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Andreas Bihrer / Hedwig Röckelein (Hgg.): Die "Episkopalisierung der Kirche" im europäischen Vergleich (= Studien zur Germania Sacra. Neue Folge; 13), Berlin: De Gruyter 2022, XII + 517 S., 6 Farb-, 2 s/w-Abb., ISBN 978-3-11-077665-2, EUR 149,95
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Rezension von:
Caterina Ciccopiedi
Dipartimento di Storia, archeologia e storia dell'arte, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milano
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Étienne Doublier
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Caterina Ciccopiedi: Rezension von: Andreas Bihrer / Hedwig Röckelein (Hgg.): Die "Episkopalisierung der Kirche" im europäischen Vergleich, Berlin: De Gruyter 2022, in: sehepunkte 23 (2023), Nr. 10 [15.10.2023], URL:

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Andreas Bihrer / Hedwig Röckelein (Hgg.): Die "Episkopalisierung der Kirche" im europäischen Vergleich

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In 2000, Timothy Reuter published an essay entitled "Ein Europa der Bischöfe. Das Zeitalter Burchards von Worms". In stark contrast to the historiographical landscape of his time, Reuter did not focus on individual bishops or dioceses but attempted to develop a theoretical synthesis with a geographically broad perspective. To the Europe "of kings and kingdoms" the English historian contrasted "a Europe of bishops", postulating an "entscheidende Wendezeit" (crucial turning point) around the year 1000 that led to an increase in the historical importance of diocesan ordinaries. This turning point would have been predominantly homogeneous (the assumption was that the form and function of bishops and episcopates in Europe around the year 1000 were similar or assimilable, although by his own admission some anomalies existed) and would have been accompanied by the development of a "gesamteuropäische Vorstellungen" (pan-European conception) of the bishop model. Reuter re-evaluated the episcopal office by removing it from its overly conditioning connection to kings, emperors and pontiffs, giving the prelates a prominent place.

Reuter's suggestions constitute an important background for the volume edited by Andreas Bihrer and Hedwig Röckelein, which publishes the proceedings of the Göttingen conference held in February 2020. In particular, the homogeneity theory of this turn is critically discussed and the call for a look that is not limited to individual case studies is taken up, and the distancing from a certain historiography - particularly German - that although it has subjected models such as the 'Reichskirchensystem' to criticism and re-evaluation (see in this same volume Steffen Patzold's lucid contribution that alongside a revision of the "Reichskirche" also questions the concept of the "Eigenkirche") tends to consider bishops in relation to their relationship with the court. To avoid this distortion, Bihrer proposes a change of perspective in his introduction: "vom Reichsbischof zum Diözesanbischof" ("from imperial bishop to diocesan bishop") placing himself in continuity with the work of the workshop "Jenseits des Königshofs - Bischöfe und ihre Diözesen im nachkarolingischen ostfränkisch-deutschen Reich (850-1100)' ('Beyond the royal court - bishops and their dioceses in the post-Carolingian East-French German Empire (850-1100)'), which took place in Kiel in 2016 and whose results were published in 2019. Consequently, the diocese constitutes the first and simultaneously most important field of action of the bishops and also the centre of research, thus following Patzold's call "Bischöfe als Bischöfe ernstnehmen'"(take bishops seriously as bishops). And it is in this direction that Italian historiography has been moving for several years now - albeit without a comparative or theorising intent - which has always devoted great attention to the diocesan level, rather than the court level (by way of example, one of the first volumes that can be cited is Vescovo e città nell'alto medioevo: quadri generali e realtà toscane, Pistoia 2001).

The common thread linking the essays presented here is the concept of 'episcopalisation': a concept that indicates a historical change that took place throughout Europe in a broad chronological context. In this sense, episcopalisation refers not only to the expansion of episcopal power, competence and authority, not only to an increasingly multifaceted ideal of the bishop, but to a universal and all-pervasive principle - a paradigmatic change. Processes such as centralisation, consolidation, standardisation, hierarchisation, professionalisation, differentiation, textualisation and institutionalisation can no longer be conceived without an episcopal component. The church - and therefore society - could no longer be imagined without episcopal influence; all aspects of church life had, so to speak, an episcopal superstructure, whose power was perceived everywhere. This would be a process that took place in different areas and at different times (in this sense one tends to assume from the introductory pages a departure from Reuter's homogeneity theory).

The idea of the episcopalisation of the church is then articulated in an ambitious ten-point questionnaire that the contributors should try to answer. These questions have been grouped into four sections with the aim of systematically ordering the individual case studies:

I. The space of the diocese (contributions by Christiaf Popp/Joachim Stephaf on the formation process of the diocese of Halberstadt in Saxony in the 9th century; by Dafiel Berger on the formation of the episcopate of Sigüenza in Castile in the 12th century; by Gerald Schwedler on the peculiar metropolis of Aquileia in the 11th century; by Klaus-Peter Todt on the patriarchates of the Middle East between the 7th and the end of the 12th century; by Immobili Warftjes on episcopalisation in early medieval Ireland)

II. The actors and their networks (contributions by Steffen Patzold on the relationship between bishops and diocesan clergy between the 9th-10th centuries; by Gefeviève Bührer-Thierry on the function of corepiscopi between norms and practice; by Julia Barrow on the institution of patronage in England in the 10th-11th centuries; by Johannes Pahlitzsch on the relationship between bishops and monasteries in Byzantium (10th-12th centuries); by Mia Müfster-Swefdsef on a biography of Archbishop Eskil of Lund)

III. Spaces of education and knowledge (contributions by Laura Pani with an extensive database on the books owned, exchanged, annotated by bishops between the 9th and 12th centuries; by Paweł Figurski with a rereading of the traditional view of the Polish church as a royal church through the analysis of liturgical books)

IV. The Reforms (contributions by Steven Vanderputten on the episcopal reforms of religious communities in the 10th century and their importance in the bishop's self-representation; by Stephan Bruhn on the action of the English bishop Leofric).

The ambition of the volume is that of a comparison on a European level and in this sense the two articles that go beyond this geographical scope should be better contextualised, although they provide excellent comparative insights: the one on the patriarchates of the Middle East (Todt) and the one on the dynamics between bishops and monasteries in Byzantium in the 10th-12th centuries (Pahlitzsch). The four sections offer a very rich but at the same time extremely varied and fragmented picture in which the process of episcopalisation cannot always be traced or declined as assumed by Reuter or Bihrer in the introduction. One thinks of contexts such as England (Barrow; Bruhn) or Ireland (Warftjes) in which the episcopal figure seems to have much less weight than in other contexts analysed here. In this sense, Röckelein's lucid concluding remarks are well understood: while identifying some common features that may fall under the concept of episcopalisation (which is significantly linked to the process of institutionalisation of the medieval church), it is the diversity and variety that are characteristic of the frameworks offered by the research presented here. This does not diminish the importance of the bishop's office - although Röckelein prefers to speak of "bishops in Europe" rather than of a "Europe of bishops" - nor does the lack of homogeneity of the cases detract from a research approach that may be a harbinger of important future results: to give centrality to the bishops without their action being read through the directorial or pontifical lens; to focus on the diocese as the prevailing sphere of analysis (without thereby forgetting that a bishop's actions were necessarily influenced by a number of factors, including external ones); to maintain as broad a view and as comparative as possible.

Caterina Ciccopiedi