Our project

Our project

NB: The english version of this website provides the description of the project and the people section with the contributor of this project. The rest of the website is only available in italian.

Founded in the age of liberal states, legal historical research has since its early days understood Medieval law as an essentially secular phenomenon, sharply distinguished from theological culture and based on its own disciplinary autonomy. This vision has neglected the fundamental presence of religion in the Western legal experience and conditions still today our ability to understand the interactions between law and religion, between legal normativity and religious normativity, making it more difficult for us to confront civilizations which have been in conflict with the West and are characterized by a pervasive and certainly not neutral presence of religion in their public life.

The end of Antiquity saw two great textual bodies emerge as the respective foundations of religious identity and normative tradition: Sacred Scripture and the imperial compilations of Roman law. In fact, ever since the first intersection between Christianity and the Roman Empire, the reciprocal influences between the nascent church and the empire were marked by the canonization of texts codifying the law and transmitting the word of God. Both compilations (the Theodosius Code and then the Justinian Corpus iuris, on the one hand, the canon comprising the Old and New Testament, on the other) require interpretations that clarify their meaning and make them usable in practice.

This consideration, as obvious as it may be at first sight, is ever more relevant today since it unveils just how unresolved are the questions relating to the problematic interaction between law and religion and the questions concerning the comprehension of authoritatively charged texts.  Alongside the question of interpretation (and the related issues concerning techniques, meanings, and modalities), the question of the “normativity” of the sacred text is also fundamental to understand what connections between law and religion have been and can still be. In fact, since early on Christian texts possess an inherent normativity, given how the Christian movement itself grows out of a highly legalized fabric, i.e. the Roman world. Moreover, the nascent church itself shows its willingness to support pastoral regulation, which provides for the constant control of the eye of the pastor on his community (epi-scopia) and the church is equally willing to support a prescriptive-authoritative regulation derived from positive regulation (decretals, conciliar canons, canonistic doctrine). In this dichotomy, the sacred text does not lose its normative character, which is centered on Biblical exempla and requires constant adaptation to reality through interpretation. Conversely, the secular legislation absorbs and encompasses (in its lexicon as else ware) a hallowed character both through the “sacralization” of the emperor-legislator (the heart of the sovereign is held by God in his hand) and through a process of often literal reception of Holy Scripture (for example, many Roman-barbaric and then Carolingian laws, as well as the Liber Augustalis of Frederick II, contain numerous quotations from the Old and the New Testament).  

Historical perspective certainly constitutes an irreplaceable key for understanding, not only the tensions of the past, but also the current tensions, between religious rule and juridical norm. No less important are the philosophical perspective, on the one hand, and the technical-juridical knowledge, on the other. An approach to sources free from the preconceptions that have often characterized the scholars of the past, brings out the richness and relevance of this comparison in the analysis of the role of law in contemporary society.

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