Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York
 



Michael A. Vargas


"Settling a Dispute In Foro Penitentie in Thirteenth-Century Catalonia: Raymond of Penyafort's Experiment in the Rhetoric of Peacemaking"

Winner of the Loomie Prize for Best Graduate Student Paper, 1999

The committee was impressed by Michael's original research in the difficult sources of high medieval canon law, and his detailed and insightful analysis of an experiment in dispute resolution by Raymond of Penyafort, papal confessor, master general of the Dominican order, royal adviser, and one of the foremost lawyers of the thirteenth century. Raymond is a well known figure, but his prodigious writings on matters of law and penance have not been studied exhaustively. In the context of Raymond's career and penitential writings, the multiplicity of laws at the time, and the relation of penance and peacemaking in thirteenth-century society, Michael takes five documents recording the steps in the resolution of a dispute between Guillerma de Claremont and Ponce de Cervera over which should inherit the estate of Guillerma's deceased husband.

The dispute began in 1231 and had become an open feud by 1251, when its resolution required the intervention of Jaume I of Aragon-Catalunya, known as the Conqueror, and the canonical skills of Raymond. Michael's argument is that Raymond couched the resolution in the language of canonical penance for two principal reasons: to move the case to the episcopal court, but more importantly as an experiment in finding ways to bind the parties to the agreement. The particular problem he addressed was that thirteenth-century jurisdictions, whether secular, civil, canonical, feudal or customary, often overlapped, with the result that disputants could shop the parallel laws for favorable outcomes. By using a language in which the dispute became sin and its resolution penance, Raymond formalized the stages in resolution so that contrition or intention comes before the agreement, pride gives place to obedience, and satisfaction is personal and salvific. We can see how the penitential analogy allowed the parties to meet and talk peace without losing face. Perhaps it made possible the level of understanding, acceptance and willingness to compromise that could lead to a pact. If this were not enough -- when has it ever been? -- by moving the resolution to an episcopal court Raymond provided a forum and mechanism for enforcement.

Raymond's penitential method of dispute resolution was not repeated in later cases, and had no future. Perhaps the church's relative lack of coercive powers appealed to the disputants as a way to test the agreement and back out if unsatisfied. This may have been the compromise that smoothed the way, but it may also indicate, as Michael notes, the relative toothlessness of ecclesiastical courts and overused excommunications, which may have appealed to some but could not provide reliable means of enforcement. The paper was noteworthy for being accessible to non-specialists, even non-medievalists, while making points at a high level on a technical field.

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