Sunday, November 30, 2014

Letting Somebody Write Your History for You

The Restoration of Rome: 
Barbarian Popes and Imperial Pretenders.
Heather, Peter (2014-02-21).
Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

"The medieval Roman Empire of the popes was a different kind of beast altogether . The power of the papacy is in fact an almost perfect example – the ideal-type to use some jargon – of the sociological category of ideological authority. Bishops of Rome were able to exercise power exactly and only because a sufficient body of influential opinion across the broader European landscape bought into a set of ideas which said that Popes should exercise such power. The idea set started from Jesus’ words to St Peter in Matthew, but filled in all the gaps: that Peter had been the first Bishop of Rome; that his powers to bind and loose could be inherited by his successors; and that this pre-eminent religious authority could be turned into concrete rights to define doctrine, make law, and control top Church appointments. Because of these ideas, Bishops of Rome acquired wealth , legal rights, even soldiers, and could use them as additional means of projecting power. But in the papal case, these more usual constituents of imperial power were merely its secondary trappings. They extended but did not create papal power: that was the direct result of accepting the original set of ideological propositions." (Kindle Locations 6961-6969)

After reading a book like this, I have my doubts about whether it is even possible to write history. Peter Heather keeps your attention from beginning to end with his clever repartee, but in the end there's little to recommend the exercise if you don't buy into his basic premise that dominance based on some form of controlling power is what legitimizes authority and makes the world go round. Now that I have read the book, I am ready to lump it with all those war histories filled with diagrams of battle fields and time tables for cables which arrived too late to proffer the information which could have turned the tide and given Robert E. Lee the advantage, or whatever. The Civil War approach is minimalist and boring; Heather is just plain jaded.

In fairness to the author, he helped me with my late antiquity and medieval chronology. If I had ever heard of it before, I guess I had forgotten about the contribution which the Carolingian Renaissance made to saving the Latin literature of antiquity and prospering the cathedral and monastery schools. As a canonist, it was fun to run through his history of Roman and Canon Law. He has the wheels turning in my head about where we are at in terms of the papacy today, but he's no authority for me and says nothing of import about things dear to me, rooted in the Divine Will, rooted in the truth which comes to us from God in Jesus Christ.

What's the phrase? CAVEAT EMPTOR!


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