The Pope is universally known as the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church. But it is often forgotten that for much of the papacy's history the Pope was the most important judicial and legislative authority in western Europe.
The new exhibition at the Yale Law Library illustrates the Pope's legal responsibilities throughout history using rare books and medieval manuscripts from the Law Library's outstanding collection. It is curated by Anders Winroth, Forst Family Professor of History, Yale University, and Michael Widener, the Law Library's Rare Book Librarian. Winroth is one of the world's leading authorities on medieval canon law.
"In the Middle Ages, canon law (the law of the church) took center stage as a most sophisticated legal system, not only inspiring much secular law but also becoming recognized as the sole authority in several legal fields, such as the law of marriage, the law of just war, and the legal implications of oaths," said Anders Winroth, Forst Family Professor of History at Yale and curator of the exhibition. The books and manuscripts on display document how papacy has shaped areas as diverse as human rights, international boundaries, due process, and marriage law. Many of the legal rights that Americans take for granted, such as the presumption of innocence and the right against self-incrimination, are rooted in the decrees medieval popes.
(Picture: Yale Law School)