Tuesday, July 14, 2009

International Medieval Congress: Key Note Lectures

Heresies and RhetoricsJohn H. Arnold (Birkbeck College, University of London)

In 1261, after two decades of work, Benedict of Alignan’s De Summa Trinitate et Fide Catholica in Decretalibus was completed. This book follows the program set by the Fourth Lateran Council and goes points by point to answer those who go against Catholic doctrine. This book has over two thousand chapters. Some scholars view Benedict as the last grasp of a pre-Aquinas theology. In truth he was a much more complex figure than he is usually given credit for. He was the Abbot of his monastery and dealt with Albigensians. He traveled to the Holy Land and saw Christian defeat and Christians making deals with Saracens. Benedict may not have been a scholar but he did have direct contact with heretics, Jews and Muslims. Benedict’s work still had a few hundred years of life on it and would influence subsequent generations. He is also useful in thinking about the context of heresy.

In the last two decades the study of heresy has taken a certain turn to viewing heresy as a construction of orthodoxy. There is a tendency to see the opposition to heresy as something uniform as if every preacher was preaching from the same hymn sheet. We note shared language and shared concepts such as the heresiarch. In truth there were differences in orthodox responses. There were those who saw heresy as a single monster with many heads united in its attempt to destroy the one true church. Others argued that heresies were many as opposed to a one unified church. To assume the uniformity of orthodoxy is to hand it the power that it sought.

Benedict does not use very colorful language. He has a few moments of insult. For example, he claims that Cathars got their name from kissing the anuses of cats. He follows the structure of the creed rather than going point by point to respond to heretics. It is not framed as a polemic or as a debate. He writes out of a need to convince the unfaithful, including Jews and Muslims, but particularly to strengthen the faithful. Like Augustine, Benedict seeks to refute all heresy as a group. He even goes after pre-Christian philosophers.

Bernard of Clairvaux and Guibert of Nogent are examples of responses to heresy that are insult over substance. Inquisitor texts, such as the work of Bernard of Gui, are far more technical. The inquisitor manual is meant for other inquisitors and emphasize the inquisitor’s knowledge of heresy. This, ironically enough, brings the heretic into the same realm as the orthodox. Unwillingly, these texts acknowledge that heretics are thinking individuals with arguments that are not easily refutable. Benedict’s work is similar.

By the thirteenth century there is no longer an assumption of orthodox triumph. Even the quotation of orthodox interpretation of scripture does not always bring victory. As an example we have a story where a group of Dominican priests only win when the heretics are challenged to make the sign of the cross but are miraculously unable. Benedict, himself, notes that many people are not interested in reading a book as long as his.

(Dr. Arnold is the author of Belief and Unbelief in Medieval Europe.)

Between Christian and Jew: Orthodoxy, Violence, and Living Together in Medieval EnglandJeffrey J. Cohen (George Washington University)

Gerald of Wales is a good place to go for almost any type of medieval stories. He has miracle stories dealing with Jews in which the Jew serves as the defeated monster. He tells the story of a Jew who doubts the miracles of a saint in Oxford, St. Frideswide. The young Jew comes to a procession of the saint with his hands tied, pretending to be crippled. If feminists like to talk about gender insubordination, this can be viewed as dogma insubordination. The youth, in the end, commits suicide. His parents try to cover up what happened, but the story gets out. The Jew is important for orthodoxy because he is a living heretic. The Jew says things that Christians can only think. To be clear, real Jews did mock Jesus and call him the hanged one, and challenged the virginity of Mary. The Jew of Unbelief, though, is a stock character to go with the other types of Jewish literary constructs.

To throw some other texts for consideration; there is Matthew Paris’ account of little Hugh of Lincoln, who is tortured in a manner similar to Christ. Hugh is important because he is one of the few martyr cults of Jewish victims that lasted more than a century and attracted royal patronage. Matthew of Paris is a story of supersessionism where the Jews are a living anachronism. John Mandeville refuses to condemn the foreign people he comes in contact with, even promiscuous, nudist, communist cannibals. John, though, does attack Jews. According to Mandeville, the Ten Lost Tribes are trapped in the mountains by Alexander. They have a prophecy that they will escape in the time of Antichrist. Jews learn Hebrew so that the Ten Lost Tribes will recognize them and not kill them along with their Christian neighbors. (For more on this legend see Andrew Gow’s Red Jews.)

Did the real life Jewish and Christian interactions go beyond the static constructions of works such as Gerald of Wales? If we look closely, anti-Semitic texts unwittingly reveal a world of interaction that goes beyond this static relationship. What other possibilities do these stories give us besides for the lachrymose narrative denounced by Salo Baron.

Christians and Jews shared urban spaces. Hugh of Lincoln is a story in which Jewish and Christian children play together and where Christians entered Jewish homes. What kinds of games did these children play? There is a line, in Paris’ account to suggest that Christians might have had pity on Jews. It should be noted that Jews were important to the economy and Christians were dependent upon them. For example, Aaron of Lincoln in the twelfth century was one of the richest people in England. Mandeville can be seen not just as a warrant for genocide but an example of Christian awareness of Jewish discontent.

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