David Wallace (Department of English, University of Pennsylvania)
“November 1414: Nations, Schisms, and the Work of Literary Cultures"November 7, 2014
English Studies Conference Room of the Graduate Center, CUNY (room 4406)A wine and cheese reception will follow the presentation and question time.
In November 1414, while three popes reigned, each sure of his title, the nations of Europe began gathering in Council at Constance. When Benedict XVI resigned in 2012 it was remembered that no pope had done this since 1415, a year in which two popes resigned but a third refused to go; he was excommunicated by the Council itself in 1417. The Council of Constance is recognized as an extraordinary landmark in Catholic history: years in which ultimate Church authority resided not in a pope, as successor of Peter, but in the Council itself. The importance of Constance in European literary history, however, has been grossly under-estimated. It was chiefly through the exercise of rhetorical and literary skills, in sermons, treatises, orations, chronicles, memos, caveats, and bills (not bulls) that bonum commune was served and the schism mended. The thousands of literary men (few women) who converged on this small German city, between the Rhine and the Danube, began by addressing nationhood: what was a nation, and who might speak for it? Between formal sessions, and during downtime when the main work of the Council went on elsewhere, as at Perpignan, these litterati formed study circles, taught literary texts, sought out manuscripts, learned or invented Netherlandish hybrida, published new works and polished up old ones, pursued all things Greek, venerated Bridget of Sweden, wrote lyrics, songs, and diaries, and invented the nuclear patriarchal family. This last was the mission of Jean Gerson; other prominent figures composing or inspiring original work include Guillaume Fillastre, Manuel Chrysoloras, Jan Hus, Jerome of Prague, Oswald von Wolkenstein, Ulrich Richental, Poggio Bracciolini, Leonardo Bruni, Pier Paolo Vergerio, Benedetto da Piglio, Gregory Tsamblak (carrying the hopes of the Orthodox East), and (posthumously) Bridget of Sweden. The Jews of Constance, mindful of their own, long-established literary history, counter-processed their Torah; the English, though buoyed by Agincourt, wondered what cultural contributions they might make, given their eccentric and incomprehensible tongue. Constance ended with one schism healed but another opening, a political realignment that would outlast the Reformation and even, perhaps, the European Union.
the illustrated copy of Ulrich Richental's chronicle on the Council of Constance, now in the New York Public Library. the ceremony for the re-canonization of Bridget of Sweden.
the illustrated copy of Ulrich Richental's chronicle on the Council of Constance, now in the New York Public Library. Pretzel sellers and bakers on the streets of Konstanz, meeting the needs of thousands of visitors.