- Purchase/rental options available:
The Catholic Historical Review 89.2 (2003) 293-294
[Access article in PDF]
The Council of Bourges, 1225: A Documentary History. By Richard Kay. [Church, Faith and Culture in the Medieval West.] (Brookfield, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Company. 2002. Pp. xxviii, 599. $114.95.)
Except only for the Fourth Lateran Council, the Council of Bourges that met in 1225 was the largest church assembly held in the West up to that time. Summoned by the cardinal-legate Romanus Bonaventura, it was attended by 112 archbishops and bishops, more than 500 abbots, many deans and archdeacons, and over 100 representatives of cathedral chapters. In this important work, the fruit of many years of scholarly labor, Richard Kay explains that the council deserves study, not only because of its size, but "as the earliest record of representative government in action; as an extended example of counsel and consent in medieval assemblies; and as an episode in the Second Albigensian Crusade." The author provides a thorough treatment of all these themes.
The first task of the council was to adjudicate the competing claims of Raymond of Toulouse and Amaury of Montfort to the County of Toulouse. When the case had gone against Raymond, the next order of business was to authorize a tax on the Church intended to finance a new Albigensian crusade to be undertaken by King Louis VIII. This seems to have been carried through without difficulty, and in January, 1226, Romanus granted to the king a tenth of clerical incomes for five years. But it is not clear who exactly consented to the tax. This contentious issue arose sixteen months later (after the king's death) when the cathedral chapters of four French provinces—Reims, Sens, Rouen, and Tours—balked at paying future installments of the tax on the ground that they had not consented to it. Romanus wrote that he had granted the tax "on behalf of their proctors and of almost the entire council"; the chapters, however, maintained that they had sent nuncios to the council to report back to them concerning its proceedings but without any power to consent on their behalf. When the pope decided the case against the chapters he did not address this particular issue, though a few years earlier he had decreed that cathedral chapters did indeed have a right to be represented at provincial councils. In the matter of the tax approved at Bourges he declared that Romanus was empowered to act by virtue of his legatine authority, adding however that the tax had been granted "on the advice of almost the entire council."
At Bourges Romanus presented another demand or request from the pope. Honorius urged that a prebend be set aside in each cathedral chapter, along with a portion of the bishop's income, in order to provide a permanent revenue [End Page 293] for the upkeep of the papal curia. But the council did not consent to this. A similar papal letter was sent to England and others probably to Spain and the Empire. One of the disgruntled proctors at Bourges sent a relatio, which provides a principal source for the proceedings of the council, to a counterpart in London, presumably to encourage a similar response to the pope's proposal there. In England the papal letter was considered at a mixed council of laity and clergy summoned by the king and the archbishop of Canterbury. A preliminary meeting, held at London in January, 1226, reached no decision. At a second meeting, in May, representatives of cathedral chapters and collegiate churches were present as well as the prelates and lay lords. At this meeting the king rejected the pope's plan, on the advice of "everyone unanimously" according to one source.
The proceedings at Bourges and London raised issues that would be at the heart of the developing theory and practice of representative government during the following century. Who had the right to consent to taxation? And who had the right to be represented at the relevant deliberations? Did a right to consent imply a right to withhold consent or merely to assent...