Historiography of Brian Tierney

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This is a historiographic essay on the life and work of Brian Tierney. He's a medieval historian who focuses on church and state issues. I choose him because I appreciated that he takes the church/state issue back to the medieval period and he "rocked the boat" a bit with his conclusions. He (along with Karl Jung) brought historical criticism to the catholic doctrine of Papal Infallibility. I enjoyed reading him and I feel like this was a good review overall. A good example of my research and skills.

Transcript of Historiography of Brian Tierney

BRIAN TIERNEY: A Life of InfallibilityA Historiographic Essay

Matthew Cromwell for HIST601 with Dr. Lawrence Baron December 16, 2010

BRIAN TIERNEY by Matt Cromwell I. Introduction In the field of the history of the tension between Church and State there are few Christian historians who do not focus on American history. Brian Tierney is one of the few. Tierney is a Roman Catholic medievalist whos influence both within and without the Catholic Church is significant. He has effectively shown the Middle Ages as being anything but dark as well as proven that the modern concepts of democracy and natural rights have their origins in the Middle Ages. That alone would make any professional academician satisfied with their career. But Tierney is also Catholic and has sought to enhance the Churchs understanding of the doctrine of papal infallibility. It is this goal that has dominated Tierneys career and works and has brought him for good or ill the most attention of all. This short historiography of Tierneys work is an attempt to illustrate his development and highlight how his perspective on papal infallibility has influenced every other major work he has published. II. Outlining Tierneys Career and Works Brian Tierney (b. 1922) began his career at The Catholic University of America in 1951 and then accepted a post at Cornell in 1959 where he has stayed until the present. He published several significant works that have each been reprinted and republished throughout his career. I will be covering four of these works: Foundations of the Conciliar Theory (Tierney 1955), The Crisis of Church and State (Tierney 1964), a two volume source book for undergraduates called The Middle Ages (Tierney 1970)(Tierney 1970b), and Origins of Papal Infallibility (Tierney 1972). Each of these works highlights different aspects of church organization in the medieval period, while also addressing the issue of papal power, each from a different angle. While he is most respected for his work in Foundations and Church and State he is most bedeviled by Origins.

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BRIAN TIERNEY by Matt Cromwell It is my belief that Origins of all his works, makes explicit what he had previously as well as afterwards only said indirectly. The controversy around this work was preceded by Hans Kngs Infallible? An Inquiry one of the primary pieces of evidence used against Kng in stripping him of his license to teach within the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, Tierney references the coincidence and distances himself from Kng in his preface by saying that his book was not provoked by Kngs but may prove to have some relevance for the discussion surrounding that controversy. It would be a valuable study in itself to compare the main arguments of Kng, Tierney, and even someone so central to 20th Century theology as Karl Rahner, and to extrapolate why Kng was dealt with so harshly in comparison, specifically when their conclusions are very similar. Of all of Tierneys works, Origins is also the only one to have met so much criticism that in 1974 Tierney engaged in a published duel with Father Alfons Stickler, the then prefect of the Apostolic Vatican Library (now Cardinal Librarian and Archivist of the Roman Church). Seven years later the controversy remained fresh enough that Tierney enters the fray with D.L. DAvary regarding his article A Letter of Innocent III and the Idea of Infallibility (DAvray 1981). That discussion continued through responses from each of them as well. I will elaborate on these discussions when covering Origins later; here I want to illustrate the significance of this work in the scope of Tierneys career. By claiming Origins as the full expression of Tierneys work, one can see a trajectory to his career which is illustrative of his methodology and approach to medieval history. Through examining his significant influences and the works themselves I hope to illustrate clearly that papal infallibility is Tierneys primary concern as well as show how he has adapted over the years.

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BRIAN TIERNEY by Matt Cromwell III. Tierneys Influences a. Walter Ullmans Influence on Tierneys Historical Method

Walter Ullman was a dominant and prolific figure in the realm of medieval political studies. His influence on the field cannot be overstated. As one of Ullmans many graduate students, Tierney has clearly been heavily influenced by many of his mentors methods and styles. The British Academy has written an extremely thorough historiography of the work of Ullman which is very revelatory of his influence in Tierneys work (The Proceedings of the British Academy 1988). Unfortunately, there is no such corollary historiography of Tierney himself in order to give more direct connections. But, in a short introduction to the Festschrift written in Tierneys honor, the Catholic University in America scholar Stephen Kuttner makes it clear that Tierney never shunned the painful task of tactfully criticizing his own mentor (Sweeney and Chodorow 1989) suggesting that though they share similarities, Tierney also marked his own path. While Tierney is focused on a different aspect of Medieval life and thought than Ullman his approach to his topic is surprisingly similar. There are three methodological aspects of Tierneys work that I believe he inherited from Ullman. First, Ullman believed the only way to understand a society is through its political theory and legal analysis. Tierney similarly approaches medieval church history through its lawyers: the canonists. Tierney receives both praise and criticism for this. Before his treatment of the canonists they were seen as auxiliary players. His work proves them as anything but. Secondly, both Ullman and Tierney attempt to illustrate their points through a long view of history. One of Ullmans most well-known works Medieval Papalism (Ullmann and Sutherland 1972) illustrates the variety of approaches to papal authority over several centuries. Similarly, each of Tierneys works span several centuries in order to show specific trends in thought and theological development. Each of them, whilePAGE 4 OF 21

BRIAN TIERNEY by Matt Cromwell covering long periods of time write in such a way as to earn the kind of praise that Ullman received from the British Academy regarding Medieval Papalism by calling it a masterpiece of lucid compression. Lastly, Ullman was extremely dynamic in the classroom and was well known for lifting his eyes from the chronology of the immediate topic to those distant horizons toward which he saw his subject leading (The Proceedings of the British Academy 1988). Ullman saw history as present-relevant. Some strict understandings of academic history look down on this approach as being to polemic, primarily because it may lend the historian to have a bias or prerogative before approaching their research. Tierney obviously disagreed with that assertion because his works were always very present-relevant as well. He took pleasure in illustrating how the medieval period has direct effects on our modern political and religious reality. This short paragraph illustrates his ability to make a historical point present-relevant: If any independent spiritual power could claim the right to determine what was sin it would soon challenge the right to declare what was law. It is so true of course. That is why Americans of various religious persuasions are constantly challenging laws that they perceive as legalizing sin.(Tierney 1987) But even further than his methodological approach, Tierneys focus may have been inspired by Ullmans work. Ullman was prolific concerning the orientation of power. His study Medieval Papalism helped firmly establish the concept that there were competing ideas of power being promulgated in the Medieval era. Ullman argued that power either ascends or descends. Ascending power rises up to authorities from the people, whereas descending power comes from authorities down to the people. Papal infallibility smacks of descending power and Tierney seems intent on advocating for a reorientation of power in the Catholic Church to one that ascends instead. This will be further extrapolated when his individual works are covered.

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BRIAN TIERNEY by Matt Cromwell

b. i.

Historical Influences The Second World War

Naturally, the second World War had a profound impact on every person who witnessed and survived it. Tierney contributed to one fairly abstract work on the origins of Nazi Germany; but otherwise he does not directly deal with the war. Regardless, his subject had clear implications for relevant issues surrounding the war. If there was ever a test of the tension between church and state it was on the question of whether the Catholic Church should intervene on behalf of the Jewish population in Germany. It was specifically Pope Pius XIIs lack of intervention and inconsistent statements regarding the Holocaust that created controversy during the war (Schoenberg 2010) as well as public backlash against the Catholic Church after the war. It is in that context that Origins was researched and published. So while the assertion that papal infallibility as an idea arose out of a specific historic context is controversial when seen in the vacuum of catholic doctrine, in the context of the war it rings much more of common sense. In this light a staunch catholic supporter might regard Tierneys work as siding with the Catholic detractors or to the general unrest of the public. ii. The Second Vatican Council

Origins also follows the second Vatican Council. This council had a profound impact on the life and face of the Catholic Church that resonates strongly still today. Several reviewers of Tierneys work comment how his Conciliary Theory and Church and State (works published shortly before or during the council) directly shaped discussions of canon law and church hierarchy in the sessio