The Medieval Review 11.11.24

Jaritz, Gerhard and Ana Marinkovic. Violence and the Medieval Clergy. CEU Medievalia. Budapest: Medium Aevum Quotidianum, Central European University Department of Medieval Studies, and Central European University Press, 2011. Pp. vi, 95. . . 23.95 EUR. ISBN 978-615-5053-26-9.

Reviewed by:

Guy Geltner
University of Amsterdam
g.geltner@uva.nl

This charming little book gathers eight brief papers originally discussed at a 2008 workshop in Dubrovnik on the topic of "Coping with Violence, and the Medieval Clergy." The original sessions examined the violent settlement of disputes involving ecclesiastics as victims and/or aggressors, and in a number of regional, social, and institutional contexts in which these men and women operated. While undertheorized and (apart from Peter Clarke's introduction) mostly disengaged from the existing sociology, anthropology, and historiography on violence, the volume offers two unique contributions. The first lies in its broadening of the traditional geographical scope of such studies in the English language, including as it does several case studies for Scandinavia and the Balkans, which facilitate comparisons with better known and often better chartered territories such as Germany, Spain, France, England, and Italy. A second major contribution of this volume is its very welcome emphasis on the records of the Apostolic Penitentiary as a source for late medieval social, legal, and church history.

Let me begin with the latter, since it serves as a linch-pin to all but two of the papers. Clerical deviancy in the Middle Ages remains a wide open field. Systematic studies such as F. Donald Logan's magesterial Runaway Religious in Medieval England have yet to gain monographic parallels in other European regions, let alone receive comparative transregional treatment. Elisabeth Lusset's forthcoming and comprehensive dissertation on monastic violence between the twelfth and the fifteenth century promises to alter this situation, at least as regards cloistered monks. But the secular clergy remain largely unexamined; and as Violence and the Medieval Clergy shows, the extant records of the Apostolic Penitentiary offer a useful if limited corrective. It is useful because the documents it generated include numerous cases of clerics across Christendom found guilty of (and at times still standing trial for) major offenses such as murder, as well as evidence of laymen convicted of seriously harming male and female religious. It is, however, limited given that, first, non-sporadic documentation survives only from the middle of the fifteenth century onward; and, secondly, the extant files only contain absolutions granted by the pope rather than appeals made to him. Thus the surviving series represents an unknown fraction of such cases tried throughout Europe at the time. And to this we must of course add the potentially wide chasm between cases that began and ended in local courts and those which proceeded to the papal curia.

Nonetheless, the Apostolic Penitentiary emerges as a rich and still underutilized source and the studies gathered here reveal the tip of an existing, rather than hypothetical, iceberg. The book aptly begins with an essay by Kirsi Salonen, whose pioneering use of penitentiary records has brought the late medieval Province of Uppsala to the attention of many. Here Salonen briefly introduces the extant records and illustrates their value by analysing the forty-eight cases of violent crime brought before the court during the brief pontificate of Pius II (1458-1464). Torstein Jrgensen's subsequent article provides further discussion of the office's operation and focuses specifically on the Norwegian clergy's involvement in homicide on the basis of the same court records (thirty-four cases in all). Etleva Lala's study of violent clerics and anticlerical violence in Albania all but draws a causal connection between the former and the latter. More importantly, however, she demonstrates the discrepency between documented cases in that region and those that reached the papal court. Gerhard Jaritz's intriguing study of the role bread-knives played in physical and legal defenses brings the string of articles based on the penitentiary records to a close.

Lala's article spotlights the key issue of center and periphery, both in geographical and jurisdictional terms, a theme further explored by Gordan Ravančić and Nella Lonza's articles, which are based on local records from Dubrovnik (Ragusa). Both studies demonstrate the particular character of dispute settlement in the city, which relied on what appears to be a subordination of ecclesiastical to civic power in cases ranging from urban planning, to sexual misbehavior, to major acts of violence perpetrated by and against clerics. Secular councilmen, for instance, all but conducted one priest's trial, albeit in an ecclesiastical court, and no local priest dared blow the whistle when a papal envoy made allegations to that effect. The Council's effective control of the episcopal prison in this case offers another visible reminder of politically skewed legal practices.

In transitioning from vivid conference papers to book chapters these and the above articles did not strive to encompass a broader comparative approach to the available literature or spell out the implications of their cases studies. Further, most articles could have benefited from clearer definitions of or at least conceptual frameworks for studying violence perpetrated by and against priests, monks, and nuns. Especially for the later Middle Ages, there have been many suggestions of a relation between clerical deviancy and anticlericalism, the latter helping to pave the way for the Protestant Reformation. With all but one partial exception, that nexus is not taken up. I do not wish to minimize these shortcomings, but they are clearly related to the dynamics of present-day publication rather than to the contributors' capacity. At any rate, the finished product is valuable and should be of interest to anyone curious enough about clerical deviance and victimization to venture beyond the geographical core and the relative documentary comfort of Western Europe.