Bishops, Clerks, and Diocesan Governance in Thirteenth-Century England

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In canonistic thought, the relationship of the bishop and the cathedral chapter divides into three categories: What the bishop can do in the name of the church; what the chapter may do without the consent of the bishop; and what the bishop and chapter ought to do together. The canonists limited both the bishop and chapter considerably in what they could do alone. Normally a bishop and chapter had to alienate property , to confer benefices and offices, to ordain priests and to judge cases in the episcopal court jointly.

One canonist, Johannes Teutonicus, asked whether the consent of the parish priests was necessary in some cases, a question that may have still been asked by recalcitrant conservatives in the early thirteenth century. In the late twelfth century Huguccio and Laurentius thought that in some cases parish priests ought to be consulted by the bishop and chapter. Johannes and the later canonists were not, however, inclined to let the parish priests share in the governance of the diocese. If the participation of the entire clergy in the governance of the diocese represented the old world a world of mimesis?

Electoral theory is particularly important for understanding the relationship of the person of the bishop and his territorial domain, his diocese. For centuries bishops had been local sons of the local church. Popes, however, began to claim the prerogative to appoint bishops to any diocese in Christendom.

Consequently, some bishops gradually became strangers in strange lands during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. They were no longer native sons; they were not even committed to a stable, monogamous marriage. We can see in the jurisprudence of thirteenth-century electoral theory a reflection of the old and new order of episcopal power.

In the case of papal elections the Church established and continuously reaffirmed the principle that a majority was needed to elect a pope. The double papal election of had demonstrated to the canonists the dangers of rejecting democracy. The papacy and the canonists quickly concluded that elections based on the principle of majority rule avoided schism and fostered stability.

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At the Third Lateran Council of a conciliar canon established the rule that a pope-elect must have the consent of a two-thirds majority in the college of cardinals. In the early thirteenth century Johannes Teutonicus propounded a theory of election that advocated a clear numerical majority in ecclesiastical elections. But Johannes was one of the last of the Old School. Until the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, most bishops were local men. Although Johannes was a fervent democrat in ecclesiastical elections, he was a committed local oligarch when an ecclesiastical corporation wanted to elect an extraneus.

Johannes may have been reacting to the increasing presence of foreign shepherds among local flocks. He believed that an extraneus could be elected only if there were no worthy candidates to be found locally, and only if the election were almost unanimous. Almost unanimous in this case means all but one. He believed that an extraneus could be elected only with great difficulty, and he believed that even the pope could not provide a bishop to an unwilling flock. Johannes rejected the constitutional structure of the church that was slowly evolving during his lifetime.

Johannes Teutonicus was in a minority.


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All the later canonists agreed that the cathedral chapter could elect an extraneus if the bishop had been elected by the maior et sanior pars. Johannes, the old conservative, conceived of the church as being a local institution, serving local interests, and controlled by local people. In general his ecclesiology emphasized local rights that were firmly located in the cathedral chapter. The bishop was the prince of an oligarchy. The canonists also considered the possibility that the bishop or a prelate might fail in his duties and obligations.

Johannes and the canonists developed the doctrine that when the prelate was negligent that his canons could make good his failure. Johannes Teutonicus wrote succinctly in his Ordinary Gloss to the Decretum that was read for centuries afterwards:. This chapter is an argument that if a prelate does not want or neglects to do what he ought to do, his subjects ought to rectify his failings and vice-versa. His comment to the conciliar canon underlined his point with a reference to a canon from the Third Lateran Council:. Therefore just as superiors remedy the defects of inferiors, so too inferiors rectify the failings of superiors.

He argued that clerics who are inferior or equal to negligent prelates can correct them solely on the authority of the conciliar canon. This authority is sufficient for all matters except those like the translation or deposition of bishops that require the authority of a higher prelate — in these cases the pope.

Nevertheless, and here Huguccio articulated a norm to which almost every jurist would agree for the next three centuries, when inferior prelates move to correct the negligence of superiors, they should seek the authority of higher prelates. The cathedral chapter became a larger part of ecclesiastical governance in the early thirteenth century. They quickly claimed the right to be represented by procurators and through these representatives to be voting members of local synods. Archbishops and bishops were not universally happy with the claims of chapters, and the issue was joined soon after the Fourth Lateran Council.

In the archbishop of Sens refused to permit representatives of the cathedral chapters in Sens to participate in a provincial synod. The pope supported their claim decisively in the decretal Etsi membra. He placed each person in that body so that the members constitute one body. Honorius instructed the archbishop and his suffragans that he intentionally wrote his arenga for them as an admonition.

The archbishop had denied representatives procuratores of the cathedral chapters admittance to comprovincial councils in which matters touching their interests were treated. The archbishop had defended his position in a letter to the pope. Honorius, however, did not find his reasons, whatever they were, convincing. We and our brothers the cardinals were in complete agreement that those chapters ought to be invited to such councils and their nuncios nuntii ought to be admitted to the business of the council, especially about those matters that are known to concern the chapters.

Further, Honorius concluded, the archbishop should follow the mandate of this decision in the future. The canonists immediately expanded the right to attend provincial councils by representatives of cathedral chapters into a more general right of persons whose interests were affected by the business of the council.

During the thirteenth century provincial synods included representatives of cathedral chapters as a matter of course. Etsi membra became a key legal justification that persons and ecclesiastical institutions had the right to send representatives to assemblies that dealt with issues pertaining to their interests and that they, through their representatives, had the right to consent to new legislation. Shortly after Honorius promulgated Compilatio quinta in , Jacobus de Albenga alluded to the fundamental but unarticulated principle that lay at the heart of Etsi membra , a norm that was decisive when the pope and his cardinals decided to support the canons and not their archbishop and bishop.

Jurisprudential norms of the Ius commune were powerful tools for shaping institutions in medieval society.

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Etsi membra is a splendid example of how a legal principle could inform a judicial decision and regulate the rules governing the calling of a council. Jacobus de Albenga saw the logical implications of the decision and explained that although lay persons were not normally invited to church councils, if the issues that were to be decided by the council touched their interests, they too should be summoned. Such issues could be matters of faith and of marriage. Although he limited lay participation, he expanded the scope of Etsi membra by applying it to the procedure rules that regulated disputes between a bishop and his cathedral chapter.

If the bishop and chapter disagreed about tithes the testimony of outsiders may be taken into account in order to settle the conflict. As Brian Tierney has noted many years ago:. The head-and-body metaphor could so easily be adapted to support any constitutional solution. Provincial councils were to investigate and judge these cases.

First Innocent distinguished between episcopal and provincial councils. He noted that only bishops of the province must be summoned to the provincial council that would judge these cases of irresponsible electors but that abbots, priests, and the clergy of the city should be summoned to episcopal councils. Innocent conceded that cathedral chapters ought to be summoned to provincial councils when matters that concerned them were treated. He completely ignores the earlier discussions from Jacobus to Vincentius about the rights of laymen, cathedral chapters, and others to participate in councils.

His vision of his Church did not include shimmering images of representation and consent. Hostiensis was in many ways the jurisprudential counterpoint to Innocent IV in the thirteenth century. Tierney has shown in great detail that Hostiensis had a much more nuanced conception of the corporate structure of the Church. Cathedral chapters were represented by procurators because it would not be convenient for the entire chapter to be present at a council. He also thought that laymen should be present when the council promulgated canons that touched their interests.


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They could not vote on the measures but they could listen to the proceedings—they could not judge or teach in the council. Laymen could seek justice for themselves or others, and participate in councils where matters of faith and matrimony were considered. They could not, however, be present when the council was conducting an investigation of clerical crimes. Two centuries after Hostiensis, Panormitanus, the great jurist and conciliarist of the fifteenth century, had no doubts about the enduring importance and force of Etsi membra.

He maintained that cathedral chapters can appear in a council represented by procurators. Others who must attend councils may not send representatives, but they may send a procurator if compelled by necessity. Panormitanus also argued that Etsi membra established that cathedral chapters should always be summoned to provincial chapters. When Panormitanus discussed the participation of laymen in councils, he framed the question around their presence at general councils. There were, he thought, a number of reasons why laymen could attend a general council.

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One reason was that they were invited. He then rehearsed the other traditional reasons why laymen could participate: matters of faith and marriage. Johannes had added that if they were only present to listen it was not necessary to invite them at all. They could hear about conciliar proceedings in sermons. Whatever Johannes may think, Panormitanus believed that laymen ought to be admitted to give counsel and to discuss matters, especially if they were learned. In the past the pope had summoned lay jurists and canonists not to listen but to give counsel.

He has also summoned kings and secular princes for the same purpose. The sense of the Church as being a body in which members all had individual rights and duties and to which all members had the right to consent to matters that touched their interests was still an important element of canon law in the mid-fifteenth century. After the Age of Conciliarism had past, the Church and canon law changed.

By the seventeenth century canonists no longer thought of the Church as an interdependent body. This is a singular text as one may scarcely find the idea expressed in law that chapters are summoned to provincial councils and that procurators of suffragan chapters may be present, since never or rarely do we read that they were present in councils. There is some evidence from Spanish councils, especially from Tarragona. Although Tellez found evidence that chapters were summoned to general councils, this right had been slowly taken away because it had not been observed for many centuries.

Perhaps the last great figure to look back on the tradition of representation for cathedral canons and laymen was the great scholar-pope, Pope Benedict XIV By training he was a jurist, and he wrote a learned, widely read and disseminated, and enormously popular treatise on all aspects of the diocesan synod while he was bishop of Bologna. Canons of cathedral chapters should be invited to provincial synods, but, he noted, they could not be forced to attend. The deputies deputati have, however, a consultative, not a regular vote on synodal matters. This restriction on their participation had been definitively established in at Salerno.

Laymen could also be summoned. However, Benedict reminded his readers of the wise admonition of Giacomo Pignatelli to all bishops. Cite Citation. Permissions Icon Permissions. All rights reserved. Issue Section:. You do not currently have access to this article. Download all figures. Sign in. You could not be signed in. Sign In Forgot password? Don't have an account? American Historical Association members Sign in via society site.

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