Talking about bishops in Oxford

Statue of Bishop Oliba of Vic in the Plaça de la Catedral de Vic

Statue of Bishop Oliba of Vic in the Plaça de la Catedral de Vic

There is a story, which somehow no-one told on the day I’m writing about, about Professor Richard Southern. Trying to get a colleague with a promising new research student to send her to a conference, he met with some resistance; his colleague didn’t think the student yet had anything ready to present. “Oh, come on, old boy,” Professor Southern is supposed to have expostulated, “she must have a bishop.” On 4th September 2010, there was a small conference in Oxford and I for one felt I was living up to that story by turning up with a paper about a bishop rather than ground-breaking new research. That said, he was actually an interesting bishop—there was brief discussion of how well a book called Interesting Bishops of the Tenth Century would sell, we thought it might do all right—and other people’s papers were rather more interesting than I (at first) felt mine was. The conference was called “The Clerical Cosmos: Ecclesiastical power, culture, and society, c. 900 to c. 1075“, and was capably organised by Bernard Gowers and Hannah Williams, both future colleagues which, given the standard of the conference, can only be a good thing.

I don’t have time to do the full write-up, but here is a list of the papers.

    Session 1

  • Julia Barrow, “Boy Clerics 900-1075″
  • Theo Riches, “Changing episcopal attitudes to popular belief c. 1000, as illustrated by the heresies of Châlons-sur-Marne”
  • Sarah Hamilton, “Response”
  • Session 2

  • Simon Williams, “Preachers, Rebels and Courtiers: The representation of Bishops in Liudprand of Cremona’s Antapodosis
  • Dominik Waßenhoven, “Episcopal claims and self-perception during royal successions in the Ottonian-Salian kingdom”
  • Conrad Leyser, “Response”
  • Session 3

  • Jon Jarrett, “Dilettante or Politician: Count-Bishop Miró of Girona (970-984) and his intellectual cosmos”
  • Richard Allen, “Before Lanfranc. The career of Mauger, Archbishop of Rouen (1037-1054/5), reconsidered”
  • John Nightingale, “Response”
  • General Response

    Given by Henry Mayr-Harting

All of these deserved note in their various ways. Dr Barrow as ever covered considerable ground and had more evidence in reserve with which to answer questions, and reminded us that as far as Isidore of Seville was concerned adolescence went on until one was [edit:twenty-eight, and youth (iuuentus) until] fifty! She also explained something I probably should have known, that there are seven grades of ordination in the Catholic Church, but that by the ninththirteenth century at least it was common to go through the first four (doorkeeper, lector, exorcist and acolyte) all at once, which is presumably what my guys were expressing when they called themselves clericus. Theo went closely into three episodes of heresy at Châlons (he hadn’t read that morning’s blog post…) that are documented only from Liègeelsewhere and that really tell us rather more about how one Liège clericvarious biographers wanted atheir heroic bishops to be seen than about the heretics.1 In the response Sarah Hamilton raised the question of whether the increased number of episcopal vitae in this period could be seen as one more index of the growing social change and ferment, thus invoking the spectre of the feudal transformation, about which I then argued fiercely with Conrad Leyser for much of lunch.2 Alex Woolf, there by strange coincidence, observed I think quite rightly that by gearing up their response to it the bishops of the early eleventh century were recognising a power to heresy, but I felt that the thing that was going on was much more socio-economic than the change of mentalities most other people saw here, a bigger population, more surplus all round and much more town-dwelling making the speed with which ideas found new adherents newly faster than the old counter-measures could defeat.

Later tenth-century manuscript page of Liutprand's Antapodosis now in Münich

Later tenth-century manuscript page of Liutprand's Antapodosis now in Münich, from Wikimedia Commons

In the second session Simon Williams continued his mission of making people take Liudprand more seriously than is generally done by making it explicit how much of the sex and gossip he lards his narrative with is directed to the main attack of the Antapodosis, eroding and ridiculing the reputation of King Berengar II by a kind of literary sleaze campaign. Dominik Waßenhoven meanwhile looked at the change in the rôle bishops took in elections in the German kingdom and suggested that it mostly arose out of disputes but could never then be removed. In his response Conrad asked a classic Timothy Reuter question, roughly, what does it do to our perspectives if Germany is taken as normal and functional rather than the countries like England and France where episodes of crisis like Magna Carta accidentally create a constitutional monarchy that the Whigs thought was the natural order. It’s a good question, though as Theo observed this is rather the core assumption of most German scholarship.

The third session had me in it. It has struck me that the most exciting way to cover my paper here might be to transcribe my marginal cue notes, so here goes, with no concession to comprehensibility:

Miró is a famous intellectual, where famous at all. Main source for him however is charters. Hard to see anyone here except through land and power, but Miró was more, we know. This has all been covered—in Catalan—his style, vocab., verse etc. but not really put into context of his life.3 Ancestry gives him independence. Brothers; mother’s regency; ascent into orders 938-947. Problems with Unifred – royalty helps? Promotion; 957 revolt. Main source disposal of forfeited land. The army episode and subsequent invisible deal with Borrell II. Back to diaconate. Donation time begins. Bait and switch at Sant Joan; very political donations, clearing it out of their lands. Sunifred dies with some warning; Miró becomes count, then a bishop dies. Girona’s problem status. Borrell’s trip to Rome; the neophyte. Bishop Miró with Bishop Godmar. Ató’s murder; Empúries connection; Miró a compromise candidate? Return to the county; careful use of title. Rome trips; reform commands. In later years concentrates on Besalú—Sant Pere de Besalú, Sants Miquel i Genís; hardly in Girona and chapter don’t seem to care much. Death and burial – in Ripoll. Church commitment continuous but sometimes drowned out in record. Must have known Gerbert when newly count. Nothing odd for a count to be patron, or to go to Rome; but reform concern (if his) and lack of children is odd; more bishop than count. A peace-maker, not warrior cleric; talks Borrell down. Writing peace too: the Ripoll consecration creates shared ancestral past for all counts –false, but who cares, or knows? Then uses this historical consensus to bind them into an immunity, their alliance replacing king and by inclusion implicitly creating Catalonia. His intellectual cosmos thus leaves marks on the ground; his thoughts have political effect. ‘Bizarre baroque’, yes, a reluctant count, an ephemeral diocesan, but politician more than dilettante even if always thinking and talking.

Man, even my short notes are long. The other paper in the session was an excellent one in which it was persuasively argued by Richard Allen that Mauger Archbishop of Rouen, son of Duke Richard II of Normandy, was removed not because of all of the myriad and scandalous failings that later chroniclers attribute to him but because of messy family politics. John Nightingale’s response to us asked whether we were in a reform age here yet or not; I thought that I personally was not, and this led to considerable discussion as to how much change in European mentalities we could justifiably really attribute to Pope Gregory VII. Even cynics such as us were inclined to think: quite a lot really. This was particularly nicely expressed in Henry Mayr-Harting’s magisterial, nay, professorial response, in which he stressed that we had chosen a period to look at in which the whole basis of clerical culture had been undergoing change. No accident there, I’m sure, and that’s probably why it was such a lively gathering.


1. Theo was first to make reference to an article that kept coming up again and again, and which would obviously be the key reference for anyone wanting to do more with these ideas, it being Timothy Reuter, “Ein Europa der Bischöfe. Das Zeitalter Burchards von Worms” in Wilfried Hartmann (edd.), Bischof Burchard von Worms 1000-1025, Quellen und Abhandlungen zur mittelrheinischen Kirchengeschichte 100 (Mainz 2000), pp. 1-28, of which an English translation is apparently forthcoming.

2. I observed to Theo after this that I didn’t seem to be able to talk to Conrad at all without falling into a fierce argument, friendly-like but still basically continuous. Theo pointed out quite neatly that it’s not just Conrad with whom I seem to do this and wondered if there could be a common factor…

3. I have since writing this remembered that Josep María Salrach did his tesí de llicençiatura on Miró Bonfill, and I haven’t read it, so it seems very likely that I am even less original than I had hoped with this perspective…

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13 responses to “Talking about bishops in Oxford

  1. Adolescence stops at 28. It’s youth that goes on until 50, according to Isidore.

    I haven’t found clear evidence for clerics being ordained in the first four grades on the same day before the 13th c, and though I am sure the practice was older than the 13th c I am not sure how much older it was. But perhaps some kind reader of your blog may have found some source that sheds light on this.

    • Drat, will correct, on both counts, sorry. I had apparently actually misunderstood about the clerical grades, but the former error was just me miscopying notes. As to clerical grades, I have only negative evidence; I think I have seen an exorcist’s signature in ‘my’ charters’ signatures, but never any of the lesser ones and that surpassingly rare, whereas cleric (and subdeacon) both crop up more than occasionally. What would ‘cleric’ mean, ordinationally, otherwise?

  2. Exorcists occur only rarely, though fractionally more often than doorkeepers, who are really rare. (Of course, I don’t know about Spain and maybe things were done differently there). Lectors sometimes crop up elsewhere. Acolytes are not uncommon.

    Subdeacons occur frequently; it was a grade with some status. From the earlier 11th on it was one of the ‘major orders’ (which effectively meant you couldn’t marry once you’d been made a subdeacon). Before the early 11th c there was disagreement about whether the subdiaconate was a major or a minor order.

    Cleric can refer to a clerk in any grade of ordination, but if it’s being used in contradistinction to subdeacons, deacons and so on it is probably being used to describe a clerk in one of the minor orders.

  3. Thanks for the write-up, John. One correction: only one of the Chalons outbreaks is from the Liege source (although most of the paper was devoted to that). The other two are witnessed from Dijon (Raoul Glaber) and Cambrai-Arras respectively.

  4. A version of the story ‘You must have a bishop’ is told by Peter Brown
    Almost 10 years later, in 1956, I was summoned by yet another authority figure. This time it was the Regius Professor of History, Vivian Galbraith, a doyen of the medieval profession. He was to interview me on my intended line of research for a dissertation in medieval history. He was bent over the fire in his rooms in Oriel, rattling the grate with a poker. Without turning to me, he asked abruptly: “Well, Brown, have you got a bishop? Everyone, you know, should have a bishop.”
    Indeed, I had a bishop, a fifteenth-century bishop. Better still, I had an English bishop; and best of all, I had a bishop (indeed a whole choice of bishops, among them Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Beaufort and Cardinal Morton) each with a complete Register through which I would study the details of episcopal administration and of the relations of Church and State in the later middle ages. For to study some aspect of the administrative and political history of late medieval England through direct access to hitherto unread archives was accepted, in the Oxford of that time, as the ticket to academic adulthood.

  5. Pingback: Seminar XLII: tiny laws and constraining categories « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  6. Pingback: What would a late-Carolingian bishop read? The will of Riculf of Elna « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  7. I’ve now found the translation of Tim Reuter’s article: “A Europe of Bishops. The Age of Wulfstan of York and Burchard of Worms” in Ludger Körntgen and Dominik Waßenhoven (eds), Patterns of episcopal power. Bishops in tenth and eleventh century Western Europe, De Gruyter, 2011, pp. 17-38.

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