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  • Kirche, Magie, und "Aberglaube": Superstitio in der Kanonistik des 12. und 13. Jahrhunderts
  • Michael D. Bailey
Kirche, Magie, und "Aberglaube": Superstitio in der Kanonistik des 12. und 13. Jahrhunderts. By Patrick Hersperger. [Forschungen zum kirchlichen Rechtsgeschichte und zum Kirchenrecht, Band 31.] (Cologne: Böhlau Verlag. 2010. Pp. 533. €64,90 paperback. ISBN 978-3-412-20397-9.)

Emerging from a doctoral dissertation at the University of Zurich, this book is an extremely detailed study of magic and superstition as treated in texts of canon law from Gratian's Decretum, written around 1140, to the publication of the Liber extra in 1234. In the third chapter, Hersperger lays out the development of canon law in this period, discussing the composition of the Decretum, then methodically working through subsequent commentary and scholarship on that text in Bologna (long the greatest center of legal scholarship in medieval Europe and the place where the Decretum was composed), France, Germany, and the "Anglo-Norman" realm (meaning Angevin England and Angevin holdings in France). Finally, he turns to recount more briefly the emergence of decretales (subsequent papal rulings, eventually collected into the Liber extra) and treatment of matters of canon law in confessors' manuals. This typology of sources forms Hersperger's basic structure of analysis, not only in this chapter but throughout much of the book.

Before turning to the issue of superstition, Hersperger provides some general background. After an introductory first chapter, he dedicates a brief second chapter to an overview of the intellectual renaissance of the twelfth century, of which the growth of canon law was a part. Chapter 3, already described, is a detailed, text-by-text explication of the "Development of Classical Canon Law." With chapter 4, Hersperger addresses the topic of superstition, offering a relatively brief survey of how superstition, magic, and demonic power were treated in antiquity and in patristic and early-medieval [End Page 770] sources. Chapters 5 and 6 are the analytical heart of the book. Chapter 5 examines how the Decretum, decretist commentaries, and other sources dealt with superstition. In more than forty pages, Hersperger moves systematically through each text introduced in chapter 3, explaining the manner in which it addresses superstition. A gigantic chapter 6 (more than 200 pages) provides topical analysis. Here, subsections dealing with the terminology employed for superstitious and magical practices, with demonology, casting lots, astrology and observance of days and times, incantations and amulets, maleficium, and with penance and punishment for such activities are themselves chapter-length units. Within each unit, Hersperger's approach is again to proceed text by text, detailing how the particular topic is addressed.

Hersperger's scholarship is exhaustive within the strict limits he defines. The result is an extensive catalogue of what canon law in its classical period says about superstition. As such, the book will appeal mainly to experts interested in specific details. Broader points, although present in the work, can get somewhat buried in the painstakingly systematic approach or can be addressed too quickly in various concluding sections. For example, given the extreme conservatism of canon law and its reliance on earlier rulings, a looming question throughout the book is the degree to which canonists writing in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were depicting actual contemporary practices, versus simply recapitulating traditional tropes. Hersperger engages with this issue briefly in his overall conclusion (chapter 7), acknowledging the problem but asserting that in general most of the material dealt with by canonists must have had some contemporary relevance. No doubt his judgment here is based on the massive amount of data he has assembled in previous chapters, but very little direct argumentation is offered to support the point. Certainly no contemporary cases are invoked. This is, first and last, a study of a textual tradition.

Michael D. Bailey
Iowa State University


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