Medieval Studies

Medieval Studies Medieval Studies

Michael James Brinks

Graduate Student

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Specializations / Research Interest(s)

  • Late Antiquity
  • Comparative Religions
  • Medieval Europe

Research Description

  • The title of my dissertation is A Community of Preachers: The North Italian Episcopacy, 395-451.  It is a study of the bishops of northern Italy in the first half of the fifth century.  Set against the backdrop of the fall of the western Roman Empire, it is oriented around two main themes: authority and heterodoxy.

    The first part explores these bishops' ideas about the relationship between their ascetic practices and their authority as bishops; the way in which they mobilized the cult of relics in innovative ways to define their authority vis-à-vis other bishops and to establish links with like-minded bishops outside of northern Italy; and the way in which they conceived of the proper exercise of imperial authority, a pressing issue for them because the western Roman emperors resided in northern Italy during this period.

    The second half explores how these bishops deployed their authority to shape the theological outlook and spirituality of their supporters in the context of three significant theological debates that took place between the end of the fourth and the middle of the fifth century.

    My dissertation builds on other studies of north Italian Christianity in Late Antiquity in several significant ways.  First, I include more individual bishops in the discussion than other scholars by relying on recent developments in late antique prosopography.  Second, I trace the history of north Italian Christianity down to the end of the last stable western dynasty in the 450s.  Third, by approaching the topic mainly from a thematic perspective, I am able to place a more consistent emphasis on shared traits in the theology and ecclesial life of northern Italy.  Finally, by discussing all three metropolitan sees of northern Italy—Milan, Aquileia, and Ravenna—my geographic focus is more comprehensive than that of other scholars who have dealt with this topic.

    This approach has yielded a number of important discoveries about the culture of north Italian Christianity during this period.  First, by holding to the ideal of ascetic bishops and by being willing to divide the relics of the saints, the churches of northern Italy differed from the Roman church in two important ways.  Second, because northern Italy was ground zero for the struggle between pro-Nicene and Homoian Arian forces in the west, both the memory of this struggle as well as its continuation during the fifth century shaped the religious identity of these churches in powerful ways.  Third, my study highlights the significance of bishop Chromatius of Aquileia (s. 388/389-ca. 407) as an ascetic theologian, whose contribution has been underappreciated because most of his extant works were not discovered until the 1960s.  Finally, by giving a powerful platform to bishop Peter Chrysologus, who was a close ally of Pope Leo I (s. 440-461), the elevation of the church of Ravenna to metropolitan status had the effect of strengthening the influence of the Roman church in northern Italy.


  • M. A. (Medieval Studies) - Western Michigan University (2009)
  • M.Div. - Western Theological Seminary (2003)
  • B. A. (French, Spanish) - Hope College (2000)

Distinctions / Awards

  • Heiligenstein Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (2015)
  • List of Teachers Ranked Excellent by Their Students (Spring 2014)
  • List of Teachers Ranked Excellent by Their Students (Fall 2013)
  • List of Teachers Ranked Excellent by Their Students (Spring 2013)
  • Laurence M. Larson Scholarship for Studies in Medieval or English History (2013)
  • Joseph Ward Swain Prize, for the best graduate student paper in 2012 (2013)


  • HIST 247 - Medieval Europe

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