Powers, Church and Holiness (M. Kaplan)

Powers, Church and Holiness (M. Kaplan)

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The history of the Byzantine Empire is little known to the general public in France, yet it is rich and fascinating. Among them, Michel kaplan, who republished in Publications de la Sorbonne twenty-seven articles from 1990 to 2010 devoted to the Church and holiness in the Byzantine Empire, under the title Powers, Church and Holiness. Essays on Byzantine Society. The opportunity to present the work of this great historian.

Michel Kaplan, specialist in Byzantine history

Professor of medieval history since 1988 at Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, where he spent most of his career, Michel Kaplan was also president of this university from 1999 to 2004. His State thesis was entitled Men and Earth in Byzantium of the VIe to XIe century: land ownership and use. He is the author of numerous reference works, some of which are "popular", such as All the gold of Byzantium (Découvertes Gallimard, regularly republished), and textbooks for higher education or competitive examinations (CAPES, aggregation). His first master in Byzantine History was Paul Lemerle (1903-1989), one of the greatest French Byzantinists, then he worked with Hélène Ahrweiler, another great name of Paris I. President of the CFEB (French Committee for Byzantine Studies) , Michel Kaplan specializes in economic history, mentalities and social behavior in Byzantium.

The book Powers, Church and holiness. Essays on Byzantine Society

We have here a collection of articles published between 1990 and 2010 which, according to their author, "Represents the essence of [his] scientific work relating to the history of the Church, the Byzantine monasteries and the phenomenon of holiness".

In this volume, Michel Kaplan explains the logic that enabled him to study Byzantine holiness without being a historian of religion. Through the study of society, he was able to approach hagiographic sources such as Lives of saints, then the question of the Byzantine monasteries, whose importance was as much religious as economic. This link between holiness, politics and society can also be seen in the fact that until the 13th century "Holy is he whose holiness is recognized either by the authorities or by the Christian people engaged in this direction by the high spiritual facts of the character disseminated by the hagiography". Other "Major social phenomenon", the cult of relics from which people seek miracles, with a phenomenon of pilgrimages, generally local. Michel Kaplan also studies in these articles the link between saints, holiness and space, concluding that "The sacred space [...] depends first of all on the type of asceticism", the organization of this space being more due to the hagiographer than to the saint, the relic being what attracts the pilgrims. It exists an "institutionalization of holiness" with a desire of the ecclesiastical and imperial hierarchy to exercise authority over the monks, and vice versa, the latter relying on the monasteries that have become "A real economic and social power". Yet it is ultimately the clergy who, according to the historian, have long controlled sacred spaces.

Based on the texts and the themes of his introduction, Michel Kaplan builds his collection of twenty-seven texts in six parts. First of all two articles under the theme "Rome and Constantinople", focused on the schism of 1054. The following three parts are devoted to the study of Byzantine holiness, including its relationship with the hierarchy and power, and to the 'space. The fifth chapter focuses on pilgrimages (always in connection with the saints). Finally, the last theme deals with monasteries and their economic and social importance.

Our opinion

Review of the recent work of an essential specialist in Byzantine history, Powers, Church and holiness. Essays on Byzantine Society is obviously essential to any lover of Byzantium. Anyone interested in the religious history (and links to power and society) of the Middle Ages may also find it useful to make comparisons with an often very different Latin West. On the other hand, the book, very erudite, cannot be recommended to a more casual audience or just curious about these subjects. For this, we will refer to other books by Michel Kaplan, such as All the gold of Byzantium, or the New Clio series, volume III of which has just been released.

- Mr. Kaplan, Powers, Church and Holiness. Essays on Byzantine Society, Publications of the Sorbonne, 2011, 643 p.

Video: Holy in Christ - Andrew Murray Full audio book (May 2022).


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