Schut, Law and custom in the quodlibeta of John of Naples, OP

Law and custom in the quodlibeta of John of Naples, OP

Kirsty Schut (Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto)

This paper uses a somewhat unusual source for legal history: the theological quodilbet. “Quodlibetal” disputations, presided over by a master of theology, were held on special occasions in late medieval universities and mendicant studia. These debates were open to a wide audience, and questions could be proposed by anyone, on any subject. This paper makes use of the quodlibeta of a prolific but under-studied author, the early fourteenth-century Dominican John of Naples (d. ca. 1348). John studied theology in Bologna and Paris, but spent most of his life teaching at the Neopolitan studium of San Domenico, and was closely associated with the Angevin rulers of Naples, particularly Robert ‘the Wise’. His thirteen quodlibeta, comprising over 300 questions, provide a valuable window into intellectual life in Southern Italy during the first half of the fourteenth century. I will be examining a cluster of John’s quodlibetal questions on legal matters. Several concern inheritance or parental authority: Do all children deserve to inherit an equal portion of their parents’ goods? Can a father who catches his daughter in the act of adultery lawfully kill her and her lover? Others are more abstract: Can the Ten Commandments be overridden by custom? Can they be subject to dispensations? An overarching theme in John’s quodlibeta is the interaction of custom with natural and, to a lesser extent, canon and civil law. While he is sympathetic to the principle that well-entrenched customs may become law, John employs a legal hierarchy that places the precepts of natural law firmly above all others. In doing so, he is also promoting a social hierarchy that gives theologians, with their specialized knowledge of natural law, a unique position of power, able to judge the rightness of the decrees of jurists, princes, and popes.