Widely recognized by contemporaries as the most powerful
theologian of his generation, Jean Gerson (1363-1429) dominated the
stage of western Europe during a time of plague, fratricidal war,
and religious schism. Yet modern scholarship has struggled to
define Gerson's place in history, even as it searches for a
compelling narrative to tell the story of his era.
Daniel Hobbins argues for a new understanding of Gerson as a man of
letters actively managing the publication of his works in a period
of rapid expansion in written culture. More broadly, Hobbins casts
Gerson as a mirror of the complex cultural and intellectual shifts
of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In contrast to earlier
theologians, Gerson took a more humanist approach to reading and to
authorship. He distributed his works, both Latin and French, to a
more diverse medieval public. And he succeeded in reaching a truly
international audience of readers within his lifetime. Through such
efforts, Gerson effectively embodies the aspirations of a
generation of writers and intellectuals. Removed from the narrow
confines of late scholastic theology and placed into a broad
interdisciplinary context, his writings open a window onto the
fascinating landscape of fifteenth-century Europe.
The picture of late medieval culture that emerges from this study
is neither a specter of decaying scholasticism nor a triumphalist
narrative of budding humanism and reform. Instead, Hobbins
describes a period of creative and dynamic growth, when new
attitudes toward writing and debate demanded and eventually
produced new technologies of the written word.
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