Vergentis. Revista de Investigación de la Cátedra Internacional Conjunta Inocencio III (Dec 2015)

Iceland as a western country. How to classify medieval church law in the vernacular

  • Lára Magnúsardóttir

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 1, no. 1
pp. 255 – 268


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Iceland’s subjection to the king of Norway in 1262-64 was followed by a legislation in which a law book for Church and spiritual matters was composed in the vernacular for each country. Such law was implemented in Iceland in 1275 along with a separate secular law book in 1281. Both books remained in force until the middle of the 16th century. A church law that was separate, both from the secular law and that of Roman Church appears to set Iceland apart from other Western European countries where spiritual matters were governed according to the Latin law of the Roman Church. This has been viewed as an indication of constant rivalry between the religious and secular authorities, usually presenting the Church as an overreaching and even oppressive institution against which laity struggled. But a comparison of Icelandic Church law with the Latin Canon law shows that the Church in Iceland submitted entirely to the authority of the Roman Church and thus shows that the Icelandic Church law was, despite its obscure language, a specific representation of the law of the Roman Church. A Norwegian concordat from 1277 shows the king’s recognition of separate spiritual and temporal jurisdictions. This cooperation is readily apparent in later court cases.