St. John's University
President: Marcia Colish, Oberlin
Friday, October 19, 1979
and cash bar at the Holiday Inn, St. Cloud
Saturday, October 20, 1979
a.m. Bus departs from
Holiday Inn for St. John's
General Session, Alcuin Library, AV-II
p.m. Luncheon and business
meeting, Richarda Room,
General Session, AV-II
5:00 p.m. Reception, Hill Monastic Manuscript Library
p.m. Dinner, Alumni
As you know, or ought to know, the present year, 1980, marks the sesquimillenial anniversary of the birth of Saint Benedict of Nursia. But perhaps as an historian I ought to qualify that assertion with the felicitous phrase in which a medieval student once introduced his response to an academic question. "Respondeo," he declared, "salve veritate." However conventional the date 480 may be, still the celebration is nonetheless real, and so it is only appropriate that this year's minutes should commemorate the patriarch of Western monasticism.
Some overzealous colleagues have suggested that I might make this the occasion to reform our unruly organization by concocting a Regula Secretarii. But clearly that would exceed the bounds of my humble commission as secretary, and therefore the minutes today will be modeled, not on Benedict's Rule, but rather on his biography, as told by Gregory the Great to his disciple Peter in Book II of the Dialogues. The minutes have accordingly been cast in the conventional medieval form of a dialogue between Magister and Discipulus. Our scene is a midwestern university; the time is last week. [Richard Ring read the part of the Discipulus.]
* * *
D: How distressing that we shall have no seminar next week. O Master! Where are you off to this time?
M: To the Midwest Medieval Conference in Toronto, O disciple! But if you are eager to discuss your seminar paper, I happen to be free right now.
D: In that case, I would rather hear about this meeting you are going to. I suppose it will be another birthday party for Saint Benedict.
M: It is true that we are celebrating an anniversary, for our host, the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, is fifty years old this year. But we are not neglecting Benedict, either, for we celebrated his sesquimillenial last year, when we met on October 20 at Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota.
D: What an out-of-the-way place! I don't even think of Minnesota as being Midwestern.
M: Obviously you have never been there. The natives proudly call their region "the Upper Midwest." And the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, which is housed on the Saint John's campus, is well worth the trip. Its director, Dr. Julian Plante, was instrumental in bringing our conference there; and his assistant, Father Wilfrid Theisen, handled the local arrangements. Officially, of course, we were guests of the university, whose president, Father Michael Blecker, is himself a noted, if somewhat preoccupied, medieval historian.
D: It is hard for me to imagine a conference of medievalists meeting in a monastery instead of in a motel.
M: Well, actually we did stay at the Holiday Inn. But our meetings were held at Saint John's, which is, in fact, the largest Benedictine community in the world.
D: Yes, I know it has long been famous as a center of liturgical reform. And I have always wanted to visit its ultramodern abbey church. How did that impress you?
M: If you must know, it reminded me of the cover from an old issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. Personally, I rather admired the old abbey church, which mercifully has not been torn down, and is a delightful example of nineteenth-century red-brick Romanesque.
D: Master, you are positively quaint! I suppose you tried to talk Latin to the monks, too.
M: Well, I did find one person there who quietly regretted the decline and fall of ecclesiastical Latin. Which reminds me, Disciple, have you taken your graduate proficiency exam in Latin yet?
D: Master, please don't change the subject. I want to hear how the program honored Saint Benedict.
M: It did indeed! The program committee, led by Randy Daniel, decided that monasticism would be an appropriate sesquimillenial theme, and some nine papers were found that carried it out admirably. The first paper, by Richard Kay, discussed donations mortis causa in the Rule of the Master; and the next paper, by William Carpe, examined the same problem in the Rule of Chrodegang.
D: The program chairman must have been proud of such close coordination!
M: As a matter of fact, it came as a pleasant surprise to him. Such a surprise, indeed, that he declared it was positively miraculous. After marvelling over coffee, we returned to hear Cyrian Davis explain how Cluny provided for the poor; and after that, Arnold Klukas used liturgical text to account for mysterious anomalies in the architecture of Deerfield Priory.
D: It sounds to me like a dreary legal-liturgical morning. I suppose that everyone had slipped away to look at microfilm instead.
M: Quite the contrary. The question periods at Collegeville were the liveliest our conference has ever seen. The cafeteria luncheon, on the other hand, was less than memorable.
D: Maybe the afternoon papers were more to my taste.
M: Not so fast! First you must hear about the business meeting.
D: Must I?
M: Yes, yes, of course. President Marcia Colish was in the chair. The minutes of the last meeting were read, with an accompaniment of slides that were appropriate...
D: ...more or less.
M: That's my line!
D: Sorry. Let's take it from the election of new officers.
M: O.K. Speaking for the nominating committee, Louis Robbert proposed a slate of candidates that was accepted by acclamation, to wit: president: John Barker; vice-president: John Contreni; secretary-treasurer:...
D: ...Richard Kay; ...
M: ...and councillors: Roger Reynolds and Richard Ring. After this formality, the conference was invited to meet next year at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, a proposal that was accepted with more than our usual unanimity.
D: I will not prolong your account by asking how that was possible.
M: Before you change your mind I shall hasten on to tell how we looked for someone to report on the doings of CARA. Paul Meyvaert, as deputy secretary of that organization, seemed the person most likely to be informed, but because he was with us that day as our guest of honor, it seemed more suitable that Giles Constable take up the task. Accordingly, he explained with some fervor how that organization, which has apparently operated for eleven years without a proper constitution, labored at its Ottawa meeting to produce one. We were especially gratified to learn that our region, the Midwest, would henceforth be regularly represented, along with the East and the West, by a titular councillor to CARA. Furthermore, Constable intimated that we should not be surprised if the Mediaeval Academy soon established a committee on teaching. On that upbeat note, we adjourned with time to spare before the next round of papers.
D: I really am waiting for you to tell me about the latest breakthrough in social history.
M: I would rather tell you about the solid description of Psalmodi Abbey that James Grubb, a graduate student at the University of Chicago, gleaned from an unpublished thirteenth-century register.
D: Nothing quantifiable, I imagine?
M: Well, if you want to count, you would have liked Bruce Eastwood's paper because he had any number of slides to show the various ways in which the heliocentric theory was illustrated in manuscripts of Martianus Capella.
D: The results probably would not have been statistically significant. At least I would hope that someone made a contribution to the history of mentalities?
M: Now that you mention it, Thomas Renna came close, though I am not sure that was what he was trying to do. He argued from texts in Migne's Patrologia that for 250 years after Charlemagne, monks insisted that true peace was a spiritual condition determined by one's intention.
D: Always the same old sources! What I want is a breath of fresh methodology.
M: Then I guess you would have been the only one who did not enjoy Kent Kraft's delightful biography of Hildegard of Bingen.
D: Biography indeed! What do individuals have to do with history these days? Wasn't there even an interdisciplinary paper on the program?
M: Yes there was, as a matter of fact. On that score you would have been more than satisfied by Paul Meyvaert's after dinner address about the Apocalypse panel on the Ruthwell cross.
D: And what about you?
M: Oh, by that time I was already in an advanced state of satisfaction. You see, the banquet turned out to be a superb German meal that was cooked and served by students from the local prep school. Everything was authentic, including the waiters and the wines.
D: Yes, I do recall that you returned home looking rather the worse for wear, with eyes all bleary and bloodshot.
M: Oh, that was the result of long hours spent hastily poring over spools of microfilm in the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library. Which reminds me, I took some notes on a manuscript from the Gerona chapter library that might be relevant to your seminar report.
D: Can it wait until you get back from Toronto? I'm busy making a breakthrough just now and don't want to be confused by mere facts.
From the Program: The annual Midwest Medieval Conference serves to establish and to maintain linkages among the growing number of midwest historians active in medieval studies. The conference provides an opportunity to interact with colleagues who share a geographic region and a common concern for the Middle Ages. Likewise, the conference is a vehicle for reporting new research and learning what others are doing. This year the Midwest Medieval Conference is focused on monasticism. Three of the papers are textual studies of early monastic rules and others examine specific aspects of monastic life and spirituality. A conferee can gain new perspectives on western medieval monasticism and fresh guidance for further research.
Mr. Paul Meyvaert, the principal speaker, is Executive Secretary of the Mediaeval Academy of America and author of articles on Bede, Gregory the Great and Augustine of Canterbury. In his presentation at the close of the conference Mr. Meyvaert will present a new interpretation of the Ruthwell Cross.