09.05.01, Loud, The Latin Church in Norman Italy

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Chris Schabel

The Medieval Review baj9928.0905.001


Loud, G. A.. The Latin Church in Norman Italy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xviii, 577. ISBN: 978-0-521-25551-6.

Reviewed by:
Chris Schabel
University of Cyprus

From the time of the first influx of Normans into southern Italy in the first half of the eleventh century to the beginning of Hohenstaufen rule at the end of the twelfth century, Sicily and southern Italy underwent profound changes. At first a collection of territories run by Arabic-speaking Muslims, Greek-speaking Byzantines, and various Lombard lords, by the 1190s the area had been unified as the Kingdom of Sicily. Graham Loud's magisterial The Latin Church in Norman Italy explores how the position of the Latin Church in the area evolved over time, in the context of the development of the Norman state and the gradual success of the Gregorian Reform from Leo IX to Innocent III. This is an unusual book, especially for a press like CUP. Often an experienced scholar--Loud has three decades of publishing in the field behind him--will write a synthetic survey of the scholarship on a broad topic, something like 200 pages, while one who is starting out will tackle in detail a more narrow subject, such as Loud's own 1978 dissertation Church and Society in the Norman Principality of Capua 1058-1197 (published in 1985). The volume under review is something else entirely: a detailed study of a broad topic. While not an exhaustive study, Loud's book certainly leans in that direction: despite measures to reduce the size, for instance by almost completely eliminating Latin quotations and discussions of the secondary bibliography in the footnotes, the result is still almost 600 pages long. Cambridge seems to have granted Loud free license to produce the study he wanted, and the result is a comprehensive and careful analysis of a mountain of primary source material, one that could only have been accomplished through decades of more or less constant accumulation and contemplation. Loud begins: "This book has been in preparation for more years than I care to remember" (vii). Thus we read that one archive was "examined in 1990" (538), and it took six years just to do the writing (viii).

The organization of a comprehensive study of the ecclesiastical history of any particular region is a challenge in itself. Loud's book is sensibly divided both chronologically and thematically into nine large chapters, which are further separated into numerous convenient though untitled subunits: 1) The Church in southern Italy before the Normans, 2) The Church and the Norman Conquest, 3) The papacy and the rulers of southern Italy, 4) The papacy and the Church in southern Italy, 5) The kings of Sicily and the Church, 6) The Church and military organization, 7) The secular Church, 8) Monasticism, and 9) Latins, Greeks and non-Christians. Although the book is both large and dense, a brief conclusion conveniently summarizes the main findings in the book, and Loud also provides excellent synopses at various points.

Characterizing the source material for this book depends on one's perspective. From the point of view of a scholar dealing with the Church history of the Kingdom of France in 1050-1200, southern Italy is rather poorly documented due to the loss of many archives. On the other hand, students of the Latin Church of the Crusader States, Frankish Greece, and Cyprus have almost nothing compared to Loud's region of interest. As Loud notes (9), there are over 5000 original charters dating from the eleventh and twelfth centuries that survive for a single monastery, the Benedictine house of Cava, near Salerno. This is more than the total number of documents available for the entire history of the Latin Church in the Kingdom of Cyprus 1195-1571. What this means is that, on the one hand, the primarily source material for the Latin Church in southern Italy in 1050-1200 is by no mean negligible, and yet, on the other, an extraordinarily industrious scholar such as Loud could, over a long period of time, inspect the bulk of these sources. Granted, the evidence is uneven and may present a warped picture, but Loud is perfectly aware of these limitations and endeavors to compensate by exercising caution.

The story Loud tells is one of change. At first Sicily was without a Latin diocesan structure, while on the mainland there was a chaotic mix of loosely knit bishoprics, still Greek in some areas, without a clear structure, amidst many Eigenkirchen. Many of these dioceses were exceptionally small and poor, and the bishops were often little more than spiritual leaders. Monasticism displayed a similar lack of clear organization. By 1200, Sicily was again a largely Christian island, with a new diocesan structure, and while there were Greek still a few Greek bishoprics on the mainland, they and the Latin ones were subject to Rome. Although it happened gradually, the bishops now had jurisdiction over most of the clergy and churches of their dioceses. The decline in the number of proprietary churches was quite slow, but noticeable nonetheless. Many new monasteries had been founded, and they and most existing monasteries had adopted the Benedictine rule and were often grouped into large congregations, especially those of Montecassino and Cava. Still, before the late twelfth century there are striking differences from other areas (which perhaps made Loud's task a bit easier, especially as he stops before the rise of the mendicant orders): the numbers of foundations of Cluniacs, regular canons, military orders, and even Cistercians were insignificant, only to develop in later periods.

Much of Loud's book concerns the ecclesio-political context in which these changes took place. Loud resists the temptation to enter into debates with other historians, but on numerous occasions he sets the record straight on controversial issues, by looking at all the available evidence from a fresh perspective. Loud reasons that before the early twelfth century cooperation between the papacy and the Norman rulers was more important to the popes than to the Normans, who freely chose the status of vassals of Rome (140-1). (He also questions the usefulness of the ethnic term "Norman" after about 1130: p. 133.) Loud argues strongly against the theory that the popes tried to control Norman rule by "undermining" powerful individuals and following a "divide and rule" policy, asserting rather that neither side viewed the oath of fealty, for example, as required for legitimacy (145-6, 177). In sum, Loud describes the early relationship between the reform papacy and the Norman rulers as an "alliance." Likewise, Loud cautions that "there is very little evidence" that after 1156 the popes pursued a "deliberate" plan to increase their control over the Church of the south Italian mainland (169, 232, 240, 253, 285). Nor did the kings of Sicily intervene in Church affairs in their realm on a constant, universal basis, for despite their acknowledged rights, they rarely exerted pressure (258, 278, 300).

The cosmopolitan character of the kingdom did not entail that the kings were different in their personal religious piety from other monarchs either (281), although their treatment of Greek churches did not differ from that of the Latin institutions (301). The concluding chapter on relations with the Greeks and non-Christians is not a history of the Greek clergy in southern Italy, but it does investigate how the state and the papacy dealt with Greek churches and monasteries, as well as with Muslims. Here Loud does rely on recent secondary literature to an extent, having recourse also to Vera von Falkenhausen and Alex Metcalfe, yet he also displays a solid command of the primary sources. Loud concludes that the policy of the state and Latin Church was not anti-Greek, even on the mainland, although for strategic reasons in the beginning the Normans were understandably suspicious of powerful Greek prelates with ties to Constantinople. Once things settled down, the "forces" of Latinization, if we can call them that, were immigration of Latin-rite Christians and acculturation in the absence of close contacts with Byzantium. In fact, many Greek monasteries were founded on Sicily following the conquest, although they were often poor and unable to replace dying monks with new blood. Otherwise, Greek monasteries enjoyed the support of the secular rulers, and one, Holy Savior, a new foundation of King Roger II, located near Messina, was still the fourth richest monastery in the entire kingdom in the early fourteenth century (Appendix IV, p. 531). Latin bishops did replace Greeks, but generally only after the death of the incumbent, unless he refused to take the customary oath to the pope. Some dioceses retained Greek bishops for centuries. It was only around the time of Innocent III that a real decline set in, both in papal attitudes and in numbers, but accidental "Latinization" was a slow process that was only completed after the Middle Ages. The state's attitude toward the Muslim population of Sicily, on the other hand, was less "enlightened" than pragmatic, and toleration slowly disappeared after the middle of the twelfth century, when a series of disturbances and deportations led to the removal of most Muslims from the island.

Graham Loud's The Latin Church in Norman Italy is the product of many years of careful study, building on an already rich legacy of publications, from his dissertation to his smashing edited work (with Metcalfe) The Society of Norman Italy (2002). It should serve as a model for similar projects about the establishment of the Latin Church in new territories during and following the Gregorian Reform, such as Frankish Greece. The book also reminds us that generalizations about the Middle Ages are always hazardous and subject to major exceptions. Surveys of medieval history will have to take Loud's findings into consideration.

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Author Biography

Chris Schabel

University of Cyprus