David A. Warner

title.none: Buehrer-Thierry, Eveques et pouvoir (Warner)

identifier.other: baj9928.9804.001 98.04.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: David A. Warner, Rhode Island School of Design,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Buehrer-Thierry, Genevieve. Eveques et pouvoir dans le royaume de Germanie: Les Eglises de Baviere et de Souabe. Paris: Picard Editeur, 1997. Pp. 278. ISBN: ISBN 2-708-40525-X.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.04.01

Buehrer-Thierry, Genevieve. Eveques et pouvoir dans le royaume de Germanie: Les Eglises de Baviere et de Souabe. Paris: Picard Editeur, 1997. Pp. 278. ISBN: ISBN 2-708-40525-X.

Reviewed by:

David A. Warner
Rhode Island School of Design

"Every bishop was a successor of the Apostles and a prince of the Church, possessing both sacramental and jurisdictional powers, and with a solemn responsibility for the salvation of Christian souls. Moreover, most bishops were also princes of this world, whose duties demanded the combined talents of a politician, an administrator, and even sometimes (at least until the twelfth century) a soldier (R. L. Benson, The Bishop Elect p.3)." This observation, by a scholar who understood its implications better than most, highlights the dilemma of the medieval bishop, caught between spiritual aspirations and the gritty world with which he had inevitably to deal. It also suggests why studies concerned with the "gritty world" of medieval politics can scarcely avoid dealing with bishops. The study reviewed here represents a revised version of a dissertation submitted by the author, Buehrer- Thierry, at the University of Paris IV. As its title, Bishops and Power might suggest, it focuses exclusively on the political aspects of the episcopate. In particular, it examines the role of bishops in the governance of the East Frankish and Ottonian realms from the death of Louis the German (876) to that of Otto I (973). Given that Buehrer-Thierry focuses precisely on the period in which the Carolingian church gave way to that of the Ottonians, the theme of continuity must inevitably come to the fore. Indeed, the study's general conclusion is that there was a great deal of continuity between the ecclesiastical policies of the late Carolingians and those of the first Ottonians. One should note, however, that the study does not consider the German church as a whole, merely those dioceses associated with the south German duchies of Swabia and Bavaria. This limitation appears to be based essentially on issues of practicality, a study of the entire church having presented too vast an undertaking (p.15). That the two regions have much in common and therefore lend themselves to a comparative treatment is clear, however. In general, the study aims to highlight the role played by Swabian and Bavarian bishops in the political evolution of the royaume oriental, a process encompassing not only a change in dynasty, but also a movement of the political center from south to north.

Readers familiar with contemporary German historiography will recognize that the period with which Buehrer-Thierry is concerned has been the object of intense, at times passionate debate. A substantial body of opinion has, for example, identified it as the point at which one can truly begin to speak of a German history (i.e. as opposed to Carolingian or Frankish history). A minority opinion, represented by C. R. Bruehl, has raised a vigorous and altogether credible dissent. Although Buehrer-Thierry does not address this debate directly, her concern with the question of continuity in the evolution of political institutions implicitly contributes to it. Given the author's concern with bishops and politics, one should not be surprised to find that a similarly controversial aspect of this era, the rise of the Ottonian Reichskirchensystem, looms large in her considerations. According to the classic definition, this institution essentially transformed the great prelates of the realm into pillars of royal authority. The monarch is supposed to have installed men of proven loyalty in important bishoprics, endowed them with public rights and fiscal goods, and essentially set them up as a counterpoise to the great lay magnates, his chief rivals for power. For this system to work, the monarch needed to control appointments to the episcopate. This classic definition, as Buehrer-Thierry rightly notes, has been subject to substantial criticism and revision. Recent scholarship has questioned the appropriateness of the term 'system,' for example, essentially arguing that the relationship between the Ottonian monarchy and its higher clergy was far from systematic, however beneficial it may have been for the parties involved. It has also been suggested that the relationship itself did not differ substantially from the common practice of the Carolingians. Buehrer-Thierry's results tend to strengthen the conclusion, already expressed by T. Reuter et al., that the ability of Ottonian kings to control episcopal elections was invariably compromised by the need to take account of local sentiment, especially insofar as it emanated from the great families of the aristocracy. In fact, Buehrer-Thierry argues, the ruler who successfully installed a bishop in the face of local opposition probably did himself more harm than good because his actions threatened the consensus upon which all rulership ultimately depended. In regard to the bestowal of bishoprics, she concludes, "one must envisage a practice in which the king attempted to establish agreement between his own choice, the voice of the community, and that of the local aristocracy" (p.157). Furthermore, she argues that, in regard to the bestowal of ecclesiastical offices, local sentiment prevented any prince, whatever his title, from exercising an influence that could be characterized as "absolute, arbitrary or without limits." Hence, the Bavarian and Swabian dukes, whose influence within the churches of their respective regna rivaled and sometimes exceeded that of the king, were probably no better off when it came to allocating bishoprics. Buehrer- Thierry cites the case of Archishop Odalbert of Salzburg whose election, according to her revised interpretation, represented a classic case of negotiation between Duke Arnulf of Bavaria and an aristocratic family, the Arribonen, with a special claim on the archbishopric.

In terms of its methodology, Buehrer-Thierry's study owes much to the work of H. Zielinski and A. von Finckenstein whose studies of the German episcopate appeared, respectively, in 1984 and 1989. Each is cited in Buehrer-Thierry's bibliography. Like Zielinski and von Finckenstein, Buehrer- Thierry has taken a prosopographical approach to the episcopate. Specifically, she has attempted to build up a more general picture of the Swabian and Bavarian episcopate, with particular regard to its relations with the ruler, by analyzing the careers and other personal data of its individual bishops. Most of this information is derived from diplomatic sources (e.g. royal charters, conciliar decrees). As with the two works by Zielinski and Finckenstein, the data upon which Buehrer-Thierry bases her conclusions is presented to the reader in the form of lists. One list, for example, notes every instance in which an individual bishop has been mentioned in a royal diploma, requested a gift or benefit, or intervened on behalf of other petitioners. This information, in particular, allows Buehrer-Thierry to draw several major conclusions regarding the influence of these bishops within the ruler's entourage. She argues, for example, that the Swabian presence was much more substantial than that of the Bavarians who, with a few exceptions, seem to have remained almost exclusively within the boundaries of their own region. The relative isolation of the Bavarian episcopate appears to have been broken only when the center of power moved to Bavaria (e.g. under Arnulf of Carinthia), but in virtually every case, so it is argued, the political competency of bishops was limited to their own regions. Another list concerns the attendance of Swabian and Bavarian bishops at church councils, a factor which, according to Buehrer-Thierry's reckoning, should indicate the degree to which the dioceses of southern Germany were isolated from or included within the political center of the realm. In the opinion of this reviewer, however, the results are rather disappointing. Although the author could make a number of interesting, but general observations regarding the political significance of councils, she could not, by her own admission, offer any compelling explanation for the only two instances in which Swabian and Bavarian bishops appeared in substantial numbers (Tribur, 895; Augsburg, 952). In a third list, arranged by diocese, the reader will find information regarding the careers of individual bishops: their date of election, other offices held, family or region of origin, and the names of patrons who may have been responsible for their elevation to the episcopate. While perusing these lists, readers will undoubtedly note the frequent occurrence of blank spaces, indicating that the relevant information was simply unknown. These blank spaces, testimony to the dearth of our information regarding this era, would suggest that this methodology has its limitations. To be sure, Buehrer-Thierry acknowledges these limitations in the introduction to her study.

Finally, a word must be said regarding the intended audience for this book, since this appears to have been a major factor in determining its contents and overall structure. As the author suggests, the work is intended for an audience less familiar with German history in the period under consideration. What this means, in practice, is that she has chosen to include a great deal of general, basically explanatory material. For example, rather lengthy digressions focus on major literary figures, such as Widukind of Corvey and Thietmar of Merseburg, although literary sources do not figure to any great extent in the book. Depending upon a reader's actual familiarity with German medieval history, such material will either seem moderately useful or extraneous. Overall, this is a useful work that serves chiefly to reinforce the results of existing studies. If it tends to slight the sacramental and jurisdictional aspects of the episcopal office, and ignore the bishop's responsibility for the salvation of souls, it leaves little doubt that Swabian and Bavarian bishops, princes of the church as well as the world, played an active role in the political life of the royaume oriental.