Olivi and the Interpretation of Matthew in the High Middle Ages

Kevin Madigan

In this important new work, Kevin Madigan studies the development and union of scholastic, apocalyptic, and Franciscan interpretations of the Gospel of Matthew from 1150 to 1350. These interpretations are placed within the context of high-medieval religious life and attitudes of the papacy toward the Franciscan Order. Madigan uses the fortunes of the Franciscan Peter Olivi (d. 1298) and his commentary on Matthew as a lens through which to observe the larger theological and ecclesiastical developments of this era.

Structured in three sections, Olivi and the Interpretation of Matthew in the High Middle Ages begins with an analysis of the scholastic gospel commentary tradition in the schools of Laon and Paris. The second section of the book offers a detailed examination of the Treatise on the Four Gospels by the famed apocalyptic writer Joachim of Fiore. Finally, Madigan turns his attention to the disputes which plagued the Franciscan Order during the first century of its existence.

Madigan also focuses on Olivi’s Commentary on Matthew. He argues that this little-known work is perhaps the only Matthew commentary in the high Middle Ages to have been influenced by Joachim’s apocalyptic thought and shaped by internal and external disagreements over the highest form of religious life. Filled with severe criticisms of the hierarchy and leadership of the church, Olivi’s Matthew commentary was examined and eventually condemned by papally appointed theologians in the early fourteenth century.

Olivi and the Interpretation of Matthew in the High Middle Ages is not only a worthy contribution to the study of gospel exegesis, but also a valuable cultural and ecclesiastical history.

KEVIN MADIGAN is the Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard Divinity School.


”. . . An important and needed contribution to the history of biblical interpretation.” — The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. XXXVI, no.1, 2005

“It is . . . heartening to turn to this penetrating study of Peter John Olivi. . . . Madigan shows himself a very able scholar who works in the tradition of Beryl Smalley. . . . With Madigan’s help, there are new reasons to benefit from the unique exegesis expounded by this gifted Franciscan friar from the land of langue d’oc, who often enough said no to whatever he thought shortchanged the ideals of Jesus and Francis.” — Cistercian Studies

“Madigan ends by noting that Olivi’s distinctive exegetical traits—occasional controversialism and muted Joachism—had no future, for the Franciscan exegete who called the late-medieval tune, Nicholas of Lyra, had absolutely no use for them. Madigan’s book, however, will surely have a future because of its clarity and sovereign control of the material.” — The Catholic Historical Review

“For specialists in medieval exegesis and spirituality, it is important for the access it provides to Olivi’s unedited and largely unstudied Matthew commentary and for the fascinating implications it teases out.” — Religious Studies Review

”. . . Kevin Madigan has taken a careful scholarly knowledge of a biblical commentary and worked it into a much bigger picture. He contextualizes Olivi’s commentary in the history both of scriptural exegesis and of the mendicant-secular quarrels, especially over poverty, of the high Middle Ages. He employs his close reading to illuminate newly a much wider question, as all good scholarship should.” — Speculum