Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ansgar and Rimbert Revisited, or: This is Not about Pseudo-Isidore, Consider Yourself Forewarned

It occurs to me that my resurrected blog comes with side benefits. One is the chance to return to the book that I wrote, yea these many years ago (OK, just two years ago), on the cheerful forgers Ansgar, Rimbert, and their project of documentary falsification and hagiographical deception.

Your humble blogger is pleased and flattered to note that the initial reviews have been broadly favorable. I will not embarrass my distinguished colleagues with direct citations, but I have been happy to see many scholars whose work I respect give my crazy theories a generous reception.

One reviewer, however, has expressed sharp and abiding displeasure at the notion that Ansgar and Rimbert may have been conniving revisionists.  His name is Henrik Janson, and he is a professor of things medieval at Göteborgs Universitet in Sweden. 

Henrik Janson is displeased
with my book.  He also has groovy glasses.
His review graces the pages of the most recent volume of the Kyrkohistorisk Årsskrift (187-192), and he has helpfully scanned and uploaded a copy, so those of you with proficiency in the Scandinavian languages (or at least Swedish) can even read it online

Obviously, several things have irritated Janson. One thing is a column about my book that my former advisor, Anders Winroth, published in the Svenska Dagbladet, a major Swedish daily. For some reason Janson is not down with that column. The second thing is the complete absence of Janson citations in my book. Janson is not down with not being cited.
[Janson: If you’re reading this (or I guess, even if you're not reading this), I apologize that I overlooked your work. If I could do it all over, I’d devote several footnotes to you and you alone. I might even give you your very own entry in the Appendix on Peripheral Questions for the Early History of the Northern Mission. Have a cookie. Have this blog post. And take some comfort, however limited, in your own review, where citations to your work abound.]
Above all, though, Janson does not like my book because he adheres to the traditional narrative of Hamburg-Bremen’s origins: a narrative that I think suffers from severe problems, and that my monograph aims to dismantle. After a not wholly sympathetic summary of my book, he embarks upon an extended attempt to detect argumentative and empirical problems in my work. And it’s this portion of the review that prompts my response from the blogosphere, because I’ve been very interested in what traditionalist critiques of my book might look like.

I hope, then, you won’t mind some departure from our usual Pseudo-Isidorian fare, while I take the opportunity to revisit some of my old ideas about Ansgar and Rimbert, in light of Janson's critique. 

On to Part I
On to Part II
On to Part III


  1. It is certainly hard to read the beginning of his review and not get away with the impression that Janson somehow carries a grudge against that column I wrote, but he never explains what that grudge is. Which is mystifying, to say the least.

  2. Dear Eric,

    As a matter of fact I'm quite positive to your work in many respects. You have, as I clearly state in my review, done a fine job and shown great skills. I just don't agree with all your arguments. That's very common in scholarship. And by the way, I do not care about what glasses you might possibly have.

    Best regards,

    Henrik Janson

  3. Thanks for commenting, Henrik! I really appreciate it. And that was an honest compliment, about your glasses....

    I hope you'll find the time to read the rest of the posts in this series. One is up now, and a few more will follow over the course of the next few days.

  4. Eric, I will certainly do so. As a matter of fact I have already read the new one just now, and I saw that you hit my fingers pretty hard on the filius instance. I was obviously to quick on that one! (One often tend to be too quick in reviews.) Still don’t agree though. ;-)


  5. A new post is up I can see! This is a novel way of doing science, at least for me, but indeed, it is funny reading! You really have a way with words Eric. I can't possibly match your eloquent (American) English, and your young emphatic spirit, so, my dearest son, I will just falter a few comments here in the commentary field.

    As said above, I was too quick in adding my "cf. also" to the two cases you discuss (or "explain away") in the filius-question. You have a really good point there Eric. I did not do my job as I should. However this "cf. also" is of little significance for the broader question. The rule is of course as you say that bishops call each other brothers, fratres, and this is also the general rule in “the pontifical see”, i.e. Rome (just to rule out any possible misunderstandings ;-). But there are obviously a few contradictions to this rule, and they seem to turn up when the Pope is writing to Transalpinian Archbishops. They might certainly be interpreted as expressing affection, but what is “affection” in the politics of the Early Middle Ages? I bluntly stated in my review that it was a means “to indicate supremacy and power, a claim not least against royal and imperial power”. It might be a rough way of putting it, but anyhow, I think such an address was the more easily made if the recipient was a young man as Ansgar was. But actually, I’m not saying that you are wrong, Eric, just that you overstated the strength of this argument in connection to Gregory IV’s privilege for Ansgar.

    In todays post you jauntily challenge my argument about Gautbert as Archbishop among the Sueones. You claim that I plainly misunderstood the meaning of the phrase “pontificali insignitum honore” when taking it as meaning that Gautbert was entrusted the pallium. According to you it simply means only that he was made a bishop. I admit that there might be a slight chance that you are right. This is not a clear case. However, my interpretation was made instinctively long ago, and when approaching these questions in more detail in the late 90s I found that I was not alone in this understanding. For instance Lauritz Weibull, one of the greatest historians in Scandinavia in the 20th century, and among many other things initiator and editor of the first volume of Diplomatarium Danicum (DD), had made the same interpretation.

    And speaking about Lauritz Weibull: in connection with the decade long preparations of the first volume of DD he also came to analyse (and edit) the text that you claim to “hardly exist” Eric, in the article “Ansgarii skrift om den påvliga legationen over Norden” [i.e. ‘Ansgar’s work on the Papal legation to the North”] (Scandia 13/1941). He came to the conclusion that the passage concerning Ansgar and Gautbert as joint Archbishops was part of “Ansgar’s dossier”, and he as well as myself took the reference to Gautbert’s honore pontificalis in VA about exactly the same episode, as a conformation of the fact that Gautbert had received the pallium. Such is the “Stand der Forschung” in Scandinavia.

    So Eric the cactus and the snake pit looks much like you trying to get out of the unpleasant fact – partly already apologized for above though – that you have in your thesis overlooked the Scandinavian research. It had been much easier for both of us if you had taken it all in before your dissertation. The situation is pretty awkward now. But the ships are not really burning. You’ve done a great job anyway.

    All the best,


  6. Thanks again for your comment, Henrik--and for your patience with cacti and burning boats. I can appreciate the difficulty of arguing a position in the comments of someone's blog, in a language other than the one you speak every day.

    The two exceptions under discussion to the filius/frater rule are not, of course, sufficient to establish a trend of papal address to Transalpine bishops, especially given the general volume of papal correspondence to addressees beyond Italy. Interestingly, Liutpold was an older man when Leo called him his filius, but then Leo IX and Liutpold were fellow countrymen, so perhaps the explanation lies there.

    Otherwise, thanks so much for your being open, however slightly, to reading "pontificali insignitum honore" a little differently. As I'm sure you already suspect, Weibull's opinion, though indeed eminent, does not move me on this point. I can certainly agree that the Hildesheim Codex preserves a portion of Ansgar's document collection, but I find the annotations there rather harder to ascribe to Ansgar, at least directly. Our favorite bishop would have to be speaking about himself in the third person (after his introductory epistle beginning "Nosse vos cupio..."), and mistaking the date of his episcopal consecration (this latter, according to any scenario).

    But of course I know you did not descend to the comments to argue these points yet again. Thanks so much for interacting with me here, and I hope you'll stay around for Part 3, sometime next week.

  7. P.S. Henrik--Would you object to my adding a link to your comment on the latest post? That way my (admittedly few) readers might find it...

  8. No, I would not object to that.