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The final chapter completes the analysis, weaving together themes from previous chapters to investigate how the canons were used. Beginning with the papal deployment of the conciliar authorities, the chapter suggests an inherent flexibility: while the papacy would reaffirm the conciliar decrees in some circumstances, in others it would use them merely as guidelines. The chapter then turns to local and episcopal use of the conciliar decrees, showing that in some cases bishops followed the stipulations, while elsewhere they attempted to avoid, change, or interpret them. Finally, the use of the decrees by canon lawyers, both in the schools and in episcopal retinues, is considered: immediately after the council, there was no one way in which these lawyers treated and understood the decrees, and it was only with Bernard of Pavia’s canonical collection known as the Breviarium Extravagantium (ca. 1191) that canon lawyers began to interpret them as overarching, general stipulations. Overall, the chapter points to the plurality of ways in which twelfth–century clerics conceived of papal and conciliar power and authority, with both conciliar decrees and papal decretals being viewed with uncertainty as they became established legal precedents.
This Conclusion reconsiders the aims of the book – to investigate how the ideas that underpinned the canons were drawn together, and then what happened to the canons after they left the conciliar environment – and draws larger conclusions on the ability and authority of the papacy to rule in the twelfth century, as well as commenting more particularly on the role that conciliar canons played as legal texts in the eyes of contemporaries. Using the conciliar canons, the innately responsive nature of papal government in all its forms can be deduced; most of the canons concerned issues of deep contemporary relevance that had been brought before the curia in the decade or so before the council, or were commented on in the schools. The chapter ends by suggesting that whatever the papacy’s intention for the conciliar canons, their ultimate effects and the continued resonance of their stipulations were the consequence of a prolonged dialogue between popes and local clerics.
This chapter first introduces the 1179 Lateran Council and then situates it within the broader history of the papacy and medieval canon law in the twelfth century. It begins by outlining the events leading up to the council and its emergence as the resolution to a damaging schism between Pope Alexander III and Frederick Barbarossa. The chapter then provides a brief, accessible account of twelfth-century canon law and its relationship to papal government. The role played by the papacy and by local clerics in creating contemporary canon law is analysed, and an overview of current ideas and thoughts provided, including an – of necessity brief – interlude into the debates surrounding the appearance of the Decretum Gratiani in ca. 1140. The aim is to situate canon law in the history of Church government in the central Middle Ages, before moving on to discuss the nature and purpose of church councils and the twelfth–century legal theories upon which their authority rested.
Alexander III's 1179 Lateran Council, was, for medieval contemporaries, the first of the great papal councils of the central Middle Ages. Gathered to demonstrate the renewed unity of the Latin Church, it brought together hundreds of bishops and other ecclesiastical dignitaries to discuss and debate the laws and problems that faced that church. In this evaluation of the 1179 conciliar decrees, Danica Summerlin demonstrates how these decrees, often characterised as widespread and effective ecclesiastical legislation, emerged from local disputes which were then subjected to a period of sifting and gradual integration into the local and scholarly consciousness, in exactly the same way as other contemporary legal texts. Rather than papal mandates that were automatically observed as a result of their inherent papal authority, therefore, Summerlin reveals how conciliar decrees should be viewed as representative of contemporary discussions between the papacy, their representatives and local bishops, clerics, and scholars.
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