The changing role of the bishop in society: Episcopal translation in the Middle Ages

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Kenneth Pennington


Canon law, Pope Innocent III, Bishop, Episcopal translation, Middle Ages

Subject Categories

History | Medieval History


This dissertation examines the practice of episcopal translation in the Middle Ages. Theological and canonical writings, from the earliest years of the Christian Church through the medieval period, are analyzed to trace the origins and development of the canon law established by Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), a law which says that the "spiritual marriage" between a bishop and his diocese may be broken only by the pope. Case histories are analyzed to determine the circumstances under which translations actually occurred.

Before Innocent III there was no clear and consistent regulation of this practice. Numerous canons and decretals said that a translation could take place when it was "necessary or for the good of the Church," but often the lack of precision gave rise to controversies about who had the authority to determine whether these conditions had been met. An extensive sampling of evidence from contemporary correspondence and chronicles shows that bishops did not move in contravention of what they believed to be the ecclesiastical regulations, as has sometimes been proposed. Rather, whether or not a bishop moved to a new diocese was determined mostly by the nature of his relationship to the diocese for which he had originally been consecrated. Those bishops who found their identity principally in terms of their relationship with their people rarely moved to another see, but bishops who found their episcopal identity in terms of their relationship to the Church as a whole often did move to another, usually larger, see where they believed their particular skills and talents could be put to better use for the advantage of the broader Church.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.