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The Spirituality of Reform in the Late Medieval Church: The Example of Nicolas de Clamanges

  • Christopher M. Bellitto (a1)


For the Parisian humanist and Avignon papal secretary Nicolas de Clamanges, reform of the late medieval church began not in capite but with personal reform grounded in a spirituality that was itself built on patristic principles. His colleagues, including Jean Gerson and Pierre d'Ailly at the Council of Constance, first located reform institutionally in capite and expected it to trickle down in membris. Clamanges by contrast applied the fathers' emphasis on individual spiritual growth to the late medieval church: a preparatory and indispensable reformatio personalis must constantly be at work in order for broader reform to succeed. He particularly contended that God would grant each Christian guidance and lead his spiritual progress through purgative suffering in fear, humility, and solitude that followed Christ's example. Only by this path could the entire church—member by member—return to union, peace, and purity. In this way Clamanges married the patristic goal of personal reform to the prevailing interior spirituality of his age with its focus on the humanity and suffering of Christ. Clamanges's important religious ideas have frequently been overlooked, however, by the high-profile careers of his close friends d'Ailly and Gerson as well as by Clamanges's own role in French humanism. By looking at his reform thought we will take one step toward identifying Clamanges as far more than an elegant writer while we use his ideas to explore how individual spirituality and personal reform were closely aligned in the troubled church of the late Middle Ages.



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1. Gerson saw personal reform as the product of hierarchical reform that began in capite. See Pascoe, Louis B., Jean Gerson: Principles of Church Reform (Leiden: Brill, 1973), 175: “All ecclesiastical reform must, in the final analysis, terminate in personal reform if it is to be in any way effective.” The other fathers at Constance also saw the reform in capite “as a vital prerequisite to the reform of the members; according to the prevailing hierarchical view reform would extend down from the head to the members.” See Stump, Phillip H., The Reforms of the Council of Constance (1414–1418) (Leiden: Brill, 1994), 138.Ladner, Gerhart inaugurated the academic study of reform with The Idea of Reform: Its Impact on Christian Thought and Action in the Age of the Fathers (1959; reprint, New York: Harper and Row, 1967), and identified the fathers' primary concern with personal reform.

2. On Clamanges as a humanist, see especially Ornato, Ezio, Jean Muret et ses amis Nicolas de Clamanges et Jean de Montreuil: Contribution à l'étude des rapports entre les humanistes de Paris et ceux d'Avignon (1394–1420) (Geneva: Droz, 1969);Coville, Alfred, Gontier et Pierre Col et I'humanisme en France au temps de Charles VI (Paris: Droz, 1934), and idem, Recherches sur quelques écrivains du XIVe et du XVe siecle (Paris: Droz, 1935);Ouy, Gilbert, “Paris, l'un des principaux foyers de l'humanisme en Europe au début du XVe siècle,” Bulletin de la société de I'histoire de Paris et de l'Î le-de-France (1967–1968):7198, and idem, “Le Collège de Navarre, berceau de I'humanisme français,” Actes du 95e congrès national des sociétés savantes, Reims 1970: Section de philologie et d'histoire jusqu'à 1610, vol. 1, Enseignement et vieintellectuelle (IXe-XVIe siècle) (Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale, 1975), 275–99;and Cecchetti, Dario, L'Evoluzione del latino umanistico in Francia (Paris: Éditions CEMI, 1986), and idem, “ ‘Sic me Cicero laudare docuerat’: La Retorica nel primo umanesimo francese,”in Préludes à la renaissance: Aspects de la vie intellectuelle en France au XVe siècle, ed. Bozzolo, Carla and Ornato, Ezio (Paris: Edition du CNRS, 1992), 47106.

3. A complete critical edition of Clamanges's works remains a desideratum. The oldest edition is flawed: Lydius, J., ed., Nicolai de Clemangiis: Opera Omnia (1613; reprint, Farnborough, Hants: Gregg, 1967). I have used two dissertations that offer detailed analyses of Clamanges's works from manuscript sources. These critical editions are Cecchetti, Dario, “L'Epistolario di Nicolas de Clamanges” (Ph.D. diss., Università degli Studi di Torino, 1960),and Bérier, François, “Nicolas de Clamanges: Opuscules,” 2 vols. (Ph.D. diss., École Pratique de Hautes Études, 1974). Since these typescripts are difficult to obtain and Lydius's is somewhat available, parallel references to that inferior edition will be cited, too: for Cecchetti, C followed by page and linenumbers; for Bérier, B followed by volume, page, and line numbers; for Lydius, L followed by volume and page numbers.

4. This sketch draws from Bernstein, Alan E., “Nicholas Poillevillain of Clamanges: A Critical Biography Presented with an Annotated Bibliography of His Published Works,” 1968, typescript, Columbia University; and Ornato, Jean Muret et ses amis. Less reliable is Glorieux, Palémon, “Notations biographiques sur Nicolas de Clamanges,” in Mélanges offerts à M.-D. Chenu, ed. Duval, André (Paris: J. Vrin, 1967), 291310.My thanks to Bernstein, Alan E. for supplying his unpublished paper.

5. B 2:60.370 (L 1:139), B 2:54.213–16 (L 1:136), and B 2:51.138–52.142 (L 1:134).

6. B 2:52.144–50 (L 1:134–35), following Heb. 12:6–8; B 2:53.176–94 (L 1:135), following Ps. 26:2–3, 2 Cor. 12:7–9.

7. A critical edition of ruina, De is in Alfred Coville, he Traité de la Ruine de l'Église de Nicolas de Clamanges et la traduction française de 1564 (Paris: Droz, 1936). For the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, see Coville, he Traité, 156, recalling Gen.19:23–25. On metals see for example B 2:60.382–39 and B 2:61.394–99 (L 1:139), following Sir.27:5, Isa. 1:25, Prov. 25:4, Mai. 3:3. Clamanges cited Isa. 6:6–7 in B 2:115.328–31. This passage from De studio theologico is also found in d'Achery, Luc, ed., Spicilegium sive collectio veterum aliquot scriptorum qui in Galliae bibliothecis delituerant (Paris, 1655), 1:475.

8. C 65.83–96 (L 2:41–42); C 90.289–92 (L 2:55); B 2:139.100–111 (L 1:162); B 2:141.158–59 (L 1:162–63); B 2:148.344–47 (L 1:166);Coville, Le Traite, 154–55; C 177.83–178.111 (L 2:105–106). In surveying this correspondence André Combes overlooked purgation as an essential part of Clamanges's reform thought: Sur les ‘lettres de consolation’ de Nicolas de Clamanges a Pierre d'Ailly,” Archives d'histoire doctrinale et litteraire du Moyen Âge 13 (19401942): 375–77.

9. B 2:49.77–81 (L 1:133), following 1 John 2:6.

10. B 2:49.82–50.90, 50.97, 51.121–35 (L 1:133–34), following John 13:15, Matt. 16:24, Luke 9:23, 1 Cor. 11:1, Matt. 11:28–30; B 2:50.90–95 (L 1:133–34) following Gal.6:14; B 2:66.531–32 (L 1:141) following 2 Tim. 3:12; B 2:42.451–53 (L 1:130).

11. B 2:62.443–45 (L 1:140): “Amara quippe est amaritudo flagellorum quibus a Deo corripimur, sed amaritudo amarissima peccatorum quibus a Deo separamur, que in pace ac prosperitate licentius obrepunt”. See also B 2:47.22–25, 47.27–48.32, 48.36–41,49.73–77 (L 1:132–33); B 2:54.220–55.230 (L 1:136); B 2:56.278–57.282 (L 1:137); B 2:62.446–63.463 (L 1:140).

12. B 2:56.271–76 (L 1:137); B 2:57.283–86 (L 1:137); B 2:61.400–403 (L 1:139), following Exod.1:7–12; B 2:61.416–62.421 and 425–42 (L 1:139–40). Tertullian and Augustine described Christ as a healer who allowed martyrdom and suffering in order to bring Christians to salvation: Rudolph Arbesmann,“The Concept of Christus medicus in St. Augustine,” Traditio 10 (1954): 6, 21–23.

13. Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 2d ed., s.v. fear of God”; Dictionnaire de la Bible, s.v.“crainte de Dieu”; Olivier, B., La Crainte de Dieu comme valeur religieuse dans I'Ancien Testament (Paris: Office Général du Livre, 1960). Augustine linked Christ as physician with the example of his humility to counter the human sin of pride: Arbesmann, “The Concept of Christus medicus,” 8–17, especially 10 nn. 69–72. See also Augustine, De doctrina Christiana, bk. 2, chap. 7, pts. 910; and Benedict, Regula, chap. 7.

14. C 186.20–32 (L 2:111), following Matt. 7:24–27, Luke 6:48–49; C 187.37–50 (L 2:111). In De prosperitate aduersitatis he identified humility as virtue's guardian and root while stressing that arrogance led to sin and vice: B 2:54.205–207 (L 1:136).

15. B 2:29.107–30.108 (L 1:123); C 133.27–30 (L 2:79). On the relationship between Clamanges and Montreuil see Ornato, Jean Muret et ses amis, passim; and Coville, , Gontier et Pierre Col, 7298. On Clamanges and Machet, see Dario Cecchetti, “Nicolas de Clamanges e Gérard Machet: Contributo allo studio dell'epistolario di Nicolas de Clamanges,” Atti dell'Academia delle scienze di Torino 100 (1965–1966): 133–91; and Santoni, Pierre, “Les Lettres de Nicolas de Clamanges à Gé rard Machet: Lin Humaniste devant la arise du royaume et de l'É glise (1410–1417),” Mélanges de I'École française de Rome: Moyen Âge temps modernes 99 (1987): 793823. Santoni, 809–812, treats the following letter without placing it in the context of Clamanges's reform thought.

16. C 454.1S455.54 (L 1:174–75); C 457.95–124 (L 1:175–76); C 458.145–61 (L 1:176), following Matt. 10:23; C 459.171–74 (L 1:177), following Matt. 10:14.

17. B 2:27.48–28.60 (L 1:122); C 134.65–66 (L 2:80); C 137.161–138.190 (L 2:82); C 460.214–25 (L 1:177). Jerome underscored city living as offering distractions to perfection and recommended a simple country life but his ideals of absolute poverty and isolation softened over time: Steven D. Driver, “The Development of Jerome's Views on the Ascetic Life,” Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 62 (1995): 6570.

18. Santoni, “Les Lettres de Clamanges a Machet,” 810–11; C 461.252–462.263 (L 1:178).

19. B 2:29.81–92 and 95–106 (L 1:123), following Matt. 4:1–11; B 2:32.186–94 (L 1:125); B 2:39.363–67 (L 1:128). Clamanges also referred to the profitable ascetic experiences of Jerome, John Cassian, and Evagrius but did not elaborate on specific events oftheir lives: B 2:31.143–46 (L 1:124). Although Clamanges did not cite any explicit invitation by Christ to walk the way of the desert the Gospels do provide many examples of Christ praying in silence and solitude.

20. Constable, Giles, “Twelfth-Century Spirituality and the Late Middle Ages,” Medieval and Renaissance Studies 5 (1971): 2760, especially 32–36; and idem, “The Popularity of Twelfth-Century Spiritual Writers in the Late Middle Ages,” in Renaissance Studies in Honor of Hans Baron, ed. Molho, Anthony and Tedeschi, John A. (Dekalb, 111.: Northern Illinois University Press, 1971), 528.Constable offers a comprehensive portrait of imitatio Christi piety in Three Studies in Medieval Religious and Social Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 145248, noting at 218 that in the late Middle Ages those imitating Christ followed patristic and earlier medieval concerns with the twin strands of Christ's humanity and divinity but increasingly applied them to a commonplace, everyday spirituality.

21. “It is possible to demonstrate that it is not impossible that Nicolas de Clamanges composed the Imitation” (my translation). Kwanten, A., “Nicolas de Clamanges et l'lmitation de Jésus-Christ,” Mémoires de la société d'agriculture, de commerce, des sciences et arts du department de la Marne 74 (1959): 91100, quotation at 98 (emphasis in original).

22. On the presence of Ludolf's work at Navarre, see Chatelain, Émile, “Les Manuscrits du Collège de Navarre en 1741,” Revue des bibliothèques 11 (1901): 371. Although Chatelain was reporting the findings of a 1741 inventory, we know that the Ludolf manuscript was in the Collège's library during Clamanges's era from Isabelle Chiavassa-Gouron, “Les Lectures des maîtres et étudiants du collège de Navarre: Un Aspect de la vie intellectuelle à l'Université de Paris (1380–1520)” (master's thesis, École Nationale des Chartes, 1985), 162; on Gerson's use of Ludolf, see 107–108. Lawrence F. Hundersmarck compared the De vita Christiana and the Meditationes vitae Christi: “Preaching the Passion: Late Medieval ‘Lives of Christ’ as Sermon Vehicles,” in De Ore Domini: Preacher and Word in the Middle Ages, ed. Amos, Thomas L., Green, Eugene A., and Kienzle, Beverly Mayne (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Medieval Institute Publications, 1989), 147–67.

23. Ozment, Steven, The Age of Reform 1250–1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1980), 79, places Clamanges fundamentally in line with the northern European piety of the devotio moderna.

24. Gründler, Otto, “Devotio Moderna Atque Antiqua: The Modern Devotion and Carthusian Spirituality,” in The Spirituality of Western Christendom, vol. 2, The Roots of the Modern Christian Tradition, ed. Elder, E. Rozanne (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 2745, especially at 36–37, notes Groote's first disciple, Geert Zerbolt, emphasized that inner knowledge led to spiritual growth when it was grounded in penitence, self-mortification, humility, obedience, fear, and silence in imitation of Christ's example. Albert Ampe speculated that the Imitation author may have been a German Carthusian: Ampe, L'Imitation de Jésus-Christ et son auteur: Réflexions critiques (Rome: Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 1973), 4256, 113–21. Hundersmarck sees Ludolf returning to biblical, patristic, and monastic piety that was linked to devotio moderna spirituality, which he characterized as “Christocentric, affective, moralizing, Scriptural, ascetic, and antispeculative”: “A Study of the Spiritual Themes in the Prayers and Passion Narration of Ludolphus de Saxonia's Vita Jesu Christi,” (Ph.D. diss., Fordham University, 1983), 34,36. On monasticism as the best way to achieve personal reform see Ladner, The Idea of Reform, 319–40.

25. For the theme of personal reform embedded in Trent's reforms, see Robert E. McNally, “The Council of Trent, the Spiritual Exercises, and the Catholic Reform,” Church History 34 (1965): 36–49; Evennett, H. Outram, The Spirit of the Counter-Reformation (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1970), 2342; and Olin, John C., Catholic Reform: From Cardinal Ximenes to the Council of Trent, 1495–1563 (New York: Fordham University Press, 1990), 35.

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