Tag Archives: canon law

Law and Theology in the Middle Ages by G. R. Evans

Law and Theology in the Middle AgesLaw and Theology in the Middle Ages by G.R. Evans
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a readable introduction of a topic that deserves more interest — the relationship between law and theology. After setting the stage by discussing the various definitions needed to address the very questions of ‘law’ and ‘theology’, Evans gives an account that is largely focussed on law in the High Middle Ages, bringing into play certain theological concepts as needed.

An example of the difficulties of definition lies in the fact that the English word law translates both ius and lex, and the Latin iustitia can mean either righteousness or justice. These are important points if we are to attempt to make an entry into how medieval people thought about and practised law. Several other definitions are assessed throughout, with recourse to the Digest of Justinian, Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies, and then the high medieval canonists, decretists, and jurists — Gratian, Anselm of Laon, the Summa ‘Elegantius’. Theologians who give spiritual flesh to the legal thought herein are usually Augustine of Hippo, Anselm of Canterbury, Bernard of Clairvaux, but only one Peter Lombard.

Much of the middle of the book is taken up with a straightforward discussion of legal operation in the Middle Ages. This was very clear and pitched at an introductory level but with constant reference to the primary sources. It is clear that Evans, writing from the perspective of theology and intellectual history, was interested in helping others from her own background gain a grasp of medieval law and its relevance to theology. As a result, we have a very good description of medieval legal process that is tied into the great medieval worldview through the introduction and conclusion.

The only difficulties I had with the book were the references to contemporary English law and procedure. What little I know of modern law is either Canadian (like me) or American (because of TV and movies).

This is a book that opens up what should be a fruitful field of study. Greta Austin has already taken up Evans’ summons in the final chapter of Shaping Church Law Around the Year 1000: The Decretum of Burchard of Worms. No doubt others have and will. I find myself wanting to work backwards from Evans’ starting points — that is, to look at Late Antique canon law and pastoral theology up to Isidore of Seville!

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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?


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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My new job

As you may know (since the 11 people who read this blog are my friends and family), I recently started a new job at Durham University after seven happy years of life, study, and work in Edinburgh. And what, you may ask, is my new job?

I have a one-year post-doctoral research post associated with the project ‘Durham Priory Library Recreated‘, focussing my research on Durham Priory’s collection of canon law manuscripts. I am starting my research with a canon law manuscript that William of St-Calais (Bishop of Durham, 1080-93) brought to Durham when he became bishop and refounded the religious house associated with the cathedral as a Benedictine Priory. He also started the rebuilding of the cathedral into its Norman/Romanesque magnificence in 1093. Bishop William brought 50 manuscripts with him, including the manuscript I’m initially looking at, a copy of Collectio Lanfranci, a canon law collection brought to England from Normandy by Lanfranc of Bec, Archbishop of Canterbury 1070-89; this collection is a trimmed version of the collection associated with the name Pseudo-Isidore (on whom/which I turn your attention to the work of Eric Knibbs). After, or alongside, William of St-Calais’ Collectio Lanfranci, I’ll be studying the cathedral priory’s other, later, canon law manuscripts.

If canon law doesn’t float your boat, perhaps William’s Bible will.

The research project is a digitisation project bringing together in one digital place all of the manuscripts and early printed books that belonged to the pre-Reformation priory. This means not only the ones at Durham Cathedral and Durham University but also manuscripts that have gone off wandering to London, Cambridge, Oxford, etc. Besides studying the priory’s manuscripts for the creation of new scholarship, I will also contribute to the project blog and engage in public outreach — public lectures, seminars, that sort of thing — besides organising a scholarly workshop in 2018 about Canon Law in Medieval Durham.

I have already settled into my new desk and started ploughing through the material about Durham and William of St-Calais, much of which was written by Symeon of Durham (d. 1129ish). Perhaps I’ll write about him soon! I’ve also visited the cathedral a couple of times and walked down by the river and generally enjoyed living in a city with a big, famous cathedral and a castle.

It looks to be an exciting year.

Biblical genealogies and papal catalogues

I thought of making the second half of the title ‘and apostolic succession’, but the concept of apostolic succession is not under consideration in what follows, but the textual representation thereof in manuscripts.

First, the genealogies. The Bible, especially the Old Testament, and especially the King James Version, is famous for its genealogies. For example, Genesis 5 gives us a genealogy from Adam to Noah, and begins:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, and after his image; and called his name Seth: And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters: And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died. And Seth lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos: And Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters: And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died.

The Old Testament/Hebrew Bible has a variety of other genealogies in it. The New Testament continues the venerable tradition. Indeed, in its current order, the first thing you encounter in the New Testament is a genealogy, taking up Matthew 1:1-17:

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias…

In what we might call a ‘New Testament’ context, or ‘apostolic’ context (that is, Early Christian), the genealogies of Matthew and Luke serve to tie the narrative of Jesus of Nazareth into the salvation narrative of the Old Testament, seeing Jesus as the Messiah and the culmination of Hebrew salvation history.

When a person who knows the stories of the Hebrew Bible reads Matthew’s genealogy, the stories come to mind — Abraham and the promised son, Isaac. Jacob and Laban, then his sons ‘Judas and his brethren’, including the tale of Thamar. We meet Booz (Boaz in most contemporary versions) and Ruth, Jesse and David, then David and Solomon, with a reference to Bathsheba. The genealogy leads the people of Judah through the exile. It is a reminder of the salvation history of the people of Israel from Abraham to Jesus, Son of Mary.

Jesus is the Christos, the Messiah, the Anointed One. He came to save the people of Judaea/Israel — this mission is even embedded in his name Je-sus, ‘YHWH saves’. For the Christian mind, this is the function of Jesus’ genealogies.

One common ingredient in many of the canon law manuscripts I have spent the past five years studying has been a catalogue of popes, listing each pope in turn, then how many years, months, and days, he sat upon the See of St Peter. Here’s a pope catalogue from one of my favourite canon law manuscripts, Vat. Reg. lat. 1997 (ca 840), called Collectio Teatina:

teatina 121vAs I discussed on this blog a few months ago, canon law books, especially those arranged chronologically, are not simply reference works (although they are that as well). As Rosamond McKitterick has shown us in History and Memory in the Carolingian World and elsewhere, these canon law manuscripts are also works of history. I must hasten to add that pope catalogues such as those under discussion exist in Late Antique manuscripts, not just Carolingian ones; e.g. Paris, lat. 12097 (6th century), Collectio Corbeiensis:

Canons_de_conciles_et_lettres_[...]_btv1b525030636History for us today is thought of as an attempt at dispassionate reading of the past, an attempt to assess with as little bias as possible the sources of the events and currents and ideas of the world as it has gone before us, and then to make that world accessible to today’s world. History for most of history has been an exercise in a variety of other purposes, classified by the ancients (e.g. Quintilian) as an art alongside rhetoric, rather than a(n attempted) scientific discipline.

For Late Antique and Carolingian Christians, history was even a theological discipline, in one way or another. Those like St Augustine of Hippo in City of God who had more nuance in their thought were careful to argue that ‘bad things happen to bad people’ makes no sense of history, and is even contrary to the Bible: ‘he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.’ (Mt 5:45 KJV) People like Hydatius, on the other, were pretty sure the horrors through which they lived were evidence that the end was nigh, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle cites the Norman Conquest of 1066 as God sending the French as a punishment for the sins of the English.

Nonetheless, there are other ways that subtler Late Antique and Early Mediaeval thinkers saw history theologically, and if we are to understand these canon law manuscripts and those periods of history, we must understand how they read and understood the past and what their best representatives believed, not simply lowest-common-denominator Late Antique and Carolingian thought.

Simply put, history is a grand drama, and its climax was in the incarnation of God the Word as Jesus of Nazareth, fully God and fully (hu)man. Everything BC marches up to that point, to the fullness of time, the kairos; everything AD flows from it. Everything BC is the praeparatio evangelica (to borrow the title of a book by Eusebius of Caesarea, fourth-century Christian historian), the preparation for the Gospel — this includes the Jewish nation, the Greek philosophers, the Roman Empire, the pax Augusta.

The Hebrew Bible’s geneaologies fit perfectly well within this Late Antique and Early Mediaeval praeparatio evangelica. The history of the Church, flowing from Pentecost to the day of the writers, is the continuation of the drama that had climaxed at Golgotha and the empty tomb.

The pope catalogue, I believe, takes the place of the genealogy in history as interpreted in the New Covenant of Christianity. In the world of ancient Israel, the Covenant was forged in blood — the bloodline of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whose descendants worshipped YHWH at Tabernacle and Temple. Kinship is important, and YHWH made his ways known to people within the kin-group of the nation of Israel.

Christianity forged a New Covenant in the blood of Jesus of Nazareth (cf. Mt. 26:28), sacrificed on a Cross outside the walls of Jerusalem. It was participation in this blood that made a third race, as second-century Christians were already viewing themselves — not Jews, not Greeks/Romans/barbarians (that is, Gentiles), but something new in the world. This was a spiritual kin-group of brothers and sisters who were members of a royal priesthood with God as their Father. As Jesus had said, God could make sons of Abraham out of the stones if he desired (Mt. 3:9).

There is no place for physical, biological lineage in this new nation of the New Covenant and the new promise, forged in the drama of God’s incarnation as the Nazarene. The new lineage of the new family of God is spiritual.

The churches of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages saw themselves as the visible representation of this great spiritual family of God. The heads of their households in the cities were bishops, and they acknowledged each other as legitimate in an international network of communities of the faithful. Bishops routinely address each other, ‘Most esteemed brother.’ They referred to presbyters, deacons, and the laity as ‘sons’, and were often referred to as ‘Father’ (pater or papa). This included a recognition of the historic, major apostolic centres of Christianity — Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, with Jerusalem added at Nicaea in 325.

These apostolic centres served as organisational structures for discipline and unity; their bishops, eventually called ‘Patriarchs’, were meant to look out for and after their own regional familial communities. In the West, Rome is held with greatest esteem, even if there were disagreements about how Roman auctoritas might play out in real life (see various fifth-century letters between Leo the Great and bishops of the Province of Viennensis).

Because the compilers of these canon law collections saw themselves and their local bishops as part of the ongoing promise of God to the human race, as part of the inheritance of the covenant forged in Jesus the Christ’s blood and recapitulated each Sunday in the Eucharist/Mass, a catalogue of popes was not merely a handy list of who’s who. A catalogue of popes was a visible representation of the cosmic history of the church from Christ’s apostles to the compiler of the canon law book, from Peter to Linus to Clitus to Clement, on to Damasus, Siricius, Anastasius I, Innocent I, Zosimus, through Leo I, Hilarus, Simplicius and then Gregory I and so forth. These men and their letters, their sermons, their tractates, their liturgies, the stories of the lives, were a living bond between the Christian in, say, Gaul and the Apostles in Jerusalem, Antioch, and Rome centuries before.

The Christian Church for the compilers of canon law books was not merely an institution with regulations as visible in the books. It was a living community of brothers and sisters in the faith, with a spiritual lineage stretching back to the salvation of the world in Jesus Christ. A catalogue of popes is a visual representation of this apostolic bond, and a genealogy of Jesus Christ is a similar visual representation of the covenant between YHWH and his people for the 2000 years from Abraham to Jesus, born of Mary in Bethlehem of Judaea.

A pope catalogue, then, is a spiritual genealogy of the theological history of the world.

What can we learn from one of our oldest canon law manuscripts

kn28-0212_160 incipit of epistulae decretalesSo today I finished off one round of work on a manuscript that lives in Cologne at the Erzbischöfliche Diözesan- und Dombibliothek; its shelfmark is 212. The collection of documents in this manuscript is called — originally — Collectio Coloniensis. In my notes, I just call it K. I’ll refer to the manuscript as Cologne 212 from hereon in.

Cologne 212 is a manuscript from the turn of the seventh century (so, c. 600) written in a single column in a half-uncial hand. Rather than describe what a half uncial is, I refer the reader to the image on the left. It is also written in scripta continua — continuous writing. No breaks between words. This can be annoying. In fact, if you take your eyes off this massive block of text too long, it becomes very difficult to find your place again.

Cologne 212 is a very exciting manuscript for my research because — regardless of how early the collections that dwell within them were compiled — most of the manuscripts I work with are Carolingian or later — so, eighth- or ninth-century books; like the manuscript I talked about most recently. Cologne 212, then, is potentially very significant. It was written during the papacy of Gregory the Great (590-604) and shows us at an undeniably precise moment what knowledge of Canon Law was like in Gaul (‘France’ as you call it today) as well as the state of the texts (how good/bad they are). Because most of our collections, even when dated early, exist in later manuscripts, manuscripts like Cologne 212 shold pique the interest of every canon law scholar.

Just to give you an idea, one canonical collection (collection of material pertinent to canon law) that is related to the collection in Cologne 212 is called Frisingensis Prima. Scholars date the collection to about a century before Coloniensis. Its manuscript (Cologne, Clm 6243) is from the late 700s. One of our other earliest collections is called the Collectio Quesnelliana; Quesnelliana is dated to sometime around 495, maybe a bit after. It is transmitted in seven manuscripts, of the eighth, ninth, and twelfth centuries. The earliest securely dated Quesnelliana manuscripts are from c. 780. Another canonical collection that many scholars (but not Rosamond McKitterick!) date early — 500-525 — is the Vaticana; two of its manuscripts are eighth-century, and the third is ninth-. Another early sixth-century collection is Sanblasiana — its earliest manuscript is eighth-century. The very famous Dionysiana, in its form with papal letters from c. 525,  exists in nothing earlier than the ninth century. I could go on.

Cologne 212, then, is special. It is an early canonical collection that is contemporary with its manuscript. Only a few early collections exist in manuscripts so close to them in time. Out of the canonical collections I surveyed in my Ph.D., only three, in fact. The other two are: the sixth-century Corbeiensis in a sixth-century manuscript (Paris, lat. 12097); seventh-century Albigensis in a seventh-century manuscript (Toulouse 364 + Paris, lat. 8901).

Cologne 212 is not only close in time to its gathering — its gathering is close in time to the composition of its texts. Amongst its varied contents, it contains canons from the Second Council of Vaison in 529, the Fifth Council of Orléans in 549, and a letter from Pope John II to Caesarius of Arles from 534. Several other sets of documents from sixth-century councils and Caesarius are contained herein — mere decades after their composition.

The texts I’m looking at — letters from Popes Siricius (384-399), Innocent I (401-417), Zosimus (417-418), Celestine I (422-432), and Leo I (440-461) — are on the whole less than two centuries out from their original composition. Not bad, all things considered.

So, what did I find in Cologne 212? Well, yesterday and today I was looking at the group of papal letters associated with all of the above popes except Leo. It comes in this manuscript with the heading, ‘INCP CAN URBICANI.’ As a result, the selection of letters immediately following (not including Siricius, but anyway…) goes by the name ‘Canones Urbicani’ in the scholarly literature. These letters, whether in this particular order or not, come up in a number of different manuscripts, and the textual criticism of them is my current project.

Vat. Reg. lat. 1997

Vat. Reg. lat. 1997

My initial response to the text of these letters as I went through Cologne 212 was that they share a lot of variants with W and Te (as I term Collectio Weingartensis, in this manuscript in Stuttgart, and Collectio Teatina in Vat. Reg. lat. 1997). I am still trying to sort out W in my mind, but I do know, having studied Vat. Reg. lat. 1997 a lot, Te is definitively Italian and shares a lot of readings with a lot of other Italian canonical collections. So Gaul and Italy are not so far apart — yet. I still have a lot of other manuscripts to look at, some of them from Gaul.

Unfortunately, Cologne 212 is not a perfect manuscript. As you can see on this page, the letter of Celestine I to the Bishops of Apulia and Calabria runs into the text of his letter to the Bishops of Viennensis and Narbonensis — the former letter ends at ‘blanditus inludat’ in the second-last line. But instead of giving the date and then a new heading, the text runs into chapter IV (as divided in the Ballerini edition from 1757 now in Patrologia Latina 56) of the latter letter, ‘ordinatus uero quosdam’.

This, as it turns out, is common for the rest of this group of letters. A few more chapters fall out of this letter, and then again in the letter of Pope Siricius of Himerius of Tarragona. So, as far as those missing chapters are concerned, ‘low quality’. Presumably it was copied from a damaged exemplar.

But I also found something I’m still thinking about.

In Siricius’ letter to Himerius (from 385), Rome’s bishop is telling his Spanish colleague about how clergy shold go through the ranks. In the edition I’m collating against (not the Ballerini; unsure what their text is here) — and every manuscript I’ve read thus far — we read:

acolythus et subdiaconus esse debebit; postque ad diaconii gradum

[having lived content with a wife…] he will be allowed to be an acolyte and a subdeacon; and after, to the rank of deacon

Yes, this is only a sentence fragment. But Cologne 212 adds two interesting phrases. Its text reads:

quinque annis acolitus et subdiaconus esse debebit postquae tricensimo anno ad diaconii gradum

[having lived content with a wife…] for five years, he will be allowed to be an acolyte and subdeacon, and after, in his thirtieth year, to the rank of deacon

Since these temporal phrases don’t turn up in the other manuscripts I’ve looked at for this letter — Dionysiana, Dionysio-Hadriana, Weingartensis, Teatina — the temptation is to reject them, especially Dionysiana and Teatina are definitely old and definitiely Italian — even if their manuscripts are newer.

Another reason to reject them is that they are the sort of thing I expect to be added to canon law manuscripts. These manuscripts were written as sources for canon law, I believe. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that someone would slip in information that makes them more practical. These are standard canonical time periods and ages. If Siricius didn’t actually write them, a scribe could imagine that he had. Indeed, a scribe could have written them as interlinear notes that were later incorporated. That’s how these things work.

You have to read between the lines. Just in case someone else was.