Manuscript Hunting in Late Seventeenth-Century Iceland

The fervent collecting of ancient and medieval manuscripts—in Italy and Greece from the late fourteenth century, in France, Germany and England from the early fifteenth century, and in Spain and Iceland from the late sixteenth century onwards—resulted not only in the accumulation of new texts and information. It was also a reason for perplexity as scholars struggled to design methods for sifting evidence, for defining options, and for making choices concerning the texts they wished to use or publish, their struggle at times ending in despair and exhaustion. As more and more manuscripts were brought to light and made accessible in continuously growing libraries and private collections, scholars needed new tools to understand and manage textual variance. Which manuscripts should be used, and how could their quality be gauged? Why did their texts differ? How should they be transcribed and published? Should vernacular texts be translated into Latin? What kind of comments were needed – factual, historical, or textual?

Such technicalities, in other words the painstaking travails of textual scholarship, deserve to be a focus of attention in an overarching history of the humanities. This history should not restrict itself to the brilliant ideas of philosophers and theologians. Developments in the humanities were based on the “rough” material of ancient textual sources, and in this article I hope to show how scholarship in the Early Modern age needed to plough through vexed issues of textual variance, manuscript hunting and compilation that, although often coming to dead ends and not always resulting in successful publications, were nevertheless seminal to developments in history writing, philology, and language scholarship.

I will focus on an area to which the history of scholarship has paid scant attention: the kingdom of Denmark-Norway in the late seventeenth century. Somewhat earlier, the English antiquarian Henry Spelman characterized this “unlearned” kingdom as being on “the confines of the Arctic Circle.”

Although an abundance of Icelandic and Norwegian medieval texts and manuscripts was rediscovered and the first editions appeared in 1664-1673, none of them was based on a critical assessment of manuscripts. In the 1680s and 1690s a renewed effort was made that, had it succeeded, would have delivered interesting results. Lamentably, however, this endeavour did not produce editions, partly due to a lack of funds but chiefly because of methodological difficulties. The scholars involved were aware of the value of vellum manuscripts but unable to solve the problem of textual variance, that is the fact that manuscripts of any specific work differed in many ways, and a scholar who wanted to produce an edition would have to make choices based on critical discernment and clear principles.

Instead of using standards of philological correctness of our present age to judge these late seventeenth-century efforts, I shall base my estimate on the exceptional insights of the late fifteenth-century Florentine scholar Angelo Politian, the enfant terrible of late medieval and early modern scholarship. In a way, Politian’s philological ideals were so close to modern procedures that they seem almost too good to be true; his practice in that sense resembles what Ezio Ornato has calleduna semplice curiosità archeologica” [a mere archaeological curiosity]. Politian’s example was only followed by scholars in more recent times, but nonetheless his philological ideal can be used as a benchmark for developments in the Early Modern period. Arrogant and impatient at times, he was an incredibly observant scholar who wished to outperform his contemporaries as he strove to establish better versions of ancient Greek and Roman texts through linguistic refinement and the meticulous observation of manuscripts. He wanted to base his work on a thorough investigation of as many manuscripts as possible, preferring older ones but not discarding more recent texts that might be copies of ancient books.

Politian’s work demonstrates his critical assessment of the quality of manuscripts and the ways in which they were related. He made very careful collations of manuscripts and printed editions, rigorous transcripts of texts that he borrowed, and emendations, judiciously based on other texts written by the same author or his direct environment. Politian loathed inexactitude and harshly criticized his predecessors and contemporaries for making too many mistakes. In his Miscellaneorum centuria prima of 1489, for one, he attacked the late Domizio Calderini for his sloppy method. Jacopo Antiquari, Calderini’s friend in Milan, complained about this in a letter and claimed that since Calderini was long dead, it was like attacking a ghost. Politian retorted on 30 November 1489 that he could not know whether Calderini would have corrected his mistakes if he had still been alive:

How should I know this? Are you really saying that it is always and everywhere a good idea to expect intellectual progress? [An usquequaque de ingeniorum profectu bene sperare est?] Were not all of this particular person’s final contributions even more inaccurate?

In Politian’s view, progress came with hard work. His influence, however, was limited—like Calderini, in this respect, he died too soon. Most scholars continued to make many mistakes, and even the best were careless in their choice of manuscripts and variants. When Erasmus, for instance, published his Greek edition of the New Testament in Basel in 1516, he used five manuscripts. One of them is preserved, a twelfth-century vellum now known to be devoid of textual value. Although aware of the value of old manuscripts, Erasmus relied mostly on recent ones with scant merit. Where the Greek text was lacking, he even added bits of his own translation from the Vulgate, thus revealing, to quote L.D. Reynolds and N.G. Wilson, “a lack of a set of logical principles for the evaluation of manuscripts.” In his edition of the works of Seneca in 1515 and 1529, Erasmus recognized the worth of a ninth-century manuscript he had acquired, but he did not use it much: “Instead of basing his text of these works upon this prime witness, he drew on it spasmodically to emend what he had before him.”

It soon became standard practice for most editors to use first editions as a basic text—textus receptus or textus vulgatus—adding selected readings from manuscripts that were mentioned only vaguely (“emendatio ope codicum”) and various conjectures (“emendatio ope ingenii”), at times original, but just as often borrowed or stolen. Th ere were some exceptions, however. In around 1530-1570, scholars of Roman law, such as Antonio Agustín, Piero Vettori, Jacques Cujas and Joseph Scaliger, criticized older editions severely, tracing the genealogy of manuscripts and publishing transcripts of those they considered important. They normalized orthography and corrected errors, and even made typographical distinctions between variants and conjectures.

Such efforts were consolidated every time that scholars made a determined effort to gather manuscripts in growing libraries. Although most libraries were private, the biggest ones, kept by kings, dukes and universities, were public. From the 1640s onwards, this enabled Dutch scholars such as Nicolaas Heinsius and Isaac Vossius to produce better editions, partly through their ingenuity in making emendations and conjectures based on a wider knowledge of texts, but also through a closer scrutiny of manuscripts. Scholars came to prefer their specific texts above earlier editions, although at times some were overwhelmed and only produced heaps of variants without distinction.

This process of strenuous and uneven progress was mirrored further to the north, but developed more slowly and with less spectacular results in terms of editions. Influenced by Italian humanists, scholars in Northern Europe had begun searching for documents and manuscripts already in the early sixteenth century. Interesting texts were discovered such as the plays and poetry composed by Hrotsvitha von Gandersheim in the tenth century; they were edited and published by Konrad Celtis in Nürnberg 1501.

In 1515, his friend Konrad Peutinger used recently found manuscripts to publish The History of the Goths, written by Jordanes in the sixth century, and The History of the Longobards by the ninth-century historian Paulus Diaconus.

In 1514, Christiern Pedersen, a Danish student of theology in Paris, published the extensive early thirteenth-century Latin History of the Danes (Gesta Danorum) by Saxo Grammaticus—and was actually among the first editors to use the blurb text for claiming that this was the first time a text appeared in print: “nunc primum literaria seriæ illustratæ tersissime que impressæ.” Later, he wished to make a Danish translation of Saxo with detailed explanations on Nordic history. Aware of the existence of manuscripts of medieval sagas of Norwegian kings, he hired a Norwegian man of learning who knew the old language to make excerpts.

A Danish translation of Saxo first appeared in 1575, when the historian Anders Sørensen Vedel concluded one. The first Danish translation of the Norwegian kings’ sagas appeared in Copenhagen in 1594 and a more thorough one in 1633, when Ole Worm, in his introduction, compared the writings of the thirteenth-century Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson to Greek and Roman historical works, stating that they were just as useful and truthful.

As late as the 1630s, the Dutch historians Johannes Meursius and Johannes Pontanus wrote eloquently on the medieval history of Denmark without using a single manuscript. It was by then well known that medieval manuscripts of great interest for the medieval history and culture of Scandinavia were to be found in Iceland. The first batches were sent as gifts to the Danish king in 1656 and 1662 by the learned bishop Brynjólfur Sveinsson who hoped that Icelandic texts would be published with a Latin translation and a scholarly commentary.

Swedish scholars, arguing with Danish ones about the age of their two nations, also showed an interest in Icelandic texts containing references to Swedish kings. In 1664-1673, a series of text editions appeared in Uppsala and Copenhagen with translations into Danish, Swedish and Latin, but all of them were worse than anything produced in Europe at the time. Any available manuscripts were used regardless of their scholarly value, mostly recent and inexact copies from Iceland, and the editors’ commentaries reveal a credulous attitude towards the text and a blatant lack of critical zeal.

This was the scholarly norm when Árni Magnússon [1663-1730], or Arnas Magnæus as he will be called here, arrived in Copenhagen in 1683, at the age of twenty, to study theology at the university, just like many promising young men of good families in Iceland. A year later he became assistant to Thomas Bartholin the Younger, the recently appointed royal antiquarian, and provided numerous Icelandic texts for his fairly voluminous book on the fearlessness of medieval Danes, published in Copenhagen in 1689.

Magnæus developed rapidly as a textual scholar. In 1684-1685 he made hundreds of short excerpts from Icelandic manuscripts of sagas and historical works, using recent copies available in the city, most of them of disputable quality, copied without care for reading purposes and not for scholarly use. The Icelandic vellums that belonged to the king and the university were all at Stangeland, on the west coast of Norway, with the Icelander Þormóður Torfason or Thormod Torfæus, royal historiographer of Norway.

Magnæus’s method of transcription was simple. He used his own orthography and expanded the abbreviations in the manuscript he copied (exemplar), so that he gave everything his personal touch. Bartholin and Magnæus did not care about the age of the manuscripts or texts they used. To them, all texts were equally interesting, and they used what was at hand, such as an early seventeenth-century copy of Knytlinga saga, a saga on Danish medieval kings that Ole Worm had received from Iceland some decades earlier. In collaboration with an unknown Icelander, Magnæus copied the legendary Hrólfs saga kraka from a paper copy and translated it into Latin. He also made a copy of the Norwegian thirteenth-century Speculum regale (Konungs skuggsjá), again in collaboration with an unknown scribe, but now from a vellum manuscript that belonged to Peder Resen, professor of law at the university. In one place, Magnæus commented on the fact that a leaf was missing. He corrected what the other scribe had done, and they both modernized the spelling.

Although one of his exemplars was on vellum and the other a recent copy, the method was consistent. The goal was to make texts readable and accessible, so that information would be available on a variety of relevant issues. The transcripts were meticulous, and few changes were made, except for the spelling. This is how Icelandic scribes had worked earlier in the century. Magnæus followed their tradition and not without success.

In 1685-1686, Magnæus changed his mind completely, as if he suddenly discovered that things could be done so much better. In the spring of 1685, he went to Iceland in order to collect manuscripts for Bartholin; he stayed until the autumn of 1686. He found nothing that Bartholin needed, but obtained for himself a few legal codices and made copies of medieval legal texts in a manner totally different from what he had done so far, in more detail and with greater exactitude. As he returned to Copenhagen, he responded to this “revelation” by transcribing several texts from a late fourteenth-century collection of Icelandic sagas, recently acquired by Resen from a student who had been with Torfæus as a scribe for three years.

The transcript is exceptionally detailed and can be situated on what philologists now call the diplomatic level. Magnæus strove to imitate the orthography and abbreviations of the original, and succeeded except for minor inconsistencies in some details. He emended the text in a few places and put his additions within square brackets. This “new” method seems to have been based on a mixture of foreign models and personal fascination due to direct contact with vellum manuscripts.

The exceptional attention to detail was probably inspired by his reading of scholarly books and editions in Bartholin’s library of at least 2400 volumes. Here, Magnæus had access to hundreds of editions of classical and medieval texts and to the most recent scholarly feats of Jean Mabillon and others—not to mention Angeli Politiani opera, published in Paris in 1519. By now, Magnæus had decided to acquire as many Icelandic texts as possible in good copies, probably hoping to establish a research library of sorts. However, he soon found the newly developed diplomatic method too time-consuming and opted instead for a somewhat easier way of copying texts in a normalized orthography with expanded abbreviations. He did not go so far, however, as to use his own orthography like he had done earlier. In the winter of 1687-1688 he copied another fourteenth-century vellum of Icelandic sagas, Möðruvallabók, with two friends who studied at the university, Ásgeir Jónsson and Eyjólfur Björnsson. They expanded all abbreviations and wrote all names with a majuscule. Corrections were not indicated, and not all medieval letter-forms were maintained.

In the autumn of 1688, Torfæus came to Copenhagen to claim his salary that was long overdue. He was working on books on the medieval history of Denmark and Norway, published in 1702 and 1711, respectively. He befriended his much younger countryman Magnæus who confided that he planned an edition of a crucial historical work, the early twelfth-century Book of Icelanders (Íslendingabók). Written by chieftain, priest and historian Ari Thorgilsson the Wise, it succinctly narrates the discovery and colonization of Iceland in the late ninth century and its subsequent Christianization. The edition was intended for scholarly readers and was to contain a Latin translation and an extensive historical commentary. It would have added invaluably to the knowledge of Icelandic medieval history and was accepted for publication in Copenhagen in spring 1691, but never appeared. My contention is that Magnæus abandoned the edition because textual and factual inconsistencies in medieval manuscripts stretched the limits of his method. Rather than accepting these inconsistencies as some sort of challenge by integrating them in his work, he discontinued the project.

Magnæus’s first problem was that he had no decent copy of the text and had to use whatever manuscript he could lay his hands on. To our present knowledge, an early thirteenth-century vellum manuscript was extant in Iceland in around 1650. A highly qualified scribe, Jón Erlendsson, made two copies for the aforementioned Bishop Brynjólfur before the manuscript disappeared, one of them (AM 113 b fol.) better than the other (AM 113 a fol.)—now both in the Arnamagnæan collection. Several copies were soon made of the version that was most faulty; subsequent copies of these copies grew more deficient with each generation. At some point in 1688, Magnæus received one of those bad copies, unfortunately not preserved, and made a copy for himself that he intended to use in his edition.

In the summer of 1688, the Book of Icelanders was published together with the much longer Book of Settlement by Bishop Thordur Thorlaksson at the only printing press in Iceland. The text was based directly on the manuscript AM 113 a fol. with a few judicious corrections. The editorial principles are explained in a short introduction, but there is no commentary and no translation. When Magnæus received the printed book in the autumn of that year, he must have realized that this edition was far better than the copy he had made for himself. Paradoxically, he showed no sign of using the edition in his work but instead insisted that Torfæus should send him a manuscript of the text even if it contained exactly the same text as the printed edition.

In early 1690, Magnæus added to his copy a few marginal notes based on this manuscript, but should have made many more had he wanted to be thorough and consistent. In 1691 and 1692, Magnæus received both of Jón Erlendsson’s mid-century copies from Iceland and corrected his text in various places on the basis of the better copy, but again not consistently. Simultaneously, he collated that copy with the other good one. He now had the best manuscripts and knew it, but as he saw that there were more and different copies, he seems to have lost his way and instead of redoing the text, he abandoned the project. Magnæus’s other problem was the commentary. The Book of Icelanders is only five thousand words in length, but poses intricate issues of chronology that appeared insoluble—and some of them really are. Magnæus went to stay with Torfæus at Stangeland for a few months in 1689.

On his way back to Copenhagen, he wrote a letter asking Torfæus where he had read that the Norwegian king Harald Fairhair was born at the moment that King Gorm of Denmark had been in power for seven years. Torfæus replied that this conclusion was “ex hypothesi,” since medieval chronicles claimed that Gorm became king in the year 840 and Harald was born in 848. The problem Magnæus and Torfæus encountered was that medieval chronicles and kings’ sagas hardly ever mention dates and do not agree with each other on how many years various kings stayed in power.

About Harald Fairhair, allegedly the first king of a unified Norway, Magnæus concluded at one point that there was so much confusion that he saw no possibility of figuring out anything at all. Torfæus claimed that only the oldest historians should be used and not the ones that followed them. No author, however, could be entirely trusted since all of them made their own guesses and even mixed things up. For this reason, Torfæus repeated, a scholar had to work “ex hypothesibus.” Having done what could be done, the scholar should decide, or better still the community of scholars, or as Torfæus wrote on 2 October 1690: “It is best that both of us agree, and Bartholinus, and exclaim a single adieu!”

When Magnæus insisted, Torfæus offered to include his arguments in the book. Magnæus should also publish both versions, and it would be left to the readers to decide. Any further discussion would be a waste of time and paper. Torfæus went on to write several learned volumes, discussing various options for a variety of problems in the texts, but Magnæus only produced handwritten notes. It needs to be said that a contributing factor to Magnæus’s failure to produce an edition of the Book of Icelanders may have been the perceived or real lack of interest in Nordic medieval history on the continent. This lack of interest is apparent, for instance, in the fact that the only writers of Danish history mentioned in Adam Rechenberg’s general presentation of necessary learning, published in Leipzig in 1691, were Saxo Grammaticus and Pontanus, whose Rerum Danicarum historia was published sixty years earlier.

Perhaps in response to this lack of interest, Magnæus published a short Danish medieval chronicle in Latin in Leipzig in 1695, transcribed from an old vellum manuscript (“pervetusto codice membraneo“) that belonged to the university library in Copenhagen. In his introduction Magnæus shows his debt to his predecessors by connecting his modest effort to famous names in the scholarly world, praising Marcus Meibomius, Roger Twysden and Jean Mabillon for their exemplary editions. His hope of publishing a manuscript fragment on Danish kings did not come true, however. In his own words, this was because of the reluctance of German printers to print a text in the Icelandic language, although it is clear that his Latin translation was far from ready and the commentary in shambles, as Magnæus constantly changed his mind, and he was, as with The Book of Icelanders before, overcome with doubts.

The lesson Magnæus learned from his erudite struggles was that instead of writing and publishing, he should do two things, both of them within what can be called Politian’s program of a necessary assessment of the quality of manuscripts and the making of rigorous transcripts of borrowed ones:

1. Transcripts should be made with great care and exactitude. One example of this notion will have to suffice, relative to two Icelandic vellum manuscripts in the Ducal Library in Wolfenbüttel, registered as Icelandic mythology and poems. In the early months of 1697 the dukes sent their librarian [Lorenz] Hertel to Stockholm in order to pay their respects to Sweden’s new king. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, philosopher, historian and head-librarian in Wolfenbüttel, had recently become interested in septentrional matters and sent one of the manuscripts to his correspondent, the Swedish scholar Johan Gabriel Sparwenfeld. Leibniz did not know the contents but thought that the manuscript was written in verse without rhyme “en Islandois ou en vieux Scandinave.” Sparwenfeld persuaded Hertel to take the manuscript to Magnæus in Copenhagen, something Leibniz agreed to afterwards:

Mr. Hertel left our Icelandic manuscript with Mister Arnas Magnæus in Copenhagen, if it is useful to him, so much the better. Libraries and manuscripts need only be available for the use of skilled people.

Magnæus had the aforementioned Ásgeir Jónsson, again in Copenhagen, make a copy of the two Icelandic thirteenth-century family sagas: Eyrbyggja saga (AM 450 a 4to) and Egils saga (AM 461 4to). As the first and last pages were illegible, Magnæus copied them himself. He already had several copies of both sagas and filled two gaps in the Wolfenbüttel manuscript with a text from other versions. Another scribe helped him to compare the transcript with the original, and Magnæus concluded that, although not copied letter by letter and except for the poems and some important sentences, the transcript was reliable.

In June 1701 he sent the manuscript back with a report on its contents. In his collection as it survives to this day, there are at least 500 copies that he made or had his assistants make, all of them based on these principles, besides thousands of transcripts of Icelandic, Norwegian and Danish charters and other documents.

2. All extant manuscripts should be tracked down. Many interesting and quite dramatic stories could be told about Magnæus’s search for manuscripts. A good example is his chase after a fourteenth-century manuscript of the historical work Sturlunga saga, only preserved there and in another contemporary manuscript, acquired by Magnæus in 1699 (AM 122 a fol.).

The so-called Reykjarfjarðarbók (AM 122 b fol.) was torn to pieces in 1676-1679 as it was damaged by moisture. The owner, a well-to-do farmer, gave leaves to his friends for use as book covers. Magnæus was informed about the manuscript’s tormented existence in 1693 and went on to trace its remains for three decades. In all, he retrieved 30 pages out of an estimated 180 that made up the original manuscript. At least seven colleagues sent him one or more leaves, the last two leaves arriving in 1724. His painstaking efforts can be seen in his request to Árni Gudmundsson in 1707, as he asked where and when the first known owner at Reykjarfjörður had obtained the book. Was it complete when Árni saw it? If not, what was missing: how much or how little, in the beginning, middle or end? Was the whole book readable or was it damaged because of moisture or black stains? Who exactly possessed leaves, and would it be possible to retrieve them?

When Magnæus died on 7 January 1730, his collection comprised close to three thousand manuscripts and fragments, almost one-third of them on vellum. Half of those are fragments of less than six leaves. In a limited sense it can be claimed that he thus came close to the idea of recension—fully developed in the late eighteenth century, according to Timpanaro—as he desired to gather together all manuscripts of a determined text, not only vellums but also seventeenth-century copies. In this wish for completeness, Magnæus went further than any contemporary scholar or collector of manuscripts. Unlike Politian, however, he never developed a clear sense of how to manage the difference between manuscripts. He was not alone in this, as shown from the careless and arbitrary method of Lenglet de Fresnoy in his edition of Le Roman de la Rose in 1735; but it must be said that some or even many editors of that time were more scrupulous.

In the course of his studies, Magnæus’s understanding of textual variance hardly improved, as can be seen in his handling of some seventeenth-century copies of an otherwise lost medieval text on church history called Hungurvaka. It was hopelessly confused, and I shall spare the reader the details. Before 1700, one of his assistants made a copy (a) of one (b) of these manuscripts and Magnæus collated it with another one (c). He then asked another assistant to make a copy (d) of his collated copy (b), but without the added variants (“varias lectiones”). In 1724, Magnæus compared this second copy (d) “accuratissime” with the original (b) used to produce the first copy (a), making numerous corrections. Finally, he collated his copy (d) with a third seventeenth-century manuscript (e) and wrote down all the differences in the margins. His copy now contained an “accuratissima collation” of the two oldest manuscripts (b, e) of this important text, as he happily concluded. The only reason for doing all this appears to have been to throw away the first copy (a), useless since he now had its text on the margins of other copies.

Returning to the Book of Icelanders in his later years, Magnæus concluded, erroneously as we have seen, that as a young man he had copied the text as exactly as he then could. In around 1720 he made an exact copy of his best copy and most likely recognized that his own version of 1688-1690 was useless, although he did not discard it. He copied some of his old commentary and revised a number of items. When, ultimately, he did not publish an edition, he now justified his inactivity by claiming that the world of books was replete with products of vanity. He had never intended to write books himself and was convinced, as he explained to an assistant, “that a man could spend almost his whole life in putting together a little booklet.”

As a philologist, Magnæus gradually gained a finer understanding of the quality of texts and manuscripts, but this understanding was never brought to fruition in printed editions. His scholarship, seminal as it may have been for the origin of Icelandic studies, did not reach the public arena of European philology. The Republic of Letters allowed the participation of Scandinavian scholars of course, but there was limited interest in northern languages, culture and history. The thriving Anglo-Saxon studies in England were the closest field of research, much of it just as admirable in the details and the driving force the same, that is to replace or at least displace the old view that the origin of European languages and culture should be sought in Greek or Roman Antiquity. There was little contact, however, and scholars of medieval Iceland remained isolated.

We can thus safely conclude that Magnæus’s diligent but inconspicuous scholarship, inspired as it may have been by the wish to transplant the ideas of humanistic philology to Scandinavia, was only partly successful in the sense that his activities did not become an integrated part of the wider European developments in philology and historiography. His image in the historiography of the humanities therefore remains that of a hunter for manuscripts and maker of copies, and he left the task of coping with textual variance to posterity by donating his collection to the University of Copenhagen after his death. To be fair, some of the problems he encountered remain unresolved to this day.

Már Jónsson is professor of history at the University of Iceland (Reykjavík). This article originally appeared as a chapter in The Making of the Humanities. Volume 1: Early Modern Europe.

Featured: etching of Árni Magnússon (1663-1730), Icelandic scholar and collector of manuscripts.

Inventing The Fantasy Of The Convivencia In Al-Andalus

1. Al-Andalus Propaganda

The notion of the Convivencia began with the studies of the philologist, Américo Castro, which he put into writing during his American exile. Contrary to the traditional, nationalist discourse of the eternal nature of Spain and the Spaniards, which marginalised the role of Islamic-Arab rule, Castro sought to ascribe a central role in the formation of the “homo hispanicus” to precisely this historical period.

In his first work on this subject, España en su historia. Christianos, moros y judíos which appeared in 1948 and was later reprinted in a revised edition in 1966 and also published in English translation, Américo Castro explained the “convivencia de christianos, moros y judíos” (“the Convivencia of Christians, Moors and Jews”) by way of “tolerancia islámica (“Islamic tolerance”). Castro explained that during the period of the caliphate, this led to a unique fusion of the three religious “castes.” The attitude of the subjugated population was characterised by submission and at the same time by admiration for the superiority of the conquerors; but then also by the endeavour to overcome the position of inferiority, whereby later military victories over the Muslims are said not to have changed their admiration for them.

Kenneth Baxter Wolf, Maya Soifer Irish, Bruna Soravia and especially Eduardo Manzano Moreno have all made insightful contributions to this concept of the Convivencia. Manzano Moreno’s studies show that Spanish al-Andalus experts are on the whole very critical of the Convivencia myth, and have been so since the 1960s. It was and is considered an ideological construct that has neither foundation in real history nor a basis upon the sources available to us.

According to the unanimous assessment of most Spanish historians, Américo Castro had mainly indulged his personal convictions, relying selectively on individual literary passages, while neglecting the available historical sources. Manzano Moreno lists in detail several points of criticism from a historian’s point of view: Castro’s scant interest in the chronological sequence of historical events; the mixing of data from numerous different and distinct periods; the search, taken to an extreme, for parallels, even the most far-fetched, in various literary texts; the far-reaching neglect of all economic factors; and finally, the idea that only native-born Spaniards could adequately understand their own history.

Postmodern and postcolonial humanities scholars, mostly in Anglo-American academia, took up this idea and went on to reinterpret the presumed utopia of the Convivencia as a kind of distribution station for the unimpeded flow of cultural and artistic paradigms from the Arab to the European worlds, as a symbol of a beneficial globalisation process that resisted the narrow-minded local interests of individual nations.

This glorification of al-Andalus goes hand-in-hand with a blatant misjudgment of the real circumstances and events, indeed with a general ignorance of the primary and secondary sources, unless they are available in English. In addition, the unscientific, anti-historical and anti-philological attitudes of many American postmodernists was spurred on by post-colonial studies, especially the completely baseless attacks on European Oriental studies by Edward Said. The most significant representative of such is the late María Rosa Menocal, formerly Sterling Professor of Spanish Studies at Yale.

Menocal used many of the arguments and some of the same examples that Jewish historians of science in the 19th and 20th centuries used to justify the concept of a “Golden Age” in al-Andalus. However, unlike the Jewish historians of science, she consciously employed anachronistic concepts. Thus, for example, when she defines the Middle Ages as being “postmodern” vis-à-vis Modernity, it fits very well with her desire to tell the story “in the lyric mode.” Naturally, this was very popularly received in the mass media and at university campuses, where departments of comparative literature, and especially those of cultural studies, enthusiastically embrace all new fads, such as, postmodernism and postcolonial studies, irrespective of their scientific merit.

Such utopian and idyllic views of Islamic rule in al-Andalus, propagated by Menocal and her followers, are further promoted by mass culture because of political demands for fruitful dialogues between cultures and by the culture industry’s need for simple models and solutions to complex problems. Such tendencies, however, naturally also have an impact on academic studies, as can be clearly seen in the section devoted to the literature of al-Andalus, edited by Menocal, in the Cambridge History of Arabic Literature.

According to Menocal, the resplendent culture of the Court of the Caliphs in 10th century Cordoba is linked to a great respect for the Other and a willingness to accept one’s own contradictions. This, she says, triggered a tremendous creative surge that manifested itself in significant intellectual, artistic and social achievements. The most positive thing about the Islamic tradition would thus have been a resultant attitude that accepted and integrated the most diverse world-views, religions and tendencies without renouncing the particularities of its own identity. One looks in vain in her essay in the Cambridge History of Arabic Literature for evidence that this narrative has any factual foundation in reality.

Unrealistic praise of Islamic Spain is, however, not limited to the academic world. This can also be found on the UNESCO website. Long before 9/11, UNESCO had already granted Convivencia propaganda a large international platform. Al-Andalus in particular was praised as a model of a society with free interreligious dialogue: The “fruitful dialectic between the three great monotheistic religions” led to the flourishing of a universalism in the light of which “the rationalist, philosophical and scientific thought of ancient Iran and Greece” was reformulated, wrote Haïm Zafrani, for example.

Under the auspices of UNESCO, Pierre Philippe Rey (“Al-Andalus: Scientific Heritage and European Thought”) underlines the importance of Andalusia as the crucible of European rationalism. According to him, no figure stands so clearly for this origin as “Ibn Rushd (Averroes) physician, jurist and philosopher;” and also his contemporary “Ibn Maimūn, a Jew by religion (known in mediaeval Europe as Maimonides).” Tolerance and inter-religious cooperation in al-Andalus are also highly praised on the UNESCO page. Mohamed Benchrifa, for example, says: “Throughout the period of Islamic rule, Andalusia… was home to forms of tolerance not observed until modern times. It was a genuine land of dialogue, a dialogue that was both serene and lively.”

A more differentiated view of the historical conditions in al-Andalus (a view certainly not very widespread among Anglo-American academics, such as the humanities scholars mentioned above) can hardly be expected from politicians or Muslim imams. First and foremost, the Islamic terrorist attacks of 9/11 strongly promoted political yearnings to see Islam as a peaceful and tolerant religion, and al-Andalus seemed to offer itself as a historical archetype, a legendary dream-destination of religious tolerance, at least according to academic propaganda.

Therefore, it was only logical for the New York Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to propose “Cordoba House” as the name for the Islamic centre planned near the destroyed New York towers (now Park51). In this city, after all, “Muslims, Christians and Jews would have co-existed in the Middle Ages, during a period of great cultural enrichment created by Muslims.” He thus indirectly echoed a comparable assessment of Islamic Spain by then President Barack Obama in a speech at Cairo University, in the course of which he referred to the “proud” tradition of Islamic tolerance: “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance – as we see in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition.” It was also Islam, Obama continued, that brought forward “the light of learning” and paved the way for the European Renaissance and Enlightenment.

The chronological reference “during the Inquisition” is, of course, nonsensical. The Christian Inquisition was not officially introduced until the end of the 15th century – but its critical mention here is probably intended to make the radiant splendour of a peaceful, tolerant and scientifically productive Islamic rule shine all the brighter in contrast to the Christianised West, which remains “ignorant” of the Islamic roots of its modernity!

2. Islamic Orthodoxy, Intolerance And Violence

However, as Manzano Moreno has already pointed out, the documented history of the period of Islamic rule does not confirm the aforementioned intellectual and political praise of the conditions in Córdoba, since most of the rulers of this period made a name for themselves primarily as strict guardians of intolerant Sunni Malikite orthodoxy. Mention should be made, for example, of the persecution of the followers of Ibn Masarra, the first independent thinker in al-Andalus, the suppression of all Shiite and Ismaili movements; or, in the case of Almanzor, the destruction of the philosophical and astrological books of the great library in Córdoba.Charges of heresy (zandaqa) were brought against theologians, philosophers, literary figures and poets. However, it is not known what the charges consisted of, in detail. In many cases, Muʿtazilite theorists, for example, but also scientists, such as, the Andalusian “Euclid” ʽAbd al-Raḥmān b. Ismāīl ibn Badr, who had made a name for himself in geometry and with a compendium of Aristotle’s Organon, fled to the seemingly more tolerant Orient.

If such violence could erupt within the ruling population group itself, it was all the more a permanent and imminent danger towards those of other faiths. The Arab sources, however, are generally rather silent about them. We learn about the situation of the Christians mainly thanks to the hagiographies of the “voluntary martyrs” of Córdoba, who caused a sensation in the 9th century and were executed during the time of the caliphate.

Violence though was generally nothing out of the ordinary in pre-modern times. This is why it is also to be expected in Islamic societies and hence its idealisation by the Convivencia propagandists is simply out of touch with history. First and foremost, of course, was politically motivated violence, which could also be directed inner-dynastically against one’s own children and family members. This was possible even among the Ṭāʾifa kings of Seville, who are viewed as having been particularly liberal and obsessed with poetry. Veritable orgies of violence and murder in the power struggles characterised the rule of the Naṣrids in the 14th century, who are praised in Convivencia propaganda above all as the builders of the Alhambra in Granada.

During periods of weakened central power, the administrators of the rulers, fighting for influence, then rampaged murderously against each other. In addition to the regular judiciary with its prisons, the Cordovan seat of power, set up its own penal regime which were not controlled by any Islamic judge, and in which, as a rule, no one was supposed to survive. And finally, there were murders not only of Christians but also of the Jewish population, often but not exclusively religiously motivated, especially in the 1066 Granada massacre, in which thousands of Jews perished.

3. Native Christians: From Participation In Public Governance To Oppression And Marginalisation

For several decades, autochthonous Christians and Saracens allegedly shared the church of San Vicente in Córdoba. If it were true, this would speak for tolerance in the context of a conflict-free coexistence in the early days of al-Andalus, i.e., at a time when Sunni Malikite law was not yet known. However, this claim is only found in later Arabic sources.

ʽAbd al-Raḥmān, the first Umayyad emir, is then said to have bought the church from the Christians in 785 and destroyed it in order to build a new house of prayer in its place. The third emir, al-Hakam I, had no confidence in his Arab palace guard in view of the unrest in Cordoba and bought slaves to make a new force, whose commander he appointed the leader of the Cordovan Christians, the Comes Rabiʽ, son of Theodulf of Orléans.

However, the Emir’s son, ʽAbd al-Raḥmān II, had the Christian count Rabiʽ crucified in order to secure the sympathies of at least parts of the Muslim population and the Islamic jurists. Rabīʾ had been accused of misconduct both towards the “faithful” and towards the Christian community. Above all, he was said to have been guilty of having set up a public granary where wine was sold and thus given cause to public transgression. The religiously and morally indignant emir, who was himself known for his dissolute and wine-fuelled festivities, had the granary razed to the ground. The judges, however, had disavowed Rabīʾ both his Christianity and his origin from the indigenous Visigothic population, for he was executed both as an “infidel” (kāfir) and as an ethnic or linguistic stranger (ʿağām).

In the mid ninth century, the famous protests of the Cordovan Christian martyrs occurred. By 858, almost 50 Christians publicly confessed Jesus Christ, rejected Islam as false doctrine and called Mohammed a false prophet. They were all executed. On the one hand, these Christians were monks, including those who had come to Spain from the Orient, that is, priests – but, on the other, also lay people, some of whom came from Christian families; others from mixed Christian-Muslim families. Since the fathers in these families were Muslims, the children were also legally Muslims. So, if they professed Christianity and insulted the Prophet, they had to be punished by death, not only for blasphemy but also for apostasy from the Muslim faith. At least, this is what the Malikite law (discussed below) unequivocally requires. In some cases, their bodies were crucified as a deterrent, and hung on the city gates. However, when it became known that their bones were collected and venerated as relics, the sentences of the executioners stipulated burning them and then scattering the ashes on the Guadalquivir.

John V. Tolan has justified the critical attitude of the voluntary martyrs towards Islam with the argument that they had countered the culture of the colonisers with their own culture of resistance. In doing so, they would have been doing exactly what Edward Saïd defined in Culture and Imperialism as the right of the oppressed to affirm their own oppressed values and culture. This right implied the right to attack the positions of the colonial masters. According to Tolan, the martyr Eulogius used hair-raising insinuations to this end, which could in no way be substantiated by Muslim tradition. As an example, he cited the accusation that Mohammed had announced that he would deflower the virgin Mary in the afterlife. However, this criticism should be countered by the fact that a hadith does indeed report an announcement by Muhammad that God would marry him to the virgin Mary in the hereafter.

Tolan’s justification of the Christian martyrs is an exception in recent historiography. Other, equally serious, historians are not afraid to take the executions of the martyrs as proof that the Muslim “authorities” behaved in a particularly tolerant and profoundly reasonable manner (“…the incident… does show the tolerance and essential reasonableness of the Muslim authorities”). For such friends of al-Andalus, anti-Muslim rebellion and criticism of Islam can apparently only be explained by blindness to reality and ingratitude towards their Muslim masters (For example, Georg Bossong’s Die christliche Märtyrerbewegung gefährdete das gute Zusammenleben zwischen den Religionen (“The Christian martyrdom movement endangered good coexistence between religions”). But on the basis of which set of values are the executioners of the critics of Mohammed to be regarded as particularly tolerant and peaceful?

During the period of the governors and emirs, Christians had long been able to play an increasingly important role in the administration of al-Andalus. This changed with the accession of Emir Muḥammad I (852-886). Even before that though, the ʽulamā had stirred up public resentment against Christians and Jews in high offices. These offices were henceforth finally to be entrusted to Muslims alone. Under Muḥammad I, his Christian secretary Qūmis b. Antunyān therefore converted to Islam. He aspired to the office of vizier and hoped to be able to accommodate this growing anti-Christian propaganda through his conversion, which, however, only affected himself, not his family. But his conversion was considered spurious. He was convicted of apostasy and the Emir therefore confiscated his not inconsiderable property.

Muḥammad I’s policy of weakening the Christians of Córdoba and al-Andalus in general by dividing the clergy bore its first visible fruit at the Synod of 862. Here, there was a split among the bishops, with the forces allied with the Emir initially gaining the upper hand. Bishop Hostegesis, who had been condemned by Abbot Samson (Sansón de Córdoba) for heretical theological teachings, succeeded on this occasion in having Samson himself expelled from the Christian community by the other bishops and barred from all offices when Samson refused to oppose a traditional Spanish antiphon.

Hostegesis had acquired the episcopate of Malaga by purchase at the age of 20. His father, who had previously held it, had converted to Islam in order to avoid conviction for serious fraud against Christians under Christian Visigothic law, which secured him immunity from prosecution. Hostegesis excelled in extreme tax extortion of Christians, which he had had authorised by Córdoba, and squandered the wealth he acquired in this way way, among other things, orgies with high Islamic dignitaries in the capital of al-Andalus. On behalf of the Emir, he worked closely with the head of the Cordovan Christians, Servandus, with whom he had agreed not only to fleece Christians for taxes, but also to spread heresies and propaganda for conversion to Islam.

Most of the bishops, at the insistence of Valentius, Bishop of Córdoba, later withdrew their condemnation of Samson, reinstating him in office. Nevertheless, the power of the Christian enemies Hostegesis and Servandus was not broken. Thanks to the authoritative intervention of Muḥammad I, they unceremoniously deposed Valentius as Bishop of Córdoba and appointed as his successor, supported by Muslim legal advisors, one Stephanus Flacco. A church assembly, to which all the Christians of Córdoba were invited, but most of whom did not appear out of fear and were replaced by Jews as well as Muslims, approved this procedure, which contradicted all canonical regulations.

Thus, Islamic rule, in cooperation with corrupt and heretical bishops, ensured that the organisational foundations of Christian life were increasingly destroyed. It was already being eroded by the pressure to conform and by excessive taxation, as well as by the legal discrimination, which corresponded with the enforcement of Malikite law.

4. Intolerance And Oppression Of Women In Sunni Malikite Law

I. The Introduction And Dominance Of Sunni Sharia Law

In almost all accounts of al-Andalus, the rule of Islam is seen to have lasted from 711 to 1495. However, such a sweeping view undercuts the fact that inscriptional evidence for terms such as “Islam” and “Muslim” from the first half of the 8th century is just as unattested as is the Sunni Malikite law that later shaped jurisprudence in al-Andalus. Contrary to traditional historiography, the latter was not already established by legendary companions of the Prophet or their descendants, nor, as is often reported, by the Syrian Muʿāwiya b. Ṣāliḥ al-Ḥaḍramī (d. 158/774), but only in the 9th century, primarily, though not exclusively, by Ibn Ḥabīb.

Therefore only from the 9th century on could Islamic rulers gradually begin to enforce Malikite law. Then, however, it became binding for the Muslims of al-Andalus for centuries and in this respect became thereafter a defining feature of the Islam that prevailed there. That it would have encouraged tolerance, which is supposedly so characteristic of this Andalusian Islam, is certainly not justified by the code itself.

The most widespread legal treatise here was the Kitāb al-Tafrī (collection of Malikite legislation by the scholar al-Tafrī) from the 10th century, which was translated into an Aragonese-tinged Romanesque using the Arabic script in the 14th century. It retained validity for Muslims even under Christian rulers into the 16th century. The latest manuscript dates from 1585.

Similarly important were: the North African Mudawwana from the 9th century and its supplement, the ʿUtbiyya; the Risāla fī al-Fiqh (10th century); the Maḍāhib al-ḥukkām fī nawāzil al-aḥkām (12th century); Ibn Āṣim al-Andalusī’s (1357-1414) Tuh’fat al- ḥukām fī nukat al-ʿuqoūd wal-aḥkām; and Ibn Rushd’s (1126-1198) – known in the West as the great Aristotelian Averroes – Bidāyat al-Muğtahid wa-Nihāyat al-Muqtasid.

All the works listed refer primarily to the teachings (muwaṭṭa: “The Well-Paved Path”) attributed to Mālik ibn Anas (8th century), cited here according to the compilation transmitted by Yahya Ibn Kathīr al-Andalusī. More often than to Mālik ibn Anas himself, however, the ʿUtbiyya referred to the Malikite jurist Ibn al-Qāsim. In al-Andalus, Malikite law aspired to permeate all aspects of private and public life.

II. Jihad, Ğizya (“Poll Tax”) And Other Forms Of Discrimination Against Non-Muslims

The interpretation of jihad as war to be waged against all “infidels” for the purpose of spreading and defending Islam is often confronted with the objection that jihad first and foremost means, according to the Qur’an, the “inner struggle on the path of God,” i.e., as in an “effort for personal purification and avoidance of evil.” Those who understand this term in this way, however, overlook the fact that this spiritual understanding was a special feature of the Ṣūfīs, i.e., it did not apply to the Sunni world as a whole, in which, by the way, the Ṣūfīs were repeatedly subjected to persecution. This is also true of Muslim Spain.

The military significance of the jihad provision, according to which its aim is to fight the idolaters or the infidels (dār al-ḥarb), is completely undisputed in the literature. Armed struggle for the purpose of spreading Islam can only cease when the whole world is subjected to the rule of Islam (dār al-islam). This is how jihad is understood throughout the early literature from aṭ-Ṭabarī, al-Buḫārī or Ṣaḥīḥ Tirmiḏī to Ibn Saʾd or as-Suyūṭī. From the Sunni perspective, Muslims of other religious observances, such as Shiites or Kharijites, are also considered “infidels,” and thus are to be fought.

The bellicose meaning of jihad described above also existed in Muslim Spain, at least since the introduction of Sunni Malikite law. It unequivocally demands war against infidels unless they submit, and it promises paradise to those who wage this war.

The great Aristotelian Ibn Rushd (Averroes), who was also a jurist in the Malikite tradition, in his writing Bidayat al-Muğtahid also considered jihad as armed struggle, obligatory if the opposing infidels do not accept Islam after being asked to convert. If they do not convert, however, they can be left alive, provided they submit and pay the poll tax (ğizya). It is nevertheless permissible to enslave them, both men or women. But it is also permitted to kill them immediately. According to Mālik Ibn Anas, only the chronically ill, the blind, old people incapable of fighting, the feeble-minded and hermits were exempt. Scholars are not in complete agreement about these exceptions, however. If golden crosses were found in churches during the conquest, they were to be broken before being distributed to the soldiers as booty. The holy books of the Christians, however, should be made to disappear.

Such intolerant rules do not really need any further comment. They show manifestly enough that it was not “Islam” to which we owe the development of European rationalism, for which, according to the UNESCO website, Ibn Rushd/Averroes is a prime representative. For him, “Islam” is clearly defined by the deeply intolerant Malikite law.

The poll tax (ğizya) was not an invention of the Muslims. What distinguished the Muslim poll tax from the taxation practised in the Roman Empire, for example, was its religious discriminatory function. It did not exist for Muslims, but only for “protected” (better, “tolerated”) infidels or ḏhimmīs. Mālik ibn Anas’ Muwaṭṭa explained the difference between dues that a Muslim had to pay and those imposed on the ḏhimmī by saying that the zakat (“almsgiving”) was necessary for the purification of Muslims and brought them honour, while the ğizya served to humiliate the ḏhimmī.

Thus, the focus here was not on the idea of protection, which is always emphasised as central in the literature, but on humiliating the “unbelievers.” In addition to the poll tax, a tax was levied on income from agriculture (ḫarāğ). The “protection contract” (ḏhimma – much like a “protection racket”) was, of course, only valid if the “protected” also paid on time and meticulously fulfilled all other (unilateral) contractual obligations. Otherwise, they were deprived of their rights and could be killed without further ado.

Darío Fernández-Morera has compiled a whole series of further rules applied by Muslim al-Andalus to the ḏhimmī, at least some of which I will mention here with reference to the relevant sources:

  • A Muslim who raped a free Christian woman was whipped; a Christian who raped a free Muslim woman was killed.
  • A Muslim who slandered a Muslim was flogged; a Christian who slandered a Christian was not whipped. A Muslim who killed a Christian was not executed. Such a murder counted for half as much as the murder of a Muslim. A Christian, on the other hand, was to be executed whether his murder of a Muslim was insidious or not.
  • If a debtor converted to Islam before he had paid his debt to a member of his former religion, he was (according to the Mudawwana) immediately free of debt.
  • A Muslim could have a Christian slave, but a Christian could not have a Muslim slave.
  • A Muslim was allowed to have sex with a Christian slave, but a Christian was not allowed to have sex with a Muslim slave.
  • A Muslim was allowed to marry a free Christian woman, but a Christian was not allowed to marry or have sex with a Muslim woman. This was punishable by death. All children fathered by a Muslim were to be raised as Muslims themselves, even if their mother was not a Muslim. Since Muslims were allowed to have up to four wives and as many concubines as they could afford, this legal provision led to an inexorable shift in the demographic balance in favour of Muslims, who were already attracted by the other legal and above all fiscal privileges.

In disputes with Muslims over property, trade and market issues, Christians and Jews could appeal to Muslim judges or other officials, but they had to bring an officially recognised witness for their accusation. Whether this gave them equal legal rights, however, is not only uncertain, but actually unlikely because of the requirement for official recognition of such witnesses – for non-Muslims could not in principle be recognised as witnesses according to the Muwaṭṭaʾ and the Mudawwana, not even in disputes betwixt non-Muslims. Only if they were indispensable experts, such as in medical matters for example, was it permitted for their testimony to be taken into account.

Business relations with Muslims were encumbered for Jewish lenders or lessors by the general assumption that Jews would invariably try to cheat Muslims. Therefore, in legal disputes in which Jews sought to recover their loans or leased land from Muslims, an oath by the defendant Muslims that they owed nothing to the Jews was sufficient to leave the Jews empty-handed.

The primary concern of the Muslim jurists was and remained the possible defilement of Muslims by touching things and food that had previously been touched by impure non-Muslims. They were unclean mainly because they might have eaten forbidden food, such as, garlic or pork or even drunk wine. But this Islamic jurisprudence also made the ground unbelievers, i.e., Jews and Christians, walked on with their bare feet unclean. In order to avoid touching them, as early as the 9th century, Christians and Jews were supposed to wear a distinguishing piece of cloth or belt. Food bought from unbelievers could be eaten, but meat had to be slaughtered in accordance with Islamic rules, etc.

The demand for fundamental distancing from all non-Muslims, which contradicts all Convivencia myths, is also articulated in the fatwa issued more than a hundred years later by another respected jurist, who was able to refer directly to the Qur’an for this purpose: “It is better for you if you do not enter into any kind of association with anyone who adheres to a religion other than yours” (Sura 60: 13; 3: 118-119).

III. Oppression Of Women And Genital Mutilation

In depictions of al-Andalus, which are primarily concerned with promoting Muslim Spain as a model of a tolerant and open society, it is often emphasised that women in al-Andalus enjoyed a much higher degree of self-determined freedom than women in the Christian world of the Middle Ages. Such propaganda, however, is only possible if one closes one’s eyes to the evidence of Muslim legal decrees.

This, in the case of the Malikite regulations on female genital mutilation, is claimed, for example, even by researchers who have otherwise dealt with the situation of women in al-Andalus in an extremely learned and thorough manner, such as Manuela Marín, Janina Safran or Soha Abboud-Haggar.

How self-evident female circumcision was for the author of the Muwaṭṭa is shown by the fact that it is only mentioned in connexion with questions that were apparently considered more important, such as, when a great ritual ablution or the repetition of the pilgrimage was necessary. They are necessary when the circumcised genitals of sexual partners have met. The circumcision of women is explicitly discussed in later Muslim legal literature. Thus, the Risāla of al-Qayrawānī states: “Circumcision is an obligatory tradition (sunna) for men, and for women (clitoral) circumcision (khifaḍ) is a recommended practice;” “…male circumcision is a sacred duty (sunna), and for women (clitoral) circumcision is a recommended practice.” The work by al-Tafri, which was particularly important for Spanish Muslims until the 16th century, also states that circumcision is obligatory for men and honourable for women.

Incidentally, women were not allowed to go out in public alone, but only in the company of their husbands or a male relative with whom no sexual relationship was possible due to kinship. Otherwise, they were only allowed to go out in the street in the company of women; and even then, only for an important reason. And, of course, veiled.

Manuela Marín relates the following anecdote from 10th-century Umayyad Cordoba: A scholar takes his wife and son, who is still a child, to a jurist for a legal opinion concerning the wife and child. The woman is said to have been veiled when she left the house. The jurist, after the scholar had sat down, allowed the child to sit down as well. The mother, however, remained standing. The jurist pointed to her and asked the child who that was. The child replied that it was his mother. Although the legal issue related to her as well, she played no further role. Her husband spoke exclusively on her behalf and her identity was witnessed by the child. She was not permitted to speak for herself.

5. Discriminatory Sunni Malikite Regulations In The 12th Century

From the time of the Almoravid rule in al-Andalus, we have, for example, the anti-Christian and anti-Jewish statements of a legal scholar or market overseer from Seville, Ibn ʽAbdūn. The discourse found in chapter 169 of this treatise is particularly discriminatory:

“One must not allow any tax collector, policeman, Jew or Christian, to wear the splendid clothes of an honourable person, neither those of a lawyer, nor even those of a decent man; on the contrary, one must rather detest and shun them. Nor should they be greeted with the formula, ‘Peace be with you,’ for ‘Satan has taken complete possession of them and made them forget the name of God; they are the party of Satan, and, verily, the party of Satan is the party of those who lose.’ They must wear a badge that they may be recognisable and that they may be abased.”

The fact that splendid raiment is forbidden for Jews as well as Christians and that they are supposed to wear identifying insignia on their clothing could be suggestive that there may well have been “unbelievers” in splendid attire and without discriminatory insignia. However, whether this was actually the case can no longer be clarified today. Even from the following prohibitions or precepts, it is not easy to draw reverse conclusions:

“A Muslim must not massage a Jew or a Christian, nor take away their rubbish or clean their latrines, for the Jew and the Christian are better suited for these hard jobs, which are jobs for the inferior people. Nor must a Muslim take care of a Jew’s or a Christian’s mounts, nor serve them as a muleteer, nor hold their stirrups; and if one learns that someone does, then he should be rebuked for it. And Muslim women must be forbidden from entering the detestable churches, for priests are libertines, whoremongers and sodomites.”

The ban on ringing church bells (“The ringing of bells in Muslim territory must be forbidden, for they should only ring in the land of the infidels” ), which was also pronounced in this context, could indicate that such demonstrations of ecclesiastical presence, which had already been banned in the 9th century, were practised again during Ṭāʾifa rule and therefore now had to be banned again under Sunnite Almoravid rule.

6. Convivencia At The Caliphal Court?

In the Arabic sources dating to the period of the caliphate, the heyday of interreligious cooperation according to al-Andalus propaganda, only one Bishop Recemundus (or Bishop Rabīʾ ibn Sid al-Usquf or Bishop Ibn Zaīd) has attracted greater attention as a collaborative partner, namely, as translator and envoy (to the German emperor Otto I, to Byzantium and Jerusalem); and then also as co-author (the other author being the Arabic physician and historian ʽArīb b. Saʽīd) of the famous Calendar of Cordoba, in both Latin and Arabic. Particularly noteworthy are the notes on medicine attributed to him, which are inserted at the beginning of each month, as well as the details on agricultural questions and administrative matters that he provides.

The scientific traditions relevant to the explanations of astronomy in connection with meteorology are, on the one hand, of Latin-Mozarabic origin, insofar as they deal, for example, with the festal days of saints and their dates relevant to agriculture. In addition, pre-Islamic oriental traditions play a role, for example, in the area of meteorological predictions. Furthermore, we find Greek-Alexandrian traditions, which go back to the physicians Hippocrates and Galen. Finally, the Calendar also contains elements of the “new astronomy,” which hearkens back to Indo-Iranian and Ptolemaic investigations.

Bishop Recemundus, who operated in different cultures, also provides the template for the hero of a best-selling novel in modern Spain that is suitable for the prevailing propagandistic views. A voluntary Christian martyr would certainly not have been particularly suitable as a prototype.

Christians and ecclesiastical officials, such as Recemund, could be successful at the caliph’s court and be accepted as collaborative partners in important publications. Recemund’s student, Bishop Abū-l-Ḥārith al-Usquf, is also said to have belonged to a religiously mixed work group, which is said to have worked on philosophical writings concerning logic. However, nothing more specific is known about this bishop or the results of this working group.

Christian doctors also seem to have played a larger role. Ibn Juljul al-Andalusī (b. 943) mentions in his “Categories of Physicians and Scholars” (Kitāb ṭabaqāt al-aṭibbāʾ wa-l-ḥukammā) for the late 9th and early 10th centuries a total of six important physicians by name, five of whom were Christians. Even later in the 10th century, the caliph ʿAbd al-Raḥmān III still consulted a Christian physician (Yaḥyà b. Isḥāq).

However close the connection of these doctors may have been with the court, they can no more make us forget, as Recemundus did, that ʿAbd al-Raḥmān III enslaved thousands of Christians whom he was able to seize in his raids against Christian territories. Nor can they conceal how difficult the situation of Christians was, generally speaking, during this period. They were obliged to obediently submit to the will of the rulers, if they wanted to continue living at all in that society with the Muslims.

According to the Vita Johannis Gorziensis, written by John of St Arnulf in Metz, St John of Gorze rebuked Recemundus for the fact that the Cordovan Christians had made themselves subservient to the Muslims. They had adopted not only their eating habits but also their circumcision ritual (“et melius omnino fuerat, hominem christianum famis grave ferre dispendium, quam cibis ad destructionem aliorum consociari gentilium. …ad ritum eorum vos audio circumcisos” – “and it would have been better for a Christian man to bear the suffering of a grievous famine than to be associated with food for the destruction of other gentiles… I hear you circumcised according to their rite”).

Recemundus justified this behaviour with the coercion exercised by the rulers (“Atque ille, ‘Necessitas’, inquit, ‘nos constringit; nam aliter eis cohabitandi nobis copia non est’” – “And he said, ‘Necessity forces us; otherwise we would not be able to live together”). They would have to submit to the Caliph if they wanted to continue to be able to live in Muslim al-Andalus. But since the Christian faith itself was not affected by this, they could otherwise obey their Muslim masters (“…quia religionis nulla infertur iactura, cetera eis obsequamur, iussisque eorum in quantum fidem non impediunt obtemperamus.” – “because no loss of religion is inflicted, let us go along with them and the rest, as far obeying their orders, as much as they do not hinder the faith”). At any rate, this attests as much to a “tolerant” and “peaceful” attitude towards Christians and Jews, in a modern understanding of coexistence, at the time of the first caliph, as it does for a fruitful dialectic between the three religions.

7. Al-Andalus As The Cradle Of Modern Sciences?

The myth of “Islamic Spain as the birthplace of rational thought and the European sciences,” for which names, such as Averroes or Maimonides are repeatedly invoked, has, as was mentioned in the first section (“Al-Andalus Propaganda”), become conventional wisdom, not only of such honourable international institutions as UNESCO, but by politicians such as Barack Obama, as we have already noted. However, the fact that the great Aristotelian Averroes, not only in accordance with the Malikite legal tradition (see above on “Jihad”), called for jihadist enmity on all non-Muslims, and even all non-orthodox Sunni Muslims, but in addition also demanded submission to the rules of the Sharia even in questions of practical philosophy and jurisprudence, is regularly overlooked or suppressed.

Neither Averroes nor his predecessors ever considered addressing the question of whether the understanding of reason and rationality that applied to theoretical philosophy as a matter of course should not also apply to practical philosophy, as it did to Aristotle. For this reason, Franz Schupp, for example, thinks, or rather fears, that he must reproach the “commentator” Averroes, similar to Arnaldez, with a certain blindness in this philosophical question. At no point in the “decisive treatise” did Averroes consider it worthwhile to derive the rules of Islamic law from general theoretical principles. In his eyes, the law is sufficiently legitimised by the Prophet and the consensus of Muslims (§ 15). With regard to its interpretation, he also does not refer to theoretical principles, but solely to the customary procedures of Islamic jurists (§ 4). There are no dark passages in the law that would require scientific explication. Only in theoretical questions, but not in practical ones, is there room for philosophical interpretation. Practical science, as Averroes explains in § 38, only requires obedient observance of the rules, namely, the observance of jurisprudence (fiqh) for external actions, and the observance of “asceticism” (zuqd) for mental actions. Any justification of the revealed law by philosophy is out of the question.

In the case of Maimonides, on the other hand, whom UNESCO merely praises as evidence of the importance of Islamic Spain, as the fountainhead of European rationalism, no mention is made of the fact that he, the greatest Jewish scholar of the Middle Ages, had to flee from al-Andalus to North Africa and from there to Cairo because of religious persecution. In his letter to the Jews of Yemen, he described the Muslims at that time as the worst of all Jew-haters and persecutors. Never had a nation oppressed, humiliated, belittled and hated the Jews as much as the Muslims.

Incidentally, the myth of al-Andalus as a sanctuary of enlightened thought, science and philosophy was already dismissed by Ignaz Goldziher, well over a hundred years ago. Goldziher, one of the founding fathers of critical Oriental studies, who is still regarded as an internationally respected Islamologist, summarised the results of his research on this subject in 1877 to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences as follows:

“The first Spanish caliph to promote and cultivate the sciences was al-Ḥakam II in the 4th/10th century; he himself was also a scholar of the first rank. But already under his successor, his majordomo, Ibn Abī ʽĀmir, had won the favour of the people and Islamic religious scholars by destroying al-Ḥakam’s library and all his scientific output. But since Andalusia had not yet produced any important and free-thinking philosophers at all in the 4th/10th and 5th/11th centuries, the fanaticism of Ibn Abī Amir destroyed only the Eastern philosophical literature. Then, in the 6th/12th century, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ibn Bāǧǧa (Avempace), Ibn Ṭufaīl (Abubacer) and Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar), and Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar), a few philosophers emerged among the Spanish Arabs; for a short time, at least, their personal security was guaranteed by the Almoravid Caliph Yūsuf ibn Tāšfīn, who was himself a friend of scholarship. Later, however, after a “golden age” of a few decades, philosophers and scholars were forced to withdraw from public life or leave al-Andalus under pressure from the ʿUlamāʾ and the proletariat. Their persecution put an end to the entire philosophical movement in Islamic Spain. Averroes, who owed his fame in the history of Aristotelianism to his outstanding influence on Christian scholasticism and Jewish religious philosophy, was almost completely forgotten by the Arabs. His work was not continued; although it must be said that Averroes’ scholarship was neither dependent nor linked to Spanish Islam, but was rather a continuation of Eastern Islamic philosophy, where it had developed organically over centuries. These two circumstances clearly show that Arab Spain was not a suitable milieu for philosophy, a fact that the historian of Arab Spain, al-Maqqarī, also acknowledges when he writes: “Philosophy is a science hated in Spain, which can only be studied in secret…”

While numerous liberal movements, both relating to science and in everyday life, manifested themselves in Eastern Islam, we look for such in vain in Western (Spanish) Islam, which is because of the different circumstances and conditions in which these two branches of Islam emerged. The history of Arab sciences begins with their contact and intermingling with the Persians. And the initiators of this scientific movement, which later developed into a separate Islamic in its own right, were mostly non-Arab foreigners, especially Persians…”

Muslim authors of the Middle Ages such as Ibn Ḥazm (994-1064) or Ibn Ṭumlūs (1164-1223) also mentioned the limited interest in philosophy and the low currency of philosophical works in al-Andalus. Compared to North Africa, al-Andalus was renowned for its unusually rigorous suppression of philosophy and Greek science, which the orthodox religious teachers and judges there considered un-Islamic. The intellectuals affected by this suppression were Muslims, but their philosophical works oriented towards Greek philosophy were however not viewed as being “Islamic.”


Our criticism of the lack of seriousness with regard to the Convivencia-construct mentioned at the outset of this article has been elucidated in the preceding through the sketch of historical developments and the discriminatory, intolerant regulations of Islamic law, which we have proffered.

Furthermore, we have shown inter alia that the contemporary accolades for the purported promotion of science by Islamic rulers, and that of Averroes, for example, as the alleged founder of a European rationalism are in need of nuanced differentiation. At the very least, they need to be accompanied by an account of the oft anti-scientific, blind adherence to Islamic law. We must not forget that only this law was Islamic and binding, but not, however, e.g., Aristotle’s commentary on natural philosophy.

Of course, we are still a long way off from a representation of the real social conditions and the real forms of interreligious coexistence in al-Andalus, although not so distant as the portrayals of the Convivencia propaganda. Our insufficient knowledge of the real living conditions is primarily because of the fact that we hardly have any first-hand testimonies of the victims of Islamic rule, apart from those of the voluntary Christian martyrs touched upon in the preceding. It was all the more important for us to make critical distinctions between the otherwise mainly positive self-portrayal of Islamic rule itself, i.e., the narrative by perpetrators and their adherence to Islamic law which legalised their actions.

Johannes Thomas is a Classicist and Romanist at the University of Paderborn. He is also the founding senator of the University of Erfurt. He is the author of Engel und Leviathan, Logik des Zufalls. Kunstkritik im Kontext von Moderne, Postmoderne und Antike and many other articles and books. This article is translated from the German by Robert M. Kerr.

The featured image shows, “The Flagellation of St Engratia,” by Bartolomé Bermejo; painted ca. 1474-1478.

Medieval Philosophy Redefined As The Latin Age

Through the kind courtesy of St. Augustine’s Press, we here offer to our readers an excerpt from Medieval Philosophy Redefined As The Latin Age, a newly published work of the late John Deely, one of the foremost semioticians of our time. He taught at the University of Saint Thomas and Saint Vincent College and Seminary. He passed away in 2017.

In this excerpted work, Deely brilliantly establishes the continuity of medieval thought in modernity.

Please do support the great work being done by St. Augustine’s Press by purchasing a copy of this book.

The 17th century crash and burn of Scholasticism—the tradition of commentary on Aristotle (in philosophy) and Lombard (along with the Bible in theology) begun in the late 1100s—resulted from accumulated abuses on the part of authorities civil and religious, abuses in which the scholastic “establishment” within the universities was all-too-often complicit. What discredited the Scholastics in the end was the actual demonstration b men we now call “scientists” of basic truths about the universe that scholastics denied—while encouraging church and state officials to take actions of repression and thought-control. Not until 1757 did the Roman Church lift its prohibition from 1616 of books dealing with Copernicus’ view that the earth was not the center of the physical universe, and not until 1835 did an edition of the Index of Forbidden Books appear which no longer listed as prohibited the works of Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler!

However understandable, the turning away from scholasticism in philosophy turned out to be a matter of throwing out the baby with the bathwater; for thinkers of the time were so taken with the experimental and mathematical techniques that had shown the earth to move and the stars to be other suns that they came to believe that the whole edifice of human knowledge, without remainder, could be rebuilt on the basis of science in this modern, empirical and mathematical sense. The ascendancy of this belief defined the historical epoch that has come to be called the Enlightenment, the belief that philosophers might ask questions, but only scientists could actually give answers. If you think that this Enlightenment attitude is a thing of the past, you are mistaken. Yet increasingly has it come to be recognized that if the whole of the knowledge we acquire before becoming scientists has no independent validity, then science itself would have no validity.

The first major thinker seriously to recognize this situation, or at least most completely to do so, was Charles Sanders Peirce. Borrowing a terminology coined by Jeremy Bentham, Peirce pointed to the difference between critical knowledge based on common experience or “cenoscopy”, presupposed to the validity of the specialized foci of modern experimental and mathematical science, in contrast with the knowledge that only experimentation and mathematization of results can produce, or “ideoscopy”, which is science in the modern sense. Until now, philosophers generally, in desperation, have tried appealing to “common sense” as the basis upon which philosophy has a legitimacy of its own prior to and independent of science. But so discredited has the notion of “common sense” become in intellectual culture that appeal to it has little chance of persuading a wide audience. What is needed, rather, is the recognition that, while both science and “common sense” depend upon “the total everyday experience of many generations of multitudinous populations”, yet “such experience is worthless for distinctively scientific purposes”.

The “distinctively scientific purposes” includes, however, both exploration of human experience that requires experimentation to advance knowledge and the more general “scientific purpose” to evaluate and expose in critically controlled terms that overall framework of knowledge within and on the basis of which scientific research comes to be conducted in the first place. Articulation of the presupposed overall framework of knowledge and of independent results attainable within it too requires “science” (as critically controlled objectification), but not ideoscopic science: here is the domain proper to philosophy, cenoscopic science. It has a legitimacy of its own, and this is what the early moderns lost sight of in their enthusiasm for the then-firmly-established-possibilities of ideoscopy. Moreover, the most basic of the cenoscopic lines of investigation proves to be precisely inquiry into the action of signs, “semiosis”, because it turns out that cenoscopy and ideoscopy alike depend on this action throughout for whatever knowledge they succeed to establish.

Now it so happens that the first realization of semiosis as underlying the whole of animal experience and human knowledge — that it is the action of signs which makes experience and knowledge so much as possible in any form—was the distinctive achievement of the Latin Age. That is not the whole story of medieval thought, but it is the untold part of the story, the part without which (as all the modern “histories of philosophy” taken together illustrate) medieval philosophy cannot be seen in its distinctive unity overall, extending from the break with ancient Greek philosophy around Augustine’s time to the modern break with Latin philosophy in the lifetime of Galileo, Poinsot, and Descartes. The articulation and exposition of this cenoscopic foundation of all science, termed today “semiotics”, the Latins termed simply doctrina signorum.

Philosophy, then, as cenoscopic science, not only precedes ideoscopic science and provides its framework. Philosophy also, rightly understood, shows the inevitability of ideoscopic development in order for human thought to reach maturation—just what the authorities, Church and Civil, in the closing Latin centuries, failed to understand.

Exactly as Hannam says in the subtitle of his book: “the medieval world laid the foundations of modern science”; but the Latins achieved this feat, as it were, indirectly, mainly as a consequence or by-product of their exploring the dimensions and depths of cenoscopic knowledge out of which ideoscopic inquiries inevitably arise.

Latin focus on the doctrine of signs achieved clarity only late, and precisely in the closing scholastic centuries of the age glossed over or omitted entirely in the standard “history of medieval philosophy”; yet it is far from the whole or only story of medieval thought that this book aims to tell. Just as important are the broader results scientific in a cenoscopic sense that the Latins are able to achieve in exploring those dimensions of experience which cannot be reduced to experimental results available to sense-perception, as is required in ideoscopy. To restore in new light the remarkable preceding achievements of medieval philosophy in thinking through those larger dimensions of human experience which go beyond sensible instantiations is just as integral to the story of medieval philosophy as is semiotic as the doctrine of signs. So the doctrine of signs (or semiotics, as we now say) is only part of the “medieval story” that this book aims to tell; but it is that part which provides an “Ariadne’s thread” through the larger maze of medieval noetic development, the thread without which the whole does not appear.

This book, then, is a work equally of philosophy and of history. The two are not perfectly separable; for while it is possible to do history without doing philosophy, the converse is not equally true, as the Analytic tradition of late modern thought is just beginning to learn. Ideoscopic science requires laboratories to explore the consequences of its theories. Just so does cenoscopic science require historical awareness. The philosopher ignorant of the history of philosophy is crippled in ways that we have only to read Wittgenstein to realize—provided that we have ourselves come to that reading with an historical consciousness including Aristotle’s work (which Wittgenstein made it a point of pride not to read). (Plato provided the best prenotes to Aristotle; but in the history of philosophy after Aristotle, Plato himself becomes a footnote.)

So this book aims to redress the imbalance in human intellectual community that the “Enlightenment mentality” understandably introduced, and to do so mainly by restoring, while for the first time telling in the light of semiotics, something like the full story of Latin Age scholasticism, when cenoscopy achieved some of its highest peaks at the same time that it made the modern development of ideoscopic science inevitable in its own right—over the dead bodies of the “authorities” presuming to speak for God.

The featured image shows Saint Jerome offering his work to Saint Marcella, who is accompanied by Saint Principia. From a manuscript from the Notre Abbey in Citeaux, France; early 12th century. (Bibliothèque municipale, Dijon – ms. 132 folio 1).

The Myth Of The Spanish Inquisition

In our continual efforts to bring quality material to our readers, this month we are very honored to showcase this detailed lecture from Father Joe Shea, who is the pastor of St. Rose of Lima, Simi Valley, California.

Here, Father Joe dispels the many, many myths and lies told about the “Spanish Inquisition” by those who still (often unwittingly) repeat the propaganda of John Foxe.

The image shows, “Scene from the Spanish Inquisition,” by Henri Regnault, painted ca. 1868 to 1870.

The Quadriga: How To Understand The Bible

I was asked by a friend to write something explaining the four meanings of Holy Scripture as taught by St. Thomas: namely, the historical (or literal), the allegorical, the tropological (or moral), and the anagogical. I am glad to comply with this request, because I am convinced that the crisis in the Church today is due in large part to the failure to interpret Holy Scripture as God intended and as the Church has consistently understood it.

St. Thomas considers this matter of such importance that he deals with it in the very first question of his great masterpiece, the Summa Theologica. The teaching of the Angelic Doctor in this matter is confirmed abundantly by the way the Church uses Holy Scripture in her liturgy, as we shall show. It can also be shown to agree with the universal tradition of the Fathers. To give one typical example, St. Gregory the Great says, “Holy Scripture transcends all other sciences by its very style of expression, in that one and the same discourse, while narrating an event, transmits a mystery as well.”

We must always keep in mind that the principal author of Holy Scripture is God Himself. Next to the Incarnation, Holy Scripture is God’s greatest favor given to men. Only God could have taught us that He created the world, and how He did it and why. The first article of the Creed – I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth – is a truth transcending all natural science and all rational philosophy. Why? Because all rational disciplines must reason from, and must presuppose the nature of, things. They cannot explain how these natures came to be in the first place, nor why.

One of the first truths we teach our children is: “Why did God make you? God made me to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him in eternity.” No human science or philosophy can teach us this wisdom, and this is why all godless education is marked by purposelessness.

God did not reveal the truths of Scripture to the proud, the suspicious, or the skeptic, but to the simple of heart. And it is part of His Providence not merely to inspire, but to be understood. And as part of His Providence, He gave us an infallible teacher to teach its truths without danger of error. And to keep His Church one, He made the principle of infallibility unique. Therefore, to interpret Holy Scripture correctly, one must understand it with the mind of the Church and under the guidance of the infallible magisterium.

St. Thomas, learning from the Fathers of the Church, teaches us that the inspired books – having God for their principal author – are infinitely richer in meaning than books emanating from a human source. A human author can teach from the meaning of words, but God conveys a message through the things He created. One could ask what is the meaning of the French word soleil and be told that it means “sun.” But no one can give the meaning of the sun itself, except the mind that put it in existence and gave it a purpose within the whole creation. Only God can answer the question “why?”

St. Thomas teaches that in Holy Scripture, besides the literal sense, God intends to convey three mystical meanings: One, the allegorical sense by which things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law, and certain lesser realities in the New Law signify certain greater ones; two, the tropological or moral sense, by which the things done by Christ and by those who prefigured Him are signs of what we (His Mystical Body) should carry out; and three, the anagogical sense, which signifies things that lie ahead in eternal glory.

A few examples from the practice of the Church are sufficient to explain this method of understanding and explaining Holy Scripture. Take the story of Abraham and Isaac as reported in Genesis 22:1-18. The literal sense is a historical event that took place exactly as told in the Bible. But in the mystical or allegorical sense, the Church sees in Isaac a prophetic figure of Our Lord Jesus Christ, walking up the hill of Golgotha, carrying His cross, to offer up the great sacrifice by which He redeemed the world. In the prophetic figure, God the Father did not allow Isaac to be sacrificed but provided a ram to substitute for him. But in the prophesied reality, no ram was provided on Golgotha. God the Father, who spared Abraham that sacrifice, reserved that privilege for Himself.

In the same text, the Church understands a tropological sense. “Tropological” means “turned about,” to apply to the moral life of the Church or an individual member of it. All the faithful must imitate the faith and obedience of Father Abraham, who deserved to hear from God the Father: “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Gen. 22:18).

The tropological sense is often used by preachers when they apply a text to an occasion which need not have been intended by the inspired author but could have been in the mind of God Who was inspiring. When Don John of Austria won a great victory for the Catholic cause at Lepanto, a preacher could apply to him the text: “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” The same text could have been applied to John Hunyadi after the battle of Belgrade or to King John Sobieski after the victory of Vienna of 1683.

The episode of the ten lepers, related in Luke chapter seventeen, can be interpreted in the three senses we have presented thus far. Literally, it really happened. Ten lepers did cry out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” So did the rest of the event truly happen as related by St. Luke. Without jeopardizing the historicity of the account there is also rich allegory in the story. The nine Jews who were cured but were ungrateful represent their nation, so graced by God, yet so ungrateful as to miss the time of their visitation. The Samaritan represents the gentile world, who were formerly forgetful of God, but who, with the grace of the New Testament, are grateful. They are the “strangers” who return to “give glory to God.” Tropologically, or morally, it teaches us, as a Church and as individuals, to show gratitude to God for the manifest graces He has given us, cleansing our filthiness and healing our diseases.

Finally, God wants us to raise our thoughts and interests towards the last things: heaven, hell, the last judgment, the state of glory, etc. But since our ordinary language is inadequate to express such transcendental truths, the Bible uses persons or things of time as symbols of eternal realities. This is the anagogical sense, of which there are many examples in the liturgical prayers of the Church.

For example, take the Introit of Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent. It is meant to bring joy and enhance hope in the midst of the penitential season. It says: “Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and come together all you that love her; rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult and be filled from the breasts of your consolation. [Is. 66:10-11] I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord [Ps. 121:1].” The Prophet Isaias and the Psalmist are talking directly about a real city, Jerusalem, in some definite historical circumstances: the exile of her children to Babylon and the prospect of their return. This is the literal or historic sense. We can also understand in this prayer allegorical and tropological meanings applied to the Church. But the principal purpose of this Introit is to lift our minds and hearts to the heavenly Jerusalem. This is the anagogical sense.

One very profitable exercise is to read the Bible with this foursome in mind. It is a good tool to use in meditation and can actually be fun. The Gospels can take on new vividness: The parable of the talents… the curse of the fig tree… the call of Levi… the miraculous draught of fishes… Our Lord’s resurrection miracles…. They all teach us more when we meditate on them in light of the four senses. Not only the Gospels, but also all the rest of Scripture can be piously read in this way.

In our time, a great part of the crisis in religion is due to the way the Bible has been undermined. Any one who accepts the false theory of evolution cannot know the true literal sense of Scripture, on which, according to St. Thomas, the other three meanings depend. Here are the exact words of St. Thomas: “The first meaning, whereby the words signify things, belongs to the sense first mentioned, namely the historical or literal. That meaning, however, whereby the things signified by the words in their turn also signify other things is called the spiritual sense; it is based on and presupposes the literal sense.” (1a Q1 art.10) Further, the saint adds that “nothing necessary for faith is contained under the spiritual sense that is not openly conveyed through the literal sense elsewhere.”

St. Thomas gives us an excellent illustration of this important doctrine in the sequence he wrote for the feast of Corpus Christi, namely the Lauda Sion. In this familiar hymn in honor of the Holy Eucharist, the saint refers to the many, many places in the Old Testament where the Eucharist is contained in the spiritual sense, as in the Paschal lamb and the manna. But the doctrine of the Eucharist is found plainly in chapter six of John, and there in the literal sense. We also notice in the very title of the Lauda Sion , an illustration of the spiritual or mystical sense, for Sion here mystically represents the Church which was manifested to the world on Mount Sion on Pentecost Sunday and where the Eucharist was instituted on Holy Thursday.

Brother Francis Maluf was born in Lebanon in 1913 and held a PhD in philosophy. Along with Father Leonard Feeney, he was a founding, in 1949, of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a religious Order. Brother Francis went to his heavenly reward in 2009. This article appears courtesy of

The image shows, “Saint Dominic,” a detail from the “Mocking of Christ,” a fresco in the Conventio of San Marco, painted by Fra Angelico in 1441.

The Many Myths Of The Spanish Inquisition

To 21st Century sensibilities, to speak of Holy and Inquisition in the same phrase would seem a contradiction. Never has a subject seen so much ink-slinging — or whitewashing — as the Holy Inquisition. The modern mentality has a natural difficulty in understanding an institution like the Inquisition because the inquisitorial process was not predicated on liberal doctrines such as freedom of thought, which became central in Western culture in the 18th Century.

The modern mind has difficulty in grasping religious belief as something objective, outside the realm of free private judgment. Nor does the modern mind see the Catholic Church as a perfect and sovereign society where orthodoxy should be maintained at any cost.

Religious intolerance is not a unique product of the Middle Ages: everywhere and always in the past men believed nothing disturbed commonweal and public peace so much as religious dissensions and conflicts.

By the Middle Ages, it had become accepted that the gravest kind of crisis was that which threatened the unity and security of the Latin Church, and not to proceed against the heretics with every means at the disposal of Christian society was not only foolish, but a betrayal of Christ Himself. The modern concept of the secular State, neutral toward all religions, would have shocked the medieval mind.

Modern men experience difficulty in understanding this institution because they have lost sight of three facts. First of all, they have ceased to grasp religious belief as something objective, as a gift of God, and therefore outside the realm of free private judgment.

Second, they no longer see in the Church a perfect and sovereign society, based substantially on a pure and authentic Revelation, whose first and most important duty must naturally be to retain unsullied this original deposit of faith. That orthodoxy should be maintained at any cost seemed self-evident to the medieval mind. Heresy, since it affected the soul, was a crime more dangerous than murder, since the eternal life of the soul was worth much more than the mortal life of the flesh.

Finally, modern man has lost sight of a society in which the Church and the State constitute a closely-knit polity. The spiritual authority was inseparably intertwined with the secular in much the same way as the soul is united with the body. To divide the two into separate, watertight compartments would have been unthinkable. The State could not be indifferent about the spiritual welfare of its subjects without being guilty of treason to its first Sovereign, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Before the religious revolution of the 16th Century, these views were common to all Christians.

As William Thomas Walsh points out in Characters of the Inquisition, the positive suppression of heresy by ecclesiastical and civil authorities in Christian society is as old as monotheism itself. (In the name of religion, Moses put to death far more people than Torquemada ever did). Yet the Inquisition per se, as a distinct ecclesiastical tribunal, is of much later origin.

Historically, it operated as a phase in the growth of ecclesiastical legislation that adapted certain elements of Roman legal procedure. In its own time, it certainly would not have been understood as it is presented today. For, as Edward Peters points out so well in his landmark study, Inquisition, “the Inquisition” was an “invention” of the religious disputes and political conflicts of the 16th Century. It was later adapted to the causes of religious toleration and philosophical and political enlightenment in the 17th and 18th Centuries.

This process, which was always anti-Catholic and usually anti-Spanish, became universalized. Thus, eventually the Inquisition became representative of all repressive religions that opposed freedom of conscience, political liberty, and philosophical enlightenment.

Myth #1: The medieval Inquisition was a suppressive, all encompassing, and all-powerful, centralized organ of repression maintained by the Catholic Church.

Reality: Except in fiction, the Inquisition as a single all-powerful, horrific tribunal, “whose agents worked everywhere to thwart religious truth, intellectual freedom, and political liberty until it was overthrown sometime in the enlightened 19th Century” simply did not exist.

The myth of the Inquisition was actually shaped in the hands of “anti-Hispanic and religious reformers in the 16th Century.” It was an image assembled from a body of legends and myths, which took shape in the context of the intense religious persecution of the 16th Century.

Spain, the greatest power in Europe, who had assumed the role of defender of Catholicism, was the object of propaganda that decried “the Inquisition” as the most dangerous and characteristic of Catholic weapons against Protestantism. Later, critics of any type of religious persecution would adopt the term.

In fact, there was not one monolithic Inquisition, but three distinct inquisitions.

The Inquisition of the Middle Ages began in 1184 in southern France in response to Catharist heresy, and dissolved at the end of the 14th Century as Catharism died out. Modern studies show conclusively that there is no clear evidence that people in medieval Europe conceived of the Inquisition as a centralized organ of government. The Popes of the times had no intention of establishing a permanent tribunal. For example, not until 1367 does the title inquisitor hereticae pravitatis even appear when the Dominican Alberic was sent to Lombardy.

Pope Gregory IX did not establish the Inquisition as a distinct and separate tribunal, but appointed permanent judges who executed doctrinal functions in the name of the Pope. Where they sat, there was the Inquisition. One of the most damaging legends that was spun through the centuries is the image of an omniscient, omnipotent tribunal whose fingers reached into every corner of the land. The small number of inquisitors and their limited scope far belie the exaggerated rhetoric. At the end of the 13th Century, there were two inquisitors for the whole of Languedoc (one of the hotbeds of the Albigensian heresy), two for Provence and four to six for the rest of France.

As for the accusation that the Inquisition was an omnipresent body throughout Christendom, the Inquisition did not even exist in northern Europe, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, or England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.

The vast majority of cases in the 13th Century were directed against the Albigensian heretics in southern France. It was not even established in Venice until 1289 and the archives of that city show that the death penalty was inflicted by the secular power on only six occasions in totu.

El Santo Oficio de la Santa Inquisition, better known as the Spanish Inquisition, started in 1478 as a State institution appointed to discover heresy, deviations from the true Faith. But Ferdinand and Isabella also instituted it to protect the conversos, or New Christians, who had become victims of popular indignation, prejudices, fears and greed. It is important to note that the Inquisition had authority only over baptized Christians, and that the unbaptized were completely free of its disciplinary measures unless they violated natural law.

Finally, The Holy Office at Rome was begun in 1542, the least active and most benign of the three variations. A recent study by John Tedeschi, The Prosecution of Heresy, deals with the Roman Inquisition and the procedures it followed after its reconstitution in the mid-16th Century in its struggle to preserve the faith and to eradicate heresy.

The value of Tedeschi’s study is that it overturns long-standing assumptions about the corruption, inhumane coercion, and injustice of the Roman Inquisition of the Renaissance, assumptions that Tedeschi admitted he harbored when he began his extensive work in the documents. What he “very gradually” began to find was that the Inquisition was not a “drumhead court, a chamber of horrors, or a judicial labyrinth from which escape was impossible.”

Tedeschi points out that the inquisitorial process included the provision of a defense attorney. Further, the accused was given right to counsel and even received a notarized copy of the entire trial (with the names of prosecution witnesses deleted) so that he might make a response. In contrast, in the secular courts of the time, the defense attorney was still playing only a ceremonial role, the felon was denied the right to counsel (until 1836), and evidence against the accused was only read in court, where he had to make the defense on the spot.

Tedeschi concluded that the Roman Inquisition did dispense legal justice in terms of the jurisprudence of early modern Europe and even goes so far as to say, “it may not be an exaggeration to claim, in fact, that in several respects the Holy Office was a pioneer in judicial reform”.

Myth #2: The Inquisition was born from the bigotry, cruelty and intolerance of the medieval world, dominated by the Catholic Church.

Reality: The Inquisition found its beginnings in a calm, measured, and deliberate attempt to set up a juridical instrument of conformity that would eliminate the caprice, anger, and bigotry of the mobs. Further, the medieval inquisitors were combating a social, and not just theological, danger.

At the end of the 12th Century, the Inquisition was established in southern France in response to the Albigensian heresy, which found particular strength in the cities of Lombardy and Languedoc. It is important to point out the social dangers presented to all society by this group, which was not just a prototype of modern Protestant fundamentalism, the popular view of our day.

The term Albigensian derives from the town of Albi in southern France, a center of Cathar activity. The Cathars (the name refers to the designation of its adherents as cathaaroi, Greek for the “pure ones”) held that two deities, one material and evil, the other immaterial and good, struggled for the souls of man. All material creation was evil and it was man’s duty to escape from it and reject those who recognized it as good.

The God of the Old Testament, who created the world, which is evil, was repudiated. It was the New Testament, as interpreted by the Cathars, that acted as guide for man to free his spiritual soul from evil matter, the body.

A 13th Century authority, Rainier Sacconi, summarized the belief of the Cathars thus: “The general beliefs of all the Cathars are as follows:
The devil made this world and everything in it. Also, that all the sacraments of the Church, namely baptism of actual water and the other sacraments, are of no avail for salvation and that they are not the true sacraments of Christ and His church but are deceptive and diabolical and belong to the Church of the wicked… Also a common belief to all Cathars is that carnal matrimony has always been a mortal sin and that in the future life one incurs no heavier a penalty for adultery or incest than for legitimate marriage, nor indeed among them should anyone be more severely punished on this account. Also, Cathars deny the future resurrection of the body. Also, they believe that to eat meat, eggs, or cheese, even in pressing need, is a mortal sin; this for the reason that they are begotten by coition. Also, that taking an oath is in no case permissible, this consequently, is a mortal sin. Also, that secular authorities commit mortal sin in punishing malefactors of heretics. Also that no one can attain salvation except in their sect.”

The Cathars thus held that the Mass was idolatry, the Eucharist was a fraud, marriage evil, and the Redemption ridiculous. Before death, adherents received the consolamentum, the only sacrament permit-ted and this permitted the soul to be free from matter and return to God. For this reason, suicide by strangulation or starvation was not only permitted, but could even be laudable.

To preach that marriage was evil, that all oaths were forbidden, that religious suicide was good, that man had no free will and therefore could not be held responsible for his actions, that civil authority had no right to punish criminals or defend the country by arms, struck at the very root of medieval society. For example, the simple refusal to take oaths would have undermined the whole fabric of feudal legal structures, in which the spoken word carried equal or greater weight than the written.

Even Charles Henry Lea, a Protestant amateur historian of the Inquisition who so strongly opposed the Catholic Church, had to admit: “The cause of orthodoxy was the cause of progress and civilization. Had Catharism become dominant, or even had it been allowed to exist on equal terms, its influence could not have failed to become disastrous.”

In response to the severity and frequent brutality with which the northern French waged the Albigensian Crusade, in which many heretics were killed without formal trial or hearing, Pope Innocent III set in motion a process of investigation to expose the secret sects.

Another problem confronting the papacy was the willingness on the part of the laity to take the most severe steps against heresy without much concern for the heretics’ conversion and salvation. The real father of the medieval institution is considered to be Pope Gregory IX, friend of both St. Francis and St Dominic. He would call upon the newfound mendicant orders to assume the dangerous, arduous, and unwanted task of inquisitors.

What Pope Gregory IX instituted was an extraordinary court to investigate and adjudicate persons accused of heresy. The unprecedented growth of the Albigensians in southern France surely played into his decision.

In northern France as well, the Church was facing sporadic mob violence that often fell on the innocent. The practice of putting heretics to death by burning at the stake was assuming the force of an established custom. The Pope was also concerned about the reports coming from Germany about a sect known as the Luciferians, a secret society with fixed rituals that profaned the Sacred Host.

On the secular plane, the Pope was facing a formidable power, Emperor Frederick II, the supposedly “modern” and “liberal” Hohenstaufen, a ruler utterly indifferent to the spiritual welfare of the Church and continually at loggerheads with the Papacy. A Christian ruler in name only, Frederick II was heavily influenced by astrologers and Muslim customs (he kept a harem); he ruined two crusades, and was excommunicated twice.

As early as March 1224, he ordered that any heretic convicted in Lombardy be burned alive (the ancient Roman penalty for high treason) or as a lesser penalty, their tongues torn out. Pope Gregory, fearful that Frederick was committing to flames men who were not heretics but merely his own personal enemies, sought to find a more measured way to deal with the problem.

In 1233 Pope Gregory IX responded with his own solution: to replace the lynch law with a regular legal process headed by the mendicant Dominicans and Franciscans. They would be examiners and judges specially trained for the detection and conversion of heretics, protected from avarice and bribery by the vow of poverty, and devoted to justice.

The first point, therefore, to be noted in connection with the mendicant Inquisition is that it came into being in response to a defined need. In the matter of heresy, it introduced law, system, and even justice where there had been limitless scope for the gratification of political jealousy, personal animosity, and popular hatred.

When we find one historian describing the introduction of the Inquisition as a “step for-ward in juristic theory,” we must understand him in that sense. Inquisitio means investigation, and this was the Pope’s concern: a real investigation, a judicial procedure, instead of outright lynching, instead of acts motivated by irrational mob emotions and private vengeance.

The second point is that the mendicant orders were charged with the task of preserving the integrity of the Faith as well as the security of society. The failure to stem the tide of this heresy would have allowed a collapse of Western Christendom. One of the most thoroughly successful tribunals in all history, it succeeded in extirpating the anti-social poison of the Albigenses and thus preserved the moral unity of Eu-rope for another three hundred years.

Myth #3: The hideous procedures of the Inquisition were unjust, cruel, inhumane, and barbaric. The Inquisition roasted their victims’ feet over fire, bricked them up into walls to languish for all eternity, smashed their joints with hammers, and flayed them on wheels.

Reality: Despite the compelling Gothic fictions, the evidence leads us to a wholly different conclusion. The procedures of the Inquisition are well known through a whole series of papal bulls and other authoritative documents, but mainly through such formularies and manuals as were prepared by St. Raymond Peñaforte (c1180-1275), the great Spanish canonist, and Bernard Gui (1261-1331), one of the most celebrated inquisitors of the early 14th Century. The Inquisitors were certainly interrogators, but they were theological experts who followed the rules and instructions meticulously, and were dismissed and punished when they showed too little regard for justice.

When, for example, in 1223 Robert of Bourger gleefully announced his aim to burn heretics, not to convert them, he was immediately suspended and imprisoned for life by Gregory IX.

The inquisitorial procedures were surprisingly just and even lenient. In contrast with other tribunals throughout Europe at the time, they appear as almost enlightened. The process began with a summons of the faithful to the church where the inquisitor preached a solemn sermon, the Edit de foi.

All heretics were urged to come forward and confess their errors. This period was known as the “time of grace,” which usually lasted between 15-30 days, during which time all transgressors had nothing to fear, since they were promised readmittance to the communion of the faithful with a suitable penance after confession of guilt.

Bernard Gui stated that this time of grace was a most salutary and valuable institution and that many persons were reconciled thereby. For the principal aim of the process was to draw the heretic back into the grace of God; only by persistent stubbornness would he be cut off from the Church and abandoned to the scantier mercy of the State.

The Inquisition was first and foremost a penitential and proselytizing office, not a penal tribunal. Unless this is clearly recognized, the Inquisition appears as an unintelligible and meaningless monstrosity. In theory, it was a sinner, and not a criminal, who stood be-fore the Inquisitor. If the lost sheep returned to the fold, the Inquisitor counted himself successful. If not, the heretic died in open rebellion against God, and, as far as the Inquisitor was concerned, his mission was a complete failure.

During this time of grace, the faithful were commanded to provide full information to the Inquisitor concerning any heretics known to them. If he thought there were sufficient grounds to proceed against a person, a warrant was dispatched to him ordering his appearance before an Inquisitor on a specified date, always accompanied by a full written statement of evidence held by the Inquisitor against him.

Finally, a formal order of arrest could be issued. If the accused failed to appear, which rarely occurred, he would become an excommunicate and a proscribed man, that is, he could not be sheltered or fed by anyone under pain of anathema.

Although the names of witnesses against the accused were suppressed, the accused was given an opportunity to protect himself from false accusations by giving the Inquisitor a detailed list of the names of personal enemies. With this, he could conclusively invalidate certain testimony against him. He also had the power to appeal to a higher authority, even the Papacy if need be. A final advantage of the accused was that false witnesses were punished without mercy.

For example, Bernard Gui describes a father who falsely accused his son of heresy. The son’s innocence quickly came to light, and the father was apprehended and sentenced to prison for life.

In 1264 Urban IV further added that the Inquisitor should submit the evidence against the accused to a body of periti or boni viri and await their judgment before proceeding to sentencing. Acting more or less in the capacity of jurymen, this group could number 30, 50, or even 80. This served to lessen the enormous personal responsibility of the Inquisitor.

Again, it is important to emphasize that this was an ecclesiastical court, which neither claimed nor exercised any jurisdiction over those outside the household of faith, that is, the professing infidel or the Jew. Only those who had been converted to Christianity and had subsequently reverted to their former religion came under the jurisdiction of the medieval Inquisition.

Torture was first authorized by Innocent IV in the bull Ad extirpanda of May 15, 1252, with limits that it could not cause the loss of a limb or imperil life, could only be applied once, and then only if the accused seemed already virtually convicted of heresy by manifold and certain proofs.

Certain objective studies carried out by recent scholars have argued that torture was practically unknown in the medieval inquisitorial process. The register of Bernard Gui, the inquisitor of Toulouse for six years who examined more than 600 heretics, shows only one instance of where torture was used. Further, in the 930 sentences recorded between 1307 and 1323 (and it is worthwhile to note that meticulous records were kept by paid notaries chosen from civil courts), the majority of the accused were sentenced to imprisonment, the wearing of crosses, and penances. Only 42 were abandoned to the secular arm and burned.

Legends about the brutality of the Inquisition in regard to the numbers of persons sentenced to prison and of those abandoned to the secular power to be burned at the stake have been exaggerated through the years. Working carefully from extant registers and available documents,

Professor Yves Dossat estimated that in the diocese of Toulouse 5,000 people were investigated during the years 1245-1246. Of these, 945 were judged guilty of heresy or heretical involvement. Although 105 persons were sentenced to prison, 840 received lesser penances. After painstaking analysis of all the available data, Dossat concluded that in the mid-13th Century, only one out of every hundred heretics sentenced by the Inquisition was abandoned to the secular power for execution, and only ten to twelve percent even received prison sentences.

Further, the Inquisitors often reduced sentences to lesser penances and commuted others. The large numbers of burnings detailed in various histories are generally unauthenticated, or are the deliberate invention of anti- Catholic propagandists of later centuries. From the growing evidence, it seems safe to assert that the general integrity of the Holy Office was maintained at an extraordinarily high level, much higher than that of contemporary secular courts or later.

Myth #4: It was the Spanish Inquisition that exceeded all barbarousness, terrorizing all of society with its tyrannical and cruel practices.

Reality: On November 6, 1994, the London BBC aired an amazing testimony to the falsity of these claims in a documentary titled “The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition.” In it, historians admitted that “this image is false. It is a distortion disseminated 400 years ago and accepted ever since. Each case that came before the Spanish Inquisition in its 300-year history had its own file.” Now, those files are being gathered together and studied properly for the first time. Prof. Henry Kamen, an expert in the field, admitted candidly that the files are detailed, exhaustive, and bring to light a very different version of the Spanish Inquisition.

Protestant antipathies nourished this propaganda campaign against the Catholic Church and the powerful leader of the Hapsburg dynasty who commanded the most powerful armies in Europe, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Their fears intensified especially after the battle of Mulburg in 1547, where Charles’ enemies were virtually annihilated. Philip II‘s succession to the Spanish throne and his own dedicated opposition to Protestantism fanned such fears.

As Philip wrote to his ambassador in Rome in 1566, “You may assure His Holiness that rather than suffer the least damage to religion and the service of God, I would lose all my states and a hundred lives if I had them. For I do not propose nor desire to be ruler of heretics.”

Yet while the Spanish often triumphed in the field of battle, they were abject losers in the propaganda war. They made no defense against the legend of Spanish cruelty and barbarism created so that Europe would sympathize with the Protestant revolt in Netherlands.

Defaming the Inquisition came to be the most natural choice of weapon to achieve this end. Many pamphlets and brochures, too numerous and horrendous to enumerate here, have been written since the 16th Century.

It suffices to mention only a few: The Apologie of William of Orange, written by the French Huguenot Pierre Loyseleur de Villiers in 1581, enshrined all the anti-Inquisition propaganda of the past forty years into a political document that “validated” the Dutch Revolt. In 1567, Renaldo González Montano published his Sanctae Inquisitionis Hispanicae Artes aliquot detectae ac palam traductae, which was soon translated into all the major languages of Western Europe and widely circulated. It contributed decisively to what became known as the “Black Legend” that associated the Inquisition with the horrors of the torture chamber.

Such accounts were enlarged upon by other Protestant writers, such as the Rev. Ingram Cobain in the 19th Century, who described one of its fictitious items of torture: a beautiful full-size doll that cut up the victim with a thousand knives when he was forced to embrace. The myth had been created and would assume proportions bordering on the ridiculous in the literature, travelers’ reports, masonic narratives, satires (Voltaire, Zaupser), plays and operas (Schiller, Verdi), histories (Victor Hugo) and gothic novels of later centuries.

Concerning torture, Prof. Kamen recently said, “In fact, the Inquisition used torture very infrequently. In Valencia, I found that out of 7,000 cases only two percent suffered any form of torture at all and usually for no more than 15 minutes . . . I found no one suffering torture more than twice.”

Prof. Jaime Contreras agreed: “We find when comparing the Spanish Inquisition with other tribunals that the Spanish Inquisition used torture much less. And if we compare the Spanish Inquisition with tribunals in other countries, we find that the Spanish Inquisition has a virtually clean record in respect to torture.”

During this same period in the rest of Europe, hideous physical cruelty was commonplace. In England, transgressors were executed for damaging shrubs in public gardens, poaching deer, stealing a woman’s handkerchief and attempting suicide. In France, those who stole sheep were disemboweled. During the reign of Henry VIII, the recognized punishment for a poisoner was to be boiled alive in a cauldron.

As late as 1837, 437 persons were executed in England in one year for various crimes, and until passage of the Reform Bill, death was the recognized penalty for forgery, coining, horse thieving, burglary, arson, robbery and interference with the postal service, and sacrilege. It is clear that in indicting the Spanish Inquisition upon specific charges of physical cruelty and callous brutality, we must proceed with some circumspection.

The myth of unlimited power and control exercised by the Spanish Inquisition has also been found to be groundless. In 16th- Century Spain, the Inquisition was divided into twenty tribunals, each covering thou-sands of square miles. Yet each tribunal had no more than two or three inquisitors and a handful of administrative clerks.

Prof. Kamen has noted: “These Inquisitors had no power to control society in the way historians have imagined they had. They had no power. They had no function; they had no tools to do the job. We, enforcing that image, have given them the tools that never existed.”

In reality, the Inquisition’s limited contact with the population comprised part of the reason it did not at-tract the hostility of Spaniards. Outside major cities, towns might see an inquisitor once every ten years or even once in a century. One reason people supported the Inquisition was precisely because it was seldom seen, and even less often heard.

amen also records that at every period in its history, there are records of strong criticism and bitter opposition. Yet based on the exploitation of inquisitorial documents first by Llorente, and then by Henry Charles Lea, scholars have made the error of studying the Inquisition in isolation from all other dimensions of Spanish culture and society, as though it had played a central role in the religion, politics, culture, and economy and as though no opposition or criticism was permitted.

Menendez y Pelayo‘s satire on those who have blamed the tribunal for all the ills of Spain underscores this view: “Why was there no industry in Spain? Because of the Inquisition. Why are we Spaniards lazy? Because of the Inquisition. Why are there bullfights in Spain? Because of the Inquisition. Why do Spaniards take a siesta? Because of the Inquisition.”

The Inquisition cannot be blamed for the “decadence of Spanish learning and literature,” states Peters in his acclaimed objective study Inquisition, despite the claims of Protestant historian Charles Lea or Catholic historian Lord Acton. “After the thunderclap of the 1559 Index,” he states, “which was directed mainly against vernacular piety, no attacks were mounted against Spanish literature and not one in a hundred Spanish writers came into conflict with the Inquisition. Indeed, long after the measures of 1558-59 Spain continued to have an active intellectual life based on a world experience vaster than that of any other European nation.”

A final and most important myth remains to be examined.

Myth #5: Man is more free and happy when the State or Nation does not make public profession of any one true religion. Therefore, true progress lies in separation of Church and State.

Reality: This is the crux of the question. The most dynamic element, the most essential matter is found in the attitude of the human spirit in relation to the questions of religion and philosophy. To fully under-stand the response, it is necessary to assume several presuppositions.

The Catholic concept of history is based on the fact that the Ten Commandments are fundamental norms of human behavior that correspond to natural law.

To aid man in his weakness, to guide and direct him and to preserve him from his own tendency toward evil and error resulting from original sin, Jesus Christ gave the Church an infallible Magisterium to teach and guide the nations. The adhesion of man to the Magisterium of the Church is the fruit of faith. Without faith, man cannot durably know and entirely practice the Commandments.

Therefore, as man elevates himself in the order of grace by the practice of virtue inspired by grace, he elaborates a culture, a political, social, and economic order in consonance with the basic and unchanging principles of natural law.

These institutions and this culture so formed in its ensemble can be called Christian Civilization. Further, nations and peoples can only attain a perfect civilization, a civilization in complete harmony with the natural law in the framework of a Christian civilization and through correspondence to grace and the truths of the Faith.

For this, man must give his firm recognition to the Catholic Church as the one true Church of God and to its authentic universal Magisterium as infallible. Therefore, man must know, profess, and practice the Catholic faith.

Historically, one must ask when this Christian civilization existed. The answer may shock and even irritate many. There was a time when a large portion of humanity knew this ideal of perfection, knew and tended toward it with fervor and sincerity.

This period, sometimes referred to as the Golden Age of Christianity, is the epoch of the 12th and 13th Centuries, when the influence of the Church in Europe was at its zenith.

Christian principles then dominated social relations more fully than at any other period before or since, and the Christian State then approached most nearly its full development. Leo XIII referred to this period in his encyclical Immortale Dei (1885) in these terms: “There was a time when the philosophy of the Gospel ruled the States. In this epoch the influence of Christian Wisdom and its Divine Wisdom penetrated the laws, institutions and customs of the people, all the categories, all the relations of civil society. The religion instituted by Jesus Christ, solidly established in all dignity due it, flourished everywhere, due to the favor of Princes and the legitimate protection of the magistrates. In this time, the Priesthood and Empire were linked with a happy concord and the friendly exchange of good offices. Organized in this way, civil society gave fruits superior to all expectations and its memory persists and will continue to persist, and no artifice of its enemies will be able to corrupt and obscure it.”

A portrayal of Catholic society implies above all else an exact idea of what the relationship between the Church and temporal society should be. The State in principle has the obligation to profess officially the truth of the Catholic faith, and, as a consequence to prohibit the functioning and proselytizing of heretics.

For not only the Church, but all of temporal society was created for the salvation of our souls, as St. Thomas Aquinas shows conclusively in De Regimine Principum. In it, St. Thomas shows us how absolutely all things created by God were created for the salvation of our souls and must be means that serve positively for our sanctification. Men themselves were created for the salvation of one another. This is why they live together in society. Thus, temporal as well as spiritual society should assist in the primary purpose of man’s existence, the salvation of his eternal soul.

This exposition of society implies an understanding of the hierarchy of values, wherein spiritual values have a greater worth than material ones. For example, in the Summa Theologica (II, II, ii, 3), St. Thomas notes that if it is just to condemn counterfeiters to death, then surely it is necessary to put to death those who had committed the far worse crime of counterfeiting the Faith. For eternal salvation must be regard-ed as greater than temporal property, and the welfare of all must be regarded as greater than the welfare of the individual.

These affirmations have consequences painful for the liberal spirit of our days. For, if the State proclaims that one single religion is the true one, it has an obligation in principle to prohibit the diffusion of sects of a heretical character. It is understood that in Catholic society the highest purpose of the State lies in recognizing the Catholic Church, in defending her, in applying her laws, in serving her. In a Catholic society, the Pope has an indirect authority over all that touches on the interests of the Church.

In this way, the Pope is elevated above all the temporal powers. When a head of State is heretical, the Pope has the right to depose him, as in the case of Henry IV of France, the legitimate pretender to the French throne. In other words, a heretic does not have the right to govern a Catholic country.

As Father Denis Fahey points out in The Kingship of Christ, in the Middle Ages the State fulfilled its obligation of professing that religion which God Himself had established and through which He wanted to be adored and worshipped — the Catholic religion. When Catholics answer the objections of non-Catholics to the Inquisition, they sometimes seem to lose sight of the formal principle of order animating the civilization of the Middle Ages.

If a State proclaims a religion as being the true religion, it has an obligation as a matter of principle to prohibit the diffusion of heresy and heretical sects. This obligation is a most painful one for the liberal mentality to accept. Heresy was considered a crime because the State recognized the Catholic religion for what it objectively is, the one true Religion established by God, and not a simple temporary arrangement, here today, gone tomorrow.

In presenting the principles of the social Kingship of Christ, Father Denis Fahey says: “The truth is that the State then grasped the formal principle of ordered social organization in the actual world and that the Inquisition was set up to defend the hold of the world on order against the fomenters of disorder. . . That same principle is meant by God to mold the new matter and the new circumstances of all succeeding ages. Socially organized, man in the world redeemed by Our Lord is not as God wants him to be unless he accepts the supernatural, supra-national Catholic Church. The modern world has turned aside from order and is suffering for its apostasy and disorder. This great truth needs to be proclaimed unequivocally, so that the interior life with which we celebrate the feast of the Kingship of Christ may be deepened. It is infinitely better to go down struggling for the integral truth than to win a seeming victory by whittling it down.”

Blackening the name of the Holy Inquisition has obviously found root in this widespread tendency, even among princes of the Church, to “whittle down” these principles of the Catholic social order. While, at base, the problem of the Holy Inquisition must be examined at the philosophical level, there is also no doubt that through the centuries “the Inquisition” has assumed a monstrous dimension out of proportion to the facts.

The pens of Protestant propagandists during the Reformation began the myth-making process by depicting the Inquisition as just another example of the evils of Rome. In their works the tribunal was presented as the supreme instrument of intolerance.

Wherever Catholicism triumphed, they claimed, not only religious but civil liberty was extinguished. The Reformation, according to this interpretation, brought about the liberation of the human spirit from the fetters of darkness and superstition. Propaganda along these lines proved strikingly effective.

However, as the scholars of the last decade have begun to examine the archives, their studies are showing that the interests of truth demand that the Inquisition be reduced to its proper dimensions. Its significance can be grossly exaggerated if we rely on the largely fictitious images presented by the propagandists and philosophes of the Enlightenment and age of Romanticism and liberalism that followed.

These writers, who even included Lord Acton, falsely assumed the Inquisition was part and parcel of a special philosophy of blatant intolerance and cruelty. In reality, it evolved as a product of the society it served. In sum, for those objective Catholic minds who are militant against the errors of liberalism and modernism of our own age and who look with admiration on the spirit and institutions of the Age of Faith, there can still remain a healthful admiration for the Holy Inquisition.

Marian Horvat holds a PhD in medieval history.

The image shows, “A Scene from the Inquisition,” by Francisco de Goya, painted ca. 1808-1812.

The Fall Of Acre

I often say that the Crusades were a high point of Western civilization. And they were, but they were also an example of flawed glory. Certainly, the goal of the Crusades was peerlessly laudable, and the virtues shown by Crusaders admirable.

At the same time, the Holy Land Crusades illustrated key weaknesses of the West, and, after all, if nothing succeeds likes success, nothing fails like failure. In Roger Crowley’s The Accursed Tower all of this is on display, though Christian valor is probably the dominant theme, as it should be. In a sane society, the events of this book would be used for a blockbuster movie featuring the Christians as doomed heroes. Not in today’s society, to be sure, but maybe in tomorrow’s.

The book’s focus is the final years of the Crusader States, which were founded after the epic success of the First Crusade in reconquering Muslim-occupied Palestine in A.D. 1099, and are generally deemed to have ended with the fall of the ancient city of Acre to the Mamluk sultan Al-Ashraf Khalil in 1291.

The Crusader States had been in decline since Saladin’s victory at the Horns of Hattin in 1187, and what intermittent respite the Crusaders had gotten from Muslim pressure came from Muslim disunity, not Crusader gains. Then as now, Muslim discord was the norm (Frederick II took advantage of it to regain Jerusalem by treaty in 1228; it was lost again in 1244).

But off and on, due to religious fervor or political consolidation, which usually went hand-in-hand, pressure on the Christians spiked, so the writing had long been on the wall. In the end, it was simple: the Muslims were both rich and close to Outremer, effectively surrounding it, while at this time the West was relatively poorer and farther away.

The book’s title comes from one of the towers defending Acre, a sea port defended on its landward side by extensive fortifications, including a double wall and numerous barbicans and towers. (It mostly could not be approached from its seaward side, and its harbor was protected by the chain formerly guarding the Golden Horn in Constantinople, stolen by the Crusaders sacking Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, in 1204).

As Crowley notes, much of the precise layout of both the city and its fortifications can only be conjectured at this point, but all agree that the Accursed Tower (a name of uncertain origin) lay at the crucial bend in the walls, and thus was the key pressure point during the Muslim siege. Acre had belonged to the Crusaders since it was retaken from the Muslims in 1104 (who had taken it from the Eastern Romans in the late seventh century), except for a two-year period after Saladin conquered it in 1187—it was retaken in a brutal siege in 1189, part of the Third Crusade.

But the Third Crusade failed to free Jerusalem from its occupiers, and the Crusader States for the next one hundred years were sadly diminished, consisting of a string of principalities and fortresses, the latter typically operated by the military religious orders, most famously the Hospitaller citadel at Krak des Chevaliers, north of Acre, near Tripoli (the Outremer Tripoli, not the one in North Africa).

Acre became de facto the center of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, the south end of the Crusader States, both for trade and war, thus becoming a very wealthy and cosmopolitan city. It was also, in the way of rich port cities at the crossroads of civilizations, a pit of vice, although no doubt this was somewhat exaggerated by pious Western churchmen shocked upon their first arrival. And like most of the Crusader States, Acre debilitatingly lacked coherent political leadership.

The King of Jerusalem was an absentee landlord and the strongest power was the Pope’s representative, the Patriarch of Jerusalem (who lived in Acre, not Jerusalem), but other powers, including the Templars and Hospitallers, were nearly independent.

Acre’s existence as a Christian stronghold throughout the century was therefore tenuous, but daily life not all that different from a hundred years before, or from any other Mediterranean port. Muslim and Christian merchants struck deals; the Genoese and Venetians traded with everyone, including the enemy, and fought each other; everybody got along in some years and not in others.

The Christians talked about retaking Jerusalem and did nothing, but on the other side, chronic Muslim civil war, and the threat of the Mongols, kept the Muslims from concentrating on permanently dislodging the Crusaders. And, often as not, the trade brokered by the Christians was of great benefit to Muslim rulers, reducing their incentive to do more than issue vague endorsements of jihad and in practice to curb Muslim fanatics eager to fulfill the Prophet’s commands for ceaseless war against the infidel. All in all, no doubt daily life was fairly pleasant for most people, contrary to the myth of medieval suffering.

The first half of the book is a lively narration of the thirteenth century in Outremer. Crowley covers the mid-century Seventh Crusade, where Louis IX’s armies came to grief in Egypt. He covers the Mamluk defeat in 1260 of the Mongols at Ain Jalut, Goliath’s Spring, neither hindered nor helped by the Crusaders, who at least gave the Muslims safe passage to the battlefield.

He narrates the takeover of Egyptian power by the military slave Mamluks from their Ayyubid overlords, and their welding into a disciplined conquering force under the sultan Baybars, the “Lion of Egypt,” a puritanical Muslim like so many successful conquerors. (As Crowley notes, because the Christians of Damascus had dared to drink wine and ring bells when the Mongols were admitted to Damascus, Baybars collectively punished Christians by, among other crimes, destroying “the hugely significant church of St. Mary in Nazareth, the supposed site of the Annunciation”).

Most relevantly for the current narrative, Baybars systematically increased pressure on the Crusader States, killing peasants in the fields and intermittently besieging and conquering towns and cities. These included the southern towns of Caesarea, Arsuf, and Jaffa, and the critical northern city of Antioch.

He made life difficult for Christians, who were incapable of mounting a unified response, and lacked the military manpower to do much more than man their fortresses and battlements. And he didn’t care much that the Christians provided economic benefits to his realm; jihad was far more important, and this was what sealed the fate of the Crusader States.

The Christians in Europe were well aware of what was going on, but as so often, mustered only a feeble response accompanied by a great deal of hot air. Henry III’s son, Edward Longshanks (later Edward I, made famous several years back by the movie Braveheart), along with Louis IX, led the Ninth Crusade.

Edward landed in Acre with his knights in 1271 (shortly after Baybars finally managed to capture Krak des Chevaliers), and won some major victories over Baybars, but soon enough departed (though he left behind several men who were critical to the final defense of Acre), changing nothing.

The second half of the book narrows the focus to the Fall of Acre. In 1280, Baybars died (probably poisoned), to be succeeded as sultan (after the usual civil war) by another Mamluk general, Qalawun, who continued what Baybars had accomplished, following much the same religious and political policies. He prepared to attack Acre, but died in 1290, to be succeeded by Khalil, who again continued his predecessors’ program. Men and material, called to jihad with its dual rewards of paradise and booty, swarmed to Khalil from every direction, and he began the siege in April, 1291.

Unlike towns earlier conquered by the Muslims, however, Acre was very strongly defended (though, due to internal conflict, the defenders had not beefed up the defenses adequately before the siege) and had a full garrison, of infantry, mounted knights, and such ancillary critical personnel as Pisan siege engineers.

It could be re-supplied from the sea (the Mamluks never had any navy to speak of) and thus had to be taken by force, not by starving out the defenders. On the debit side of the balance sheet, though, the defenders had unclear military command, and failed to coordinate properly, a problem the Sultan did not face. The man effectively in overall charge was the Patriarch, Nicolas de Hanapes (the only canonized Crusader), but his hold was persuasive, not dictatorial. And, the biggest problem of all, Khalil had functionally infinite resources with high morale and strong incentives, so the result was largely inevitable.

Crowley does an outstanding job of narrating the siege and the Fall. Attacks and counterattacks; siege machines; mining; sorties by land and sea. He uses fascinating stories from contemporary sources, both Muslim and Christian, most interestingly from the “Templar of Tyre,” an anonymous Arabic-speaking knight who was probably not a Templar but was included within the councils of the Templars.

On both sides, the heroism often found in such battles, ancient and modern, was on display—the men from the book Red Platoon, fighting in twenty-first-century Afghanistan, would fit right in here, and the men fighting in Acre would fit in there. Over several weeks, the Muslims wore the Christians down; not enough men arrived to replenish losses, and the Christians grew short of ammunition.

By mid-May, the battle was nearing its end. On May 18, after bombardment and mining broke in the walls, Khalil’s troops, coming in endless waves of heavily armored, highly disciplined men, overcame Christian resistance at the Accursed Tower, and thereby entered the space between the double walls, which allowed them to spread out to attack the gates. Last-ditch resistance of the city itself was organized by the Marshal of the Hospitallers, Matthieu de Clermont, who is depicted on the cover of the book in a nineteenth-century French painting (note the double walls).

Clermont and his men rode out and died in the streets, and the Muslims then slaughtered and raped their way through the city, killing or enslaving everyone not able to get away by ship. (Such behavior was the norm in medieval warfare, of course, but is always talked about nowadays as if it was only something Christians did, so it is refreshing to see historical honesty).

A few of the internal citadels, such as the Templar’s castle, held out for a while, but were soon ground down and the same treatment meted out to the survivors. Khalil then demolished much of the city, though its skeleton was a landmark for passing ships for centuries.

So ended the Holy Land Crusades, mostly forgotten in the East until resurrected as part of resistance to colonialism in the nineteenth century, and remembered mostly only in distorted fashion in the West, a propaganda tool for Protestants and atheists up to the present day.

But today I am less focused on politics; today is mostly straight history. One reason I very much enjoyed this book is that I have long had a fascination with medieval weaponry and siege equipment, and Crowley also appears entranced by siege weaponry, especially catapults and trebuchets, about which he talks a great deal.

Why I have such an interest, I have no idea, but it has always been true. I had castle-building Lego analogues as a child, with which I played endlessly. I had toy soldiers, knights in armor, one of which now stands by me as I write, wielding a morning star (a real, if rare, weapon, despite occasional modern claims to the contrary).

I know from reading Howard Pyle’s Men of Iron at the age of five what a glaive-guisarme is (a weapon consisting of a blade on a wooden pole, used to slash and stab, with a hook on the other side, used in the novel in the climactic duel by the underdog). Perhaps my personal interests made this book more gripping to me than it would be to others, however, so if this type of thing bores you, maybe this book is not for you.

Accuracy is key for Crowley, to the extent that a narrative of any ancient event can be made fully accurate. Unlike many modern writers, he does not ascribe to Muslims inventions they did not make. He notes that the Chinese invented most of the catapult-type siege weapons used by Khalil, including the traction trebuchet, which the Byzantines had also used.

The more powerful counterweight trebuchet, a vital weapon in Khalil’s arsenal, able to topple stonework like the Accursed Tower, was probably invented by the Byzantines, though the record is unclear. (With both stonethrowers and, later, gunpowder, the Europeans took the basic idea that had existed for hundreds of years with incremental improvements, and proceeded to reinvent and massively improve the technology within a few decades.

No doubt that is why many of Khalil’s catapults were ifrangi, “Frankish catapults”). The only error that Crowley does make is to claim, repeatedly, that the Mamluks used Greek Fire, by giving that name to all incendiaries, not actual Greek Fire, a liquid that burned on water and was dispensed under pressure, the secret of which was probably lost by this time even to the Byzantines. But that’s a pretty small and common error, that does not detract from the book.

Crowley wrote an even better earlier book, Empires of the Sea, which centers on the 1565 Siege of Malta, where the Christians won. I have been to Malta, and there is no experience like standing where such an epic battle took place, seeing in your mind’s eye what it must have been like. That’s not really possible in Acre, anymore, but reading this book nearly puts you there.

Strangely, Crowley mentions modern Acre quite a bit, but never once mentions that it is in Israel, and most of its modern population is Jewish. Which goes to show that times change, I suppose. I won’t predict the future for Acre, but looking backward allows the reader to grasp, in outline, the life and death of the Crusades.

The Fall of Acre is in many ways a microcosm of that age of action, showing both the good and the bad: heroic men performing acts of glory, and bad men betraying each other and indulging in vice. Often it was the same men. These are the sorts of stories we should tell our children, and, as I say, make movies about. One can hope.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The image shows, “The Siege of Acre,” by Dominique Papety, painted ca. 1840.

Of Intellectuals And Their Betrayals

We all like to imagine ourselves as heroes. We watch movies, and we instinctively put ourselves in the place of the hero, not in the place of the villain. We read the histories of twentieth-century tyrannies, and we assume we would be the resistance fighter, not the collaborator, informer, or toady to the new archons.

Maybe we would be heroes. But probably not, if history is any guide. Czeslaw Milosz’s 1951 The Captive Mind explores, through the author’s personal experience, what motivates seemingly morally strong, thoughtful men to instead cooperate with, and often embrace, evil. Sadly, this question is as relevant today as seventy years ago, which makes this book very much worth reading for its insights into the future, as well as into the past.

Milosz, a world-famous poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980, revolves most of his core analysis around the motivations of artists, usually artists of the word, presumably because that was his own milieu during World War II and afterwards. He was living in Warsaw, working in radio and writing well-received poems, participating in the active cultural life of the time, but not in politics to any significant degree (he seems throughout his life to have been neither Left nor Right, though tilting slightly left), when the Germans and the Russians invaded.

It was the Germans who occupied Warsaw, and Milosz survived the war there, living largely underground and participating in mild subversive activities such as writing for forbidden newspapers, although he did not join the Home Army or fight in the Warsaw Uprising. But he saw firsthand all the horrors of the German occupation, and of the Uprising, and he returns to them again and again in this book, even though its main focus is the so-called people’s democracies of the immediate postwar period.

During that time, Milosz worked as a cultural attaché for the new Polish government put into power by the Russians. He never joined the Party, but was able to maintain this position because the Communists loved to tout their association with artists, and the Polish government, like the other countries captured by Stalin, had a few years in which it could pretend to not be fully under Stalin’s thumb.

But by 1951, Milosz had had enough of Communism, and fled for Paris, then the United States, where he lived until 2000, when he moved home to Poland, dying in 2004.

This book is best read not as an attempt to precisely clarify and classify the natures of those who cooperated with and advanced Communism, but as a set of insights gained from people Milosz knew as they interacted with history. (It is also profitably read in combination with Mark Lilla’s very good The Reckless Mind, which nods to this book while expanding its analysis). The Captive Mind focuses on intellectuals, specifically poets and other writers, because they were whom Milosz knew most intimately.

His book says nothing about other collaborators, such as those strictly out for personal gain, and it also says nothing about the working class, which is ignored as irrelevant, as indeed it always was under Communism.

Instead, the book shows how mental gymnastics, rather than coercion, caused writers under Communism to adhere to Communism. Thereby, indirectly, it congratulates writers who believe their minds free from such, or other, contortions. It is perhaps no wonder, therefore, that this book was popular among Western writers of all political stripes.

Milosz begins with a fable, taken from a Polish science fiction novel, about how a new Sino-Mongol Empire conquers Poland and, instead of terrorizing the bitter and unhappy population, satisfies them with “the pill of Murti-Bing,” which ensures that each person is internally happy no matter his external circumstance.

The pill makes reality, no matter how bad, bearable, even joyous. In the novel, this leads to general social satisfaction, except for some, who develop schizophrenia, unable to reconcile their inner character, their creative spark, with the false art that their chemically altered brains produce. Milosz says that under Communist domination this vision “is being fulfilled in the minutest detail.” (Presumably the schizophrenics are those who, like Milosz, ultimately reject Communism entirely).

The West incorrectly sees “might and coercion” as the reasons those in Eastern Europe submit to Communism. But, rather, unwilling to face either physical or spiritual death, many choose instead to be “reborn” through taking these metaphorical pills, because “[t]here is an internal longing for harmony and happiness that lies deeper than ordinary fear or the desire to escape misery or physical destruction.”

Intellectuals, and artists especially, do not want to be “internal exiles, irreconcilable, non-participating, eroded by hatred.” So they swallow the pills and adopt the “New Faith” (a term Milosz uses throughout the book) which offers the intellectual the certainty he is both correct and virtuous, and therefore gives him a sense of belonging, gives him a feeling of being “warm-hearted and good . . . a friend of mankind—not mankind as it is, but as it should be.”

The metaphor of Murti-Bing, forgotten for a few decades, is remembered today. Murti-Bing’s explanatory power for the behavior of modern intellectuals under modern ideological tyrannies seems universally applicable.

It has been recently cogently used, for example, to explain how very many in the intellectual class of Americans, and Europeans, have accepted and embraced the totalitarian agenda aptly and accurately known as globohomo, a toxic mutating stew of neoliberal globalist corporatism and moral degeneracy, the reward for consuming which is being forced to consume more. (I am curious if Murti-Bing also explains the behavior of twenty-first-century Chinese artists, about whom I know little or nothing, although I suppose today the Chinese tyranny is less ideological and more nationalist).

After an interesting chapter on how intellectuals in the new people’s democracies view America, Milosz returns to another concept for which he is remembered, that of Ketman. This is, we are told, a pleasurable psychological state obtained when one deceives those in power about one’s true motives and beliefs, while nonetheless strictly obeying the orders of those in power.

It is described as extremely prevalent in nineteenth-century Islam, where heretical believers practiced Ketman. As a historical matter, I don’t know how true this is (Milosz ascribes knowledge of it to Arthur Gobineau, inventor of “scientific racism,” which does not lend confidence); it may just be a description of the Shiite practice of taqiyya. But that doesn’t matter for the metaphor.

In essence, one practicing Ketman is, to an outside observer, compliant with his rulers, yet he generally hopes for different, but similar, ends. Milosz describes several types of Ketman and suggests there are others, many and varied. For example, those practicing “national Ketman” praise Russia even though they have contempt for it; they still love Communism, though, just think it better done through their own nation.

Those practicing “aesthetic Ketman” create lifeless socialist realist art on command, because otherwise they would be left with nothing, no property and no position in society, yet in private use their position to surround themselves with real art. Those practicing the “Ketman of revolutionary purity” believe that Stalin betrayed the Revolution, yet only through him can the Revolution now be realized, so they must do as he says.

In all cases, the basic point is the same—Ketman is a form of doublethink, in which people tow the Communist line, making no waves and rocking no boats, and trying to avoid reifying the contradictions. The man practicing Ketman suffers, yet he would suffer more if Communism disappeared, since he defines himself in this way. “Internal revolt is sometimes essential to spiritual health, and can create a particular form of happiness. . . . Ketman brings comfort, fostering dreams of what might be, and even the enclosing fence affords the solace of reverie.”

On the surface, Ketman seems similar to Ernst Jünger’s concepts of the forest rebel and the anarch, someone who keeps his mind free from the rulers while largely adhering to their commands. But, in fact, the concepts are very different, for Ketman is a form of self-delusion, something that Jünger absolutely forbids.

Ketman instead sinks deep into the soul of the practitioner, making, for example, the men Milosz profiles later in the book convinced that they freely chose to adhere to Communism. They become unable to say who is their true self. Ultimately, Ketman is a poison.

What ties Murti-Bing and Ketman together is that those under the power of either are not truly unhappy or oppressed, at least subjectively. Moreover, both seem to be confined largely to intellectuals, those who care both about ideas and their position in society.

Rod Dreher, for example, has pointed out how common both are among today’s so-called conservative writers; the entire staff of National Review, to the extent it is actually conservative, is probably practicing Ketman and washing down Murti-Bing pills with vodka, in between grifting money out of elderly donors, the whole staff pretty happy on balance.

It’s not just conservative intellectuals, though. Intellectuals on the Left, faced with the dominance of globohomo, may think the frenzy for conformity to insane ideas like identity politics, intersectionality, gender fluidity and the like has gone too far, and damages their core concerns, such as those about economic inequality.

They join the chorus, yet still hope that the stupidity will burn itself out and allow their goals to again surface, meanwhile getting a frisson of pleasure from the camaraderie of joining the latest Two-Minute Hate against some Christian pizza parlor.

On the other hand, a social conservative working at a big corporation, crushed by woke capitalism and forced to wear a “Pride” pin to show his “allyship” on pain of losing his job, is just oppressed and unhappy. Since he has no ideological goal himself, he cannot practice Ketman, and he does not want to be a friend of abstract mankind, merely provide for his family and to lead a decent life, so the pills of Murti-Bing also have no effect on him.

Milosz then profiles, under pseudonyms, four men well known to him who bowed to Communism, analyzing why in each case. (He ignores those who, like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, did not bow). Alpha, the Moralist. Beta, the Disappointed Lover. Gamma, the Slave of History. Delta, the Troubadour. Who these men were is easy to determine.

Originally, I thought that of no importance, and anyway I can’t pronounce Polish names, so I figured I’d go with the pseudonyms entirely. But it turns out that to some degree who they were, and their later history, matter, and Alpha is the best example of this.

Alpha was Jerzy Andrzejewski, a prose writer. In Milosz’s telling, he had a “tragic sense of the world,” drawn to Joseph Conrad’s novels, with their moral conflicts and dense storytelling. Before the war, he received laudation for short stories that featured archetypical characters, black-and-white, with a Catholic focus.

He, however, realized that he did not really deserve the laudation, since his stories were simplistic morality tales, lacking nuance—yet he was eager to be regarded as the best writer in Poland. During the war, as their friends disappeared, often shot by the Germans, Alpha became regarded as a moral authority within the Warsaw community of writers, among other things speaking out against the slaughter of the Jews, and he and Milosz lived through the Uprising together, something Milosz spends some time describing. Alpha’s morality was not that of Christ, despite his putative Catholicism, but rather a belief in a largely abstracted loyalty, generically to the Polish people.

After the Uprising, he rejected his old belief in loyalty, seeing it led to nothing but death, instead coming to believe that History had an arc and that social goals should be the focus. His new morality fit well with the new Communist regime, eager to have artists under its wing to “bridge the gap” between the tiny number of Communists in Poland and the rest of the population—and Alpha was well known for his devotion to Poland.

The Communists gave him a new moral frame, and praised him to the skies, and he published an excellent novel, though one, again, with archetypical characters divorced from real human experience, and established himself, as he desired, as a writer of the first rank.Within a few years, however, as the Communist Party tightened its grip, Alpha, like all other artists, was required to make a choice—join the Party and create tightly defined social realist art, or be cast into the outer darkness.

Alpha, without hesitation, joined the New Faith. He became a Soviet propagandist, referred to by his old friends as “the respectable prostitute.” He still had a moral frame; it was merely different. Milosz is dispassionate about this apparent end. “It is not my place to judge. I myself traveled the same road of seeming inevitability.”

Alpha is clearly drawn. But he is incomplete, because Andrzejewski stepped off the path that he was on in 1951. In 1956 he quit the party, and in the 1970s and 1980s he was a strong supporter of anti-Communist movements, dying in 1983. So, in the end, he partially redeemed himself. What this says about Milosz’s thesis we will consider later.

Next is Beta, in real life a man named Tadeusz Borowski. He was another writer, a young man with nihilist tendencies. Arrested by the Germans, he survived two years in Auschwitz, then Dachau. After the war, he wrote a book in which he celebrated his cleverness at surviving by working the system and being an accessory to various evils in the camps.

In Milosz’s analysis, Beta is not amoral; instead, he has a disappointed love of the world and of humanity. He is unable to see any nobility in humanity, even when in front of his eyes, as it was at times in the camps. Rather, he became full of hatred, and the Communists, again collecting artists, convinced him to use that hatred in their service, by convincing him the eschaton was upon us, earthly salvation from the evils Beta saw everywhere.

The price was that he could only write socialist realism, with stock Communist heroes and their evil enemies, divorced of the raw human emotions and perception of universal human degradation that had featured in his writing before.

By choice, therefore, he reduced himself to writing undistinguished and indistinguishable political propaganda rants. Perhaps, like some of the takers of the original pill of Murti-Bing, he realized the contradiction, so, in 1951, a few days after his first child was born, he killed himself, by gas, at age twenty-eight.

Third is Gamma, who long before the war was a convinced Communist. He fled to Russia during the war, and returned in the train of the conquering Red Army, in which he was a political commissar.

He was given great power over other Polish writers, and he enjoyed it. In Milosz’s analysis, “he considered himself a servant of the devil that ruled History, but did not love his master.” Yet he never wavered from his choice. “But sometimes he is haunted by the thought that the devil to whom men sell their souls owes his might to men themselves, and that the determinism of History is a creation of human brains.”

And fourth is Delta, a writer who only wanted to amuse under the eyes of the adoring multitude, and under Communism, could only do so by toeing the Communist line—just as he had always toed whatever line was in power at the moment.

These sketches are compelling and provide a lot of food for thought. They do not provide simple answers. What strikes the reader most of all, other than the applicability of the same concepts to any ideological tyranny, not just Communism, is that the feeling that pervades this book, more so than any other emotion, is resignation.

Milosz, like many other anti-Communists of the 1950s, saw the conquests of Communism as effectively permanent. He was, perhaps, less pessimistic than others, such as Whittaker Chambers, who saw future global triumph of Communism as inevitable, and believed he had joined the losing side. But Milosz did not seem to see any non-Communist future for the conquered nations of Europe.

Thus, Milosz tells us that those who say “a change must come, this can’t go on” merely hold “an amusing belief in the natural order of things.” However, Milosz implies, there is no such natural order. “The man of the East cannot take Americans seriously because they have never undergone the experiences that teach men how relative their judgments and thinking habits are. . . . Because they were born and raised in a given social order and in a given system of values, they believe that any other order must be ‘unnatural,’ and that it cannot last because it is incompatible with human nature. But even they may one day know fire, hunger, and the sword.”

This connects to a related, half-contradictory theme that that runs throughout the book: how what seems like the permanent natural order can so swiftly change for the worse.

Milosz returns again and again to the horrors the Germans wrought; it is no more natural, “if both are within the realm of one’s experience,” for a man to go about his daily life in the bustling city of Warsaw than it is for him to live underground eating rats in the destroyed city of Warsaw.

Combining these themes together suggests a deep pessimism on Milosz’s part, a view that ideology was leading history to be a one-way ratchet ending in total ideological tyranny.

But, of course, Milosz was wrong. Communism lasted only thirty-five years more—thirty-five long years, to be sure, but in retrospect the cracks were growing within early in that time. Milosz, however, could not see them, nor could nearly anyone else. He could not see that, within a few short years, Alpha would reject Communism, and perhaps Beta or Delta would have too, had they not died young. Why is that? Why do modern ideologies that gain power seem to implant defeatism in the minds of the righteous?

This has been much on my mind recently, since for post-liberals, it’s important that we evaluate how we get to “post,” and what that looks like. Most of the wealthy portions of the West are, of course, currently in the grip of a totalitarian ideology—a new religion, a combination of neoliberal, corporatist extraction economics, the erasing of the West’s culture and cultures, and ever-nastier moral degeneracy, collectively enforced with an iron hand by our ruling classes, who control all the levers of power.

It seems inevitable that this headlong flight from reality, with its fractalized manifestations, from the mendacious falsification of history in the New York Times’s “1619 Project,” to the physical and mental mutilation of children to advance insane transgender ideology, to funding mindless blinding consumerism with Chinese debt and pumping up the money supply, is going to be ultimately caught and thrashed by reality.

Yet most post-liberals, and in general most people of good faith, like Alpha, Gamma, and Delta, find themselves viscerally unable to believe in a clean future with renewed human flourishing, and either despair or conform. At most, we who see clearly adopt a waiting stance, half-bored and barely flinching at the latest outrage imposed on the righteous.

I think this is an error, or a partial error. True, direct action against globohomo is generally useless, though participating in holding actions such as electing men who throw sand in the gears is both amusing and somewhat profitable. But history always provides an axis, a point around which it turns, a point of weakness of the now-existing and then-passing order, which cannot be predicted with specificity and is often only obvious in retrospect.

Rather than simply waiting, we should be preparing to, when the opportunity presents itself, pour our fire upon that axis, at its moment of appearance and exposure. For that, three things are necessary: friends (as Bronze Age Pervert often says), resources (intellectual, monetary, and military, all preferably shielded as much as possible from attack), and will.

Milosz erred by not seeing that the end of Communism was, even in 1951, within sight. But he nonetheless lived to see it, and though what Europe got afterwards has not turned out much better, maybe the second time will be a charm, both here and across the ocean.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows a poster for “The Captive Mind” by Stasys Eidrigevicius, created in 1990.

Frederick The Second

This book defies easy characterization. It is, to be sure, a biography of the last of the great German medieval emperors, Frederick II Hohenstaufen. But it vibrates with a subdued roar under the surface. By turns it is fierce, melodramatic, evocative, pitying, and electric. Maybe, in 1927, with Germany at its nadir,

Ernst Kantorowicz was trying to channel the modern age of steel and thunder, translating it through the works of a long-dead megalomaniac king into a hoped-for new era. Or maybe he aimed to wake the ancient ghost of Frederick, stirring him from his long sleep in the Kyffhäuser Mountains. Either way, Kantorowicz did see reborn the German energies he thought should be reborn. But as with most summoned spirits, the rebirth did not advantage the summoner.

Frederick II, born in 1194, was the son of Henry VI, the Holy Roman Emperor, and Constance, Queen of Sicily. Henry’s father had been Frederick I Barbarossa, perhaps the most famous of all German emperors. Constance’s father was Roger II, the centralizer of Norman Sicily.

This illustrious pedigree meant that Frederick claimed both all of southern Italy and most of Germany—but not northern Italy, or the Papal States, the combined cause of the greatest challenges of his reign. The High Middle Ages were beginning, and many changes were afoot—not only in Europe, where Richard II Lionheart, John Lackland, and Saint Louis IX were Frederick’s contemporaries, but in the Middle East, where Islam had entered its long decline, accelerated during Frederick’s reign by the start of the Mongol invasions.

It was an interesting time, and a tremendously intricate time, and one that it is hard for us to fully grasp. Men and women were the same as us, yet viewed the world very differently in many ways. Frederick himself is often, far too often, presented to us as some kind of proto-modern, supposedly a man of unique tolerance and liberality.

He was none of those things. He was a man convinced of his world-bestriding importance, fascinated by the new things in his world, and indifferent to much beyond his own sense of destiny. He never quite accomplished his goals, and his heirs died in pain, ignominy, or obscurity, quickly losing grasp of all Frederick had worked for.

But he did not know that, and so, perhaps, he died largely satisfied. And he would no doubt have been pleased that for nearly a thousand years, many Germans have looked to his reign as the apogee of German heroic power, to evoke which Kantorowicz wrote this book.

The reason Frederick is incorrectly perceived as of a different kind of medieval king is because others have always benefited from casting him in a certain light. His brutal lifelong struggle with the temporal power of the Papacy has made him distasteful ever since to Roman Catholics, especially those of an ultramontanist bent.

This grew the legend of him as anti-Catholic, which proved useful for purveyors of Protestant propaganda after the Reformation and anti-Christian propaganda after the Enlightenment. All these groups found that the fevered polemics hurled against Frederick to gain support for the Pope were later fertile sources of lurid, therefore useful, tales about Frederick’s perfidy and supposed hatred of religion.

And, of course, Frederick had his own propagandists, which is why he is still known to some as the stupor mundi, the “wonder of the world,” though perhaps better translated as “marvel” or “astonishment.”

After eight hundred years of this, it’s hard to recapture the man, but Kantorowicz does a good job—and then uses Frederick for his own purposes, casting him as an exemplar for twentieth-century Germans needing a hero in an age of German degradation.

Kantorowicz himself had a life that fits poorly into our paucified modern categories. Born in 1895, he fought in World War I, and then in the Freikorps against Communist killers. He became a disciple of the poet Stefan George, part of the Conservative Revolution.

George was a mystical, anti-modernist type, focused on the rebirth of the German nation, bidding it emerge as an intellectual creation, breaking through the rough crust of current troubles to create a new Germany, led by a physical and spiritual aristocracy (who, as typical in these cultish groups of eggheads, would be led by the disciples of the Master, as they called George). Some of these ideas, which were in the air all over Germany, were taken up by the National Socialists, as usual modified for cruder, and therefore more effective, propaganda purposes.

However, George’s circle is remembered today mostly because they inspired a variety of anti-Hitler plotters in later years, after George’s death in 1933, including most famously Claus von Stauffenberg. By that time, though, Kantorowicz, Jewish by birth, was long departed from Germany, moving to California after Kristallnacht. He lived there until 1963, publishing other books and trying to disown this book, but it is still the one for which he is most remembered.

Thus, Kantorowicz was of a specific German political type of the first decades of the twentieth century, often, and often unfairly, associated with the National Socialists. He was one of many who rejected liberalism and cried out for German greatness to be restored. Such ideas were adopted by the NSDAP, but that does not make them National Socialist ideas.

If the besetting sin of left-wing intellectuals is direct participation in and furthering of evil (and it is), the besetting sin of right-wing intellectuals seems to be their irrepressible belief that their superior intelligence and insight will allow them to control, direct, and rule other men who implement their ideas in a bastardized form aided by violence.

I don’t know if the National Socialists used this book to any great degree (it does not appear so), but its author, and Stefan George’s circle, seem to fit right into this right-wing paradigm, which always loses out to those less interested in thinking and more interested in doing. Then the intellectuals on the Right invariably wonder what happened—as was the case with Carl Schmitt. It’s a vaguely pathetic pattern, and likely one we’ll see in America in the coming years.

When Kantorowicz published Frederick the Second, as a young man with an incomplete doctorate in Muslim economic history, professional historians were aghast at the book’s departures from history-writing orthodoxy.

Kantorowicz did not offer footnotes (although he later added an entire volume with sources and references to satisfy his critics), and more to the point, wrote history as epic, blurring the line between fact and legend, openly using Frederick’s life as a platform for the restoration of Germany on heroic lines.

At this remove, I can’t tell if the historians attacking Kantorowicz were legitimate historians, or the type of “historian” that dominates our own times, whose main project is to view history, and rewrite it, through a Left lens. It doesn’t really matter, I suppose; Kantorowicz’s book stands now on its own.

In Kantorowicz’s telling, Frederick was generous and open-handed; self-assured to an extreme degree and with great personal magnetism; openly proclaiming of his intentions and views; eager to learn but fiercely protective of his prerogatives and his aims.

He was highly educated, speaking several languages (including Arabic) and keenly interested in sports such as falconry. He hated heretics and he hated rebels; they were, after all, the same thing. Frederick saw himself as an instrument of Providence; he may have sometimes confused whether, exactly, God was truly superior to him, but he was not an atheist or even a religious freethinker.

Not that he was a pious man; if anything, he was a proto-Machiavellian, very aware of the uses of religion for power, in his case usually to his disadvantage. Yet his goal was not Machiavellian; he sought the standard medieval formula of “peace and justice,” as in the time of the Emperor Augustus.

Like most mighty men, he probably thought God owed him; he reminds one in this respect (and none other) of that moral pygmy Michael Bloomberg, who infamously said “[I]f there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.” No doubt he will find out, soon enough, and no doubt Frederick has as well.

It is all so very complicated. Guelf and Ghibelline; German princes and Sicilian lords; Lombard towns and Calabrian fortresses; Venice and Genoa; Jerusalem and the Eternal City; and much, much more.

In brief, Frederick grew up in Sicily, under his mother’s rule of the territory, since his German inheritance (which was technically elective, after all) was in dispute between his uncle, Philip of Swabia, and the Welf contender, Otto of Brunswick, briefly Otto IV.

When his mother died, before Frederick came of age, he became a ward of the Pope, Innocent III, a mighty medieval pope many of whose designs, from the Fourth Crusade to demanding ever-greater papal temporal supremacy, ultimately went wrong. Frederick, when he came of age, avoided open conflict with him, instead focusing on reuniting his Sicilian domains with his father’s German domains.

Frederick failed to participate in the Fifth Crusade despite his promise, and was blamed for its failure; he did participate in the Sixth Crusade and negotiated the re-transfer of Jerusalem to the Christians with Al-Kamil, the Ayyubid sultan of Egypt, who had defeated the Fifth Crusade (and had met Saint Francis of Assisi then), but who had his own problems and didn’t want the hassle of another war with the Christians.

The episode of the “retaking” of Jerusalem is emblematic of the way everything Frederick did was viewed through two lenses. In the eyes of Frederick and his partisans, this was a heroic victory that buttressed Frederick’s claim to be the true inheritor of the mantle of the Emperors of Rome.

In the eyes of his enemies, it was a craven cop-out by an excommunicate eager to score a cheap propaganda victory of limited durability and thereby aggrandize himself, though they did not explain how many earlier failures to free Jerusalem by force could this time have been bettered by fighting instead of negotiating.

In any case, successive popes, notably Gregory IX and Innocent IV, saw Frederick as a menace, since he threatened to fully surround the Papal States. They could not abide this, and therefore could not abide Frederick. Conflict under these premises was inevitable.

So, Frederick struggled for decades to break the power of the Papacy and its on-again, off-again allies, the north Italian cities of the Lombard League, together with other intermittent allies.

Along the way he had other projects: he masterminded the conquering of Prussia by the Teutonic Knights, under the Grand Mastership of Hermann of Salza, a close counselor of his (and go-between with the Pope), laying the groundwork for seven centuries of the importance of Prussia to Germany (although now, to be sure, most of those territories are no longer part of Germany).

He made a few more half-hearted efforts towards the East, as well; Kantorowicz interprets this as the need for the King of the West to be the King of the East in order to be the World Ruler, which seems a very big leap.

Those were side projects, though; Frederick spent his life primarily in endless back-and-forth fighting to achieve a unified realm with an Italian focus, ultimately falling short and dying of an intestinal complaint in 1250 at the age of fifty-six. His heirs all died, and his line ended with his grandson, Conradin, executed at age sixteen by Charles of Anjou in 1268 (a man who, strangely, has recently received attention from sections of the resurgent, fermenting American Right).

The long-term effects of the struggle between Frederick and the Papacy were very significant. Kantorowicz blames Innocent for trying to wholly eliminate the separation of the temporal and spiritual power, thereby causing increased conflict with the temporal power and, ultimately, the erosion of the Pope’s spiritual power.

To the consequences of this Kantorowicz ascribes most of the events and later consequences of Frederick’s career, which might otherwise have resulted in a German Empire from the Baltics to Palermo, with the Papal States still extant but effectively without substantial temporal power.

If Frederick had had a free hand, he would not have had to grant to the great lords of Germany near total independence from the Empire, in effect making them kinglets with only nominal obedience to the Emperor, which caused Frederick little immediate trouble but set the pattern for a fragmented Germany for hundreds of years.

He might have forged a true empire—but he spent his power on the challenges he met, making the compromises he needed to make, and thus he could not weld together Germany into the empire that Kantorowicz so clearly thought was Germany’s destiny.

In his Italian possessions, on the other hand, Frederick was a modernizing centralizer, eroding feudal institutions, continuing the rebirth of Roman law and the reformation of justice and administration, and, in general, trying to act like a real Emperor of Rome.

This created the first modern state, though it, too, fragmented after Frederick’s death, leaving itself as an example for later monarchs.

I was interested to see that Kantorowicz credits Frederick with presiding over a great flourishing of art, especially of poetry, but also other arts. What matters for great art is having a great ruling class, and this is another piece of historical evidence for my thesis. Kantorowicz describes it as neither “frivolity nor royal fashion, but an incomparable vigor of the blood, which even in ruin demands glory and fame.” Vigor is it, I think; no vigor, no great art, and vice versa.

Frederick’s long struggle with the Papacy is instructive for political debates today, in a way inconceivable even five years ago.

Some, notably the Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule, who claims to desire a reworked state (but will not fight against any aspect of the current state that might get him disinvited from dinner parties in Cambridge), suggest that Papal supremacy in the mold of Innocent III’s program, which he calls integralism, was a political system which it would be desirable to rebirth today. Whether Vermeule really thinks this I cannot be sure (and I am less sure now that he has, for no reason I can fathom other than I am far more charismatic than him, blocked me on Twitter).

But, certainly, actual history does not bear the weight of this optimism. Giving the Pope the power of Caesar inevitably leads to corruption of the spiritual power and, I suspect, a sharp reduction in human flourishing, which requires secular achievement along with spiritual focus. The Pope, or more generally the spiritual power, is not cut out, by vocation or temperament, for temporal power, and this is pretty clear from history.

Now, Andrew Willard Jones argued in his recent analysis of the society of Louis IX, Beyond Church and State, that matters are not so simple. Jones drew thirteenth-century France as a state where church and state acted as one, with no conception of the secular being divided from the spiritual, or of those as indistinguishable concepts at all.

This model, also called integralism but of a much different and much more durable character, did not imply papal temporal supremacy, but rather a set of joint obligations based on custom and the needs of both Church and State, which were one and the same as the needs of society.

That model, common in the West from the time of Charlemagne until the Renaissance, does not have the same grievous problems as the overreaching Innocent III model, though as always practice is harder than theory, and Louis had plenty of conflicts with the Church.

Of course, Frederick was no Saint Louis, but had the Pope been less overreaching, the Holy Roman Empire might have ended up closer to this type of cooperative monarchy.

I analyze such matters, and their current applicability, at greater length in my review of Jones’s book, so I will not repeat myself here. But that the Pope should not be given significant temporal power is also supported by a running theme in Kantorowicz’s book—the role in both state and society of the new mendicant orders, especially the Franciscans, but also the Dominicans.

Saint Francis was a contemporary of Frederick, and the mendicant orders frequently openly supported the Emperor against the Pope, correctly seeing the medieval Church as corrupt and overly focused on the things of this world. The pope we have now named himself after Saint Francis, and seems to think that pretending he is poor makes him the heir of Saint Francis, so it would seem that the battle was won.

But that perception is false. The point of Saint Francis was that he set himself against the things of this world, which in his day meant wealth and the corruption it wrought.

Today, when the whole world has wealth of which men in that age could not even dream, the things of this world that corrupt are not primarily wealth, but instead the corruption birthed by the Enlightenment, flowing from the worship of the atomized self.

The manifestations of this are many, but they may all be subsumed under the desire of men to be as gods, to be subject to no limits and no unchosen bonds. This corruption, through either stupidity or malice, Pope Francis and the evil men who surround him have mostly fully embraced.

I have little doubt that Saint Francis would scorn Pope Francis far more than he scorned the rich prelates of his own time, seeing this essentially spiritual corruption, cloaked with oily words spoken with forked tongue, as far more damaging to the Church (and to the State, though that was Frederick’s, not Saint Francis’s, area of concern).

What this means in the context of this book is that, logically, those within the Catholic Church today who still hold to its ancient truths, must, like the mendicant orders of the thirteenth century, in practice align with the new, rising temporal right-wing powers against the princes of the Church, together to, in Kantorowicz’s words, “fight the common foe, the degenerate Church.”

Since the Church shows no sign of reforming itself, the aim should be the overthrowing of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy, by force, if necessary, and its restoration through a (hopefully temporary) form of caesaropapism, thereby benefiting both Church and State.

That sounds bizarre, but such events were, until the modern era, more the norm than today’s state of evil dreaming. Returning to the old way, where the temporal power dictated to the spiritual power when it got too far out of line and became destructive of larger society, seems pretty attractive right now.

But the Catholic Church wasn’t what Kantorowicz cared about. He cared about Germany, and its once and hoped-for future greatness. For all that he was ultimately a failure, Kantorowicz credits Frederick with forging a new German spirit by combining German traditions with Roman forms and culture.

What Kantorowicz explicitly wanted is what Frederick fell short of, “that full perfection of the German Empire, a mighty Emperor surrounded by his mighty princes.” In a few short years after this book, Kantorowicz saw that Empire reborn, and no doubt it was nothing as he had hoped.

Today, of course, Germany is a dying thing, pathetic and useless, like all of Western Europe, eagerly abasing itself before invaders who are only too happy to assist the suicide of what little remains of the high German culture and spirit that Kantorowicz so admired, built up over a thousand years.

Even were there no invaders, Germany is, it appears, exhausted at the end of history. It certainly seems unlikely to be reborn, and one wonders, what would a man like Kantorowicz, or a man like Frederick, say if he saw it today? Probably nothing. He would just cry.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows a portrait of Frederick the Second from his book, The Art of Hunting with Birds, from the 13th-century.

Corporate Christianity And Conservative Inc.

“In the market economy the individual is free to act within the orbit of private property and the market. His choices are final” (Ludwig von Mises, Human Action).

When we read this text from the grandfather of modern Neo-Liberalism (hich manifests itself, in the United States, in the movements called Libertarianism and Neo-Conservatism), we are not surprised. Von Mises, culturally Polish and politically Austrian, but a practical atheist in his political philosophy, is concerned to render absolute, the only absolute (other than “market forces”) he seems to acknowledge as having any relevance for the affairs of mankind, the volitional determination of individuals. Nor are we surprised when he unfolds his basic conception of reality and applies it to the public actions of individuals.

Referring to the entire doctrinal and moral activity of Christian civilization and comparing it to his idea of the autonomous, self-interested, and willful individual, von Mises states, “In urging people to listen to the voice of their conscience and to substitute considerations of public welfare for those of private profit, one does not create a working and satisfactory social order [emphasis mine].”

In one sweeping statement, von Mises has negated Christendom and every social, economic, and moral teaching of the Catholic Church; this statement, also, renders “inoperative” the entire Classical moral and philosophical tradition.

Such statements by the hero of contemporary Libertarianism and Neo-Conservatism (read, Neo-Jacobinism), need not disquiet us at all if we understand it exactly as he meant it to be, a statement by one who upheld the modern Liberal, anti-Christendom world-view and denigrated the civilization, overall and in its detail, built by the Catholic Church.

This civilization, of course, was constructed in a certain way, on account of the Church’s attempt to conform the circumstances and the means of man’s life to the Eternal Law, which includes within itself the Providential Plan by which each created being is brought to a state of perfect fulfillment and satisfaction.

Christendom, unlike the “market forces,” presupposes real freedom; if man was not free and meant to be fulfilled in his freedom, Christendom would not be needed. “Freedom,” of course, is meaningless, and soon becomes bizarre (as in our own commercialist culture), if it is not directed towards a true “good” that fulfills human nature. If freedom does not achieve a true satisfaction of human nature, why is freedom “good?”

If, however, freedom is “good” because it genuinely fulfills human nature, economic “freedom” or the ability to sell goods made and to purchase goods made by others, must be subordinated to over-arching considerations of the “good.” Since we are speaking about a public “good,” we must speak about the “common good,” in which every private good is included.

The common good entails the fulfillment of human nature at large. If all of the above reasoning is valid, economic freedom to buy and sell must be ordered to the achievement of a truly fulfilled human nature, both individually and commonly.

Only those with the most animalistic conception of man would think that the ability to buy and sell things is the pivot around which should turn an individual life, a political ideology, or the efforts of the State. That “man does not live by bread alone” is not only a religious truth, but is, also, a bit of wisdom testified to by universal human experience.

It is the religious devotion of man, his virtuous moral actions, and his aesthetic and emotional appreciation and expression, which are the higher aspects of man’s being that mercantile trade is meant to facilitate and sustain.

In light of this, it is perfectly rational that the normal and traditional (i.e., non-Liberal) societies and governments of the past have tried to ensure that the buying and selling that went on amongst men, truly facilitated the genuine end of all economic relationships, the full and complete good of men, both individually and as, necessarily, living within a civic body. It was for this reason that such notions as “the just price” and the “the just wage” were normative, and limitations on the use and procurement of private property were instituted.

One point in favor of Ludwig von Mises, however, one not shared in by a number his disciples, is that he recognized that the whole bulk, theoretical and practical, of historical Christendom was against his understanding of the proper order of things. He, at least, recognizes that there was a very definite concept of “justice” in “medieval” Christendom.

He simply relativizes it. In pure Nietzschean fashion, he insists that claims about the “justice” of this or that social arrangement or economic condition, are merely an attempt by some to preserve an arbitrarily adopted “utopia:” “They call ‘just’ that mode of conduct that is compatible with the undisturbed preservation of their utopia, and everything else unjust.”

Von Mises, also, does not claim St. Thomas Aquinas as an early advocate of Liberal Capitalism and the “free-market economy.” He understands that St. Thomas, as a Catholic philosopher and theologian, held views profoundly at variance with his own, including in matters of economics.

With regard to the question of the “just price,” von Mises writes: “If Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of the just price had been put into practice, the thirteenth century’s economic conditions would still prevail. Population figures would be much smaller than they are today and the standard of living much lower.”

The sentence following should, also, be of interest to those who would like to see the sharp distinction between von Mises’ Liberalism and the great tradition of the Christian World: “Both varieties of the just-price doctrine, the philosophical and the popular, agree in their condemnation of the prices and wage rates as determined on the unhampered market.”

If Aquinas was a capitalistic Pre-Liberal, von Mises certainly did not see it; in fact, he uses St. Thomas’s teachings as the embodiment of the very mentality and outlook, which he is rejecting.

De Roover’s Libertarian Dream

To base one’s ideas solely on conceptions prevailing in relatively current times, has never been a very attractive option. The American Whigs of 1787 looked to Republican Rome, and the French Democrats of 1789 could look to Democratic Athens.

Looking back 2,000 years for a political model is a genuine example of antiquarianism. At least Napoleon, with his later emulation of Charlemagne, only had to look back 1,000 years to find an example of a situation in which his newly chosen form of government, “worked.”

(We must keep in mind here that the reason people had not, for so long, adopted these first two old systems of government was because they were historically conscious enough to realize that they had not “worked”).

A number of Libertarians have felt the need to trace their ideas back to the established thought of Catholic Christendom. We can only speculate as to their motives. However, what is clear is this, within the second half of the 20th century and, even, into our own, there have been some Libertarians who identify nascent Capitalistic ideas – (I simply identify Capitalism here as the economic form of Liberalism – not to be confused with American Leftism) – as existing within the corporate organism that was Christendom, prior to the “dawning” of the Enlightenment.

There are some more reckless Libertarian thinkers who would even state that, not only are there Liberal anomalies within the paradigm of historical Christendom, but rather, that Liberalism is the Christian civilizational paradigm itself. The recurrent focus of such Libertarian “dreaming” is the late Renaissance Spanish School of Salamanca and Sts. Bernadine of Siena and Antoninus of Florence.

The main issue, although not the only one, is the one of the “just price.” Can it be that the later Scholastics, as represented by the School of Salamanca, along with the two Renaissance saints known for their sermons on economic concerns, should be identified as early advocates of Liberal Capitalism due to their, supposed, insistence that the “just price” which must be upheld by Church, State, and Society at large, is simply the one which is assigned to a product due to the interplay of producer supply and consumer demand?

If economic “justice,” at this most basic and essential level, is simply a matter of adhering, faithfully, to the “laws of supply and demand,” we can say that the view of these Catholic thinkers could, indeed, be characterized as an example of Early Economic Liberalism.

If there were something more to “justice” than the simple end result of the interplay of the free will of producer and the free choice of the consumer, than their thought could not be denominated as a early form of von Misesian Neo-Liberal/Libertarian conceptions.

When looking for an example of a Neo-Liberal who represents this attempt to find roots in the distant past for Liberal doctrines that seem quite modern, we can turn to Raymond de Roover who published an article entitled, “The Concept of the Just Price: Theory and Economic Policy” in Journal of Economic History (December 1958). Here it is interesting to read De Roover’s portrayal of the “typical” view of medieval thought as it relates to the topic of the “just price.”

In this article, we read, “According to a widespread belief – found in nearly all books dealing with the subject – the just price was linked to the medieval conception of a social hierarchy and corresponded to a reasonable charge which would enable the producer to live and to support his family on a scale suitable to his station in life. This doctrine is generally thought to have found its practical application in the guild system. For this purpose the guilds are presented as welfare agencies which prevented unfair competition, protected consumers against deceit and exploitation, created equal opportunities for their members, and secured for them a modest but decent living in keeping with traditional standards [emphasis mine].”

Such was the “idyllic” view of the Middle Ages upheld by the great German economist Max Weber and by the British author, controversialist, and historian, Arthur Penty. According to De Roover, another famous German economist, Werner Sombart, went even further: according to him, not only the medieval craftsmen but even the merchants strove only to gain a livelihood befitting their rank in society and did not seek to accumulate wealth or to climb the social ladder. This attitude, Sombart claimed, was rooted in the concept of the just price “which dominated the entire period of the Middle Ages.”

De Roover, however, has a different understanding of the common mind of the Christian Era as regards prices and economic activity in general.

Amidst the presence of many non sequiturs, confused and, even, contradictory historical claims, we find de Roover throwing out various red herrings such as, “Thomas Aquinas himself recognizes that the just price cannot be determined with precision, but can vary within a certain range, so that minor deviations do not involve any injustice. This…is not in accord with Marxian dialectics; but it agrees with classical and neoclassical economic analysis” [emphasis mine] So an obvious and balanced moral statement about a minor aspect of the just price issue, because it does not agree with the Marxist theory, makes St. Thomas’ economic position into one that “agrees with classical and neoclassical analysis.”

The bizarre and forced logic present in de Roover’s analysis can only be touched upon here. For example, one of the “naïve” economists, Werner Sombart cites Heinrich von Langenstein (1325-1397) to the effect that “if the public authorities fail to fix a price, the producer may set it himself, but he should not charge more for his labor and expenses than would enable him to maintain his status (per quanto res suas vendendo statum suum continuare posit).”

This is fully in accord with the “traditional” understanding of social and economic thinking in the Catholic Middle Ages. Langenstein continues in the same vein, “And if he does charge more in order to enrich himself or to improve his station, he commits the sin of avarice.” This position, of von Langenstein, was “regarded as a characteristic formulation of the scholastic doctrine of the just price,” according to de Roover. Having been cited by Sombart, de Roover insists that it was “copied by one author after another.”

De Roover tries to throw cold water on the enthusiasm, on the part of economic historians, for the writings of Langenstein, by stating that, “Langenstein was not one of the giants in medieval philosophy but a relatively minor figure.” This statement is, of course, totally irrelevant to the topic at hand.

The question was not whether or not Langenstein was one of the “giants” of medieval philosophy, but whether his statement of economic theory and practice can be seen as “characteristic.” Someone need not be a giant in order to be characteristic. “Giants,” of course, are not characteristic at all, but that is another point entirely.

When de Roover does treat a giant, St. Thomas Aquinas, we find contradictory statements interwoven with more than questionable deductions. With regard to St. Thomas, he focuses on the topic that he – de Roover – believes will confirm that the “majority of the [Scholastic] doctors” held that the “just price” did not correspond to cost of production as determined by the producer’s social status, but was “simply the current market price.”

Clearly, de Roover understood that if the just price meant something other than the Capitalistic “just the price,” his attempt to root Neo-Liberal Capitalism in Catholic social tradition and thought would fail. He had to prove that the “justice” of the price charged in the times of Christendom was nothing other than the price that the item could fetch on the open marketplace.

The plan was to portray St. Thomas as an early economic liberal and, then, indicate how later Scholastic thought followed him and, thereby, set the stage for Adam Smith and Capitalistic Manchester Liberalism.

De Roover starts his analysis of the position of St. Thomas on the question of the “just price” by stating that in the works of Aquinas, “the passages relating to price are so scattered and seemingly so conflicting that they have given rise to varying interpretations.” He then goes on to state, unambiguously, what St. Thomas definitely meant by the term “the just price.”

As he goes on “definitively” articulating St. Thomas’ position, he proceeds to contradict his own interpretation of and statements about this position. For example, de Roover states, “By selecting only those passages favorable to their thesis, certain writers even reached the conclusion that Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas had a labor theory of value.”

In a footnote, on the same page, he states, “As a matter of fact, Aquinas comes close to saying that any exchange of two commodities should be based on the ratio between the amounts of labor expended on each.” Isn’t he affirming here that Aquinas had a “labor theory of value,” when he was just one paragraph above, chiding “certain writers” for reaching the conclusion that St. Thomas “had a labor theory of value”?

The Liberal scholar’s reasoning becomes somewhat more convoluted when we find him, at the beginning of a paragraph, stating that St. Thomas “nowhere puts the matter [of the just price] so clearly,” and by the end of the paragraph states that “this [single] passage [which is only a story addressing a very limited moral question] destroys with a single blow the thesis of those who try to make Aquinas into a Marxist, and proves beyond doubt that he considered the market price to be just.”

So, within a single paragraph, made up primarily of an illustrative story about a merchant selling wheat in a town when he knows that more wheat is on the way, we go from Aquinas the Ambiguous to Aquinas the Absolute. When we look for the passage cited by de Roover, in the Secunda Secundae of the Summa Theologica, we find that the article cited has absolutely nothing to do with the topic of the just price. It is from the question dealing with “Cheating” and the specific article is entitled, “Whether the Seller Is Bound to State the Defects of the Thing Sold?”

St. Thomas states here that a seller is acting rightly, from the view point of strict justice, if he merely accepts the amount offered for his wheat by the buyer, without informing the buyer of the greater amount of wheat to come. In other words, it is not unjust to fail to provide information that one could provide about the relative short-term worth of one’s products.

St. Thomas ends by saying, “If however he were to do so, or if he lowered his price, it would be exceedingly virtuous on his part: although he does not seem to be bound to do this as a debt of justice.”

From this short story concerning a very specific moral question, having nothing in itself to do with economic systems or the general topic of the just price, de Roover takes it as proven that “Aquinas upheld market valuation instead of cost,” thus beginning a pre-Capitalist tradition in moral theology, which bore fruit in the late Renaissance Salamanca School and in the economic related sermons preached by St. Bernadine of Siena and St. Antoninus of Florence in the 15th century.

Before treating the real attitude of the late Scholastics in Salamanca and the sermons of St. Bernadine of Siena and St. Antoninus of Florence, it is worthwhile to look at a simple reply to an objection, present in Question 77, “On Cheating, Which is Committed in Buying and Selling.” In Article 1, the same article from which de Roover draws his conclusions about the “free market” inclinations of St. Thomas, we read, in Reply to Objection 2, a line of reasoning that would, certainly, put St. Thomas outside the boundaries of any form of Liberal Capitalistic sympathies.

Here he cites St. Augustine who says, “th[e] jester, either by looking into himself or by his experience of others, thought that all men are inclined to wish to buy for a song and sell at a premium. But since in reality this is wicked, it is in every man’s power to acquire that justice whereby he may resist and overcome this inclination.

The example, cited by St. Thomas, which St. Augustine uses to illustrate this idea, is one of a man who gave the just price for a book to a man who through ignorance asked a low price for it. Here we see the virtuous buyer, who knows the real value of the book, ignoring the market value of the book (the one which was being asked by the seller of those wishing freely to buy), and, instead, justly compensating the seller for his loss.

St. Thomas concludes from this example that the “capitalistic” drive to buy as cheaply as possible and sell as dearly as possible – expressive, as it is, of an unlimited drive for acquisition and an overriding self-interestedness – can be overcome just like any vice is overcome. He acknowledges, however, that this self-interested attitude – which is, precisely, the attitude assumed by Liberal Capitalism – is “common to many who walk along the broad road of sin.”

Here we see clearly that economic attitude of Christendom contrasted with the economic attitude of Neo-Liberalism. Neither St. Augustine nor St. Thomas Aquinas are anything like Neo-Liberals. Clearly the “market price” is not, necessarily, the “just price.” To quote a phrase commonly used by Raymond de Roover, “This text…does not lend itself to a different interpretation.”

The Spanish Fairs and Renaissance Banking

To offer proof that the Scholastics, early or late, did not adhere to Libertarian principles of economic life, it is best to cite the historical works of the Neo-Liberals themselves. The two which draw our attention are, The School of Salamanca: Readings in Spanish Monetary Theory 1544-1605 by Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, and Raymond de Roover’s San Bernadino of Siena and Sant’Antonino of Florence: The Two Great Economic Thinkers of the Middle Ages.

Our task can, also, be simplified if we can demonstrate, using the research of the Neo-Liberal scholars themselves, that the later Spanish Scholastics of Salamanca, along with the two above-mentioned saints, were fully within the great intellectual, social, and economic tradition of Catholic Christendom most particularly concerning the question of the “just price.”

If the “just price” is formulated in a way, which allows for many factors other than the exigencies of “supply and demand” (i.e., whether there is a social and moral aspect of the determination of price) and, especially, if there is a role for the “prince” in the determination of “market prices,” than we can safely reject the notion that these Catholic scholars of the past accepted a paleo-Capitalistic conception of the determination of price and, hence, of the entire economic life of society.

Even though Salamanca University was the most prominent place of higher learning in the European world at the time, it was Spain’s position as master of the New World that set the stage for a concentration on the problems of economics by the Scholastics of Salamanca.

The gold and silver coming from the mines of the Americas made Seville, the homeport of the treasure fleet, the economic center of and primary money market in Continental Europe during the middle of the 16th century. Here we have a place where there was a large circulation of money and a high price level.

Tomás de Mercado (d. 1585), a Dominican from Mexico who was present in Seville and preached on commercial morality, portrays the mercantile and financial situation that grew up in these conditions to us. According to Mercado, when the fleet comes in, every merchant puts into the bank all the treasure that is brought to him from the Indies, the bankers having first given a pledge to the city authorities that they will render good account to the owners.

The bankers served their depositors free of charge and used the money deposited with them to finance their own operations. Most of the gold and silver brought in by the fleet passed in this way through the hands of the bankers and served as a basis for credit. The opening for usury was occasioned, however, by these transactions.

As Mercado complained at the time, “money-changers sweep all the money into their own houses, and when a month later the merchants are short of cash they give them back their own money at an exorbitant rate.” In Spain, concludes Mercado, “a banker bestrides a whole world and embraces more than the Ocean, though sometimes he does not hold tight enough and all comes crashing to the ground.”

The above stricture, on the part of Mercado (who died on a ship in 1585 on his way back to Mexico), against the financial transactions of bankers and merchants, was an articulation of an idea that was of ancient origin. Interest paid simply for the use of money during a certain period of time was considered usurious and universally condemned.

Much of the moral thought about economics coming out of Spain during this period was, specifically, an attempt to grapple with the moral considerations occasioned by certain attempts to avoid the Church and State’s condemnation of usury.

The attempted circumventing of the usury laws occurred in a very subtle way. It originated in a seemingly legitimate attempt to deal with two practical difficulties encountered by merchants at the time.

First, there was there was, generally, a lack of cash available at the time, requiring merchants to set debts against one another at the merchant “fairs” held at various times, in various places, throughout the year.

Second, the merchants of the period, at the various fairs, had to act as money changers since, often, a debt was incurred in one place, say Seville, and paid in another, say Flanders. In this regard, it was generally agreed that the merchant who paid out money in one place and recouped himself in another was entitled to make a reasonable charge for his services.

Even with regard to this type of “financial service,” to charge a similar fee for bills transferring money from one Spanish fair to another was forbidden by a royal decree in 1551.

Clearly the Spanish Catholic Crown was even willing to “dislocate the whole business of the fairs” rather than allow merchants to become involved in unnecessary “financial servicing.”

There, also, developed situations in which borrowed money was not to be paid back at the next fair but at one years later. Due to the “fees” attached to such “financial services,” these became loans camouflaged as fees and involving a high payment of interest. According to Grice-Hutchinson, these met with “fulminations from both Church and State.”

It is when dealing with this question of the transference of funds from one fair to another, that Grice-Hutchinson, as representative of the Neo-Liberal Economic School, focuses on the question of “price” and the factors determining the “prices” of both money and goods.

The Function of Money and the Question of Foreign Exchange

Medieval ideas about the origin and functions of money are largely based on a few short passages in Aristotle’s Politics and Nicomachean Ethics. Here, Aristotle insists that the function of money was its use as a medium for the exchange of goods. Money was first invented to overcome the difficulties of transport and need that are bound to arise in a barter economy.

Money, therefore, is meant to serve as a common denominator that brings into line with each other things diverse in nature: “Making all things commensurable, equalizes them.” Along with rendering commensurable for the seller and buyer what is, by nature, qualitatively different, money can serve as “capital,” or as a store of value to be used at a future time.

Aristotle emphasizes the function of money as a man-made instrument by indicating that its value rests on custom and that it, “rests on us to change its value or make it wholly useless.” Averroes (1126-1198), whose commentary on the Ethics was translated into Latin early in the 13th century, follows Aristotle closely on the origin and functions of money.

Since St. Thomas Aquinas upheld this traditional view that money was invented for purposes of exchange, he held that it was unlawful to take payment for the use of money lent, which payment is known as usury. Here we have a reassertion of Aristotle’s own condemnation of usury.

St. Thomas himself applies this to our issue under discussion, gain on account of the foreign exchange of money, by condemning this practice outright.

Merchants who attempt to make money by lending money where money is plentiful and collecting it where money is scarce for a real financial gain, meet the following statement by St. Thomas, from his Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics, I, lvii: “Likewise the art of money or acquisition is natural to all men for the purpose of procuring food, or money with which to buy food, out of natural things such as fruit or animals. But when money is acquired not by means of natural things but out of money itself, this is against nature.”

This teaching concerning making money on the basis of the relative “price” of money in one place or another, appears again in 1532 when the Spanish merchants of Antwerp sent their confessor to Paris to get a ruling on the legitimacy of exchange transactions from the learned doctors of the University. They condemned forthright all exchange business.

The point that the Neo-Liberals, represented by Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, would like to draw out of this incident is that, in this reply, the rate of exchange fluctuates according to the state of supply and demand and is not derived from the labor and costs incurred by the person in whose favor the bill is drawn. The assumption here being that that which all think should determine the “price” of money, is the same as what all think should determine the price of commodities.

This is an arbitrary assumption. Moreover, the doctors of the University of Paris are, apparently, merely speaking of a matter of fact. In itself, it by no means determines what the Scholastic doctors will say about the “just price” of things that ought be sold, namely commodities.

What we are truly left with from this reply is a further verification of a perennial teaching of the Christian Era; money should not be made off money. As St. Thomas states, such activity is justly deserving of blame, because, considered in itself, “it satisfies the greed for gain, which knows no limit and tends to infinity.”

The School of Salamanca and the Just Price

When considering what the, purportedly, innovative School of Salamanca said about this important question of the “just price,” the economic issue extraordinaire in the Middle Ages, I came across a text, included in The School of Salamanca by Grice-Hutchinson, which led me to hesitate for a moment.

Here, in a citation from Domingo de Soto’s book De Justitia et Jure published in 1553, we find the following in answer to the question, “Should prices be determined according to the judgment of the merchants themselves?”: “Firstly….excluding fraud and malice, we should leave merchants to fix the price of their wares. Secondly…. every man is the best judge of his own business. Now, the business of merchants is to understand merchandise. Therefore, we must defer to their opinion in settling prices. Thirdly, that a man may do as he likes with his own property. Consequently, he may ask and receive whatever price he can extort for his wares.”

“Now,” I said to myself, “we have a big problem.” “Domingo de Soto is an important figure in the history of the School of Salamanca. He was a Dominican, a contemporary of the School’s founder Vitoria, and considered to be one of its best writers on economic subjects.

In 1532 Soto was appointed to a chair of theology at Salamanca. His fame was such that, in 1545, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain Charles V appointed de Soto, now regarded as the most eminent of the Spanish theologians after Vitoria, as his own representative at the Council of Trent. He became Charles’ own confessor 2 years later. Surely if this man held for the “free market” approach to commodity pricing, such must be a genuine teaching emanating out of Salamanca.”

After some uncomfortable consternation, it dawned on me what I was reading; rather than being de Soto’s own position and teaching on the matter these were the Objections to Soto’s own position, which always, of course, appear first in any properly organized Scholastic article. De Soto’s own teaching on the matter of the just and proper price is perfectly in line with what you would expect a Catholic theologian of a still flourishing and faithful civilization to say.

De Soto’s first “conclusion” with regards to this issue is to make a distinction that is the common-sense ground work for any discussion of prices: the price of a “good” (or commodity) is not determined by its essence (how the thing fits into the whole hierarchy of creation), but rather, “by the measure in which [it] serve[s] the needs of mankind.”

Here he affirms what was taught during this same period (1554) by another Salamancan scholar Diego de Covarrubias, “The value of an article does not depend on its essential nature but on the estimation of men, even if that estimation be foolish.” The “goods” we are citing here are “goods” which are good insofar as they service human needs.

These things, therefore, have a price insofar as they are valuable in the eyes of the citizens; these goods or commodities would allow the citizens to satisfy their human needs. De Soto concludes this foundational claim about prices by saying, “We have to admit, then, that want is the basis of price.”

Things are, therefore, more desirable, and therefore will go for a higher price, insofar as they more perfectly satisfy man’s desire for fulfillment and sustenance, irrespective of the place which the thing holds in the hierarchy of Creation. As St. Augustine states (City of God, Book 2, chapter 16), “a man would rather have corn than mice in his house”; this, even though mice are ontologically more perfect than grains of wheat.

When speaking of the “want” which is at the basis of all economic life and pricing, de Soto recognizes, in a very balanced way, that when we speak of “want” we must not exclude a recognition of the fact that the city needs “adornment”; even though such things are not necessary for human life, it is something which render life “pleasurable and splendid.”

In de Soto’s second “conclusion,” we find a statement which directly contradicts the Libertarian claims that the later Scholastics of Salamanca thought that nothing should be considered when calculating price, other than “supply and demand.”

De Soto lists supply and demand as one of the elements that go into determining the just price for an item. “Next, we must bear in mind the labor, trouble, and risk which the transaction involves. Finally, we must consider whether the exchange is, for better or worse, to the advantage or disadvantage of the vendor, whether buyers are scarce or numerous, and all other things which a prudent man may properly take into account.”

In other words, much to the consternation of those who would insist that the Salamanca School recognized nothing but the needs of “supply and demand,” we find one of its most prominent scholars asserting that the entire process and situation of production and sale must be considered when the just price is calculated. Social and economic prudence is truly queen here.

We find out in the next paragraph who it is, exactly, who is entitled to make a binding judgment, while employing this social and economic prudence. The answer to this question depends upon another Scholastic distinction. This distinction is between the “legal” price and the “natural” price.

These are, as de Soto states, the “two-fold” aspect of the “just price.” Here we find that “the just legal price” is that which is fixed by the prince. The “discretionary” or “natural price” is that which is current when certain prices are not legally controlled.

De Soto states that this distinction is one drawn by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics (V, chapter 7). Notice, in this regard, de Soto is not making a “value judgment,” saying that the “legal price” is bad and the “natural price” is good. As we will find, the application of these two different types of prices depends upon what type of good or commodity we are speaking of.

The next few paragraphs of the passage we have been citing are very significant and are echoed by other scholars of the Salamanca School. De Soto states, “To understand the [above] Conclusion and to judge its validity, and to see why it is necessary for prices to be controlled, we must realize that the matter is a primary concern of the republic [in the sense of res publica or the commonweal] and its governors, who, in spite of the arguments repeated above [i.e., those “free market” arguments in the Objections], ought really to fix the price of every article.

But since they cannot possibly do so in all cases, the task [of “fixing” the price of those commodities which the prince has not fixed] is left to the discretion of buyers and sellers. The price that results is called the natural price because it reflects the nature of the goods, and the utility and convenience which they bring [emphasis my own].”

In proof that the term “legal price,” entails no negative judgment on this form of pricing, we can cite de Soto as stating, “When a price is fixed by law (for instance, when a measure of wheat or wine, or a length of cloth, is sold for a certain sum) it is not lawful to increase this price by even a farthing. If the excess be great, then it is mortal sin and a matter for restitution.”

Those prices, which are not regulated, especially the prices of commodities extraneous to the basic needs of the citizenry, can “enjoy a certain latitude within the bounds of justice.” Here we find that even the prices allowed to fluctuate, must be kept within the bounds of justice; “justice,” in this case, meaning the requirements of the common good.

The Complexity of the Just Price Reaffirmed

De Soto was, as was every Scholastic, an inheritor of a centuries-old tradition of scholarship and learning. His statements concerning the advisability of “fixing” prices, had antecedents deep in the heart of the Middle Ages. That characteristic, “non-giant,” the Viennese scholar Heinrich von Langenstein was an advocate of a strict system of price controls. He advises the prince, however, to fix prices in accordance with the customary price, which is determined by “the degree of human want.”

Moreover, Langenstein shows a completely balanced approach to the question of the just price. He acknowledges that there is an objective factor, in the sense that it should be fixed by some authority standing outside the market, and yet subjective as being the product of subjective factors. Some of those subjective factors that Langenstein mentions are: supply and demand, utility, cost of production, remuneration of labor, cost of transport, and risk.

All of these are to be taken into account when determining value. Just like St. Thomas Aquinas, Langenstein understood “supply and demand” to play a part in determining price.

Grice-Hutchinson herself recognizes this to be the generally held position of the Scholastic tradition, when she writes, “we have seen that the concepts of utility and rarity were placed high in the traditional list of factors determining value which accompanied scholastic discussions of the ‘just price.’” She, also, admits, “we have seen that our Scholastic writers regarded utility and rarity as the primary, though not the sole, determinants of value” [emphasis mine].

If we should look, specifically, for another member of the School of Salamanca who affirms de Soto’s teaching on the desirability of fixing prices, especially those of “staple” commodities, we come upon one Pedro de Valencia. In his Discurso sobre el precio del trigo, he states that, “those who allege that a thing is worth the price it will fetch must be understood as referring only to things that are not essential to life, such as diamonds, falcons, horses, swords, and also to other commoner things when there is no fraud, compulsion or monopoly, and when vendor and purchaser enjoy equal liberty or suffer equal need [emphasis mine].”

Recognizing, however, that in matters of real need the citizenry is at a distinct disadvantage in any exchange, he states, “in the case of bread, in years when it is dear – the vendor always enjoys liberty and plenty, and the purchaser always suffers urgent need and want.”

Now we come to the question of the just price, “The just price is not whatever a thing will fetch on account of the purchaser’s need, nor can such a price in conscience be demanded. No price is just or should be regarded as current if it is against the public interest, which is the first and principal consideration in justifying the price of things.”

Bernadine of Siena and Antonino of Florence: Saints Misconstrued

We ought to be very much surprised when we find a Neo-Liberal scholar like Raymond de Roover focusing our attention on two great saints, St. Bernadine of Siena and St. Antonino of Florence. It is, first of all, surprising to see that they are termed, “The Two Great Economic Thinkers of the Middle Ages,” when they lived their lives square in the heart of the blossoming Italian Renaissance.

That these thinkers are acclaimed as far-sighted prophets of the goodness of Liberal Capitalism is also surprising, since their attitude towards economics itself could not be farther away from the mentality of a von Mises, who would hold the laws of private property and the “free-market” to be adverse to the “heterogeneous” moral claims made by the divine and natural law.

Here it would be useful to recall von Mises statement that, “In urging people to listen to the voice of their conscience and to substitute considerations of public welfare for those of private profit, one does not create a working and satisfactory social order [emphasis mine].”

The only thing which the two great saints under consideration intended by their preaching and writing on economic issues was to “urg[e] people to listen to the voice of their conscience and to substitute considerations of public welfare for those of private profit.” They, also, held that only if such things were done, would a just and satisfying civil order be attained.

When we consider the moral teachings of St. Bernadine (1380 – 1444) as these relate to economic issues, what we are analyzing are 14 sermons, which are part of a larger collection of sermons entitled, De Evangelio aeterno (Concerning the Eternal Gospel).

These Latin sermons, as opposed to his Italian ones, were meant to be read rather than preached. Here we can see the continuation of a long tradition, echoed in our own age by men like Heinrich Pesch, S.J., of including economic questions within the larger framework of ethics. In these sermons of St. Bernadine (a Franciscan and the great apostle of devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus), we find the general teachings of the Church as regards economic life repeated anew.

As de Roover himself admits, the condemnation of usury was a prominent theme in St. Bernadine’s writings. Just as was the case with the other Scholastics, St. Bernadine was “preoccupied with another set of problems [as opposed to questions of “how the market operates”]: what is just or unjust, licit or illicit? In other words, the stress was on ethics: everything was subordinated to the main theme.”

Both St. Bernadine and St. Antoninus (Archbishop of Florence from 1445 to 1459), both frown upon acquisitiveness as leading to sin and eternal perdition. St. Antoninus deals with the whole topic of market transactions in section of his Summa theologica moralis that deals with the sin of avarice. Moreover, economics was discussed within the framework of contracts, as Roman law understood these.

The virtues that regulated the individual and collective economic actions of men were the virtues of distributive and commutative justice (i.e., the State giving to its citizens “their due” and citizens “giving to each other their due”). Let us face it, the only “due” that the Libertarians allow is the absolute claim that each man has to have the government and his fellow citizens respect his, already demarcated, private property right.

They forget what the Distributists remembered quite well, all men have a certain right to private property. Those who uphold the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church, better than their Libertarian antagonists, understand the role of private property in personal and familial fulfillment.

When we study de Roover’s book on these two, putatively, innovative saints, we find ourselves at a loss to find a significant teaching that is not firmly rooted in the wisdom of the Catholic past or one which is not clarified, in a purely traditional way, by the later Scholastics of the School of Salamanca.

As de Roover himself recognizes, St. Bernadine, like the Medieval Scholastics before him, understood price determination to be a social process. Price is not set by the arbitrary decision of individuals but collectively by the community as a whole. St. Bernadine makes this explicit when he states, “the price of goods and services is set for the common good with due consideration to the common valuation or estimation made collectively by the community of citizens [emphasis mine].”

According to de Roover, in the writings of St. Bernadine, there was “only minimal analysis of changes in demand or supply as this affects prices.

With regard to the above question of price, as we found earlier with his analysis of the economic thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, de Roover’s portrayal of the intellectual “innovations” of St. Bernadine is very forced and often involves the use of statements that do not at all prove his point, in fact, they often contradict it.

One example is his citation of a single sentence, from the “sermons” of St. Bernadine, which seems to indicate that the saint held to an idea of the “just price” which was convertible with the idea of “market valuation.”

In support of this view, he cites St. Bernadino as defining the “just price” as, “the one which happens to prevail at a given time according to the estimation of the market, that is, what the commodities for sale are then commonly worth in a certain place.”

As we have seen, however, with regard to this determination of price based upon “supply and demand” and “market conditions,” there was a solid moral tradition, passing into late Scholastic times, in which it was considered perfectly reasonable that prices of certain inessential items were allowed to “float” freely, their value being determined by how much someone, who did not absolutely need the item, was willing to pay.

De Roover himself seems to recognize that the language of “just price” as “prevailing market price” refers to just this situation and to these kinds of goods. And yet, that de Roover wants to insinuate that St. Bernadino equated the “just price” with the “one that happens to prevail at a given time according to the estimation of the market” in all cases, is clear. With his usual hesitant definitiveness, he says, “This statement [about just price and prevailing market price], it seems to me, is so clear that it does not admit any other construction.”

If, as he seems to say, St. Bernadino equated just price with market price, all prices should, for justice’s sake, be subject to the free flow of market forces – any interference would be, according to this view, an interference in the market’s setting of the “just price.”

That this is not St. Bernadine’s view is made clear, again by de Roover himself, when he admits that the Franciscan taught “prices may be fixed for the common good.” Society, then, is in charge of setting prices.

Who does not hear the echo of the entire economic ethos of Christendom in St. Bernadine statement that, prices may be fixed for the common good, “because nothing is more iniquitous than to promote private interests at the expense of general welfare.”

St. Antonino, the Just Price, and the Just Wage

St. Antonino of Florence was explicitly committed to the position that civil authority had the right and, often, the obligation to fix prices for the sake of the common good. Clearly the “common estimation” by which prices ought be determined, included the possibility of the State explicitly setting the price of items.

According to de Roover, “Sant’ Antonino…states that it might be desirable under certain circumstances to have prices of victuals and other necessities fixed by the bishop, or even better, by the civil authorities. If there is such regulation, it is binding and victuallers and other tradesmen may not, without sinning, raise the price above the legal minimum.”

Rather than being anything like a “free market” advocate, the Archbishop of Florence reaffirms the traditional condemnation of usury and monopoly. He, also, insisted upon there being a “just wage.” The calculation of what would constitute a “just wage” was a social and a complex process that would involve the consideration of many different elements. To quote de Roover’s citation of St. Antoninus, “Sant’ Antoninus states that the purpose of wages was not only to compensate the worker for his labor but also to enable him to provide for himself and his family according to his social situation.”

Moreover, “it was as unfair and sinful to pay less than the just wage because a worker had mouths to feed as it was unfair to pay less than the just price because of the seller’s urgent need for cash.” St. Antoninus clearly saw man as a whole, not just as a private property owning (or not owning) unit.

The whole talk about a “just wage” (not to mention a “just price”) means nothing unless we understand man to be a social creature and all of man’s activities and social interactions, including his economic ones, as having an orientation to the higher and more perfect good, at least the true and fulfilling good of human existence.

We see this over-arching teleological (from the Greek word telos or goal) understanding of the human good present in the following statement that de Roover makes concerning the teaching of St. Antoninus: “The purpose of a fair wage was to enable the worker to earn a decent living, the purpose of a decent living was to enable him to lead a virtuous life, and the purpose of a virtuous life was to enable him to achieve salvation and eternal glory.”

As we might expect, from what we have seen from the various Libertarian writers cited in this article, de Roover “summarizes” St. Antoninus’s position by overturning everything he had previously stated concerning the saints’ teaching: “St. Antoninus’s own wage theory according to which the just wage was set by common estimation, that is, by market forces without any reference to individual needs.”

Here he is asserting A and not A simultaneously. Here we have the manipulation of a classical Christian moral text by a Libertarian whose views on economics, logic, politics, society, and, even simple human psychology would be completely inexplicable to our saintly Renaissance bishop.

Restoration Economics

Why does all of this matter? Much of “conservative” and “libertarian” thought, in the United States, in the British Commonwealth, and on the Continent of Europe has attempted to find a way to, as Arthur Penty put it, “stabilize the abnormal.” What is truly needed is a return to the normal.

What we have seen when analyzing the actual statements made by the Medieval and Renaissance moral theologians on economic issues is a balanced portrayal of what the “normal” is. What has been amazing to see is not how innovative they were, in a Liberal direction, but rather, how traditional and deeply Christian they were.

That there was room for discussion on such questions as the worth of money as a result of foreign exchange is a perfectly normal manifestation of the Catholic desire for justice and a deep prudence that understands the multiplicity of situations in which human beings act.

Such prudence cannot be taken as a revolutionary innovation or for an opening to modern economic liberalism.

The basis of our current “abnormal” is an inflated and unnatural understanding of man as an individual, free to “create” his own “value system,” which, to a certain extent, means to “create his own world.” Liberalism, in its economic and political manifestations, has created a situation in which the ancient psychological, social, economic, and political tapestry of human societies has been unraveled.

By upholding an ethereal concept of “choice,” it has robbed us of our honor, our personal security, and our heritage. This entire conception of man and human existence is embedded in the Neo-Liberal equation of the “just price” with the “market price.” That Arthur Penty and many others would present the “just price” and its attainment as the primary purpose of the Medieval Guild System is testimony to the fact that the very social life of Christendom, in a very real way, pivoted upon this reality.

That “justice” should involve more than mere “freedom of choice,” rather including within the very term an idea and concrete historical reality expressive of a higher order and more fundamental and essential obligations, is testimony to the fact that the spiritual psychology of Christendom was profoundly different from the one we find possessed by all those who reject the ancient way, whether they be Socialists, Globalists, or Libertarians.

For those who would, correctly, seek for a life outside of the spiritually suffocating totalitarian Liberalism that we find ourselves immersed in, Penty warns them that any attempt to realize the dream of an independent rural existence without price controls put into place, would result, for most, in economic suicide for families and for individuals.

These are sobering words. Our struggle must then take on a more encompassing religious, moral, and even political dimension if our children and our children’s children are to live a life richer and, hence, more traditional than our own.

Dr. Peter Chojnowski is a professor, writer and currently teaches at Immaculate Conception Academy in Post Falls, Idaho.

The photo shows, “Savonarola Preaching Against Prodigality,” by Ludwig von Langenmantel, painted in 1879.