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Plenitude of Power: The Doctrine and Exercise of Authority in the Middle Ages; Essays in Memory of Robert Louis Benson.

Plenitude of Power: The Doctrine and Exercise of Authority in the Middle Ages; Essays in Memory of Robert Louis Benson. Edited by Robert C. Figueira. Church, Faith and Culture in the Medieval West. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2006. xii + 207 pp. $94.95 cloth.

The dedicatee of this volume, the late Robert Benson (1925-96), requires little introduction to scholars of medieval ecclesiastical history. His book The Bishop-Elect (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1968) is regarded as the definitive canon-law study of the constitutive acts by which a medieval bishop obtained his full episcopal power. In this work and others, he explored the concept of plenitudo potestatis, or "fullness of power"--the title of this Festschrift--the juridical moment at which a medieval ecclesiastical officeholder could exercise the full power of that position. Of particular significance in this examination was the work of the twelfth-century canonist Rufinus, one of the first commentators on Gratian's Decretum, and the subject of an exemplary encyclopedic entry by Benson ("Rufin," in Dictionnaire de droit canonique, 7 vols., ed. Raoul Naz [Paris: Letouzey et Ane, 1961], 7:779-84). Further, in what has become the most oft-cited work on the "twelfth-century renaissance" after Haskins's The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1927), Charles Benson contributed an article on political and legal renovatio and also co-edited (with Giles Constable and Carol Lanham) the volume Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982).

The nine chapters in this volume highlight the extent and breadth of Benson's scholarly legacy. They are wide-ranging, yet highly technical, in content; all but a few comment inductively, from narrow case studies, on the broader uses of authority in the Church between late antiquity and the fifteenth century. All are characterized by scholarship of the first order.

Several chapters focus on canon-law themes. Bruce Brasington traces a text, spuriously attributed to the fifth-century Pope Innocent I, from its first appearance in the eighth-century Collectio Hibernensis to its use by John of Salisbury late in the twelfth century. It allowed that, failing guidance from the written sources in scripture or Church or saints' histories, the extent of the Church's canon-law jurisdiction could be determined by seeking the oral advice of the "elders of the province" (seniores provinciae). These "elders," Brasington observes, were bishops, and this text therefore supported the jurisprudential power of the episcopate. More significantly, he argues, it suggests "scattered evidence" of an oral tradition in canon law in the eleventh century (9). Although this represented a significant moment in the development of a canon-law "textual community," Brasington concludes that such oral sources gave way to exclusively written ones by the time of the twelfth-century law schools. This finding runs counter to Brasington's arguments elsewhere that there was continuity, rather than disjunction, between eleventh-and twelfth-century canon law collections. Robert Figueira's chapter focuses on another aspect of ecclesiastical law: the extent of the medieval papal legate's territorial jurisdiction. His analysis of this concept is confined to thirteenth-century decretals and their decretalist commentators. Figueira's chapter complements his previous authoritative scholarship on medieval legatine authority.

Shannon Williamson begins with Benson's premise that Pseudo-Dionysius's Celestial Hierarchy and Ecclesiastical Hierarchy should be examined as "roots of a constitutional language of the Church" (47). Williamson links these Pseudo-Dionysian works to the treatise of Gilbert of Limerick (ca. 1070-1145) on the Church, and Innocent III's by identifying a similar pyramidical structure in their depictions of Church hierarchy. Her findings require examination on a broader scale to see if Benson's premise stands up to scrutiny. James Muldoon also examines the constitutional structure of the Church, taking as his launching pad Benson's prompting that twelfth-and thirteenth-century canon and Roman law "created the juristic preconditions for an international law" (cf. 181), rather than Hugo Grotius. Focusing on Nicholas of Cusa's De concordantia catholica and papal bulls and canonists of that period, Muldoon examines medieval Christian concepts of authority in the context of the fifteenth-century European expansion into the "New Worlds" of Africa and the Atlantic islands. He concludes by confirming Benson's thesis, but in respect of fifteenth-century canon-law developments, while acknowledging Cusa's important indirect role in developing a constitutional structure of the Church. Like Tierney, Baldwin, and Benson before him, Muldoon dispels the myth that medieval legal thought was pure abstraction and without practical application.

Three contributions examine the uses of tropes to legitimate authority. David A. Warner discusses depictions of the third-century military saint St. Maurice in the declaration of war by Ottonian Emperor Henry II against a fellow Christian monarch. In opposing St. Maurice's Christian "just war" values to Henry's anti-Christian motives, Warner highlights the "constructed" and dynamic identity of sainthood in medieval political discourse. In a different context, Peter Diehl analyzes the anti-heretical rhetoric in an 1195 letter by Henry VI announcing his intention to lead a Crusade to the Holy Land, a reference traditionally dismissed by scholars as a minor point. Diehl argues, rather, that Henry's rhetoric matched his deeds: he did more to check the spread of heresy than any other monarch of his age, thereby furthering his political power in Italy and against the papacy. In yet another setting, Joseph Huffman points to examples between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of urban authorities using their control over poor relief and almsgiving to demonstrate their political power and prestige.

Two contributions are historiographical in nature. Lester L. Field, Jr., analyzes scholarship on the concept of "political theology" in late antiquity, notions featured in the work of Benson and his mentor, Ernst Kantorowicz. Political theology is an analytical category that plays on the modern disassociation within the medieval Latin term Christianitas, connoting, on the one hand, the Christian religion and, on the other, the Christian "commonwealth" or political entity. Late antiquity is the site for its origin, specifically in St. Augustine. Field's erudite piece assesses the scholarly state-of-play on the subject, emphasizing the value of insights drawn from deconstructed literary analyses. John Bernhardt's chapter analyzes Benson's academic legacy, emphasizing the two main influences on his work: his graduate supervisor, the great Kantorowicz, and the exacting traditions of textual scholarship instilled by the Monumenta Germaniae Historia in Munich, where Benson spent time as a graduate student.

The achievement of this volume is its interdisciplinarity: it forces readers to engage with scholarship outside their disciplines, surely the true aim of "intellectual history," or Geistegeschichte. In this way it is a truly fitting tribute to Robert Benson.

doi: 10.1017/S0009640708000103

Jason Taliadoros

Monash University
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Author:Taliadoros, Jason
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2008
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