In the Mirror of the Prodigal Son

The Pastoral Uses of a Biblical Narrative (c. 1200–1550)

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Author: Pietro Delcorno
In the Mirror of the Prodigal Son provides a comprehensive history of the function of the parable of the prodigal son in shaping religious identity in medieval and Reformation Europe. By investigating a wealth of primary sources, the book reveals the interaction between commentaries, sermons, religious plays, and images as a decisive factor in the increasing popularity of the prodigal son. Pietro Delcorno highlights the ingenious and multifaceted uses of the parable within pastoral activities and shows the pervasive presence of the Bible in medieval communication. The prodigal son narrative became the ideal story to convey a discourse about sin and penance, grace and salvation. In this way, the parable was established as the paradigmatic biography of any believer.

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Pietro Delcorno, Ph.D. (2016) is NWO Rubicon Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Leeds. He has published on medieval preaching and religious theatre, including Lazzaro e il ricco epulone: Metamorfosi di una parabola fra Quattro e Cinquecento (Il Mulino, 2014).
"...it is first and foremost a study of intellectual and social history. [...] the book is to demonstrate how this parable became an essential part of catechetic teaching in sermons, and how its interpretation changed over a period of three and half centuries stretching over the Lutheran reformation.[...] the first thorough study concentrating on Lenten sermon collections [...] All in all, the source material of this study is breathtakingly wide and the author clearly has a thorough command of it all. [...] many of the texts and authors covered in this book are very little studied and relatively unknown to English-speaking scholars. [...] essential reading for anyone interested in the history of medieval communication and especially preaching. [...] a methodological guide to the use of sermons as a source for historical research, and as such it is highly recommended for postgraduate students in late medieval religious history." - Jussi Hanska, in English Historical Review, 2019: DOI:10.1093/ehr/cez236

“The name and publications of the very talented Pietro Delcorno are familiar to those who read Franciscan Studies. […] Now four years later he is publishing in English his extraordinarily rich exploration of how exegetes, creators of stained glass windows, preachers, authors of model sermon collections, playwrights, and book publishers have pastorally interpreted Luke 15:11-32 over three and a half centuries. […] I highlight the fact that he has also explored thirty-nine unpublished manuscripts, e.g., three in the University Library of Uppsala. The book’s forty-three illustrations make clear how the multimedia of those times became co-preachers of this famous parable. […] Contemporary preachers may be inspired by the creativity of some of the preachers studied in this volume. […] In sum, this book is superb.” - Robert J. Karris, O.F.M., Professor Emeritus, St. Bonaventure University, in: Franciscan Studies, 76 (2018), pp. 379-381 (Review). Published by Franciscan Institute Publications: DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/frc.2018.0014

“This is an exceptionally detailed and ambitious book to which no review can do adequate justice. […] overall we have much to be thankful for in the rigorous approach taken. […] In many ways this is one of the most interesting chapters in the volume because in its concentration on material between 1520 and 1550 (that is before the Peace of Augsburg in 1555) he shows how something as apparently incidental as an interpretation of a biblical parable can act as a mirror to an age. […] The author has left no stone unturned in his quest for material on the use of the parable of the Prodigal Son. He writes with enthusiasm and understanding, and is absolute master of his material. This book provides an array of valuable insights, is based on an extraordinary range of reading in sermon and related material, and aptly demonstrates the value of close investigation—something that can be sorely lacking in today’s world of trite generalities and vague theories. […] so much scholarly substance has so generously been supplied.” - Veronica O'Mara, in: Medieval Sermon Studies, 62:1 (2018), 82-85, DOI: 10.1080/13660691.2018.1521003

“…Pietro Delcorno […] strikes out in a new direction […] The book stands out for combining the analysis of medieval and Reformation texts based on the same subject matter, and also for looking at Franciscan preaching in Italy and German in a comparative context. […] Through its structure and range the volume successfully posits medieval English as a conceptual category in its own right, and one that does not necessarily rely on the boundaries that are normally seen as defining it.” - in: Medium Aevum, 87:1, p. 209-210.

“In this fascinating reception history study of a key biblical narrative, Pietro Delcorno leads readers on a journey of interpretation that is expansive and comprehensive. […] The chief contribution of the volume to our field of study is, however, its amazing collection of interpretations of a single text. Delcorno provides readers an opportunity to watch theologians wrestle with a key text in a way seldom seen. Delcorno has thus written a reception historical study which serves as a model for the genre. […] Its strengths make it a valuable resource and a benefit to scholars of the history of biblical interpretation and application.” - Jim West, Ming Hua Theological College, Hong Kong, on Reading Religion, review date September 12, 2018 (http://readingreligion.org/books/mirror-prodigal-son)

'The source material of this study is breathtakingly wide and the author clearly has a thorough command of it all. Delcorno’s book is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of medieval communication and especially preaching. It provides readers with many insights and valuable new information on numerous issues''. Jussi Hanska, in EHR CXXXIV. 570 (October 2019).

"Pietro Delcorno’s admirable study follows from the early Middle Ages through the sixteenth century. Delcorno contributes much to our thinking about how stories were remade to reflect and react to cultural and religious change. In a pellucid, richly documented study, we see the parable cross boundaries between genres, social settings, and historical circumstances to serve new pastoral functions. [...] To many religious historians, as well as to scholars of narratology and oral performance, this book will prove indispensable". Kate Greenspan, in Renaissance Quarterly 73 (1), 2019.

''[...] eine der besten Einführungen in das Phänomen der mittelalterlichen Musterpredigtsammlungen, die derzeit zur Verfügung stehen. Analysiert wird dieses Phänomen unter dem Blickwinkel der Massenkommunikation. [...] Delcornos Arbeit wird man als großen Wurf bezeichnen können. Sie wartet mit einer Fülle neuer Erkenntnisse auf. [...] . Kirchen-, Theologie- und Predigthistoriker werden von der gut geschriebenen und in einigen Passagen gar vergnüglich zu lesenden Untersuchung ebenso profitieren wie Vertreter der allgemeineren Kulturgeschichte. Ralf Lützelschwab, in Sehepunkte, May 2019 (http://www.sehepunkte.de/2020/05/34374.html).

"An incredible journey across the religious landscape of medieval Europe. Original manuscript research accompanies the author’s efforts to include incunabula, prints, paintings, stained glass windows, and thearter in order to illuminate the proclamation, performance, and reception of what is, at first reading, a simple story of a son who turned his back on his father and wandered far and wide, only to be accepted by a merciful father on his return home. [...] With this superb monograph, Delcorno has more than suceeded in the project he laid out at the beginning. A master of manuscripts and matters medieval, he provides readers with a well-polished mirror of the marvelous worlds reflected in the seemingly simple parable of two people whose desire for forgiveness and love culminates in a banquet". Timothy J. Johnson, in Speculum 95/3, July 2020.

"Pietro Delcorno’s admirable study follows from the early Middle Ages through the sixteenth century. Delcorno contributes much to our thinking about how stories were remade to reflect and react to cultural and religious change. In a pellucid, richly documented study, we see the parable cross boundaries between genres, social settings, and historical circumstances to serve new pastoral functions. The parable became “an important master narrative that allowed people active in pastoral work to present their audiences with an emotionally engaging discourse on the . . . identity of the faithful and on the characteristics of God” (3). Preachers shared with playwrights, jongleurs, and poets the ability to shape stories and their hidden meanings to create vivid narratives that would hold up under centuries of repetition. To many religious historians, as well as to scholars of narratology and oral performance, this book will prove indispensable". Kate Greenspan, in Renaissance Quarterly, 73 (1), pp.315-317.
Contents
Acknowledgments
List of Illustrations

Introduction

1 The Medieval Exegesis on the Parable of the Prodigal Son
 1 The Parable in the Gospel of Luke
 2 Patristic Exegesis: Allegorical and Moral Readings
 3 Into the Early Middle Ages: From Caesarius of Arles to the Pseudo-Eligius
 4 Twelfth-Century Monastic Readings
 5 The Main Scholastic Exegetical Instruments
 6 Mary Magdalen and the Prodigal Son in the Speculum humanae salvationis
 7 Visualizing the Adventure of the Prodigal Son
 8 Performing the Parable in Courtois d’Arras
 9 Transition: Towards People, Towards Cities

2 The Voice of the Preacher: Late Medieval Model Sermon Collections
 1 Preaching and Liturgy
 2 Between Model Sermons and Reportationes
 3 Two Genres of Lenten Model Sermon Collections
 4 Two Influential Models of Iacopo da Varazze
 5 Preaching on the Virgin Mary (XIII-XVI Centuries)
 6 Early Model Sermon Collections (XIII-XIV Centuries)
 7 Echoes of Sermons in Ludolph of Saxony’s Vita Christi
 8 A Heterodox Wycliffite Sermon
 9 Vicent Ferrer: Dramatizing the Story and Bookkeeping the Merits
 10 Towards Fifteenth-Century Model Sermon Collections
 11 An Encyclopaedic Model Sermon by Conrad Grütsch
 12 “Alexander the Great Had a Son”: Reworking the Gesta romanorum
 13 “A Son Must Not Do This”: Obedience as Main Virtue
 14 “You Have a Brothel almost in Every Place”
 15 On the Border of a Book of Hours

3 Italian Preaching on the Prodigal Son: From Bernardino da Siena to Savonarola
 1 “Seek What Helps You to Leave Your Sins”
 2 A Cornerstone of Bernardino’s Preaching
 3 A Model Sermon in the Quadragesimale de Christiana Religione
 4 An Alternative Model Sermon on the Elder Brother
 5 Against Jews and Hussites: Giovanni da Capestrano at Breslau
 6 “Urged by Love and the Necessity of the Time …”
 7 In the Footsteps of the Master: Giacomo della Marca and Bernardino da Feltre
 8 “Better Cold than Tepid!”: Savonarola and Lukewarm Christians

4 The Layman, the Woman, and the Priest: Three Florentine Dramas on the Prodigal Son
 1 The Youth Confraternity of the Purification and Piero Muzi
 2 The Festa of the Fatted Calf
 3 The Representation of the Prodigal Son of Antonia Pulci
 4 A Spiritual Mother “Who Knew the Bible Very Well”
 5 Castellano Castellani and the Florence of Savonarola
 6 The Representation of the Prodigal Son of Castellani
 7 “Con questo dolce suon che tanto piace …”
 8 “I Thought I’d Burst for Contrition”
 9 Beyond the Florentine Stage

5 Fifty Sermons on the Prodigal Son: Johann Meder’s Quadragesimale novum de filio prodigo
 1 The ‘Confession’ of a Preacher
 2 The Sermons
 3 Two Absences: The Devil and the Elder Brother
 4 An Unusual Illustrated Sermon Collection
 5 Dissemination of Meder’s Quadragesimale
 6 Erasmus’ Criticism to an Anonymous Theologian

6 The Sixteenth-Century Prodigal Son: A Multiple Mirror
 1 Before the Storm: Michel Menot in Paris,
 2 Leipzig 1519: Fighting on the Prodigal Son
 3 Voices of the Reformation
 4 Early Catholic Responses in Preaching
 5 Johann Wild’s Lenten Cycle on the Prodigal Son (Mainz 1547)

Epilogue

Illustrations
Bibliography
Subject Index
Index of Names and Places
Index of Biblical Quotations
Index of Manuscripts

All interested in medieval culture and communication, reception of the Bible, preaching and religious theatre, and anyone concerned with the transition from the late medieval to the early modern Europe.