Research Project


Between Fate, providentia Dei and the Free Will: Investigations in Medieval Canon Law on the Basis of Selected Examples (700-1140)

Dr. Andreas Holndonner
Contrary to the modern world and its civil liberties the Middle Ages are commonly known for their lack of personal freedom. In a hierarchical society that remained extensively stable a man′s position was determined by birth. The remarkable stability of the medieval feudal society is not satisfactorily explained only by the power of the factual. One has to bear in mind that it was based on fundamental religious convictions. According to the beliefs of those days hierarchy on earth was only a reflection of the hierarchy in heaven: Every single creature - angels, archangels and respectively peasants, clerics, noblemen - held its own ground assigned by the Lord. Given these circumstances it attracts one′s attention, how insistently Christianity in special accentuated the free will of men. The main question of my project is to what extent people in the Middle Ages felt their deeds and decisions directed and controlled by a higher power (the christian Lord or ancient respectively pagan imaginations of fate) or to what extent they believed to be able to have actually a freedom of choice. And whether the journey through life was fixed, was there a way to predict it with the help of mantic practices? At first I′m going to investigate the reception and adoption of ancient Roman, Greek or even Germanic respectively Celtic imaginations of fate (fortuna, heimarmene, Lytir) as a possible intellectual fundament for further investigations of selected canonical collections of the Early and High Middle Ages (Collectio Hibernensis; Decretales Pseudo-Isidorianae; Burchard of Worms′ Decretum in libri XX; the works of Ivo of Chartres, Decretum Gratiani) on that issue.

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