The Bible as a norm? The struggle for the law of the Church in the Controversy Literature at the time of the Investiture Contest, ca. 1050-1140.

Completed Project

The significance of the Bible to European legal culture is frequently cited in studies of legal history, but mostly when commenting on a dearth of adequate research on the connection. The object of this particular research project is the reception of biblical texts in the polemics of the so-called Investiture Controversy, because this controversy provided decisive impulses to the development of a scholarly European legal culture, which the literature treats as part of the Twelfth-Century Renaissance. The polemics – including tracts, mostly letters, (theological) discourses and debate poems – are products of the dispute between secular and spiritual power. These texts testify to the intellectual and normative range of Western debate culture at the time and are highly suitable as a research object. The period of interest extends from the second half of the eleventh century up to the Decretum Gratiani (around 1140).

A special characteristic of the polemics is the argumentation with authoritative texts, where the Bible is accorded a central role due to its status as the principal source of divine law and the predominant contemporary authority. No other text in European history was nearly so broadly received in the Middle Ages, touching as it did all literary genres and permeating intellectual life almost entirely. Still, how the polemics treat biblical authorities is under-researched. In reference to the key point of contention that drove the Investiture Controversy – the proper relationship between secular and spiritual power – the project examines how polemical authors of both sides engaged with the text of the Bible. Therefore a quantitative analysis of received biblical texts is of less interest than the biblical topoi invoked in the controversy. In this context, the canonicity of scripture, that is the authority of individual biblical books whose place in the canon was challenged, is a vital question. Likewise, the possibility of stratifying the books of the Bible from the Old and New Testaments hierarchically is also an important facet. It is reasonable to suppose that competing interpretations of and mediations on the most commonly cited biblical texts can be reconstructed, yielding greater understanding of the exegetical treatment of ius divinum. Such inquiry would also include how the form of the conflict shaped the development of law on the one hand and how competing interpretations of the Bible aected the increasingly professional textual analysis in the paradigm shift of early scholasticism on the other.

Recent research has examined many facets of the profound cultural changes since the mid-eleventh century. However, the relevance of the controversy’s polemics to the emergence of canon law as one aspect of this development has gone almost unnoticed in favour of pre-Gratian canonical collections. The research project promises new insights about the importance of biblical ideas in the conflict between secular and spiritual power as well as about the beginnings of canon law studies.

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