Richard Kay

title.none: Somerville and Brasington, trans., Prefaces to Canon Law Books (Kay)

identifier.other: baj9928.9909.002 99.09.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Richard Kay, University of Kansas,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Somerville, Robert and Bruce C. Brasington, trans. Prefaces to Canon Law Books in Latin Christianity: Selected Translations, 500-1245. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998. Pp. viii, 247. $30.00. ISBN: 0-300-07146-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.09.02

Somerville, Robert and Bruce C. Brasington, trans. Prefaces to Canon Law Books in Latin Christianity: Selected Translations, 500-1245. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998. Pp. viii, 247. $30.00. ISBN: 0-300-07146-9.

Reviewed by:

Richard Kay
University of Kansas

Only in 1917 was the law of the Roman Catholic church codified in a single, authoritative collection--the Codex iuris canonci. Thanks to Roman law, the organization of this code was a marvel of simplicity and rationality: five books, on norms, persons, things, procedures, and on delicts and punishments. The road to the code of 1917 was a long one, extending back over at least fourteen centuries, and the present collection traces the first half of the way.

From the start, the "material" sources of canon law--i.e. the canons themselves--have mostly been of three kinds: enactments of church councils, letters of popes, and opinions of church fathers. Although a studious clergyman might have encountered these building blocks in his reading, and even remember them, still those who applied the law in daily practice could best take these canons into account when they were collected together. Hence the "formal" sources of canon law, in which the canons were gathered and organized in collections. The earliest and simplest principle of organization was chronological: all the canons of a council grouped together under its date (e.g. Nicaea 325), and all papal letters similarly grouped pope by pope. However, for practical consultation this system, which is still employed in Denzinger's "Enchiridion symbolorum," requires an extensive index to locate widely scattered materials. Eventually, as legal minutiae proliferated, it was found to be more practical to bring all pronouncements on a given topic together regardless of the original material context, so that councils, decretals, and patristica were intermixed. Once such a systematic, or topical, scheme of organization was adopted, each collector was challenged to devise a system that was convenient in practice as well as both rationally and readily comprehensible.

To make his work user friendly, the collector usually provided a preface in which he advised his readers how he had organized his collection of canons and how it might best be utilized. Thus the progress in the organization of one body of knowledge can be traced through the prefaces collected, annotated, and translated by Somerville and Brasington. But this anthology has a wider interest, for the prefaces also advise the reader how to interpret the collected canons. If a pope seems to contradict a general council of the Church, how is the dissonance to be harmonized? From the various answers to such questions, one can trace some of the main lines of development in the Latin church. In short, most users of this anthology will probably focus, not on the systematic, but on the hermeneutic aspects of the prefaces.

The nucleus of the present work is the prologue prefixed to the two canonistic collections attributed to Ivo of Chartres, which is "the longest document translated in this book and arguably the most remarkable, for it can be fairly called the first extended treatise on ecclesiastical jurisprudence" (p. 115). It was the subject of Professor Brasington's doctoral dissertation; now this anthology in effect places that prologue of the late eleventh century in its historical context. The stress is on its predecessors, extending back to the earliest canonistic collections; by contrast, the so-called "classic" period of medieval canon law receives scant treatment, for the century from Gratian's Decretum to the definitive gloss on it (1143-1245) is dealt with in only sixty-six pages (pp. 170-236). Conspicuously absent are the papal bulls authorizing the Liber Extra (1298) and the Clementines (1317), which preface their respective collections in the printed editions, especially since our anthologists do include Gregory IX's bull publishing his Decretals (1234). Surely the prefaces to these lesser components of the Corpus iuris canonici also deserve a place in an anthology such this. Moreover, since the prefaces to twelfth-century summae are included, why not those to better-known, more significant thirteenth-century ones, such as Hostiensis' proemium to his Summa. The compilers' cut-off date of 1245 seems to be arbitrary, artificial, and ill advised.

Within their self-imposed limits, however, Somerville and Brasington have done a splendid job. They present thirty-four prefaces to canonistic works written between 500 and 1245, as their title indicates, with another dated 385 thrown in as a bonus. (A full list is appended below.) The English translations are literal, with no attempt to convey or conceal their authors' attempts at rhetorical elegance, which is just as well. Occasional footnotes usefully identify citations, discuss textual problems, and provide cross-references.

Presentation is chronological, but the series is broken into five periods (the breaks occur at approximately 800, 1050, 1150, and 1190), each of which is prefaced with a general description of the period, followed by introductions to all of the documents comprised therein. As this arrangement requires the curious reader to page back and forth between the document and its commentary (which cannot be readily located), I would have preferred a more straightforward presentation in which each document was preceded by its own introduction.

The high quality of the commentary is, to my mind, the best feature of the book. Although the authors disclaim any such intention, it constitutes a convenient, accurate, and up-to- date history of canon law in terms of its sources. James A. Brundage's excellent survey of Medieval Canon Law (London, 1995) takes a broader perspective and treats the canonistic collections summarily. Thus nothing currently available in English is more detailed than the present work, although this will shortly cease to be the case with the appearance of the relevant volumes of the multivolume collaborative History of Medieval Canon Law, ed. W. Hartmann and K. Pennington, the first of which will be published later this year by the Catholic University of America Press. Even then, however, most students will find it more convenient to begin with the more manageable account offered by Somerville and Brasington.

Who will use this book and how? It would make an excellent reader for a graduate, or even undergraduate, course in medieval law; but alas! such courses are few indeed. A more likely instructional use is as a convenient package for any one of a variety of term-paper topics. Probably it will be more often used for research or private instruction, and not only by monolingual Anglophones, because many of the documents are not otherwise readily accessible.

My harshest criticism of this book goes to Yale's anonymous typographical designer, who evidently believes that a uniformly gray and undifferentiated page of text is most pleasing to the eye, which is true, perhaps, if one looks at the page without attempting to read it, much less to use the book. To find my way around, flipping from text to commentary and back, I finally resorted to hi-lighting the names of the documents and their authors, which should have been set at least in a bold- face type, if not in display capitals. Moreover, the running heads, which the book's organization requires to facilitate reference back and forth, are really "running feet," for they are anomalously placed at the foot of the page, and set in tiny type, together with the page numbers, which are hence vexatiously hard to find. Footnotes are the designer's only concession to convenience and common sense. It is a pity that an otherwise admirable achievement should be marred by so thoughtless a design.

The scope of this anthology can perhaps best be conveyed by this list of the thirty-five prefaces and their dates.

Pope Siricius (385) Dionysius Exiguus (ca. 500 + ca. 514) Cresconius (saec. vi 2/2) Martin of Braga (post 569) The Spanish Collection (ca. 633) The Irish Collection (viii in.) Halitgar of Cambrai (ca. 829) Benedict the Deacon (post 847) Isidore Mercator (ca. 850) Isaac of Langres (859-880) Regino of Prum (906) Anselmo dedicata (882-896) Abbo of Fleury (ca. 1000) Burchard of Worms (xi in.) Atto of St. Mark's (1073--early 1080s) Deusdedit (1086) Gregory of S. Grisogono (1111-1113) The Tripartite Collection (xi fin.) Ivo of Chartres (xi fin.) The Collection in Ten Parts (postr 1123) The Second Collection of Chalons-sur-Marne (ca. 1130) Alger of Liege (xii in.) Paucapalea (ca. 1150) Rolandus (ca. 1150) Rufinus (1164) Stephen of Tournai (1165-1169) Summa Parisiensis (ca. 1170) Antiquitate et tempore (1170s) Bernard of Pavia (ca. 1191 + ante 1198) Rainier of Pomposa (ca. 1201) Compilatio III (1210) Compilatio V (1226) Decretals of Gregory IX (1234) Bartholomew of Brescia (1245)