Durham Cathedral Library B.II.2 is a homiliary — a book that has gathered together a selection of patristic (that is, ancient/late antique Christian) homilies. This particular selection of homilies is a collection put together by Paul the Deacon (720-799), who is more famous for his historical writings, The History of the Lombards and Historia Romana. Like our friends at Durham Priory, Paul was a Benedictine. A homiliary was used to provide guidance or even the actual form and content of preaching. All of Paul’s works were edited in 1861 in the massive Patrologia Latina series, vol. 95, alongside the Venerable Bede.
The beginning of the manuscript is lost, but where it now starts is the Feast of the Nativity — Christmas. After some Bible readings for the feast, on folio 2v we meet a homily of St Isidore of Seville (d. 636), often considered the ‘last’ of the Latin Fathers:
Natalis domini dies ea de causa a patribus uotiuae solennitatis institutus est quia in eo cristus pro redemptione mundi nasci corporaliter uoluit.
The birth-day of the Lord was instituted for the cause of a solemnity that was vowed by the fathers because on it Christ wished to be born corporally for the redemption of the world.
The passage from Isidore runs to a bit of the way along the second column of 2v, followed by Pope St Leo the Great whose homily runs to folio 3v, where another Leonine homily starts. After Leo, we have Christmas homilies from Fulgentius of Ruspe (1 homily) and Maximus of Turin (4 homilies). On 9r, the Feast of St Stephen (Boxing Day) has a homily from St Augustine of Hippo, and the homilies continue in order of the feasts of church year until Holy Saturday. The selection is not precisely what the edition of Paul the Deacon has, making many omissions, but also adding the Fulgentius homily.
The patristic foundations of medieval spirituality are quite clearly demonstrated in this manuscript; the authors included are Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo, the Venerable Bede (often considered a Father of the Church in the Middle Ages), John Chrysostom, Fulgentius, Gregory the Great, Jerome, Isidore of Seville, Leo the Great (more than anyone else, in fact), Maximus of Turin, Origen, and Severian.
Back to the subject of Christmas. As a scholar of Leo the Great, I am glad to see that he is represented twice in the Christmas homilies. This makes sense, since Leo’s great contribution to the history of theology was the establishment of two-nature Christology as the dogma of the imperial (later Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) church. This theology comes out most frequently in his Christmas sermons, where he demonstrates his skills as an orator.
As I wish you a merry Christmas, let me close with my ad hoc translation of the start of the homily on fol. 2v:
Dearly beloved, our Saviour was born today — let us rejoice! For there is no acceptable place for sadness where it is the birthday of life. Life which, with the fear of mortality consumed, brings us happiness from the promised eternity. No one is separated from participation in this cheerfulness; one happiness, common to all, is the reason — because our Lord, the destroyer of sin and death, just as he rediscovers no freedom in sin, so also he comes for everyone to be freed. Let the holy man rejoice because he approaches the palm; let the sinner be glad because he is invited to indulgence; let the gentile be animated because he is called to life. For the Son of God, according to the fullness of time which the height of inscrutable divine counsel arranged, has taken up the nature of the human race to be reconciled to its creator so that the inventor of death, the Devil, may be conquered through that which he conquered.
This is the Christmas hope that warmed the hearts of Durham’s monks in the long nights and cold days of medieval winter. May you and yours have a festive and joyous Christmas season as well!
I’m going to wander away slightly from the Durham library this week and look at a wonderful set of records from London’s National Archives. Despite the distance to London (it could take a week or more on horseback), Durham’s bishop Cuthbert Tunstall spent quite a lot of the 1530s and 1540s travelling back and forth to attend council meetings or other important events in the south, such as the arrival in England of Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves in December 1539. The travel must have been pretty tiring. Fortunately for him when he arrived in London though, the councillors had quite a few perks, including their own team of cooks headed by John Lawrence. Lawrence and his servants cooked for the council for over twenty years.
A couple of weeks ago, for #ediblearchives on Twitter, Dr Sean Cunningham of the National Archives shared some pictures of the bills for the lavish meals the councillors enjoyed.
For example, Lawrence bought and presumably cooked seventeen types of meat and birds on 5 December 1542 alone. The annual bill for the council’s food in 1538-9 clocked in at just over £248, which Tunstall and other councillors signed off on. They were less frugal in 1542-44, when the total bill for two years came to just over £577. In contrast the head cook received just 2 shillings and fourpence a day. That’s a lot of expensive food and wine!
These accounts are a lovely reminder that the council, ‘the kynges most honorable Councell’, did not just meet to argue about all of the business of the day from problematic court cases to petitions as well as border defences and Reformation policy, they also dined together. You have Thomas Cromwell, agressively anti-Catholic, signing accounts alongside the extremely conservative Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester and Tunstall himself. Henry’s council was often carefully balanced between conservatives and ardent reformers with very different ideas about what should be done. I do wonder if the lavish meals in part helped to keep the peace between them. It’s quite hard to have a shouting match while you’re all trying to eat lunch!
This is a shorter blog post this week, but one that comes out of a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago, when Alec Ryrie pointed out that there have only ever been two bishops of Berwick.
I’ve continued to think about Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall and the people he knew, particularly the monks and then the canons of Durham Cathedral. One of the most intriguing but also most enigmatic is Thomas Sparke, Tunstall’s suffragan bishop of Berwick as well as a monk and then canon at Durham Cathedral. As suffragan, Sparke acted as a deputy to Tunstall and could do things like ordain new priests or carry out visitations on Tunstall’s behalf. It probably seemed like a good idea to have a bishop who was constantly in the diocese during Henry VIII’s reign, when Tunstall was often in London, trying to grapple with religious changes and take part in Parliamentary debates. Sparke was first appointed in the aftermath of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1537, and although his role was suppressed briefly under Edward VI, he continued to be the suffragan at Durham until his death in 1572. In 2016, the role was revived for Bishop Mark Tanner, and there is now a second suffragan bishop of Berwick, this time in the diocese of Newcastle, which didn’t exist in Tunstall’s day. What then do we know about Sparke, for 444 years the one and only bishop of Berwick?
Sparke, like most of the senior monks at Durham, had studied at Durham College in Oxford in the 1520s and 1530s before taking leadership roles within the priory. He was prior of Holy Island for a time, before settling back into Durham, and becoming master of Greatham Hospital after the dissolution of the priory. Despite the fact that he had a doctorate in theology, in 1552 the duke of Northumberland wrote that he was neither ‘neither preacher, learned, nor honest, so pernicious that the country abhors him’. It may be a projection of Northumberland’s own prejudices onto Sparke rather than a true reflection of Sparke’s role in the diocese. Northumberland was evangelical and had high hopes for a more radical Protestantism in England, and clearly hoped that Durham was more reformed than Sparke. This was at the same time that Northumberland was trying to dissolve Durham diocese in order to claw back palatinate revenues for the king, so he was not inclined to be charitable to the diocese’s priests for other reasons! This impression is backed up by the only book of Sparke’s that we still have- a rather nice Psalter which is now in York Minster Library that he finally gave to fellow-canon John Tutyng in 1566.
It’s one of the 1508 printing of the Quintuplex Psalter from Venice, and the most interesting thing about it is that the editor, Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples, gives five versions of the psalms, with extensive footnotes. All of the versions are in Latin, but they are all slightly different and from different textual traditions. The point of having them all together is so that scholars could try to work out what the best and most accurate Latin version should be. Sadly, Sparke doesn’t seem to have annotated it himself. Almost all the annotations seem to be by Thomas Swalwell, but still it’s an interesting book for Sparke to own. It shows him as interested enough in the humanist projects of textual criticism and Biblical accuracy to own and probably use this psalter. Like Tunstall and many of Tunstall’s chaplains, Sparke’s book hints at a much richer intellectual life than we might guess from Northumberland’s grumpy comments about his learning in 1552. It also hints at the wider possibilities for reform, not Reformation, within the Catholic Church in the middle of the sixteenth century.
In short, the answer to the question, ‘Who needs canon law?’ is, ‘Everyone.’ Canon law is, as a practical discipline, the body of regulations (Latin: regulae or the Greek canones) that govern church life. As a realm of knowledge, canon law is the study of the ordering of relationships amongst human beings, clerical and lay, from bishops, popes, and kings, to monks, ‘ordinary’ lay people, and subdeacons.
It never really went out of fashion in the Middle Ages. Even before the strengthening of papal power and effective authority in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, everyone had an interest in canon law so as to know their duties and their rights, to seek an insight into what a just society might look like, a society ordered under the headship of Christ.
At Durham, William of St-Calais needed it to be able to maintain his own rights and position in the face of opposition from King William Rufus. Canon law enabled him to appeal to the pope and made him claim, in 1088, that an assembly of laymen was not legally competent to try him. He used the manuscript now Cambridge, Peterhouse 74, a copy of what scholars call Collectio Lanfranci, a canon law book brought over from Normandy with Lanfranc of Bec (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1070-89).
William of St-Calais’ successor, Ranulf Flambard (Bishop of Durham 1099-1128) needed canon law because he was involved in the disputes between Canterbury and York over whether or not Canterbury was Metropolitan or Primate over all of Britain or just over the South, and York thus Metropolitan in the North, independent of Canterbury. During his episcopate, Durham Cathedral Library B.IV.18 was written in Canterbury, and probably came here soon after — this contains a lot of canon law, including the Canterbury forgeries, forged documents that pressed Canterbury’s claims as Metropolitan of all Britain.
In the mid-1100s, William Cumin tried to have himself forcibly installed as Bishop of Durham with the support of King Malcolm Canmore of Scotland. Armies were involved. People died. His opponent was William of Ste Barbe, who won in the end not through force of arms but through canon law, as described in additions to Symeon of Durham’s history of the Church of Durham.
The monks of Durham also needed canon law, especially in the later 1200s when they came into dispute with Antony Bek (Bishop of Durham, 1284-1310), and could produce their own documents and cite procedure to press their against him.
Not only can we find the use of canon law in narrative sources, we need look no further than Durham’s manuscripts themselves. So far, the only canon law manuscript is a copy of the Liber Sextus of Boniface VIII, which is a systemisation of the decretals of Boniface VIII (Pope 1294-1303) that formed, along with five other volumes of decretals and Gratian’s Decretum, the Corpus Iuris Canonici.
Gratian’s Decretum, composed around 1140, is the most popular canon law book of the Middle Ages. Durham Priory had five copies. It also had a copy of Burchard of Worms (DCL B.IV.17), which was very popular before Gratian, as well as copies of the work associated with Ivo of Chartres (who comes between Burchard and Gratian). I won’t bore you with the gory details, but there are canon law books associated with Durham Priory from its (re)foundation by William of St-Calais in 1083 to the decretals of Hadrian VII, printed in 1527.
The big names of canon law from that era are all represented, and some of these manuscripts, especially illuminated copies of Gratian, are real treasures. My preliminary count has found thirty-three manuscripts of canon law, one printed book, and three volumes of Roman law.