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A Pernicious Sort of Woman

A Pernicious Sort of Woman: quasi-religious women and canon lawyers in the later Middle Ages

Elizabeth Makowski
  • Book Info
    A Pernicious Sort of Woman
    Book Description:

    This book provides a thorough examination of the writings of canon lawyers in the late Middle Ages as they come to terms, both in their academic work and also in their roles as judges and advisers, with women who were not, strictly speaking, religious, but who were popularly thought of as such.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1622-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-xxxiv)

    How did late-medieval canon lawyers deal with a legally suspect, yet irrepressible, phenomenon of their age: the formation of quasi-religious womenʹs communities? How did they respond to the demands of colleagues, judges, and litigants to clarify the legal status of those pious women whose way of life lacked one or more of the attributes necessary to qualify them as ʹtrue religiousʹ? How did legal theory mesh with practice?

    These are questions which historians of medieval religious women have rarely asked, and then only with reference to specific quasi-religious groups: Charles de Miramonʹs study of the donati/conversi, which incorporates a sampling...

  5. Part I. Academic Commentary:: Lawyers Interpret the Law

    • ONE Attendentes and Secular Canonesses
      (pp. 3-22)

      Pope Clement V published his new collection of canon law on March 21, 1314. He called it Liber Septimus since it was a compilation of papal constitutions and counciliar legislation that had come into existence subsequent to the promulgation of the Liber Sextus by Pope Boniface VIII in 1298.¹ Less than a month later Clement V died and both the name and, to some extent, the content of his collection changed.

      Formal promulgation or circulation of copies of a new legal collection to the universities, especially to the preeminent law school at the university of Bologna, was fundamental to medieval...

    • TWO Cum de quibusdam, Ratio recta, and Beguines
      (pp. 23-50)

      The Constitutions of Pope Clement V, the last official compilation of medieval canon law to become part of the Corpus Iuris Canonici, contained what is arguably the most famous decree concerning the beguines. Known by its opening words, Cum de quibusdam, this enactment has been translated, in whole or in part, quite often, McDonnellʹs rendering, albeit without the canonʹs final clause, being the most often quoted in the secondary literature.¹

      Nevertheless, because of the questions surrounding its composition, the confusion to which its publication gave rise, and the work habits of the canonists who commented on it, there follows a...

    • THREE Cum ex eo, Sancta Romana, and Tertiaries
      (pp. 51-68)

      The indiscriminate persecution of quasi-religious women which sometimes took place in the years following the publication of Cum de quibusdam is well documented.¹ Whether as a consequence of local resentments, especially those harbored by secular parish clergy toward the friars who often supported such women, or as the result of the decretalʹs ambiguous wording, Clement Vʹs legislation proved a useful weapon against any and all ʺbeguine-likeʺ activity.

      A moving account of such undifferentiated harassment of quasi-religious women was written by the Franciscan chronicler John of Winterthur between the years 1340–47:

      When it was published, and, although poorly understood, stubbornly...

  6. Part II. Consilia and Decisiones:: Practical Application of Legal Theory

    • FOUR Panormitanus and the Inhumati, A Consilium
      (pp. 71-88)

      Founded by the mystic and reformer St. Bridget of Sweden (1303–73),the Bridgettines embodied the saintʹs unique vision of earthly renewal.¹ Although governed by an abbess, Bridgettine monasteries admitted a fixed number of priests and brothers to serve the daily liturgical needs of the sisters. In 1370, the monastery at Vadstena, established by St. Bridget herself, was given official recognition by Pope Urban V, and in 1379 Urban VI approved the Bridgettine rule. But on February 13, 1422, Pope Martin V issued a bull denying the right of the Bridgettines to establish any more double monasteries. The bull declared that...

    • FIVE Tertiaries, Canonesses, Beguines, and Case Law
      (pp. 89-113)

      Academic commentators on the canon law related to quasi-religious women insisted on a distinction between quasiand ʺtrueʺ religious based on the substantialia of monastic life. No matter how closely quasi-religious women resembled regulars they were not, strictly speaking, religious because they lacked the essentials, the substantialia, of monastic life: three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as pronounced upon formal profession into an approved religious order.

      Since the canonists often reiterated these distinctions between formal and informal pious practice, adding comments about deceitful beguines or unedifying canonesses, it is easy to regard their comments as just another assertion of the...

    • SIX The Cologne Defense of the Sisters of the Common Life
      (pp. 114-136)

      These are the words of Geert Grote (1340–84), impassioned preacher, visionary reformer, and erstwhile student of the canon law. Since he had spent a good part of his youth among law professors at the University of Paris, Grote might have drawn this unflattering portrait of canonists and civilians from life. He might just have easily, however, found his models in medieval literature, which abounded in invective against both types of lawyers.²

      But whatever Groteʹs diatribe may have lacked in originality, it made up for in irony. Although he had ceased to practice law after his conversion, Grote continued to...

  7. Part III. Assessment and Reassessment

    • SEVEN Medieval Lawyers and Modern Scholars
      (pp. 139-148)

      Quasi-religious women in the later Middle Ages had no clearcut canonical status. While this fact allowed them more freedom than nuns—religious women, strictly speaking—it also made their position within the community of Christians more insecure. Some quasi-religious women, like secular canonesses, had the weight of centuries of tradition to safeguard their way of life. Others, like tertiaries, had the benefit of overt papal approval of their modus vivendi. Still others, like beguines and the Sisters of the Common Life, lacked both and were therefore particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in ecclesiastical policy. For these women especially, the manner in...

  8. List of Manuscripts Cited
    (pp. 149-150)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 151-160)