In the Mirror of the Prodigal Son

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


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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Biographical Note

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).

Table of contents

List of Illustrations


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)


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.


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