Peter D. CLARKE and Anne J. DUGGAN, eds., Pope Alexander III (1159-81): The Art of Survival. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate, 2012. pp. 452. $134.95 hb. ISBN 978-0754662884. Reviewed by Jeffrey MORROW, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ 07079
The first chapter, “Alexander ille meus: the Papacy of Alexander III” (13-49), is by Anne Duggan. She provides an overview of his papacy in the context of its scholarly historiography. One of her arguments is that Alexander III did not rule over the Church as an absolute monarch but rather sought help in his governing from others and that he was willing to work with rulers for the better of the Church. John Doran wrote chapter two, “‘At last we reached the port of salvation’: The Roman Context of the Schism of 1159” (51-98) in which he situates the Schism of 1159 in the context of the politics of twelfth century Rome. In chapter three, “The Empire and Schism” (99-126), Jochen Johrendt also tries to understand the Schism, but within the context of the politics of the Romano-German empire. Johrendt’s chapter is particularly useful in showing the complexities of Church-state relations, emphasizing how intertwined Church and state (empire) were, rather than as hard-and-fast rivals (125-126).
In the fourth chapter, “‘A city to be built for the glory of God, St Peter, and the whole of Lombardy’: Alexander III, Alessandria and the Lombard League in Contemporary Sources” (127-151), Edward Coleman surveys what can be discovered about Alexander III’s papacy from contemporary sources, and particularly for assessing the Schism’s impact on northern and central Italian regions. Brenda Bolton attempts, in the fifth chapter, “The Absentee Lord? Alexander III and the Patrimony” (153-180), to examine a contemporary account of Alexander III thus shedding light on how Alexander worked through territorial disputes, namely showing how his apparent “absenteeism” actually proved to be a means of continuing to organize the Church, via his diplomacy and attempts at reform.
In chapter six, “Alexander III and France: Exile, Diplomacy and the New Order” (181-201), Myriam Soria underscores the relationship between the papacy of Alexander III and state rulers, by focusing in on the France. The conflicts over episcopal appointments had to do with control and power within the local churches on French soil and elsewhere. In the seventh chapter, “Alexander III and Spain” (203-242), Damian Smith examines Alexander III’s relations with Spain, including the development of Spain’s Catholic military orders.
Katherine Christensen wrote the eighth chapter, “The Curious Case of Becket’s Pallium: Guernes de Pont-Ste-Maxence and the Court of Alexander III” (243-256) in which she fills in some gaps in the controversy surrounding the case of St. Thomas Becket and Alexander III by looking out evidence which has been neglected in the scholarly literature, including a useful appendix (254-256) with primary sources. In chapter nine, “Beyond Becket: King Henry II and the Papacy (1154-1189)” (257-299), Nicholas Vincent writes arguably the most riveting chapter in the entire volume, dealing with King Henry II’s complicated relationship with the papacy prior to, during, and just after Alexander III. Vincent does a good job moving beyond merely the situation surrounding St. Thomas Becket. One of the main points that he brings up is how, “Henry II himself, at the height of the Becket conflict, continued to admit the filial relationship between king and pope, spiritual son and father” (263), and did so even when he complained and was critical of Pope Alexander III. Vincent usefully clarifies the muddy situation of Church-state relations between Henry II’s England and the papacy: “the king’s desire in the 1160s was not to throw off papal authority altogether, but to reshape the means by which that authority was exercised in England” (286).
Jonathan Harris and Dmitri Tolstoy write the tenth chapter, “Alexander III and Byzantium” (301-313) in which they argue that the Byzantine empire was stronger in regard to their relations with Alexander III than previously suggested by contemporary sources. Moreover, as they write, “Alexander III’s relations with Byzantium should be seen as part of this continuing saga [of relations between Byzantine emperors and later popes who followed Alexander III] and not as a definitive end” (313). Thomas Madden writes chapter eleven, “Alexander III and Venice” (315-339) in which he explores Alexander III’s intervention into Venetian politics. Madden clarifies that in contrast to “feudal Europe” where “the relation between Church and state was bedeviled by the power held by ecclesiastical lords and the desire of secular authorities to manage that power,” in Venice these tense ecclesial-political “dynamics hard existed” (319).
In the twelfth chapter, “Alexander III and the Crusades” (341-363), Iben Fonnesberg-Schmidt writes about the crusades under Alexander III’s pontificate, highlighting how for Alexander these were “penitential campaigns” and focused these campaigns on the Holy Land, in contrast with some predecessors who marched into the Iberian peninsula, to northern Europe and the Baltics (362-363). Finally, in the thirteenth chapter, “Master of the Decretals: A Reassessment of Alexander III’s Contribution to Canon Law” (365-417) Anne Duggan examines the relationship between Alexander III and the development of canon law, showing how, contrary to earlier depictions, he was not a pope who “single-handedly” transformed “the legal culture of the Curia and of Latin Christendom” (365). One of the main issues she brings up to which he did make a contribution pertains to the marriage canon law of his time—a subject covered in over 150 of his decretals (387). She concludes by showing how some of his decretals were received by later canon law traditions in the Church.
This book is a must have for anyone interested in Alexander III, as it is the only comprehensive scholarly account of his pontificate. It will also prove useful for those interested in medieval relations between European rulers and the papacy, the development of Church law, and any of the volume’s many topics. Each essay is well-written, and all of them bring new or neglected information to the scholarly discussion, updating the status of modern scholarship on Alexander III.