Suitable men to enter the episcopate in Late antique Gaul: ideal and reality

Sue Loftus

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Beside the complicated composition of military and political authority in the successor kingdoms in Gaul in the sixth century there was another power that regulated many of the lives of the community, that of ecclesiastical power. Much of the authority and the achievements of a Gallo-Roman bishop were dependent on his suitability for office. The defining characteristics a candidate was expected to have were found in contemporary church canon law. Canons referring to the requirements for episcopal office were frequent and often reworded and repeated at consecutive councils, indicating both the importance and perhaps the disregard for specific qualifications. This paper discusses both the perceived requirements for episcopal office and the men who were considered suitable and were eventually chosen. The discussion focusses on the period prior to the nomination and the election of the candidate to a bishopric. Evidence of the suitability of these men is demonstrated most clearly through a comparative study of canon law and contemporary narrative sources, hagiography, letters, and poetry. In the late fifth and in the sixth centuries the selection of a new type of man to episcopal office was complicated as a consequence of dwindling Roman power in the West and the subsequent establishment of the autonomous successor kingdoms. Career options became more limited. Aristocratic men who would normally have entered public office in the local or provincial Roman administration now chose instead to enter the ecclesiastical hierarchy, seeing it as an alternative career path holding comparable authority. But were they canonically suitable?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-46
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of the Australian Early Medieval Association
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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