Prefaces to Canon Law Books in Latin Christianity: Selected Translations, 500-1245translated by Robert Somerville and Bruce C. Brasington (review)
- The Catholic Historical Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 84, Number 4, October 1998
- pp. 730-731
- View Citation
- Additional Information
730book reviews Is there anything I would change or improve? Perhaps only this:Stewart loves Cassian more than I do. He rarely has a critical word for him. Now, I believe that love is the best motive for writing about someone else and his work. And Stewart has made me love Cassian more than I used to. But there are some things about Cassian that I still cannot accept. He does not understand community; he moves too quickly from practical charity to "contemplation"; and, unlike Columba Stewart, he is a rambling, prolix writer. Terrence G. Kardong, O.S.B. AssumptionAbbey Richardton, Norh Dakota Medieval Prefaces to Canon Law Books in Latin Christianity: Selected Translations, 500-1245. Commentary and translations by Robert Somerville and Bruce C. Brasington. (New Haven:Yale University Press. 1998. Pp. viii, 247. $30.00.) Canon law defines the institutional Church, as Somerville and Brasington note in their introduction, and churchmen began to compile collections of the canons almost from the outset of the Church's history. It soon became conventional for practitioners of this craft to include introductory statements in which they typically described the scope and sources of their collection, their methodology, and their reasons for undertaking the task. It is in the nature of law books, however, that readers who consult them typically do so in order to deal with some particular difficulty and therefore read only those passages that they hope may assist in resolving the problem at hand. It is unusual for a reader to sit down and peruse a canon law collection from beginning to end. One consequence of this is that readers seldom consult the prefaces of the canon law collections that they use. Somerville and Brasington maintain that this is a pity and, after reading their book, I am inclined to agree. They have selected and translated the prefatory statements (most of them fairly brief) to thirty-six canon law books, ranging in date from the letter that Pope Siricius (384-399) addressed to Bishop Himerius ofTarragona in 385 to the revised recension of the Ordinary Gloss on Gratian's Decretum that Bartholomew of Brescia completed about 1245. The authors supply notes and introductory statements that situate the law books whose prefaces they translate in their historical context and explain their significance. The result is an attractive source book that is instructive, not only for the history of canon law, but also for the broader history of medieval jurisprudence. Somerville and Brasington wrestle valiantly with the daunting task of translating Latin legal texts produced over the course of nearly eight centuries. They are conservative translators, in the sense that they often choose to render idiomatic expressions literally and try to preserve the word order ofthe Latin text BOOK REVIEWS731 so far as possible. One of their sources, Bishop Martin of Braga, observed ca. 633: "But since it is difficult for something to be translated sufficiently clearly from one language to another . . . certain things in those canons thus appear obscure to the unlearned" (p. 53). This passage fairly describes a problem that surfaces occasionally in these translations. Somerville and Brasington have taken considerable pains to situate the prefaces they translate within the context of developments in legal thought from late antiquity to the mid-thirteenth century, and on the whole they have succeeded rather well. One minor lapse in this department may be worth mentioning . Two authors in this collection, Ivo of Chartres and Master Rolandus, refer in their prefaces to a legal axiom called the principle of Modestinus. Modestinus , a classical Roman jurist, defined the limits of law's power by asserting that laws can do only four things: they can command, forbid, allow, or punish human actions (Digest 1.3.7). Both Ivo and Rolandus paraphrased this principle in their prefaces, which suggests that they were familiar with the Digest text. The translators, unfortunately, fail to mention this. But these minor criticisms should not obscure the value of this learned and useful book, which for the first time assembles a body of canonistic prefaces, presents them in an accessible form, and provides students of medieval canonical thought with a valuable new resource for study and teaching. James A. Brundage...