Categorising the Church II:
Clerical and monastic communities in the Carolingian World (8th-10th) /
Call for Papers
The Centre d’études supérieures de civilisation médiévale of the Université de Poitiers is happy to announce a workshop on 11-13 October 2018.
The main goal of this workshop will be to discuss the ordering of the Western Church between the middle of the 8th and the end of the 10th century.
The Carolingian era has seen by many as a time when the Church became increasingly institutionalised. One of the main aspects of this development, exemplified by the series of councils held between 816 and 819, was a (re)definition of the canonical and monastic orders and the requirement for each community in the realm to comply either with the institutiones canonicorum and sanctimonialium or with the Rule of Benedict. Despite the influential works of J. Semmler or R. Schieffer, however, the real impact of these proposed reforms is still an open question, and from this perspective, the very notion of institutionalisation can also be questioned.
An initial meeting in Vienna in May 2017 focused on the way the court in Aachen took the initiative in formulating its grand vision of the Church in the early ninth century and on the textual reception of this effort. Based on these findings, which will be published in the course of 2018/9, this second meeting will explore the impact of these proposals on the ground.
It will do so by focusing on individual communities and tracing their evolution between the 8th and the end of the 10th or the early 11th centuries. By taking a longer time-frame and scrutinizing the transformations (or lack thereof) of communities rather than merely look for the local reception of the proposed reforms, it should be possible to reexamine this vital period and analyse:
1) to what extent certain local practices and experiments may have influenced the rules formulated at a central level, in what was probably a dynamic process of communication involving individual communities rather than purely the impetus from the court ;
2) whether or not 816/9 indeed constituted a pivotal moment in the history of the organisation of the Church and of ecclesiastical communities, and if it was ever experienced as such. Moreover, focusing on individual communities will allow us to explore further what differentiated, in practical terms and not from a normative viewpoint, canonical clerics from monks, sanctimoniales from nuns, and the extent to which any real difference existed between such categories for contemporary observers. One should indeed refrain from looking at those communities or analysing them through the very framework of the reformers, who aimed precisely at imposing one interpretation of what a canonical cleric or a monk (and their respective lives) should be.
Case Studies: Institutional Changes Within Local Communities
A first line of research will be to identify what characterizes religious communities on a concrete and institutional level, and what evolutions, if any, can be observed between the 8th and the turn of the 11th centuries, without prejudging a rupture at a specific point in time.
Focusing on case studies (a single monastery, a diocese or a region, located either in the heart of the Carolingian world or in a bordering area), three themes will be central in gauging how communities were organised and conceived of themselves as institutions:
1) the way they, and their individual members, dealt with property (renunciation of private property or not), its management (in common or not) and its distribution; 2) the self-imposed limits to communal life; 3) the organisation and the contents of the liturgy.
The underlying issue is the degree to which a given community self-consciously adhered to norms set “from the outside” (for instance, as prescribed by the councils of 816/9) or if it would (claim to) follow its own rules. The goal would also be to identify a set of criteria to help characterize Carolingian communities and to account for their diversity, beyond “monastic” and “canonical” categories. What defined a religious community in the Carolingian and post-Carolingian era is not as obvious as the discourse of the court would let us think. There were canonical communities where clerics did not live together inside a claustrum nor share meals, except on a few occasions: in those cases, what made a community seems to have been the practice of a choral liturgy and the existence of common property. Even for monks the sense of community or communal life might not be as clear as one would think by sticking to the model provided by such written rules as the Rule of Columbanus or Benedict. On these problems, the questionnaire elaborated by C. Violante and C.D. Fonseca could be used as an analytic template (even if it was intended for a later period).
Discourse, Conflicts, Self-Representation
Another option would be to study the way communities conceived of themselves as institutions (canonical? monastic? something else?) and the rhetoric used to justify the adoption of new norms for living from one community to another, regardless of whether this happened in the immediate aftermath of 816-9 or later. In each case, a central question should be how a community understands and represents itself, and, if this self-understanding evolves in the course of such changes, what the vocabulary used to describe the community, among other things, is likely to reflect. To do so, however, later réécritures and their tendency to retrospectively “Benedictize” or “Canonize” communities and recounting of events often need to be deconstructed. Special attention will be paid to conflicts generated by the introduction of new rules, within communities as well as between them and their superiors.
A final, more methodological aspect of this workshop concerns the sources at our disposal for studying the transformations of religious communities during and after the Carolingian era. In addition to the obvious sources, such as chronicles, gesta or charters, what are the new insights that may grow out of hagiographical narratives, canonical collections, liturgical and musical handbooks? What about material remains – both archaeological, and those found within the manuscripts themselves? This last avenue of research proved to be particularly salient during the first meeting in Vienna, where it was made visible how manuscripts (rather than just their textual contents) could reflect canonical or monastic identities. The organisers of the Poitiers meeting would encourage people to continue on that path.
You are invited to send a proposal for a 20-minute paper by 8 June at the latest. In order to be considered, please send a 300-word abstract to firstname.lastname@example.org. Papers may be given in French or English.
Scientific committee :
 C. Violante et C.D. Fonseca, « Questionario », dans La vita comune del clero nei secoli xi e xii. Atti della Settimana di studio : Mendola, settembre 1959, vol. 1, Milan, 1962, p. 494-536