The precision and force of Michael Goodich’s scholarship on medieval hagiography has few equals. His Vita Perfecta: The Ideal of Sainthood in the Thirteenth Century (Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann, 1982; Monographien zur Geschichte des Mittelaltars, band 25) stands with André Vauchez’s classic Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005) as a twin tower in the field. When he died in October 2006, at the age of 62, he was teaching at the University of Haifa and was arguably one of the world’s foremost medievalists studying the social history of Europe, leaving a number of works unpublished but about to go to press. This study on miracles is a posthumous legacy and a lasting testimony to Goodich’s work.
According to Goodich, the volume has a fourfold purpose: “to explore the relationship between reason and revelation in the medieval understanding of miracles; to link the desire to provide a more rational foundation to the Christian belief in miracles with the rise of heresy and other forms of disbelief; to compare and contrast ‘popular’ and learned understanding of the miraculous; and to trace the application of the rules of evidence in the examination of miracles in the central Middle Ages” (117). Goodich’s sources are the stock in trade of modern researchers into the miracle narratives of the late middle ages. “Canonization dossiers and contemporary hagiographical Vitae and miracle collections; philosophical/theological treatises dealing with miracles attributed to God, the prophets, angels, saints, Satan and others; sermons which reflect both the learned perspective on miracles and the attempt to communicate this theology to a wider audience; and canon law and ancillary sources dealing largely with the procedure of canonization” (117).
Goodich maintains that canon lawyers of the period definitively influenced the ways in which miracles were treated—not insofar as the law attempted to prove the veracity of the miracle, as much as it was used to shore up the authoritative nature of pronouncements from investigative tribunals. The attestationes (testimonies) became mandatory and were scrutinized using nearly formulaic questioning. Papal canonization bulls were drafted in equally juridical terms. The theology of miracles became highly influenced by rationalistic schools of thought and this theology promoted the forensic nature of miracle dossiers. Those miracles that did not fit the rational—or in Goodich’s terms, ‘learned’—mode of investigation, particularly those resulting from dreams, are nearly always eliminated from the final bull of canonization, however much they helped to legitimate a saint’s cause.
Perhaps the strongest chapter deals with the extant sermon literature—a relatively large trove of clerical thought scattered around Europe’s archives. Preaching allows us to see how deeply theological insight had penetrated ecclesiastical culture. For instance, a clear demarcation is made during the pontificate of Clement VI (d. 1352) between use of Aristotle’s definition of mirabilia (wonders like sleights of hand) and miracula (miracles). Among those preachers who were both prolific homilists and directly worked on several canonization processes, Goodich lifts up Odo of Châteauroux (d. 1273) who had served as chancellor of the University of Paris (1238-1244) and later as dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals. Odo typically preached about the saints under examination offering panegyrics to Richard of Chichester and Hedwig of Silesia, both of whom were later placed among those receiving the beatific vision. Odo left 129 sermons on saints. These homilies, like many of his contemporaries, stressed the importance of visible, verifiable miracles—like those of Jesus, and unlike those of the Patarene heretics who interpreted miracles in a more spiritual sense. To this chapter, Goodich adds inquiries into doubters of miraculous phenomena and the political ramifications of saints’ miracles.
As Gary Dickson writes in his prefatory appreciation, this book is a “grand synthesis of what preceded it” (ix). One needs only to inspect the outstanding bibliography to get an indication of the scope of Goodich’s learning. Though this is far too over priced for use as a classroom text, Miracles and Wonders is a fascinating contribution to medieval church history and should be part of every graduate and seminary library.