The Medieval Review 11.02.03

Rolker, Christof. Canon Law and the Letters of Ivo of Chartres. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Pp. xiii, 386. $110 ISBN 978-0-521-76682-1. .

Reviewed by:

Bruce Brasington
West Texas A&M University

Few episcopal letter collections rival that of Bishop Ivo of Chartres (+1115). Almost 300 letters chronicle his activities as pastor and politician in one of the most important dioceses of France. To date, scholars have had two ways of access this rich source for medieval life and thought, the seventeenth-century edition available in PL 162 and a partial edition, with accompanying French translation, produced by Jean Leclerq during the Second World War. Christof Rolker provides for the first time a truly comprehensive examination of the letters' transmission. This, however, is only one of this outstanding work's achievements. For Rolker also re-assesses the state of canon law and theology in northern France at the beginning of the twelfth century and Ivo's role in the creation of a distinct canonistic jurisprudence.

The book begins with a careful examination of Ivo's life, and pays careful attention to his medieval reputation. Rolker then surveys the manuscript evidence for canonistic activity in northern France around 1100. This sets the context for his analysis of the canonistic collections traditionally attributed to Ivo. Since the pioneering researches of Paul Fournier a century ago, it has been generally assumed that Ivo compiled, in order, three collections: the Tripartita, Decretum, Panormia. Drawing from the first two, the Panormia was judged his masterpiece, a highly organized and comprehensive compilation which, as its extensive manuscript tradition indicates, became the most popular collection prior to the reception of Gratian's Decretum after 1150. Attribution of these three sizeable collections to Ivo has received some critical re-evaluation in recent years, notably by Rolker's dissertation advisor, Dr. Martin Brett, who has persuasively argued that the Tripartita was likely not produced by the bishop but, instead, by associates. By comparing the sources, papal decretals, patristic citations, and conciliar canons, contained in the Panormia with those found in Ivo's letters, Rolker convincingly demonstrates that this collection was not compiled by the bishop. At the same time, there is congruence with the Ivonian Decretum. (An extensive Appendix gives a complete concordance of the letters' sources, the letters cited according to their number in PL, with the three collections.)

Rolker's analysis is based, as already noted, on extensive manuscript research. He is aware of more than 120 surviving manuscripts--has studied closely many of them--and, on this basis, identifies a copy surviving at Jesus College, Cambridge as perhaps the earliest for of the collection (268 n. 91). No less than 41 were collated for this analysis. By contrast, Leclercq new about 50 manuscripts, but based his partial edition on only a handful. Accordingly, Rolker's work should henceforth be preferred to any previous study.

On the basis of his extensive and exacting manuscript analyses, Rolker also how the letters and other, authentically Ivonian works (the Decretum, sermons, and the famous "Prologue" on canonistic jurisprudence) reveal the bishop's understanding and practice of canon law. In a chapter entitled "Hierarchies of Authority," Rolker discusses how Ivo understood the interrelationship of ecclesiology and sacramental theology. The bishop's relationship to his ecclesiastical superiors, metropolitan and papal, is also discussed in depth; as well as the latter's increasing legatine representatives. No less important is the bishop's relationship, often contentious, with monks and canons regular. Rolker also devotes a separate chapter to Ivo's views on marriage. His close study of the letters provides the best analysis to date of Ivo's understanding of such issues as the importance of consent by both parties in making a valid marriage. At least in regards to Ivo's thought in this area, Rolker should be preferred to the older, well-known, study by Georges Duby. He likewise argues convincingly that Ivo should not be labeled as a "reformer" (in the Gregorian sense) or as a proto-scholastic (296-297). While important as a theologian and jurisprudent, Rolker cautions us to resist the temptation to push Ivo's ideas ahead into the scholastic world of the twelfth century.

I recommend this volume to any student of medieval life around 1100. Rolker's knowledge of the primary and secondary sources concerning the political, theological, and legal history of Ivo's world, is formidable. His bibliography is essential to anyone who wishes to explore the intellectual history of the twelfth century. Both Ivo and Chartres and the study of medieval canon law have been well served.