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Marking Time: Canon Law Reform in the 12th Century
During the twelfth century, ecclesiastical (or canon) law in Europe was collected into large-scale law books on a previously unseen scale. The most important of these, Gratian’s Concordia discordantium canonum or Decretum, emerged in the years around 1140, and has been a focus of scholarly efforts to understand the changing legal situation in the Latin West at around the same time. Of particular importance is the exponential increase in the survival of papal decretals, or letters on legal matters, over the course of the twelfth century and particularly after the election of Alexander III as pope in 1159 – a phenomenon that scholars such as Ullmann attributed to the rise of the ‘papal monarchy’ before its peak in the thirteenth century. Yet the interest in the development of a ‘papal monarchy’, combined with the considerable interest that the Decretum has received since Anders Winroth’s groundbreaking 2000 study on its composition, has tended to bypass a more pressing question concerning the nature of authority in later twelfth century canon law and the way in which pre-Gratian excerpts and post-Gratian decretals were used together in a number of canonical collections. Ultimately, this paper will examine how both ‘old’ and ‘new’ material were used in these canonical collections, investigating the levels of continuity before and after the appearance of the Decretum, and asking how exactly the development in canon law in the later twelfth century was connected with the evolving authority and power of the medieval papacy.
Dr Danica Summerlin completed her undergraduate degree in History at Durham, before going to Cambridge to complete her MPhil and a PhD in History titled 'The canons of the Third Lateran Council of 1179, their origins and reception ca. 1148-ca.1191'. She is now based in Munich at the Stephan Kuttner Institute for Medieval Canon Law, where she is researching the relationship between the 'old' and 'new' laws in the later twelfth century, funded by the Leverhulme Trust's Study Abroad Studentship programme.
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