Category Archives: Christianity

The general category for all my posts dealing with Christianity and Christian stuff.

Who needs canon law?

Basically, everyone the Middle Ages needed canon law. Here’s my latest post for the work blog, about some of the people in Durham who needed canon law and the books they left behind:

Who needs canon law?

 

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Anselm’s human face

Anselm; image from Wikipedia

In his Life of St Anselm, Eadmer tells of a time when they were staying in a church in Italy, outside of which was a cistern with a hole in the top:

One night, when we were sleeping in this church, Anselm happened to get up with a gentle step, as his manner was, lest he should disturb us. But when he had got outside, he forgot the hole, and, making his way towards it in the darkness, he fell in, crying with a loud voice as he fell, ‘Holy Mary.’ At this noise, we and our companions who were sleeping in the tents, leaped up from our beds in a panic and ran to him. When we saw him at the bottom, we were almost beside ourselves with fear and anguish of spirit. Seeing this, he at once raised his head and with a courteous air and cheerful look told us that he had come to no harm. Some of us therefore climbed down on the side opposite to the sheer drop where there was a way of descent, and brought him out of the place altogether safe and sound. -Book 1.32, Trans. R. W. Southern p. 110

It’s the cry, ‘Sancta Maria!’ that gets me.

Prefaces to Canon Law Books in Latin Christianity

Prefaces to Canon Law Books in Latin Christianity: Selected Translations, 500-1245Prefaces to Canon Law Books in Latin Christianity: Selected Translations, 500-1245 by Robert Somerville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This volume provides an introduction to its overall theme, then selected prefaces to canon law books, divided chronologically. Each chapter provides an introduction to the era covered as well as to the prefaces translated before providing translations. Each translation includes bibliographical detail for you to check the Latin for yourself.

The first chapter treats Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, taking us to around the year 700. The second covers the period from the Carolingians to around 1000. The next chapter is the Era of Reform, 1050-1140, followed by ‘Gratian and the Decretists’, and closing with ‘Papal Decretals and Their Collectors: 1190-1245’.

I read this volume primarily to gain insight into why canon law books were compiled in the Middle Ages. This question finds its variously-phrased answers, but the canonists also discuss how they compiled these books, and what the problems facing them were. The question of why tends to get a combination of ‘everything is confused and the books are hard to use’ and ‘to produce a useful, organised compendium of everything you need to know.’ As canon law grows throughout the Middle Ages, the sources themselves become like a forest; the canonists produce their books to help guide the reader. The utility is mostly for bishops hearing cases or priests hearing confessions, but there is also an idea that an educated layman could learn how live righteously expressed in some of these prefaces (rarely, however).

Different prefaces also discuss the concept of law as well as of procedure. Sometimes they consider what the authorities in canon law were, and whether there is a hierarchy of authorities. Later ones probe the relationship between secular and divine law.

This book is extraordinarily useful and has bibliographical notes throughout. Although a general history of canon law is not its intention, and not its result, it is certainly helpful in this regard, at least in terms of the development of canon law collections as well as of medieval juristic/canonistic thought.

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Indictions (more Roman dating; still not Ovidian)

You may be thinking, ‘Gee, dating by consuls sure was fun. How else did Romans write the years in dates?’ Let me tell you, if consular dating is your bag, you’ll love indictions. I was reminded of the ancient Roman indiction cycle recently, since my current research has brought me up against Pope Gregory VII (pope, 1073-85), who uses this system in his letters, thus:

Data Rome VIIII. Kalendas Maii, Indictione XI.

Given at Rome, 8 days before the Kalends of May (24 April), in the eleventh indiction.

One may quickly jump to the conclusion that this is some medieval popery. After all, doesn’t Gregory the Great (pope, 590-604), who comes after The End of Ancient Christianity use indictions as well? Aha, but what sort of man was this first Pope Gregory? Gregory the Great was a Roman aristocrat of senatorial descent who owned a villa on the Caelian Hill, had spent time in the imperial court of Constantinople, and who acted as though Gaul was part of the Empire, not an independent, Frankish kingdom.

Not the sort of guy to go around using new-fangled dating systems.

However, the consulate was gone by Gregory’s day (the last consul was Basilius in 541). But the consulate was not the only way to write a year. Nonetheless, people did not universally and immediately start writing things Anno Domini according to their favourite paschal tables and systems of computus. They did keep using some of the older systems, and the indiction gains greater prominence at this time, at least from what my own, informal glance at the evidence shows.

Two questions, then: What on earth is an indiction? Who used them?

The indiction can be very unhelpfully explained as a fifteen-year cycle for late Roman taxation purposes. It was instituted by the Emperor Constantine (possibly originally developed by Diocletian, r. 284-305), and definitely in use in Egypt (whence come so many useful papyri for this sort of thing) by 313. What this means is that the emperors declared what the average valuation for taxation would be for the next fifteen years. The fifteen years themselves form the indiction. The very first indiction, proclaimed in 313, was backdated to 1 September 312. Every 1 September, every 15 years, a new indiction started, with the start of a new fiscal cycle for the imperial administration.

When used in dates as the Gregory VII quotation above, the word indiction actually refers to one of the fifteen years of the cycle. Thus, if people had been using the indiction in this way in 312 (which I’m pretty sure they weren’t), then ‘first indiction’ would refer to 1 September 312 – 31 August 313. Then the second indiction would begin, and so on for fifteen years. Then the cycle starts again with the new fiscal term.

One of the things this reminds us of — and it’s something I like to point out — is that Constantine, like Diocletian before him, was a reformer and shaper, and he would have been a big deal even without converting to Christianity. Indeed, perhaps his ability to think outside the conventional Roman box is part of why he threw his lot in with the Christian god.

One more small but important note is that, due to an error, in the medieval West, indictions began on 24 September. This must make chronology fun for people who look at Latin-Byzantine relations in the Middle Ages!

Anyway, that, in short, is what an indiction is. I’m probably imprecise in one or more ways; hopefully Richard will correct me in the comments.

People who use indictions to write dates:

A few Latins: Popes. Popes also used consular formulae in letters whereas such dates don’t survive for other letters. So the papal chancery is a big deal, whatever you think about institutional religion. Bede. No surprise, given that he wrote a text call On the Reckoning of Time. Cassiodorus in the Variae; I’ve not checked his historiography.

A few Greeks: Evagrius Scholasticus does sporadically, but not as his main means of dating. Theophanes Confessor.

In Syriac, at least Pseudo-Zachariah Rhetor, it seems.

Lots and lots of other people do, but I really don’t have time to hunt them all down.

Everything a monk needs: My latest post on the Durham Priory Project blog

I have just posted a wee discussion of the book donation list of William of St Calais and how it includes precisely the sort of books monks need to live by the Rule of St Benedict. It’s linked below. Enjoy!

The Book Donation List Of William Of St Calais: Everything A Monk Needs?

A new cast of characters

Theodosius II, in the Louvre (my photo)

Since before my Ph.D., my research has focused on a largely fifth- and sixth-century cast of characters. For my Ph.D. and subsequent research, I’ve been looking at the following players amongst others: chiefly Pope Leo the Great (of course); Emperors Valentinian III, Theodosius II, and Marcian (but also various predecessors and successors, especially Justinian); other bishops such as (as they come to mind) Hilary of Arles, Cyril of Alexandria, Nestorius of Constantinople, Flavian of Constantinople, Cyril of Alexandria, Severus of Antioch; Leo predecessors in Rome, especially Damasus, Siricius, Innocent I, Zosimus, Celestine I; successors, especially Hilarus, Gelasius I, Vigilius; other secular people such as Empress Pulcheria and Empress Galla Placidia; historical writers such as Prosper of Aquitaine, Hydatius, Marcellinus Comes, Evagrius Scholasticus, Pseudo-Zachariah Rhetor; and monks like John Cassian and Eutyches. These are only a few of the Late Antique people in my research, let alone a medieval cast including Pope Hadrian I, Charlemagne, Lanfranc of Bec, Pope Gregory VII, Gratian, and the moderns from Giovanni Bussi in 1472 to Hubert Wurm in 1939.

Now I’m working on a project involving related manuscripts, but in a very specific context — Durham Cathedral Priory. So a new cast is emerging. The texts transmitted in these manuscripts see many of the old cast — the popes, the councils, St Augustine of Hippo — but the new, High Medieval cast is taking shape for me now.

I am beginning with William of St Calais, after a monastic career in Normandy, he was Bishop of Durham 1080/1-1096. He refounded the religious house here as a Benedictine priory to which he donated at least 49 books, listed here, and some identified in modern locations here. One book not identified in that link is the Decreta Pontificum, now Cambridge, Peterhouse MS 74 — the Collectio Lanfranci.

So Lanfranc here and in the Ph.D. After a monastic career in Normandy, Lanfranc was Archbishop of Canterbury 1070-89. Lanfranc and William were both learned men, and they both used the Collectio Lanfranci in various disputes and claims regarding law and ecclesiastical custom. Of interest is the fact that, when William of St Calais was hauled before the court of King William Rufus (r. 1087-1100) in 1088, Bishop William used Lanfranc’s collection as preparation, but Lanfranc’s denied its validity in what was a secular court over feudal law. More on that once I’ve looked at their manuscripts.

Henry V visits his father in prison (from Wikimedia Commons)

Here we have a king — William Rufus, son of William the Bastard, or Conqueror (r. 1066-1087). My working through a manuscript this week has also brought me into contact with the era of the Conqueror’s other son, King Henry I (r. 1100-35), but those particular documents were largely canon law, about the Investiture Controversy, the Concordat of Worms of 1122 and the First Lateran Council of 1023 — documents by King/Emperor Henry V and Pope Calixtus II.

This I had recently read about in the Historia Regum of Symeon of Durham (d. c. 1130), who also wrote a little book about the history of the church of Durham and possibly even our primary source for Bishop William vs King William Rufus, the De iniusta vexacione, but my research into secondary materials has not got that far yet.

Others, more briefly: Anselm of Canterbury (who did not get along with William of St Calais), Pope Gregory VII, Gratian, Anselm’s biographer Eadmer. It is a new, medieval cast of characters, and some are more than a little colourful. People who use canon law are a varied lot, and we’ll see what I make of their manuscripts.