Marín, Raúl Villegas, Pseudo-Próspero de Aquitania Sobre la providencia de Dios. Introducción, texto latinorevisado, traducción y comentario (Publicacions i Edicions de la
Universitat de Barcelona, 2011). Pp. 346. Paper. €35.00. ISBN 9788447534869.
These days, one expects very little change in the fifth century. Yet, the figure of Prosper of Aquitaine has changed a great deal in our day, even a millenium and a half after his death. It is, of course, not Prosper himself who changes, but our understanding of Prosper that varies, and Raúl Villegas Marín has contributed to our changing understanding of Prosper. One of the key claims he defends in his recent study of the fifth century Carmen de providentia Dei (CDP) is that Prosper did not write this poem. Given that recent scholarship on Prosper (e.g. A. Hwang, Intrepid Lover, M. Marcovich, De prov. Dei.) accepts Prosperian authorship of CDP, Marín’s argument is a significant change within the scholarship. Even apart from questions of authorship, Marín’s dating of CDP to the late 420s is also a signficant departure from other scholars, since many date the work earlier. Dating and authorship are inter-dependent for Marín.
The question of Prosper’s authorship of CDP is particularly vexing because the poem favors theological opinions about grace and free will that other works of Prosper reject. Scholars debate whether Prosper changed his mind early in his career or whether he was always consistent with his later defense of St. Augustine’s mature position. Since Augustine is Prosper’s great hero, it is easy to find a parallel between a Prosper who changes his mind about the interaction between grace and human will and Augustine, who also rejected his own earlier views on the subject. Perhaps most scholars even identify with this kind of development in their own thoughts. It is not uncommon to change one’s mind. However, Prosper’s conversion would have happened well after Augustine’s, and so, we struggle to envision a young Prosper who read the mature Augustine and still fell prey to the same theological positions which his hero (Augustine) had already rejected. Since CDP would be the earliest and only text Prosper wrote in defense of the notion that human will sometimes precedes grace, one’s picture of Prosper is at stake with Marín’s arguments about CDP. If Prosper wrote it, he wrote it early in the 5th century and then reversed his theologial opinion by 427. If Prosper did not write it, then Prosper’s early career is not marked by an unannounced shift in opinion, but we must find another plausible explanation for its authorship.
Marín argues that CDP was not written by an inconsistent Prosper, but rather was written by one of Prosper’s opponents sometime around 426/427. This position is internally consistent. Dating CDP to c. 416, which is the current majority opinion, is internally consistent with Prosperian authorship, provided that Prosper changes his mind. Marín is careful to note that Augustine’s change of position is not a good parallel, as other scholars have attempted to argue, because Prosper does not offer a retractio (p56). Instead of presenting himself as having a change of position, Prosper speaks of theological enemies who hold heretical positions. The basic form of Prosper’s “later” claims makes it difficult to hold that the CDP is, in fact, an “earlier” text of Prosper’s. Prosperian texts like his letter to Augustine and de ingrat. speak of the positions presented in CDP as positions other people hold. Furthermore, Prosperian texts from the late 420s argue that the positions presented in CDP are heretical. This indicates not that Prosper’s position on grace and free will developed, but that he consistently rejected the theology of his Gallic neighbors. Additionally, those who argue for Prosperian authorship on philological grounds find a tough critic in Marín. His response to this scholarship is well formed (p55-59); We expect strikingly similar vocabulary from a range of authors who are arguing about the same technical terms. Use of these technical terms is not enough to establish Prosperian authorship because several authors use them. In short, Marín’s thesis that Prosper cannot be the author of this text depends on his arguments that the theology of the CDP is not Prosper’s theology. He is not alone in this position (p62), but much rests on dating the text later rather than earlier so that there is no chance for Prosper to change his mind.
The theology of CDP certainly fits the theologial milieu which Marín articulates. But CDP laments the destruction which has come about from political instability and war. Scholars have been very happy to see the civil unrest described in the poem as the result of the complicated “barbarian” military and political activity of the early fifth century (pp1-23). The reference to suffering under Vandal swords for ten years fits with the date 416 for the poem. This directly contradicts Marín’s thesis. Marín is at his weakest when having to intepret caede decennis / Vandalicis gladiis sternimur et Geticis as meaning something less literal (p 53, 144-145). However, his arguments for dating the text based on its use of and response to other theological texts is more convincing. Marín argues that the text is later than the Papal condemnations of Pelagianism in 417 and 418 (p39-40) because CDP accepts the Roman position. Once we grant that CDP is later than 418, it becomes apparent that CDP belongs to the discussion that occured at end of the 420s. CDP fits theologically with Augustine’s de corr., Cassian’s Coll. 13, and Prosper’s contentious and vociferous response to his fellow Gallic theologians (p47-55). The text cannot belong to Prosper. Thus, Marín argues that it is easier to read decinnis figuratively than to suppose the theology is prescient of a decade of Gallo-Roman discussions influenced by African sources.
Marín considers that the text could have circulated anonymously (which makes it easier to explain various attributions in manuscripts, p55-63), but ultimately suggests that it was written by a monk at St. Victor’s monastery under Cassian (p63-70). Still, one finishes Marín’s work wishing the constraints of time and space had not forced him to omit more speculation on how his argument impacts our picture of Prosper. The focus of his work on the text and not the man made it possible for Marín to format his work with 74 pages of introduction which summarize the 220 pages of line-by-line commentary on the poem. One must constantly flip from the thematically organized introduction to the more detailed discussions of individual phrases as though the commentary were endnotes for the introduction. Marín’s insightful discussion is sometimes complicated by the multiplicity of passages from within his book which must be held in the reader’s mind, but his contribution to scholarship on the issue will be appreciated by all who read it, as will his translation, the first in a modern Romance language.
Thomas Humphries, Saint Leo, USA