- Les Clercs et les Princes: Doctrines et pratiques de l’autorité ecclésiastique à l’époque moderne Edited by Patrick Arabeyre and Brigitte Basdevant-Gaudemet
Historians have published a great deal about canon law in the medieval period, but little about law and the Church in later periods; the twenty-six essays in this collection seek to address this gap by covering the years between 1400 and the promulgation of the 1917 Code of Canon Law. The essays resulted from two conferences, held in 2010 and 2011, which brought together theologians, canonists, and historians to examine issues of power, law, and authority among the Church, the clergy, and the secular rulers. Contributions focus primarily on the French Church, with forays into Spain, Venice, Geneva, and the international Church as well.
As might be expected from a collection of this nature, the essays are varied in subject and scope, but most do address common debates and themes. As Jean-Louis Gazzaniga points out in his brief conclusion to the volume, the essays demonstrate that the most important influence on the Church in this period, both in terms of law and ecclesiology, was the Council of Trent. This is hardly surprising, but still an important observation, especially in those essays covering the conciliarist movement. Most significantly, Alain Tallon points out that Trent’s insistence on papal authority effectively put an end to much of the debate over conciliarism within Catholic circles. On the other hand, conciliarism and Gallicanism remained inextricably tied together even after Trent, as other authors are careful to note.
In many ways Trent superseded medieval canon law, but it also exposed the necessity of practical arrangements between law and reality. In fact, another theme of the volume is that church laws were remarkably flexible; doctrines and principles often gave way to the needs of individuals. For example, the essay by Frédéric Meyer on bishops’ officials in “frontier” areas of France (the Low Countries, Lorraine, Alsace, Savoy, Comtat-Venaissin, and the Pyrenees) shows that because bishops were usually recruited from outside the region while their officials came [End Page 578] from local families, the administration of the diocese became an important site of negotiation and compromise. Essays by Giovanni Pizzorusso and Charlotte de Castelnau-L’Estoile dealing with missionary work further demonstrate the flexibility of legal systems.
At the same time, another prominent theme of the essays is the progressive strengthening of royal law over church law, in its many forms. Several authors indicate the complexity of overlapping jurisdictions while showing that, over time, the state became the more important legal authority. For example, Olivier Descamps documents the slow decline of the officiality in the face of royal courts. Other essays show that the clergy were more and more integrated into state systems as well. Olivier Poncet points out that parish priests became agents of the state by keeping the parish registers. Bishops, too, in both France and Spain, became bureaucratized and professionalized.
The focus on the relationship between law and religion has allowed the authors to bring to light some little-known topics, making the collection especially useful. For example, Brigitte Basdevant-Gaudemet focuses on bishops’ officials, who often receive little attention in the literature. Jean-Louis Gazzaniga’s treatment of Gallican jurists who repeatedly denied having any involvement in theological matters while making many a pronouncement that was, in fact, theological, also is a fascinating issue. Finally, Ninon Maillard’s essay examines how the Dominicans used the appel comme d’abus as a way to impel the state to mediate the internal affairs of their order. The clever use of the law by the Dominicans is interesting in itself, but it also shows that the progressive dominance of royal law was not entirely unwanted, adding nuance to the topic as a whole. Overall, although there is still a need for a volume...