Medieval Papalism: The Political Theories of the Medieval Canonists

Medieval Papalism: The Political Theories of the Medieval Canonists

Medieval Papalism: The Political Theories of the Medieval Canonists

Medieval Papalism: The Political Theories of the Medieval Canonists

Excerpt

The political concepts of the medieval canonists--a species of mankind that is virtually known only to librarians--are hidden in dust-covered and worm-eaten tomes which have been relegated to sanctuaries usually inaccessible to the average student of mediveal history. With the breakdown of the medieval world the canonists and their doctrines were consigned to an oblivion that is at once unfathomable and undeserved. I believe that the reason for the extremely scanty attention paid nowadays to the canonists is that their ideas lie, as it were, in the shadowy no-man's-land between history and law. The historian is somewhat hesitant to overstep the boundaries fixed by tradition and custom. The lawyer, on his part, does not feel at ease when called upon to deal with politics and especially with the history of political thought. Each has a valid excuse for refraining from steeping himself in the wealth of material that confronts us in the works of the medieval canonists. The medieval "oceanus juris" extends far beyond the frontiers somewhat shyly set by contemporary legal thought. To anybody who has once wetted his feet on the shores of that vast and illimitable "oceanus juris" it must be clear that the floods, once allowed to break the dykes, are capable of infiltrating into spheres which were commonly thought to be beyond the pale of any canonistic influence. The field of political theory in particular is one that is the least immune from this influence. All history is a "seamless webb" was one of Maitland's happy phrases, and the present is part of it as well as the past. No apter demonstration of the unity of history can be found than the records of political ideas. It may very well be that modern ears are but faintly responsive to canonistic phraseology, but once stripped of inessentials, this phraseology may be the medium for conveying a large part of our Western heritage.

A lawyer converted to history, Maitland's chief aim was to show the development of the Western mind. As a pathfinder he was the first amongst modern scholars to examine ex professo that no-man's-land which lies between history and law. It is not only in his investigations into the constitutional framework and . . .

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