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21.08.35 Smith (ed.), Authority and Power in the Medieval Church

21.08.35 Smith (ed.), Authority and Power in the Medieval Church

"Authority and power" is the animating theme of this collection of 22 papers on the Church of the High and Late Middle Ages. But the words are not construed as rough synonyms, in the way that readers have often understood auctoritas and potestas in Pope Gelasius I's famous designation of church-state spheres, but rather they are envisioned as "distinct concepts and abilities" (17). Authority here is the right to power, but power is required to implement it. Thus there can be authority without power, and power without authority. In fact, in this volume, some of the grandest claims to ecclesiastical authority seem to be inversely proportional to actual power. Most of the papers investigate how claims to authority did or did translate into administrative ability.

This is a timely project. Recent scholarship on ecclesiastical reform has been less interested in defining models and more concerned about tracing the institutional development of an increasingly clerical, legalistic Church. Viewed negatively, this could be R. I. Moore's story of "the formation of a persecuting society." But the reality was more complex. Ecclesiastical power was often extremely limited, non-normative groups could be protected rather than persecuted, and the "triumph of the clerks," far from being just a Western European phenomenon, has parallels in many contemporary Eurasian civilizations. For historians seeking more global perspectives, this could be an interesting story to investigate.

"Part I: Concepts of Papal authority" is dominated by the opening essay (the longest in the collection), I. S. Robinson's "Privilegium Romanae Ecclesiae: The Language of Papal Authority over the Church in the Eleventh Century" (29-65). Here is an important survey produced by an eminent historian with unparalleled expertise in eleventh- and twelfth-century papal reforms. The Church of Rome had always claimed a distinctive status, but Robinson sets forth the case for a new stage in the eleventh century, documenting greatly increased papal activity on both theoretical and practical levels. He identifies one stimulus as the symbiotic partnership between monastic and papal reformers, whereby the powers of both were greatly enhanced as popes granted monasteries exemptions from episcopal authority.

The remaining papers in this section are more focused, pertaining especially to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (like the vast majority of this volume's contributions). Benedict Wiedemann, "Papal Authority and Power during the Minority of Emperor Frederick II" (67-77) traces the different types of authority Innocent III used to justify his guardianship of Frederick II during his minority as king of Sicily (1197-1208), a regency which had been arranged by Frederick's mother but had become potentially problematic when Markward of Anweiler claimed to be a regent authorized by Frederick's father, prompting Innocent and his curia to shift justifications of their authority toward "the customs of the kingdom," presumably the Norman rulers' original papal vassalage of the Normans, codified in 1130 as overlordship of the kingdom. Rebecca Rist, "The Medieval Papacy and the Concepts of 'Anti-Judaism' and 'Anti-Semitism'" (79-107), investigates how far Gavin Langmuir's famous attempt to distinguish between hostility to the Jewish religion and to Jews as a people, postulating a burgeoning of anti-semitism in the thirteen century, might apply to the medieval papacy itself: unquestionably popes viewed the Jewish religion as a doctrinally flawed rival system, but, despite occasional invocations of Jewish perfidy and hostility toward the Talmud, popes tended to avoid the fabulous tales of Jewish sacrileges and to offer consistent support to Jewish converts, positions still far removed from the racially defined anti-semitism of the modern world. Laura Cleaver, "The Place of the Papacy in Four Illuminated Manuscripts from Thirteenth-Century England" (109-131), looks at some visual images that highlight Peter as Christ's successor.

"Part II: Representatives of Papal Authority," devoted to papal legates, is the volume's most thematically unified section. Thomas W. Smith, "The Interface between Papal Authority and Heresy: The Legates of Honorius III in Languedoc, 1216-1227" (135-144), presents legates as personifications of ecclesiastical authority, men who wore the mask (the persona) of the pope, but who in practice, when local clerical and lay officials would not support their excommunications, had to seek the support of the French crown (the real victor in the Languedoc crusades). Gábor Barabás, "Papal Legates in Thirteenth-Century Hungary: Authority, Power, Reality" (145-58), describes a situation where the support of King Béla IV of Hungary (1235-1270) was so vital for the preservation of the Latin Empire of Constantinople that he was able to demand a role in the choice of legates to his kingdom, part of a complex relationship involving not only disputes over Church rights and the royal use of pagan officials but also the occasional employment of legates as peacemakers. Philippa J. Mesiano, "Pope Alexander IV, King Henry III, and the Imperial Succession: Master Rostand's Role in the Sicilian Business, 1255-1258" (159-170), claims that Alexander IV, after he had inherited the difficult situation in Sicily following the death of Frederick II, made effective use of envoys as he pursued diplomatic and military options. Jean Dunbabin "Cardinal Gerard of Parma as Co-Ruler in the Kingdom of Sicily, 1285-1298" (171-180), looks at the co-regents in Sicily in the aftermath of the death of Charles of Anjou, and describes Cardinal Bernard as a pragmatic administrator, navigating between papal demands for reforms and intransigent local officials. All these studies highlight the difficulties involved in translating papal authority into legatine administrative power, but it is possible that historians are less interested in those cases where the system worked smoothly.

"Part III: The Papacy and the East" looks at attenuated papal power on Christianity's far frontiers. The late Bernard Hamilton, in "The Power of Tradition: The Papacy and the Churches of the East, c. 1100-1300" (183-192), focuses on the exotic churches the crusaders encountered. He attributes the initiation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem's impressive union agreements more to the Eastern churches than to Rome. The Maronites of Lebanon, who were reconciled in 1181/1183 and attained a final status agreement in 1215, were the first uniate Church, operating directly under Rome while preserving its own institutions. Agreements with some Nestorian and Syriac Christians allowed them the privilege of remaining in communion with the unreconciled members of their churches. The Greek churches were not considered as separate In the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and, because the popes dealt with the Greek patriarch of Alexandria, the papacy was never in close touch with the Coptic hierarchy. James Hill, "Politics and Power in Latin Efforts at Church Union, 1300-1360" (193-204), describes how fourteenth-century initiatives for ecclesiastical unity with the Greeks were undermined by politics. By the mid fourteenth century, the Armenians, facing the decline of their Ilkanate protectors, were actively seeking unity, but the Avignon popes lacked the military resources to implement a lasting alliance. Maroula Perisanidi, "Eustathios's Life of a Married Priest and the Struggle for Authority in Twelfth-Century Byzantium " (317-327), describes an attempt in the Greek Church to dignify the married Greek lower clergy. Mike Carr, "Modifications to Papal Trade Licenses at the Avignon Curia" (205-215), opposes the assumption that papal embargoes on trade with Islam were total failures, noting that, even though they did not lead to the recovery of the Holy Land, they do seem to have influenced trade. The exemptions granted in papal Registra supplicationumdemonstrate that popes exercised real authority and power here, for otherwise petitioners would not have bothered to go through these bureaucratic procedures. Popes had some active agency inasmuch as a third of the preserved petitions (the unsuccessful ones were not recorded) include clauses or amendments supplied by curial officials.

"Part IV: Cultures of Ecclesiastical Authority and Power" and "Part V: Ecclesiastical Communities and Collective Authority and Power," comprising half of the studies collected in this book, discuss power relationships in many different ecclesiastical communities. Here are groups of women who had power despite their deficiencies in formal authority: Catherine Lawless, "Imagining Power: Gender, Power, and Authority in Florentine Piety" (253-267), highlights the increasing prominence of women in Florentine religious art; Kirsty Day, "Royal Woman, the Franciscan Order, and Ecclesiastical Authority in Late Medieval Bohemia and the Polish Duchies" (269-284), shows some royal women adopting lives of penance under Franciscan direction, demonstrating their orthodoxy through their submissiveness, voluntarily curbing the authority they would have had through their secular positions and ecclesiastical patronage; Christine Meek, "The Bishop, the Convent, and the Community: The Attempt to Enclose the Nuns of S. Giustina, Lucca, 1301-1302)" (329-340), describes nuns whose local power and connections enabled them to resist the authority of Boniface VIII's Pericoloso. Here also are ecclesiastical groups wielding power on an ad hoc basis thanks to proximity to popes: Matthew Ross, "The Late Medieval Papal Chapel: A Culture of Power and Authority" (219-231), examines the two dozen collegiate clerks, appointed by the pope and living in the papal palace, whose personal accomplishments, liturgical expertise, and academic degrees made them candidates for ecclesiastical offices but whose curial functions varied widely, depending upon papal needs; also Melanie Brunner, "The Power of the Cardinals: Decision-Making at the Papal Curia in Avignon" (355-369), describes how the largely undefined powers of cardinals varied according to their influence networks and internal power negotiations. Other papers discuss communities of bishops who were concerned about vestiture and relative precedence: Jan Vanderburie, "Dress to Impress: Jacques de Vitry's Clothing and Episcopal Self-Fashioning" (233-252), tells how Jacques had to upgrade his mitre when he went East; Nicholas Vincent, "Shall the First Be Last? Order and Disorder amongst Henry II's Bishops" (287-316), neatly analyzes patterns of episcopal precedence by studying the order in which bishops, from sees throughout the Angevin Empire, signed royal documents; Matthew Phillips, "Archbishop Walter Reynolds, the Clerical gravamina, and Parliamentary Petitions from the Clergy in the Early Fourteenth Century" (341-354), compares the records from two channels that English clergymen used to register grievances with the government, and rehabilitates to some extent Archbishop Reynolds' reputation for promoting ecclesiastical interests. Two other studies look at the military orders in society, authoritative groups which nevertheless still had to negotiate their local powers: Helen J. Nicholson, "Negotiation and Conflict: The Templars' and Hospitallers' Relations with Diocesan Bishops in Britain and Ireland" (371-389), describes a surprising amount of cooperation, which perhaps helps explain the lack of systematic attacks on Templar holdings in 1307, when they suddenly became vulnerable; Karl Borchardt, "Hospitaller and Teutonic Order Lordships in Germany" (391-405), relates how--despite the fact that the two grandmasters ultimately became imperial princes, and despite the ample papal privileges that fortified the Hospitallers, like the Templars earlier--the military orders' scattered possessions within Germany still generally remained subordinated to the local princes.

All in all, this is a wide-ranging, slightly disjointed collection of broad overviews and focused papers, produced by a variety of senior and junior scholars. It is no systematic survey of the governance of the Church in the High and Late Middle Ages. Yet it does succeed in stimulating thought, particularly about the institutional Church's claims to authority and the ways it attempted to marshal sufficient power to implement them. It should help inspire many subsequent studies.