Courson’s life intersected with some of the major religious movements and contemporary concerns of his day.
What went through the diseased mind of Robert of Courson on 6 February 1219, ‘dying in the sands of Damietta before the river was crossed’,1 during the siege of the city by the epidemic-ridden crusading army? Englishman, master of theology at the university of Paris, canon of Noyon, cardinal priest of San Stefano in Monte Celio, sometime papal legate to northern France, ecclesiastical legislator, university reformer and, lastly and terminally, preacher to the fifth crusade, did Courson think of the enormous crush of the great council at the Lateran church and palace four years earlier; the stench of burning flesh and towns during the Albigensian crusade; the noise of his preaching campaigns; the haggling at the reforming councils he had coordinated in northern France; the days teaching and writing in Paris; his university reform of his shape-shifting alma mater; the tense diplomacy with hard men like King John and Philip Augustus; the friendships with the other bright young theologians in the circle of Peter the Chanter; his strained relations with Pope Honorius III; or his youth in England about which we know nothing?2
Courson’s life intersected with some of the major religious movements and contemporary concerns of his day. Many were ‘institutional’, taking that term to cover macro-organizational forms (the Church, the university of Paris); meso-level religious practices (ecclesiastical councils, anti-heresy campaigns, the fifth crusade); and micro-level ones (diet, sacraments). It is, therefore, particularly interesting to investigate the tenor of Courson’s attitude to institutions. His breadth of engagement was shared more widely with the ‘biblical-moral tendency’ of Peter the Chanter which so struck John Baldwin, although Baldwin was more interested with respect to their particular ‘social policy’ positions (ordeals, usury, tithes, etc.).3 Commenting on their ‘social theory’ as a whole, Baldwin’s compliments were somewhat backhanded:
The Parisian theologians discussed each occupation as a separate entity, making little effort to unify their ideas in coherent social theory. Since their chief task was to evaluate the concrete moral act, not to speculate about the nature of society, they produced little social theory which resembled the hierarchical systems … of the mid-thirteenth century under the influence of Aristotelian notions of justice. What their theories lacked in consistency and unity, was compensated by richness of detail. Although their particular views of society were fragmentary and unconnected, their writings provide a brilliant mosaic for the social life of their times.4
The criteria are arguably somewhat unfair ones with which to twit these thinkers. That consistency and unity are, first, required and, second, achieved through a particular route requires demonstration. Nor is coherence the same as consistency: indeed we can show for one of the Chanter’s circle – Innocent III – that it was not.5 There should be ways of judging the quality of this thought other than indexing it against texts it had not received. This chapter explores that quality through Courson’s ‘thought style’, to use Mary Douglas’s term: the thought beneath the thought which shapes the group.6 It suggests that what seems striking about Courson’s thought is the way he approaches particular problems as products of social relations and the degree to which he responds to them as such, whatever the topic (diet, sex, abusive lords). The main source is Courson’s Summa (by mid 1212), which draws important inspiration from his master Peter the Chanter’s posthumously arranged questio collection, the Summa de sacramentis et animae consiliis.7 Courson’s Summa first addresses fields which attract penitential concern (for example, excommunication, usury, rapine); then moves to a range of social bonds, effects and procedures (vows, scandal, due process); then discusses the sacraments and (in one manuscript) ends by considering the afterlife.8 It is these practices as social institutions on which this chapter focuses. Courson was ‘systematic’ but in a style distinct from that of later thinkers such as Aquinas. The systematization here lies less in the exhaustive order of topics in the Summa than in the fact that Courson treated given issues as widely connected to others, not narrowly compartmentalized from them – as, indeed, they might be experienced by parishioner or priest.9
There are different forms of ‘systematic’ scholastic thinking and this one emerged at an interesting moment: Courson was as much a member of an intellectual generation as of a school.10 This chapter, first, shows Courson’s recognition of the systemic way these institutions hung together socially. It demonstrates, second, how the constructions of groups could prove problematic; and looks at important considerations underlying Courson’s reasoning when evaluating such institutions. Finally, it contextualizes this by reflecting on Courson’s conciliar activity and ends by reconsidering the way in which Courson’s thought is systematic.
Systems, Rules, Traditions
The complexity of the social systems with which Courson engaged and their entangled nature can be illustrated by Courson’s sympathy for the perplexed (perplexi):
A most difficult question follows, also about those things necessary in the penitential field, arising from perplexity in relation to equal, greater and lesser crimes. Such perplexity can often be overwhelming, as Gregory shows in the Moralia [32.20.39 to Job XL: 12, ‘He setteth up his tail like a cedar, the sinews of his testicles are wrapped together [perplexi]’] that where a mind is caught between greater and lesser sins, the lesser should always be chosen, so that someone who is hemmed in on all sides by the ramparts of the walls should flee to where the wall seems shorter. By such perplexities do modern heretics [moderni heretici] say that they are confused – and they can be perplexed to such a degree that they cannot be saved, so that if they profess the perfection of their sect [perfectionem secte sue] and afterwards eat meat or contravene [the sect] in any way, or in their moment of death when they cannot take counsel with their consolers [consolidatoribus] they say that they cannot be saved, as happens in many cases when they say that they cannot avoid many established rules without incurring the damnation of death, but an infinity of authorities cry out against each other [in contrarium].11
Even a heretic’s worldview is a woven whole which hangs together. It is the interconnection of things which indeed produces confusion and why unpicking them is complex (and, here, doomed).
The underlying question of how rules should form coherent wholes for society and the need to disaggregate the good and bad also receive sustained attention in Peter the Chanter’s compendium of ethical problems, the Verbum adbreviatum. The Chanter took a strong position in relation to positive law within the Verbum: ‘Positive justice has nothing solid about it’ is one heading. This was the case because so much controversy followed the feeling and will of judges, producing additions to God’s ‘clear laws’ (certae leges).12 In his chapter ‘Against the burdensome multitude of human traditions [tradicionum humanarum]’ the Chanter set out three types of problematic tradition:
There are three types of tradition [tradicionum]: those which are illicit and the invention of the Devil rather than man and are completely contrary to God’s law; those which are licit and useful but seem to go contrary to divine precepts, as some monastic traditions and so are dubious; others do in fact go contrary to God’s law and harm by their sheer number and so should be rather avoided, for they make transgressors out of the disobedient.
The problem is in the right arrangement of a hierarchy of divine to human demands and the proper privileging of evangelical precepts. The Chanter’s general position seems a minimalist one legislatively: ‘[Traditions] should only be established sparingly and minimally for manifest reasons and utility, since they are an impediment to divine precepts and seem to set up barriers to them’.13
The problem of untangling this hierarchy of commitments can be illustrated by Courson’s handling of Jepthath’s vow (Judges XI: 29–40). The spirit of the Lord comes over Jepthath, who bargains with God, promising that if God will give the Ammonites over to him ‘then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonities, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt-offering’. It is Jepthath’s daughter who greets him on return, of course, and, after two month’s grace to bewail her lost life, she returns home willingly and is burnt.
Courson discusses this in the context of evaluating a given vow’s ‘necessity’. Does a public vow to kill whatever comes through the door first trump an earlier or more necessary Christian vow to follow the Decalogue and gospels (Do not kill; love your neighbour)?14 Courson asks various questions. Was it Jepthath’s punishment because he had actually hoped his detested wife would come through the door? What if a dog had come out of the door first?
Solution: We say that Jepthath’s vow was made indiscretely and against God. No vow expressed like this is binding, but in such cases a wrongful oath should be repented; the spirit of the Lord did not come into Jepthath to make the vow, because in this matter he simply was not led by the familiar counsel of the Holy Spirit, as with Samson and Abraham. If the Spirit came into him it was before he took the oath, namely to attack the enemy.15
A means of differentiating the good from bad comes from the Chanter. This is the so-called ‘triple truth’ of life, doctrine and justice.16 The Chanter takes truth of life to be ‘not only that without which eternal life cannot be had, but also that which it cannot easily be had without’. Doctrinal truth is clear enough: I should create a scandal rather than obeying a bishop who has forbidden me from declaring that he has been covertly preaching heresy. Defending the truth of justice entails not only that the law’s precepts and judgements should be preserved per se, but also that one should ensure they are not despised since this will undermine them in the long run. Hence a prelate who has ‘noble horses and precious trappings from the Crucified’s patrimony’ may scandalize those who see him. Nevertheless, he should not discard them since ‘if I had vile clothing and appeared as one cast down and contemptible, and not like those who punish the delinquent, at once my subjects would become disobedient and do evil and thus I would be unable to exercise justice, and thus my subjects’ truth of life would be endangered since they would have the grounds to sin [because I was not enforcing the law]’.17 Such formulations both show the wide latitude created to safeguard Christian doxa but also the socially canny pragmatism applied by these activists to the systems in which they envisaged intervening.
Institutions and the Problem of Shared Meaning
For Courson, then, the problem of institutional life is a holistic one, complicated by the fact that communities may construct institutional practices of which theologians disapprove – be they local customs, legal procedures or dietary rules. He acknowledges quite plainly the socially constructed meanings and practices, but in his chapter on perplexity argues that real perplexities arise only from incompatibilities of experience (de facto), not from incompatibilities of law (de iuris): ‘Perplexity of law is said to be where superficially authorities and canons contradict one another, but which can be resolved into concord through the rule of the Old and New [Testament], and thus nothing legal can be perplexing because no one can be in such a state that the law cannot come to his aid, and that he cannot obtain the grace to repel all perplexity’.18 Reality, not law, produces perplexities. Those realities are secured by human convention and Courson recognizes that particular practices are the product of collective agreement and that one has to engage with this, whether one is opposed to or supportive of that agreement.19
These social systems are strong and tricky to intervene in. They may have their own logic; and distinct versions of apparently shared practices can facilitate misapprehension across groups.20 Suppose you visit a monastery where the custom is to eat meat on the sabbath. There is a risk, if you decline, that you will be called a ‘Cathar or Papelard’ (that is, a heretic or an unorthodox extremist).21 Courson determines ultimately that the risk of being thought a Cathar does not outweigh the risk of scandal if you eat the meat (this example is analysed further below). The relevant point here is that being taken (incorrectly) for a heretic would again be a product of the social (mis-)construal of what such eating means. A similar case is that of a priest enjoined by the ‘king of the land, his bishop and the custom of the land’ to ‘bless the white-hot iron and water used in judgement’ when this was theologically problematic since it tempted God to intervene inappropriately (temptatur Deus). Here Courson answers, as he does in other cases, that one should follow the custom of the realm even when the practices are diabolical (diabolice inuentiones).22
Another set of potential misunderstandings arises when there is disagreement about a shared conceptual definition: for instance, the idea of ‘notoriety’, which Courson discusses in the context of fraternal correction.23He criticizes those ‘moderns’ (quidam modernorum) who think that something is not notorious unless ‘it has been made manifest by conviction or confession in law’.24 Courson’s preference is for a more ‘common-sensical’ approach, in which legal conviction or confession is not always necessary. Those are two of three ways someone can be condemned as notorious, but notoriety should also be sufficiently clear when ‘evidence of crime is so great that nothing can be hidden by subterfuge, as with the Corinthians’ [sexual] crime and the crime [in the Gospels] of selling doves in the church’.25 Nor is the problem simply definitional, since such disagreement leads (at least here) to argument about the structure of the social practice with which it is connected (fraternal correction).
The socially joined-up nature of these institutional practices is both a fact and a potential problem when groups have different versions of them. A number of external aspects seem important when Courson determines how such institutions should work. First, publicity may considerably alter how far an institution should be observed. Second, the status of given groups within a community may likewise inflect how practices should play out because of how the community will react subjectively, given that status. Third, this is at the same time an admission that the institutions with which one has to live are imperfect and sub-optimal. Let us look at some instances.
First, publicity can be determinative. Against the idea that the strong internalization of a vow is key to its efficacy, it is the publicly affirmed vow which can be compelled because it has been externally affirmed: ‘Thus if someone publicly avows continence orally, or that he will enter a cloister, the Church can compel him to fulfil such a vow, even if he had not firmly formed this in his mind, but rather the opposite’.26 The social solemnities of vows can enhance and strengthen their tightness because of the dependence of the solemnity of such vows on its wider reception: ‘We concede to this, saying that the solemnities in vows oblige those vowing to the vows’ fulfilment more since the solemnities intensify the effect of the vow and its nature more than a greater intention and make a vow-breaker more guilty’.27 This solemnity is inextricably connected to publicity and the establishment of the vow as a collective institution. Thus, vows to go on pilgrimage or crusade are taken ‘in the face of the Church before the altar or between the hands of a priest or abbot and such vows oblige more than private ones, as is proven by the contrary, that the transgression of such [vows] offends both God and the Church more than the transgression of a private vow. Therefore, we accept that a solemn vow obliges more than a private one’.28 The effect is a somewhat relativistic, or variable, position with respect to the institution (here vow-taking) in which publicity affects the standing of the vow.
Courson develops this by saying, second, that the standing of different groups affects institutions differentially: these are ad status institutions, so to speak. It is not quite that there are rules particular to specific status groups (though there are). It is rather that Courson thinks the way in which an institution should be expressed shifts in light of context-sensitive concerns about the status of the actors involved. The majority of these are clerical status groups, but there are other criteria or groups, especially those differentiated by intellect and power. These are nicely brought out when discussing liabilities to undertake fraternal correction:
Just as a man need not render his marital debt to his wife at all times nor conversely (because of many impediments which we might discuss elsewhere), so many reasonable factors may intervene because of which it is not necessary for a private person to be obligated to correct someone greater. Suppose someone is an imbecile, or a simple cloister monk, or a private person with no ability to approach a prince; if their life is infamous such that no one would receive them, if they are excommunicate, if they are held in prison, or prevented by innumerable other invincible reasons [then they could not]. However, if a learned person is in a cloister, and the subversion of the faith or Church threatens, then he is bound to break his obedience to the abbot because of his obedience to a greater, namely God, and set himself to the wall against heresy and for the house of God.29
There is a strong interest here in the socially determined effectiveness of how correction works. A private person lacks the authority to gain access to a prince. A learned person can correct by virtue of greater apparent insight. Both licences are ultimately granted by their audiences. The practicalities of applying a collective practice – fraternal correction – cannot be understood or implemented outside that shared system.
The institution or organization to which one belongs also has a role in determining what one should do – principally if that institution is the Church and, as a priest or prelate, one acts as a synecdoche for it. The exemplariness of one’s social status provides a feedback loop to affect how one should respond to a problem or apply a given rule in a specific situation. Suppose:
there is a custom in many churches that clerics and monks eat meat on the sabbath. You are learned and deemed a person of great authority among them. The whole city is scandalized to see so great a convent of clerics and monks eating meat on such a day when the common laity never eat meat on such a day. If you eat meat on such a day with the others great will be the scandal because of you, because you are of so high a standing among them that your eating really will increase the scandal. If you do not eat you will offend the abbot or your bishop and the whole convent of clerics and monks who will call you a Cathar or Papelard. What are you to do in such a case? [Further cases follow before Courson’s resolution.] … We say that the abbot with his convent and the prelate with his clerics sin gravely by scandalizing the neighbourhood by eating meat on the sabbath and thus are bound to abstain from such eating in order to avoid so grave a scandal. And if you are learned and a person of great standing among them you should not consent to your prelate in eating flesh with him on such a day to the people’s scandal, following the example of the apostle Paul, who said, ‘If my food scandalize my brother I will never eat meat’ [1 Corinthians VIII: 13].30
The thought experiment is nicely tailored.31 The protagonist has social standing but no official role (or, if it is assumed he is a priest, an inferior one). On this ecclesiastical axis his status is inferior to that of his host, who is, furthermore, literally at home in the customary setting he has established. His learned status nevertheless gives him a different axis along which to offer resistance to the dominant rules of the game in this particular community.
Scandal is an obviously interesting area within which to think about how wrongdoing is constructed. By its nature it is perhaps an extreme case: scandal is an ‘ex post facto’ institution. Like a joke, only your audience can tell you whether scandal is present: ‘So it is accidental whether the actual sin is scandalous, since if it is done before many people who are consequently led to consent to sin then it is a scandal. But if it is done in secret with no one else knowing then it will not be a scandal’.32 Publicity again matters, but so, too, does perception. At one level this can seem arbitrary; at another it is simply pragmatic. There is, of course, a risk, however, that perceived scandal, treated as an absolute bad, enables communities to resist behaviour or regulation which they may disingenuously claim undermines their faith. It is in such circumstances that the triangulations of the ‘triple truth’ would prove useful.
Such an attitude asserts absolute (if ambiguous) lines beyond which social practices must submit to external rules. At the same time the rules concede the imperfection of the world in which – as a priest, prelate, confessor – one intervenes and which is irredeemably social. This seems a third sub-text of Courson’s diagnostic operating assumptions. On the question of fraternal correction there may be an ideal rule, but in practice it should be applied discriminately: ‘It seems to us as we learnt it from the Chanter of Paris. That irrespective of whether someone is greater or lesser, free or servant, they are bound to correct their brother so that he is corrected with the zeal of justice, but not at all times or places, since there is a time for being quiet and a time for speaking, as Solomon says [Ecclesiastes III: 7]’.33 General rules can be very heavily qualified (as with the simple cloister monk above).
The degree, then, to which actual institutions have to accommodate themselves to the undesirable social dynamics of actual groups is a powerful feature of Courson’s analysis. An example which shows the messy literal intermixture of multiple concerns is the ‘very difficult question which we have often seen in practice’ of what to do when a prince or pseudo-prelate takes money to market as a melted mass which has been obtained from usurers through tailles and exactions and which is there re-coined and put back into circulation as legal tender:34 ‘It is asked, therefore, whether it is permissible for you or others to enter into market agreements involving this money’. Here Courson’s answer hinges on the actors’ knowledge or ignorance of these facts. An example illustrating the deformities arising from inappropriate intra-ecclesiastical group relations concerns ‘what a parish priest should do wanting to accuse a subject according to the prescribed form before a bishop who does not want to hear his accusation’.35 The ‘prescribed form’ is the admonition in Matthew XVIII: 15–17: first privately; second with witnesses; and – for the incorrigible – third before the Church. The problem here is:
if the bishop does not want to hear the proof but inclines to the accused’s side, stroking his vice or dissembling, either out of flattery or fear of the prince, or because of some temporal good which he hopes from him. It is asked here what that priest ought to do about the subject whose care he has, when he can see that he is a putrid member scandalizing his whole parish and making the whole neighbourhood return to the vomit of sin. If he gives up on him the whole parish will be corrupted by him. But if he excommunicates him on his own authority at once the other will appeal to the court of the bishop who connived in his sin, and if the priest goes against the bishop’s mandate in this or otherwise he will be excommunicated and thrown out of his position, yet if he goes with the opposing side of the bishop and the excommunicate all of his remaining flock will be scattered, meanwhile he has no recourse to the metropolitan or cardinal or pope, since they will better believe a bishop than a shabby priest [sacerdoti pannoso].
The admission of institutional fallibility is frank. Courson comes close, though, to acknowledging that his solution remains locked within the original problem. All he can suggest is, again, the threefold admonition of the bishop and then recourse to the metropolitan, legate or pope, notwithstanding his earlier scepticism: ‘for we are not investigating here what happens, but what ought to happen’.36
The sub-optimal world of which socio-religious institutions are a product is simply part of life. Sub-optimal, too, is the degree to which they can be tailored to that world. The art of such tailoring lies less, however, in the flat application of a rule and more in fitting it contextually and shaping it flexibly.37 Here internal disposition can matter. Thus, in general with genuine cases of perplexity, ‘when someone runs into such perplexities in fact [de facto] he should do whatever he can in a way that is always full of saving love and always choose the less undesirable of alternatives’.38 Take a church threatened with arson when you are inside and risk death. Here the question, in relation to your potential resistance, is whether you are perfect or imperfect, given that a summary execution for the criminal will follow if you cry fire. However, ‘if in fact you are imperfect it is licit for you to repel force with force and to call the neighbourhood in defence of the ecclesia and res publica. And then you have to strive in every way you can so that the person is not corporally punished, through your demonstration that you do nothing out of spiteful vindictiveness but only zeal for justice’.39
One could say this is a sort of medieval rational-choice theory in which achieving an acceptable but not optimal outcome is the order of the day, given the impossibility of the latter in a fallen world. However, understanding the correct relative value which should be placed on different goods was the underlying judgement, one it was crucial to make correctly, a process complicated by their interaction with one another.40 The Chanter concluded his chapter in the Verbum adbreviatum against those who ‘out of learning or crass ignorance’ soften the rigour of scripture by invoking Jerome on the unfruitful vineyard in Isaiah V and those who call the evil good and the good evil:
As Jerome says, it is no small error to rank the lesser good before the greater and more useful good. For a change [mutatio]in the order of merits changes the substance [forma]. Similarly, woe to those who call the greater evil the less evil, or the less evil the greater evil. I do not say this absolutely [simpliciter] but comparatively [comparacione] and with respect to the greater evil.41
Calibrating action in an imperfect world so as to choose the lesser over the greater sin is a non-trivial and continuously necessary matter.42
Counsel and Councils
In the light of the complexity and social sensitivity underlying Courson’s penitential thinking it is instructive to set it alongside another major area of activity, his acts as a legate and legislator. It is harder to find a more apparent contrast than with his actions at Morlhon (between Cahors and Rodez) during the Albigensian crusade against Occitan heresy in April and May 1214. As the eyewitness historian Pierre des Vaux de Cernay wrote:
There was in our army Master Robert of Courson, legate of the apostolic see … who had very recently come from French lands. Soon after his arrival our men advanced towards Morlhon and began to attack their enemies violently. The men of the citadel, seeing that they could not resist any more, handed themselves over to the legate to follow his every wish. Our men, at the legate’s behest, completely destroyed the castle. Nor should it go unmentioned that here we found seven heretics of that sect which are called Waldensians, who, at once being led to the legate, confessed to their disbelief [incredulitatem] fully and plainly. Seizing them, our pilgrims [peregrini, i.e., crusaders] burnt them with great rejoicing.43
Weeks later, on 25 June, Courson held a council at Bordeaux, where one of the canons revived the third Lateran Council’s 1179 legislation against heresy (cap. 27).44 Here Courson reiterated the penalty of excommunication against routiers, heretics and murderers as well as their receivers, supporters, teachers and defenders, in addition to sixty days of indulgence for those opposing them.45 As Baldwin noted, the tension between the nuanced discrimination of Courson’s counsel and the simple sharpness of conciliar precept could be striking.46
More interesting implications lie behind the basic explanation (different fora with different purposes produce different guidance). The Chanter and his collaborators’ generation began to think concertedly about the sorts of practical problems produced by the theological agenda emerging at the end of the twelfth century.47 The 1179 and 1215 Lateran statutes wanted to regulate all Christendom (and the difference between the statutes shows the growing ambition). Their resurgent ambition to scale up such attention did not, however, entirely converge with their ability to do so. Courson’s mise-en-scène often concedes this: a marginalized, isolated priest, lacking reinforcements, deep in enemy territory, having to make complicated cost-benefit decisions, sometimes at risk to his life. This was typical of the period in many places before the coming of the friars and their mass preaching, as far as that went. It was two years after Courson’s death before there were Dominicans in his home country, five before there were any Franciscans.48 If Courson’s Summa illustrates the hair-fine attention theologians would have liked to give perplexed parishioners, his legislation indicates the broad brush needed when working at scale. At Bordeaux Courson regulated across a fragmented France, indeed, in English-held Guyenne.49 There was a gulf between the vistas of such statutes and the smaller-scale counselling of concrete communities and individuals which Courson’s Summa takes as its horizon. Courson sat at the crux of an interesting imbalance between ecclesiastical ambition and ability. The sheer monumentality of 1215 encourages a temptation to suppose it marks the full winding-up of ecclesiastical mechanisms which could then run themselves (out?).50 However, if Lateran IV set parameters, there are no grounds for thinking it magically flicked the ecclesiastical lights on across Europe, in France any more than elsewhere. It has been powerfully argued that c.1200 marks the end of a long incremental process establishing the Church as the necessary physical space for European sacramental reification and religious orientation.51 Be this as it may, there remained much long, slow, repetitive work needed to bridge local practices and desires on the one hand and ecclesiastical expectations and aspirations on the other, none of which had foregone conclusions.52 The period may be better thought of not as a settlement terminating the Gregorian reforms but as a hinge, a time when many political actors were buttressing multiple and potentially conflicting modes of power with not-yet-clear consequences.53
Is there, then, a real contrast between the absolutes of Morlhon and the more nuanced approach of Courson’s Summa? Three points may be made. First, power or coercion mattered in the operation of medieval pastoral care, just as in more obvious coercive forms of legislation or military action. There are plenty of absolutes in the Summa. These were different means to similar ends. Nevertheless, the pastoral mode required a more empathetic engagement with local concerns and norms, even when theologians like Courson might disagree with them. Thus, second, while there is a tension between the Morlhon-Courson and the Summa-Courson, there is not a paradox. (In Courson’s view the heretics of Morlhon clearly broke the truth of life and doctrine after all.) What makes this tension interesting was that Courson stressed the difficulty of generally elaborating rules as a means of resolving the particular, bizarre and ‘de facto’ problems of human life. It may appear ironic that someone who drafted reforming statutes for provincial Churches, which in turn influenced ecumenical councils, took the more general position that greater elaboration of rules did not automatically equal greater elucidation of the problems they were supposed to address. However, finally, in the particular circumstances of this transitional period there may well be grounds for thinking that in his later legislative acta Courson was merely taking his pragmatic satisficing of moral dilemmas onto a new level. If, in due course, counselling such as the Summa envisaged was needed generally, at least now, faute de mieux, Bordeaux-type legislation would do.54
Systematic and Social Thinking
Had Sir Richard Southern finished his great summa on scholastic humanism and the unification of Europe it seems likely he would have cast his thirteenth-century narrative as one of ‘increasing difficulties encountered, especially from the middle of the thirteenth century onwards, by those who aimed to make the system complete in substance and operation’.55 In Southern’s account, central to these difficulties was scholars’ compulsion for both completeness and order, since ‘systematization requires selection, selection requires omission, and omission impairs completeness’.56 Historians of scholasticism need not agree with Southern’s chronology, nor with his suggestion that from 1200 (or even 1160) onwards developments in learning had only increasingly ‘marginal and often conspicuously deleterious effects on the conduct of government’ (though this certainly places Courson’s generation at an interesting juncture).57
It is, nevertheless, very interesting to think about Southern’s stress on completion and system in light of the ‘Biblical-moral’ group. He said little specifically about them, grouping the Chanter with Hugh of St Victor, Peter Lombard and other ‘representatives of a scene of intellectual development over a century, diversified in their contributions, but consistently developing towards a final statement of systematic truth. They were the heralds of the final consummation of all knowledge within the reach of human enquiry’.58 Did Courson’s Summa seek completion in terms of giving a ‘final statement of systematic truth’? At one level that position can be defended: Courson did work systematically through a range of penitential problems, dynamics and sacraments.59 However, the systematic nature of Courson’s thought is different. The ‘completion’ he sought was not so much in exhaustiveness of treatment or resolution as in a holistic acknowledgment that pastoral care and reform needed to mesh with the actual social systems which themselves constructed how communities understood those penitential and sacramental phenomena. Beryl Smalley characterized this biblical-moral group as being focused on the ‘art of the possible’ and systematic pragmatists would be a good way of describing them.60
The thinking of this particular generation and group is, therefore, better evaluated for its attempt to engage with its particular milieux and less as an unfulfilled anticipation of later trends. The rich detail Baldwin implied was compensation for the lack of structure in this style of thought arguably becomes central to its diagnostic method. God was in the detailed – and interminable – puta, esto, item through which Courson explored his precepts and problems. One of the striking, and engaging, things about the so-called biblical-moral scholars of Paris is neither their biblicalism nor their moralism, but rather their engagement with experience – the de facto. That engagement arises from the mediation they sought between actual individuals and social practices, reflecting on and wrestling with the systemic complexity of what they thought being a Christian should mean in early thirteenth-century France.
- For Courson at Damietta see Oliver of Paderborn, Historia damiatina, in Die Schriften des Kölner Domscholasters, späteren Bischofs von Paderborn und Kardinal-Bischofs von S. Sabina, Oliverus, ed. H. Hoogeweg (Tübingen, 1894), pp. 161–280, at p. 187 (quote); also Oliver’s Historia regum Terre Sancte, pp. 83–158 at p. 158; Register, at p. 287; and pp. xviii, xix, xxiv, lxxvii, clxv, clxxi, clxxxi; Lettres de Jacques de Vitry (1160/1170–1240), évêque de Saint-Jean-d’Acre, ed. R. B. C. Huygens (Leiden, 1960), p. 116 (#5); M. Dickson and C. Dickson, ‘Le cardinal Robert de Courson, sa vie’, Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du Moyen Âge, ix (1934), 53–142, at pp. 132–4. All translations are the author’s own unless otherwise stated.
- For Courson’s biography, see Dickson and Dickson; J. W. Baldwin, Masters, Princes, and Merchants: the Social Views of Peter the Chanter and his Circle (2 vols, Princeton, N.J., 1970), i. 19–25 and s.v. ‘Robert de Courson’; J. E. Sayers, ‘Courson, Robert de (d. 1219)’, ODNB <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/6956> [accessed 27 June 2018]. Courson figures importantly in J. L. Bird, ‘The construction of orthodoxy and the (de)construction of heretical attacks on the eucharist in pastoralia from Peter the Chanter’s circle in Paris’, in Trials and Treatises: Texts and the Repression of Medieval Heresy, ed. C. Bruschi and P. Biller (Woodbridge, 2003), pp. 45–61; J. L. Bird, ‘Paris masters and the justification of the Albigensian crusade’, Crusades, vi (2007) 117–55; J. L. Bird, ‘The wheat and the tares: Peter the Chanter’s circle and the fama-based inquest against heresy and criminal sins, c.1198–c.1235’, in Proceedings of the Twelfth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law: Washington, D.C. 1–7 August 2004, ed. U.-R. Blumenthal, K. Pennington and A. A. Larson (Monumenta iuris canonici, series C, Subsidia xiii, Vatican City, 2008), pp. 763–856; and E. Corran, Lying and Perjury in Medieval Practical Thought: a Study in the History of Casuistry (Oxford, 2018), passim with appendix. Courson’s thought on inquisitions and communities has been analysed in Sabapathy, ‘Some difficulties’, pp. 175–200.
- This esssay cannot explore the precise relationship between the Chanter and Courson: their approach is very similar and Courson cites ‘the Chanter’ repeatedly. The phrase ‘biblical-moral tendency’ was coined by M. Grabmann, Die Geschichte der scholastischen Methode (2 vols, Freiburg, 1909–11), ii. 476–501; for a critique, see M. J. Clark, The Making of the Historia scholastica, 1150–1200 (Toronto, 2015), pp. 16–22, 257–9. Clark’s account of Langton’s reception and refinement of his teacher Peter Comestor’s writings seems to parallel Courson’s relationship with the Chanter. See also M. J. Clark, ‘The biblical Gloss, the search for Peter Lombard’s glossed Bible, and the school of Paris’, Mediaeval Stud., lxxvi (2014), 57–113; M. J. Clark, ‘Peter Lombard, Stephen Langton, and the school of Paris: the making of the twelfth-century scholastic biblical tradition’, Traditio, lxxii (2017), 171–274.
- Baldwin, Masters, Princes, i. 58–9.
- J. Sabapathy, ‘Thinking politically with Innocent III: prudence and providence’, Thirteenth Century England, xv (2015), 115–36, at pp. 133–6.
- M. Douglas, Thought Styles: Critical Essays on Good Taste (Thousand Oaks, Calif., 1996). For a discussion of this style’s wider context, see Emily Corran’s article in this volume.
- Specifically, Paris, BNF, MS. lat. 3477. Baldwin argues that Courson’s work was ‘a final product of the school of Peter the Chanter’ (Masters, Princes, i. 23, 24–5, esp. nn. 66, 76). The question of distinct approaches by associated thinkers cannot be properly addressed here but see n. 42 below.
- For dating, see Sabapathy, ‘Some difficulties’, p. 181, n. 27. For the contents of the Summa, see V. L. Kennedy, ‘The contents of Courson’s Summa’, Mediaeval Stud., ix (1947), 81–107. BNF, MS. lat. 14524 and MS. lat. 3259 have been used. For editions and long quotations from Courson’s Summa see the works cited in n. 2 above; and G. Lefèvre, Le traité ‘De usura’ de Robert de Courçon (Travaux et Mémoires de l’Université de Lille, x. 30, Lille, 1902); V. L. Kennedy, ‘Robert Courson on penance’, Mediaeval Stud., vii (1945), 291–336, J. W. Baldwin, The Language of Sex: Five Voices from Northern France around 1200 (Chicago, Ill., 1994), appendix 1, pp. 239–45; J. M. M. H. Thijssen, ‘Master Amalric and the Amalricians: inquisitorial procedure and the suppression of heresy at the University of Paris’, Speculum, lxxi (1996) 43–65, at pp. 61–5; Corran, Lying and Perjury, appendix.
- This essay draws very loosely on N. Luhmann, Social Systems, trans. J. Bednarz Jr. with D. Baecker (Stanford, Calif., 1995).
- Though Baldwin was more interested in their social commentary, Masters, Princes necessarily treats them as a generation. For their successors, see S. M. Young, Scholarly Community at the Early University of Paris: Theologians, Education and Society, 1215–1248 (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, Cambridge, 2014); and N. Gorochov, Naissance de l’université: les Écoles de Paris d’Innocent III à Thomas d’Aquin (v. 1200–v. 1245) (Paris, 2012). For complementary analyses of Courson as casuist on these themes, see Corran, Lying and Perjury, pp. 85–9, 97–8.
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 90rab (§ 26.2), corrected against BNF, MS. lat. 3259 fo. 113 vab. The Latin is not quite right here. My thanks to Antonia Fitzpatrick for discussion.
- Petrus Cantor, Petri cantoris parisiensis verbum adbreviatum, textus conflatus, ed. M. Boutry (CCCM, cxcvi, Turnhout, 2004), p. 337 on marriage laws (§ 1.51) (henceforth, Chanter, Verbum). For the theologians’ complex position on law, see further P. Buc, L’ambiguïté du livre: prince, pouvoir, et peuple dans les commentaires de la Bible au Moyen Âge (Paris, 1994), pp. 239–70; K. Chambers, ‘“When we do nothing wrong, we are peers”: Peter the Chanter and twelfth-century political thought’, Speculum, lxxxviii (2013), 405–26, at p. 424.
- For this and the previous quotation, see Chanter, Verbum, p. 514 (§ 1.77). Thomas of Chobham uses ‘institutum’ for practical human solutions to problems (e.g. covering the wine cup and altar and celebration of the eucharist indoors to avoid spiders and bird droppings in the wine (Thomas of Chobham, Summa confessorum, ed. F. Broomfield (Analecta mediaevalia namurcensia, xxv, Louvain, 1968), pp. 138–9 (A. 4 d. 2 q. 6.4)).
- Courson discusses the Chanter’s threefold structuring of the vow according to (1) what is fundamental to a Christian, e.g. baptism; (2) voluntary vows obligatory once taken, e.g. vows of continence, but some types of which may be dispensed with; (3) lesser third vows of necessity which can be dispensed with (BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fos. 79vb–80ra (§ 21.4)). See also Petrus Cantor, Summa de sacramentis et animae consiliis, ed. J.-A. Dugauquier (Analecta mediaevalia Namurcensia, iv, vii, xi, xvi, xxi, 3 vols in 5, Louvain, 1954–67), iii, pt 2a, pp. 200–6 (§ 224) (henceforth, Chanter, Summa).
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 80rb–80va (§ 21.7).
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 87ra–b (§ 25.4) and Chanter, Summa, iii, pt. 2a, pp. 375–7 (§ 319). Courson attributes the formulation to Jerome but this cannot be corroborated with the Patrologia latina database. For further discussion, see C. Nemo-Pekelman, ‘Scandale et vérité dans la doctrine canonique médiévale (XIIe– XIIIe siècles)’, Revue historique de droit français et étranger, lxxxv (2007), 491–504. Cf. its use by a subsequent generation of theologians in William of Auxerre, Summa aurea Magistri Guillelmi Altissiodorensis, ed. J. Ribaillier (Spicilegium Bonaventurianum, xvi–xx, 5 vols in 7, Paris, 1980–7), iii, pt 2, pp. 1020, 1026, 1029, 1030, 1033 (§ 3.52 on scandal). See pp. 221, 232 below.
- Chanter, Summa, iii, pt. 2a, pp. 377 (§ 319). There is a striking contrast with contemporary mendicant attitudes here. See Emily Corran’s chapter in this volume for a parallel discussion of the triple truth at p. 221.
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 90rb (§ 26.3). Cf. the more technical approach to perplexity in the very slightly later William of Auxerre, Summa aurea (between 1215 and 1229, probably by 1218), v. 16 (dating discussion), iii, pt. 2, pp. 1044–54 (§ lv, ‘de perplexitate’). For William see Young, Scholarly Community, ch. 3 and appendix.
- On institutions as human conventions, see the discussion of John Searle in the introduction at p. 428.
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fos. 88va–90ra (§ 25.15–21).
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 88vb (§ 25.16).
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fos. 91vb–92ra (§ 26.8–9).
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 78ra (§ 20.9).
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 78ra (§ 20.9) and fo. 79ra (§ 20.11) for the reference to moderns, also fo. 78rb–78va.
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 78va (§ 20.10).
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 79va (§ 21.3).
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 80vb (§ 21.9).
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 80vb (§ 21.9). The emphases are quite different to those analysed by Sylvain Piron in his chapter in this volume.
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 76va (§ 20.3), corrected with BNF, MS. lat. 3259, fo. 95rb–va.
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fos. 88vb and 89va (§ 25.16 and 21), corrected with BNF, MS. lat. 3259 fos. 111rb–112v.
- Such thought experiments seem distinct from modern ones. Modern thought experiments aim to reduce the question to essentials (e.g. Rawls’s veil of ignorance); these medieval ones aim to achieve a more textured set of plural complexities.
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 87ra (§ 25.3).
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 76rb (§ 20.2).
- For the quotations, see BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fos. 55va– 56ra (§ 12.1). See also Baldwin, Masters, Princes, i. 242–3.
- BNF, MS. lat. 3259, fo. 96vb (§ 20.7).
- This and the previous quotation can be found at BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 77va (§ 20.7), corrected with BNF, MS. lat. 3259, fo. 96vab. See also the case of the lord so powerful no one dare act against him and whose purgation would be popularly deemed a sham (Sabapathy, ‘Some difficulties’, pp. 185–7 (on § 25.22)).
- E.g. in the context of the poor foreigner seeking judgement from an individual (BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 87va (§ 25.7)). See Sabapathy, ‘Some difficulties’, p. 195.
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 90va (§ 26.4).
- BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 106ra (§ 30.5). See also the case of the psychopath in the woods: should an individual defend himself and kill him/her; or love, and not murder, this ‘neighbour’ (BNF, MS. lat. 14524, fo. 88va (§ 25.14))?
- Cf. F. Morenzoni, Des écoles aux paroisses: Thomas de Chobham et la promotion de la prédication au début du XIIIe siècle (Paris, 1995), p. 97.
- Chanter, Verbum,pp. 548–9 (§ 1.78).
- The Chanter and Courson seem neighbouring points on a spectrum which can only be sampled here. Robert of Flamborough’s Liber poenitentialis (between 1208 and 1215) acknowledges the importance of established custom (e.g. § 178), the role of publicity (§ 67) and the need for credibility to audiences (§ 108) but questions are treated more individualistically (e.g. on sexual relations with sisters § 65) (Robert of Flamborough, Liber poenitentialis: a Critical Edition, ed. J. J. F. Firth (Toronto, 1971)). Peter of Poitiers’s post-1215 Compilatio praesens tends to be more definitional than exploratory, but addresses a wider social nexus at points (e.g. § xxviii on confessors who fear to absolve knights who retain tithes; also esp. § li) (Peter of Poitiers, Compilatio praesens, ed. J. Longère (CCCM, li, Turnhout, 1981). In his Liber poenitentialis (pre-1191–1203), the older Alain of Lille (b. c.1120/1130?) stresses a moderating, medicinal approach, arguably bridging older approaches and newer ones (Alain of Lille, Liber poenitentialis, ed. J. Longère (Analecta mediaevalia Namurcensia, xvii–xviii, 2 vols, Louvain, 1965)). See also Corran, Lying and Perjury, pp. 88–90.
- Petri Vallium Sarnaii Monachi Hystoria Albigensis, ed P. Guébin and E. Lyon (3 vols, Paris, 1926–39), ii. 207–8 (§ 513).
- Conciliorum oecumenicorum generaliumque decreta. Editio critica, ii.i: The General Councils of Latin Christendom: From Constantinople IV to Pavia-Siena (869–1424), ed. A. García y García et al. (Turnhout, 2013), pp. 145–7. For such re-transmission as an active process by recipients, see D. Summerlin, ‘The reception and authority of conciliar canons in the later-twelfth century: Alexander III’s 1179 Lateran canons and their manuscript tradition’, Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, Kanonistische Abteilung, c (2014), 112–31.
- Foedera, conventiones, litteræ, et cujuscunque generis acta publica, ed. T. Rymer (4 vols in 7, 1816–69), i, pt. 1, p. 122.
- On judgements of blood at Lateran IV, see Baldwin, Masters, Princes, i. 190–1.
- In terms of broad pastoral responsibility there is a longer continuity: see S. Hamilton, ‘Penance in the age of Gregorian reform’, Studies in Church History, xl (2004), 47–73; W. H. Campbell, ‘Reconciliation in thirteenth-century England’, Studies in Church History, xl (2004), 84–94; W. H. Campbell, The Landscape of Pastoral Care in 13th-Century England (Cambridge, 2017); R. Springer, ‘Prelacy, pastoral care, and the instruction of subordinates in late twelfth-century England’, Studies in Church History, lv (2019), 114–28. In terms of theological concern with heresy, orthodoxy and thresholds of Christian literacy, the late 12th century does seem to mark an ambitious turn: N. Bériou, L’avènement des maîtres de la Parole: La prédication à Paris au XIIIe siècle (2 vols, Paris, 1998), i. 15–21.
- J. R. H. Moorman, Church Life in England in the Thirteenth Century (Cambridge, 1955), pp. 368–70. For their novelty, see The Historia Occidentalis of Jacques de Vitry, ed. J. F. Hinnebusch (Fribourg, 1972), pp. 158–63 (§ 32).
- O. Guyotjeannin, ‘L’intégration des grandes acquisitions territoriales de la royauté capétienne (XIIIe – début XIVe siècle)’, in Fragen der politischen Integration im mittelalterlichen Europa, ed. W. Maleczek (Vorträge und Forschungen, lxiii, Ostfildern, 2005), pp. 211–39.
- E.g. R. I. Moore, The First European Revolution c.900–c.1215 (Oxford, 2000), pp. 180–1, but cf. p. 174. For different models for thinking about the Church institutionally, see I. Forrest, ‘Continuity and change in the institutional Church’, in The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Christianity, ed. J. H. Arnold(Oxford, 2014), pp. 185–200; and Forrest’s ‘social church’ model as developed in I. Forrest, Trustworthy Men: how Inequality and Faith Made the Medieval Church (Princeton, N.J., 2018), outlined at pp. 4–6.
- D. Iogna-Prat, La Maison Dieu: un histoire monumentale de l’église au Moyen Âge (rev. edn, Paris, 2012), pp. 23, 401–2, 613–17.
- For an explanation of how this worked in England, see Forrest, Trustworthy Men. His basic argument is that the practical gulf between the episcopal Church and its localities post–1200 was bridged by a series of accommodations and liaisons between ecclesiastical authorities and local parish elites, but that it was these elites, which the Church could deem trustworthy, which were fundamental. For a complementary argument published as this chapter was completed, see J. M. Wayno, ‘Rethinking the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215’, Speculum, xciii (2018), 611–37.
- These issues are discussed in my forthcoming analysis of 13th-century Europe, The Cultivation of Christendom.
- For Innocent III’s attitude, cf. H. Grundmann, Religious Movements in the Middle Ages: the Historical Links Between Heresy, the Mendicant Orders, and the Women’s Religious Movement in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Century, with the Historical Foundations of German Mysticism, trans. S. Rowan (Notre Dame, Ind., 1995 [1961 edn.]), p. 50.
- As described on the hardback cover of R. W. Southern, Scholastic Humanism and the Unification of Europe (2 vols, Oxford, 1995–2001), ii.
- Southern, Scholastic Humanism, ii. 54.
- Southern, Scholastic Humanism, ii. 5. His argument was that the ambitions of government became too great, its literate elite’s pretensions unsustainable. Cf. R.W. Southern, Robert Grosseteste: the Growth of an English Mind in Medieval Europe (2nd edn, Oxford, 1992), pp. 270–81, 285–91. Southern seemed to indicate inconsistent chronologies of decline. See also Emily Corran’s comments about this style’s longevity in this volume.
- Southern, Scholastic Humanism, i. 190.
- Kennedy, ‘Contents of Courson’s Summa’.
- B. Smalley, The Gospels in the Schools c.1100–c.1280 (London, 1985), p. 115.
Chapter 8 (199-216) from Individuals and Institutions in Medieval Scholasticism, edited by Antonia Fitzpatrick and John Sabapathy (University of London, 09.25.2020), published by OAPEN under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.