Philippa Byrne
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Twelfth-century models of justice and mercy
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This chapter argues that the key to understanding judgment in this period is to examine the evidence of exempla. Exempla and the exemplary tradition provided models which helped twelfth-century judges to think through the act of judgment, realise what was at stake and identify common mistakes – including historical and scriptural cases where bad judgment had led to the destruction of the whole polity. The chapter examines scriptural examples of great and failed judges (figures such as Moses, Samuel and Heli), as well as exemplary judges from classical history (such as Caesar and Cato). The exemplary figures introduced here were the building blocks of more detailed and more developed arguments about judgment, and the figures introduced here recur in later chapters. Finally, the chapter argues that there was no clear distinction between the exempla taken from the Bible and those from classical texts. In both traditions one could find arguments in favour of strict justice and arguments in favour of judicial mercy. What mattered was not the texts a judge read, but the principles of selection applied to that reading.

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Justice and mercy

Moral theology and the exercise of law in twelfth-century England


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