Janos M. Bak

title.none: O'Donovan, and Lockwood-O'Donovan, eds., From Irenaeus to Grotius (Bak)

identifier.other: baj9928.0102.007 01.02.07

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Janos M. Bak , Central European University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: O'Donovan, Oliver, and Joan Lockwood O'Donovan, eds. From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999. Pp. v, 836. $70.00 0-802-83876-6. ISBN: $45.00 0-802-84209-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.02.07

O'Donovan, Oliver, and Joan Lockwood O'Donovan, eds. From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999. Pp. v, 836. $70.00 0-802-83876-6. ISBN: $45.00 0-802-84209-7.

Reviewed by:

Janos M. Bak
Central European University

It is well-known that to review readers and source-collections is an ungrateful task, for one has to try to summarize the contents of a great number of selections (in this case the writings of sixty authors, several of them represented with more than one text) and at the same time say something about the selection itself. However, the latter is very much a matter of taste (and de gustibus...), while the former- -listing authors and titles--is not exactly an exciting project. But, since this book is being called "A wonderful achievement," by no one less than Henry Mayr-Harting of Oxford (rear dustcover), I shall try to do justice to it.

First of all, it is important to note that the editors--both theologians especially interested in Christian ethics--are at least as much concerned with introducing political ideas and their handling by important Christian authors to theologically interested readers as they are with offering the Christian aspect of political discourse over some 1500 years to those studying ideas about matters relating to the res publica. Reading their general introduction and their prefaces to chapters and individual authors, one feels that the theological approach, the concern with matters exercising students and teachers of religious ethics, is quite in the forefront of their thinking. Not being very much at home in present-day theological debates, I just vaguely sense occasional (sometimes quite well hidden) hints at questions that are on the agenda of post-II Vaticanum Catholic or fundamentalists-challenged Protestant churchmen and -women. That there is a slight anti-papalism somewhere may be just a fleeting impression of mine. As a 'general' historian, on the other hand, I often missed references to the socio- political background of many points 'behind' the theoretical issues presented and discussed in the texts. But then, the editors could not have also written a history of the one and a half millennium they intended to cover....

As to the contents: overall, the reader contains the generally accepted canon of Patristic, medieval and Reformation (even post-Reformation) writings of political theology, essentially (with the exceptions of three small pieces) from the Latin West. The editors argue that in the Greek-Byzantine sphere (not even mentioning the Slavic) this kind of writing did not have the same tradition and influence. Debatable, especially if one considers genres treating political ideas in a less explicit way, such as handbooks of rule or imperial eulogies, saints' Lives and the like.

Certainly, the editors' claim to have given more space than usual to the late Antique-early medieval authors, is well founded: the first 500 years of the period under survey are represented on more than 200 pages, including several Latin Fathers and lesser authors alike. However, one cannot help wondering, whether it is necessary to include some 25 pages from the City of God (even if a part, from Book 19, is given in a new translation by the editors). I doubt that anyone who wishes to seriously study European political thought can avoid reading Augustine's book 'from cover to cover' and not in (however well-chosen) excerpts. But, perhaps, readers will have their appetites whetted for the whole, once they've read the parts!? For the sake of completeness, here are then, the other authors of the first parts: Justin, Theophilus, and anonymous author of "To Diogenetus", Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Lactantius, Eusebius of Caesarea, Ambrose of Milan, John Chrysostom, Paulus Orosius, Gelasius I, Agapetus, Justinian, Gregory I, Isidore of Seville, John of Damascus, Jonas of Orleans, Sedulius Scottus and the famous forgery the Donation of Constantine. Perhaps some other mirrors of princes (including Irish fragments), some Carolingian material or Ottonian imperial and papal pronouncements would have been useful?

The central Middle Ages are represented by a few pieces from the so-called Investiture struggle (Gregory VII, the Norman Anonymous, Honorius Augustodunensis), by Bernard of Clairvaux, the first true political treatise by John of Salisbury, Rufinus the Canonist, Nicholas Blemmydes, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Giles of Rome, and James of Viterbo. They are followed by the late medieval authors: John of Paris, Dante, Marsilius of Padova, William of Ockham, the Hesychast Nicolas Cabasilas, John Wyclif, Patriarch Antonios IV, Jean Gerson, John Fortescue and Nicholas of Kues. No great surprises here. That the Hussites (such as Chel_icky) are not included is no surprise--they were and seem to remain outside the mainstream. Unjustly so. It is in these parts that your reviewer--maybe because this is his "home turf"?--has missed most the 'historical' background. With their view of an autochtonous theoretico-legal development the editors are, of course, in good company, e.g., that of their apparently favourite 'guide', Walter Ullmann, whose occasional one-sidedness has been criticised by a number of historians, including some of his own pupils. A bit more of Tellenbach and Southern would have been useful....

As to Part 5, "Reniassance, Reformation and Radicalism: Scholastic Survival and the Consolidation of Legal Theory", the reviewer begs the readers' indulgence for not offering more than a bare list of selections covering some 200 pages. They begin with Thomas Moore (and here, once more, one doubts whether it is ever sufficient to read only 8-10 pp. out of Utopia) and Erasmus, continues with Luther, Francisco de Vittoria, Hans Hergot, Stephen Gardiner, Philipp Melanchton, Jean Calvin, John Knox, John Ponet, Thomas Cartwright, Francisco Suarez, Richard Hooker, Johannes Althusius, William Perkins and close with Hugo Grotius. It also contains some basic documents, such as The Schleitheim Articles, the Vindicia contra Tyrannos and The Convocation Book. I may perhaps be excused for not commenting on these texts, since we 'medievalists' are well known for being (rightly or wrongly) shortsighted beyond the 1500s. But it is appropriate to briefly mention the editors' disclaimer (on p. xviii), arguing that leaving out Bossuet, Locke, Milton, and Hobbes, however theoretically unwarranted, makes sense, especially because (so they argue), Leviathan or Two Treatises are easy to come by...but then, aren't Utopia or, for that matter, Civitas Dei (to say nothing of Aquinas's To the King of Cyprus) not just as easy to find on the shelves? Still, one has to stop somewhere, and, indeed, every cut-off date is arbitrary.

Finally, there is not only an excellent Subject Index (pp. 821- 30) and a Scripture Index (pp. 831-8), but all the introductions are very useful, informative and well- written. Every chapter has a (more or less historical) introduction, and every author a brief preface, both with suggestions for additional reading. The prefaces emphasize the continuity, connect the pieces to one another and even include some, judiciously chosen, reference to scholarly controversies regarding the text's or the author's place in the development. In a word, Mayr-Harting is right.