03.02.18, Kay, The Council of Bourges, 1225

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Elizabeth Makowski

The Medieval Review baj9928.0302.018


Kay, Richard. The Council of Bourges, 1225: A Documentary History. Series: Church, Faith and Culture in the Medieval West. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2002. Pp. xviii, 599. ISBN: 0-7546-0803-4.

Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Makowski

"The gathering of materials bearing upon minute local events, the collation of MSS and the registry of their small variations, the patient drudgery in archives of states and municipalities...the hewing of wood and the drawing of water, has to be done in faith -- in the faith that a complete assemblage of the smallest facts of human history will tell in the end...and when, with intelligible scepticism, someone asks the use of the accumulation of statistics, the publication of trivial records, the labour expended on minute criticism, the true answer is: 'That is not so much our business as the business of future generations...' For a long time to come one of the chief services that research can perform is to help to build, firm and solid some of the countless stairs by which men of distant ages may mount to a height unattainable by us and have a vision of history which we cannot win, standing on our lower slope."

When John Bagnell Bury (1861-1927) spoke these words in his inaugural lecture as Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, the discipline had only just declared its independence from philology and become a legitimate academic endeavor. Both the title of Bury's lecture, "History as Science," and its tone, suggest the air of optimism that pervaded a profession whose practitioners were eager to apply new critical methods to recently discovered and collected sources. Infused with a spirit of Romantic purposefulness, Bury found it possible to respond to the voice of 'intelligible scepticism' just by stating the obvious: the historian's principal job is to enlarge the foundations upon which our understanding of the past rests, and that job requires time. The work must be done sub specie aeternitatis. Today, when professional historians can no longer drink from that font of self-confidence that was Positivism, and the sceptic's query (which has if anything grown more hectoring) is either evaded or met with embarrassed silence, it is good to be reminded that Bury's response is still more than apt. Publication of books such as Richard Kay's The Council of Bourges serve as such a reminder.

Subtitled "a documentary history," nearly half of the The Council of Bourges consists of original sources and their translations, and it is this fact that accounts for the slow gestation of the book. Begun in 1965, when the author determined to make his own contribution to remedy the "ramshackle state" of the conciliar corpus, it was completed only after Kay's 1998 retirement from the University of Kansas, chiefly because, in Kay's words, "such long-term projects were discouraged by the publish-or-perish policies of American universities." Documents in this section include narrative accounts of the council, letters of safe-conduct, legation, and sanction, as well as papal mandates and royal petitions. Most of these sources have been previously published but are presented in re-edited versions which Kay regards as a step toward the much needed modernization of the entire corpus. What he offers here, then, is both the documentation for the Council of Bourges and a model for more such "interim studies of specific councils."

Because it is no longer common academic practice, Kay explains his decision to append all the relevant sources upon which his study rests, both in his Forward and in an Introduction to the Documents (265-68). And, because the Council of Bourges is not generally ranked among the important ecclesiastical assemblies of the Middle Ages, he also provides the reader with some specific facts which justify the more than 250 page monograph that precedes that documentation.

We learn, for example, that the Council of Bourges was an impressively large gathering of the clergy -- in the history of the Latin West, only the Fourth Lateran Council had been larger -- and that agents sent to represent the interests of a variety of ecclesiastical corporations, such as cathedral chapters, accounted for about one third of the nearly one thousand churchmen who participated in the assembly. The presence of these agents, legally termed "proctors," was an innovation in the period and surviving records document the role they played in the council proceedings. The proctors were asked to give their consent to two important taxes, the first designed to permanently subsidize the papal bureaucracy and the second earmarked to pay the price demanded by the King of France for conducting the second Albigensian Crusade.

Having established that his monograph contributes to the study of papal administration, the history of the crusade against the Cathars, as well as the development of representative government in the thirteenth century, Kay begins to meticulously recreate the events leading up to the assembly at Bourges. He explores the intricacies of Anglo-French diplomacy and gives us an especially vivid portrait of one Romanus Bonaventura, papal legate to France, whose tortured negotiations made the second crusade possible. Since the summons to the council has not survived, Kay interrogates a variety of other, often conflicting, sources to establish the details of it organization. This process results in the verification of the council's location and purpose, identification of participants, and even the order of the opening ceremonies. Chapters concerning major issues and arguments, such as the granting of the Albigensian tenth and the much-debated proposal for financing papal government, follow. The final chapter contains a brief but interesting glimpse at some of the other items on the council's agenda, such as the promotion of Benedictine monastic reform, while an Afterword sets the council in the context of the pontificate of Honorius III.

In The Council of Bourges, Kay performs the sort of service to which Bury referred by constructing a sound documentary foundation upon which others may build. He does more than that, however, since the monographic section of the book is an interpretive reconstruction of this important but understudied council. The book, then, combines critical editions of original sources, with a modern study of those sources and in so doing is reminiscent of volumes that have emerged from the publishing program initiated by the renowned canonist Stephan Kuttner, the Monumenta iuris canonici, which consists of reliable critical editions of medieval canon law texts as well as modern studies of those texts.

This book is published as a title in the series entitled "Church, Faith and Culture in the Medieval West," Brenda Bolton, general editor. Aside from the unfortunate duplication of several lines of text in the fly leaf summary of the book, The Council of Bourgesis a handsomely produced volume that will be referred to by scholars for many many years to come.

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Elizabeth Makowski