days.

4Rose examines the large debates concerning the use of Apocrypha. She makes it clear that each region of Western Europe, and each thinker or theologian, had a different view concerning its use. Some like Leo I and the Venerable Bede reject Apocryphal use, while others like Notker, Hrotsvithe accept a limited use of apocrypha. Rose points out that this rejection was due to the fact that many feared apocryphal texts would create a “shadow” New Testament. This shows the Medieval Church was not as centralized as is sometimes believed. Leo I, a pope, rejected the use of Apocrypha, but other theologians continued to apply apocryphal ideas to the liturgy. This shows a lack of centralization and the presence of debate and autonomous evaluation of apocrypha that occurred in the middle ages.

5The Author does a very good job at exploring and analysing each text she cites. Beginning with Bartholomew, Rose explores where the Saint was active and examines accounts of his Martyrdom. There is a difference shown between the regional interpretations of the life of Bartholomew and Rose presents each of these diverging stories while showing how they affected the regional views of Bartholomew. All the saints explored by Rose have the differences between their regional Vitae referenced.

6Rose then analyses, at great length, the liturgy of mass, liturgy of hours, Martyrologies, Hymns, and Apocryphal Acts. Both Latin and their translated English passages are presented and each verse is generally followed by a lengthy analysis of the passage cited. This allows the reader to have a more active interaction with the texts being examined. Rose then generally ends each section of her analysis with a conclusion that depicts the role each saint held within the Medieval Church and society. Bartholomew, for example, is seen as a “pillar of the Church” for the role he played in India or Asia, depending on the Apocryphal tradition being used. It is also evident that many prayers concerning Bartholomew directly draw on his Passio, in some cases verbatim.

7This excellent analysis of sources continues for the remaining five saints. Four of which are analysed in pairs; these pairs are Philip and James, who have no real link outside of their resting place at the Church of the Twelve Apostles according to Rose, and Simon and Jude who share the same day of Martyrdom, October 28th. Each Saint is examined with equal depth as Bartholomew and the same sources (liturgy of mass, liturgy of hours, Martyrologies, Hymns, and Apocryphal Acts) are analysed.

8Rose, after examining all six saints, explores six common roles held by the apostles, which are depicted by liturgical and apocryphal works. These include apostolic foundation of the Church, removal of demons, the preaching of the apostles, the companions of the Apostles, death or martyrdom, and finally, the cult of the saints or individual saint. Each one of these topics is explored in detail by examining the sources concerning each saint. For example, Rose shows how most of the apostles are depicted as founders of the Church. Her examples indicate quite well that the objective of such a depiction was to produce a certain understanding of a medieval community. Also, Rose saw the most important role for the Apostles was the preaching of the Gospel. She, therefore, examines the sermons given by the apostles in apocryphal texts.

9Concerning the companions of the Apostles, Rose decided to divide these companions into two groups. These are the female companions, who follow the Apostle, and what Rose calls the local allies. These local allies would eventually succeed the Apostle upon his death. This division is quite interesting in that it explores firstly the role of women and the depiction of the female role in Medieval Europe and secondly, it shows how after the Apostle who was, like in the case of Bartholomew, a foreigner, a local individual would succeed him and continue the maintenance of the Church.

10It can be noted that Rose addresses a very interesting point in her sixth role of the apostles. Here she questions whether the apostles should be celebrated together, as a collective, or as individuals. Pierre Jounel, Rose argues, supported the emphasis on collective celebration. She emphasises the role of collective celebration derived from Matthew 16 and 19. While in Matthew 16, the keys are given, by Christ, to Peter, Matthew 19 emphasises that the keys were given to the Twelve Apostles as a collective. Such a debate can help shed light on issues such as Papal authority, and help address the hierarchy given to the Apostles. If all are equal and the apostles should be celebrated as a collective, a study of the six “minor” apostles enlightens an understanding of the others.

11While the analysis of individual cults of saints give each chapter an independent feel, Rose’s themed analysis presented in her sixth chapter manages to tie all the sources and examples used together, forming a common theme. The separate analysis of each saint was necessary and well executed by the author. It allowed for detailed analysis of each saint and clearly illustrated Rose’s thesis.

12The author’s Epilogue argues that medieval Christianity was elastic. This idea of elasticity was taken, by Rose, from Averil Cameron. The elasticity of the Church, in Rose’s view, counteracts common opinion that the Medieval Church was authoritarian. Its use of Apocryphal materials in liturgical commemoration supports this. This argument is well presented and defended by Rose. Her examples clearly show that such a conclusion is not only possible, but evident. A centralized and authoritarian Medieval Church would have had no room for Apocrypha, but the willingness of some theologians to accept such texts and apply them during Saint Days is evidence of a freedom, though possibly limited, and discretion for local churches.

13Rose presents an extremely well researched book. While the topic may seem narrow, focusing on liturgy and apocrypha, her arguments have a larger implication for medieval studies. Rose, while focusing on liturgy, has managed to show that perceptions of the Medieval Church are not always correct. Her work manages to shed light on the great diversity in medieval thought and the amount of Church control. She depicts a Medieval Church that is not under suppression and control, but which has freedoms and prerogative to utilise texts that were not always supported by all theologians, or Rome. This book, therefore, can be referenced by all Medievalists who are trying to explore the role, or authority of the Church, in the Early Medieval period.

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Joseph Vietri, « Els Rose, Ritual Memory: The Apocryphal Acts and Liturgical Commemoration in the Early Medieval West (c. 500-1215) », Revue de l’histoire des religions, 3 | 2013, 414-417.

Référence électronique

Joseph Vietri, « Els Rose, Ritual Memory: The Apocryphal Acts and Liturgical Commemoration in the Early Medieval West (c. 500-1215) », Revue de l’histoire des religions [En ligne], 3 | 2013, mis en ligne le 04 octobre 2013, consulté le 12 décembre 2017. URL :

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Joseph Vietri

Concordia University, Montreal, Canada.

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