1st Edition

Shaping Church Law Around the Year 1000 The Decretum of Burchard of Worms

By Greta Austin Copyright 2009

    This study of Burchard's 'Decretum', a popular book of Catholic canon law compiled just after the year 1000, sheds new light on the development of law and theology long before the Gregorian Reform, normally considered as a watershed in the history of the Latin Church. Practical episcopal concerns and an appreciation of new scholarly methods led Burchard to be dissatisfied with the quality of contemporary jurisprudence and particularly with the teaching texts available to local bishops. Drawing upon new manuscript discoveries, the author shows how Burchard tried to create a new text that would address these problems. He carefully selected and compiled canons from earlier collections and then went on to tamper systematically with the texts he had chosen. By doing so, he created a book of church law that appeared to be based on indisputable authority, that was internally consistent and that was easy to apply through logical extrapolation to new cases. The present study thus provides a window into the development of legal and theological reasoning in the medieval West, and suggests that, thanks to the work of ambitious bishops, the flowering of law and theology began far earlier, and for different reasons, than scholars have heretofore supposed.

    Contents: Introduction; Part I Background: The methodology of this study; The Decretum; The Decretum in the context of other medieval canon law books; Who was Burchard of Worms?; Finding Burchard's vision of canon law in the Preface and the Decretum canons on jurisprudence. Part II Burchard's Editing Priorities: The presentation of the Decretum's canons; The authority of the Decretum's canons; Eliminating conflicts between canons; Presenting a comprehensive vision of the Church's law; The result: the substantive law of Decretum books 6, 10, 11 and 12. Part III Implications: Making sense of Burchard's textual alterations; Theology and canon law around the year 1000; Conclusion: implications; Appendix; Bibliography; Index.


    Dr Greta Austin is Associate Professor in History of Christianity at the University of Puget Sound, USA.

    ’...a major work of serious scholarship on early medieval canon law - a subject that touches a far larger range of human life in the past than it might at first seem.’ The Medieval Review ’La récente collection, Church, Faith and Culture in the Medieval West s'enrichit d'un excellent ouvrage qui renouvelle nos connaissances sur la formation du droit canonique à la veille de la Réforme grégorienne... Les historiens du droit canonique travaillant sur les collections antérieures à Gratien ne pourront plus ignorer ce livre fondamental.’ Revue d'Histoire Ecclésiastique ’... [Austin] makes a persuasive case that will fundamentally challenge historians to re-think the construction of collections in the era before Gratian.’ Journal of Ecclesiastical History ’This book presents a fundamental reinterpretation of an important collection of church law from the 1010s... Austin’s results are remarkable. She achieves them through careful close readings and a painstakingly acquired, deep understanding of Burchard’s work.’ Catholic Historical Review