John H. Arnold

title.none: Figueira, Plenitude of Power (John H. Arnold)

identifier.other: baj9928.0705.020 07.05.20

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: John H. Arnold, Birkbeck College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Figueira, Robert C. Plenitude of Power: The Doctrines and Exercise of Authority in the Middle Ages: Essays in Memory of Robert Louis Benson. Church, Faith and Culture in the Medieval West. Aldershot, UK/Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2006. Pp. xii, 204. $94.95 (hb) ISBN-10: 0-7546-3173-7, ISBN-13: 978-0-7546-3173-6. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.05.20

Figueira, Robert C. Plenitude of Power: The Doctrines and Exercise of Authority in the Middle Ages: Essays in Memory of Robert Louis Benson. Church, Faith and Culture in the Medieval West. Aldershot, UK/Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2006. Pp. xii, 204. $94.95 (hb) ISBN-10: 0-7546-3173-7, ISBN-13: 978-0-7546-3173-6. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

John H. Arnold
Birkbeck College

In an essay published last year, the late Patrick Wormald remarked that "Power is the staple of modern historical discourse...Yet, when asked what they mean by power, historians can look shifty."[1] The essays in this collection, following the lead of the scholar whom they honour, focus principally upon the power of the Church, political elites, and most of all canon law; but they might be able to present a cunning, collective riposte to Wormald's question, for their study is principally concerned with what medieval people thought "power" meant--and how it was justified, discussed, and limited.

This slim volume of essays is an eclectic collection, somewhat technical in tone, principally of interest to those already engaged in the areas upon which it focuses, but of a high scholarly standard. Most of the contributions operate by focussing upon a particular text, author, or technical aspect, which is used to sketch an analysis of much wider areas. For example, Bruce Brasington tracks the appearance in canon law of a particular text, spuriously attributed to Innocent I, that instructs judges that if authority for an ecclesiastical action cannot be found in the Gospels, Greek scripture, histories of the Catholic church or the examples of the saints, they should "gather the elders of the province and ask them" (seniores provinciae congrega et eos interroga). This first appeared in the eighth-century Colectio Hibernensis, and subsequently in Burchard of Worms Decretum, and thence to Gratian. In each case, Brasington tries to establish how the audience of the time would have interpreted seniores--any bishops, elder bishops, or a specific council. The essay--"note" as Brasington calls it--is brief, but the issue he uses it to raise is important: how "written," at various points, was canon law, and was there space for the real practice of consulting "the elders"? That is, did canon law have space for the fluid authority of orality? His answer is suggestive: that by the later twelfth century it did not, but that in earlier periods, there was perhaps a more oral element. "Learning and law-finding were not absolutely confined to texts, even in canon law" (9).

Peter Diehl's contribution has a similarly tight focus: the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI's crusading vow of 1195, and 1196 letter to the pope calling for joint action against heresy. His principal aim is to revise attitudes toward Henry; but more broadly, Diehl begins to develop an argument regarding the complex political utility of "heresy," suggesting that the emperor could both be serious, in a spiritual sense, about the defence of orthodoxy, and use the issue of combating heresy as a cunning strategic move against papal power within Italy. Robert Figueira also tracks a focussed issue, primarily through glossators of the Liber extra--the geographical scope of a papal legate's power--and in so doing provides not only a helpful summation of the canon-legal position, but also suggests that conceptualisations of authority in spatial terms plays a key role in the development of various state-like medieval structures, with strong comparisons to be drawn between ecclesiastical and secular power. Another medieval conceptualisation--the difference between auctoritas (moral authority) and potestas (physical force)--is examined by James Muldoon, particularly in Nicholas de Cusa's writings and various late fifteenth-century papal bulls, in regard to the expansion of the Catholic church to the New World. All of this, Muldoon argues, played more of a role than has been previously noted in early-modern conceptions of "international law," though mainly as a negative case, the medieval preference for auctoritas over potestas being thought to be demonstrably impractical in changed times. Muldoon concludes, in slightly odd fashion, with some contemporary comment, apparently implying the necessity for U.S. potestas to be unhindered by the wishy-washy auctoritas of such entities as the International Criminal Court. Joseph Huffman, meanwhile, produces various pieces of fascinating evidence from Cologne demonstrating how the poor--such as those cared for by hospitals--could become the victims of conflict between the powerful. "Successfully attacking the clients of a patron was a public humiliation of the potens and a sign of his impotence... [S]uch an attack served the ritual function of retribution in feuds" (124).

Three of the articles are more substantial, and differ somewhat in their endeavours. David Warner examines the political construction of sainthood in Ottonian Germany, specifically the uses of St Maurice of Agaunum in political discourse concerning "just war." Warner's conclusion is to assert the constructed and shifting nature of saintly identity, and its utility within political discourse. This will be a welcome, if reasonably familiar, analysis to those who work primarily on sainthood; what makes it particularly interesting, however, is that Warner arrives as such a conclusion not via the route of established historiography on late medieval parallels (AndréVauchez, Gabor Klaniczay, Aviad Kleinberg, Simon Walker and others) but by thinking sideways, as it were, from the conceptual tools of early medieval Germanic historiography, principally the work of Gerd Althoff. In what is probably the most technical piece here, Shannon Williamson analyses the influence of Pseudo-Dionysian ideas upon later thinkers, possibly upon Gilbert of Limerick, and of both upon Innocent III. Her chapter, which traces the development of a pyramidical conception of social order, and its deeper spiritual meaning, is the first stage in a larger, forthcoming project. Finally, in a chapter which links only tangentially to the other contributions, but in many ways is the highlight of the collection, Lester Field surveys modern historiographical analyses of authority in (principally) late antiquity, in an effort to get scholars to think much harder about their own analytical categories, and with a strong advocacy for the strength and utility of "the linguistic turn" in this area. Some of this involves rehearsing the case for non-positivistic historiography--possibly news to certain of the late antique crowd, though surely not to all--but the interesting thrust of his argument is to emphasize how much realms of religious and political language intertwined; and how ill-served we are by the sub-disciplinary boundaries which have tended to divide the study of one from the other.

In most of these essays, the authors are engaged in small, focussed studies, but throw out some potentially fascinating insights with much wider implications, principally relating to arguments about the nature and existence, or otherwise, of medieval states. It would take a much longer book to explore those implications more fully; and the main bulk of material here is likely to be of primary interest only to those work on the relevant specialised areas. But a more casual reader will also draw considerable benefit from the thoughts each study prompts. And Robert Louis Benson is amply honoured by the collection; a desire touchingly apparent in all the contributions.

List of contents and contributors:Robert C. Figueira: IntroductionBruce C. Brasington: Congrega seniores provinciae: A Note on a Hiberno-Latin Canon Concerning the Sources of Authority in Ecclesiastical LawDavid A. Warner: Saints, Pagans, War and Rulership in Ottonian GermanyPeter D. Diehl: Henry VI, Heresy, and the Extension of Imperial Power in ItalyShannon M. O. Williamson: Pseudo-Dionysius, Gilbert of Limerick and Innocent III: Order, Power and Constitutional ConstructionRobert C. Figueira: The Medieval Papal Legate and His Province: Geographical Limits of JurisdictionJoseph P. Huffman: Potens et Pauper: Charity and Authority in Jurisdictional Disputes over the Poor in Medieval CologneJames Muldoon: Auctoritas, Potestas and World OrderLester L. Field Jr: Christendom before Europe? A Historiographical Analysis of "Political Theology" in Late AntiquityJohn W. Bernhardt: "I Study Power": The Scholarly Legacy of Robert Louis Benson with a Bibliography of his Published and Unpublished Works

[1] P. Wormald, "Germanic Power Structures," in L. Scales and O. Zimmer, Power and the Nation in European History (Cambridge, 2005), p. 105.