Crossing many borders: the study of medieval canon law

When I started my blog in 2009 this happened not only because I wished to do so, but also in answer to the very question how to blog about legal history. The question came from the Stephan-Kuttner-Institute of Medieval Canon Law (IMCL) at the University of Munich. Since 1996 this institute is housed at the Leopold-Wenger-Institut für Rechtsgeschichte. One of the earliest posts in my series Centers of legal history centered around both institutions.

Stephan Kuttner and the modern study of medieval canon law

The IMCL is a creation of the late Stephan Kuttner (1907-1996). Kuttner was born in Bonn. He studied law in Berlin. His family was originally Jewish, but they had converted to Lutheranism. After his promotion in 1930 Kuttner was refused the opportunity to do research for a Habilitationsschrift at any university in the German-speaking world. Kuttner left Germany and was during a few years able to teach at the Lateran University, and to do the research for two studies which altered the study of medieval canon law radically, a model study on the canon law theory of guilt and a repertory of manuscripts with medieval canon law texts. Eventually Kuttner had to leave Italy and succeeded in 1940 in entering the United States. He taught at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., at Yale University since 1964, and finally from 1970 onwards at the University of California at Berkeley, where he became one of the directors of the Robbins Collection at Boalt Hall, Berkeley’s law school. In 1955 Kuttner founded the IMCL.

In the sixties Kuttner and Gérard Fransen from the Université Catholique de Louvain decided to organize an international congress for the field of medieval canon law. The first congress took place in 1963 at Boston College. In 1968 the university of Strasbourg hosted the second congress, and in that year it was decided to organize the congress every four years, with the venue alternating between Europe and America. From August 5 to 11, 2012, the University of Toronto hosted for the second time – 1972 was the first time – this congress, the fourteenth of a distinguished series. Andreas Hetzenecker used the resources of the IMCL to write a study about Kuttner’s early years in America and his scholarly role for the multidisciplinary field of medieval canon law, Stephan Kuttner in Amerika 1940-1964 : Grundlegung der modernen historisch-kanonistischen Forschung  (Berlin 2007). Kuttner ranks with other brilliant German scholars such as Erich Auerbach and Richard Krautheimer, Fritz Stern, Paul Oskar Kristeller and Erwin Panofsky, Ernst Kantorowicz and Hermann Ulrich Kantorowicz, and many others who had to flee from Germany in the face of the Nazi regime.

Languages and medieval canon law

Logo ICMAC

Both the IMCL and the series of congresses are supported by a society with a Latin and an English name, Iuris Canonici Medii Aevi Consociatio or International Society of Medieval Canon Law, which should not surprise you in view of the language of many sources concerning medieval canon law. When you look at the book titles in the online catalogue of the library of the IMCL you will find works in many languages which is a faithful reflection of the worldwide community of scholars studying medieval canon law.

Quite recently Dante Figueroa wrote for In Custodia Legis, the blog of the Law Library of Congress, a guest post on medieval canon law with at its center the edition of the proceedings of the 2008 congress on medieval canon law at Esztergom. The author evidently was surprised not only by the uncut pages of the proceedings published by the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana in 2010, but also by the very fact of scholars publishing in a wide variety of languages on a subject which in itself has so many sides. I added a comment to this post mentioning this year’s congress in Toronto, and the fact that the first see of the Institute for Medieval Canon Law was in Washington, D.C., more precisely at the Catholic University of America, where the webpages of Kenneth Pennington remain one of the earliest and most informative pages on the study of medieval canon law.

I always feel slightly disappointed when links in the often very interesting posts at In Custodia Legis lead you only to the venerable Encylopedia Britannica. However, Figueroa has taken the trouble of searching for online information sometimes far away, but he could have found much online in Washington, too. If someone of the fine blogging team at the Library of Congress would take the trouble to add the category canon law to all relevant and often revealing posts at In Custodia Legis they would save anyone interested some time in finding them… Anyway, I am most willing to admit that the post by Figueroa made me think about addressing the subject of languages and medieval canon law.

Medieval canon law in Toronto

When starting this post I soon realized that Toronto would surely qualify for inclusion in my series on centers of legal history. Writers’ received wisdom says you should not mix up things too much in one story, and I confess to a strong tendency to put too much of a good thing in one post. Let’s therefore opt for the best of two worlds and just refer to the Toronto institutions involved in the 2012 congress. The Centre for Medieval Studies is the first to mention. I am intrigued by the references to research projects on the Florentine monte and on Beneventan script, but the website of the CMS does nor bring you directly to more information about them. Among the scholars doing research in legal history one can point to Alexander C. Murray and Giulio Silano. At present Lawrin Armstrong is the editor of the series Toronto Studies in Medieval Law. Medievalists all around the world turn to the well-known series with sources in translation, the Toronto Medieval Texts and Translations.

The second institution at Toronto was the venue of the congress – which incidentally I had liked very much to attend – St. Michael’s College, which can boast Marshall McLuhan, Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain among its former teaching staff. The third institution is the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies (PIMS). To honour the memory of Leonard Boyle O.P. (1923-1999), for many years not just a renown palaeographer and codicologist but also a scholar working in the vast territory of medieval canon law, a chair with his name has been founded. The sheer width of his scholarship and his interest in modern technology is mirrored in the Internexus part of the PIMS website which amounts to a full-scale portal for medieval studies online. Here Boyle’s motto taken from Hugh of Saint Victor’s Didascalicon should serve as a reminder that you will never look in vain for something to learn which will help you to understand the medieval world at large and medieval canon law as one of its essential components. The PIMS has its own series of publications, including the journal Medieval Studies and the Mediaeval Sources in Translation. Legal history and medieval canon law are among the subjects of the publications. The PIMS is home to the project Monumenta Liturgica Beneventana in which Roger E. Reynolds takes account of medieval canon law.

Blogging about legal history

In my blog roll I try to present as many relevant blogs for legal history as I can. My collection is surely not complete, but at least many countries and languages are represented. Returning briefly to the opening of this post where I told about the impulse I received from Germany in 2009  it is only quite recent that German scholars have started embracing this medium. Klaus Graf is probably the best known pioneer, if not the very godfather of German history blogs. He started his Archivalia blog in 2003. The German branch of the French Hypotheses blogging network was officially launched during a symposium Weblogs in den Geisteswissenschaften in Munich on March 9, 2012. At de.hypotheses.org you can now find 23 German scholarly blogs, including a new one edited by Klaus Graf with references to reviews of recent studies on Early Modern history, the Frühneuzeit-Blog der RWTH. Graf wrote a very substantial paper for this meeting, with many links to blogs on history instead of traditional German footnotes, and a picture of a hilarious game in which you will win by noticing as many stock prejudices against the use of Internet as possible. It is no incident that the Deutsches Historisches Institut in Paris and its librarian Mareike König have taken a lead in getting German scholars to create blogs and to use Twitter.

As for blogging about canon law by a Dutchman, this should not surprise you anymore at the end of a post where linguistic borders are just one of the frontiers to conquer when studying medieval canon law. A recent inquiry from the United States made me think again about the importance and afterlife of medieval ecclesiastical law, and I hope to add soon some pages to my website to show this in more detail.

A postscript

In a comment Anders Winroth (Yale University) announces the return to New Haven of the Institute of Medieval Canon Law in 2013. Some of the contributions to this year’s congress at Toronto are the topic of recent posts at Medievalists.

2 thoughts on “Crossing many borders: the study of medieval canon law

  1. Anders Winroth

    Nice blog post, Otto! You might want to note that the Directors decided to move the Institute (back) to New Haven. Activities have already started, and the library will most likely follow in the summer of 2013.

    Reply

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