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GRACEFUL17: Global Governance, Local Dynamics: Transnational Regimes of Grace in the Roman Dataria Apostolica (17th Century)

The Project

How do global systems of governance operate? How do universalist beliefs work on the ground? And how do their operators, invisible bureaucrats surveying the world from their writing desks, tick?

Returning to the messy work floor of the early modern bureaucrat, GRACEFUL17 is working to establish an experimental platform to access, quantify, analyse and visualise the vast materials pertaining to highly resilient, bureaucratic regimes of grace that the papacy maintained through the Roman Dataria Apostolica. In particular, it focuses on  the papal provision of (lower and middling) ecclesiastical offices (benefices) across the four corners” of the early modern world.

Combining expertise from France, Germany and beyond, GRACEFUL17 builds on a partnership between the École nationale des chartes in Paris, the Goethe University at Frankfurt a.M., the University of Reims-Champagne-Ardenne and the two corresponding research institutes in Rome, the Deutsches Historisches Institut in Rom and the École française de Rome. This transnational partnership underpins the platform required for its eminently transnational research program. GRACEFUL17 aims to capture this fluid empire of grace by combining classical historical research on largely serial archival sources in archives of the Holy See with research tools furnished by the digital humanities.

Project Aims

The two hypotheses underpinning GRACEFUL17 are closely intertwined.

The first is empirical: Despite the persuasive force of mainstream scholarly narratives which view the early modern papacy as a largely Italian institution and Catholicism as a commonwealth of broadly independent dynastic or national churches, we have gotten the data wrong. Historians have failed to grasp the resilience and sheer complexity of early modern papal regimes of grace, which had been the hallmark of papal primacy in the high middle ages in modern scholarship as much as in contemporary commentaries.

The second hypothesis is that botched heuristics or curious anomalies emerging from previously unconsidered sources are seldomly just that. Scholarly myopia in this regard is shaped by the implicit understanding that, in the so-called Age of Absolutism, in which ruling dynasties and emerging “modern” polities dominated, the pulse of early modern history is better felt elsewhere.

Our proposal is that our “revisionist” approach must not lead back to top-down narratives of (papal) centralisation but rather to an outright reassessment of how early modern (including globally operating) polities, via glocally operating regimes of grace, reconfigured themselves on a daily basis–a high-stakes issue in a hierarchical organisation that claimed millenary and apostolic succession. This approach consists of tracing the local, bottom-up dynamics behind (transnational) governance as present in thousands of letters of supplication that were submitted to papal officials every year from an endless range of localities and communities across the globe–styled as “the periphery”–to the self-professed headquarters in Rome.

The closely knit project components of GRACEFUL17 work to combine general statistics from Roman registers with case-studies based on local archives; and an in-depth axis of research on papal provision of benefices,with a transversal axis of research into the full range of graces granted by the papacy.

Project Components

In a first step towards charting this vast, glocal empire of grace, GRACEFUL17 will turn to the graces granted by the Dataria Apostolica in the seventeenth Century.

A first axis of in-depth research focuses on papal appointment (or provision) to middling or lower church offices (rectorships or vicarages in the parishes, canonships at cathedral or collegial churches, and altars or other offices without care of souls) at the expense of local recruitment procedures. This papal office and its head, the Datario–originally the official charged with inserting the date on papal graces to grant them status as law–had risen to prominence in the papal machinery of grace in the course of the sixteenth Century.

While the Team Component (lead investigator: Bruno Boute, GU Frankfurt) aims to chart the dimensions of papal provision of benefices in Rome, the Monographic Component (supervisors: Olivier Poncet, Paris, and Birgit Emich, Frankfurt)–consisting of three doctoral dissertations that are envisaged on France, the Empire, and Iberian Worlds, respectively–aims to explore, via local case-studies, the eminently local dynamics that we believe are pivotal to the unfolding of global regimes of grace in papal provision to local church offices.

In his 1654 De jure datarii, the Liège curialist Amydenius proclaimed the Datario to be the personification of the Pontiff in all matters of grace. Accordingly, GRACEFUL17 will complement this focus with a transversal axis of research in the project component Companion to Papal Grace (Directors: Birgit Emich, Frankfurt, and Olivier Poncet, Paris; Lead Investigator: Bertrand Marceau, Reims) that aims to reconstruct the tangled involvement of the Dataria and papal provision to benefices with a wide range of intersecting forms of grace dispensed by the Dataria and other institutions. That a first edition of Amydenius’ book had been banned by the Congregation of the Index in 1653 illustrates how papal regimes of grace were pandora’s boxes of conflicting programs and interests – in other words, heuristic and hermeneutic treasure-troves for historians interested in the practical ordering, the constitutive fractions and the cohesive dynamics (including loosely regulated cultures of conflict) of glocal Catholicisms.

In the Digital Humanities Component (Director: Martin Baumeister, Rome; Lead Investigator: Jörg Hörnschemeyer, Rome) the project aims to aggregate and cross-reference large data-sets for experts as well as for a broad public interested in tangled continental and global histories. The long-term aim of this digital platform goes beyond supporting one single project; GRACEFUL17 is a pilot to create an open platform within the wider Digital Humanities “Data Community” bundling and connecting data-sets from related, past and future research projects. The archives of institutions of the Roman curia in their interaction with local churches and communities worldwide provide a suitable universe, a continental and global outlook, and an immense wealth and range of materials to do so.

Last but not least, the Training Component (Directed by Laura Pettinaroli, Rome) aims to provide additional support for our early career researchers in writing their dissertations as well as in orienting their professional careers afterwards.