I am talking about revolution. It is a revolution that is usually dated 1058 (or 1075 and even 1122, but allow me to leave the matter of precise dating to the historians), and it sets up the entirety of the theological-political problem as it has come to persist rather than be resolved. The revolution took p-lace as the empire of blood was coming about. One could even go so far as saying that it took place as the empire of blood – period. Harold Berman, at any rate, credits this momentous event with “the formation of the Western legal tradition,” explaining that “all modern Western legal systems originated right in the middle of the Middle Ages.” More important, “the Papal Revolution gave birth to the modern Western State”. It made Christianity ‘into a political and legal program”. This is no outlandish claim. Gerd Tellenbach, a sober German scholar, described the effects of the Investiture Contest ( for that is what our revolution, the papal revolution, is also called) as “a great revolution in world-history,” which established a new dominion, indeed an empire, for the church in this earthly world. For Tellenbach, it is “the greatest – from this spiritual point of view perhaps the only – turning point in the history of Catholic Christendom.” With it, “the world was drawn into the Church, and the leading spirits of the new age made it their aim to establish the ‘right order’ in this united Christian world.” This was also “ the first great age of propaganda in world-history, ”and it embarked the church, Western Christendom, on the path of the conversion of the world, a world-historical task indeed. What emerges, I hurry to assuage potential concerns, was an accidental empire, of course. None expected or even wished for it as such. It too came about in a fit absent of mind, in other words.
As Tellenbach describes it, it is in fact “astonishing with what suddenness the basic ideas of the Investiture Conflict appear. Along with the events, which hastened its development, the ideas that gave rise to them “were insignificant from the standpoint of the contemporary Church and fortuitous from that of the modern historian.” And yet, there is no doubt that it was a world-historical revolution, which drastically diminished the theocratic power of the king and emperor, distinguished more powerfully between the Augustinian cities while enabling an ever more active and wide-ranging involvement of one in the other, the ever more active and wide-ranging involvement of the church in this world.
Thus a new and victorious strength was lent to the old belief in the saving grace of the sacraments and to the hierarchical conceptions based on their administration. Out of those arose the conviction that the Christian peoples of the West formed the true City of God, and as a result the leaders of the Church were able to abandon their ancient aversion from the wickedness of worldly men and to feel themselves called upon to re-order earthly life in accordance with divine precept.
Along with the “ age-old Catholic ideas” of righteousness, hierarchy, and the proper standing of everyone before God, many more ideas and movements were here at work. And truly, “it would be incorrect to treat these and related ideas as the personal discoveries of St. Augustine or any other particular individual among the early Fathers, or attempt to trace out exactly the stages by which (Pope) Gregory [VII] is supposed to have inherited them.” What is clear is that the developments in question “would have been impossible if a preexisting community, the populous christianus, had not been formed in Europe between the fifth and eleventh centuries.” By the time it became fully formed, though, blood - -in drops, rivers or floods –would come to play a significant role. And it is blood, in a nutshell, that brings me to Tomaz Mastnak’s groundbreaking, if largely ignored, argument, and to a hitherto less noticed dimension of the papal revolution.
“Traditionally,” Mastnak explains, “the church had been averse to the shedding of blood. Ecclesia abhorret a sanguine was a principle ever present in patristic writings and conciliar legislation.” What this meant was that killing – shedding blood, in the inherited, biblical parlance – no matter whose and no matter what the circumstance, was considered a sin. “Even killing a pagan was homicide,” which means that this clearly was an awfully serious rule. Indeed, “from the fourth century to the eleventh century, the Church as a rule imposed disciplinary measures on those who killed in war, or at least recommended that they do penance.” One pope had referred to bishops who did engage in war as “false priests” because “their hands were ‘stained with human blood’”; another referred to “proponents of war” as “sons of the devil;”. What changed then? The exception became the rule, and a different rule it was. Talk about revolution.
What happened is that the idea of warfare became licit; that violence and the shedding of blood became permissible rather than something impossible to avoid or outright condemned. And Pope Gregory VII, all too easy to blame at this point, the same pope “after whom Church reform has been called, is [also] held responsible for the profound changes in the Christian attitude towards bearing arms that this idea [of licit warfare] implied.” His followers, Alexander II and Urban II, did lend a helping hand. They were accessories to the perfect murder, as it were, and hardly a bloodless one. There were others, of course, who joined the efforts of the emerging populous christianus, the Christian people. The most dramatic change at any rate occurred in 1054 (the year of the filioque controversy, which hardened the schism between the Eastern and Western churches) in the city of Narbonne. Prior to this “peace council,” there had been a rule, which, true to the church’s abhorrence of blood, had “prohibited the shedding of blood.” Yet, and to make a long story short, “the councilors of Narbonne substituted, as it were, the word Christian for the word human.” They also declared, for reiterative measure, that “no Christian should kill another Christian, for whosoever kills a Christian undoubtedly sheds the blood of Christ [quia qui Christianum occidit, sine dubio Christ sanguinem fundit]”. This was a giant step indeed, if not necessarily for mankind, at least for God. For whereas it had earlier been recognized, as Alexander II wrote, that “God is not pleased by the spilling of blood, nor does he rejoice in the perdition of the evil one,” and whereas “all laws, ecclesiastical as well as secular, forbid the shedding of human blood,” it was now becoming possible to enact, practice and enforce, for the love of God, a newfound distinction between bloods.
This great step was in need of only one additional and very light push. Urban II is the one who obliged. It was under his watch that it became “not only permissible but eminently salutary to use arms” – against whom? Against the infidel enemy, of course. War “against the enemies of God” quickly became “meritorious,” it was “divinely ordered.” From there on, things took a rapid and increasingly bloody turn. Heads would soon begin to fall all the way to Jerusalem, where, as one medieval chronicle describes it, “men rode in blood up to their knees and the bridle reins.” This is hardly a lone event in history, of course, which maybe why the same writer goes on to add its singular dimension in the longue duree, namely, “that it was a just and splendid judgment of God, that this place should be filled with the blood of unbelievers, since it had suffered so long from their blasphemies.” Thus it was that the Peace of God (“no Christian should kill another Christian, for whoever kills a Christian sheds the blood of Christ”) became the occasion for a new and novel notion of interventionism, a Christian interventionism, for the newfound and radical involvement of the church in a world of men newly divided. “Intus Pax, foris terrors”. Call it peace as the War on Terror. More important, at least for our purposes, Christianitas, which hade surely begun to take shape “among the various preconditions of the crusading movement,” was now reaching an accomplished stage. It was establishing itself as “populous Christianus, the Christian people, united under the supreme authority of the pope…bound together as Christendom [in] a common worldly pursuit and a common army . . . fighting for the Christian res publicas, the common weal.”
“Like his peacemaking predecessors,” Urban II was filled with good intentions. (Incidentally,, one reviewer criticized Mastnak, unfairly I think, for refusing to “accept that Westerners associated with the crusades” – allow me to repeat this beautiful turnoff phrase: “Westerners associated with the crusaders were ever well intentioned.”)This pope too “condemned fratricidal wars in the West.” What was intolerable to him, indeed, unconscionable, was the spilling of Christian blood. Thus was the world divided. “Effunditur sanguis Christianus, Christi sanguine redemptus . . . Christian blood, redeemed by the blood of Christ, as been shed,” he used to lament. And what he was thereby articulating was, Mastnak says, a new kind of “blood-brotherhood – the founding of Christian unity in blood.” This was, let me repeat this too, all well intended, all in the name of blood, all in the name of love, in other words, if not love of blood (actually, it now depends which blood, doesn’t it?). Which is why John of Salisbury wrote that he would refrain from calling those “whose normal occupation it is to shed human blood,” those who “wage legitimate war ‘men of blood,’ since even [King] David was called a man of blood not because he engaged in wars which were legitimate but on account of Uriah, whose blood he criminally shed”. You could shed blood in the name of love, therefore, without becoming a man of blood. Or, shedding that blood that is not one (not true blood, that is, not one like Christian blood), you would thereby join in the brotherhood. You could become, you had become a different man of blood, as “the substance of that brotherhood was blood, consanguinity in faith. And once faith was filled with blood, it was just a short step to the letting of blood of the unfaithful. Or rather, if faith was in the blood, it was just a short step to the letting of blood of the unfaithful. Or rather, if faith was in blood, with the shedding of unfaithful blood, unbelief was drained.”
The church, which had long “considered bloodshed as a source of pollution, now encouraged the shedding of blood – non-Christian blood – as a means to purification. When the reformed Church established its domination over Christendom, Christendom launched a military offensive to establish its domination over the world.” Bernard of Clairvaux was yet another, among many others, who decided to join the Christian war effort and brought to it more novelty in the form of his propitious doctrine of malicidium, the killing of evil.” “The soldier of Christ, Bernard was to repeat, is safe when he kills, even safer when he is killed. If he is killed, it is for his own good; if he kills, he does it for Christ.” Others, from Pierre Dubois to Catherine of Sienna, would later support our troops and lend another helping hand. But we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. This was only the beginning, and the Eucharist, along with the doctrine of transubstantiation, had yet to come. It would take these and a few more additional steps for Christian blood to become fully distinct and distinguished, for it to become pure and “wonderful blood,” as Caroline Walker Bynum described it ( though I should mention that Bynum writes about a later period and never refers to Mastnak’s work). By then, one would of course come to wonder, with Catherine of Sienna, “how anyone except Christ could save souls by shedding blood, especially the blood of others.” In this too, I suppose, there “remained a mystery,” one that had been “embedded in the context of the crusade, itself seen as a mystery.” One might further wonder how the shedding of blood could ever become the saving of souls- - the blood and souls of others too.
But of one thing, one could nonetheless be certain. It was that when it came to Christian blood, every drop would count. Christian blood, at any rate, would become completely distinct, completely good and, more importantly, completely pure – if also vulnerable to all kinds of attacks and contaminations (“If thou dost shed/ One drop of Christian blood . . .” warns fair Portia, echoing Bassanio’s earlier promise to Antonio: “The Jews shall have my flesh, blood, bones, and all”/ Ere thou shalt lose for me one drop of blood”). As for the blood of others, what can I say. It was indeed on its way to start flowing in rivers and in floods. Alternatively, it was to be weighed and measured, sometimes just in drops: drop by drop. And note, by way of a later example, that “in the early seventeenth century, before slavery was rooted in the British mainland colonies, a person’s treatment depended on whether or not he was a Christian.” By blood then. Nor was this the first or last time. What would no longer be in doubt by then was that there was a difference between bloods, that there was a blood that was –shall we say, essentially? – a different and lesser blood. It had undergone a first and gigantic transformation towards an asymmetric universality, a generalized hematology, an indubitable foundation of Western, which is to say, Christian politics, and the establishment of the vampire state.
Photo: Concordat of Worms
Blood; A Critique of Christianity by Gil Anidjar, Columbia University Press, 2014