Water and the Word, Volume 1

Commentary

Susan A. Keefe

Publications in Medieval Studies

Water and the Word focuses on a genre of literature written for the education of the Carolingian clergy: Carolingian baptismal instructions. This literature has never been brought together and studied collectively in the context of the books in which it circulated. As a corpus, read in comparison to one another, the baptismal tracts tell how baptism was celebrated and interpreted across Carolingian Europe. At the same time, in their manuscript context, they are an important new source of information regarding the nature and the success of the Carolingian Reform to educate the clergy.

This comprehensive study has three major objectives. One is to describe the codices in which the baptismal instructions are found, in order to show what other kinds of material the baptismal tracts were associated with and to show where, how, and by whom these codices were intended to be used. Another is to bring together the baptismal texts and study them systematically. Finally, a third objective is to interpret the Carolingian Reform in light of the baptismal instructions and the manuscripts in which they were copied.

Volume 1 of this two-volume set is devoted to analysis and interpretation of the material in volume 2. It is divided into three parts. The first part is concerned with the manuscript context of the baptismal instructions. In the second, the baptismal expositions themselves are analyzed. Part 3 of volume 1 offers some conclusions about the Carolingian Reform. Volume 2 contains the Latin text of sixty-six manuscripts, as well as descriptions, introductions, and a topical survey of the contents of these manuscripts. In its broadest context this study is about the Christianization of Europe—not the superficial conversion of conquered peoples, but the slow replacement of one mindset with another that came about through the education of the people under the care of pastors.

SUSAN A. KEEFE is associate professor of church history at Duke University.

Reviews

“Most Carolingian texts, so we are taught, are in print, if sometimes in inadequate editions. The proper task of the Carolingian historian is the study of elites and cultural identity, as defined by written culture. Just as the columns of the Acta Sanctorum remind us of texts Carolingian historians take pride in ignoring, so Susan Keefe’s two impressive volumes serve as a reminder that there are plenty of texts still to be edited and understood. By investigating Carolingian interpretations of how people were made Christians she may be contributing more to our understanding of their cultural identity than her contemporaries, but she is far too modest to say so. . . . Outstanding in this study is Susan Keefe’s recognition that our best clues to the function of these texts in the Carolingian empire are found via an examination of the manuscript context in which her texts circulate. So there are detailed descriptions of all of fifty-nine Carolingian manuscripts . . . together with a full listing of all the later manuscript witnesses which she has found for these texts. They were texts that every priest was required to know, so that the manuscripts are essential guides to clerical culture and the range of instructional texts through which the Carolingian reforms were realised. . . . Water and the Word will still be an essential tool an hundred years hence.” — Journal of Ecclesiastical History