Dominus Episcopus: Medieval Bishops Between Diocese and Court developed from the 2015 conference on the "Lord Bishop" hosted by the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History, and Antiquities with support from the Society of the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature. Although the bishop is the stated focus, Dominus Episcopus uses the perspectives of those with whom he worked as a lens, providing insight into both bishop and community.
The book presents the bishop through an accumulation of acts, from everyday pastoral activities to bishops at war, and even bishops engaged in a scandal. As Anthony John Lappin argues in the introduction, the book examines "what might anachronistically be described as the items one could reasonably expect to find occupying space on their in-tray" (9). To that end, this collection of essays is useful to those who may not be interested in the bishop per se, but rather the communities, influences, or themes with which the bishops of this book interact. As a collection of papers presented at a conference, there are understandable gaps in coverage. The content spans pre-Viking England to post-Reformation Norway, and while most of the essays are focused on Northern Europe, the collection includes one essay on 15th-century Castile. The essays include numerous references to canon law, episcopal letters, sermons, and hagiography, but they also cite material recently made available from the Vatican Secret Archives. Even when the source material is derived from expected texts, the focus provides fresh perspectives, such as the way canon law was either applied by and to bishops and their communities rather than how canon law prescribed the office and role of the bishop.
In the first essay, "Bishops and Canon Law in pre-Viking England," Martin J. Ryan examines Ecgberht of York's Dialogus,a text he notes is "surprisingly under-utilized" and "which illuminates Northumbrian ideas of the episcopate" (26). For Ryan, the Dialogusdemonstrates how the Anglo-Saxon episcopate defined itself using canon law in ways parallel to but also distinct from the Continent. As a starting place for a book dedicated to exploring bishops through actions and not just words, Ryan's essay reveals the dance scholars (both medieval and modern) must undertake when assessing what was prescriptive written text and what was practice. In Ryan's conclusion, the Dialogusof Ecgberht was seen "to draw boundaries, to demarcate spheres of influence, and to determine the place and value of the institutional church and its members in wider society," offering a significant model for the essays that follow (40).
In "Bishops and Pastoral Obligations," Inka Moilanen examines the pastoral letters written by Aelfric of Eynsham (c. 950-1010). Moilanen begins with a discussion of pastoral letters as tools for preaching, paying particular attention to the variety of ways that letters are included in books deemed necessary for bishops. Moilanen stresses the difficulty in assessing the practical uses of these letters in the everyday activities of the diocese and concludes it is near impossible to pull apart their secular and monastic contexts. Even so, Moilanen encourages scholars to see value in the efforts of seeing the shadow of the bishop in the expectations of the communities he was required to serve.
"Bishop on Crusade" by Kurt Villads Jensen opens with a description of the statue of Archbishop Absalon of Copenhagen, sword in hand, as an example of the disconnection between canon law, which dictates that a bishop should not shed blood, and the ideal of the warrior bishop. Jensen traces the warrior bishop from Gregory the Great, Peter Damian, and Bernard of Clairvaux through the crusading period. He then divides his evidence between the ways the bishop on crusade was understood in theory and practice. Jensen suggests the bishop on horseback armed with a lance might also be seen as a reference to the pastoral and liturgical responsibilities of a bishop in battle.
In "Justifying Episcopal Pluralism," Emil Lauge Christensen offers a similar perspective on the ways our understanding of evidence of episcopal power shifts if we consider aspects of episcopal authority in action. Thick with detail and context, Christensen offers a reading of the narrativization of Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta danorumthrough the lens of Catherine Bell's theory of ritualization. Christensen argues this approach offers another way of looking at the tensions created between veracity and fabrication in episcopal Gesta. We are asked, then, to consider Saxo's justification of pluralism not only against the backdrop of canon law and papal letters but also as it was structured by public perceptions of humility and legitimacy.
In "Bishops and Monasteries," Anthony John Lappin uses York and Selby as case studies to examine the effects of canons 12 and 13 of the Fourth Lateran Council. He first examines Selby through its founding by William the Conqueror to the establishment of Selby as a center of power and trade beyond the patronage of the Archbishop at York. The latter part of the essay looks at Selby in the 13th century, after Lateran IV would be in effect. Lappin offers a densely detailed study of monastic houses in the York landscape, and demonstrates how Lateran IV had been largely ignored. Lappin goes on to articulate a symbiotic relationship between bishops and abbots demonstrated through the reception of canons 12 and 13, illustrating both tension and interdependence.
In "Bishops and the Inquisition of Heresy in Late Medieval Germany," Reima Välimäki also explores canon law and Lateran IV but through the case study of the medieval German bishops' role in the Inquisition. Välimäki sketches out the full spectrum of bishops' roles--from calling for an inquisition, to episcopal use of papal officials, to upholding a failed inquisition, to cooperating with (or battling with) the city officials who also acted in inquisition cases--demonstrating that while bishops were critical figures in the ethos of the inquisition, the who, where, and why of each case often shaped what a bishop did as much as broader expectations of the office.
Kirsi Salonen's "Bishops and Bad Behaviour: Scandinavian Examples of Bishops Who Violated Ecclesiastical Norms " offers a unique foil for an examination of episcopal work using examples bishops' bad behavior. Using Scandinavian bishops as the examples, Salonen identifies three significant issues--celibacy, perjury, and violence--and goes on to provide an example of each. Most interesting here are sources, which include petitions made by illegitimate children who desired a papal dispensation to join the clergy, as well as lists of bishops who perjured themselves by not making the journey to Rome and how they were held accountable (or not). As with other chapters in this book, Salonen's study illustrates how much source material shapes the conversations one might have about the episcopacy. In the case of this essay, for example, the author is using the Vatican Secret Archives rather than information from a local diocese. Accordingly, what we see of a medieval bishop is never actually the whole man as he lived or the office as it is defined and redefined through canon and council. Instead, we see the impressions left by the bishop, and in this case by bad bishops, helping us to understand both what bishops were supposed to be and who they actually were.
In one of the only essays not dedicated to Northern Europe, Rosa Vidal Doval's essay "The Castilian Episcopacy and Conversos, 1450-1465" examines the role of bishops in the decades before the Inquisition in an effort to understand what role they actually played in the debate around conversos and the fostering of new Christians. Doval argues that in addition to recognizing bishops' particular roles at court and the alliances they developed or destroyed, we can understand the role more fully by examining how the expectations of the office shaped the actions of the individual in that position.
The last two essays by Martin Neuding Skoog and Elena Balzamo take the Diet of 1527 as a starting or ending point. Skoog's "In defense of the aristocratic republic," outlines the military capability of the Swedish bishop, how that is exceptional and how it was affected by the rise of the Reformation and the weakening of the Swedish episcopacy. Balzamo's "Three bishops for a see" picks up the story later and looks at three archbishops who were elected at Uppsala (two Catholic and one Protestant). Balzamo concludes with a sentence suggesting the story of these three bishops is more literary than historical and discusses how weak institutions allowed for the agency of individuals. This is a fitting final essay to the volume, reminding us of the ways that circumstances, acts of individuals and expectations of an office must all be considered together, within the contexts of unique historical moments as well as specific geographical locations.
In the end, scholars can take what they need from this collection. If your research interests line up with a particular author or essay, you may find a treasure trove of primary and secondary sources in the notes and analysis. For others who are removed by discipline, or area, or the period from the specific essays, there is still much to learn about approaches, the variety and potential of different source materials as applied to a particular office or identity. I would argue that as scholars seeking to keep up with our areas of focus we may not often enough venture to read books that expand what we think we know. And so to that end, I would encourage anyone interested in the networks that make (and sometimes unmake) the medieval bishop to take a look at this volume.