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The Evolutions of Knowledge in Medieval Canon Law
By Andreas Thier (University of Zurich)
Plenary Lecture given at the 14th International Congress on Medieval Canon Law, at the University of Toronto on August 5, 2012
This paper discussed the way canonical texts were compiled and the history of the shift in their compilation. Canon Law was decided orally in its early phases where a member of council brought up a matter and a rule would be presented where the entire assembly would agree or decide upon this rule as was seen during the First Council of Carthage in 347A.D. Here, and in other cases, the editors were eager to prove the process of oral rule making. However legitimate, rule making in written forms were essential and the authority of legal rules depended on their “writteness”.
What were the intentions behind canonical collections? Compiling of a collection could be a statement to disclose to the ignorant these important written rules, a statement of political power, or texts were made to maintain order. To keep their dignity in the present, so as to find without any delay, whatever chapter the reader wished to know about. It was order so that it was not necessary for the reader to go through the entire volume to find what they required. Lastly, there was the intention to offer the reader opinions and statements on canonical law.
In the earlier periods of canon law, the main purpose of the compiler was to collect as many authorities on a particular subject as possible – like adultery, usury, etc… In the 11th c. this changed into something more systematic.The scholastic sensibility of the time was committed to textual identity change and textual order in the harmony of texts. Some texts were for mercy, some for justice and canonists went through specific rules detailing their textual changes in canon law. Thier also discussed how various compilers put together their specific collections. He touched on some topics in these collections such as usury, abstinence from secular commercial transactions/activities (unconnected with usury), clerical discipline and residency.
The collections had to contain important authorities. He talked about Gratian and his contribution to the ordering of canoncial texts. Gratian took a new approach to the usury problem. He followed the traditional line of ordering and collecting texts but on the other hand, by the means of Questio, he distinguished between the texts and gave them a coherent order. He made it possible to individualize texts and use them as singular resources, not as one authority in a great cluster of texts. This gave way for the evolution of the texts. He ordered the manuscripts from the authorities and cluster of texts into the insight of the texts and to develop jurisprudential solutions.
Recent historians have introduced a new paradigm. From Their’s point of view, medieval canon law and it’s evolution fits perfectly in its scheme. Knowledge in an institutionalized organized content, texts as media, and the evolution from external order to a new jurisprudential order looking inside the texts.