A new start in medieval canon law

Pope Boniface VIII knew exactly how important the choice of the right opening words was, especially for such publications as his decrees, encyclical letters and decretals. His decretal Rem non novam (Extrav. comm. 2.3.1) issued in 1303 gives its name to an event signalling a development that is partially new and partially a continuation, the restart at New Haven of the Stephan-Kuttner-Institute of Medieval Canon Law. An inaugural conference which takes its name from Boniface VIII’s decretal will be held on May 21 and 22, 2015. New Haven was home to the institute from 1964 to 1970 when Stephan Kuttner, its founder, hold a chair at Yale University. His institute has figured already several times at my blog. It seems right to bring in this post also to your attention the call for papers for the Fifteenth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law, to be held in Paris in July 2016. Both events are mentioned in the congress calendar of my blog, but in my view they merit more attention.

A new start

Banner rem non novam conference at New Haven

Stephan Kuttner (1907-1996) founded the Institute of Medieval Canon Law in 1955 at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. In 1964 Kuttner moved to New Haven, and in 1970 he brought the institute to Berkeley, CA. In 1991 the institute moved officially to Germany. In 1996 the library arrived at the university of Munich. I was involved in the restart of the IMCL at Munich, in particular for creating a catalogue of the books in Kuttner’s library, a task done with the gracious support of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Elsewhere on this blog I wrote more about the creation and wanderings of the IMCL. In a way Its travels symbolise the crossing of borders necessary in studying the history of medieval canon law. Stephan Kuttner had to cross the borders of many countries, not only for his research but also to find a home for himself and his family. The IMCL is supported by an institution with a long Latin name, the Iuris Canonici Medii Aevi Consociatio (ICMAC) or International Society of Medieval Canon Law.

In 2013 the IMCL returned to the United States, back to New Haven, Connecticut. Yale University offers again hospitality to this institute, now at the Lillian Goldman Law Library. Apart from books the library of the IMCL contains several collections, especially some 8,000 offprints of scholarly articles, several hundred microfilms both from the original holdings of the IMCL and from scholars such as Gérard Fransen and Rudolf Weigand, and Kuttner’s vast scholarly correspondence. At the Yale Law Library efforts have started to make all these riches better accessible. At the Munich website you can access – in English or German – the library catalogue, the offprints catalogue and the database for twelfth-century decretals based on the research done by Walter Holtzmann and other scholars. To the items in the library and offprints catalogues classifications will be added. The program for the critical edition of texts in the field of medieval canon law will be continued. The Bulletin of Medieval Canon Law, since 1971 an independent offsping of Traditio, is now published by the Catholic University of America Press.

To celebrate the return of the IMCL to Yale University and to underline its importance a conference and grand opening will be held on May 21 and 22, 2015, with scholars coming from all over the world. Rem non novam nec insolitam aggredimur, “we tackle a thing that is not new or unusual”, but in fact harbouring the IMCL is special indeed. At its consecutive homes it always added a number of unparalleled collections to its scholarly surroundings. An example: at Munich I catalogued in 1997-1998 for the IMCL ten publications concerning the Spanish scholar Antonio Agustín. I was hard pressed to find any library worldwide with at least half of these publications. The great variety of resources now present at New Haven are already reflected in the abstracts of the papers to be presented at the May conference.

Reuniting scholars every four year

Banner ICMCL Paris 2016

With Gérard Fransen (Université Catholique de Louvain) and other scholars Stephan Kuttner organized a conference about medieval canon law in Brussels in 1958. A second conference held in Boston followed in 1963, and a third in Strasbourg followed in 1968. Since 1968 these congresses are held every fourth year, alternately organized east and west of the Atlantic Ocean. The Fifteenth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law will be held at Paris from July 17 to 23, 2016. The Institut d’Histoire du Droit of the Université Paris-II (Panthéon-Assas) will be the host of this congress, with support from the Université Paris-Sud and other well-known research institutes in Paris.

Over the years a division of the congress into six sections has been developed. For many years research concerning Gratian occupied a separate section or at the very least dominated the section on sources and texts. However, in view of the steady progress of the edition of the first version of Gratian’s canonical collection this theme will surely return. Proposals for papers can be sent to callforpapers@icmcl2016.org before September 30, 2015.

It might seem carrying coals to Newcastle, but it might be actually important to look a bit closer to the proposed sections for the 2016 congress at its bilingual website. Sources and texts fall into the first section, and canonical doctrine into a section of its own, fair enough. The third section is reserved for institutions, legislation and procedure. The application and influence of canon law make up the fourth section. Relationships between law and theology are the subject of the fifth section, and the last section will deal with schools and teaching of law.

In my view this division shows very convincingly that medieval canon law was not something static and monolithic, even when dealing with eternal values and returning problems for a still united Christendom. Canon law had to react when new laws appeared that might be in conflict with the norms and values it enshrined. Legal matters did touch upon Christian beliefs and vice versa. In the twelfth century it was still difficult to distinguish at all between canon law and theology, and it would be shortsighted to tear them apart too early. Canonical influences can clearly be detected in the procedures of courts, even in courts of civil law. In medieval universities schools rose which defended particular positions about points of law, and of course views changed or gained the upper hand or lost their power. Canon law depended to a certain extent on revived Roman law, but it could as well change the impact of Roman law.

Continuity and change

The original decretal of Boniface VIII deals with a matter that should attract closer attention in the year with celebrations for 800 years Magna Carta. The decretal’s first sentence was “Rem non novam aggredimur, neque viam insolitam ambulamus”, words slightly changed by the organizing committee in New Haven. While borrowing from the preface to Cod. 3.1.14, this pope did change canon law. His decretal was a stepping stone in anchoring norms for valid legal procedure, ensuring that defendants had the right to be brought before a court. The clause of Magna Carta claiming the right to appear before a judge of one’s equals had not yet taken this step forward of granting anyone the right to receive justice in a well-ordered way. Due process is a characteristic of legal procedure shaped to considerable extent by developments in medieval canon law.

Scholars studying medieval canon law have not confined themselves to reading and analyzing only legal texts. Randy Johannesen wrote about the contemporary surroundings and consequences of the decretal Rem novam [‘Cardinal Jean Lemoine’s gloss to Rem non novam and the reinstatement of the Colonna cardinals’, in: Proceedings of the eighth international congress of medieval canon law, Stanley Chodorow (ed.) (Città del Vaticano 1992) 309-320]. Tilmann Schmidt published Der Bonifaz-Prozess : Verfahren der Papstanklage in der Zeit Bonifaz’ VIII. und Clemens’ V (Cologne, etc., 1989) about the steps taken against Boniface VIII himself. These are just two examples, but much more can be added to them, as a search within for example the online bibliography of the Regesta Imperii at Mainz can quickly confirm. Looked at in vitro medieval canon law looses its significance for legal history at large, but time and again it is possible to show its many and surprising connections not only with all layers of medieval society, but also with legal developments right until our century.


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