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CLOISTER CONTESTED: PERICULOSO AS AUTHORITY IN LATE MEDIEVAL CONSILIA Elizabeth Makowski* This article deals with lawsuits involving medieval nuns and the rights and duties which stemmed from their status as cloistered religious women. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, that status was a relatively new one. The cloister had only become a universal obligation for nuns in 1298 by virtue of Pope Boniface VIII’s decree, Periculoso. This pronouncement substituted the inflexible papal will for flexible local prerogative in language reminiscent of other more famous Bonifacian decrees.1 Stipulating that “nuns of every community or order, in every part of the world, both collectively and individually, be henceforth perpetually cloistered in their monasteries,” Periculoso strictly regulated both exit from and entrance into monastic precincts. Even abbesses and prioresses accustomed to litigate or transact business for their monasteries in person were now to do so through attorneys or procurators. “Reasonable and obvious cause” might mitigate claustration but only upon receipt of a “special license” granted by the “appropriate authority.” In order to realize this goal of complete separation from worldly people and affairs, nuns were not to be received in monasteries, other than those of mendicant orders, unless the communities could “support them with goods or revenues and without penury.” “Patriarchs, primates, archbishops, and all bishops . . . also abbots and others, exempt as well as non-exempt prelates of the church,” were to enforce these measures, not only in those monasteries subject to them by law as ordinaries but also in those subject solely to the authority of the Apostolic See. They were to do so as soon as they could properly provide for it, and to “meet expenses incurred therein from the alms procured from the faithful for this purpose.” Periculoso was to be implemented “in virtue of holy obedience, under threat of divine judgment and the prospect of eternal damnation;” and those who refused to abide by it The Jurist 71 (2011) 334–348 334 * Texas State University, San Marcos, TX 1 For a detailed account of the decree, including the Latin text as an appendix, see Elizabeth Makowski, Canon Law and Cloistered Women: Periculoso and its Commentators , 1298–1545 (Washington D. C: The Catholic University of America Press, 1997). were to be “constrained through ecclesiastical censure, with no right of appeal, invoking for this, if necessary, the aid of the secular arm.” Boniface included this decree as title sixteen in the third book of his Liber Sextus, an official compilation of canon law. He then sent copies of his collection to the law faculties of universities throughout Europe since it would be the job of academic canonists to interpret the laws it contained . Despite its relatively straightforward mandate, Periculoso left the commentators with a wide range of issues that demanded clarification . The earliest interpreters, such as Joannes Monachus (d.1313) and Johannes Andreae (d.1348), author of the standard interpretation (ordinary gloss) of Periculoso, noted a number of questions that the decree had raised but not resolved. Who was the “appropriate authority” empowered to grant licenses to enter or leave the cloister? Were nuns who had already made their profession under a less strict rule of life to be compelled to accept enclosure? Could an abbess conduct visitations of the houses under her supervision without herself violating the law of enclosure ? Were the “ecclesiastical censures” which constrained the recalcitrant to be construed as excommunication? In each instance, the theorists tended to a strict interpretation of the pope’s mandate. Only the local ordinary who had jurisdiction over a monastery of nuns could grant licenses abrogating enclosure. A professed nun might be compelled to abide by Periculoso even if that meant living under obligations stricter than those she had vowed to observe. Abbesses, as nuns, were bound by the rules of enclosure, and so could not possibly conduct visitations of houses under their jurisdiction. The ecclesiastical sanction with which the pope had threatened violators was to be understood as excommunication.2 Not all later commentators would so unequivocally support Boniface VIII’s hieratic aims, and some expressed skepticism about Periculoso’s successful implementation. Nevertheless, the literature of commentary and treatise reveals overwhelming endorsement of the decree. In this paper, I...


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