Les chansons de Perdigon by Perdigon; Chaytor, Henry John

By Perdigon; Chaytor, Henry John

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The fourteenth century thus appears to be that which it is, historically speaking: a period of transition, in which old and new intermingle, and the outlines of a future construction can be perceived. The attitude of a man who knows he finds himself at a moment of historic change is perhaps best expressed by the works of Francis Petrarch (1304–74). 1 It is obvious that the collective consciousness began to doubt the loadbearing pillars of the old order, which appeared to be about to buckle. Both nature and culture seemed to have betrayed late medieval man by failing to guarantee his survival.

In the thirteenth century, meanwhile, it was the popes who took it upon themselves in their official capacity to promote significant collections of laws: Gregory IX in 1234, Boniface VIII in 1298 and John XXII in 1317. The Church thus began to gather together what would become known, in an echo of Justinian’s great work, as the Corpus iuris canonici (the ‘Body of Canon Law’). The technical features of this very particular form of law, shaped by the specific demands of the Church’s pastoral mission, were those collected very adeptly by Ivo of Chartres, as recounted in the section above.

This model was provided by Roman law. During the early Middle Ages, Roman law had scraped by, donning the ragged clothes which befitted its forgotten status. Roman law became ‘vulgarized’, as Romanists call it, absorbing the simple, factual, effective traits of its social context and letting the high pinnacles of refined legal erudition fall into disrepair. To give an example: the most precious resource of Roman law, the fifty volumes of Justinian’s Pandecta, which held the treasures of classical legal scholarship, were unknown throughout the early Middle Ages.

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