Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Canon Law and Cloistered Women: Periculoso and Its Commentators, 1298-1545

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Canon Law and Cloistered Women: Periculoso and Its Commentators, 1298-1545

Article excerpt

Canon Law and Cloistered Women: Periculoso and Its Commentators, 12981545. By Elizabeth Makowski. [Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Canon Law, Volume 5.] (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press. 1997. Pp. x, 149. $46.95.)

When Chaucer's Prioress went off to Canterbury, she violated canon law because in 1298 Pope Boniface VIII had decreed the "strict enclosure of nuns of every order throughout the Latin Church" (p. 1). Canonists commented on the decree throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and the Council of Trent re-enacted it. In spite of this continued interest, however, the decree was often ignored in practice. The career of Periculoso thus illustrates the tension between the ideals of the religious life articulated by the reforming papacy and the practical realities of monastic existence. Furthermore, it also sheds light on the way in which female spirituality was understood in the late medieval Church. Boniface was attempting to bring communities of women under tight control, ending the development of "quasi-religious communities of laywomen throughout Christendom" that posed a "potential threat to church discipline" (p. 27). Such groups continued to flourish, however.

Periculoso was a major step in differentiating between male and female religious life. Previously, according to Makowski, the regulations for religious life had been similar for monks and nuns. Subsequently, women's religious life was increasingly under the control of men and centered on enclosure. Men's communities, however, were not held to the same standard of enclosure. One unforeseen consequence of this was that this decree, if fully enforced, would have made it almost impossible for abbesses to oversee the operation of the properties upon which the economic well-being of their communities rested, because they could not leave the confines of the cloister. …

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