Francis of Assisi is (by saintly standards) much in the news of late. It is therefore lucky that what looks like a magisterial treatment of St. Francis was recently translated for English-speaking audiences–one which explores not only his own ideas but how those ideas influenced subsequent generations of political actors, religious leaders, and intellectuals to the present day. The book is Francis of Assisi: The Life and Afterlife of a Medieval Saint (Yale University Press 2012, but only just released in the more affordable paperback) by the eminent medieval historian André Vauchez (University of Paris X) (translated by Michael Cusato). The publisher’s description follows.
In this towering work, André Vauchez draws on the vast body of scholarship on Francis of Assisi produced over the past forty years as well on as his own expertise in medieval hagiography to tell the most comprehensive and authoritative version of Francis’s life and afterlife published in the past half century.
After a detailed and yet engaging reconstruction of Francis’s life and work, Vauchez focuses on the myriad texts—hagiographies, chronicles, sermons, personal testimonies, etc.—of writers who recorded aspects of Francis’s life and movement as they remembered them, and used those remembrances to construct a portrait of Francis relevant to their concerns. We see varying versions of his life reflected in the work of Machiavelli, Luther, Voltaire, German and English romantics, pre-Raphaelites, Italian nationalists, and Mussolini, and discover how peace activists, ecologists, or interreligious dialogists have used his example to promote their various causes. Particularly noteworthy is the attention Vauchez pays to Francis’s own writings, which strangely enough have been largely overlooked by later interpreters.
The product of a lifetime of study, this book reveals a historian at the height of his powers.
By far the most fascinating story to be covered at today’s inaugural festivities involves the genesis and meaning of Justice Scalia’s head-dress. The voracious hunger for conspiratorial explanations in the Twitterverse was predictable, but it was sated (or perhaps ‘whetted’ is the mot juste) by CLR Forum friend Kevin Walsh, whose dash and sense of medieval panache is second to none.
Peter T. Leeson (George Mason U.) has posted “God Damn”: The Law and Economics of Monastic Malediction. The abstract follows.
Today monks are known for turning the other cheek, honoring saints, and blessing humanity with brotherly love. But for centuries they were known equally for fulminating their foes, humiliating saints, and casting calamitous curses at persons who crossed them. Clerics called these curses “maledictions.” This article argues that medieval communities of monks and canons used maledictions to protect their property against predators where government and physical self-help were unavailable to them. To explain how they did this I develop a theory of cursing with rational agents. I show that curses capable of improving property protection when cursors and their targets are rational must satisfy three conditions. They must be grounded in targets’ existing beliefs, monopolized by cursors, and unfalsiﬁable. Malediction satisﬁed these conditions, making it an effective institutional substitute for conventional institutions of clerical property protection.
This November, Boydell & Brewer will publish English Nuns and the Law in the Middle Ages Cloistered Nuns and Their Lawyers, 1293-1540 by Elizabeth Makowski (Texas State University). The publisher’s description follows
In late medieval England, cloistered nuns, like all substantial property owners, engaged in nearly constant litigation to defend their holdings. They did so using attorneys (proctors), advocates and other “men of law” who actually conducted that litigation in the courts of Church and Crown. However, although lawyers were as crucial to the economic vitality of the nunneries as the patrons who endowed them, their role in protecting, augmenting or depleting monastic assets has never been fully investigated. This book aims to address the gap. Using records from the courts of the common law, Chancery, and a variety of ecclesiastical venues, it examines the working relationships without which cloistered nuns could not have lived in fully enclosed but self-sustainingc communities. In the first part it looks at the six mendicant and Bridgettine houses established in England, and relates the effectiveness and resilience of their cloistered spirituality to the rise of legal professionalism in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It then presents cases from ecclesiastical and royal courts which illustrate the work of legal professionals on behalf of their clients.
A very interesting historical work by G.W. Bernard (University of Southampton) discussing the pre-Reformation Catholic Church in England: The Late Medieval English Church: Vitality and Vulnerability Before the Break With Rome (YUP 2012). The publisher’s description follows.
The later medieval English church is invariably viewed through the lens of the Reformation that transformed it. But in this bold and provocative book historian George Bernard examines it on its own terms, revealing a church with vibrant faith and great energy, but also with weaknesses that reforming bishops worked to overcome.
Bernard emphasizes royal control over the church. He examines the challenges facing bishops and clergy, and assesses the depth of lay knowledge and understanding of the teachings of the church, highlighting the practice of pilgrimage. He reconsiders anti-clerical sentiment and the extent and significance of heresy. He shows that the Reformation was not inevitable: the late medieval church was much too full of vitality. But Bernard also argues that alongside that vitality, and often closely linked to it, were vulnerabilities that made the break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries possible. The result is a thought-provoking study of a church and society in transformation.
Harold Berman famously argued that Western legal culture originated in the papal reforms of the High Middle Ages, which unleashed a torrent of law making throughout society. Catholic University Press has just released an English-language translation of University of Turin historian Massimo Vallerani’s work on the evolution of criminal trials in medieval Italy, Medieval Public Justice (2012), which includes statistical analyses of surviving court records. The publisher’s description follows.
In a series of essays based on surviving documents of actual court practices from Perugia and Bologna, as well as laws, statutes, and theoretical works from the 12th and 13th centuries, Massimo Vallerani offers important historical insights into the establishment of a trial-based public justice system. Challenging the long-standing evolutionary paradigm of medieval Continue reading
Fordham historian Wolfgang P. Müller has written a new book on the origins of criminal punishment for abortion in western law, The Criminalization of Abortion in the West (Cornell 2012). The publisher’s description follows.
Anyone who wants to understand how abortion has been treated historically in the western legal tradition must first come to terms with two quite different but interrelated historical trajectories. On one hand, there is the ancient Judeo-Christian condemnation of prenatal homicide as a wrong warranting retribution; on the other, there is the juristic definition of “crime” in the modern sense of the word, which distinguished the term sharply from “sin” and “tort” and was tied to the rise of Western jurisprudence. To find the act of abortion first identified as a crime in the West, one has to go back to the twelfth century, to the schools of ecclesiastical and Roman law in medieval Europe.
In this book, Wolfgang P. Müller tells the story of how abortion came to be criminalized in the West. As he shows, criminalization as a distinct phenomenon and abortion as a self-standing criminal category developed in tandem with each other, first being formulated coherently in the twelfth century at schools of law and theology in Bologna and Paris. Over the ensuing centuries, medieval prosecutors struggled to widen the range of criminal cases involving women accused of ending their unwanted pregnancies. In the process, punishment for abortion went from the realm of carefully crafted rhetoric by ecclesiastical authorities to eventual implementation in practice by clerical and lay judges across Latin Christendom. Informed by legal history, moral theology, literature, and the history of medicine, Müller’s book is written with the concerns of modern readers in mind, thus bridging the gap that might otherwise divide modern and medieval sensibilities.
Another book about the medieval period, this one dealing with the fascinating subject of the importance of oratory and preaching in early Islam — The Power of Oratory in the Medieval Muslim World (CUP 2012) by Linda Jones (Institucion Mila y Fontanals). The publisher’s description follows.
Oratory and sermons had a fixed place in the religious and civic rituals of pre-modern Muslim societies and were indispensible for transmitting religious knowledge, legitimizing or challenging rulers, and inculcating the moral values associated with being part of the Muslim community. While there has been abundant scholarship on medieval Christian and Jewish preaching, Linda G. Jones’s book is the first to consider the significance of the tradition of pulpit oratory in the medieval Islamic world. Traversing Iberia and North Africa from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, the book analyzes the power of oratory, the ritual juridical and rhetorical features of pre-modern sermons, and the social profiles of the preachers and orators who delivered them. The biographical and historical sources, which form the basis of this remarkable study, offer abundant proof of cultural exchange between al-Andalus and the eastern regions of the Islamic empires, as preachers traveled back and forth between the great cities of Cordoba, Qayrawan, Baghdad, and Cairo. In this way, the book sheds light on different regional practices and the juridical debates between individual preachers around correct performance.
A very interesting examination of the practice of tithing as a political instrument of power in the early medieval period — Episcopal Power and Ecclesiastical Reform in the German Empire: Tithes, Lordship and Community , 950-1150 (CUP 2012) by John Eldevik (Hamilton College). The publisher’s description follows.
Focusing on the way bishops in the eleventh century used the ecclesiastical tithe – church taxes – to develop or re-order ties of loyalty and dependence within their dioceses, this book offers a new perspective on episcopacy in medieval Germany and Italy. Using three broad case studies from the dioceses of Mainz, Salzburg and Lucca in Tuscany, John Eldevik places the social dynamics of collecting the church tithe within current debates about religious reform, social change and the so-called ‘feudal revolution’ in the eleventh century, and analyses a key economic institution, the medieval tithe, as a social and political phenomenon. By examining episcopal churches and their possessions not in institutional terms, but as social networks which bishops were obliged to negotiate and construct over time using legal, historiographical and interpersonal means, this comparative study casts fresh light on the history of early medieval society.
An absolutely wonderful looking book dealing with religion and political and legal authority round about the 15th century by Ian Christopher Levy (Providence College), Holy Scripture and the Quest for Authority at the End of the Middle Ages (Notre Dame 2012). And note some very similar issues of textual interpretation which we see in our own day. The publisher’s description follows.
All participants in late medieval debates recognized Holy Scripture as the principal authority in matters of Catholic doctrine. Popes, theologians, lawyers—all were bound by the divine truth it conveyed. Yet the church possessed no absolute means of determining the final authoritative meaning of the biblical text—hence the range of appeals to antiquity, to the papacy, and to councils, none of which were ultimately conclusive. Authority in the late medieval church was a vexing issue precisely because it was not resolved.
Ian Christopher Levy’s book focuses on the quest for such authority between 1370 and 1430, from John Wyclif to Thomas Netter, thereby encompassing the struggle over Holy Scripture waged between Wycliffites and Hussites on the one hand, and their British and Continental opponents on the other. Levy demonstrates that the Wycliffite/Hussite “heretics” and their opponents—the theologians William Woodford, Thomas Netter, and Jean Gerson—in fact shared a large and undisputed common ground. They held recognized licenses of expertise, venerated tradition, esteemed the church fathers, and embraced Holy Scripture as the ultimate authority in Christendom. What is more, they utilized similar hermeneutical strategies with regard to authorial intention, the literal sense, and the appeal to the fathers and holy doctors in order to open up the text. Yet it is precisely this commonality, according to Levy, that rendered the situation virtually intractable; he argues that the erroneous assumption persists today that Netter and Gerson spoke for “the church,” whereas Wyclif and Hus sought to destroy it.
Levy’s sophisticated study in historical theology, which reconsiders the paradigm of heresy and orthodoxy, offers a necessary adjustment in our view of church authority at the turn of the fifteenth century.