Law and Theology in the Middle Ages

Law and Theology in the Middle Ages

Law and Theology in the Middle Ages

Law and Theology in the Middle Ages

Synopsis

An unrivalled introduction to a fascinating subject, Law and Theology in the Middle Ages explores the relationship between law and theology in medieval Europe. Focusing on legal and theological responses to justice, mercy, fairness, and sin, this text examines the tension between ecclesiastical and secular authority in medieval Europe, illustrating areas of dispute in a clear and accessible way.

Excerpt

'I am going to discuss the question why the catholic Church was not a federal state,' said Frederick William Maitland in a letter to A.V. Dicey about July 1896. Mediaeval theology and the history of the study and practice of the law in the Middle Ages are both now established disciplines, each with its specialist scholars. The mediaeval student did not necessarily make the same distinctions. It was not even clear to Maitland that it was necessary to draw them, and much of the originality of his work lies in its cross-reference between the areas of study which have since been boxed artificially into compartments.

Maitland was driven partly by the perceptions, which came upon him as he explored the territory, that there were connections. He mentions in a letter to James Bradley Thayer that not much was yet known about 'our ancient modes of trial'. But he was also moved by the need to persuade his readership of the importance of what was to be learned from the study of mediaeval law. 'Important conclusions are to be gained thereby.' More recent work has concentrated on the implications for political theory and there is now no question of the 'importance' of the study of mediaeval law in that area. 'To sketch in outline the growth of the Corpus Iuris Canonici from the appearance of Gratian's Decretum to the outbreak of the Great Schism, is, in effect, to record the process by which the Church became a body politic, subject to one head and manifesting an external unity of organization.'

Far less has been done in a systematic way on the relationship of law and theology. This is a study which thus moves perforce across disciplinary boundaries which have been more sharply drawn since Maitland's day. It does so without apology. Just as a liturgy carries a theology in every line, so canon law and law at large in the Middle Ages ride upon theology, and theology provides a rationale and underpinning and challenge to its principles. It was undeniably an uneasy relationship but it was inescapable that there should be some relationship; there was too much common ground of subject-matter for there to be any possibility of keeping the two disciplines truly distinct. It is the purpose of this book to explore their relationship through the eyes of the mediaeval theorists and practitioners who wrestled with the problem.

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