Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Prêtres En Gaule Mérovingienne

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Prêtres En Gaule Mérovingienne

Article excerpt

Prêtres en Gaule mérovingienne. By Robert Godding. [Subsidia hagiographica, 82.] (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes. 2001. Pp. lxviii, 559. euro110 paperback.)

In their treatment of the clergy, studies of the Merovingian church have up to this point focused almost exclusively on bishops. Robert Godding attempts to balance this picture by taking a comprehensive look at priests. His book, based on a Louvain doctoral thesis, does not attempt to cover Arian priests (only a few of whom are known) or priests living outside the diocesan structures (hermits, monks), but otherwise exhausts the canonical, hagiographical, and literary sources for the Gallic priesthood in the period between 481 and 714. A prosopography at the end of the book identifies almost 400 Merovingian priests, most by name. For an understanding of their recruitment, training, marital status, position within the local church, cursus honorum, legal standing, material resources, and broad spectrum of duties, privileges, and activities, Godding's work is now the obvious starting point for research.

After an introduction and full listing of primary and secondary sources, especially good for its list of saints' lives (pp. v-lxviii), Godding studies the careers of Merovingian priests in two parts: from birth through ordination (chapters 1-5) and from ordination to death (chapters 6-12). A brief conclusion, ten tables, prosopography, and full index complete the book. The biographical and topical framework is not out of place, in view of the author's focus on priestly careers, but it does have its disadvantages. Each chapter is rather mechanically arranged, first by source category (usually headed by church councils and saints' lives) and then diachronically within each category, a format that encourages repetition, overemphasizes topics well represented in the sources, and complicates the discussion of problems or events that cross source categories. While the book's organization is a good way to deal with the uneven distribution of surviving sources about Merovingian priests, it also has the unfortunate side effect of privileging institutional structures and limiting discussion of priestly strategies and actions. The priest's most important activity, for instance-the delivery of pastoral care-is only systematically discussed in a single chapter near the end of the book ("L'activité pastorale"), not because the author does not recognize the topic's importance-he clearly does-but because the arrangement of chapters provides no other way to look at pastoral care. …

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