Reforming Saints: Saints' Lives and Their Authors in Germany, 1470-1530

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In Reforming Saints, David J. Collins explains how and why Renaissance humanists composed Latin hagiography in Germany in the decades leading up to the Reformation. Contrary to the traditional wisdom, Collins's research uncovers a resurgence in the composition of saints' lives in the half century leading up to 1520. German humanists, he finds, were among the most active authors and editors of these texts.

Focusing on forty Latin depictions of German saints written between 1470 and 1520, Collins finds patterns both in how these humanists chose their subjects and how they presented their holiness. He argues that the humanist hagiographers took up the writing of saints' lives to investigate Germany's medieval past, to reconstruct and exalt its greatness, and to advocate programs of religious and cultural reform. This literature, says Collins, left a legacy that polemicists and philologists in Catholic Europe would be using for their own purposes by the end of the sixteenth century. These hagiographic writings are thus both reflective and formative of the religious and cultural conflicts that defined this period of European history. To bolster his case, Collins draws not only on the Latin saints' lives, but also on vernacular lives, maps and chorographic documents, personal and professional letters, papal, urban, and municipal archives, painting, sculpture and broadside print, and medieval and early modern histories and chronicles. The result is a fresh, new portrait of the humanism of Renaissance Germany.

With his surprising and insightful conclusions, Collins sheds new light on humanism's appropriation in Germany, particularly in its religious aspect. He approaches the humanists' writings on their own terms and recaptures the creative energy the humanists brought to the task of revising the legends of the saints. His scholarly perspective includes the roles of emperors, princes, abbots, city councilmen, artists, librarians, soldiers, peasants, and pilgrims, showing how humanists reached larger and less learned audiences than many other kinds of writing ever could. The cult of the saints and Renaissance humanism are two topics that have attracted considerable scholarly attention. Reforming Saints considers them as seldom before — at their intersection.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"David Collins has provided a deeply-nuanced and compelling analysis of the intersection of medieval hagiography, humanist scholarship, and reforming agendas in Germany during the generations of Erasmus and Luther. In the process, he illuminates complex relationships between the devotional pieties of, on the one hand, the late middle ages, and, on the other, the reformations of the sixteenth century. This excellent book will be of interest to students of both medieval and early modern Christianity." —Thomas Head, author of Hagiography and the Cult of Saints: The Diocese of Orléans, 800-1200

"In this brilliantly structured and meticulously researched study, Collins demonstrates the compelling interest of saints' lives authored by a range of northern intellectuals. Steering deftly between the Scylla of Erasmus's acclaimed life of St. Jerome and the Charybdis of Luther's equally acclaimed mockery of the saints, Collins recovers the fascinating, nuanced contexts of hagiographic composition in the liminal period 1470-1530. The four central chapters bring to life holy bishops, eccentric hermits, patriotic authors, and demanding patrons. Anyone with an interest in how medieval devotions survived Europe's passage to modernity will want to read this book." —Alison Knowles Frazier, author of Possible Lives: Authors And Saints In Renaissance Italy

"Collins's subtle and nuanced analysis forces the reader to reconfigure his or her understanding of hagiography ... [an] important and rewarding study." —Catholic Historical Review

"Reforming Saints is a valuable contribution to our understanding of pre-Refromation German humanism and its relationship to Catholicism."— R. Emmet McLaughlin, The American Historical Review

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Product Details

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations     xiii
List of Figures     xv
Introduction     3
Reforming the Church: Humanist Authors and Bishop Saints     19
Legends Pleasing and Brightly Polished: The Holy Recluses     51
Situating the Saints: Germania illustrata and Saints' Lives     75
Turning Swiss: The Patriotism of the Holy Hermit Nicholas     99
Conclusion     123
Notes     137
Selected Bibliography     195
Index     207
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