Canticum Cambrorum

Cambri tumultuosi expediti erant ad invadendae Marchiae opportunitatem; et hoc carmen, sive ab uno eorum compositum sit, sive opus cuiusdam Anglici, qui eos satiandi occasionem sumpsit, dat nobis pulchram imaginem animi in quo impediverunt.

Carmen hoc saeculo XIII est et invenitur in Bibliotheca publica Leidensi, MS. Vossius, Numero 104, folio 144, recto.

Trucidare Saxones soliti Cambrenses
Ad cognatos Britones et Cornubienses;
Requirunt ut veniant per acutos enses,
Ad debellandos inimicos Saxonienses.
Venite jam strenue loricis armati;
Sunt pars magna Saxonum mutuo necati,
Erit pars residua per nos trucidati:—
Nunc documenta date qua sitis origine nati.
Mellinus veredicus nunquam dixit vanum;
Expellendum populum prædixit vexanum.
Et vos hoc consilium non servatis sanum;
Cernite fallaces quorum genus omne profanum.
Prædecessor validus rex noster Arturus
Si vixisset hodie, fuissem securus
Nullus ei Saxonum restitisset murus;
Esset ei[s] sicut meruerunt in prece durus.
Procuret omnipotens sibi successorem
Saltem sibi similem, nollem meliorem,
Qui tollat Britonibus antiquum dolorem,
Et sibi restituat patriam patriæque decorem.
Hoc Arturi patruus velit impetrare,
Sanctus [qui]dam maximus, Anglum ultra mare;
Scimus festum Martis kalendis instare,—
Ad natale solum Britones studeat revocare.
Virtuosos filii patres imitantur;
Sic Arturum Britones virtute sequantur:
Quam probo, quam strenuo monstrant procreantur;
Ut fuit Arturus sic victores habeantur!
Regnabat Parisius potestas Romana,
Frollo gygas strenuus, cujus mens ursana;
Hunc Arthurus perimit, credit fides sana,
Testis tentorium sit et insula Parisiana.
Insanit qui Britones necat generosos;
Videtur quod habeat sic eos exosos,
Namque per invidiam clamat odiosos
Semper et assidue, quos audit victoriosos.
Ex hac gente iiijor sunt imperatores,
Arthurus, Broinsius, fortes bellatores,
Constantinus, Brennius, fere fortiores.
Hii monarchiam tenuerunt ut probiores.
Solum suum Karolum Francia præjectat;
Et Ricardum Anglia probitate jactat;
Paucitatem numerus major labefactat,
Virtutem regis quia quadrupla gloria mactat.
Istis suis finibus contigit regnare;
Illis duces, præsides, reges triumphare,
Quibus nullo merito se possint æquare;
Est quam regnare longe plus induperare.

Featured: Cambrica sagittarius, tertio decimo saeculo. Charter House Liber A, Public Record Office.

The Philosophy of St. Bonaventure On Creation

Then appeared the peripatetics, whose master and leader was Aristotle, and whom St. Bonaventure treats with some moderation during the calm period of the Commentary on the Sentences. At this time he is well aware that Aristotle taught the eternity of the world; now, as we shall see more fully later on, he considers that the doctrine of the eternity of the world is extremely hard to reconcile with that of creation; he does not believe then that Aristotle considered matter and form created by God out of nothing, even from all eternity: utrum autem posuerit materiam et formam factam de nihilo, hoc nescio; credo tamen quod non pervenit ad hoc.

Relying upon charitably interpreted texts, St. Bonaventure supposes that Aristotle considered the world as made by God from eternal elements. The philosopher’s error was therefore double, since it rested on the eternity of the elements and on ignorance of creation ex nihilo, but it had at least an advantage over Plato in not supposing that matter could ever have existed without its form. The error of Plato, which assumed God, matter and the idea in separation, seemed to him then more objectionable (multo vilior) than that of Aristotelianism which assumed God and a matter eternally perfected by its form: ideo et ipse etiam defecit licet minus quam alii. Later St. Bonaventure expresses harsher opinions about Aristotle, but yet he will never expressly deny that his God without ideas and without providence made the world eternally, of eternally existent matter and form.

So it clearly appears that those who of all philosophers came nearest to the truth yet failed to reach it. Now it is just there, at the precise point at which the skill of philosophers breaks down, that revelation comes to our aid, teaching us that all has been created and that things have been brought into being in the totality of what they are: ubi autem deficit philosophorum peritia, subvenit nobis sacrosancta Scriptura, quae dicit omnia esse creata, et secundum omne quod sunt in esse producta. Thus it is that the reason when better informed perceives and confirms with decisive arguments the truth that Scripture affirms.

For it is certain that the more a productive cause is primary and perfect in the order of being, the more profoundly its action penetrates its effects. In the case where the cause considered is the absolutely primary and perfect being, the action that it exercises must extend its efficacy to the total substance of each of its effects.

In other words, if God produces a thing, He can only produce it integrally, and His action necessarily engenders its constitutive principles, matter and form, at the same time as the compositum. Similarly, the less aid it requires for its action, the more noble and the more perfect is the agent. If then we consider the most perfect agent possible, his action must be completely sufficient in itself and must be exercised without recourse to any external aid. Now the case of God is exactly this; He is then capable, in Himself, of producing things without the help of pre-existing principles. On the other hand, God is perfectly simple; His essence is not divisible into particular beings; He does not extract things from Himself by dissecting His own substance; so He necessarily extracts them from nothing. In the same way, lastly, if God is truly perfect and absolute simplicity, He cannot act in a part of Himself; in each of His actions, it is His whole being that is concerned and comes into play; now the nature of the effect is necessarily proportioned to that of the cause; so just as the action of a being composed of matter and form can engender a form in a matter which is already present, so an absolutely simple being such as God can produce the integral being of a thing. Acting in all His being, His effect can only be being; the natural result then of the divine action is the bringing into existence of that which nothing preceded, except God and the void.

A second problem, and one inseparable from the foregoing, is the question when this integral production of beings can have taken place. The human reason, incapable of discovering with its own resources the true nature of the creative act, is similarly incapable of determining accurately the moment of creation. Either we know that creation consists in producing the very being of things, without employing any pre-existing matter, and so it is obvious that the world was created in time; or, on the contrary, we believe that the creator used in His work principles which were anterior to the world itself, and thus the created universe seems logically eternal. The kernel of St. Bonaventure’s argument on this point was always that there is a contradiction in terms in supposing that what is created out of nothing is not created in time. The idea of a universe created by God out of nothing and from all eternity, an idea which St. Thomas Aquinas considered logically possible, seemed to St. Bonaventure so glaring a contradiction that he could not imagine a philosopher so incompetent as to overlook it.

His thought, which he does not develop at length, although he states it with the greatest energy, seems here to follow St. Anselm very closely and to proceed from a vigorously literal interpretation of the formula ex nihilo. The particle ex, in fact, seems to him capable of only two interpretations. Either it designates a matter existing before the divine action, or it simply marks the starting point of this action, implies and establishes a relation of order, fixes an initial term anterior to the appearance of the world itself.

Now the word ex cannot signify a matter, for it here determines the word “nothing,” the very significance of which is absence of being, which could not therefore designate a material in which things could be shaped. It can only signify the starting point of the divine action and establish the initial term of a relation of anteriority and posteriority. It follows that to say that the world was created ex nihilo is either to say nothing or to say that the non-existence of the universe preceded the existence of the universe; that before there was nothing of the world and that only afterwards the world appeared; to suppose, in a word, the beginning of things in time and to deny their eternity.

Although this seems to have been the central and decisive argument in St. Bonaventure’s eyes, since it makes the eternity of a world created out of nothing seem contradictory, it is presented to us from the time of the Commentary on the Sentences flanked by other arguments of no less historical importance, based on the impossibility of the created infinite. It is easy to prove on this point how inaccurate it is to explain St. Bonaventure’s thought by his ignorance of the Aristotelianism of Albert and St. Thomas. For it is with the help of Aristotelian arguments and in opposition to Aristotle himself that he shows the impossibility of a world created from all eternity; better still he expressly refutes the thesis which St. Thomas was to believe supportable; St. Bonaventure therefore is fully aware of the position that he takes up, and he dismisses the teaching of which he is alleged to be ignorant on the ground of maturely considered principles.

In the first place, the eternity of the world contradicts the principle that it is impossible to add to the infinite; for if the world had no beginning, it has already experienced an infinite duration; now every new day which passes adds a unit to the infinite number of days already gone; the eternity of the world supposes therefore an infinite capable of being augmented. If it is objected that this infinite is so only, as it were, at one end, and that the number of days gone, infinite in the past, is finite in the present, nothing substantial is asserted. For it is evident that, if the world is eternal, it has already passed through an infinite number of solar revolutions and also that there are always twelve lunar revolutions to one solar; so that the moon would have accomplished a number of revolutions in excess of the infinite. So, even considering this infinite bounded by the present, and considering it infinite only where it really is so, in the past, we end by supposing a number larger than the infinite, which is absurd.

In the second place, the eternity of the world contradicts the principle that it is impossible to order an infinity of terms. All order, in fact, starts from a beginning, passes through a middle point and reaches an end. If then there is no first term there is no order; now if the duration of the world and therefore the revolutions of the stars had no beginning, their series would have had no first term and they would possess no order, which amounts to saying that in reality they do not in fact form a series and they do not precede or follow one another. But this the order of the days and seasons plainly proves to be false. This argument may seem sophistical from the Aristotelian and Thornist point of view.

If Aristotle declares that it is impossible to order an infinite series of terms, he refers to terms essentially ordered; in other words, he denies that a series of essences can be infinite if it is hierarchically ordered, if its existence or causality is conditioned from top to bottom, but he does not deny that a series of causes or of beings of the same degree can be infinite. For example, there is no progression to the infinite in the ascending series of the causes of local movement in terrestrial bodies, for superior movers are required, requiring in their turn an immobile first mover to account for them, but we can suppose without contradiction that this hierarchical system of moving causes exists and operates from all eternity, the displacement of each body being explained by a finite number of superior causes, but being preceded by an infinite number of causes of the same order. St. Bonaventure is not ignorant of this distinction and, if he does not accept it, it is not because he cannot grasp it, it is because it implies a state of the universe which is incompatible with his profoundest metaphysical tendencies. In St. Bonaventure’s Christian universe there is, in reality, no place for Aristotelian accident; his thought shrinks from supposing a series of causes accidentally ordered, that is to say, without order, without law and with its terms following one another at random.

Divine Providence must penetrate the universe down to its smallest details; it does not then account only for causal series, but also for those of succession. The root of the matter is that St. Bonaventure’s Christian universe differs from the pagan universe of Aristotle in that it has a history; every celestial revolution, instead of following indifferently an infinity of identical revolutions, coincides with the appearance of unique events, each of which has its place fixed in the grand drama which unfolds itself between the Creation of the world and the Last Judgment. Every day, every hour even, forms part of a series which is ruled by a certain order and of which Divine Providence knows the whole reason; si dicas quod statum ordinis non necesse est ponere nisi in his quae ordinantur secundum ordinem causalitatis, quia in causis necessaria est status, quaero quare non in aliis? St. Bonaventure refuses to admit not only causes but also events accidentally ordered.

The third property of the infinite which is irreconcilable with the eternity of the world is that the infinite cannot be bridged; now if the universe had no beginning, an infinite number of celestial revolutions must have taken place, and therefore the present day could not have been reached. If it is objected, with St. Thomas Aquinas, [Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, I . 46, 2 , per tot., where St. Bonaventure’s arguments are discussed point by point: ad 1 and 2 against his interpretation of ex nihilo; ad 6 against the argument “infinita impossible est pertransiri“; ad 7 against the impossibility of an infinite series of accidentally ordered causes; ad 8 against the actually realized infinity of immortal souls]—that to bridge a distance it must be traversed from one extremity to the other, and that, in consequence, one must start from an initial point which in this case is lacking, we shall answer: starting from the present day, we must necessarily be able to fix a day infinitely anterior to it, or else we cannot fix any one; if no anterior day precedes the present day by an infinite duration, then all the anterior days precede it by a finite duration and therefore the duration of the world had a beginning; if, on the contrary, we can fix an anterior day infinitely removed from the present day, we ask whether the day immediately posterior to that one is infinitely removed from the present day or whether it is not. If it is not infinitely removed from it, neither is the preceding one, for the duration which separates them is finite. So if it is infinitely removed from it, we ask the same question about the third day, the fourth, and so on ad infinitum; the present day will not then be further removed from the first than from any of the others, which amounts to saying that one of these days will not precede another, and that they will consequently be all occurring at the same time.

A fourth proposition incompatible with the eternity of the world is that the infinite cannot be understood by a finite faculty. Now to say that the world had no beginning is to say that the finite can understand the infinite. It is generally admitted that God is infinitely powerful and that all else is finite; it will be admitted further, with Aristotle, that every celestial movement implies a finite Intelligence to produce it or, at least, to know it; no doubt it will be allowed, lastly, that a pure Intelligence can forget nothing. If then we suppose that this Intelligence has already determined or simply known an infinity of celestial revolutions, since it has forgotten none of them, it necessarily possesses today the actual knowledge of an infinity of memories. And if it is objected that it can know in a single idea this infinity of celestial revolutions which are all similar to one another, we reply that it does not know these revolutions only, but their effects also, which are diverse and infinite, so that actual knowledge of the infinite must necessarily be attributed to a finite Intelligence.

The fifth and last impossibility which St. Bonaventure brings forward against the eternity of the world is the coexistence of an infinite number of given beings at one and the same time. The world has been made for man, for there is nothing in the universe which is not in some way related to him; it cannot have ever existed therefore without men since it would have had no reason for existing; now man lives only in finite time; if then the world exists from all eternity, there must have existed an infinite number of men. But there are as many rational souls as there are men; therefore there has been an infinity of souls. Now these souls are naturally immortal; if then an infinity of souls has existed, there exists an infinity of them in actuality also, which we have already declared impossible. And the evasions which are attempted in order to escape this error are worse than the error itself. Some suppose metempsychosis, so that a finite number of souls could pass through different bodies during an infinite time, a hypothesis irreconcilable with the principle that each form is the proper and unique act of a determined matter. Others suppose, on the contrary, that a single intellect exists for the whole human race, a still graver confusion, since it involves the suppression of individual souls, of last ends and of immortality. [This objection seems very strong to St. Thomas Aquinas and he hardly sees how the supporters of the eternity of the world can meet it, unless by supposing that the world has always existed, like the unchangeable bodies or the eternal Intelligences, but unlike corruptible beings such as the human species. Cf. Summa theologica, ad 8].


Featured: Saint Bonaventure, by Claude François; painted ca. 1655.

The Battle of Sempach

Robert Walser (1878-1956) is regarded as one of the most influential writers of the modern era whose work has had a wide impact. However, during his lifetime he was largely ignored and struggled with poverty all his life, which resulted in a mental breakdown in 1929; he spent the remainder of hus life in insitiutions and anonymity. His work was rediscovered in the 1970s. The Battle of Sempach was published in Berlin, in 1908. It describes the deed of the Swiss legendary hero, Arnold von Winkelried, whose self-less deed brought victory to the Swiss confederates over Austria at the Battle of Sempach.

One day, in the middle of a hot summer, an army column slowly made its way along the dust-covered country road into the Lucerne region. The bright, actually more than bright, sun glared down on the dancing armor, on armor that covered human bodies, on dancing steeds, on helmets and bits of faces, on horses’ heads and tails, on ornaments and plumes and stirrups that were as big as snowshoes.

Meadows with thousands of fruit trees spread out to the right and left of the gleaming procession, up to the hills that waved and looked like softly and carefully painted decorations from the blue-scented, half-blurred distance.

It was an oppressive heat in the morning, a meadow heat, a grass, hay and dust heat, for dust was thrown up like thick clouds that sometimes wanted to envelop pieces and parts of the army. The heavy cavalcade moved forward, sluggishly, ploddingly and carelessly; it at times resembled a long, iridescent snake, at times a lizard of immense size, at times a large piece of cloth, richly embroidered with figures and colorful shapes and solemnly trailed, just as ladies, especially elderly and imperious ones, are accustomed to trailing trains.

In the whole manner of this army, in the stomping and clanking, in this sober, beautiful rattling, there was a single “Because of me” attitude, something cheeky, something very confident, something overpowering, something lazily pushed aside. All these knights conversed with each other, as best they could through their steely mouths, in a cheerful exchange of words; laughter rang out and this sound fitted in perfectly with the bright sound made by the weapons and chains and golden pendants. The morning sun still seemed to caress many a plate and fine metal, the sounds of pipes flew up to the sun; now and then one of the many servants on foot handed his riding master a delicate morsel, stuck on a silver fork, up to the swaying saddle.

Wine was drunk fleetingly, poultry was eaten and non-edible food was spat out, with a light, carefree disposition, for it was not a serious, chivalrous war, it was a matter of punishment, of breeding, of bloody, mocking, theatrical things; so everyone thought; and everyone could already see the mass of severed heads that were to color the meadow bloody. Among the warlords were many a wonderful young nobleman in splendid clothes, sitting on horseback like a manly angel flown down from the blue, uncertain sky. Some of them had made themselves comfortable and handed their helmets to a defiant boy to wear, thus showing the open air a strangely beautiful face marked by innocence and exuberance.

The latest jokes were told and the latest stories of gallant women were discussed. Those who remained serious were considered the best; a thoughtful expression seemed to be considered indecent and unchivalrous that day. The hair of the young men, who had taken off their helmets, shone and smelled of ointments and oil and fragrant water, which they had poured on themselves as if they were riding to a flirtatious lady to sing charming songs to her. The hands, from which the iron gloves had been removed, did not look warlike, but rather well-groomed and pampered, narrow and white like the hands of young girls.

One man alone in the frenzied procession was serious. Even his appearance, a deep black suit of armor interspersed with delicate gold, indicated what the man it covered was thinking. It was the noble Duke Leopold of Austria. This man did not speak a word; he seemed completely absorbed in anxious thoughts. His face looked like that of a man who is being bothered by a pesky fly around his eye. This fly must have been his evil foreboding, for a perpetual contemptuous, sad smile played about his mouth; he kept his head bowed. The whole earth, as cheerful as it looked, seemed to him to roll and thunder angrily. Or was it only the trampling thunder of horses’ hoofs, as they were now passing a wooden bridge over the Reuss? In any case, something ominous wove eerily around the Duke’s figure.

The army stopped near the little town of Sempach; it was now about two o’clock in the afternoon. Perhaps it was even three o’clock; the knights did not care what time it was; for their sake it might have been twenty o’clock: they would have found it all in order. They were already terribly bored, and found every slightest trace of martial measure ridiculous. It was a dull moment; it was like a mock maneuver, the way they now jumped out of their saddles to take up their positions. The laughter no longer wanted to resound; they had already laughed so much, a weariness, a yawn set in. Even the horses seemed to realize that all they could do now was yawn. The serving foot soldiers went after the remains of the food and wine, drinking and guzzling whatever was left to eat and drink. How ridiculous this whole campaign seemed to everyone! This ragtag town that was still defiant—how stupid it was!

Suddenly the call of a horn sounded in the terrible heat and boredom. A peculiar announcement that made a few more attentive ears prick up: What could be there? Listen. Again. There it sounded again. Yes. And you could have generally believed that this time it sounded less far away.

“All good things come in threes,” lisped a cheeky joker. “Sound again, horn!”

A while passed. They had become somewhat thoughtful; and now, all at once, terribly, as if the thing had got wings and was riding along on fiery monsters, flaming and screaming, it began once more, a long cry: “We’re coming!”

It was indeed as if an underworld had suddenly been given the air to break through the hard earth. The sound was like a dark abyss opening up and it seemed as if the sun were now shining down from a dark sky, even more glowing, even brighter, but as if from a hell, not a heaven.

People were still laughing even now; there are moments when people think they should smile while they feel gripped by horror. After all, the mood of an army of many people is not much different from the mood of a single, lonely person. The whole landscape in its brooding, whitish heat now only seemed to make more and more noise; it had become the sound of horns; and now, as if from an opening, the heap of people who had been preceded by the call immediately threw themselves into the sound space. Now the landscape no longer had a contour; sky and summery earth blurred into a solid; the season, which had disappeared, had become a place, a fencing ground, a warlike playground, a battlefield. In a battle, nature always perishes; the cube alone rules—the fabric of weapons, the heap of people and the other heap of people.

The throng of people rushing forward, apparently heated, came closer. And the knightly band was solid; they seemed to have suddenly merged together. Men of iron held out their lances so that one could have ridden a break-carriage over the lance bridge without breaking it; the knights were wedged in so tightly and lance after lance stabbed forward so stupidly, immovable, unshakeable, just something, one would have thought, for a pressing, rushing human breast to impale itself on. Here a stolid wall of lace; there people half covered with shirts. Here the art of war, of the most innate kind; there people seized by impotent rage.

Then one and then the other, boldly, in order to put an end to this disgusting displeasure, rushed into one of the spearheads, mad, crazy, thrown down by anger and rage. Onto the ground, of course, without even having hit the helmeted and feathered lout of iron with his hand weapon, bleeding miserably from the chest, rolling over, his face in the dusty horse droppings left behind by the noble steeds. So it was with all these almost unclothed men, while the lances, already reddened by the blood, seemed to smile mockingly.

No, that was nothing; on the side of man, one felt compelled to use a trick. When confronted with art, art became necessary, or some high thought; and this higher thought, in the shape of a man of high stature, came forward at once, strangely, as if advanced by a supernatural power, and spoke to his countrymen: “Take care of my wife and my children, I will make a lane for you;” and threw himself with lightning speed into four or five lances, so as not to weaken in his desire to sacrifice himself, and pulled down several more, as many as he could grasp while dying, to his chest, as if he could not embrace enough iron spikes and press them against him, so that he could really sink into the throng, and lay on the ground and had become a bridge for people who stepped on his body, on the high thought that just wanted to be stepped on.

Nothing will ever again resemble such a smashing as now the light mountain and valley men, pushed and lifted by the fury, smashed into the clumsy, wicked wall, and tore it apart and beat it to pieces, like tigers tearing apart a defenseless herd of cows. The knights were now almost completely defenseless, as they could hardly move to one side, wedged into their confines. Whoever was on horseback was thrown down like paper, so that it cracked like bags filled with air when they are smashed together between two hands. The weapons of the shepherds now proved terrible and their light clothing just right; the armor was all the more troublesome for the knights. Heads were grazed by blows; only seemed to be grazed but really had been bashed in. There was a constant thrashing; horses were overturned; the fury and strength increased; the Duke was killed; it would have been a miracle if he had not been killed. Those who struck shouted about it, as if it were the right thing to do, as if the killing was still too small a destruction, something only half done.

Heat, steam, the smell of blood, dirt and dust and the screaming and shouting mixed into a wild, hellish turmoil. The dying barely felt their deaths; they died so rapidly. They often suffocated in their boastful iron armor, these aristocratic flails. What good was an opinion now? Everyone would have gladly given a damn, if they could have given a damn at all. About a hundred beautiful noblemen drowned; no, drowned in the nearby Lake Sempach; they drowned because they were thrown into the water like cats and dogs; they tumbled over and rolled over in their elegant beak shoes; it was a real disgrace. The most splendid iron armor could only promise destruction and the realization of this premonition was terribly the right one.

What was the point of having a castle, land and people at home, somewhere in Aargau or Swabia, a beautiful wife, farmhands, maidservants, orchards, fields and forests, taxes and the finest privileges? That only made dying in these puddles, between the tightly drawn knee of a mad shepherd and a piece of ground, even more bitter and miserable. Of course, the magnificent steeds trampled their own masters in a wild flight; many gentlemen, too, in their haste to dismount, got caught in the stirrups with their stupid fashionable shoes, so that they kissed the meadows with the bleeding backs of their heads, while their terrified eyes, before they went out, saw the sky above them burning like a fierce flame. Of course, shepherds also collapsed, but for every naked and bare-chested one there were always ten covered and wrapped up in steel. The Battle of Sempach actually teaches us how terribly stupid it is to wrap oneself up like that. If they could have moved, these puppets—well, they would have moved; some of them did, as they had finally freed themselves from the most unbearable things they had on their bodies. “I fight with slaves, O the shame!” cried a handsome boy with yellowish curls streaming down from his head, and, struck in the dear face by a cruel blow, sank to the ground, where, wounded to death, he bit the grass with his half-shattered mouth. A few shepherds, who had lost their murder weapons from their hands, attacked their opponents from below with their necks and heads like wrestlers on the ring, or, dodging the blows, threw themselves on the necks of the knights and strangled them until they were choked off.

In the meantime, evening had fallen, the dying light glowed in the trees and bushes, while the sun sank between the dark foothills like a dead, beautiful, sad man. The grim battle had come to an end. The snow-white, pale Alps hung down their beautiful, cold foreheads in the background of the world. The dead were now being collected, and for this purpose they went about quietly, picking up the fallen men lying on the ground and carrying them to the mass grave that others had dug. Flags and armor were gathered together until it became a stately pile. Money and valuables, everything, was handed over to a certain place. Most of these simple, strong men had become quiet and good; they looked at the looted jewelry not without wistful contempt; walked around the meadows, looked into the faces of the slain and washed off blood where it tempted them to see what the guilty features might still look like.

Two young men with faces so young and bright, with lips still smiling in death, were found embraced on the ground at the foot of a bush. One of them had had his chest beaten in, the other had his body cut through. They had to work late into the night; then they searched with torches. They found Arnold von Winkelried and shuddered at the sight of his body. As the men buried him, they sang one of their simple songs in dark voices; there was no more pomp. There were no priests; what should one have done with priests? Praying and thanking the Lord God for the victory that had been won—that could be done without any ecclesiastical fuss. Then they went home. And after a few days they were scattered back to their high valleys, working, serving, farming, looking after the stores, doing what was necessary and sometimes saying a word about the battle they had experienced; not much. They were not celebrated (well, perhaps a little, in Lucerne at their entry). The days went by, for the days must have been harsh and rough even then, in 1386, with their manifold worries. A great deed does not erase the arduous succession of days. Life does not stand still for a long time on a battle day; history only takes a short break until it, too, has to hurry forward, urged on by imperious life.

Featured: Winkelried at Sempach, by Konrad Grob (1828-1904); date of the painting unknown.

Captio Lincolnie

Pugna Lincolniensis fuit magnae pugnae mediae aetatis. Hoc carmen pugnam et reparationem describit. Hic versus descriptionem pugnae saeculo decimoquarto in prima parte conscriptam fuisse verisimile est. In uno codice extat: MS. Cotton. Vespas. B. XIII. fol. 130, vo.

Incipiunt versus de Guerra Regis Johannis.

Serpserat Angligenam rabies quadrangula gentem.
In proprium jurata jugum, motuque minaci
Gens sibi degenerans, ut libera serviat, alta
Corruat, incolumis ægrotet, tuta pavescat,
Vendicat antiquas inimico consule leges;
Non legis libra, non juris luce, nec igne
Sacri consilii, sed nec lima rationis,
Fulgurat in vetitum spreta ratione voluntas.

Prima fuit rabies proprio concepta tumore;
Altera belligeras Francorum traxerat alas;
Conduxit nigras Scottorum tertia turmas;
Flexit quarta leves tenui sub veste Galenses.

Fœdera rumpuntur pacis, tonitrusque minaces;
Serpsit in attonitas corrupta licentia turres,
In quibus ægra fides latuit, medicumque salutis
Expectata diu, tandem de munere Christi
Convaluit, traxitque suas in bella cohortes.

Hæc rabies patiente Deo permissa parumper
Non concessa fuit, ut molles fulmina mentes
Comburant, nec ut ira Dei confundat inermes.
Sed cordis scrutator oves deserta petentes
Errantesque diu proprio revocavit amore,
Vapulet ut meritas medicato verbere culpas,
Divinasque minas clementia patris amicans
Ubere materno lenivit verbera patris.

Anglorum nutabat honor, regnique venustas,
Inclinata caput divini judicis iram
Senserat, et tumido timuit servire tyranno.
Pendula palma, diu dubio protracta favore,
Nunc risit Gallis, nunc risum contulit Anglis,
Verius applaudens istis, fallacius illis.

Non tulit ulterius regem regnare furentem
Vindicis ira Dei; cecidit percussus ab illo
Cujus templa, domos, combusserat igne minaci.
A face fax oritur fati, flammæque furorem
Dum furit in regem febris vindicta fugavit.
Summus honos mors illa fuit, culmenque decoris
Attulit, in nullo quod erat superatus ab hoste,
Et tot erant hostes; victus victore superno,
Invictusque suos hostes moriendo momordit.

Desinat ira tumens; discat servire potestas
Curvarique Deo, cui subdens colla resurget;
In surgendo cadet: brevis est humana potestas,
Et brevibus discat finem properare diebus.

Planxerat extinctum regio viduata Johannem,
Degenerique timens sua subdere colla marito
Invocat Angligenas Anglorum lacrima vires;
Quo gravior dolor est, propior medicina doloris.

Fulserat interea minimæ scintillula formæ,
Regia progenies, laceri spes unica regni,
Stella quasi succensa Deo, nubemque paternam
Exuit, irradians nova lux, stellasque fugatas
Fulmine de patrio pueri candela vocavit.

O Pietas preciosa Dei! qui magna magistrat,
Fortia confundit, infirma levat, feritates
Fulminat, inflatos frangit, qui virginis alvo
Parvulus egressus, parvum suscepit alendum,
Ecclesiæque dedit gremio, quem matris in ulnas
Blanda parens recipit, nato blandita parentis
Obsequio, teneram capiti positura coronam.
Consilium cœleste fuit, quod consona sacri
Unio consilii regi parere puello
Non timuit, timuitque magis servire tyranno.

Unio sacra novum maturat ad ardua regem;
Utilitas, pietasque, fides, concurrere fatis
Conjurant, cunctos[que] crucis signare sigillo;
Constiterant vexilla crucis, regemque novellum
Ambierant, bajulosque crucis crux alba decorans
Instabiles statuit fidei fundamine turmas.

O famosa viri legatio, lima beati
Consilii, sidus recti, speculum rationis,
Gala dei cultor, curæ cristata galero!
Anglia victrices strinxit divinitus enses,
In commune bonum fundunt castella catervas
Signiferas, belloque truces, hostique minaces.

Tempus erat quo terra novo pubescere partu
Cœperat, et teneras in crines solverat herbas,
Vellera pratorum redolens infantia florum
Pinxerat, et, renovas crispans coma primula silvas,
Innumeras avium revocavit ad organa linguas,
Gallica tum rabies aquilonis adhæserat Anglis,
Conjurata manus medios transire per Anglos,
Londoniis egressa suis, longasque latebras
Deseruit Lodovica cohors, comitesque superbos
Concessa pudet ire via, Montique Sorello
Subsidium ferale ferunt, nam quo magis illum
Major palma colit, graviorem ferre ruinam
Præcavet ira Dei; sed cautior inde recessit
Nobilitas comitum, fidei flos, regia virtus,
Cestrensis clipeus, donec frendente tumultu
Transierat rabies notum super ardua castrum,
Trigintæque latus, longique superbia belli
Fluxit ad obsessam matronæ nobilis arcem.

Huc ubi fata feras fremitu flexere phalangas,
Fama volat, comitesque vocat, comitumque sodales
Cestrenses, crescitque seges clipeata virorum.
Regia signa micant, et conjurata sequuntur
Agmina, clara fides cum denique protrahit ora,
Candida signa crucis juvenum præstantia pingunt
Pectora, consolidat communis corda voluntas;
Vincendi spes una fuit, victoria cunctas
In facies præmissa patet, plausuque secundo
Permittunt socias in consona prælia dextras.

Instabat sabbatum quo festa peracta superni
Flaminis, et trinum celebrat deitatis honorem
Vespera; sol prima lambebat lampade terras,
Cum tuba terribili dederat præludia cantu;
Bella movent ferrata duces, tot signa videres
Nutantes tremulo galeas superare volatu,
Tot clipeos vario mutantes signa colore.
Fulsit in armatas solaris gratia turmas,
Febricitabat iners, validabant corda feroces.
Venit ut attonitam constantia Martis ad urbem,
Terribili juvenes muros cinxere corona,
Rimanturque novos aditus; nec protinus urbem
Invasere duces; legatio mittitur intus
Sacrilegos revocare viros ad fœdera pacis.
Nec placuit pax ulla feris, convitia fundunt,
Legatos spernunt, adduntque minacia verba.

Irrita legati postquam mandata reportant,
Magnanimos monet ire duces; tum bellicus horror
Infremuit, tonuere tubæ, mugitus in auras
Horridus insurgit, et, constrepitante tumultu,
Mirari poterant terrena tonitrua nubes.
Transiliunt fossas, transcendunt mœnia, portas
Confringunt, aditus rumpunt, et prælia miscent.
Et gladiis fecere viam; confusio digna
Sacrilegos sternit, fundunt examina Christi
Ferrigeras Mavortis apes, stimulisque timendis
Hostiles penetrant tunicas, squamosaque ferri
Texta secant, Saulosque trahunt ad vincula Pauli,
Reddidit et lepores conversio sacra leones.

Hic Moyses in Monte stetit, Josue stationem
Fixerat hic solis, magnum premit inde Goliam
Funda lapisque David; vidit venerabile mirum
Lincolniensis honor, vidit maris ira trophæum
Imperiale Dei, vidit quadrangula pestis
In se victrici vexilla resurgere palma.
Vidit, et obstupuit, sensitque superbia belli
Pro puero pugnare Deum; nec sponte quievit,
Sed crepuit, pacisque pedes in colla recepit.

O famosa dies, nostrum veneranda per ævum!
Bellica qua rabies latuit, qua pacifer ensis
Pestiferas domuit partes, qua gratia Christi
Dedecus extersit natum, fideique lavacro
Proluit inscriptum versa de fronte pudorem.

Expliciunt versus de Guerra regis Johannis.

Featured: Secunda pugna Lincolniensis. Matthæus Parisiensis, Chronica majora, volume II, folio 51v (55v), annis 1240-1253.

The Longer the Wait… Krogold: Triple Celinian Myth

With the publication of La Volonté du Roi Krogold (The Will of Krogold the King), Gallimard has brought Céline’s unpublished works to a close, putting an end to almost ninety years of uncertainty about the adventures of this legendary ruler. This will satisfy Céline aficionados first and foremost, while the uninitiated will find it a little-used gateway. If it is not easy to squeeze through, it nevertheless opens up new and unexpected reading perspectives.

Ecce Krogold! The famous Nordic king that Céline fans have been dreaming of since May 1936, when he made his appearance in Mort à crédit (Death on Credit), the second high point of a prolific body of work that is far more eclectic than the hasty reduction to the author’s regrettable (and condemnable!) ideological blunders generally suggests. Far from being part of the contemporary realist fictions that continue to make Céline so successful, King Krogold is an original figure with a doubly mythical aura, firstly, because the story of which he is the central character draws on a number of legends, episodes and memories, including the Arthurian cycle, the biography of François Villon, the writings of Rabelais and that mythical medieval figure from Breton legend, the Bard with the gouged-out eyes, imprisoned for standing up to Christianization.

The mythical brilliance of Krogold the king, then, manifests itself in the improbability, long persistent, of seizing concretely and in a palpable, “haptic” way an epic which has become, over the decades, as legendary as the collection of a few scraps of narratives that, in spite of everything, have come down to us.

Krogold vs. Gwendor

A reminder: From the moment Céline left his Montmartre apartment for Copenhagen, for fear of paying the price for the political upheaval in France in the wake of Operation Neptune, he never ceased to deplore, with the vehemence often characteristic of his writings since Mea culpa (1936), the theft (or incineration, as the case may be) of what he himself, in a letter to his faithful secretary, Marie Canavaggia, described as “a legend from the operatic Middle Ages.” We need only reread his two great post-war texts, Féerie pour une autre fois (Enchatment for Another Time) and D’un Château l’autre (From one Castle to Another), to be convinced.

The literary merit of Krogold seemed rather light, however: “I was disappointed to read it again. My romance hadn’t stood the test of time,” says the Ferdinand of Mort à credit, and judging by the rejection Céline received from his publisher Robert Denoël in 1933. Yet Denoël had not hesitated to publish L’Église (The Church), a five-act comedy of equally fragile merit, the first version of which had been rejected by Gallimard in 1927, just eleven months after the release of Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night). Literary choice or commercial calculation? In any case, important fragments of the legend were incorporated into the narrative of Mort à crédit, in whose pages King Krogold now runs like a weak, if stubborn, thread. It is as if Céline had sought to tacitly thumb his nose at his publisher.

Despite Ferdinand’s repeated efforts to provide a detailed account, the legend’s developing plot remains rather opaque. However, this has not prevented Celinian scholars, such as the American Erika Ostrovsky, from seeking to unravel the mystery behind it. In 1972, in her contribution to Cahiers de L’Herne, devoted to Céline, Ostrovsky noted that while the legend’s known beginning, the deadly confrontation between King Krogold, “mighty and damned monarch of all the marches of Tierlande” and the felon Gwendor, “grand margrave of the Scythians, Prince of Christiania” (and very secret fiancé of Wanda, Krogold’s only daughter) is “nothing out of the ordinary;” so much so that it “could almost pass for a pastiche of epic novels,” but it is special in that, on a more abstract level, it puts into perspective the defeat of the poetic (of which Gwendor is the embodiment) in the face of the degradation of everyday life, embodied by Krogold; the latter presented by Ostrovsky as an “executioner.”

Royal Magnanimity, Poetic Vagabondage

Although the idea of an antagonism between poetry and daily life is resistant to over-hasty expeditions, the development proposed by Ostrovsky half a century ago now requires nuance and even revision, particularly in the contortionist reading she gives King Krogold. This reassessment is all the more necessary given that, thanks to the recent publication by Gallimard of rediscovered pages, Céline enthusiasts and others can now look at a whole series of scenes and tableaux, differently elaborated, The common theme is the equipment of the legendary King Krogold (there is no need to go back over the incredible circumstances which, in the summer of 2021, saw the reappearance of the famous Céline manuscripts, stolen during the Liberation and thought to be lost forever, as well as the medico-judicial soap opera which has been making keyboards clack ever since).

First observation: the material of Le Roi Krogold gave birth to two distinct texts under Céline’s pen, La Volonté du Roi Krogold (a manuscript found in 1939/40) and La Légende du Roi René (an earlier version based on a typescript dated 1933/34). The former is presented by the collection’s editor, Véronique [Robert-] Chovin, as a rewrite of the latter. The numerous thematic parallels that emerge from one plot to the next support this assertion.

Second observation: the elements on which these two versions are based take off from very different starting points. One is based on the defeat of Prince Gwendor’s army by the victorious troops of King Krogold. Impaled by an enemy spear, Gwendor faces death from which, in a classic dialogue, he vainly seeks to obtain “one day… two days…” of reprieve. When the inhabitants of Christianie learn of the defeat of their protector Gwendor and the imminent arrival of King Krogold, they decide, in order to appease the latter’s a priori devastating grudges, not to prostrate themselves before the victor and offer him the city’s treasures, as might be expected, but instead to meet him by—dancing. This unusual stratagem had once saved the city from the advancing regiments of the Great Turk. Given the historical context of the writing, it is obviously tempting to read the advance of these armed troops as an allusion to the invasions (sometimes camouflaged as annexation) carried out by the Wehrmacht.

Alas! King Krogold is no connoisseur of dance. Indeed, he puts the harmless “dancers of the rigodon” to the sword. And yet, once he has entered the city, he heads straight for the cathedral and, while keeping his foot in the stirrup, throws his sword over a huge, panic-stricken crowd that has taken refuge under the nave’s vaults, “right up to the altar step.” This gesture of almost cinematic royal indulgence is greeted by jubilant singing, thanksgiving and even the appearance of an angel expressly sent down from heaven. Thus closes this first narrative, with its chivalric, popular and Christian overtones.

It is joined by another; this time centered on the wanderings of a trouvère, named Thibaut in René but Tébaut in Krogold. This vagabond poet with not-so-Catholic impulses seeks to join the victorious king (Krogold or René, respectively) in the North, to accompany him on his crusade. His itinerary takes him from Charente to Brittany, and in particular to Rennes, where—depending on the version of the legend—he is either about to be thrown into prison after narrowly escaping lynching by an excited mob (Krogold), or to stop off at the brothel where he casually abuses a prostitute (René). In both versions of the legend, however, he becomes the murderer of Prosecutor Morvan, president of the parliament of Brittany and father of Joad, Thibaut/Tébaut’s traveling companion secretly in love with Wanda, the king’s daughter. It is good to set up these triangles of conflict from the outset.

The Underpinnings of a Work

Make no mistake, however: Krogold, far from being an entertaining fabliau, is probably Céline’s most complicated text; René is a sort of first draft written in a French that is, if not academic, at least linguistically more accessible. In fact, these are pages not finalized by the author, with all that this implies of doubles, repetitions, unfinished business, which all very quickly causes a feeling of saturation, but also fatigue. At the same time, these pages are undoubtedly the most interesting and richest among the bundles of manuscripts found.

On the one hand, because together with the snippets of the legend inserted in Guerre (War) and Londres (London), (Gallimard, 2022), the other two recently exhumed unpublished works, they allow us to measure the important weight that throughout the 1930s, Céline gave to the possibility of giving birth to a medieval fantasy legend. That Krogold the King cannot be reduced to a unifying element of Mort à crédit, that he is much more than a mere vanishing point for Céline’s post-war rantings, constantly raising the specter of spoliation, which we now know were not completely aberrant, The major merit of this collection, published by Gallimard under the full title of La Volonté du Roi Krogold, followed by La Légende du Roi René, is that it does indeed create a coherent whole, the hitherto unexploited underbelly of a work that has been widely commented on for almost ninety years.

One of the things we need to look at is how this legend relates to Céline’s polemical writings. After all, the date chosen for the recovered manuscript is 1939/40. In the chronology of Céline’s publications, this corresponds to the period between the publication of L’École des cadavres (School for Corpses), (November 1938) and the release of Les Beaux Draps (The Fine Sheets), (February 1941). But Bagatelles pour un massacre (Trifles for a Massacre), published in December 1937, already invokes the Middle Ages, presenting ballet librettos populated by legendary characters and deliberately drawing on medieval imaginary.

We should also take a closer look at the legend’s many references to Christianity and its key concepts of blasphemy, sin, repentance, mercy and forgiveness, practices whose density is just as unusual here, as the invocation of a united Christianity is absent from the rest of the work—apart from Mea culpa.

“I am Celt”

On the other hand, it is undoubtedly in the linguistic contributions that the primary interest of the recovered pages lies. The few journalistic accounts published to date have made this clear. In the April 27 issue of La Croix, Fabienne Lemahieu writes of a “medieval Nordic tale with accents of Old French;” Alexis Brocas in the May issue of Lire/Magazine littéraire points to a “cousinly relationship between Céline’s language and that of the medieval Rabelais and Villon;” and David Fontaine in the May 10 issue of Le Canard enchaîné describes the Céline of Krogold as an “alchemist of style, [who] intends to resurrect medieval French.”

A single passage illustrates these observations: “The Queen in her finest attire, followed by her ladies and pages, slowly approached and descended the long marble steps. ‘Sir Knight, what would you have us give you?’ ‘Victory! Victory!’ he shouted ever louder, raising his hand to his chest to show his pure heart. ‘Victory? Victory? That it shall be [quickly]! But is not the King wounded? I had a sad dream… a fearful reverie yester night…’ ‘Nothing betides the King, my lady! Nothing betides the King! Apart from a mere wheal, a niggling scuff that his majesty little heeds.’ ‘You tell me so much, Sir Knight!’…’Excelras has won my wager!’”

While work on language is obviously one of the major constants in Céline’s work, his interest in pre-classical turns of phrase in this excerpt is not only in keeping with his well-known abomination of so-called academic French, but also reflects a more assertive approach to a linguistic (and hence literary) genealogy that emphasizes the Celtic heritage of the French language. At the expense of the Greek and Latin legacies advocated by the codifiers of classical French. It would probably be instructive to reread André Thérive’s Libre histoire de la langue française (Stock, 1954) to grasp the full ideological dimension behind this artistic approach.

“The intoxication of this existence must one day cease…”

Last but not least, Céline devotees will find it hard to pass up this collection which, in addition to the two versions of the legend, includes a rich appendix of all the passages in the work that can be associated, in one way or another, with the legend of Krogold the King: from Mort à crédit to D’un Château l’autre, via Guerre, Londres and Féerie pour une autre fois. A contextualizing essay by archivist and historian Alban Cerisier provides a more concrete account of the forces expressed in these two medievalist narratives. Although we are unaware of the legend’s “incompleteness,” “each scene offers, with the author’s ironic finesse and great humor, a variation on man’s relationship with his finitude.”

The aforementioned mythical dimension of the Krogold legend is further enhanced by the fact that it has remained incomplete and fragmentary, and that its material has somehow resisted literary form. But is not this a guarantee of its “legitimacy?” After all, how many medieval legends have come down to us without gaps?

Maxim Görke teaches in the German Department, at the University of Strasbourg.

Featured: King William I, folio 33 of Liber legum antiquorum regum, British Library, Cotton MS Claudius D. II, 14th century. [This article appears through the kind courtesy of PHILITT.]

Rebels Against Tyranny: Baronial Defiance of Frederick II in The Holy Land


Frederick II Hohenstaufen has long enjoyed the reputation of an enlightened monarch. From the sixteenth to the early twentieth century, reverence for the nation-state as the ideal form of government inspired scholars to see his policies as “progressive.” In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, German scholars in search of a medieval figure that could bolster national identity seized upon Frederick as a proto-German hero. Nowadays, it is more often his bloodless crusade and his alleged religious tolerance that spark admiration. Simultaneously, contempt for feudalism (a tenet of the “Enlightenment”) and hatred of the papacy (a tenet of the Reformation) have long combined to discredit Frederick’s opponents in the crusader states.

Because Frederick II’s life was packed with dramatic events, colorful characters, significant victories, and astonishing accomplishments, his eight months in the Holy Land are generally treated as no more than a footnote to the greater drama that played out in Western Europe. Abbreviated references to his sojourn in Outremer unremittingly focus on his bloodless crusade. His opponents in the crusader states are almost uniformly characterized as “bloodthirsty” and “bigoted.” They are dismissed for failing to appreciate the “genius” of the Holy Roman Emperor, his consummate diplomatic skills, and his enlightened treatment of the Muslim enemy. Most modern accounts imply that the civil war that followed in the wake of the Sixth Crusade was nothing more than intolerant and obstinate resistance to the Holy Roman Emperor’s enlightened policies on the part of his chauvinistic subjects in the Holy Land.

Yet, does such an interpretation stand up to scrutiny? This article seeks to reassess Frederick II’s clash with his barons in the Holy Land by focusing on his opponents and their objectives and on Frederick II in the context of Outremer rather than his role as Holy Roman Emperor.

The Protagonists

Frederick II Hohenstaufen and the Holy Land

Frederick II’s involvement in Outremer was based on two separate yet intertwined factors. First, he had publicly taken crusader vows to liberate Jerusalem from Muslim control, and second, he married the heiress to the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Friedrich II Hohenstaufen first “took the cross” and vowed to lead a new crusade to regain Christian control of Jerusalem at his coronation as “King of the Romans” in Aachen on 25 July 1215. He renewed his crusading vow at his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor on 22 November 1220―by which time the Fifth Crusade had already bogged down at Damietta. Due to a Muslim insurrection in Sicily, Friedrich failed to join that crusade as promised. Another crusade planned for 1225 was postponed until 1227. Although a crusading army assembled that summer, an infectious disease decimated the ranks while it was still in Italy. Frederick II put to sea, only to return to Brindisi due to illness. Pope Gregory IX promptly ex-communicated him. His subsequent military expedition to the Holy Land was not sanctioned by the pope, and the Church labeled it an “anti-crusade.”

Meanwhile, Friedrich II had married Yolanda, heiress to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Yolanda’s mother, Maria I, had died giving birth to her. Her regent during her minority was her father, John of Brienne, her mother’s king-consort. Brienne and the High Court of Jerusalem arranged Yolanda’s marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor, expecting it to ensure military and financial support for their beleaguered kingdom from the most powerful Christian monarch on earth. In November 1225, at age 13, Queen Yolanda sailed to Brindisi for her marriage with Frederick. In April 1228, at 15 years, she died from the complications of childbirth, leaving behind an infant son, Conrad, as heir to the throne of Jerusalem.

By the time Frederick II married Yolanda, he was nearly 31 and had been King of Sicily for a quarter-century, King of the Romans for a decade, and Holy Roman Emperor for five years. The Kingdom of Jerusalem was just one of his many possessions. Furthermore, he had already adopted an absolutist view of the monarchy. While admirers of centralized government portray this as a “modern” attitude, David Abulafia makes a strong case that Frederick’s views were the opposite; Frederick was not so much ahead of his time as he was backward-looking. He considered himself a (divine) Roman Emperor rather than a feudal king. [David Abulafia, Frederick II: A Medieval Emperor, Oxford University Press, 1988.]

The Barons of Outremer

The Kingdom of Jerusalem, created by a council of leading European noblemen in the wake of the First Crusade, was an ideal feudal state. By the time Frederick II arrived in the Levant, the resident nobility had developed a highly sophisticated interpretation of the kingdom’s constitution. Most importantly, the ruling elites in Outremer upheld the concept that government was a contract between the king and his subjects, requiring the consent of the ruled as represented by the High Court. That is, the High Court had to be consulted on matters of state, from the marriage of the royal heiress to treaties and taxes. Specifically, the constitution of Jerusalem gave the High Court the right to elect kings and regents. In addition, it was an already established constitutional principle that the consort of a ruling queen lost his position as co-monarch at her death.

Far from being bloodthirsty, religious bigots, the barons of Outremer were the products and representatives of a multicultural state in which orthodox Christian monasteries multiplied alongside those of the Latin Church and where a vibrant school of Talmudic studies flourished. The Franks of Outremer (as all Latin Christians living in the crusader states were collectively known) had been making treaties with their Muslim neighbors for more than a hundred years before Frederick II arrived. Indeed, at various times they had allied themselves with Muslim powers. They not only spoke Arabic (in addition to French, Latin, and Greek), they were familiar with Islam and Islamic law.

By the mid-thirteenth century, the feudal elite of Outremer was highly educated. The renowned crusades historian Jonathan Riley-Smith goes so far as to claim that “the greatest monument to the western settlers in Palestine, finer even than the cathedrals and castles still dominating the landscape, is the law-book of John of Jaffa, which … is one of the great works of thirteenth-century thought.” [Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem 1174-1277, Macmillan Press, 1973, 230.] The Count of Jaffa was not alone.

An entire school of legal scholars evolved in the early decades of the thirteenth century that produced seven books on legal issues and six other scholarly works that have survived to the present day. Furthermore, the court system in the Kingdom of Jerusalem required jurors and counselors for every trial. These men were all drawn from the knightly class. Finally, unlike their contemporaries in England and France, every knight in the realm sat on the High Court. Consequently, the knights and nobles of Outremer as a class were familiar with the law and constitution of the land.

These men, none of whom were in the Holy Orders, also held fiefs, fought with lance and sword, and commanded troops. In their conflict with Frederick II, they were led by John d’Ibelin, a man immortalized by the contemporary historian Philip de Novare as the “the Old Lord of Beirut.”

John d’Ibelin, Lord of Beirut

John d’Ibelin was the son of Balian, who saved an estimated 60,000 souls from slaughter and slavery by negotiating the surrender of Jerusalem after the walls had been breached in 1187. Balian represented Richard the Lionheart in his final negotiations with Saladin and was one of the leading signatories of the truce ending the Third Crusade. John was Balian’s eldest son by his wife, Maria Comnena, the queen-consort and widow of King Amalric of Jerusalem. Through his mother, John d’Ibelin was half-Greek and half-brother to Queen Isabella I of Jerusalem.

John d’Ibelin was appointed constable of Jerusalem by Aimery de Lusignan, but sometime before 1200, he surrendered the constableship in exchange for being granted the recaptured city and lordship of Beirut. The city and surrounding territory had been taken by Saladin in 1187 and recaptured during the German crusade of 1197. When it was granted to John d’Ibelin, it was in such a ruinous state that the wealthy militant orders had not wanted the burden of reconstruction. John successfully rebuilt the fortifications, castle, port, and city and attracted new inhabitants. He also erected one of the most magnificent palaces in the Latin East. It had tall, glazed windows, walls paneled with polychrome marble, and lifelike mosaic floors. The interior fountains gushed freshwater day and night and drained through discreet underfloor drainage pipes that recycled the water to the garden.

When in April 1205, Queen Isabella I died, leaving her 13-year-old daughter Marie de Montferrat as her successor, the High Court of Jerusalem elected the Lord of Beirut regent. Beirut was then 26 years of age. He ruled for the next five years, notably maintaining the existing truce with the Saracens. He surrendered his position when Queen Marie married John de Brienne, and the couple was crowned.

John and his younger brother Philip took part in the Fifth Crusade under the banner of the King of Cyprus. When King Hugh of Cyprus died unexpectedly in January 1218, the Cypriot High Court elected John’s younger brother, Philip, regent for the eighteen-month-old heir, King Henry. At Philip’s death in 1227, the High Court of Cyprus elected John. The Lord of Beirut held this position when Frederick II arrived in the Holy Land. Up to this point, nothing in John’s life suggested he would lead a revolt against a crowned monarch.

The Sixth Crusade and the Baronial Revolt Against Frederick II in Outremer

Despite his ex-communication, Frederick II set sail for the Holy Land in June 1228 with the declared intent to regain control of Jerusalem for Christendom. His decision to proceed was influenced, if not dictated, by the fact that the Sultan of Egypt, al-Kamil, had secretly offered to deliver Jerusalem to him in exchange for the emperor’s support in the sultan’s war against his brother, al-Mu’azzam, the sultan of Damascus. Confident of success, Frederick had no need for a large military force and set out accompanied by four archbishops, a small contingent of knights, and about 1,000 archers. This was not a crusading army; it was an imperial entourage.

On his way to the Holy Land, Frederick II stopped in Cyprus, a component kingdom of the Holy Roman Empire since 1194. Here he requested that the regent (John d’Ibelin, Lord of Beirut) and—significantly—his children, attend a banquet in Nicosia. The other guests were the 11-year-old King Henry I of Lusignan, along with the nobles and knights of Cyprus, accompanied by their ladies. All the guests wore court robes and were unarmed. Frederick II, however, had hidden armed guards in the palace, and at his signal, they surrounded the Lord of Beirut with drawn swords. Frederick then attempted to bully Beirut into handing over revenue allegedly embezzled from the Cypriot treasury and surrendering the lordship of Beirut in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. With remarkable dignity and coolness, Beirut refused to do either without the judgment of the respective High Courts. He then walked out of the banquet with the bulk of the Cypriot nobility at his heels, leaving his eldest sons and eighteen other youths of noble birth as hostages with the emperor.

Beirut withdrew to the mountain fortresses of Cyprus and readied them to withstand a siege. While this was clearly an act of defiance, it was not an act of treason. Beirut explicitly held the castles for King Henry of Lusignan, for whom he was the legal regent. While the premise may sound disingenuous, later actions proved him honest. Frederick was forced to seek terms. In exchange for Beirut handing the castles over to royal officers, the emperor released the hostages. In addition, Beirut promised to take part in Frederick’s expedition to Syria along with all his vassals, while the emperor agreed in writing to (1) take no action against Beirut or his supporters without a judgment from the responsible court (i.e., the High Courts of Cyprus and Jerusalem respectively), and (2) to bear no malice for all that had passed between them in the preceding months.

As soon Beirut and his men sailed for the mainland, Frederick broke his sworn and signed word by sending imperial mercenaries to Cyprus to attack, harass, and intimidate the wives and children of the men now serving in his army. Simultaneously, he attempted to obtain Christian control of Jerusalem via negotiations with the Sultan of Egypt. Unfortunately, al-Kamil no longer needed assistance from the emperor in his quarrels with his Ayyubid rivals because his brother al-Mu’azzam had died and been succeeded by a weak boy, who al-Kamil now controlled.

Friedrich was in a quandary. He did not have sufficient military force to win a military confrontation with the combined forces of Egypt and Damascus. He could not expect reinforcements from the West because he had been ex-communicated, and other monarchs dared not support him. Meanwhile, the pope had raised an army and was preparing to invade his Kingdom of Sicily with the declared intent of deposing him. Frederick had to return to defend his birthright; Jerusalem had become a liability. To avoid a complete debacle, he approached al-Kamil in search of a negotiated settlement. His exchanges with the sultan became increasingly obsequious and concessionary until 18 February 1229, when a truce was signed between the sultan and the emperor.

Modern commentators generally applaud Friedrich’s performance as enlightened, subtle, and brilliant. Such assessments show a marked lack of understanding for both of the terms of the agreement and the context in which it was made. Despite what is usually claimed, Friedrich II’s treaty singularly failed to secure Christian control of Jerusalem. The treaty did no more than grant Christian access to some of Jerusalem for a limited period of time. The terms explicitly prohibited Christians from setting foot on the Temple Mount, prevented the Franks from building defensive walls, and left strategic castles such as Kerak and Montreal in Muslim hands. Furthermore, Arab sources stress that al-Kamil openly bragged he would “chase” the Christians from Jerusalem as soon as it was convenient. [Francesco Gabrieli (trans)., Arab Historians of the Crusades, University of California Press, 1957, 271.)

In short, the terms of the truce reveal the degree to which Friedrich’s “crusade” was about his power struggle with the pope rather than sustainable Christian control of Jerusalem. Although he made a great show of wearing the imperial crown in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the residents of Outremer were not impressed—and said so. Outraged that anyone would dare to criticize his “brilliant” achievement, Frederick laid siege to Templar headquarters in Acre, threatened physical violence to the Patriarch of Jerusalem, ordered the harassment of the mendicant orders, and then departed. As he made his way from the palace to the port to board a ship for Sicily, the common people of Acre eloquently expressed their opinion of the Holy Roman Emperor and his truce by pelting him from the rooftops and balconies with offal.

En route to Sicily, Frederick stopped in Cyprus long enough to appoint five men as his joint “baillies” or deputies. He ordered them to dispossess the Ibelins and their partisans of their lands and to ensure that neither the Lord of Beirut nor any of his sons, kinsmen, or supporters ever set foot in Cyprus again. These orders were (again) in violation of Frederick’s signed agreement six months earlier. Not only was Beirut not given a chance to defend himself before his peers, but his supporters and kinsmen were also likewise disseized of their properties merely for being relatives and vassals of Beirut.

Furthermore, the five baillies had been appointed in exchange for a payment of 10,000 silver marks. They needed to find that revenue and set about raising taxes. While the women and children of the House of Ibelin and their clients and allies sought refuge with the militant orders to escape the violence of the baillie’s mercenaries, the new taxes enraged the rest of the predominantly Greek Orthodox Cypriot population.

Beirut had had enough. He raised an army in Syria that included his brother-in-law, the Lord of Caesarea. With this small force, he landed at Gastria and then rode inland toward Nicosia. During this advance, he announced that he sought only the safety of his tenants and households and to regain control of illegally-seized properties. He explicitly stated that he did not seek restoration to his former post of regent of Cyprus. In short, he attempted to build a bridge to the imperial baillies, offering them a compromise that would have enabled them to retain power—as long as they conceded that confiscations could not occur without a judgment of the High Court. The baillies chose instead to call up the Cypriot army and meet the Ibelins in battle.

On 14 July 1229, in a plowed field outside of Nicosia, the Ibelins routed the army of the five baillies. However, all five of the emperor’s deputies escaped. Against the advice of his closest advisors, Beirut granted them amnesty. Significantly, the young King of Cyprus, who had been in the custody of the imperial baillies, enthusiastically welcomed the Ibelins as his kinsmen and liberators. For the rest of his long life, Henry I of Cyprus unwaveringly favored the Ibelins, a strong indication of his sentiments toward the Holy Roman Emperor and his minions.

In 1232, Frederick sent a large army under the command of the Imperial Marshal Richard Filangieri to subdue his insubordinate subjects in Outremer. Filangieri was mandated to reestablish imperial authority, expropriate the lands and titles from the Ibelins, and expel them from Cyprus and Syria. Roughly a dozen other Syrian lords, most of whom had not taken part in Ibelin’s expedition to Cyprus, were simultaneously summarily disseized. All were denied the right to defend themselves before a court.

What followed was a complex campaign in which both parties moved armies back and forth between Cyprus and the mainland, trying to strike where the other faction was weak. Beirut suffered a serious setback when his city of Beirut fell to imperial forces, although his castle held out. His forces were again defeated at a skirmish near Casal Imbert, and he failed to win support from the Prince of Antioch. On the other hand, King Henry of Cyprus threw his full support behind the Ibelins and brought the entire Cypriot feudal army to Syria to assist him. The former baillies of Cyprus and a handful of their clients remained loyal to Frederick II, while some Syrian nobles previously devoted to the emperor changed over to the Ibelin camp. Notably, two of Frederick’s former Syrian ballies abandoned the imperial faction. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Genoese, the Frankish and native merchants of Acre, and the Templars also sided with Beirut.

After much back and forth, the opponents faced off in a dramatic battle at Agridi on the slopes of a mountain north of Nicosia. Notably, the local population rallied to their king and the Ibelins, mustering in haste as foot soldiers and archers, a factor that proved militarily decisive. The Lord of Beirut routed the imperial army a second time. Frederick II never again attempted to impose his governors on Cyprus, and in 1248, the pope formally absolved Henry I of all oaths he had made to the Holy Roman Emperor. Cyprus became a completely independent kingdom, no longer a part of the empire. It was a complete, resounding, and self-inflicted defeat for Frederick II.

Thereafter, the conflict confined itself to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and an uneasy stalemate settled over the kingdom. The imperial forces held Tyre and the kingdom’s north, while the baronial forces ruled the south from Acre. Neither side was willing to concede, yet neither dared attack. Political and religious pressure was applied to the rebels to broker a peaceful settlement, but the emperor never considered taking his case to court. Without a judgement of the court, however, the lord of Beirut would not submit to the emperor. When John d’Ibelin died after a riding accident in 1236, he was still in full possession of all his fiefs and wealth.

Then, in April of 1242, Conrad Hohenstaufen, Yolanda of Jerusalem’s only child, announced he had come of age. The threat of a Hohenstaufen king (not just regent) and a new imperial “baillie” alarmed the new lord of Beirut, John d’Ibelin’s eldest son, Balian.

Balian had a decidedly different temperament and character from his father. While standing hostage for his father in 1227, he had been tortured by Frederick’s men, something which undoubtedly scarred his psyche. He was credited with saving the Ibelins from defeat at the Battle of Nicosia after his father was unhorsed and his uncle killed. At the battle of Agridi, he dramatically led a daring charge across dangerous terrain to outflank the imperial forces. He also married against his father’s wishes and defied a papal ex-communication, refusing to separate from his wife.

It was to this man that four citizens from Tyre appealed for aid. Claiming that the imperial party was “greatly hated,” they offered to surrender Tyre to the rebels. The temptation was too great for the young lord of Beirut to resist. A veneer of legality for this planned action was concocted by asserting that the constitution of the kingdom recognized a royal heir’s closest relative resident in the kingdom as regent if the heir came of age while absent from the domain. Furthermore, the legal scholars declared a royal heir must come in person to claim the crown within one year. Failure to do so would result in the regent being recognized as the ruling monarch. The closest relative of King Conrad resident in the kingdom was Alice of Champagne, the dowager Queen of Cyprus. The High Court dutifully sent Conrad a letter saying he was required to come in person to be recognized as their liege. When (as expected) he failed to appear within a year, the High Court recognized Alice of Champagne as queen, and the knights and nobles did homage to her. She then demanded the surrender of Tyre. The imperial representative, at this time Lothario Filangieri the younger brother of Richard, predictably refused.

Tyre was a nearly invincible city that had held out against Saladin twice. It was virtually unassailable by land, but Balian of Beirut’s audacious strategy entailed leading a small band of knights along the base of the seawalls to a postern facing the sea. Sympathizers promised to leave this door unlocked. After Beirut successfully traversed the slippery, wave-washed rocks to access the city, his men lowered the harbor chains to admit a fleet carrying more supporters. The imperial garrison, taken entirely by surprise, withdrew to the citadel. A negotiated surrender of the citadel days later allowed the imperial forces to sail away unmolested.

The more impetuous and less legalistic young lord of Beirut had achieved what his honorable and restrained father, the old lord of Beirut, had not. He had seized the last stronghold of the imperialists and expelled the last imperial “baillie.” When the Hohenstaufen’s next representative, Tommaso di Acerra, came east, he did not dare set foot in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, landing and remaining in Tripoli instead. Thereafter, although Frederick II, his son, and his grandson all claimed the title of “King of Jerusalem,” it was an empty title, a mere delusion based on hubris.

The Issues

In assessing these events, it is critical to recognize that the barons and commons of Outremer followed the successive lords of Beirut because their interests aligned with those of the Ibelins. The knights and nobles of Outremer recognized early on that if Frederick II did not shy away from attacking a former regent, he would show no respect for men of lesser lineage, rank, and power. The barons, knights, and commons in Cyprus and Jerusalem rallied to the Ibelin cause because they believed Beirut was standing up for their rights against an arbitrary and autocratic ruler. They saw themselves as defending the constitution of the kingdom against a tyrant.

Frederick proved his contempt for the laws and constitution of Jerusalem by the following actions: (1) refusing to recognize that his title to Jerusalem derived through his wife, (2) attempting to disseize feudal fiefs without due process, and (3) ignoring the High Court of Jerusalem and its functions―which included approving treaties.

At the time of his marriage to Yolanda, Frederick had demanded the nobles of Jerusalem do homage to him, thereby dismissing his father-in-law’s claim as a crowned, anointed king to remain monarch because, since his wife’s death, he had only been regent for his daughter. Yet three years later, when Yolanda died, he refused to recognize that he, too, had lost his crown and become no more than the regent for Yolanda’s son. Instead, he continued to style himself and behave as if he were still king. Even when his son legally came of age, Frederick continued to pull his strings. He did not allow his son to set foot in his kingdom, did not allow him to be crowned and anointed, and did not allow the nobles of Jerusalem to do homage to him. Even on his deathbed, Frederick attempted to alienate the crown of Jerusalem from Yolanda’s son by suggesting it should instead be bestowed on his son by Isabella of England. In short, with his last breath, he failed to recognize that the crown was not—and never had been—his to give away.

Frederick’s attempts to disseize vassals without due process violated a fundamental principle of feudalism. In feudalism, fiefs are bestowed and held as hereditary property. This means that once granted, the title cannot be rescinded nor the land expropriated without due cause, i.e., an act of treason. Treason, in turn, must be proved before a court and established by a judgment of one’s peers. Frederick’s attempts to disseize first, the lord of Beirut and his heirs, and later, a score of other noblemen without due process was not enlightened; it was despotic.

Yet Frederick’s contempt for the High Court was arguably the most critical factor that doomed his rule in Outremer. He flouted the High Court by not seeking its advice on who should rule for his infant son, i.e., obtaining their consent to his regency. He scorned it by not bringing his charges against Beirut and other fief-holders before it. He spurned it by not seeking the advice and consent of the High Court for his treaty with al-Kamil. He continued to ignore the High Court to his very death by insisting on appointing a succession of deputies and ballies without the advice and consent of the High Court and, ultimately, by trying to steal the crown of Jerusalem from the hereditary dynasty to give it to his son by Isabella of England. His lack of respect for Outremer’s parliament ultimately alienated the entire knightly class of Jerusalem. By insulting and mocking the High Court, he attacked the collective rights of the ruling class—and this was why they ultimately fought back.

Summary and Conclusions

In summary, Frederick II Hohenstaufen’s successful crusade is a mirage. The Holy Roman Emperor singularly failed to regain control over Jerusalem, obtaining only temporary and limited access to some specific sites on terms that made the defense of the city impossible. The hostility of the local population to the emperor’s truce was not based on a fundamental opposition to treaties with Muslims—they had concluded hundreds of these already. Furthermore, the causes of the ensuing civil war lay not in differences over Frederick’s truce with the Muslims but rather over his claim to be king of Jerusalem and his arbitrary and despotic actions.

In Outremer, Frederick was not confronted by religious fanatics and ignorant crusaders, but by highly educated, polyglot native elites with more than a century of experience negotiating, trading, and interacting with their Muslim neighbors. Furthermore, the opposition included not only the bulk of knights and nobility but also the king and barons of Cyprus and a strong faction among the commons represented in the Commune of Acre, the Knights Templar, and the Genoese. Except for the Genoese, who were staunchly anti-Hohenstaufen based on Italian politics, what united these diverse elements was Frederick II’s disregard for the customs and laws of the kingdom.

Historians have rightly pointed out that, as the struggle between Frederick II and the barons of Outremer dragged on, the baronial faction became ever more imaginative in inventing “laws” and customs that undermined Hohenstaufen rule. By the time Balian of Beirut was swearing fealty to Alice of Champagne, however, Frederick II had long since squandered all credibility. He had repeatedly broken his sworn word and consistently behaved like a despot. The creativity of the opposition’s legal pretexts should not disguise or negate the fundamental fact that they sought to preserve the rule of law while Frederick II was determined to rule by imperial whim.

The rebels in Outremer stand out for their astonishing grasp of the constitutional principles at stake. Equally impressive, they experimented with expanding the franchise by including the commons in governing assemblies and mobilizing the burghers of Acre. Most importantly, they steadfastly insisted that a monarch was subject to the constitution and unwaveringly upheld due process.

Finally, it is worth noting that the English parliamentary reformer, Simon de Montfort, was a second cousin of Balian of Beirut. The two men fought together during the “Barons’ Crusade” of 1229-1230. The debt Montfort owed to Beirut is a subject that needs to be explored more fully by historians. Yet, whatever else can be said about these men—each flawed in his own way—they were undeniably rebels against the tyranny of kings.

Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History from the University of Hamburg. She is the author of The Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades: Kingdoms at the Crossroads of Civilizations, a comprehensive history of the crusader states that has received exceptionally high praise from leading scholars in the field. She has also used her understanding of the era to write a series of novels set in the crusader states, two of which bring to life the struggle between Frederick II and the Ibelins: Rebels Against Tyranny and The Emperor Strikes Back.

Featured: Frederick II. Bust, ca., 13th century. The Museo Provinciale Campano, Capua, Italy.

Crusaders in the Holy Land: A Unique Civilization

The Crusades have long been a contentious topic, and over the years scholarship has largely fallen into two camps: those that view this enterprise as European aggression (Ur-colonialism) and those that view it as a response to relentless Muslim aggression. The former view tends to predominate, especially in popular culture, where films, television shows and novels favor the trendy explanation of the Levant falling victim to “European violence.” Given the wide reach of media, such simplistic views have become “settled history.” Various efforts are made to counter this ideological reading of the Crusades (and the Middle Ages in general), but with little effect. The mainstream narrative yet holds sway, and in the popular mind the Crusades are evidence of innate European belligerence unleashed upon the world. One of the major problems with this narrative approach is Presentism, which then poses the “East” and the “West” as two irreconcilable monoliths that can only but continually clash. Saner scholarship recognizes the silliness of such an approach and has slowly been trying to make a difference by showing that the medieval world was neither ignorant nor parochial, and in which violence was more controlled than in our own day. The most recent example of such scholarship is Helena P. Schrader’s latest book, The Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades: Kingdoms at the Crossroads of Civilization, 1100-1300.

This eloquent book is a comprehensive narrative history of a unique Christian civilization in Palestine—the Crusader States. It is also a noble and honest effort to “set the record straight,” by presenting the entirety of the crusading effort as one of interaction, in which the East and the West met and fashioned a unique civilization. In the words of Schrader:

“While historians of past centuries portrayed the Latin Christians living in these states as a tiny, urban elite afraid to venture into the countryside out of fear of their subjects, there is a growing consensus among the scholars of the twenty-first century that the majority of the population was Christian, not Muslim, and that the degree of intermingling and tolerance between Latin and Orthodox Christians was much higher than had been assumed” (xxxiv).

Towards this end, the book seeks to be as meticulous and well-researched as possible, in which it aptly succeeds. It begins with a 24-page chronology that details the history of the Levant within the context of Christianity (which brought Catholics, commonly known as the “Franks” or “Latins,” into the region, who then established various principalities, or “Crusader States,” which were politically linked with each other and with Europe) and Islam (which eventually gave the Turks enduring dominance in the Holy Land).

The book is divided into two parts, wherewith the analysis moves from the larger to the particular. Thus, Part I, “A Short History of the Crusader States,” describes the process through which the Franks came to the Levant and set up religious, political, cultural and military structures which would ensure that the Holy Land would remain territory essential and important to the Christian faith. This meant the establishment of permanent settlements, or what later became known as the “Crusader States,” or “Outremer” (“Overseas”), as the people of that time called this settlement. Schrader carefully traces the course that needed to be followed to ensure success in this undertaking, and as such follows the rise and fall of the Crusader States, from 1099 (when Jerusalem came under Frankish rule) to 1291 when Acre fell and Frankish influence contracted and eventually disappeared from the region.

The importance of Part I is that it gives the reader a thorough understanding of the complexity of the Crusades in their entirety, while never neglecting the dynamics at play in the Muslim world, where Mongol, Turk and Egyptian rivalries held sway. It is truly commendable that Schrader offers an all-inclusive review of the forces in contention in the Levant over a two-hundred-year period. What emerges is the real picture of the Crusades—that they were a massive investment of effort, talent, money and most of all of faith which allowed for a unique civilization to emerge and flourish, becoming an envy of the world in so many ways.

It is the quality and quantity of this “Crusader” or “Frankish” civilization that Schrader turns to in Part II of her book, which is sub-titled, “A Description of the Crusader States.” Here, Schrader really comes into her own as she takes the reader on a captivating “journey” into the world of Outremer. Each chapter presents facts and analysis, so that a lot of the popular myths about the Crusades are laid to rest. For example, we learn that the population of the Levant was predominantly Christian and not Muslim, as widely and mistakenly assumed. Indeed, the Christian population of what is now known as the Middle East and even Central Asia was heavily Christian. It was only in the fourteenth century that the Christians of the East were methodically annihilated, and the area became what it is today—the final chapter of this annihilation was the Armenian Genocide (which occurred in two parts: 1890-1909 and 1915-1917). Of course, this topic lies outside the scope of Schrader’s book.

Next, Schrader examines the complex polity that emerged in Outremer, the concept of the “nation-state,” which of course had a direct influence on the life of the West in the centuries ahead, down to our own time, where the nation-state is the prime form of civilization. In other words, Outremer was a two-hundred-year long success story—it was hardly colonial “occupation.” The reason for this success, as Schrader shows, is the stability of the institutions that were rather quickly established, such as the very effective judiciary, in which the Muslim peasantry prospered (unlike Muslim peasantry in Islamic-run jurisdictions), as well as the establishment of churches and monasteries which allowed culture, learning and the Christian faith to flourish, especially the ease of pilgrimage (which led to the rise of Holy Land “tourism,” and all of the support industries that tourists need).

Diplomacy was another key component of the success of Outremer, whereby a balance of power was effectively achieved and maintained between the various rivals, namely, Mamluk Egypt, the debilitated Byzantine rule, the many fiefdoms of the Turks, and the Mongol Empire. It was the Crusader States who “micro-managed” this balancing act, so that trade between the East and the West flourished, despite the ambitions of particular rulers: “The willingness… to treat with the religious and strategic enemy on a short-term tactical basis meant that de facto peace reigned in the crusader states far more frequently than war” (193) , because “the Franks maintained sophisticated and largely effective diplomatic relations with all the major players in the Eastern Mediterranean” (196).

As Schrader also points out, the Levant was a backwater before the Crusaders came—but because the land was holy to Christianity, it saw a massive input that transformed the region into a going concern: “Investment into infrastructure revitalised the rural economy and enabled the expansion of trading networks. Existing cities grew, and ancient cities such as Caesarea and Ramla, which had gone to ruin, were revived. Indeed, entire new settlements and villages were built. The larger cities, such as Acre, Tyre, Beirut, Tripoli and Antioch, became booming urban centres with larger populations than the capitals of the West. Not until the mid-thirteenth century did Western European cities start to compete in size with the cities of the Latin East” (197).

As well, this investment returned strategic importance: “Most importantly, the Franks connected the traditional oriental trade routes with the growing, increasingly prosperous and luxury-hungry markets of Western Europe” (198). The reason for this flourishing trade was the building of infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and water management. Trade agreements were struck and banking practices introduced, which then led to manufacturing. Sugar, textiles (especially silk, samite and siqlatin), soap, wine, olive oil, leather goods, glass were all manufactured in the Crusader States.

Given this revitalization program, agriculture returned to this land long considered barren, so that cities began to flourish, and a distinct Outremer culture emerged, such as icon painting, book production, shrines and holy places where the faithful came in droves to receive blessing in the land trodden by God Himself, as the famous 13th century Palestinalied (Song of Palestine) relates: “Ich bin komen an die stat,/ dâ got menischlîchen trat (I am come to the city where God trod as a man).” This spiritual “currency” lay at the heart of this region, a “currency” that could never be depleted. And here the work of charity was paramount, which saw the building of hospitals, caravanserais, inns, as well as monasteries, churches and many chapels by confraternities and monastic orders.

The cities themselves were well-planned, with effective sewage systems, baths and even flushing toilets. Trade supplied the many open-air and enclosed markets. There were orchards and gardens surrounding each city, with aqueducts, pools and fountains to supply water. It is important to note that many of these cities were not fortified—that is, they did not lie inside protective walls—cities such as Nazareth, Hebron, Nablus and Ramla. This detail is important—for it points to the fact that life was, in fact, very peaceful, which flies in the face of the usual and popular trope of Crusader brutality.

But this not to say that the military aspect was not important, for defense was necessary, given the endless ambitions of the rulers of the time (Mongol, Mamluk and Turk). Thus, Frankish Levant saw the emergence of unique castle styles, chief and most impressive of which was the concentric castle, the best examples of which is Krak de Chevaliers and Belvoir which overlooks the Jordan valley (“Belvoir” in Old French means, “Good view”).

Frankish architecture was unique also because it did not destroy what originally existed: “Beyond their sheer scale and number, one of the most striking features of these various projects was the degree to which the Franks sensitively and respectfully incorporated the remains of earlier buildings into their renovation projects. In sharp contrast to the prevailing view of crusaders as bigoted barbarians, when it came to architecture, the crusaders sought to preserve rather than destroy. This was true of Muslim structures as well as Christian ones” (233).

One of the greatest achievements of Outremer was its art and its literature, both little known and studied. There survives, for example, the exquisite Melisende Psalter, with its illustrations that perfectly combine Byzantine, Armenian, Syriac, Coptic and Latin elements to produce a style that is original to Outremer. And then there are the frescoes of the 12th century Church of St. Jeremiah at Abu-Ghosh (the biblical Emmaus), which are the finest expression of Crusader art (despite their Byzantine “look”), although they now survive in a much damaged condition.

This comprehensive book ends with the history of the Ibelin family who typify the kinds of people that came to Outremer and made it the splendorous civilization that it was: “…while the Ibelins were undoubtedly exceptionally successful, they were also in many ways typical. They embodied the overall experience, characteristics and ethos of the Franks in the Holy Land. They came from obscure, probably non-noble origins, and the dynasty’s founder can be classed as an ‘adventurer’ and ‘crusader’. They rapidly put down roots in the Near East, intermarrying with native Christian and Byzantine elites. They were hardened and cunning fighting men able to deploy arms and tactics unknown to the West and intellectuals who could win wars with words in the courts. They were multilingual, cosmopolitan and luxury-loving, as comfortable in baths as in battles” (267).

But why did this great civilization in the Holy Land end, after two hundred years of great success? The answers are as varied as the scholars who seek to give a response to this question. Schrader is accurate in her own conclusion—that Outremer was a victim of its own success. Because it was such a “shining city on the hill,” others fought to possess it. But more tragically, the bane of Frankish rule was the incessant in-fighting, where factions vied for power and where loyalty was circumscribed by personal ambition. As well, the latter rulers had divided loyalty—they were more interested in maintaining their holdings and influence in Europe than looking after what previous generations had built in the Holy Land. It is that old cycle of civilization—the generations that inherent wealth effectively waste it and lose it.

And the legacy of Outremer? This is how Schrader summarizes it: “… the crusader states in the Levant were the home to a rare flourishing of international trade, intellectual and technological exchange, innovation, hybrid art forms and unique architecture, advances in health care and evolution of the constitutional principles of the rule-of-law” (305).

For its scope, its depth and its variety of subject matter, this book truly succeeds as a work of exceptional narrative history. By glancing at the past, we may well learn something about the narrowness of our own age.

C.B. Forde confesses to being a closet history buff, that is whenever he can tear himself away from the demands of the little bit of land that he cultivates.

Featured: The Last Judgment, a fresco in the Church of St. Jeremiah (Emmaus), in Abu-Ghosh, Israel; painted in the latter parts of the 12th century.

The Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades

Helena P. Schrader has just published a very important book that we encourage you to read. It is The Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades: Kingdoms at the Crossroads of Civilizations, which counters common misconceptions and prevailing popular myths about the crusader states by demonstrating that religious tolerance rather than fanaticism, intellectual activity rather than warfare, and cultural exchange rather than bigotry characterized these unique societies. It is a fabulous and comprehensive history of the Latin East.

Helena Schrader holds a PhD in history from the University of Hamburg, which she earned with a ground-breaking biography of a leader of the German Resistance to Hitler. She served as an American diplomat in Europe and Africa, and since her retirement works as an independent scholar. Her areas of expertise are ancient Sparta, the Crusader States and the Second World War. She has also published six novels set in the Latin East. You can find out more at her website.

Please support Dr. Schrader’s valuable work by purchasing a copy of this unique book. To get you going, here is an excerpt.

Because of the ignorant or irresponsible misuse of the term “crusader” and “crusades” by politicians, journalists and Islamist terrorists, long-discredited theories from the last century about the crusades have been perpetuated with thoughtless references and careless comparisons. This shallow and sensationalist – not to mention intellectually lazy – commentary drowns out the voices of serious scholars. As a result, most of the public today believes that the crusades and the crusader states were characterised by bigotry, racism and brutality aimed at the oppression and destruction of the native peoples of the Near East.

Yet, the picture of the crusader states that scholars have meticulously pieced together based on contemporary chronicles, data mining and archaeology does not corroborate these popular assumptions. Instead, the historical record provides concrete evidence of Frankish tolerance, adaptability, peaceful co-existence and cooperation with the various peoples inhabiting the Middle East. For example, from the moment they arrived in Antioch, the crusaders preserved, cherished and expanded the Arab libraries they discovered. Rather than destroying mosques and synagogues, the crusaders either repurposed them or allowed them to continue to operate, preserving these architectural monuments for posterity. Furthermore, the crusaders allowed Jews, Samaritans and Muslims to build new houses of worship. They allowed these religious groups to live according to their laws and publicly celebrate their religious festivals without interference.

Likewise, from the First Crusade onwards, the Franks recognised and respected the Orthodox clergy, at times taking Orthodox priests for their confessors and consistently sponsoring the re-establishment and restoration of Orthodox churches and monasteries. As a result, Greek monasteries flourished and expanded, particularly around Jerusalem, in Antioch and Sinai.

The hospitals of one of the crusading orders, the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, employed doctors of any religion. In the luxurious wards, patients of all religions were treated equally as “lords” by members of an order that viewed themselves as “serfs” of the poor.

The courts sought to ensure that anyone accused of a crime was judged by his peers following local custom rather than an alien legal code. Civil and criminal conflicts between members of different ethnic and religious groups were adjudicated in accordance with the law of the defendant.

Absent from the popular image of crusaders and the crusader states are the more than one hundred truces and the many alliances across religious borders. Likewise, the native Christians who worked as scribes, customs officials, merchants and manufacturers, both forming the administrative backbone of and contributing materially to the economic prosperity of the Holy Land have been erased from popular history by the simplistic popular picture of the crusader states. Invisible too are the Arabic and Syriac-speaking native Christian infantry and archers that made up the bulk of the Frankish armies, even though these fighting men saved the crusader states from destruction on multiple occasions.

The popular picture of the crusader states does not include the icon workshops, mass book production, or a society that rewarded knowledge of the law as assiduously as skill with the sword. Forgotten are the Muslims who sought refuge in the Kingdom of Jerusalem during the Mongol invasion of Syria and the Jews who immigrated to the Kingdom of Jerusalem because it was an oasis of tolerance in an anti-Semitic world. The historical reality of Templars hosting the Ayyubid princes in their Acre headquarters in 1244 and Frankish noblemen translating Arab poetry into French is obscured by Hollywood depictions of Templars shouting for Muslim and Jewish blood and Frankish noblemen slaughtering unarmed Muslims.

Yet, it is not only the need to correct common misconceptions that make the study of the crusader states rewarding. These kingdoms, sitting on the crossroads of civilizations, were established by newcomers from the West who were compelled to adapt rapidly to their new environment or face extinction. Not only did they adapt, but they evolved into a unique hybrid society that mixed European culture with Near Eastern traditions. This was not a matter of imitating—much less “stealing”—technology, art or ideas from more sophisticated neighbours. It was a matter of developing new and innovative products, forms and concepts. In doing so, the Franks of Outremer made significant contributions to the evolution of European society, stimulating advancement across a range of fields.

The most obvious innovations came in the field of warfare. From the adoption of surcoats to the construction of concentric castles, the confrontation between the armies of the Middle East and Western Europe led to significant military advances. The Franks pioneered Western use of mounted archers, evolved the fighting box (combined arms warfare), and in the military orders, rediscovered the value of professional and disciplined regular forces. They perfected the massed charge of heavy cavalry yet also effectively exploited light cavalry in reconnaissance and hit-and-run raids. Finally, they deployed archers behind shield walls to good effect, while Frankish crossbows represented cutting-edge technology. In his study of crusader warfare, Steve Tibble concludes that “warfare in the east was a crucible of innovation for European warfare.”

The architecture of the Franks was unique and not only regarding castles. Frankish domestic architecture combined such Western features as outward-oriented multistorey structures, high ceilings, large windows, loges and balconies with Arab and Byzantine artisanry, such as inlaid marble, glazed tiles, running fountains and intricate decoration. The result was gracious and sunlit structures that used local products such as glass windows, glazed tiles and polychrome marble. Frankish houses included fireplaces with hoods that reduced smoke accumulation (a Western feature) and sophisticated plumbing systems of cistern-fed ceramic pipes feeding into centrally-planned sewage systems (an Eastern feature).

As noted earlier, hospitals as institutions for healing the sick and injured evolved in the Holy Land in the crusader era, based on Byzantine and Arab precedents. Along with hospitals came advances in medicine and progress towards the professionalization of medical practitioners and the protection of patients from malpractice. The Frankish states provided a meeting place for physicians from various cultures, and Antioch became a centre for the study and development of medical theory.

International banking was another field significantly advanced by the Frankish presence in the Levant. The need for cash transfers over enormous distances fostered the evolution of letters of credit, cheques, currency exchange and other financial services previously unknown, at least not on such a scale.

Last but not least, the Franks contributed to constitutional law. Nowhere else in the medieval world was interest in and discussion of the concept of good governance, the rule-of-law and the monarch’s role carried to such heights of sophistication or conducted on as wide a scale as in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the mid-thirteenth century. In no other kingdom did so many noblemen of a single era study and write about the law, let alone serve as advocates in the courts. The Kingdom of Jerusalem was also exceptional for the number of men of lower social standing who gained prominence through legal expertise. The inclusion of the commons in governing assemblies was equally innovative and progressive, albeit limited. Yet most important was the advocacy and defence of key constitutional concepts such as the monarchs’ subordination to the constitution and the right to due process. In defending these principles against the authoritarianism of Frederick II, the rebels of Outremer undoubtedly influenced the English parliamentary reformer, Simon de Montfort. They deserve credit for their steadfast opposition to tyranny.

The Frankish states of the Levant were not paradise. Even if not perpetually on the brink of collapse, they were vulnerable. They were subject to frequent small-scale attacks, periodic invasions and were ultimately destroyed by warfare. In the thirteenth century, they also suffered from absentee monarchs, political intrigue, and factional infighting. Yet, they were neither fragile constructs doomed to failure nor genocidal, apartheid regimes established by barbarians to oppress enlightened natives.

The evidence is overwhelming—preserved in stone and meticulously documented by Arab, Greek, Syrian and Jewish sources no less than in the Latin and French chronicles: The crusader states in the Levant were the home to a rare flourishing of international trade, intellectual and technological exchange, innovation, hybrid art forms and unique architecture, advances in health care and evolution of the constitutional principles of the rule-of-law. They brought forth a vivid, multicultural society in which tolerance outweighed bigotry. As such, the crusader states’ contribution to the evolution of European culture deserves more attention and appreciation as we struggle to integrate diverse cultures in our own time.

Featured: Knight, Westminster Psalter (BL Royal MS 2 A xxii f. 220); 13th century.

Revelation, Philosophy and Theology

Olivier Boulnois is a French philosopher, specialist in Duns Scotus, Saint Augustine and more generally in medieval philosophy. He is the Director of studies at the École pratique des hautes études and Associate Professor at the Institut catholique de Paris, where he teaches religion and Christian philosophy of the Middle Ages.

He has recently written an interesting book which traces the history of “theological science” from its Greek emergence to the “collapse of the cornerstone” at the dawn of the sixteenth century. Far from being limited to the alternative between the God of revelation and the God of the philosophers, the Greek theologia, recuperated by the Latin Fathers and raised up as the “queen of sciences” by Scholasticism, has been the object, from the Thomistic moment onwards, of a deconstruction that continues into the contemporary period. Professor Boulnois sits down with Philitt to discuss his book.

Philitt (PL): Your book tells of the epic of theology, from its Greek emergence to the “end of the desire for God” in the modern era. Why have you reread the history of theology in the light of the “desire for truth” and what link do you establish between this desire for truth and the “desire for God?”

Olivier Boulnois (OB): We all live on clichés. For example, the idea that in the Middle Ages, philosophy was the servant of theology. But when we talk about philosophy being the “servant” of theology, we are taking the problem the wrong way round. For since its Aristotelian origin, theology is a philosophical science, the highest possible science, “theological science.” When I have embarked on a history of theology “as science” (subtitle of the book), it was to show how it develops by differentiating itself, like the branches of a tree—one branch of theological science remains purely philosophical (and sometimes in conflict with religious thought), while another branch takes up revelation and gives an interpretation of it. To say that philosophy is the “servant” of theology is to say in reality that one branch of philosophy is grafted onto another and depends on it.

It is in this perspective that we must read the “desire for truth.” Aristotle’s Metaphysics begins, from its very first words, by stating that man desires above all to know the truth. But what fulfills this desire is par excellence philosophy. And the summit of philosophy is the science of the divine (which Aristotle calls theologike episteme, “theological science”). We must not forget that even the intellectual life is itself a way of living; it is even, for Aristotle, the highest form of existence. Now, in speaking of the desire for God, Augustine says nothing less: if God is the sovereign good, He is also the one who fulfills our highest desires. There is thus a possible articulation between Aristotle’s desire for truth and Augustine’s desire for God. Moreover, for Augustine, God is the Truth; it is His most proper name. So, Augustine starts from the same analysis as Aristotle. In fact, he wrote: “Man desires nothing so much as the truth.” But he places the summit in God—to know God is to know the supreme truth, to satisfy our deepest desire.

Olivier Boulnois.

PL: Tracing the life and destiny of theology as a science leads you to study its apogee and notify its decline. When do you situate this apogee and when does its decline begin?

OB: In reality, I did not really build my investigation on the pattern borrowed from the history of empires: rise and fall, Aufstieg und Niedergang. The birth of a theological science can be described quite precisely, if we analyze Aristotle closely. Later, with the Stoics, the Aristotelian concept was transformed into mythical, physical, and political theology. In the Hellenistic period, it became the supreme science of Neoplatonism. So, it is not a question of a rise, of a progress, but of a restructuring and a transformation.

What bothered me more was the other end of this story. As a historian of philosophy and, through that, a philosopher, I had an impression that was hard to justify: from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, roughly, theology was the predominant discipline; but then it ceased to be so. Why is this? There are institutional reasons for its predominance, since it was the Church that sponsored the university, and institutionalized the teaching of philosophy in the faculty of arts. But there are also doctrinal reasons: we are in a system of knowledge, an episteme, where the great philosophers are also great theologians (from Albert the Great to Pierre d’Ailly, for example). But from the 17th century on, we are hard pressed to find great theologians who have contributed something to philosophy. So, there was a rupture. Where does it come from?

I think we can put forward three hypotheses: First, the condemnation of Pomponazzi at the Lateran Council (1513). By generalizing its rejection of Pomponazzi’s position and by demanding a philosophical demonstration of the immortality of the soul, the Council aimed at bringing philosophy to heel, by calling on philosophers to demonstrate certain essential truths of the faith (Descartes would still claim this). But this had an unexpectedly perverse effect. It actually stripped theology of its own object: if the philosopher becomes a “Christian philosopher,” if his task is to demonstrate the truths of the Christian faith, what is left for the theologian?

The second hypothesis is that theology has become detached from the logic of desire found in both Aristotle and Augustine. For some theologians, everything happens as if, on the one hand, there were henceforth the natural desire of man, which could only be satisfied by philosophical truths and by the God of the philosophers, and on the other hand, the supernatural, which no longer comes to fill the natural desire, but which is in a way superimposed in its own order, placed in us by God, which means that the desire of God is no longer the natural desire of man. It is truly the genius of Henri de Lubac to have perceived the subtle deformations that occurred at the end of the Middle Ages and that brought about these mutations. So, I took up the matter again, reworking the texts. What I discovered was quite astounding: originally, this new definition of the desire for God was explicitly directed against St. Thomas Aquinas. But when Cajetan makes it his own, he cannot speak out against Thomas, since he is the master general of the Dominican order and the defender of the Thomistic school. So, he slips this idea into his commentary on Thomas as if it were Thomas’. This is a typical example of what one does when one belongs to a school—one makes the master say what one thinks, not what he really said.

Finally, there is a third hypothesis, which is the idea that the new physics has supplanted theology. When we study the Galileo case, we see that Cardinal Bellarmine offered him a solution that was basically traditional; that maintained the superiority of theology while allowing him to support heliocentrism. It would have sufficed for Galileo to say that he spoke “according to the principles of natural science,” and that he did not claim to speak the absolute truth, which belongs to theologians. And yet Galileo, with astonishing courage and obstinacy, was not satisfied with this solution: scientific truth, physical truth, must be absolute truth, on the same level as theological truth. But then, in mixed questions, where Scripture and science intertwine, it is the physicist and not the theologian who has the last word. Theology was no longer the master of Scripture interpretation; it was no longer the queen of the sciences, an untouchable, unquestionable discipline.

So, to come back to your question, there was a beginning, and then there was a relative decline of theology in the 16th century. Of course, theology as a teaching subject did not cease to exist, but it largely retreated into positive theology, i.e., into the search for proof that theological interpretations are indeed based on the Bible and tradition. It no longer had anything to say to man’s desire.

PL: “All theology is therefore bound up with a metaphorology,” you write. What meaning do you give to “metaphorology” and what place does it hold in the history of theology?

OB: The expression “metaphorology” is not mine. It comes from Hans Blumenberg, the author of Paradigms for Metaphorology. But curiously, Blumenberg does not have a general theory of metaphorology—he analyzes a series of “absolute metaphors;” that is to say, what we commonly call images in French: the light of truth, the heart of the problem, etc. We know very well that truth is not a sensitive light, that the problem has no beating heart, etc. But we cannot replace the light of truth with the heart of the problem. We cannot replace the light or the heart with an adequate concept. These images take the place of a concept.

On the contrary, when I speak of metaphorology, I am speaking of the theory of metaphor that was developed by the “theologians” of the three great revealed religions: for example, by Augustine, Al-Farabi or Maimonides. The problem comes from the fact that the Scriptures are texts full of images: the hand of God, His throne of glory, His face and His back, etc. What are we to make of them? What are we to make of this? First of all, all authors agree on one point: we must go beyond any anthropomorphism. Unlike the gods of polytheism, the unique feature of the one God is that He is not visible; that He has no body, no representable form.

But then, should we say that these metaphorical images have no meaning and that the Scriptures are useless? A purely philosophical reading might be tempted to say so. But for most of our authors, the Scriptures serve a purpose: they are addressed, not to an elite of philosophers, but to the people who live by images and are guided by their desires and representations, in order to guide them towards salvation. The Bible and the Koran thus serve to form a people of believers, to frame it politically, to guide it morally and spiritually. But to make sense of metaphors, or to seek the truth beyond metaphors, is to interpret the Scriptures. Therefore, theology is an immense metaphorology. If the Scriptures are a forest of symbols, this means that we are never finished searching for their meaning. To go through them is to go through different levels of faith. This is Augustine’s experience—we begin by taking everything literally; but then we notice the tensions and contradictions; the text seems absurd. So, one goes in search of deeper, more spiritual, “allegorical” readings. All exegesis presupposes a metaphorology. And without metaphorology, theology would not be possible.

PL: In your book, you note how, at different times in its history, theology has seen the threat of “double truth” arise and how theologians of each era have sought to avoid this duplication. What threat does the “double truth” represent for theological science and how has it responded to it, up to Galileo?

OB: In reality, it is the theologians who have invented this threat. And in believing to exorcise it, they made it exist. Strictly speaking, the expression appeared in 1277 in the writings of the bishop of Paris, to condemn the error of the masters of the faculty of arts. According to him, when they taught philosophy, they taught Aristotle and affirmed things that were contrary to the faith; but at the same time they proclaimed themselves to be good Christians, who upheld the truths of the faith. Saying one thing and thinking the opposite is the fantasy of the “double truth,” which orthodoxy wants to fight.

Now what interested me was that we see, as early as Augustine, but obviously without the expression, the same fear, the same fantasy, being constructed. Except that Augustine’s solution is not at all the same. It consists in limiting the validity of what the theologian can say. In matters of science, his teaching has no relevance. It is better not to make a pronunciation on sciences that are beyond our understanding, for fear of being laughed at. But Thomas Aquinas brings up this argument several times. And Galileo makes it his main defense.

In the 13th century, there was clearly a problem of articulation between theology and philosophy. The condemnation of 1277 is only a symptom of a fundamental difficulty. But if we go beyond the bishop’s suspicions, we see that the masters of the arts, in order to practice philosophy, sought to defend the autonomy of philosophy. For that, they admitted that what they taught was not the absolute truth—either they limited themselves to quoting and commenting on Aristotle’s texts without holding them to be true, or they deployed their discourse from the data of natural science. For example, any serious interpreter of Aristotelian physics is obliged to admit an eternal world, because it is the cornerstone of his conception of the world. But of course, as a believer, the same individual can admit that the world is created; and this is for him an absolute truth. But it is precisely this form of autonomy, this way of basing philosophy on hypotheses, of seeing in it, truths that are true only relatively and not absolutely, that the bishop of Paris, Etienne Tempier, interpreted as a “double truth.” For his part, he had a simple solution: we forbid all philosophical propositions contrary to the Christian faith; and to be sure that no one takes them up, we make a list of them!

So, to answer your question, it was the intervention of theology that was a threat to philosophy, much more than the double truth was a threat to theology. The double truth did not threaten anyone, since it did not exist. It is an inquisitor’s fantasy: nobody seriously supported it before the condemnation of 1277.

PL: The slow construction of theology as a science, from Aristotle to St. Thomas Aquinas, was suddenly shaken at the end of the 13th century. Do you share the idea that, from that time on, the history of theological science would be confused with that of Thomism? Who would you say was the last Thomist?

OB: I repeat, “theological science” goes back to Aristotle. It is not at all confused with Thomism. What we see is something else: the term theologia was a Greek term, foreign to the Latin language. Yet it emerged several times in Latin. First in Augustine, where it designated the Stoic conception of the various ways of relating to the gods (through myths, the laws of the city, or the science of nature). But, probably because the term was too deeply linked to polytheism, Augustine did not use the word to designate the discipline that he himself practiced. He preferred to speak of philosophia christiana (“Christian philosophy”), or “Christian doctrine.” Boethius (5th century), at least once, translates Aristotle’s expression, “theological science,” by the word “theologia.” Finally, Abelard (12th century) was the first to call a book Theologia, no doubt in the sense of Boethius. For him, it was only the title of the book, a pedantic way of saying “Treatise on God.” But it is from Abelard onwards, and it seems from his oral teaching onwards, that theology designates a separate discipline.

In the 13th century, what is new is that following the reception of Aristotle’s principal treatises (notably those on science, the Second Analytics), the scientific status of theology is questioned—in the name of what, can this discipline call itself a science? And there, one notes a progressive elaboration, where all the important theologians of the 13th century contributed their stone to the edifice: Alexander of Halss, Bonaventure, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas. In this global movement, the great strength of Thomas is to have dared to make the great leap—to be the most Aristotelian of all. That is to say, to have had the courage to work, to assimilate and to criticize the greatest non-Christian philosophy available at the time. This is why his solution on theology as science is both the strongest and the most Aristotelian. It is the strongest because it affirms that our theology, the one we elaborate from revelation, depends on the science of the blessed (the one God and the angels have of themselves and of the truth); that it is “as if subordinated” (quasi subalternata, “quasi-subalternated”) to this other science, a bit like (quasi) optics depends on the principles established by geometry. It is also the most Aristotelian, because it can be shown that this superior science coincides with what Aristotle called the “theological science” (which comes down to the science that God has of Himself). It is therefore precisely the introduction of Aristotle’s metaphysical model into the heart of Christian thought.

As for the idea that theological science is then confused with Thomism, it is frankly false. In reality, Thomas was immediately attacked by his greatest successors precisely because he was found to be too Aristotelian. He was criticized for almost all his positions, and especially for theology as a science. For example, for his successor at the University of Paris, Henry of Ghent, the “quasi-subalternation” of which Thomas speaks is a deception—for those who have the science of revelation (men on earth) are not the same as those who have the divine science (the blessed). Then came other great theologians, all original—Duns Scotus, Peter Auriol, Ockham, Gregory of Rimini, Gabriel Biel, Luther. It was above all the Dominican order, and then the authority of the papacy, that allowed the maintenance of a Thomistic school (with all its internal contradictions, as we have seen in the case of Cajetan).

PL: If you establish the responsibility of certain Thomists in the decline of theology, you also insist on various “affairs” that toppled the medieval edifice, in particular the “Galileo affair.” Could one say that theological scientificity has been the object of a “deconstruction” in the modern sense of the term?

OB: As I said, the assertion that the supernatural is completely external to man’s desires was originally a non-Thomistic position. Then it crept into the Thomistic tradition, and it contaminated part of theology. But not all of it, since there were other traditions, more faithful to the Augustinian paradox—man desires to reach the truth, but he cannot reach it by himself; he needs grace. I have also spoken of the Galileo affair and I have mentioned the case of the Lateran Council V. There are surely other factors as well.

But then, can we say that there is a “deconstruction” of theological scientificity? Clearly, yes. Henri de Gand is only the first of a long series of criticisms. It is therefore a deconstruction that occurred at the end of the 13th and the beginning of the 14th century, one or two generations after Thomas. It is insistent on the idea that Christian theology has a specific status, that it rests solely on faith, and that it is therefore science only after the act of faith. It then becomes a hypothetico-deductive system—faith provides initial data, the articles of faith, which function as axioms, and theology speculates only afterwards, to deduce the consequences.

Consequently, the construction of theology as a science has only really held solidly for a century or so, between the first great Summits, such as that of Alexander of Hales, and the radical criticism made by William of Ockham. Then, we see the rebirth of new doctrinal syntheses, which are still called theological, but which each have their own model of scientificity. Each of them articulates, in different proportions, a part of exegesis and a part of rational speculation. At the end of the 14th century, it was the popes themselves who called for a “return to the sources;” that is to say to the Fathers of the Church against scholastic subtleties. And Thomas swings to the side of the classics—one must read Thomas because he is a more reliable source, because he supports a kind of common position prior to the conflict of interpretations in the 14th century. We also see the birth of “schools”: the great universities of the Renaissance begin to have chairs: a chair of Scotism, a chair of Albertism (inspired by Saint Albert the Great), a chair of Thomism, etc.

PL: Modern philosophy’s criticism of the “ontotheological constitution of metaphysics,” as Heidegger puts it, parasitizes the fate of both theology and metaphysics. To what do you attribute such an impasse? Does the alternative between thinking being without God and thinking God without being have a future?

OB: The problem, when revealed theology is understood as a science, is that, in order to be a science, it has to model itself on Aristotle’s theological science. At that point, it carries on its shoulders the whole history of metaphysics. Now Heidegger has described metaphysics as an ontotheology. It should be noted first of all that this is not in itself an insult; it is a description. I have criticized elsewhere (in the book Métaphysiques rebelles) this description, because I found it simplistic; this model must be multiplied, to adapt it to different cases.

But of course, this characterization of the God of metaphysics is also intended, according to Heidegger, to oppose the God of philosophy and the God of faith. And obviously, if we want to think philosophically today about the God of revelation (and not go around in circles talking only about the God of philosophers), we must think about the God of faith, hope and charity. If we want to think of the living God, we gain absolutely nothing by reintroducing here the question of being. To think the God of believers, and not an abstract concept, we must start from Revelation. We must also start from what it means to believe, hope and love; but this amounts to the same thing, since it is through Revelation that we can say and understand what it means to believe, hope in and love God.

PL: At the end of your study, you emphasize the emergence of a “new form of philosophia christiana.” Why did you use this expression? To what fate does “Christian philosophy” seem to you to be destined?

OB: Ah, I see that my sentence can be taken backwards. So, I have expressed myself badly. The “philosophia christiana” here is not what Gilson called “Christian philosophy.” It is the doctrine that the Fathers of the Church practiced, before the construction of theology as a science—it is the interpretation of the Scriptures, the interpretation of Christian existence in the light of the Scriptures, and the interpretation of the Scriptures in the light of Christian existence. Augustine also says, “Christian doctrine.” I sincerely believe that the work of deciphering the Scriptures, of interpreting their metaphorical images, of overcoming their apparent contradictions, and thus of discovering a spiritual meaning, is the work of a lifetime, in every sense of the word. The Christian faith is not a system, a worldview, an ideology, to which one adheres or not. It is something that one discovers, that one deepens, in which one progresses. When we try to acquire an understanding of it, it provokes a virtuous and endless circle—faith seeks intelligence, and intelligence seeks faith. Augustine said it very well.

It is in this sense that I was talking about returning to the philosophia christiana. This has little to do with what Gilson called “Christian philosophy.” Let us say that there are at least two meanings of the expression “Christian philosophy” in Gilson, depending on whether he is a historian or a philosopher. As a historian, his genius was to say, even if reason is a natural faculty, and if philosophy is an autonomous discipline, historically, we can see that Christianity did not leave philosophy in the state in which it had found it. Christianity has deeply affected, stimulated, modified, enriched and transformed the fundamental concepts of philosophy. In this sense, there was indeed a history of Christian philosophy; that is, of philosophy in a Christian regime. But as a philosopher, Gilson increasingly hardened his position, arguing that Christianity, in a way, required a certain number of philosophical theses, and that, basically, the truly Christian philosophy was that of Saint Thomas Aquinas. In the climate of the 1930s to 1950s, this theory is understandable. But today it no longer makes much sense. Today, a Christian philosopher does not have to defend certain pre-assigned theses. He is simply someone who tries to understand his faith better, and to think about contemporary questions in the best possible way, in the most rational and scientific way.

Featured: Jesus among the Doctors, by Albrecht Dürer; painted in 1506.

The Idea of the “Person” in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages still have a lot to teach us. This is the lesson that the historian Jérôme Baschet delivers to us in Corps et âmes. Une histoire de la personne au Moyen Âge (Bodies and souls. A History of the Person in the Middle Ages). Contrary to appearances, medieval Christianity was not dualistic. The body and the soul drew the contours of the human person—an “I” against a background of interpersonal relationships, far, far from Cartesian dualism. A lesson for our time!

The body and the soul are opposed, according to monotheisms. Even more so with the Gnostics, with what has been called the “demonization of the cosmos.” A demonization that included man, who is part of it—impure body; soul that tends towards purity. The scheme was comfortable. It outlined however a fatal spiral: the radical dissociation between the felt and the desirable. Between the sensible and the Good. Between what is and what must be.

Of course, the soul can improve itself, and the body too, but certainly not one against the other. This is the problem—we have pitted one against the other too much. The soul against the body, or the soul without the body—which is the same thing. And that’s how it has been since the Middle Ages, we are told. But what if it was the opposite? What if things have been like this since the end of the Middle Ages? And what if the body/soul dualism was established especially since, and with, modernity? What if it was since the mutation of Christianity into a religion more and more external to the life of society, more and more doctrinal, less and less popular, that the duality between body and soul had taken on pathological forms? That this duality had become dualism?

Medieval Personalism

It is the purpose of Jérôme Baschet to clarify this question. He is a historian, but not only. He also takes a philosophical look at this period of our European history. The breadth of his views and interests allows him to put Europe in perspective, in relation to other civilizations. Jérôme Baschet has two or three things to tell us. One is that the Christian Middle Ages saw a duality between the body and the soul, but that this duality is not a dualism. There are not two separate principles. What prohibits dualism is the idea of the human person. It is in this same perspective that we will see later that the communitarian personalism of the 1930s to 1950s is neither the rule of the masses nor individualism.

The second thing that Jérôme Baschet has to tell us is that the Middle Ages, which lasted a thousand years, are not static. And what we see is that they evolved in the following way: they were less and less dualistic. As Christianity permeated society, it made more and more room for the body. The more Christianity became a civilization instead of a religious doctrine, the more room it made for the body. It is the shift from the idea of God to the Incarnation that makes Christianity less dualistic. Perhaps also less Christian and less Judaic. More Europeanized. Now it is the opposite, Christianity, with Bergoglio, has become decivilized (Renaud Camus). It has returned to its origins.

Against dualism, the Middle Ages thought of the person. Persona. The etymology refers to “wearer of a mask.” It goes back to the Etruscans, and at least to Boethius, in the sixth century AD. True or false, this etymology means that we have a role to play. A mask is a role. And it’s not necessarily concealment. But this role does not exhaust our whole identity. The etymology of “person” also refers to “that which resonates.” And all for that, it came down to this—the body is what manifests itself, what makes a sounding board of our moods, our pains, our joys. It is therefore both physical and psychic.

This is what our ancestors of the Middle Ages understood. A person—is the capacity to say “I.” To be a person is to possess the sense of one’s individuality, “spiritual and body at the same time” (Marcel Mauss). “I am, I exist”, says Descartes. But the person was not waiting around for Descartes in order to exist. It is not precisely the Cartesian cogito. Descartes says: “I will now close my eyes, I will close my ears, I will turn away all my senses; I will even erase from my mind all images of corporeal things, or at least try, as this can hardly be done; I will consider them as vain and as false; and thus, speaking only to myself, and considering my interior, I will try to make myself, little by little. better known and more familiar to myself” (Meditations on First Philosophy, III). This is a bedtime story. A mental burp trying to be a philosophical “find.” It is the grail without the Arthurian poetry. Nobody serious can actually believe in this Cartesian man who would separate his self from the world. Who can possess an interior without exterior? The Middle Ages tell us something else. They tell us that the person is the center of a cluster of relations, and that these relations pre-exist the person. The person is what exists before the individual, who is an impoverished version of it. The individual is only a modern, rationalized derivation of the person. A step backwards towards the return to a body/soul dualism.

The “I” is a “We

The idea of the person is this: it is not the “I” that builds his relationships. It is the relationships that build the “I.” A person is thus a fraction of a cluster of relations. A sequence in a relational flow; and for all that, it is not an arbitrary division. The person really exists. It is not a simple convenience of description. But a person only exists in relation to others. It is undoubtedly the meaning of the formula of Aragon: “One does not die, because there are the others.” In others, with whom we are and have been in relationship, there remains a little of us. All life is, as Aragon said, a “narrative carnival;” and a carnival is a community movement.

There is thus a singularity of the European Middle Ages. It is this invention of the person—or this rediscovery of the person in a Christian context. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries are thus the least dualistic period in the history of the West, Baschet tells us. It is the golden age of the person. To this period of beautiful balance is opposed modernity—the a-relational conception of the person. Modernity is a self-founded conception of the person, and such a one is no longer the simple individual. Modernity rests thus on “a self-referential conception of the person,” writes Jérôme Baschet, a conception quite different from the medieval conception which it succeeds. We have to speak of naturalism when it comes to this post-medieval conception of the person as isolated monad. Naturalism (in the philosophical sense) means—all that exists has natural causes. Nature is thus decoupled into a system of causalities. Into mechanism. By this, it loses its enchanted character. It is no longer the focus of energy that Vedic India called aditi. It is the beginning of the disenchantment of the world. From the 1600s (the Discourse of Method is from 1637 and Meditations on First Philosophy is from 1641, for the Latin version), and in a process that will lead to the French Revolution, the relational character of the person is erased. And with him, the dimension of collective transmission, which was attached to the constitution of the person, disappears little by little.

Putting an End to Guilt

In the end, it is Rabaut Saint-Étienne’s famous formula that triumphs: “History is not our code” (Considérations sur le Tiers-état). Poor Rabaut! His formula was intended to be nuanced, explaining that it is not enough for a law to be old for it to have value—but his formula was quickly interpreted as legitimizing the clean slate in the name of the “goddess of reason.” We see it nowadays—our code is the refusal of historical legacies, except in the form of repentance. In the latter case, forgetting about forgetting is the rule. Let us forget everything, except our “crimes.” A dolorous and incapacitating hypermnesia. Is this not the goal? Let’s be ashamed of slavery, of Vichy, of our nuclear power plants, and even of Fabien Roussel and François Ruffin, who are too attached to the defense of the way of life of the working classes! And let’s get rid of the “affluent society,” except for migratory abundance, which is non-negotiable.

The individual of the modern world is then hypertrophied, in a mixture of “all to the ego”—the “dictatorship of the ego” of which Mathias Roux speaks in his eponymous book—and of over-responsibility in the manner of Levinas (the latter taking up Dostoyevsky’s words: ” each of us is undoubtedly guilty on behalf of all and for all on earth, not only because of the common guilt of the world, but personally, each one of us, for all people and for each person on this earth”). Hypertrophy of the “responsible” self, which comes down to the following—to be responsible for everything is ultimately to be responsible for nothing. Who wants to embrace too much embraces nothing. “Man, being condemned to be free, carries the weight of the whole world on his shoulders,” said Sartre (Being and Nothingness). In the end, every man for himself triumphs, accompanied by great ideals too abstract to commit to anything. Some are in favor of welcoming “climate refugees,” who do not exist, but some will not make a detour to bring a bunch of leeks to one’s old invalid neighbor. “Contemporary narcissism would like to think of the individual as an autonomous entity that detaches itself from any belonging and wants to ignore the society in which it lives,” writes Marcel Gauchet.

In contrast to the modern individual, the Middle Ages saw the person as the product of relations between oneself and others, and the product of a shared horizon. The person, in this perspective, is never the beginning of a story. He is a moment in it. “All human life begins… in the middle of the action which has already begun”, notes Irène Théry (La distinction de sexe). It is with this continuistic conception of the person that modernity broke. It established a triple separation of which Jérôme Baschet gives an account—separation of man from nature and the living, of the body from the soul, of the person from what preceded him and what surrounds him. It is now necessary to stitch together what has been disjointed. The Middle Ages have things to tell us. Let us hear!

Pierre Le Vigan is an urban planner who has also has taught at the universities of Paris XI-Orsay, Paris XII-Créteil, and at the IUP Ville et Santé in Bobigny. He has also worked in adult education. This article appears through the courtesy of the revue Éléments.

Featured: “Vision 4: Cosmos, Body, and Soul,” Book of Divine Works, Part I; painted by Hildegard von Bingen in 1230.