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  • Shepherds of the Lord: Priests and Episcopal Statutes in the Carolingian Period
  • Lani Hardage-Vergeer
Van Rhijn, Carine, Shepherds of the Lord: Priests and Episcopal Statutes in the Carolingian Period (Cultural Encounters in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages), Turnhout, Brepols, 2007; cloth; pp. viii, 246; R.R.P. €60.00; ISBN 9782503523194.

This book examines the ideals and practices of the rural Carolingian priesthood, primarily through episcopal statutes written for priests between 800 and 875. The introduction notes that Carolingian reform has been well studied through royal capitularies and the acts of Church councils, with less attention given to the episcopal statutes of the same period. Carine Van Rhijn summarizes studies of the MGH Capitularia, Concilia and Capitula Episcoporum, demonstrating that the divisions between these three types of documents are not clear but that the latter should be qualified based on their addressees, which were secular priests.

The first wave of statutes, from 800 to 820, come from across the Frankish Empire. The early statutes describe the ideal priest: what he should know, what he should do and the texts he was expected to own. These statutes included the first written directions on appropriate and inappropriate activities on Church property. The second wave of primarily West Frankish statutes, from 850 to 875, reflect changes and problems in the Church: the alienation of Church property by laymen, lay authority over priests particularly for churches in private hands, and concerns over usury.

Examples that bishops used to illustrate priestly statutes provide material for a wide-ranging chapter that attempts to discern the life of the rural priest, on which there is very little scholarship. Van Rhijn finds economic diversity in the priesthood but little evidence for the extremes of priestly poverty or wealth that others have proposed. The statutes give much attention to accusations against priests, indicating that the local community was involved in bottom-up discipline.

Top-down discipline was more difficult, for bishops had to depend on cooperation from priests. One striking example is the priest Trising, who admitted to trying to kill a man during a drunken argument. Archbishop Hincmar was unable to depose the priest because the latter did not show up at the synod and instead travelled to Rome, where he obtained a pardon from Pope Hadrian (pp. 202–203).

An appendix covers the problems of authorship and classification for the first statute attributed to Gerbald of Liège, and van Rhijn comes to a [End Page 215] conclusion that disagrees with that of MGH Capitula Episcoporum editor Pokorny. A second appendix tables the geographic distribution of the statutes. Footnotes and bibliography are extensive, but there is no index, the latter a vexing modern publishing trend. Some terms could have been explained for the non-expert, such as correctio, admonitio, or chrism, but most Latin is translated. This text is the first study of the rural Carolingian priesthood and fills an important niche in Carolingian studies.

Lani Hardage-Vergeer
California State University, Dominguez Hills


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