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The idea of paradigm in church history: the notion of papal monarchy in the thirteenth century, from Innocent III to Boniface VIII

The idea of paradigm in church history: the notion of papal monarchy in the thirteenth century, from Innocent III to
Boniface VIII

Matthew Edward Harris

M.Phil, The History of Christianity, University of Birmingham, September (2007)

Abstract

The hierocratic theory of papal monarchy is said by some modern historians to have been systematic in character and the dominant way of understanding the papacy in the thirteenth century. As such, the hierocratic theory bears a strong resemblance to how the concept ‘paradigm’ from Thomas Kuhn’s book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” has been popularly understood. This apparently harmonious match is used in this dissertation as the means by which both the hierocratic and the popular understanding of papal monarchy are analysed and critiqued. This dissertation argues that in the thirteenth century there was a variety of beliefs concerning the nature of the papal office. In the course of arguing this point, what Kuhn meant by ‘paradigm’ is clarified, along with showing the difficulties of extending use of his paradigm concept beyond the context of modern science.

The original aim of this dissertation was to test the viability of the concept of ‘paradigm’ as advanced by Thomas Kuhn as a shorthand summary of the ecclesiological position of the Latin Church in the thirteenth century. Arguably, disputes with the Greek Church and the long-term failure of dialogue stemmed from conflicting ecclesiologies;1 there was no theory-neutral space between the Latin and Greek ways of understanding the Church and its supreme authority. At the councils Lyons II (1274) and Ferrara-Florence (1438-9), the East and the West spoke from incommensurably different viewpoints. This is where Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions comes in,2 for Kuhn said ‘proponents of competing paradigms are always at least slightly at cross-purposes’.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Birmingham

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