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Walter, Archdeacon of London, and the “Historia Occidentalis” of Jacques de Vitry

  • Alfred J. Andrea (a1)


Jacques de Vitry's Historia Occidentalis is one of the more remarkable and informative studies of contemporary western Christendom to come out of the thirteenth century. As numerous commentators have pointed out, it is unmistakably the product of the spiritual-intellectual school of Master Peter the Chanter of Paris, who inspired a generation of scholars and churchmen to marry popular preaching with the theology of the schools. Written early in the third decade of the thirteenth century, the Historia Occidentalis analyzes the moral state of the western church and juxtaposes in full relief the modes of both degeneracy and religious renewal within that society. Its thesis is that despite all the evils of the day, God is still working in and through the various elements of Christian society to sanctify his people; and these Christian people, for all of their failings, continue to share in the spiritual regeneration of Providence. The Historia Occidentalis has been characterized by one modern historian as “pulpit history.”



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1. Hinnebusch, John F., O. P., ed., The Historia Occidentalis of Jacques de Vitry: A Critical Edition, in Spicilegium Friburgense, Texts Concerning the History of Christian Life 17 (Fribourg, Switzerland, 1972). Vitry (ca. 1170–1240) served as bishop of Acre from 1216 to about 1228 and was cardinal bishop of Tusculum from 1229 to his death. The standard study of his life is Funk, Philipp, Jakob von Vitry, Leben und Werke (Leipzig, 1909).McDonnell, Ernest W., The Beguines and Beghards in Medieval Culture (1954; reprint ed., New York, 1969), pp. 2139, gives a good short biography.

2. Peter served as chanter of Notre Dame from 1183 to his death in 1197 and was probably already a master of theology in Paris around 1170. Baldwin, John W., Masters, Princes, and Merchants: The Social Views of Peter the Chanter and His Circle (Princeton, N.J., 1970), 2 vols., is the best work to date on Peter and his students.

3. Hinnebusch, , Historia Occidentalis, pp. 1620.

4. Smalley, Beryl, Historians in the Middle Ages (New York, 1974), pp. 165172.

5. Greenway, Diana E., comp., John Le Neve: Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae, 1066–1300 (London, 1968), 1: 10.

6. The best studies of Fulk are O'Brien, John M., “Fulk of Neuilly,” in Proceedings of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society 13 (1969): 109148, and Gutsch, Milton R., “A Twelfth-Century Preacher—Fulk of Neuilly,” in Crusades and Other Historical Essays Presented to Dana C. Munro by His Former Students, ed. Paetow, Louis J. (New York, 1928), pp. 183206.

7. Vitry in Hinnebusch, , Historia Occidentalis, pp. 94101.

8. Ibid., pp. 102–103. The translation is my own.

9. Dictionary of National Biography, (hereafter cited as DNB), s.v. “Langton, Stephen”; Powicke, Frederick, Stephen Langton (1928; reprint ed., Oxford, 1965).Baldwin, , Masters, Princes, Merchants, 1:2531, places him clearly within the school of the Chanter.

10. Robert de Courcon was cardinal priest of Saint Stephen in Celius, 1212–1219. Marcel, and Dickson, Christiane, “Le Cardinal Robert de Courçon, sa vie,” in Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge 9 (1934): 53142.Baldwin, , Masters, Princes, Merchants, 1:1925, places him also within the Chanter's circle.

11. Hinnebusch, , Historia Occidentalis, p. 257.

12. Evans, Austin P., “The Albigensian Crusade,” in A History of the Crusades, 4 vols., ed. Setton, Kenneth M. et al. (Madison, Wis., 1969), 2:287, 300, and 304; Norman P.Zacour, “The Children's Crusade,” ibid., p. 326; Thomas C.Van Cleve, “The Fifth Crusade,” ibid., pp. 379–380, 386, 402, and 406. Both Archbishop Alberic and Cardinal Robert perished in the course of this latter campaign.

13. McDonnell, , Beguines and Beghards, p. 41.

14. McDonnell provides a good biography in ibid., pp. 40–45. See also Hinnebusch, , Historia Occidentalis, p. 286.

15. McDonnell, , Beguines and Beghards, p.21 and pp. 2039,passim.

16. Ibid., pp. 17 and 20 and Hinnebusch, Historia Occidentalis, p. 286.

17. McDonnell, , Beguines and Beghards, p. 40.

18. Ibid., p. 47.

19. Ibid., p. 47, on the basis of chapter nine of Vitry quoted above; Hinnebusch, , Historia Occidentalis, p. 285.

20. On Adam's life see Bouvet, Jean, “Biographie d'Adam de Perseigne,” in Collectanae Ordinis Cisterciensium Reformatorum 20(1958): 1626 and 145152. This is also printed in Adam of Perseigne, Lettres, ed. J.Bouvet, Sources chrétiennes 66 (Paris, 1960), pp. 7–29.

21. Baldwin, , Masters, Princes, Merchants, 1:39.

22. Bouvet, , “Biographic,” p. 17.

23. Migne, J. P., ed., Patrologiae cursus completus, series latina, 221 vols. (Paris, 18441855), 211:598(hereafter cited as Migne, PL). The translation is my own.

24. Ralph of Coggeshall, Chronicon Anglicanum, ed. Joseph Stevenson (London, 1875), p. 130.

25. Hinnebusch, , Historia Occidentalis, pp. 298299.

26. Ibid., p. 298; Greenway, , John Le Neve, 1:10.

27. DNB, s.v. “Peter of Blois”; Baldwin, , Masters, Princes, Merchants, 1:85. See note 37 below.

28. Hinnebusch, , Historia Occidentalis, p. 298.

29. Potthast, August, Regesta Pontificum Romanorum, 2 vols. (1874; reprint ed., Graz, 1957), 1:410411, no. 4727; Migne, , PL, 216:822823;C. R., and Cheney, Mary G., The Letters of Pope Innocent III (1198–1216) Concerning England and Wales (Oxford, 1967), p. 152, no. 918. Manrique, Angel, Cistercienses seu verius ecclesiastici Annales a condito Cistercio, 4 vols. (Lyons, 16421659), 3:386, printed this letter and erroneously dated it to the third year of Innocent's pontificate (23 February 1200 through 22 February 1201), thereby wrongly linking it with the Fourth Crusade. Moreover, he gravely misquoted its list of recipients. For reasons that are not at all clear, he recorded Walter and the Cistercian abbot of Rievaulx as the sole English recipients.

30. The papal register is ambiguous. It records that copy of the general letter which was sent to Abbot Everard of Salem and Peter, former abbot of Neubourg, who were assigned the province of Mainz. There follows a list of persons who received similar letters, along with notes on the territories assigned them. In that list we read: “In eundum modum Galterum Londoniensem archidiaconum, cancellarium et magistrum Phi[lippum] de Oxonia … per Angliam.” At first glance it appears that Philip is accorded a double title, Chancellor and Master, but that does not seem possible. Lincoln's chancellors in 1213 were Master William de Montibus and his successor Master Roger de Insula (Greenway, , John Le Neve, 3:1617). As far as we know, Robert Grosseteste was the first person to bear officially the title chancellor of Oxford, and that title does not seem to have been recognized by the Roman curia until around 1221. It follows that this chancellor had to have been a person other than Philip or Walter. Cheney, Christopher R., Pope Innocent III and England (Stuttgart, 1976), p. 263, suggests plausibly that this unnamed chancellor was Master John Kent of London. The evidence cited in notes 31, 33, and 34 below, leads me to accept Cheney's suggestion.

31. Annales Monastici, vol. 3, Annales Prioratus de Dunstaplia, ed. H. R.Luard (London, 1866), p. 40.

32. Potthast, , Regesta Pontificum Romanorum, 1:410, no. 4725, letter of 19–29 April 1213; Migne, , PL, 216:817822;Cheney, and Cheney, , Letters, p. 152, no. 917.

33. Coggeshall, , Chronicum Anglicanum, p. 168;Annales Monastici, vol. 2, Annales Monasterii de Waverleia, ed. H. R. Luard (London, 1865), p. 281.

34. Greenway, , John LeNeve, 1:26.

35. Gibbs, Marion, Early Charters of the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul, London, Camden, 3d ser., vol. 58 (London, 1939), nos. 255, 263, and 307.

36. Vitry's two major contributions to our sources for the Fifth Crusade are his: Historia Iherosolimitana in J. Bongars, ed., Gesta Dei per Francos, 2 vols. (Hanover, 1611), 1:10471124; and Epistolae, 1216–1221, ed. R. Röhricht, Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 14(18921894): 97118; 15(18941895): 568587; 16(18951896): 72114.

37. Southern, R.W., “Peter of Blois: A Twelfth Century Humanist ?,” in Medieval Humanism (New York, 1970), pp. 107112 and 122123, provides a sketch of Blois's career. He appears to have studied theology at Paris around 1155, more than a decade, therefore, before the Chanter's appearance there as a master (p. 109). It is not clear what relationship, if any, he enjoyed with the Chanter. Blois certainly knew one of Peter the Chanter's works, the Verbum Abbreviatum, from which he borrowed heavily in one of the intermediate recensions of his letters (ibid., p. 124). Until the manuscripts of that recension are edited, however, any connections which we attempt to establish between these two Peters will be hypothetical, at best. See Baldwin, , Masters, Princes, Merchants, 2:9, n. 5. Southern also points out on pp. 123–124 and 128 that toward the end of his long life Peter of Blois exhibited increasing signs of sincere religious devotion.

38. Study of those letters of Peter which are published in Migne, , PL, 207:1560, has revealed no mention of any Walter whom I can connect with Walter of London. On occasion Blois does write to or about an associate and friend G. (for example, letter 17, cols. 62–65), and in one letter he speaks affectionately of a Master G. (letter 65, cols. 190–193). Moreover, while serving as archdeacon of Bath, Peter had a vicar named G., whom he instructed to be scrupulous in his care of souls (letter 157, cols. 450–452). It would be convenient to be able to conclude that G. stood for Gwalterus or Galterus. However, whenever Peter spells out the name Walter (for example, letter 66, cols. 193–210, to Walter, archbishop of Palermo), he uses an initial W not a G. It is possible that Walter of London or a Gwalterus will appear in other, yet unprinted recensions of Blois's oft reworked letters.

39. The Prior of Dunstable, for example, served as their vicar in the counties of Huntington, , Bedford, , and Hartford, . Annales Monastici, 3:40.

40. [Philip, of Oxford], “Ordinacio de Predicatione Sanctae Crucis in Anglia,” in Quinti Belli Sacri Scriptores Minores, ed. Röhricht, R. (Geneva, 1879), pp. 326. Röhricht provisionally ascribes its authorship to Philip on p. x.

41. Emden, A. B., A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to A.D. 1500, 3 vols. (Oxford, 19571959), 3:1475.

42. Ibid., 2:867.

43. Ibid., 2:893.

44. With the exception of the italics, this is quoted directly from Hunt, R. W., “English Learning in the Late Twelfth Century,” Royal Historical Society Transactions, 4th ser. 19 (1936): 20.

45. Baldwin, , Masters, Princes, Merchants, 1:124127.

46. Siedschlag, Beatrice N., English Participation in the Crusades 1150–1220 (Ph.D. diss., Bryn Mawr College, 1939, privately printed), p. 35, first suggested this. Röhricht, p. ix, believed that the Ordinacio was an incomplete commentary on a sermon.

47. Alphandéry, Paul, La Chrétienté et l'idée de croisade, 2 vols. (Paris, 1959), 2:151153;Roscher, Helmut, Papst Innocenz III. und die Kreuzzüge (Göttingen, 1969), pp. 143147;Annales Monasticii, 2:281.

48. According to Van Cleve, “The Fifth Crusade,” “The preaching of Robert of Courçon, like that of his greater contemporary James of Vitry, was most successful among the masses, the unfortunate, and the weak. He permitted all who volunteered to accept the cross: old men, women, children, cripples, the deaf, and the blind” (p. 380).

Walter, Archdeacon of London, and the “Historia Occidentalis” of Jacques de Vitry

  • Alfred J. Andrea (a1)


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