Scandal of the Church, Prison of the Soul

The Problem of Bad Custom in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Canon Law and Practice

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Anthony Perron
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This article explores “bad custom” (prava consuetudo) in Latin-Christian church law of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Drawing chiefly on papal decretal letters and the statutes of local and regional synods, it discusses the theoretical debates over bad custom, how customs came to be regarded as evil, and what prava consuetudo meant in practice. While many usages were labeled “bad,” especially troubling were those that threatened clerical status by implying lay claims to authority in the church, blurring the distinction between laity and clergy, or humiliating the professed religious. The article also asks whether legal concerns over such collective behavior that brought scandal upon the church may have been provoked by a moral discourse over prava consuetudo as sinful conduct endangering the individual soul.

Contributor Notes

Anthony Perron's (ORCID: 0000-0002-2803-7134) research focuses on, among other topics, Scandinavia in the Middle Ages and the social history of church law in medieval Europe, particularly as it concerns local practice, notions of community in ecclesiastical jurisprudence, and the dead. He has contributed chapters to the Cambridge History of Christianity (2009) and the Cambridge History of Medieval Canon Law (forthcoming 2021). He has also published articles on medieval cemeteries in Dealing with the Dead, ed. Thea Tomaini (Brill, 2018), and The Fourth Lateran Council and the Development of Canon Law and the ius commune, ed. Atria A. Larson and Andrea Massironi (Brepols, 2019).

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