De periculis novissimorum temporum, by William of Saint-Amour
Edited and translated by Guy Geltner
Peeters Publishing, 2008
Vowing to lead a life of voluntary poverty in imitation of Christ, the medieval mendicant orders swept across Latin Christendom with their zealous preaching and exemplary charity. But their golden age was short-lived. As they grew in size and wealth, Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Augustinians, and other friars began to meet with resistance, especially from monastic and clerical circles. Many of these critics called to curb the orders’ privileges; others, however, sought their total abolition. The latter found their most ardent spokesman in William of Saint-Amour, a professor of theology at the University of Paris.
In 1256, amidst growing tensions between Parisian secular and mendicant academics, William published his major assault on the friars, De periculis novissimorum temporum, or On the Dangers of the Last Times. As its title proclaims, the treatise employed the exegetical language of apocalypticism to expose the mendicants’ success as the ultimate universal threat, and to warn their supporters that they were siding with the Antichrist. Official response to these audacious accusations did not delay. At the instigation of Louis IX of France (St. Louis)-himself an outspoken mendicant sympathizer-the pope banished William from Paris and declared the treatise unorthodox.
William’s party was silenced, at least for the time being, yet De periculis lived on. For centuries to follow it furnished the basic vocabulary of anti-fraternal polemics through an ever-changing political and religious landscape. Medieval poets, Reformation theologians, modern playwrights-all have drawn upon this anathematized treatise to different ends.
The present volume offers a fresh Latin edition of De periculis and its first translation into any modern language. The introduction supplies the immediate context for the treatise’s original publication, revises its traditional interpretation, and charts its literary and theological afterlife.