Salonen, “Papal Justice in the Late Middle Ages”

In April, Routledge released “Papal Justice in the Late Middle Ages: The Sacra Romana Rota,” by Kirsi Salonen (University of Turku).  The publisher’s description follows:

This is a study of the history and function of the highest ecclesiastical tribunal, the Sacra Romana Rota, from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries. Despite its 9781472482266importance for Christendom and in contrast with other important papal offices, the activity of the Rota has never been thoroughly investigated on the basis of archival sources, in large part due to the vast source material and the perceived “difficulty” of the subject. This book fills this significant gap by explaining how the Rota functioned-its organization, the phases of a Rota process, everyday practices at the tribunal-and the kinds of issues it handled, where the processes originated from and how long they lasted. The study demonstrates that the Rota dealt with a range of cases much broader than has previously been acknowledged, whilst also confirming that the tribunal mainly oversaw litigation over benefices. The results of this research reveal the true role of the Rota and its significance for Christians from the middle ages to the dawn of the Reformation.

“Law and Religious Minorities in Medieval Societies” (Echevarria et al, eds.)

In June, Brepols Publishers will release “Law and Religious Minorities in Medieval Societies: Between Theory and Praxis,” edited by Ana Echevarria (UNED, Madrid) Juan Pedro Monferrer-Sala (University of Cordoba), and John V. Tolan (Universit de Nantes). The publisher’s description follows: 

Muslim law developed a clear legal cadre for dhimmīs, inferior but protected non-Muslim communities (in particular Jews and Christians) and Roman Canon law brepols-publishers-logodecreed a similar status for Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe.  Yet the theoretical hierarchies between faithful and infidel were constantly brought into question in the daily interactions between men and women of different faiths in streets, markets, bath-houses, law courts, etc.  The twelve essays in this volume explore these tensions and attempts to resolve them.  These contributions show law was used to attempt to erect boundaries between communities in order to regulate or restrict interaction between faithful and non-faithful—at at the same time how these boundaries were repeatedly transgressed and negotiated.  These essays explore the possibilities and the limits of the use of legal sources for the social historian.

Brasington, “Order in the Court”

This month, Brill will release “Order in the Court: Medieval Procedural Treatises in Translation,” by Bruce C. Brasington (West Texas A&M University).  The publisher’s description follows:

In Order in the Court, Brasington translates and comments upon the earliest medieval48389 treatises on ecclesiastical legal procedure. Beginning with the eleventh-century
“Marturi Case,” the first citation of the Digest in court since late antiquity and the jurist Bulgarus’ letter to Haimeric, the papal chancellor, we witness the evolution of Roman-law procedure in Italy. The study then focusses on Anglo-Norman works, all from the second half of the twelfth century. The De edendo, the Practica legum of Bishop William of Longchamp, and the Ordo Bambergensis blend Roman and canon law to guide the judge, advocate, and litigant in court. These reveal the study and practice of the learned law during the turbulent “Age of Becket” and its aftermath.

Wei, “Gratian the Theologian”

In March, the Catholic University of America Press will release “Gratian the Theologian” by John C. Wei (law clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit). The publisher’s description follows:

Gratian the Theologian shows how one of the best-known canonists of the medieval period was also an accomplished theologian. Well into the twelfth century, compilations of Church law often dealt with theological issues. Gratian’s Concordia discordantium canonum or Decretum, which was originally compiled around 1140, was no exception, and so Wei claims in this provocative book. The Decretum is the fundamental canon law work of the twelfth century, which served as both the standard textbook of canon law in the medieval schools and an authoritative law book in ecclesiastical and secular courts. Yet theology features prominently throughout the Decretum, both for its own sake and for its connection to canon law and canonistic jurisprudence.

This book provides an introduction to and reassessment of three aspects of Gratian’s theology: his use of the Bible and biblical exegesis; his penitential theology; and his handling of the other sacraments and the liturgy. The manuscript discoveries and methodological breakthroughs of the past few decades have rendered older accounts of Gratian’s theology obsolete. This book reappraises Gratian’s theological views and doctrines in light of recent scholarly advances, particularly the discovery of new theological sources that Gratian appears to have known and used and the discovery of the first recension of the Decretum, which differs in significant ways from the considerably longer vulgate text that scholars have traditionally relied upon. In the process, this book also uncovers new evidence concerning Gratian’s intellectual background and milieu and provides new insights into the Decretum’s composition, structure, and development.

Ultimately, this book does more than just enhance our understanding of Gratian the theologian. It also contributes significantly to our knowledge of Gratian the jurist and to the world of theology and law in which he worked.

Reynolds, “How Marriage Became One of the Sacraments”

In February, Cambridge University Press will release “How Marriage Became One of the Sacraments: The Sacramental Theology of Marriage from its Medieval Origins to the Council of Trent” by Philiip Reynolds (Emory University). The publisher’s description follows:

Among the contributions of the medieval church to western culture was the idea that marriage was one of the seven sacraments, which defined the role of married folk in the church. Although it had ancient roots, this new way of regarding marriage raised many problems, to which scholastic theologians applied all their ingenuity. By the late Middle Ages, the doctrine was fully established in Christian thought and practice but not yet as dogma. In the sixteenth century, with the entire Catholic teaching on marriage and celibacy and its associated law and jurisdiction under attack by the Protestant reformers, the Council of Trent defined the doctrine as a dogma of faith for the first time but made major changes to it. Rather than focusing on a particular aspect of intellectual and institutional developments, this book examines them in depth and in detail from their ancient precedents to the Council of Trent

Prudlo, “Certain Sainthood”

In November, the Cornell University Press released “Certain Sainthood: Canonization and the Origins of Papal Infallibility in the Medieval Church,” by Donald S. Prudlo (Jacksonville State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The doctrine of papal infallibility is a central tenet of Roman Catholicism, and yet it is frequently misunderstood by Catholics and 80140100894470lnon-Catholics alike. Much of the present-day theological discussion points to the definition of papal infallibility made at Vatican I in 1870, but the origins of the debate are much older than that. In Certain Sainthood, Donald S. Prudlo traces this history back to the Middle Ages, to a time when Rome was struggling to extend the limits of papal authority over Western Christendom. Indeed, as he shows, the very notion of papal infallibility grew out of debates over the pope’s authority to canonize saints.

Prudlo’s story begins in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries when Rome was increasingly focused on the fight against heresy. Toward this end the papacy enlisted the support of the young mendicant orders, specifically the Dominicans and Franciscans. As Prudlo shows, a key theme in the papacy’s battle with heresy was control of canonization: heretical groups not only objected to the canonizing of specific saints, they challenged the concept of sainthood in general. In so doing they attacked the roots of papal authority. Eventually, with mendicant support, the very act of challenging a papally created saint was deemed heresy.

Certain Sainthood draws on the insights of a new generation of scholarship that integrates both lived religion and intellectual history into the study of theology and canon law. The result is a work that will fascinate scholars and students of church history as well as a wider public interested in the evolution of one of the world’s most important religious institutions.

Izbicki, “The Eucharist in Medieval Canon Law”

This month, Cambridge University Press releases “The Eucharist in Medieval Canon Law” by Thomas Izbicki (Rutgers University). The publisher’s description follows:

Thomas Izbicki presents a new examination of the relationship between the adoration of the sacrament and canon law from the twelfth to fifteenth centuries. The medieval Church believed Christ’s glorified body was present in the Eucharist, the most central of the seven sacraments, and the Real Presence became explained as transubstantiation by university-trained theologians. Expressions of this belief included the drama of the elevated host and chalice, as well as processions with a host in an elaborate monstrance on the Feast of Corpus Christi. These affirmations of doctrine were governed by canon law, promulgated by popes and councils; and liturgical regulations were enforced by popes, bishops, archdeacons and inquisitors. Drawing on canon law collections and commentaries, synodal enactments, legal manuals and books about ecclesiastical offices, Izbicki presents the first systematic analysis of the Church’s teaching about the regulation of the practice of the Eucharist.

Helmholz, “Natural Law in Court: A History of Legal Theory in Practice”

Whatever little I know about the ius commune–continental Europe’s set of Helmholzperennial legal principles (derived in part from Roman and Canon law) existing in a code-based system of law–I learned from the work of the distinguished medieval legal historian Professor R.H. Helmholz (Chicago). And because it is the 800th anniversary year of King John’s acceptance of the terms of Magna Carta, may I also recommend this podcast wherein Professor Helmholz gives a talk on Magna Carta “from a European perspective” (he begins to speak at just after the 5 minute mark and speaks for about 15 minutes).

Professor Helmholz’s very interesting latest book, Natural Law in Court: A History of Legal Theory in Practice, is being published next month by Harvard University Press. The publisher’s description follows.

The theory of natural law grounds human laws in the universal truths of God’s creation. Until very recently, lawyers in the Western tradition studied natural law as part of their training, and the task of the judicial system was to put its tenets into concrete form, building an edifice of positive law on natural law’s foundations. Although much has been written about natural law in theory, surprisingly little has been said about how it has shaped legal practice. Natural Law in Court asks how lawyers and judges made and interpreted natural law arguments in England, Europe, and the United States, from the beginning of the sixteenth century to the American Civil War.

R. H. Helmholz sees a remarkable consistency in how English, Continental, and early American jurisprudence understood and applied natural law in cases ranging from family law and inheritance to criminal and commercial law. Despite differences in their judicial systems, natural law was treated across the board as the source of positive law, not its rival. The idea that no person should be condemned without a day in court, or that penalties should be proportional to the crime committed, or that self-preservation confers the right to protect oneself against attacks are valuable legal rules that originate in natural law. From a historical perspective, Helmholz concludes, natural law has advanced the cause of justice.

Stephens, “Canon Law and Episcopal Authority: The Canons of Antioch and Serdica”

In June, Oxford University Press will release “Canon Law and Episcopal Authority: The Canons of Antioch and Serdica” by Christopher Stephens (University of Roehampton). The publisher’s description follows:

Christopher W. B. Stephens focuses on canon law as the starting point for a new interpretation of divisions between East and West in the Church after the death of Constantine the Great. He challenges the common assumption that bishops split between “Nicenes” and “non-Nicenes,” “Arians” or “Eusebians.” Instead, he argues that questions of doctrine took second place to disputes about the status of individual bishops and broader issues of the role of ecclesiastical councils, the nature of episcopal authority, and in particular the supremacy of the bishop of Rome.

Canon law allows the author to offer a fresh understanding of the purposes of councils in the East after 337, particularly the famed Dedication Council of 341 and the western meeting of the council of Serdica and the canon law written there, which elevated the bishop of Rome to an authority above all other bishops. Investigating the laws they wrote, the author describes the power struggles taking place in the years following 337 as bishops sought to elevate their status and grasp the opportunity for the absolute form of leadership Constantine had embodied.

Combining a close study of the laws and events of this period with broader reflections on the nature of power and authority in the Church and the increasingly important role of canon law, the book offers a fresh narrative of one of the most significant periods in the development of the Church as an institution and of the bishop as a leader.

The Newest Doctor of the Church


This week, Pope Francis did something unprecedented. (One could perhaps write that sentence every week). He named, as a Doctor of the Universal Church, a tenth-century Armenian mystic called Gregory of Narek. Now, as the Catholic Church already recognizes 35 other Doctors of the Church, a designation that indicates saints who have made particular contributions to theological learning, you might wonder what’s so unprecedented about it. I’ll tell you.

(Readers who find theology, church history, and canon law boring should stop reading this post right now. You know who you are. We’ll get back to our regularly scheduled posting presently).

Gregory was a priest in the Armenian Apostolic Church. As a formal matter, the Armenian Church and the Roman Catholic Church have been out of communion since the fifth century. By the time Gregory was born, the two churches had already been divided for about 500 years. So Pope Francis has named, as a saint of particular theological distinction, someone from a separated church–someone who was not, in fact, a Catholic at all.

The churches separated over Christology. The Armenian Church declines to accept the Council of Chalcedon (451), which declares that Christ is one person with two separate, but conjoined, natures, human and divine, a position known as diophysitism. Like her sister Oriental Orthodox Churches, including the Coptic and Syriac churches, the Armenian Church holds instead that Christ has one combined human-divine nature, in which the human and divine nonetheless remain distinct, a position known as miaphysitism.

The disagreement does seem a rather technical one. Much turns on the proper fifth-century translation of Greek words like “physis” and “hypostasis.” For centuries, however, the two sides condemned each other as heretical. Chalcedonian Christians, including Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants, dismissed Orientals as “monophysites.” That designation has been dropped in our lifetimes, though, both because it is incorrect (unlike miaphysitism, monophysitism is indeed a heresy, but not one Orientals espouse) and because it is rather insulting. Indeed, in 1996, Pope St. John Paul II signed a declaration with Catholicos Karekin I, the patriarch of the Armenian Church, that attributed the centuries of division to semantic and other misunderstandings and explained that, whatever the other differences, Christological controversies should no longer separate the two churches. In fact, current Catholic canon law allows Orientals to receive communion in a Catholic church.

Now, the Armenian Church–my own church, in case you are wondering–has long considered Gregory of Narek, who wrote a beautiful set of reflections called the Lamentations, a saint. Indeed, he’s a very prominent saint, whose prayers are included in our Lenten vigils. But he was not a Catholic. I imagine he himself would have been a bit surprised to find that Rome had declared him a Doctor of the Church, a saint whose theological writings bear special distinction. What’s the explanation?

As far as I can make out, it’s this. When Rome receives part of an Eastern church into full communion, it accepts all of the Eastern church’s saints, as long as they did not explicitly contradict Catholic doctrine. So, when part of the Armenian Church united with Rome in the 18th century to form the Armenian-rite Catholic Church, Rome accepted the Armenian saints, including Gregory of Narek. He was, as it were, grandfathered, and has been a Catholic saint ever since. That’s how, in light of his great contributions, he can be declared a Doctor of the Church today.

Pretty much everyone in the Catholic world seems happy, or at least not unhappy, about this turn of events (though not everybody), including the traditionalists at Rorate Coeli:

It is interesting to note that Gregory lived at a time when the Armenian Church, to which he belonged, was not formally in communion with Rome and Constantinople. However, as those interested in the extremely tangled history of Christianity in the first millennium are well aware, one cannot always speak straightforwardly of “schism” and “heresy” when dealing with the theological and ecclesiastical divisions of Christendom in that era.

Just so. Armenian Apostolic Christians, too, are genuinely pleased. Indeed, Pope Francis’s action is particularly welcome this year, the centennial of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, in which 600,000 to 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, including many Christian martyrs, lost their lives. The monastery of Narek on the shore of Lake Van, where Gregory once lived and taught, was itself a victim of the purge. The monks abandoned it during the genocide, a hundred years ago, never to return. Today, a mosque stands on the site.

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