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The Catholic Historical Review 87.2 (2001) 311-313

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Book Review

Leo IV. und das Papsttum in der Mitte des 9. Jahrhunderts:
Möglichkeiten und Grenzen päpstlicher Herrschaft in der späten Karolingerzeit

Leo IV. und das Papsttum in der Mitte des 9. Jahrhunderts: Möglichkeiten und Grenzen päpstlicher Herrschaft in der späten Karolingerzeit. By Klaus Herbers. [Päpste und Papsttum, Band 27.] (Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann. 1996. Pp. xii, 580. DM 390.)

Leo IV served as pope for eight years (847-855), almost two years longer than the average for his ninth-century colleagues. The account of his activities in the Liber Pontificalis at forty-nine pages in Raymond Davis's translation (The Lives of the Ninth-Century Popes [Liber Pontificalis] [Liverpool, 1995]) comes in at more than twice the average length of entries for other ninth-century popes and is second only to that of Leo III (797-816). Yet, as Klaus Herbers points out several times in his impressive and meticulously researched book, Leo IV has been reputed among the least significant ninth-century pontiffs. Terms of office and numbers of words do not reputations make, but close study of sources and new historical approaches do. Herbers makes good use of the Leovita transmitted in the Liber Pontificalis and especially of the Leonine portions [End Page 311] of the Collectio Britannica, an eleventh-century manuscript containing excerpts from papal documents deemed useful in the Investiture Controversy. But Herbers also knows ninth-century Rome, the liturgy, the culture of gift-giving, papal administration, art, and an impressive body of contemporary scholarship (including a significant array of British and North American work), displayed in more than 2600 footnotes. Skillful use of this body of evidence has resulted in a major new historical work and a clearer understanding of Leo's pontificate.

Leo reigned in perilous times. The Carolingian dynasty, long an important player in papal history, was racked by internal divisions that paradoxically exposed Rome to external danger but also allowed a pope degrees of freedom his predecessors lacked. Recent and continuing raids on Rome, including the spectacular looting of St. Peter's, justified Leo's consecration without the required imperial approval. Leo was raised as a monk in the monastery of St. Martin outside Rome's walls and was depicted as a monk in a fresco in the lower basilica of S. Clemente--the last contemporary portrait of a pope for two centuries. Leo was an energetic builder and reformer. His many donations to Roman churches help to explain the inordinate length of his entry in the Liber Pontificalis. Herbers analyzes this important component of papal activity in three charts (pp. 474-488) that describe the gifts, name the recipients, record the operative verbs (obtulit, fecit, construxit, restaurauit, reparauit, muniuit, etc.), and report the weights of gold and silver objects, the iconographic subjects of paintings, textiles, and liturgical utensils. Among other things, the extensive lists suggest the material resources available to Leo and his ability to marshal them effectively. His building of the "Leonine City" in Rome, vestiges of which can still be seen and are memorialized by street names in modern Rome, and his vision-inspired transformation of ruined Centumcellae into the new Leopolis, significant undertakings by any standard, underscore papal planning and energy.

Herbers is careful to point out that Leo was more than a builder and patron. When he rallied Christian forces against the Saracens, his language anticipated the ideology of sacred violence that would later be developed in Iberia and the Holy Land. In trying to carve out an independent sphere of papal authority while acutely dependent on the power of the Carolingians, Lothar and Louis II, Leo apparently went too far and was forced to remind the emperors of his loyalty. Part of the challenge Leo, indeed any pope, faced lay in maintaining the obedience, if not loyalty, of the Roman clergy. Leo's nemesis was Anastasius, with whom he carried on a running canonical battle for...


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