Canon Law in the “Century of the Individual”: Revolution and Continuity

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Canon Law in the “Century of the Individual”: Revolution and Continuity

Few phrases in medieval studies are as enduring as the Discovery of the Individual. Since the 1920s,1 there has been periodic reflection on the role of individuality and intention in the emergence of dialectical hermeneutics around 1100.2 Yet well-reasoned criticisms also have pointed out the anachronism inherent in this search for psychological and cultural values across the span of centuries.3 Additionally, there is the problem of creating intellectual and social models that confine our study of the medieval experience.4 Such concerns lie behind the following consideration of twelfth-century canon law.5 It will consider to what extent our appreciation of canon law during this century of the individual is distorted by focus on the “scholastic revolution” which, however significant as a watershed in the development of medieval jurisprudence and theology, obscures the persistent influence of older canon law, especially in monastic foundations.

Like feudalism, 6 “scholastic revolution” can mislead. Focusing exclusively on the reception of Gratians Decretum in the schools and courts of the second half of the twelfth century limits our understanding of canon law by imposing a restrictive term on medieval life. 7 Less appreciated is the persistence of the older, pre-scholastic jurisprudence from authors like Bishop Ivo of Chartres (+1115). Manuscripts of his works challenge the notion that Gratian and his scholastic commentators quickly, universally, transformed legal culture. There is no question that the scholastic method of the schools and universities forever changed the course of canon law in both theory and practice. Yet this fact should not be allowed to obscure how pre-scholastic jurisprudence, especially in monastic foundations, continued to serve the needs of religious life.8

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