Kirsi SALONEN, Jussi HANSKA. Entering a Clerical Career at the Roman Curia, 1458-1471. Series: Church, Faith and Culture in the Medieval West. Surrey: Ashgate, 2013. pp. 310. $134.95 pb. ISBN 978-1-4094-2839-8. Reviewed by Jonathan YEGGE, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
Salonen and Hanska present a very tightly wound set of arguments for a number of issues. The primary purpose of the work is to argue that the broader situation of western Christendom was not an anarchic and unruly state just prior to the Protestant reformation. On the contrary, they state that the situation of the Catholic Church in this period was one of general compliance with canon law and was in fact quite ordered.
Of concern is the question of why the time frame is so narrow, from 1458-1471. The reason is that this coincides with the papal reigns of Pius II (1458-1464) and Paul II (1464-1471), periods in which the documentation of clerical ordinations and petitions were documented with a decent attention to detail. Therefore, the authors were able to retrieve and translate very reliable historical sources. These sources are taken primarily from the Apostolic Penitentiary and the Apostolic Chamber, or the Camera apostolica. These sources provide the authors with a centralized cache of documents from which to analyze, rather than to attempt to make a portrait from random sources spread about western Christendom.
The text is divided into two parts, with Salonen providing case studies of appeals for absolution of defects, mostly from young students who sought to be absolved of their illegitimate birth as well as older deacons wanting to be priests for much the same reason. Part two is a compendium of applicants to the Roman Curia. The main question is 'Why Rome? Why not your local diocese?' In return, Hanska provides a few noble and a few ignoble examples of why one would seek ordination outside of one's home diocese.
The method utilized by both authors is specifically historical and social scientific, with the data broken down into region, clerical status and request. On this point, it is presented in the charts yet not so much elaborated on by the authors, that the majority of requests for absolution from the defect of illegitimacy came from contemporary Germany, or the Holy Roman Empire. What this alludes to is twofold – that the practice of concubinage was broadly practiced in Germany, but also, following Salonen in particular, that the postulants made the effort to secure an absolution and thus adhere to the rules of the Catholic Church. This evidence places into focus the conforming nature of the Catholic Church at the time and reinforces the authors' general argument for the orderliness of the fifteenth century church. This geographical data is not overly emphasized by the authors, unfortunately.
This work is suitable for very advanced undergraduates who are majoring in medieval studies, but is perhaps best suitable for graduate students working in the same area or in historical theology. Salonen and Hanska have written a very meticulous, well argued case for the state of the Catholic Church in the fifteenth century, pre-Reformation era. The most engaging sections are the particular case studies and the presentation of possible arguments for how and why the postulant requested certain absolutions. Fascinating and expertly argued.