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22.09.10 Werhahn-Piorkowski, Die Regule Cancellarie Innozenz’ VIII. und Alexanders VI

22.09.10 Werhahn-Piorkowski, Die Regule Cancellarie Innozenz’ VIII. und Alexanders VI

The papacy in the fifteenth century was an institution under tremendous strain. Biographies of the fifteenth century popes often celebrate their efforts at cultural renewal in Rome--their rebuilding of the city and the creative triumphs achieved by artists under their patronage. By contrast, political histories of the papacy in this period tend to be more pessimistic, colored by knowledge of what came next. The momentous developments of the sixteenth century--foreign invasions of Italy, the rise of national monarchies, and protestant challenges to Catholic doctrine--were trials the Renaissance papacy was ill-equipped to confront. Here, the picture is one of political weakness exacerbated by administrative corruption, as the popes’ perennial need for cash prompted them to devise increasingly baroque means of generating revenue.

Less attention has been paid to the mechanismsthat allowed the papal court to function in these tumultuous decades. Even corruption has its routines, and as the market for offices, benefices, and spiritual graces expanded, so too did the bureaucracy that dispensed them. Successive Renaissance popes increased the size of the papal administration, selling new offices to raise much-needed funds. They also devised new products for their faithful customers: new pardons and new dispensations, new exemptions to new rules. The market for indulgences exploded in these years, with consequences that are well known. Rome also tapped new revenue streams among its own clergy, imposing new levies on clerical clients: annates from current office holders, and fees for expectative graces from those who hoped to hold an office in future. Each transaction required a petition to Rome, with fees charged for the initial grant and for its memorializing in a document. The scale of the operation was vast. In the half century before the imperial Sack of Rome in 1527, it is estimated that the papal chancery received over 900,000 such written requests, each carefully registered in nearly 1400 volumes of petitions. As the papal bureaucracy metastasized, a small army of legal specialists emerged outside the chancery offering to facilitate the workings of this sprawling economy. A distant client had little hope of navigating Rome’s administrative labyrinths. For yet another fee, a skilled Roman procurator could guide a petition through the proper channels.

Dorett Elodie Werhahn-Piorkowksi explores the complexity of this bureaucratic landscape in her survey of the text that emerged as its atlas. The Regule cancellarie or Chancery Rules is a compilation of procedural instructions for sending a petition through the papal chancery and advice for handling any complications it might encounter along the way. Originally composed as in internal manual for curialists managing this documentary workflow, the text held clear value for those outsiders who also dealt with the system--petitioners, procurators, canon lawyers, major prelates and their administrative staffs--and it quickly found an audience beyond the chancery. Each pope issued his own version of the rules shortly after his accession, and although a new redaction rarely differed much from its predecessor, it still rendered the previous pope’s Regule invalid. So the latest version of the text was always in high demand.

Not surprisingly, the Regule cancellarie was one of the first texts to be printed in Rome. The version issued by Paul II (r. 1464-71) was first printed by Ulrich Han in the late 1460s and reprinted another three times in Rome before the pope’s death. Sixtus IV’s rules were printed more than a dozen times during his reign (1471-1484), with editions appearing in Venice and various German cities as well as in Rome. The printing of chancery rules reached an apex under Innocent VIII (1484-1492), with 44 editions of his Regule recorded; only half as many were published in the reign of Alexander VI (1492-1503), even though the Borgia pope updated his rules more frequently. Printing quickly became the preferred medium for distribution of the Regule. While manuscript copies of the text continued to circulate under Paul II, the number of handwritten copies dropped precipitously once printing took hold in Rome. For the reign of Innocent VIII, for example, just one manuscript copy of the Regule survives.

Like any legal text, the Regule also attracted commentators, and their texts, too, found wide audiences through the new medium of print. Alphonsus de Soto, a professor of law in the university of Rome, composed a commentary on Innocent VIII’s Regule that circulated broadly both on its own and as an appendix to printed editions of Innocent’s rulebook. Enterprising editors also included the Regule in composite volumes of canon law texts, in which they combined decretals and constitutions of various popes with the current version of the chancery rules and relevant commentaries. The multiplication of the text in print inevitably prompted critiques: some editions were faulty, allowing errors to spread, and there was much debate over which version was authoritative and how dubious readings might be resolved.

Werhahn-Piorkowksi provides an extensive catalogue of the printed editions of the Regule of Paul II, Sixtus IV, Innocent VIII, and Alexander VI published in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, along with the first critical edition of the Regule of Innocent VIII and Alexander VI. She prefaces the edition with a comprehensive historical account of the Regule and their place in the administrative and legal practices of the post-Avignon papacy, as well as exhaustive details of the manuscript and printed traditions of these two particular rulebooks. She pays equal attention to the legal contents of the books and to their appearance and spread via print. A thorough introduction sets the text into several important contexts: developments in documentary practice in late medieval chanceries; the political and fiscal challenges confronting the Renaissance papacy; the expansion of the chancery starting under Pius II and the monetization of its offices and its products; the arrival of print in the papal city and its impact on chancery culture; the practices of legal commentators; the relationship between legal theory and practice in pre-modern bureaucracies; and the connections that obtained between the Renaissance popes and the first printers to serve them.

This is a volume that will be of interest and value to specialists in a variety of fields, including the history of the papacy, canon law, bureaucratic procedure, and early printing. The edition and extensive catalogue of incunabula are expertly produced. The introductory material--about one third of the volume--offers valuable insights that will be useful to advanced students of late medieval and Renaissance political culture and religion. Werhahn-Piorkowksi takes a topic that may seem dry--the compilation of chancery rules--and shows how it can illuminate a great deal about the papacy and its clients on the eve of the Reformation.