Burchard's date of birth is uncertain but generally given as about 950.

He was appointed as Bishop of the German town of Worms when the town lay in great disarray and was a haven of crime. Long gone were the days that Charlemagne had made the town his seasonal residence.

Worms, today one of the oldest cities in the world, was on the precipice of destruction and abandonment.

Before undertaking the legal research and writing that would later make him famous, the Bishop took the dangerous decision to raise an army of knights under his Holy banner, and attack the bastion of the local Duke, believed to be the ringleader of local crime.

Burchard's militia won the day. The Duke was defeated, his castle forfeited and Worms has never looked back. Burchard moved in and rebuilt it as a monastery. Bishop Burchard also adopted a young boy of the Duke's household who later became Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II.

Burchard of WormsIt was after his military victory that he sequestered himself in a small hut in the forest near Worms and began the first of two great works in canon law.

The Collectarium

In Waitz' short biography of Burchard, the author writes:

"There is a pine forest two miles away from Worms which abounds in silver fir, and a muddy swamp winds around it on one side.

"In the middle of the swamp stands a beautiful hill to which the man of God commanded that he be transferred; and because he wanted to avoid the tumults of the world, he levelled the hilltop once the trees and bushes had been cut down. There he first built an oratory; then, once other buildings were completed, he constructed a magnificent cell.

"To this cell he withdrew after royal councils and conversations with the king, synodal cares, and the diverse rumblings of the world. There, putting all secular business behind him, he worked zealously with all his might in the service of God. Indeed, it was at this time that he labored not a little in this cell on his collection of canons. For he gathered together the canons into a single corpus ... but he did this not out of arrogance, but because, as he himself said, the rights of the canons and the judgments of penances had been utterly neglected and destroyed in his bishopric. He divided up this corpus or collection and distributed the canons over twenty books."

The Catholic Encyclopedia described his contribution to the law as follows:

"For the sake of uniformity in all church matters he drew up a manual for the instruction and guidance of young ecclesiastics. This is his well-known Collectarium canonum or Decretum, in twenty books, a compilation of ecclesiastical law and moral theology, drawn from previous similar collections, the penitential books, the writings of the Fathers, the decrees of councils and popes, and the Sacred Scriptures. For more than a century ... this was a widely used practical guide of the clergy, often quoted as Brocardus."

In reference to the comprehensive and widespread nature of his Collectarium, and in civil law jurisdictions, the term brocard is still used to refer to basic, trite or elementary principles or maxims of law.

At this juncture in history, canon law was in disarray; a mass (or mess!) of decrees issued since 306. There had been some attempts at consolidation but none as thorough as Burchard's 1008 Collectarium.

The influence of the Collectarium was not felt by the Church alone. Canon law had a significant place in the day-to-day lives of all controlling such areas as abortions and marriages, wills and estates, church property and employees, confessions and the prohibition of witchcraft.

The bishops were often retained as arbitrators of disputes or, more ominously, as stated in Burchard's 1014 Lex Familie Wormatiensis:

"... if anyone comes into the hands of the bishop for some crime, by the judgment of his fellows (i.e. peers), he shall be condemned by him [the bishop], together with his possessions."

The Collectarium was not a new collection of new law but, rather, a collection of existing canon law including, for example, the Old Testament.

In the last years of his life, the Bishop set out issuing an organized series of statutes that he hoped would prove popular beyond his jurisdiction at Worms. This latter document was called Leges et Statuta familiae S. Petri Wormatiensis.

He died on August 20, 1025.

The image above is of the statute of Bishop Burchard of Worms that adorns the outer yard of the Cathedral in Worms.

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