restricted access 13. Principes gentium dominantur eorum: Princely Power Between Legitimacy and Illegitimacy in Twelfth-Century Exegesis
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Philippe Buc 13. Principesgentium dominantur eorum: Princely Power Between Legitimacy and Illegitimacy in Twelfth-Century Exegesis You know that barbarianprinces dominate (dominantur) their people, and the great wield power (potestatem) over them. It shall not be thus among you. —Matt. 20: 24-26 Who does not know that kings and princes derive their origin from men ignorant of God who aspired to lord over (dominari) their fellow men (pa-res) by pride, plunder, treachery, murder, and lastly by every kind of crime, at the instigation of the Devil, the prince of thisworld? —Gregory VII to Hermann of Metz Potestas and dominatio: even when denoting traditional rulers of royal rank, power and lordship were highly sulfurous concepts within clerical Herrsckaftstheolopfie .1 I have quoted from one of Gregory VTPs famous letters to Hermann, bishop of Metz; I could as well have called on Augustine's earlier condemnation of Roman lust for domination, libido dominandi.2 1. The following pages draw on the conclusions of my 1989 (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris) dissertation, Potestas:prince,pouvoir, etpeuple dans les commentaires de la Bible (Paris et France du Nord, 1100-1330) (5vols)—henceforth Buc, Potestas. It has now been reworked as Uambiguite du liwe: prince, pouvoir, et peuple dans les commentaires de la Bible, Theologie Historique 95(Paris, 1994)—henceforth Buc,Uambiguite, where fuller bibliographic references can be found. I must acknowledge here my debts to Gerard Caspary's and Guy Lobrichon's guidance, friendship, andgrundlegende Werke, to Amy Remensnyder's comments and help, and to Igor Gorevitch's comforting support. 2. Register, 4, 2 and 8, 22, ed. Erich Caspar,Das Register Gregors VII., MGH, Epistolae selectae, 2, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1955), i: 293-97 and 2: 544-63; tr. Ephraim Emerton, The Correspondence of Pope Gregory VII (New York, 1932), pp. 102-5 and 166-75, the above quotation is from 8.22 (Caspar, 2,552: 13-7; Augustine, De civitate dei,e.g., i, preface, 2, 30; 15, 4-5. See also the contrast between spiritalis prelatio and secularis dominatio in Gregory the Great, In primo libroReturn, ed. Pierre Verbraken, CCCM144 (Turnhout: 1963), 297:62fF., with R. A. Markus's recent "Gregory the Great on Kings: Rulers and Preachersin the Commentary on Kings" in D.Wood, The Church and Sovereignty, c.590-1918: Essays in Honour of Michael Wilks, ed. Diana Wood (Oxford, 1991), pp. 7-21. Intensified,the contrast between carnal and spiritual governance could easily serve as a template for a radicalized opposition between secular Princely Power and Twelfth-Century Exegesis 311 What became of this negative face of power and domination in the century following Gregory VII> John Van Engen has argued for the progressive clerical acceptance, over the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, of domination exercised by non-royal or princelylords.3 The process he describes is one of delayed but unavoidable legitimization: the institutional phenomena of the turn of the millenium, that is, the devolution of power and the establishment (or revelation) of new forms of lordship, were slowly seized by medieval churchmen and integrated into the social imaginary. Yet any social imaginary is only intelligible asone among manycontending models. Alternatives reveal the meaning of the construct finally dominant. As Van Engen himself admits, reforming churchmen initially resisted the legitimization of lordship. I would like to look in more detail at a specific twelfth-century reformist milieu, that of the exegetes educated in northern France, and at its reaction to the process of political modernization begun around the turn of the millenium. I hope to demonstrate that if therewas an acceptance of the new order, it was only after a revealingly contentious and politicized debate, in which influentialcommentators of the Bible reactivated the negative face ofpotestas and dominatio. Thus, the legitimization of the new forms of political power did not go without a fight, and, I would argue, was never complete and irreversible—just as Carolingian and Ottoman Herrschaftstheologie had never eliminated the theme of a ruler "anointed to kill."4 -* * # Why look at the exegetes? The commonplace that the Bible contains the principles of medieval government isnot without truth.5 But it ignores and sacred, lay and ecclesiastical;cf. Gerard Caspary, Politics and Exegesis: Origen and the Two Swords (Berkeley, CA, 1979), pp. 32,189-91. 3. In this volume, Chapter 9. 4. The expression is Wazo bishop of Liege's, or rather his biographer Anselm's, Gesta episcoporum leodiensium 66, ed. Rudolf Koepke,MGH, SS, 7, 230:4...


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Subject Headings

  • Aristocracy (Social class) -- Europe -- History -- Congresses.
  • Nobility -- Europe -- History -- Congresses.
  • Elite (Social sciences) -- Europe -- History -- Congresses.
  • Power (Social sciences) -- Congresses.
  • Social history -- Medieval, 500-1500 -- Congresses.
  • Upper class -- Europe -- History -- Congresses.
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