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Popes and Antipopes: The Politics of Eleventh Century Church Reform by Mary Stroll (review)

From: The Catholic Historical Review
Volume 99, Number 3, July 2013
pp. 542-544 | 10.1353/cat.2013.0141

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The word politics in the subtitle of this volume should be underlined, for the author intends to portray the shift in power and authority from the Empire under Emperor Henry III to the papacy on the eve of the election of Pope Gregory VII. The story of the antipopes is intentionally emphasized (p. 7), a very worthwhile but difficult undertaking. Because of the complexity of the issues involved the nonspecialist reader might find it difficult at times to discern the structure of her arguments surrounding the events and personalities of the period between ca. 1046 and 1073.

The fifteen brief chapters of the book, at times no more than a dozen pages long, give almost the impression of dictionary entries without annotations, mainly progressing from pope or antipope to their respective successors in chronological order: (1) Imperial Authority over Papal Elections;(2) Henry Ill's Popes; (3) Leo IX (1049-54): the Normans and the Byzantines; (4) Victor II and Stephen IX; (5) Benedict X, Antipope: Romans Versus Reformers; (6) Nicholas II; (7) Nicholas II: Papal Electoral Decree and Break with the Regency; (8) Nicholas II: The Normans and the Collapse of Imperial Goodwill; (9) The Election of Alexander II; (10) The Election of Cadalus, Honorius II; (11) Conflict in Rome and the Abduction of Henry IV; (12) From Kaiserswerth to Mantua; (13) The Council of Mantua; (14) Instability Following Mantua; and (15) Ambivalence and Self-Interest. The book also includes an introduction (pp. 1-8) and a conclusion (pp. 243-47), a bibliography subdivided into "Sources" and "Literature," and a very brief index. Under each topic the author presents, whenever possible, long excerpts from contemporary primary sources in translation without explaining or justifying the selection, or why several different and contradictory sources are cited in sequence. At other times the primary sources are extensively paraphrased. Here and there, it is indeed noted that these sources disagree or are riddled with errors, but such disagreements are mostly dismissed (pp. 51, 71, 82, 198), and the brief conclusions at the end of each chapter are usually based on whichever narrative seems most likely. Favored are the most colorful narratives—making for interesting reading—especially Benzo of Alba, the chief source for the history of Cadalus of Parma. The author notes in passing Benzo's "usual dramatic hyperbole" (p. 199) or that "as always, Benzo presents the most tendentious and conspiratorial account" (p. 53), but she nevertheless quotes him over many pages of text (see the index) and frequently refers directly or implicitly to Benzo's accusation that Hildebrand, the later Gregory VII, poisoned four of his predecessors (pp. 29, 30, 31, 61, 63, 115, 241).This is a minor point, to be sure, but it distorts history, not least because secondary literature is largely missing in the volume or is out of date. As the author is aware, the sources of this period are very polemical, and historians have long attempted to straighten out the record. Such critical evaluations must be a starting point if progress is to be made, even if arguments can be complex. Chapter 7, focused on the papal election decree of 1059, is a disservice to readers, for it repeats the author's earlier claim that Onofrio Panvinius in 1563 correctly identified the "genuine" version of the papal election decree in sources from the Abbey of Farfa (pp. 101-07).This is unfortunate, for after the critical edition of the decree by Detlev Jasper, Das Papstwahldekret von 1059 (Sigmaringen, Germany, 1986), the question can no longer be considered "open." The book was perhaps written in some haste, as misspellings and errors indicate. The confusion between Popes Benedict IX and Boniface (pp. 29, 30), for instance—or the invention of a "bishop of Poleda in Thuringia," when Jean Mabillon's Annales, cited in a footnote, clearly report the consecration of Bishop Gundekar of Eichstätt at the royal court of Pöhlde (pp. 84-85)—are difficult to explain otherwise.

Copyright © 2013 The Catholic University of America Press
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Uta-Renate Blumenthal. "Popes and Antipopes: The Politics of Eleventh Century Church Reform by Mary Stroll (review)." The Catholic Historical Review 99...



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