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Heinrich Suso

His research

Heinrich Suso : His research

A subject to which in early years he devoted much of his attention was the relation existing between scholastic theology and medieval mysticism. It was comparatively unknown, and had in fact been grossly misrepresented by some flippant writers according to whom the German mystics were the precursors of the German Reformers. Denifle's researches put the matter in its true light. He discovered in various libraries of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland copious materials in fourteenth century manuscripts, and a selection of 2500 texts was given to the public in his book "Das geistliche Leben. Eine Blumenlese as den deutschen Mystikern des 14. Jahrhunderts" (Graz, 1873). He also began a critical edition of Blessed Henry Suso's works (the first and only volume of Denifle's edition appeared in 1888 -- another edition is in progress 1908), and on Suso and other mystics he wrote several articles (fifteen in all with appendices) published in various periodicals from 1873 to 1889. His fame as a palćographer, German philologist, and textual critic arose from these investigations and especially from his studies on Tauler, Eckhart, and Blessed Henry Suso. Up to 1875 the most disputed problem in the history of German mysticism was that of the "Gottesfreund" and his marvellous influence. Denifle solved it simply by showing that the "Gottesfreund" was a myth. This discovery, which created quite a sensation, and several others brought him into controversy with Preger and Schmidt, who had till then been looked up to as authorities on the history of mysticism, and also into controversy with Jundt. He proved and demonstrated that Catholic mysticism rests on scientific theology. Denifle's remarks were often sharp, but there could be no doubt that his arguments and his destructive criticism were unanswerable. Catholic and non-Catholic savants. Alike, as Schrörs, Kirsch, Müller, Schönbach, etc., have recognized that he was immeasurably superior to his adversaries. This was owing to his intimate knowledge of the Fathers, of theology -- both scholastic and mystic -- of medieval history, and lastly of Middle-High German with its dialects.

In 1880 Denifle was made socius, or assistant, to the general of his order, and summoned to Rome, where a new field of inquiry awaited him. Leo XIII had commanded that a critical edition of the works of St. Thomas Aquinas should be begun, and Denifle was commissioned to search for the best manuscripts. He visited the libraries in Italy, Austria, Germany, Bavaria, Holland, England, France, Spain, and Portugal. Nothing escaped his eagle eye, and while preparing for the new edition, before his return to Italy in 1883, he had also gathered abundant materials for his own special study. In the autumn of 1880 Leo XIII had opened the secret archives of the Vatican to scholars; he had in 1789 appointed as archivist Cardinal Hergenröther. On the latter's recommendation the pope now (1 Dec., 1883) mace Denifle sub-archivist, a post which he held till his death. Since the beginning of his residence in Rome, Denifle, who found nothing there for his contemplated history of mysticism, had been investigating the career of a celebrated prophet, i.e. the Abbot Joachim, and the reasons of the condemnation of his "Evangelium Ćternum" by the University of Paris. This led him to study the controversy between the university and the mendicant orders. As he found du Boulay's history of the university inaccurate, Denifle, who was a foe to adventurous statements and hasty generalizations, resolved to write a history based on original documents, and as an introduction to it, to commence with a volume on the origin of the medieval university system, for which he already had prepared copious transcripts and notes. His leading idea was that to appreciate the mystics one should understand not only the theology they had learned, but also the genius of the place where it was commonly taught. The first and only volume appeared in 1885 under the title "Die Universitäten des Mittelalters bis 1400" (xlv-814). The wealth of erudition it contains is extraordinary. The work was everywhere applauded; it led, however, to a somewhat bitter controversy. G. Kaufmann attacked it, but was worsted by the erudite and unsparing author. The most copious collection on the subject to be found in any archives is that possessed by the Vatican, and this Denifle was the first to use. Munich, Vienna, and other centres supplied the rest. Among his discoveries two may be mentioned, namely, that the universities did not, as a rule, owe their origin to cathedral schools, and that in the majority of them at first theology was not taught. The University of Paris formed an exception. Denifle had planned four other volumes; viz. A second on the development of the organization of universities, a third on the origin of the University of Paris, a fourth on its development to the end of the thirteenth century, and a fifth on its controversies with the mendicant orders. But the Conseil Général des Facultés de Paris, which had in 1885 decided on publishing the "Chartularium", or records of the University of Paris, resolved on 27 March, 1887, to entrust the work of Denifle, with Emile Chatelain, the Sorbonne librarian, as collaborateur. This quite suited Denifle, for he had resolved not to write before he had collected all the relevant documents, so with the assistance of Chatelain he began his gigantic task. In less than ten years four folio volumes of the "Chartularium" appeared as follows: 1889, volume I, A.D. 1200-1286 (xxxvi-714 pp.), 530 original documents, with fifty-five from the preparatory period, 1163-1200; 1891, volume II, 1286-1350 (xxiii-808 pp.), 661 documents; 1894, volume III, 1350-1384 (xxxvii-777 pp.), 520 documents; 1897, volume IV, 1384-1452 (xxxvi-835 pp.), 988 documents, and two volumes of the "Auctarium". This monumental work, the "Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis", contains invaluable information regarding its inner life, organization, famous professors and students, relations with popes and kings, controversies, etc., during the period when this university was the chief centre of theological learning. "With its aid", as Kirsch remarks, "a history of medieval theology has at last become possible." Some idea of the labour involved in its preparation may be gathered from the fact that all the great libraries and archives in Europe were visited, that Denifle travelled from Paris to Rome forty times, and that in the Vatican archives alone he examined 200,000 letters, of which he utilized 80,000 in his notes (see II, p. 17), though of course more material was found in Paris than in Rome. In order to preserve the unity of the "Chartularium", any reference to the "nations" was relegated to the "Auctarium". The two volumes published contain the "Liber Procuratorum Nationis Anglicanć 1333-1446". Fournier, who rashly criticized Denifle and Chatelain, fared badly at their hands. After Denifle's death the materials he had collected for another volume were entrusted to Chatelain, so that the work right be continued. Owing to the vastness and completeness of his research and to his amazing erudition, what Denifle gave to the world, even though for him it was only a preliminary study, has sufficed to make him the great authority on medieval universities. (See Merkle, Dreves, etc., or Rashdall's "Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages", Oxford, 1895.) In order to publish valuable texts which he had deciphered and the results of his studies on various subjects, together with Father Ehrle, S. J., the sub-librarian of the Vatican, he founded in 1885 the "Archiv für Literatur und Kirchengeschichte des Mittelalters". The two friends were the only contributors. The first five years of this serial contain several articles from his pen, on various universities, on Abelard and other scholars, on religious orders, on popes, etc., Denifle's extensive acquaintance with manuscripts and his skill in palćography were also put at the service of beginners in the art of deciphering by his annotated "Specimina palćographica Regestorum Pontificum ab Innocentio III ad Urbanum V" (Rome, 1888). Among its sixty-four plates, that representing the Vatican transcript of the "Unam Sanctam" is especially valuable. The work was the offering of the papal archivists to Leo XIII on his golden jubilee.

A work of another kind suggested itself to him while gathering in the Vatican archives materials for his annotations on the "Chartularium' . Denifle noticed in the three hundred volumes of "Registers of Petitions" addressed to Clement VI and Urban V, between 1342 and 1393, that many came from France during the Hundred Years War between that country and England. So for the sake of a change of occupation, or "un travail accessoire" as he calls it, Denifle went again through these volumes (each about 600 pages folio). In 1897 he published: "La désolation des églises, monasteres, hôpitaux, en France vers le milieu du Xve sičcle ". It contains a harrowing description of the state of France, based on 1063 contemporary documents, most of which were discovered in the Vatican. Then, in order to give an explanation a similar account of the cause of all these calamities, he published in 1889: "La guerre de cent ans et la désolation des églises, monastčres, et hôpitaux, tom. I, jusqu'ŕ la mort de Charles V" (1385). Though the work was not continued the enormous amount of recondite information brought together and illustrated for the first time makes the volume indispensable to historians (see e.g., his account of the Battle of Crécy and the Black Prince).