Classic Revisited: Tierney’s “Religion, Law, and the Growth of Constitutional Thought, 1150-1650”

Generally here at CLR Forum we provide notices of new or forthcoming books in law and religion.  But from time to time we will also revisit a classic in the law and religion canon.  The first in this occasional series is the magisterial Religion, Law, and the Growth of Constitutional Thought, 1150-1650 (CUP) by Brian Tierney.  Many other books of Professor Tierney’s could have been selected — his, The Idea of Natural Rights, or The Crisis of Church and State: 1050-1300, for example.  But if you are interested in the origins of constitutional thought, this book is a deeply learned and elegant treatment.

I once had the privilege of listening to Professor Tierney deliver a talk on Locke and natural law a couple of years ago.  One had the impression of a master surveying an intellectual continent from a great height, a man who was capable of capturing in just a few words the core of an enormous and complicated area of inquiry.  I will never forget it.  A description of the book follows.  — MOD 

To understand the growth of Western constitutional thought, we need to consider both ecclesiology and political theory, ideas about the Church as well as ideas about the state. In this book Professor Tierney traces the interplay between ecclesiastical and secular theories of government from the twelfth century to the seventeenth. He shows how ideas revived from the ancient past – Roman law, Aristotelian political philosophy, teachings of Church fathers – interacted with the realities of medieval society to produce distinctively new doctrines of constitutional government in Church and state. The study moves from the Roman and canon lawyers of the twelfth century to various thirteenth-century theories of consent; later sections consider fifteenth-century conciliarism and aspects of seventeenth-century constitutional thought. Fresh approaches are suggested to the work of several figures of central importance in the history of Western political theory. Among the authors considered are Thomas Aquinas, Marsilius of Padua, Jean Gerson, Nicholas of Cusa and Althusius, along with many lesser-known authors who contributed significantly to the growth of the Western constitutional tradition.

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