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13.05.05, Hehl & Servatius, eds., Die Konzilien Deutschlands vol. 2

13.05.05, Hehl & Servatius, eds., Die Konzilien Deutschlands vol. 2

"Here you are, all you clever young men. And you are going to Oxford, or Cambridge, with a scholarship. Then you are going to get a brilliant First, and begin research, aren't you? And then you will write a monograph that changes the world."

"Forget it; monographs rise, bloom and wither like the flowers of the field. Editions live."

Sir Richard Southern gave this advice to the scholarship class of seventeen-year-olds at Clifton College in 1956. His listeners included Martin Brett, who went on to edit texts throughout his distinguished career, and to whom I owe this story.

Even fifty years later, Southern's advice underscores the enduring value of editions. Editions live. This edition, by Ernst-Dieter Hehl along with Carlo Servatius, will live for a long time. It opens up much of the political conflict and the drama of the Ottonian period. This volume covers the German and Italian councils during the Ottonian years. It begins with Otto I's coronation in 962 and concludes with the last synod held during Otto III's rule.

The Ottonian synods left relatively few records, with the exception of Gerbert's long and polemical account of the council at the church of St.-Basle in Verzy in 991. Many synods' other proceedings consist of fragmentary references or quick asides in privileges, vitae, letters or histories such as those of Liudprand of Cremona, Regino of Prüm, Thietmar of Merseburg, or Richer of Reims. The councils from the second half of the tenth century did not produce canons like those produced at Hohenaltheim (916) or subsequent eleventh-century synods. Perhaps because these councils made few succinct legal statements, these Ottonian councils did not leave their mark upon the books of canon law.

Rather than providing conciliar decrees, the Ottonian councils often functioned de facto as court cases. In these conflicts, the parties pulled out books of canon law in order to quote canons that, they claimed, supported their positions. The polemical use of canon law hardly began with the Gregorian Reform. The editors' footnotes make clear how carefully the participants combed the canonical tradition.

Some patterns emerge across the years. First, although the synods produced few decrees, their records describe high political and personal drama. Conflict might be the subtitle of this volume. The first councils of the volume play out the battles between Otto I with his papal appointees and the Romans and their popes. The next councils testify to the struggles over the archbishopric of Reims as part of the civil war that brought about the rise of the Capetians. And the final synods played out the beginning of the tug-of-war over the convent of Gandersheim between the archbishop of Mainz and the bishop of Hildersheim. This volume also bears witness to the continued struggles between Otto III and his pope and the Romans and their papal candidate.

Many of these synods served as places in which conflicts were worked out and re-negotiated. The records of these dramas were themselves sometimes highly polemical. In the battle over the archbishopric of Reims, for instance, the record-makers of the synods were interested participants. The archbishop of Reims, Arnulf, had vowed loyalty to Hugh Capet publically by signing a chirograph and taking the Eucharist. Arnulf then betrayed Hugh when he ordered the city doors of Reims to be opened to his uncle, and Hugh Capet's rival, Charles, duke of Lotharingia. It could be said in Arnulf's defense that Charles was a Carolingian and possibly the rightful heir, and Arnulf was his blood relation. The council of St.-Basle met to discuss Arnulf's case. Gerbert of Aurillac wrote his own, long, carefully crafted account of the council proceedings. Richer drew upon Gerbert in his history but departed from it in important ways, as Jason Glenn demonstrates. [1] Richer represented the council as deciding upon Arnulf's culpability, whereas for Gerbert the council did not debate his guilt, but only his punishment. Gerbert condemned Arnulf far more thoroughly than Richer. And Gerbert was hardly a disinterested observer. He himself aspired to be archbishop of Reims, and in fact managed to secure the vacant appointment after Arnulf's deposition. Then the council of Mouzon in 995 reversed the decision at St.-Basle, immediately after Otto III's coronation and Pope Gregory V's election: they suspended Gerbert and reinstated Arnulf. In 997 Gregory V subsequently assembled a council at Pavia, which, citing a Pseudo-Isidorian forgery, suspected all the bishops present at the council of St.-Basle. But Gerbert laughed last: as consolation prize he ascended the papal throne, ruling as Silvester II.

These synodal records, polemical as they may be, illuminate the bishops' sometimes precarious and sometimes instrumental roles in the Ottonian church. Well-connected clergy served as close advisors of the Ottonian rulers and then found rewards in their appointments to high church office, often as bishop. Bishops could make or break rulers. But they could also quickly find themselves on the wrong side of the quickly-shifting political lines.

In addition to casting light upon political and personal dramas, and the precariously powerful positions of bishops, the synodal records bear witness to the expansion of Christendom's borders with the foundation of new bishoprics. For instance, councils in 962 and 967– 968 worked to establish the archbishopric of Magdeburg, as well as the bishopric in Merseberg. A later council in Rome in 981 incorporated Merseberg into Magdeburg, although they were then subsequently separated again. The synods bear witness to the push-pull of Ottonian politics.

The edition upholds the Monumenta's tradition of superb editions: identifications of the references to the councils, fastidious manuscript collations and editorial decisions, bibliography for each council, and editorial introductions, as well as lengthy indices of manuscripts, incipits, Scriptural and legal citations, canonical reception of the synodal enactments, the people and places, concordances to other editions, and even individual words (an index of over a hundred pages). Given the astonishingly thorough indices, it seems petty to complain that the edition lacks a list of the material sources such as Thietmar of Merseburg which mediated the conciliar records. The edition exemplifies the work that has given German scholarship its luster, although the Germans do not have the monopoly on editions. Richard Southern's student Martin Brett speaks out of experience when he reminds us of the bone-breaking work required by an edition, and of the paltry rewards for it. In the Anglophone world, "Few with university posts will be regarded by their deans, or even their colleagues, with much favor if they promise that their edition will appear any decade now, or that their executors will find among their papers an almost perfect text. At least in some parts of the community of medieval scholarship, a taste for philological detail, or even the basic skills for its investigation, are increasingly at a discount." [2]

Medievalists are lucky that the Monumenta and its editors have not lost their taste for philological detail. It is only too bad that a similar edition does not exist for the Peace councils which took place during the end of the same period in France. To work through the pages of the Ottonian synods is to reap the benefit of that monumental effort and achievement by Hehl and Servatius. This edition will live a long time.



1. Jason Glenn, Politics and History in the Tenth Century: The Work and World of Richer of Reims (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 276-285.

2. Martin Brett, "Editing the canon law collections between Burchard and Gratian," in Proceedings of the Twelfth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law, Washington, DC, 1-7 August 2004, eds. Uta- Renate Blumenthal, Kenneth Pennington, and Atria Larson (Vatican City: Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, 2008), 89-107, here at 92.