In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Jean Gerson

  • Introduction
  • Dictionary and Encyclopedia Articles
  • Biographies and General Studies
  • Specialized Biographical Studies
  • Bibliographies
  • Anthologies
  • English Translations
  • Manuscripts
  • Reception
  • Critical Studies of Chronology
  • Conciliarism
  • Humanism
  • Reform
  • Doctrinal Authority
  • Biblical Scholarship
  • Preaching
  • Tyrannicide
  • Mystical Theology
  • Spirituality
  • Women and Discernment of Spirits
  • Clergy and Laity
  • Poetry and Music
  • St. Joseph
  • Gerson and Pierre D’Ailly

Medieval Studies Jean Gerson
Daniel Hobbins
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 06 February 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0032


Jean Gerson (b. 1363–d. 1429; also Jean de Gerson, or, originally, Jean Charlier) was the most popular and influential theologian of his generation, the most important architect of the conciliar solution to the Great Schism (1378–1415), and the leading figure at the Council of Constance (1414–1418). He came from a family of modest means in the Champagne region of France. As a young student at the College of Navarre in Paris, he came in contact with humanist currents from Italy (he probably read Petrarch at this time), which left some traces in his writings. He first gained fame as a popular preacher in Paris in the early 1390s and then followed his master Pierre d’Ailly as the chancellor of the University of Paris in 1395. He gained international renown as a result of his leading role at the Council of Constance, which put an end to the Great Schism. Following the Council he traveled in Germany and then to Lyon, where his brother was a Celestine monk. Although still chancellor, he never returned to Paris, which had fallen under the control of his political enemies, the Anglo-Burgundians. He wrote hundreds of works in Latin and French and in a variety of genres. They survive in thousands of manuscripts, especially in German-speaking lands, and attest to his tremendous popularity as a moral and spiritual authority in 15th-century Europe. Gerson’s wide-ranging interests extended well beyond the traditional limits of university masters, and his writings serve as a window into 15th-century life and thought. His complete works were first printed in 1483 (many individual works were printed before this) and were frequently reprinted through the first quarter of the 16th century. Later humanists and university theologians alike claimed him as one of their intellectual fathers. Until around 1970, most research on Gerson was carried out by French scholars, many of them clerics, and was published in a few French journals. Since then the scholarship has fragmented, with major contributions in German, Italian, and English as well as French. Because of the complexity and range of Gerson’s contributions to late medieval thought and culture, the student of Gerson must track scholarship in a variety of disciplines and on topics as diverse as mystical theology, music, conciliarism, and Joan of Arc.

Dictionary and Encyclopedia Articles

Readers who are new to Jean Gerson may find it convenient to begin with a dictionary or encyclopedia article. The most substantial overview in English is Hays 1999. For more concise articles, see Fisher 2001 and Pascoe 1985. For something more comprehensive, the reader must turn to articles in French or in German. Glorieux 1967 still provides the most comprehensive overview of Gerson’s career and writings. Combes 1984 updates the bibliography for this article. Salembier 1947 provides the most in-depth treatment of Gerson’s ecclesiology and theology. Ouy 1994 is much shorter but a good place to begin if one reads French. Burger 1984 performs a similar service for German readers.

  • Burger, Christoph. “Gerson, Johannes (1363–1429).” In Theologische Realenzyklopädie. Vol. 12. Edited by Gerhard Krause and Gerhard Müller, 532–538. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1984.

    In German. Good overview of Gerson’s life and works. A considerable secondary bibliography is unhelpfully lumped together at the end of the article and is difficult to navigate.

  • Combes, André. “Gerson (Jean).” In Dictionnaire d’histoire et de géographie écclesiastiques. Vol. 20. Edited by Roger Aubert, 1056–1057. Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1984.

    In French. Contains only updated bibliography for Glorieux 1967.

  • Fisher, Jeffrey. “Gerson, Jean.” In The Late Medieval Age of Crisis and Renewal, 1300–1500: A Biographical Dictionary. Edited by Clayton J. Drees, 183–185. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2001.

    In English. Reliable and concise overview, but far too concise to communicate the complexity of Gerson’s career and the range of his writings.

  • Glorieux, Palémon. “Gerson (Jean).” In Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique, doctrine et histoire. Vol. 6. Edited by Marcel Viller, 314–331. Paris: G. Beauchesne et ses fils, 1967.

    In French. Though showing its age, this is still the best overview of Gerson’s career and writings in the form of an encyclopedia article in any language. Organized under four headings: Life, Works, Spiritual Doctrine, and Sources and Influence, each with subdivisions and substantial bibliography.

  • Hays, B. Gregory. “Jean Gerson (14 December 1363–12 July 1429).” In Literature of the French and Occitan Middle Ages: Eleventh to Fifteenth Centuries. Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 208. Edited by Deborah Sinnreich-Levi and Ian S. Laurie, 129–140. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999.

    In English. Provides even, fair treatment of the major highlights of Gerson’s career, with extended discussion of selected works. Almost completely silent on Gerson’s literary production during the Lyon period. Nonetheless, this article is the most thorough overview of Gerson’s career in English. Lists basic bibliography.

  • Ouy, Gilbert. “Jean Gerson (Jean Le Charlier, 1363–1429).” In Dictionnaire des lettres françaises: Le Moyen Age. 2d ed. Edited by Geneviève Hasenohr and Michel Zink, 782–785. Paris: Fayard, 1994.

    In French. Concise but substantial overview, with the additional benefit of introducing the reader to the major themes of Gilbert Ouy’s research on Gerson. Not focused on Gerson’s French works. Look elsewhere for bibliography.

  • Pascoe, Louis B. “Gerson, John (Jean Charlier) (1363–1429).” In Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Vol. 5. Edited by Joseph R. Strayer, 512–513. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985.

    In English. Reliable but describes only the barest essentials of Gerson’s career.

  • Salembier, Louis. “Gerson (Jean le Charlier de).” In Dictionnaire de théologie catholique. Vol. 6, part 1. Edited by Alfred Vacant, Eugène Mangenot, and Émile Amann, 1314–1330. Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1947.

    In French. Still well worth consulting for an overview of Gerson’s writings. Careful, detailed, and incisive, even if sometimes preoccupied with issues that no longer seem relevant. Divided into five sections: biography, ecclesiology and role at the Council of Constance, moral theology, mystical theology, and preaching. See also the helpful analytical tables in Dictionnaire de théologie catholique: Tables générales, 1804–1806.

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