Daniel Williman

title.none: Makowski, Canon Law and Cloistered Women (Williman)

identifier.other: baj9928.9903.003 99.03.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Daniel Williman, Professor of Latin and History, Binghamton University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Makowski, Elizabeth. Canon Law and Cloistered Women: Periculoso and Its Commentators, 1298-1545. Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Canon Law, Vol 5. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1997. Pp. x, 149. $46.95. ISBN: 0-813-20884-X.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.03.03

Makowski, Elizabeth. Canon Law and Cloistered Women: Periculoso and Its Commentators, 1298-1545. Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Canon Law, Vol 5. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1997. Pp. x, 149. $46.95. ISBN: 0-813-20884-X.

Reviewed by:

Daniel Williman
Professor of Latin and History, Binghamton University

In 1298 Pope Boniface VIII handed down to the schools of Canon Law his Liber Sextus, topping off the five-book Decretales of Gregory IX (1234). With his constitution Periculoso, the only canon under his title "De statu regularium," the pope acted to settle satisfactorily and permanently a distinction between religious women, who deserved certain legal privileges and a status in the Church suitable to their holy lives, and women who did not. The line he drew was claustration: nuns ( moniales) must be truly shut up within their monasteries and no other person permitted to enter their cloisters. Enforcement was to be by the local diocesan authorities, who could grant exceptional licenses in particular cases of strict necessity.

Elizabeth Makowski, with admirable brevity and clarity, reveals the whole content of Periculoso and reaches back in the disciplinary history of the Church for the causes which shaped the new law. With particular effect she explores Boniface VIII's own experience, before and after his coronation, with wayward uses of religious privilege by women. Then she explains the most important commentaries on Periculoso and the reappearances of the constitution in later Canon Law, without describing any effects on the Cloistered Women of the title. Makowski shows that Periculoso became ineffective by irrelevance. Instead of recognizing and appropriately regulating such activities as teaching and conducting hostels and hospitals, ministries which the Church needed and religious women insisted on engaging in, Periculoso simply excludes them from the lives of moniales. Later regulation got around the dead letter, without abolishing it, by distinguishing between the solemn vows of cloistered regulars and the simple vows of orders active in the lay world.

The Regula ad moniales of Caesarius of Arles, considered here a possible pattern for Periculoso, could have been left out, since there is no trace of that Regula in the Decretum of Gratian or elsewhere in the well-documented library of Boniface VIII. On the other hand, more could be made of Quod moniales certa loca non exeant, a canon of the Council of St. Paul's (London, 1268) under the cardinal legate to England, Ottobuono Fieschi. Benedetto Gaetani, the future Boniface VIII, was Ottobuono's secretary, and a comparison of the texts would show how far the pope agreed with his principal of 30 years before, and perhaps whether he had a hand in drafting Quod moniales. Makowski does show, in her chapter "English Canonists," that John Acton and William Lyndwood considered the legatine constitution to be the law for nuns in England; they cited Periculoso only to clarify the meanings of terms.

Makowski makes a persuasive argument that the most important and immediate reason for Periculoso was the danger which the pope perceived in the followers of Guglielma of Milan, feminist prophetic radicals who expected women to be the cardinals and pope of the coming Age of the Holy Spirit. She shows that the Guglielmites were quite likely the unnamed sect condemned by Boniface in 1296 as arrogating to themselves the clerical powers of preaching and teaching, confession and absolution. The abuse envisaged by Periculoso is unchastity, nothing more political than that; but the constitution, if enforced, would have the effect of cutting off all publicly active women from the credit reserved, within the strict cloister, for religious perfection.

Canon Law and Cloistered Women has a single illustration, showing the first of the three pages of Vatican Library manuscript Borghese 7 which carry the text of Periculoso. Glossy copies of all three pages, enlarged from a microfilm of the whole codex, constituted the help for which the author thanks the writer of this review in her Acknowledgements. Since Borghese 7 was a first copy of the Liber Sextus, produced in Boniface VIII's own Chancery and kept in his own library, it was puzzling at first not to see the entire text of Periculoso displayed in that manuscript version. But Makowski does not exploit the unique value of Borghese 7, so it need not have been pictured or mentioned at all.

In note 4 to page 44 Makowski introduces a brief but adequate bibliography on the question of what kind of law Periculoso was: decretal letter, rescript, constitution? There is a vague story, attached to a later commentary, that someone asked the pope one day how religious women should live, and that Periculoso was his reply. Even if true, there is not enough formality in the story to characterize Periculoso as a rescript, a decision in a case which had come to the pope's judgement. It is not phrased as a letter at all. Constitutions were expected to be promulgated among the acts of a Council, and Boniface VIII held no Councils. No, Periculoso was a constitution motu proprio, a decree dictated by Boniface VIII. Regardless of the custom and expectation that the pope should legislate either responsively or in consultation, he simply made Periculoso, like many of the constitutions in the Liber Sextus, the new law. The papal bull, the lead seal which solemnized and completed the legislative act, was attached to the whole Liber Sextus, the text of the whole law being included within the pope's letter of transmission to this or that school of Canon Law. Periculoso and the Liber Sextus which contained it, were instances of the particularly aggressive exercise of supreme authority for which Boniface VIII is so well remembered. More consultation would have made better law. In Periculoso he provided only for the needs which he, neither a woman nor a regular, could imagine: an abbess might need to leave the cloister to do homage for a dependent property; cloistered houses needed to admit no more economically unproductive women than their endowments could support.

The author should have been served more vigilantly by her editors. Whether Borghese 7 is regarded as an earliest copy of the Liber Sextus or not, no purpose seems to be served by the Appendix (pp. 133-5) where the Borghese 7 text is searched for variants from the modern standard Friedberg edition, especially when most of the comparative notes are erroneous. Six notes wrongly declare that Friedberg had a correct vel and Borghese 7 a bad ut; in each place, ut would be grammatically impossible and the manuscript in fact reads vel. A line-by-line translation, such as that on pages 135-6, is valuable only if its details reliably transmit details from the world of the original. A free paraphrase is better than a careless translation. In context, for example, "in illius, cui suam integritatem ... devoverunt, gravamen" means "to the injury of Him to whom they vowed their virginity," not "to the injury of that to which ... they vowed their chastity." And please, "flouting," not "flaunting ... conventions"; "imminent," not "immanent new age."