The Josias is planning an online reading group to discuss Andrew Willard Jones’s new book, Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX. Jones’s book is perhaps the most important recent work on a subject of great concern to The Josias: the relation of spiritual to temporal power. Jones argues that the understanding of the relation of spiritual and temporal power elaborated in the teachings of the popes of the High Middle Ages has been imperfectly understood by historians. Historians have tended to place that understanding, and the conflicts in which it was elaborated, in the context of the narrative of the rise of the sovereign, national state. Jones argues that that narrative, in which conflicts between spiritual and temporal power in the Middle Ages are viewed as conflicts between the “secular” power of “the state” and the “religious” power of the “church” for “sovereignty” within society obscures the way in which medieval society actually functioned and understood its own functioning. In the Middle Ages, he contends, there was no such thing as “religion” or “the secular” in the modern senses of those words, there was therefore no such thing as “the church” in its modern sense of a voluntary association with purely religious aims, and there was no such thing as “the state” or the “sovereign” monopoly of power that characterizes that modern institution. Before Church and State is not only an insightful treatment of an historical period; it is also an important contribution to the proper understanding of perennial Church teaching on the relation of the two powers.
The reading group will begin discuss one chapter of the book a week. The discussion of the Introduction will start on Thursday, June 1st. To sign up, fill out the following form: