Responsible Researcher

Dr. Christoph H.F. Meyer
Christoph H.F. Meyer

Phone: +49 (69) 789 78 - 166
Fax: +49 (69) 789 78 - 169

Research Project | Department II

Canon Law in German-Speaking Areas, 1350-1550

Since the 19th century the history of canon law has been the subject of legal historical investigation especially aiming at the sources and the literature as well as the institutions and the history of science. The legal development of the Church, which extended almost over almost 2000 years, has been the subject of irregular exploration. Traditionally research has focused on a "classical period" that commences with Gratian’s Decree (1140/45) and ends with the Clementines (1317) and the beginning of the Great Schism (1378). Within this period the focal point of research has been on the century between Gratian and the Liber Extra (1234).

The project, which focuses on the history of the science of canon law, takes up where the interest of most historians of canon law ends, that is, in the middle of the 14th century, and extends through to the Council of Trend (1546-1563). The period thus defined is sometimes termed the postclassical period of canon law. This designation already points to the difficulties this kind of research has faced when attempting to do historical justice to the late medieval science of canon law. This becomes quite obvious if one looks at the second volume of Johann Friedrich von Schulte’s "Geschichte der Quellen und Literatur des canonischen Rechts", which is still the best reference book. Apart from huge gaps and an at times confessionally distorted perception, the book suffers from a narrow perception of its subject, which are the result of the application of modern secular notions of law to the legal culture of the late medieval Church. Phenomena that are not perceived as juridical matters are – at best – cursorily treated as part of a "confessional jurisprudence", which is said to mix law and morality. What is lost sight of is not only that which is regarded as theological, ecclesio-political or otherwise "non-legal", but also the notion that there were multiple forms of normativity that all played an important role in the emergence of a learned legal culture north of the Alps.

On the basis of the current state of research, the project takes a look at the late medieval and early modern science of canon law in the German-speaking area, paying particular attention to the respective literature, its authors and its institutional contexts. Under the chosen approach, not only canon law titles in the strict sense will be taken into account but also theological and didactic works primarily dealing with issues that can be attributed to the field of ecclesial normativity. Likewise taken into account are those second and third line works that were meant for practitioners. These books, which are sometimes dismissed as "popular literature" (repertoria, abbreviaturae, etc.), are characterised by the fact that they were widely read and exerted a considerable influence. Looking at the literary genre, the author and the institutional contexts (e.g. a religious order or a university), facets of a more comprehensive picture of the late medieval science of canon law will emerge. In the long run research on the history of canon law will also produce deeper insights into the history of the jus romanum, i.e. the other great learned law in the German-speaking area.

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