- Sacred Authority and Temporal Power in the Writings of Bernard of Clairvaux by Alice Chapman
The Investiture Controversy of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, although specifically concerned with the question of who would invest new bishops with their symbols of office, quickly turned to a broader question: in a Christian empire, what was the correct relationship between the Church and imperial power? In this book Alice Chapman examines how St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Cistercian abbot and theologian (d. 1153), addressed this thorny issue.
She argues that Bernard sought to create separate spheres of influence in which church and state could each operate, without necessarily being in conflict with each other. Through a close analysis of his writings, she suggests that he distinguished between the authority (auctoritas) of the Church and the power (potestas) of the emperor, indicating that each was necessary. Bernard wrote at a time when nearly everyone hoped that church and state would be able to collaborate, and Chapman sees Bernard’s use of these two terms as providing the basis for an end to conflict.
Bernard’s distinction between power and authority mirrored that of Gelasius, pope at the end of the fifth century, who famously told Emperor Anastasius, “There are two that rule the world, sacred pontifical authority and royal power.” Chapman begins with Gelasius, who was himself using Latin terms with specific legal and political meaning in the late Empire. His distinction, which was ultimately combined with the metaphor of “two swords” (material and spiritual, [End Page 594] derived from Luke 22), was very influential over the next six centuries, even though Bernard never quoted him directly. Chapman then traces Bernard’s use of the words auctoritas and potestas through his complete writings, as digitized and made electronically searchable through CETEDOC (the Centre de traitement electronique des documents).
Following Bernard’s example, the book has much more to say about ecclesiastical authority than imperial power. Potestas is treated in three chapters (including the introduction and conclusion), always in relationship to auctoritas, whereas auctoritas gets three chapters all to itself, one of which is devoted specifically to the monastic order. However, as Chapman notes, the term potestas could and did have a much broader meaning than royal or imperial power, as it could be used to refer to God’s power, the power of the saints, even the power of the devil. Indeed, potestas is found frequently in the Vulgate, auctoritas essentially not at all.
The book’s principal purpose is to gain a better understanding of the relationship between ideology and politics through a close textual study of one influential author’s use of language. Chapman concludes that Bernard never intended to make the pope the supreme authority in secular cases, as was once argued (in particular by Walter Ullmann), but emphasized instead the papacy’s spiritual function.
This may all sound rather dry and, to some extent, it is. But Chapman enlivens it with the political context within which Bernard wrote, especially the schism of 1130 (relying primarily on the analysis of Mary Stroll) and Bernard’s stern admonitions to Eugenius III, his own pupil turned pope. The Investiture Controversy has not received much attention in recent years, compared to the days when “church and state” essentially defined medieval history. But this book shows that there is still much there to be learned.