A (Partial) Failure

I have been using several topoi  to investigate the trends from Benedict of Nursia to Marsilius of Padua (vi&., consent, participation, procedure, discernment, whether nature tends to any good, the application of law — i.e., judgment, the purpose of law, natural vs. positive law, and whether the ruler is under any law). By means of these topoi I have come to conclude that, although there are significant connections between Benedictine monasticism and the later forms of papal plenitude of power, my original thesis that extended this thread to Marsilius in fact overextended, and fails.

Thus, expect longer delays in this recent series on “The Monastic and Ecclesio-Political Origins”, and, before, long, a revision of both previous entries. I’ll be continuing the analysis along the same topics, as these are more fruitful than the original thesis, which fails.

At the bidding of a professor who shot down my thesis ever-so-casually, I have gone through two works on the history of Roman law and of medieval politics; it is clear to me that the stew of issues in play regarding the issue of consent, as with the issue of procedure, takes its origins from elsewhere — and not in Benedictine habits. (If anything, these Benedictine habits take their cue, at least partially, from the general Roman legal-procedural culture.) The nature of law in the late Western Empire (especially in the barbarian kingdoms), the way that rule requires bureaucratic means to secure control (such as procedures, and law), the recovery of Justinianic law in the late Middle Ages, and the ever-increasing importance (in my mind) of the pivotal figure of Gregory the Great, are all as important as the kinds of Benedictine-retrieval maneuvers that were taken in the wake of the collapse of the Carolingian period.

This trajectory that I had originally intended to cover is very real. This moves from Benedict through Gregory into barbarian ruler-ideology and into the Carolingian synthesis (which exclusively privileged Benedictine monasticism), moving then into a Benedictine-renewal in the Carolingian collapse and then turning the college of cardinals into something like a Benedictine monastery itself to secure ecclesiastical autonomy, and then eventually papal supremacy. This trajectory still holds.

It was on the basis of this that, when I’d read the emphasis on procedure in Marsilius, and when he repeatedly stated that he wished to make the pope and the college of cardinals representatives of the people, it seemed that he was seeking to take the clericalized form of Benedictine abbot-electing procedures and democratize them across the entirety of the people. This seemed to me to be a form of secularization. Now that I have read through about half of the secondary literature on Marsilius in English (and skimmed at least most of the rest, and read some little bits in French, too, thanks to a friend — thank you, Joe), and now that I am acquainted with the legal history, it is clear that either (A) this original thesis is wrong, or (B) at the very least, things are not nearly so simple as that, and any distinctively Benedictine line of influence gets dissolved into a general culture of concern about participation and consent.  There might be something to the original thesis, but any lines of influence here are too vague to establish in isolation from a number of other trends.

There are plenty of examples of secularization in this period on the basis of the legal history alone, and plenty more besides. Others might contend with my definition of secularization, but that’s another post for a future date.


9 thoughts on “A (Partial) Failure

  1. Refocusing one’s thesis to greater accuracy is growth, not failure. Edison famously tried more than 500 different filaments for the incandescent bulb before settling on tungsten. It has served us well for well over a century, and now LEDs will replace most of its functions. We are part of a great chain of learning that extends back to an invisible beginning and forward, I hope, even further. As corny as that metaphor might seem, it is true.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Higher education has always been a subject that I never excel at
    The Algebra teacher hit me over the head with the book
    And threw me out of class
    I still to this day I’m traumatized by numbers
    And Mrs Kane’s crooked teeth
    The provker

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those who writhe and wretch

      Through life with unaligned

      Teeth often seek

      To straighten (or bind)

      Through abuse those who kvetch

      That the shambles of life cannot be fetched

      And aligned through numbers, as though they could bleach

      Out the dangling damage;

      Unless one is British, in which case,

      Dentistry has not yet made inroads.

      Liked by 1 person

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