By Edward Andrew Reno III
Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University, 2011
Abstract: The Decretals of Gregory IX, promulgated in 1234, was the first collection of canon law for the Catholic Church invested with universal and exclusive authority, and was the culmination of a century and a half process by which the a now papal-led Church came to be the leading institution within medieval European society. The Decretals, also known as the Liber extra – a compilation of 1971 papal letters, constitutions and conciliar canons drawn principally from the century prior to its issuance – has long been understood as a key text for the study of the medieval papacy, the rise of scholasticism within the universities, and the extension of the Church’s jurisdiction into almost every area of medieval life. The degree to which the man commissioned to edit the collection, the Dominican Raymond of Penyafort (1175-1275), actively shaped the legal content of the Decretals through eliminating, rewording, or supplementing the individual texts has remained elusive, in part because of the complicated manuscript tradition and in part because of our ignorance of all his sources. This dissertation examines Raymond’s editing of the most recent material within the collection, the 195 capitula attributed to the commissioning pope Gregory IX (1227-1241), which in many cases provide definitive statements of the law. This study has determined that Raymond used Gregory IX’s papal registers – the official record of papal correspondence and administration – as a source for roughly half of the capitula attributed to this pope in the Decretals. A collation of these capitula with the register originals has been produced, allowing one to see directly how Raymond shaped the material at his disposal into a universal legal framework for the Church. While the collation will serve as the basis for future analyses of the changes Raymond and Gregory introduced into the law, a case study has been conducted for the Gregorian legislation related to the religious orders.
The results of this study show the dynamic and contingent nature of papal legislation – how the law at times was crafted in response to specific difficulties faced by legal commentators, but also how certain decisions with a narrow scope were given broad and universal application by Raymond, sometimes with unintended consequences down the road. Such was the case with Gregory’s decision to allow women in a southern German province – who had been abandoned by their husbands for having committed adultery – to enter convents set up for former prostitutes (X 3.32.19, Gaudemus in Domino). In Raymond’s hands this became a general recommendation that all women convicted of adultery should enter into convents to perform lifetime penance.
Aside from legal content, Raymond’s editing for the entire collection has been examined from the standpoint of legal rhetoric, and the particular language of law that emerged in the thirteenth century. It is demonstrated how Raymond consistently eliminated references to the counsel given the pope by the cardinals during legal decision making, with the effect of representing the law as a more direct expression of the papal will. Moreover, the ubiquitous invocations of additional sources of authority normally found in papal correspondence to back up pronouncements of the law – whether they be previous legal decisions, scripture, or the holy fathers – were regularly omitted. This suggests an emerging conception of the law, as well as the institutional framework of the papacy, as self-sufficient and self-evident in its authority. As part of examining the papal registers as a source for the Gregorian capitula, a diplomatic study has been produced of the manuscript of the first register volume (Vatican City, ASV, Reg. Vat. 14, covering pontifical years 1-3), which demonstrates how the register functioned as an ongoing and increasingly important administrative record for the Roman Curia.
This study contributes to the overall understanding of the place of the written record in medieval administrative practices in the thirteenth century, suggesting that the tools of centralized administration normally associated with the later thirteenth century can be found during Gregory’s pontificate. It proposes a new comparative direction for the study of medieval administrative institutions and the tools upon which they were based. This dissertation also contributes to the ongoing efforts to study and classify the almost 700 surviving manuscripts of the Decretals as well as the hundreds of manuscripts of its main sources, the five canon law compilations collectively known as the Quinque compilationes antiquae. By examining Raymond’s method of organizing his material, and comparing the early manuscripts of the collection, a working list of important variants has been developed that may be employed going forward to test and categorize manuscripts of the Decretals and the Quinque compilationes antiquae.
Although the collection was intended to become the exclusive source for decretal law prior to 1234, with Gregory IX banning the use of all former compilations, a careful study of thirteenth century commentators such as Hostiensis, Sinebaldus Fieschi (Innocent IV) and Bernard of Parma shows that commentators continued to refer back to the earlier sources of the Decretals when doubtful questions about Raymond’s editing arose. While an awareness of the historically-embedded nature of the law is normally associated with the Renaissance and Early-Modern periods, this dissertation proposes a reevaluation of medieval canonists as sensitive to the historical and textual-critical dimensions of the legal tradition.
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