A Short History of the Papacy in the Middle Ages

By Walter Ullmann | Go to book overview

Walter Ullmann died in 1983, and therefore witnessed only the first few years of John Paul II's pontificate. He would have seen subsequent events as a confirmation of his particular view of the papacy. John Paul II has used the papal plenitude of power to stamp out the theological diversity which sprang from Vatican II, in practice to deny laymen that share in 'the prophetic office of Christ' which the Council proclaimed, and to establish a tight control over episcopal appointments and the affairs of local churches. All this reaffirms that the Roman Church is a hierocracy, ultimately ruled by the pope, even if popes from time to time summon councils for consultative purposes. If Vatican II was envisaged by liberals as an attempt to 'democratize' the church, then it ran into the same ideological obstacle which, in Ullmann's view, destroyed conciliarism in its fifteenth-century manifestation. And Ullmann might have seen John Paul II's answer to Stalin's jibe-that in the long run ideas are mightier than armies-as proof of what he had always argued: that the papacy was powerful because it embodied an idea. That idea, the resilience and strength of which was so evident in the last decades of the twentieth century, was, according to Ullmann, created in the period covered by this book, in which he summarizes his analysis of the growth and decline of the papacy as an institution. It has been suggested that he was spurred to present this analysis to a wider public by the appearance of Geoffrey Barraclough's short work The Medieval Papacy (1968), of which Ullmann took a dim view: 'In superficiality, common-place statements, cliches and meaningless generalizations, this book reaches a high-water mark'. 7

What strikes one on re-reading the book after many years is the centrality of this papal idea. It first appears on the opening page, where the papacy is said to be its 'embodiment and concrete manifestation'. That idea was 'the law'-'the emanation of divinity'-(p. 17) of which the papacy was an 'organ' (p. 11). The law was 'the spirit that always animated [the papal curia] and its numerous ramifications' (p. 250); and the 'ideology enshrined in the law… was the sum-total of the Christian faith' (p. 17). Individual popes were, in turn, no more than 'organs who were charged with the application and execution of the idea', or 'transmitters and instruments of the papal idea itself' (pp. 1, 2). Pope Leo I is credited with drawing this distinction (pp. 20-1). It follows that the principal subject of the book is the papal institution, which was founded upon what Ullmann terms 'an objective world order laid down once and for

-xi-

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A Short History of the Papacy in the Middle Ages
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface to the Reprint vi
  • Preface vii
  • Introduction x
  • 1 - The Papacy in the Late Roman Empire 4
  • 2 - The Papal Conflict with the Imperial Government 28
  • 3 - The Papacy and the Conversion of England 51
  • 4 - The Western Orientation of the Papacy 71
  • 5 - The Papacy and Latin Europe 91
  • 6 - The German Monarchy and the Papacy 116
  • 7 - The Gregorian Age 142
  • 8 - Tensions and Conflicts 173
  • 9 - The Zenith of the Medieval Papacy 201
  • 10 - Central Government and the Papal Curia 227
  • 11 - Gradual Decline of Papal Authority 251
  • 12 - Avignon, Rome and Constance 279
  • 13 - The Last Phase of the Medieval Papacy 306
  • Abbreviations 333
  • Bibliographical Notes 337
  • Appendix 367
  • List of Medieval Popes 372
  • Index 377
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