Recent Research on Canons Regular in the German Empire of the 11th and 12th Centuries

Church St. Mang Andreas Regensburg Stadtamhof (Wikipedia).
Church St. Mang Andreas Regensburg Stadtamhof (Wikipedia).
Church St. Mang Andreas Regensburg Stadtamhof (Wikipedia).

Recent Research on Canons Regular in the German Empire of the 11th and 12th Centuries

Stefan Weinfurter

Historische Zeitschrift: No. 224 (1977)


For decades the reform movement of the canons of the 11th and 12th centuries remained to a great degree unnoticed by historians. The Premonstratensians, who in this report are treated only in passing, have to be regarded as a certain exception. Cluny, Gorze, Hirsau and the reform papacy fill the spectrum of church and monastic reform of this period. But for about twenty years now the significance of the canons regular has more and more become the focus of attention. And today you can no longer avoid ascribing to them an essential portion of the deep reaching reform efforts of the time. Their heyday can be situated in the first half of the 12th century. During this time they contributed not only a series of popes – Honorius II, Innocent II, Lucius II, as well as Hadrian IV shortly after mid-century and finally Gregory VIII in the second half of the century – but they also gave inestimable momentum for the area of the German Empire, which forms the basis of this report. As expected, this is the case for the spiritual and intellectual interests, but, perhaps more decisively, as we can recognize today, also for the areas of constitutional law and politics.

Unquestionably the impressive work of Charles Dereine must be placed at the beginning of a research report on canons regular, even if he doesn’t consider the German canons regular as the focal point. In a number of articles, beginning in 1946 with Vie commune, règle de Saint Augustin et chanoines réguliers au XIe siècle, he brought the canonical reform altogether into the consciousness of historical science and published the sum of his results in the extensive encyclopedia article Chanoines. Here is available the first scientifically based overview about the history of canons, therefore of clerics, that is to say, canons living in a community. Whether they lived at a cathedral church or in a monastery, their form of life was codified in the 816 reform statutes of Aachen, which were generally binding for the first time. Then in the first half of the 11th century, reform groups among them of an eremitical character began to orient themselves to the vita apostolica and the life of the early church as well as (since the 2nd half of the 11th century) the model of life handed on by Augustine and his clerical community. These, who were now called canons regular as opposed to the “secular canons” who remained outside of the reform, shortly after 1100 divided up into the more traditional ordo antiquus and the more radical ordo novus. This, among other things, brought about the later splitting off of the Premonstratensians.

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