A Preface to Walter Ullmann, Part 2(d) of 2 (Tierney)

The first half of our treatment on Ullmann can be found here, and the prelude to this two-part series can be found here (and the forerunner to the prelude [!] is here); in the six (a through e; part 2a here, part 2b here, and part 2c here) parts of this second post, we’ll cover the way that his students, admirers and critics have presented the outline of his thought, and the faults they have found with it. 

Brian Tierney’s Sparse Comments

It is possible that Brian Tierney is Ullmann’s most distinguished student (that honor may be carried by another; I’m open to corrections). Tierney’s works are top-notch. Throughout, his comments about Ullmann are mostly appreciative, in terms of recognizing the advances that Ullmann’s work has made in terms of understanding both the development of medieval political, legal, and religious thought, as well as the nuances in the positions taken by particular figures.  If Ullmann has a successor, it may well be Tierney.

Tierney also admits that Ullmann could, at times, oversimplify — though he nowhere, to my knowledge, takes Ullmann as his subject, but rather mentions Ullmann’s contributions with regard to whatever his subject matter happens to be. This is what one finds in Tierney’s The Foundations of the Conciliar Theory: The Contribution of the Medieval Canonists from Gratian to the Great Schism. All of the references I have found there to Ullmann simply refer to his works to illustrate the claims that Tierney is making.

The most severe that Tierney ever seems to get is this one claim I have found regarding oversimplification:

Walter Ullmann perhaps oversimplified when he described fifteenth-century conciliarism as “a resuscitation of the old episcopalist theory” [Ullmann, A History of Political Thought: The Middle Ages, 223]; but traditional episcopalism certainly did play a significant part in the conciliar argument that Gerson presented. And, in its earlier forms, medieval episcopalism was more like a theory of individual feudal immunities than like a theory of corporate representation. [Brian Tierney, The Idea of Natural Rights, 222]

Such is Tierney’s laudable charity: even when he is critical, he partially backs away on his own criticisms.


Header image taken from a photo of Ullmann found in one of the collections of his works; not locatable online, and no attributions possible. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

One thought on “A Preface to Walter Ullmann, Part 2(d) of 2 (Tierney)

  1. Pingback: A Preface to Walter Ullmann, Part 2(e) of 2 (Oakley) | Into the Clarities

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