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  • Entering a Clerical Career at the Roman Curia, 1458–1471 ed. by Kirsi Salonen and Jussi Hanska
  • Antonella Mazzon
Entering a Clerical Career at the Roman Curia, 1458–1471. Edited by Kirsi Salonen and Jussi Hanska. [Church, Faith and Culture in the Medieval West.] (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing. 2013. Pp. xii, 295. $134.96. ISBN 978-1-4094-2839-8.)

This work presents a complete investigation of the established procedure to be ordained priest and then enjoy special economic benefits during the pontificates of Pius II (1458–64) and Paul II (1464–71). Not basing their research on narrative sources that usually portray the clerical world as ignorant and inept, the authors [End Page 922] focus their attention on papal documents, produced in particular by two institutions of the Church of Rome: the Apostolic Penitentiary and the Apostolic Chamber. Thanks to in-depth analysis of the sources, it is shown that for the clerical career, the Church of Rome wished to choose men who did not have physical defects, who were reliable in terms of moral qualities, who were well educated, and who had been invested in accordance with canon law. Any exception should have been authorized specifically.

The Apostolic Penitentiary is one of the offices of the Papal Curia in charge of granting absolutions and dispensations. Starting from the pontificate of Martin V, it expanded its authority more and more. In this period, referring relevant matters to the Apostolic Penitentiary suggest a desire to enhance one’s career inside the Church. Several requests from the same diocese indicate the intention by the bishop to operate in compliance with legislation and to seek papal dispensations for many of his local candidates, even if such a step was not strictly necessary. Due to the need for priests who could celebrate the sacraments, bishops were often forced to ordain men too young for that role. This is the reason why many applications concern men under age twenty-five. Dispensations for physical defects especially concerned problems with eyes and hands. There were also particular requests for “absolution from being ordained to the priesthood with a false title, or with a falsified dimissory letter” (p. 162). The authors provide case studies, as well as comprehensive and varied examples, quotations of related legislation, and thorough analyses of the data collected.

Requests for dispensations came from every part of Christendom, but for de promotis et promovendis the requests came mostly from northern Italy, southern Germany, and what are present-day Benelux countries; these regions had many vacant benefices and a crucial need for priests. As the editors note:

… [T]wo petitioners out of three were not yet priests and wanted to be promoted to higher orders and therefore needed a dispensation, either because of a defect or in order to be ordained against the normal ordination practice. One third of the petitioners, in their turn, had already been (in some false way) ordained to the priesthood and therefore needed an absolution and dispensation that would allow them to continue in their orders and offices.

(p. 114)

Although some papal representative such as legates, nuncios, and collectors could grant dispensations and thus reduce the need to turn to the Penitentiary, many religious and pilgrims arrived in Rome during the spring (especially during the Easter period), intent on fixing their “legal and religious” situation. Sometimes these candidates made the journey to Rome because they could count on a special relationship with an official of the Papal Curia, because their bishop was absent from their diocese, or because they resided outside their home diocese for reasons such as academic study.

The second part of the book concerns the ordinations in the Apostolic Chamber during the pontificate of Paul II, and the archival series investigated is represented [End Page 923] by Libri formatarum. There are two categories in this source: “the people who were ordained during the six actual ordination days and those who were ordained outside these days (extra tempora jure statuta)” (p. 168). Official ordinations had to take place in a sacred space (usually a church) and had to be celebrated by one of the eight bishops approved by the Apostolic Chamber and in presence of...


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