Generating knowledge of premodern canon law

Research Project

During the premodern period, the law of the various Christian Churches was a central factor in the development of law in general, and therefore exerted a significant and lasting influence on Western legal culture. Whilst this is especially true for the canon law of the Catholic Church, scholarly interest has not been evenly spread across its more than two millennia of history. During the last 150 years, research has focussed on one particular period, namely the time between the late eleventh century and the Liber Extra (1234). Comparatively little work has been done on the development of canon law during the subsequent five centuries, large portions of which therefore remain relatively unknown.

This research lacuna is the project’s starting-point. It seeks to explore central techniques of canon law in the late Middle Ages and the early modern era, more precisely premodern approaches to the generation and application of the law of the Catholic Church. These include above all canonistic methods of using and interpreting normative texts. The project thus explores issues in not only the history of the science of canon law but also the history of canonical institutions, focusing on efforts and procedures for disseminating and applying ecclesiastical norms. In addition to its general epistemological interest directed towards the past, the project also addresses the question how legal historical knowledge of premodern canon law can be communicated to a contemporary audience.

The project puts sources of canon law sensu proprio into the context of diverse forms of ecclesiastical normativity, such as moral theology or the literature on the forum internum. Furthermore, didactic as well as pragmatic works present valuable insights into premodern canon law.

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