Monday, March 13, 2023

Clausewitz's Philosophical Roots by Richard Ned Lebow


Clausewitz learned the fundamentals of grammar, arithmetic and Latin in a provincial municipal school and was later exposed to a more sophisticated curriculum during his three years at the Allgemeine Kriegsschule (the German Army’s premier institution of higher learning). In France ( as a prisoner of war) and Berlin, he rad a dfiverse selection of authors, including Ancillon , Fichte, Gentz, Herder, Kant, Machiavelli, Montesquieu, Johannes von Muller and Rousseau. But above all, Clausewitz read history to augment his personal experience and to discover the underlying dynamics of war.

Clausewitz lived through a particularly turbulent era of German and European history that encompassed the French Revolution, the French and Napoleonic Wars, the industrial revolution, the rise of nationalism and the counter-Enlightenment. The latter is a catchall term for a variety of movements and tendencies, including conservatism, critical philosophy, historicism, nationalism, revivalism and holism, that developed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, in large part in reaction to the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment put faith in the power of reason to unlock the secrets of the universe and to deduce from first principles laws and institutions that would allow human beings to achieve their potential in just, ordered and secure societies. Counter-Enlightenment thinkers considered these expectations naïve and dangerous; they saw the world as complex, contradictory, composed of unique social entities and in a state of constant flux. They rejected the Enlightenment conception of a human being as a  tabla rasa, and the mere sum of internal and external forces, as well as its emphasis on body over soul, reason over imagination and thought over the senses. They insisted on a holistic understanding that built on these dichotomies, and one, moreover, that recognized individuals and social groups as the source of action motivated by their search for  expression and authenticity.

The counter-Enlightenment began in France and gained a wide audience through the writings of Rousseau. It found German spokesmen in the 1770s, among them Hamann, Herder, the young Goethe, and Lavater and Moser, the dramatists of Sturm und Drang, and the Schiller of his early plays. The French Revolution of 1789, and Napoleon’s subsequent occupation of German territories, provoked a widespread reaction to French cultural and political imperialism and to the Enlightenment more generally. In literature this found expression in the early romanticism of Novalis (Friedrich Hardenberg), the Schlegel brothers and Christian Friedrich Tieck, in religion with Friedrich Schliermacher, and in the philosophy of Johann Gottlieb Fichte and later, Georg F. W. Hegel. Clausewitz knew their writings intimately, wrote a letter to Fichte and was personally acquainted  with Schlegel, Tieck and Novalis. On more than one occasion he played cards with Hegel; at the home of August Henrich von Fallersleben.

Clausewitz is often described as someone who wholeheartedly embraced the the counter-Enlightenment. There are indeed many aspects of his thought that reflect and build  upon counter-Enlightenment assumptions, but he owes an equal debt to the Enlightenment. Like Kant, from whom he borrowed heavily, Clausewitz straddled the Enlightenment and the German reaction to it. His life-long ambition to develop a theory of war through the application of reason to history and psychology was a quintessential Enlightenment project,. His recognition that such a theory could never reduce war to a science nor guide a commander in an inherently complex and unpredictable world reflected counter-Enlightenment views, as did his emphasis on emotive force and personality and the ability of genius to make its own rules. But, in a deeper sense, Clausewitz remained faithful to the Enlightenment. He appropriated many concepts from philosophers of the ‘German  Movement,’ but stripped them of their metaphysical content. He borrowed their tools of inquiry to subject war to a logical analysis, and looked beyond pure reason to a psychology of human beings to find the underlying causes for their behavior.

The same duality marked Clausewitz’s political thinking; his un-reflexive nationalism and visceral hatred of France coexisted with his belief that education, economic development and good government could bring about a better world. Clausewitz’s political beliefs evolved more rapidly than his philosophical ones, and he made little efforts to reconcile their contradictions. His thoughts about war were more extensive and productive. One of the remarkable features of On War is its largely successful synthesis of assumptions and methods from opposing schools of thought. In this sense too, Clausewitz follows the footsteps of Thucydides.

Scharnhorst exercised  the most direct and decisive influence on Clausewitz’s thinking and writing. He was among the leading Aufklarers [proponents of the Enlightenment] in the Prussian service. He was born in 1765 to a retired Hanoverian non-commissioned officer and the heiress of a wealthy farmer. He entered the Hanoverian army in 1779, and later taught in a regimental school that he established. In 1782, he founded and edited the first of a series of military periodicals, and wrote two widely read ‘how to’ books for officers before leaving his desk job to fight against revolutionary France. In 1801, he entered the Prussian service , and in 1806, he penned a long essay that summarized and extended his thoughts on the study of war.

Scharnhorst’s writing excelled in its detailed reconstruction of historical engagements. He believed that combat experience aside, case studies were the next best way to capture the reality of war. Scharnhorst  used his cases to infer ‘correct concepts (richtige Beriffe) that could order warfare and identify its principle components in a useful way for practitioners. His two books drew extensively on his wartime experience and historical research, but he never succeeded in developing a general theory of war.  His case studies provided good evidence for his critiques of  mathematical systems to guide the conduct of war developed by Bulow, Dumas, Muller and Jomini.

Peter Paret observes that no military theorists of his time was as conscious as Scharnhorst of the distinction between theory and reality. His lectures at the Allgemeine  Kriegsschule paid lip service to the conventional wisdom that good theory and good preparation could eliminate uncertainty and chance, but he did not for a moment believe it. In good sophistic tradition, the examples he used to pepper his lectures encouraged perceptive students to conclude that theory might be more effectively used to recognize and exploit departures from the expected. Clausewitz would develop this concept further, making surprise and chance central, positive features of his theory of war, in contrast to many earlier writers on the subject, who treated the un-foreseen as an inconvenience, if they addressed it at all. Scharnhorst taught his students that geometry and trigonometry were useful in sharpening the mind, but that any theoretical understanding of warfare had to be based on history. Good history require access to reliable primary sources. This was another lesson the young Clausewitz assimilated, and many of his early writings were historical case studies. Scharnhorst also opened his students’ eyes to the broader political, social and intellectual forces that influenced warfare and determined its nature in any historical epoch. He taught Clausewitz that the distinguishing feature of the French revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars was the ability of France, and then the other European states, to extract greater resources and demand greater sacrifices from their populations. Survival in the modern age demanded efficiency in exploiting the physical and social resources at the disposal of the state, and this required a governing elite open to talent and merit independent of class or religious background.

Clausewitz’s early writings reveal the influence of Scharnhorst, but also his ability to transcend the conceptual limits of his mentor. These works span the years 1803-06, and consist of notes and essays on politics and strategic principles, treatments of the Thirty Years War, the Russo-Turkish War of 1736-39, a longer study of Gustavus Adolphus and a review article of one of Heinrich von Bulow’s many books on the theory of war. Clausewitz reveals and early fascination with power, and a qualified acceptance of the rights of states to extend their sways as far as they can. He also emphasized the interest, indeed the responsibility, of other states to oppose such aggrandizement-especially in the case of France – when it threatens their interests or existence. This principle was so obvious to him that he found it strange that not all statesmen conceived of foreign relations in terms of power. He nevertheless recognized real world constraints on the exercise of power, some of them imposed by domestic political considerations, and others the result of deliberate and wise moderation by many leaders.

Clausewitz’s fascination with power may have come from his reading of Machiavelli or Fredrick the Great, but it was positively Newtonian in conception. He conceived of power in terms of the latter’s Third Law; a body in motion would stay in motion until acted upon by an equal and opposite force. States could be expected to expand their power until checked by an equal and opposite political-military force. This was a law of politics, but, unlike laws of physics, it was tempered in reality by other influences that kept states from expanding as far as their power might allow, and others from checking them as their interests dictated. Paret speculates that it was a short step from Clausewitz’s formulation of power to the conception of war he developed in his mature years: that war in theory led to the extreme through a process of interactive escalation, but was constrained in practice by numerous sources of ‘friction’. This concept too was borrowed from Newtonian physics.

Clausewitz’s early writings alternated between case studies and more theoretical writings, and the two were related. His case studies were theoretically informed, more so than those of his mentor, Scharnhorst. He wrote military history to explore the possibilities and limits of theory, and then refined his nascent concepts in follow-up case studies. It is apparent in retrospect that Clausewitz was trying to discover which aspects of warfare were amenable to theoretical description and which were not, and what else he would need to know to construct a universally valid theory. ‘While history may yield no formulae,’ he concluded, it does provide an exercise for judgment, here as everywhere else.’ There is no evidence that Clausewitz began his research program with this insight in mind; it seems to have developed in the course of his reading and writing. It may even represent an unconscious effort to reconcile two distinct and otherwise antagonistic aspects of his intellect: a pragmatic bent that focused his attention on concrete issues and problems, and a desire to step back and understand issues and problems as specific instances of broader classes of phenomena.

Clausewitz’s case studies addressed campaigns, not engagements, and were more analytical than descriptive. His study of Gustavus Adolphus’ campaigns of 1630-32 was ye most concrete expression of this approach. He sought to analyze the underlying causes of Swedish strategy during one phase of the Thirty Years War. He ignored the order of battle (the forces at the disposal of the two sides), and gave short shrift to individual engagements, including the Swedish victory at Breitenfeld and the battle of Lutzen in which Gustavus Adolphus lost his life. Clausewitz made clear at the outset his intention to focus on the more important ‘subjective forces,’ which includes the commander’s personality, goals, abilities and his own comprehension of them. He produced what can only be described as a psychological study of Gustavus Adolphus, and, to a lesser degree, of his Catholic opponents; he treats the war as a clash of wills, made notable by the energy and courage of the adversaries. He concluded that the Thirty Years War lasted so long because the emotions of the leaders and peoples had become so deeply engaged that nobody could accept a peace that was in everyone’s interest.

Clausewitz described Gustavus Adolphus as a man of ‘genius,’ a concept he picked up from Kant and would develop further in On War. William Tell, Wallenstein, William of Orange, Fredrick  the Great, and above all, Napoleon, qualified as geniuses because the grasped new military possibilities and changed the nature of warfare, and most other social activities, and made a mockery of attempts to create static theoretical system. The concept of genius was Clausewitz’s fist step towards a systematic understanding of change. It was based on his recognition, developed more extensively in On War, that change could be both dramatic and gradual. Gradual change, in the form of improvements in armaments, logistics and tactics, was an ongoing process, the pace of which varied as a function of political organization, technology and battlefield incentives. Dramatic changes were unpredictable in timing and nature, and transformed warfare  - and how people thought about warfare – in more fundamental ways. They were somewhat akin to what Thomas Kuhn would later call paradigm shifts.

Clausewitz used the findings of his psychological case studies of Gustavus Adolphus and Fredrick the Great to attack existing military theory, especially the work of Heinrich Dietrich von Bulow. Bulow maintained that the outcome of military campaigns was determined primarily by the angle formed by two lines drawn between the perimeters of the base of operations and the objective. Victory was assured if commanders situated their base close enough to their objective and extended their perimeters far enough so that the imaginary lines converged on the objective at an angle of at least ninety degrees. Clausewitz marshalled examples of defeat under these conditions, and of victories in cases where the angle had been less than prescribed. He attributed both outcomes to the skill of the generals, the elan of their forces and simple good luck.

Bulow’s system reflected the 18th century preference for wars of maneuver over combat, and was ridiculed by Clausewitz who insisted that war is about fighting. Strategy, he wrote, is ‘nothing without battle, for battle is the raw material with which it works. The means it employs.’ The ultimate goal [Zweck] of war was political: ‘to destroy one’s opponent, to terminate his political existence, or to impose conditions on him during peace negotiations.’ Either way, the immediate purpose [Ziele] of war becomes destruction of the adversary’s military capability which can be achieved ‘by occupying his territory, depriving him of military supplies, or by destroying his army.’ Clausewitz introduced a further distinction, between strategy and tactics: ‘Tactics constitute the theory of the use of armed forces in battle; strategy forms the theory of using battles for the purpose of war.’ The distinction between Zweck and Ziele, and strategy and tactics, would become essential components of his later theory of war.

Bulow and Jomini built their systems around the order of battle and relative positioning of deployed forces because they were amenable to quantitative measurement. They considered quantification an essential step in transforming strategy into military science. Clausewitz insisted that science requires propositions that can be validated empirically, and  was struck by how uninterested the leading military theorists of his day were in using historical, or any other kind of, evidence for this purpose. Like Scharnhorst, Clausewitz thought the study of strategy should begin with history, not with mathematics. It had to be rooted in psychology because the motives and means of war were determined by political considerations, and ultimately by human intelligence, imagination and emotions. The study of strategy had ‘to move away from the tendency to rationalize to the neglected riches of the emotions and the imagination.’ It had to find a systematic way of bringing these more tangible but critical considerations into the picture, while at the same time recognizing that chance, by its very nature, would always defy conceptualization and confound prediction.


Friday, February 24, 2023

Why Karl Kraus Was So Angry by Jonathan Franzen


Consider the facts. He was a late child in a prosperous, well-assimilated Jewish family whose business generated a large enough and steady enough income to make him financial independent for life. This in turn enabled him to publish Die Fackel exactly as he wished, without making concessions to advertisers or subscribers. He had a close circle of good friends and a much larger circle of admirers, many of the fanatical, some of them famous. He was an electrifying public speaker, capable of filling the largest theaters, which went a long way towards satisfying his youthful ambition to be an actor. Although he never married, he had some brilliant affairs and a deep, long-term relationship with Sidonie. He seems to have suffered nothing like the conflicts with his father that Kafka had with his, nor to have regretted not having children. His only significant health problem  was a curvature of the spine, and even this had the benefit of exempting him from military service. So how did a person so extremely fortunate become a Great Hater?

Kafka once diagnosed in German-Jewish writers a ‘terrible inner state,’ related to a bad  relationship with Judaism. A bad inner state can certainly be discerned in Kraus’s agon with Heine, as in a handful of other Kraus texts (including ‘He’s Still a Jew’ and his short play Literatur) and in his strikingly personal vendetta against certain Jews, including the publisher of the Neue Freie Presse. But Kraus’s Jewish problem seems to me at most a supporting element in his larger project – his exposure of Austrian hypocrisies and corruption, his championing of language and literature he considered authentic and underappreciated. And although there was certainly plenty to be angry about in Austrian society; most people find ways to keep their anger from consuming their lives. You could understand a Viennese laborer with a sixty-hour work-week in bad conditions being enraged. But the privileged and sociable Kraus?


I wonder if he was so angry because he was so privileged. In “Nestroy and Posterity,’ the Great Hater defends his hatred like this: ‘acid wants a gleam, and the rust says it’s only being corrosive.’ Kraus hated bad language because he loved good language – because he had the gifts- both intellectual and financial, to cultivate that love. And the person who’s been lucky in life can’t help expecting the world to keep going his way; when the world insists ongoing wrong ways, corrupt and tasteless ways, he feel as betrayed by it. He could have enjoyed a good life if only the bad world hasn’t spoiled it. And so he gets angry, and the anger itself then further isolates him and heightens his sense of specialness. Being angry at newspapers beloved by the bourgeoisie was away for Kraus to say ‘I don’t belong to you’ to a bourgeoisie whose upward striving  was uncomfortably close to his own. His anger at privileged writers who pulled strings to escape combat in the First World War was a kind of homeopathic attack on the even greater privilege that he himself enjoyed, the privilege of a morally pure medical excuse not to serve. He was a journalist  who savaged other journalists, most of whom, unlike him, had to work for a living. Anger relieved some of the discomfort of his own privilege, by reassuring him that he was also a victim.

Kraus, like any artist, wanted above all to be an individual, and his anger can further be seen as a violent shrugging-off of categories that threatened his individual integrity.  His privilege was just one of these categories. As the scholar Edward Timms  writes in his magisterial study of Kraus, ‘He was a Jew by birth, an Austrian by nationality, a Viennese by residence, a German by language, a journalist by profession, bourgeois by social status and a rentier by economic position. Amid the ideological turmoil of Austria-Hungary, all of these ascribed identities seemed like falsifications.’ For much of his life Kraus was defiantly anti-political; he seemed to form professional alliances  almost with the intention of later torpedoing them spectacularly; and he was  given to paradoxical utterances like ‘It is known that my hatred of the Jewish press is exceeded only by my  hatred of the anti-Semitic press, while my hatred of the anti-Semitic press is exceeded only by my hatred of the Jewish press.’ Since it is also known that Kraus’s favorite play was King Lear, I wonder if he might have seen his own fate in Cordelia, the cherished late child who loves the king and who, precisely because she’s been the privileged daughter, secure in the king’s love, his the personal integrity to refuse to debase her language and lie to him in his dotage. Privilege set Kraus, too, on the road to being an independent individual, but the world seemed bent on thwarting him. It disappointed him the way Lear disappoints Cordelia, and in Kraus this became a recipe for anger. In his yearning for a better world, in which true individuality was possible, he kept applying the acid of his anger to everything that was false.


Let me turn to my own example, since I’ve been reading it into Kraus’s story anyway.

I was a late child in a loving family that, although it wasn’t nearly prosperous enough to make me a rentier, did have enough money to place me in a good public school district and send me to an excellent college, where I learned to love literature and language. I was a white male heterosexual with good friends and perfect health, and beyond all this I had the immeasurably good fortune not only to discover very early what I wanted to do with my life but to have the freedom and talent to pursue it. I had such an embarrassment of riches that I can barely stand to enumerate them here. And yet, for all my privileges, I became an extremely angry person. Anger descended on me so near in time to when I fell in love with Kraus’s writings that the two occurrences are practically indistinguishable.

I wasn’t born angry. If anything, I was born the opposite. It may sound like an exaggeration, but I think it is accurate to say that I knew nothing about anger until I was twenty-two. As an adolescent, I’d had moments of sullenness and rebellion against authority, but, like Kraus, I’d had minimal conflict with my father, and the worst that could be said of me and my mother was that we bickered like an old married couple. Real anger, anger as a way of life, was foreign to me until one particular afternoon in April 1982. I was on a deserted train platform in Hannover. I’d come from Munich and was waiting for a train to Berlin, it was a dark gray German day, and I took a handful of of German coins out of my pocket and started throwing them on the platform. There was an element of anti-German hostility in this, because I’d recently had a horrible experience with a penny-pinching old German woman, and it did me good to imagine other penny-pinching German women bending down to pick the coins up, as I knew they would, and thereby aggravating their knee and hip pains. The way I hurled the coins, though, was more generally angry. I was angry at the world in a way I’d never been before. The proximate cause of my anger was my failure to have sex with an unbelievably pretty girl in Munich, except that it hadn’t actually been a failure, it had been a decision on my part. A few hours later, on the platform in Hannover, I marked my entry into the life that came after that decision by throwing away my coins. Then I boarded a train and went back to Berlin and enrolled in a class on Karl Kraus.

Paul Reitter kindly refines my theory and elaborates:

“Kraus hated his fellow German –Jewish writers for many reasons, not the least of which was that they wasted what he himself was so determined to use: privilege. Certainly many German-Jewish writers had money troubles, and Kraus, to his credit, was quite sensitive to the problem of penury – he helped keep the (German-Jewish) poets Peter Altenberg and Else Lasker-Schuler afloat. Yet a lot fin de siecle Germa-Jewish authors were as Kraus saw it, like him: well positioned to take some risks. Like him (and say Stefan Zweig), they were the children of the newly emancipated and prosperous Grunderzeit (industrial boom of the mid-19th century) generation. If their fathers often tried to steer them into business, as Kraus suggests in his drama Literatur, there were resources to fall back on, something that ultimately made turning to letters much easier. Nor was there any lack of talent; Kraus always claimed that the German-Jewish literati had an abundance of that. But despite having so many advantages, these writers mostly chose to play it safe, reinforcing a bad paradigm of feutilletonism* or parroting the latest style of expressionism, while treating such cultural authorities as the Neue Freie Presse with servile respect. The psychological needs and assimilationist tendencies that drove German-Jewish authors to do this were of interest to Kraus: hence the play Literatur, which Kafka esteemed and which, in fact, inspired his famous meditations on the ‘terrible inner state’ of German-Jewish writers. However, those needs and tendencies didn’t excuse anything. As motives for bad linguistic behavior, they struck Kraus as tawdry.

“Could there be similar dynamics – minus the Jewish element- operating in some of our own contemporary literary scenes? The anecdotal evidence keeps piling up. Let’s say that someone has given you a recent novel. You can’t recall seeing reviews of this book, but it looks like a high-end production. The press that published it was a very good one, and on its covers are blurbs from respected figures in the world of letters. Would you be surprised to learn that the author of the novel lives in Park Slope with a husband and two children? Would you be surprised to read, on the author’s website, that she grew up in Lake Forest, was educated at Brown, and teaches writing as an adjunct at the New School? When I encounter such author information, I sometimes wonder how the economics work. Advances are small, book sales are declining, teaching jobs don’t pay well, and Park Slope is very expensive, as are kids. Maybe the family is just getting by. But in an age of soaring college tuition and health insurance costs, not many people from an affluent background are willing to take upon themselves the hazards of real, open-ended downward mobility. Maybe, then, the husband is a lawyer or in finance. Yet mixed couples aren’t the norm, I’m told. If the husband is a fellow author, it may well be that the couple has gotten help from its baby-boomer parents. And if that’s so, writing doesn’t, and probably won’t ever pay the bills.


‘Yet there is still the desire as well as the pressure to succeed. For literati, as for professors of literature, the increasingly steep straight path to recognizable signs of accomplishment is to produce conventional work of high quality. I enjoy a lot of writing created on this route, and I’m not about to echo Kraus’s apocalyptic condemnation of the talented authors who take it. What feels sad, nevertheless, is that at a time when a relatively small percentage of the New York literary scene appears to be supporting itself through its writing, a high percentage of the scene is so very cautious. Indeed, the scene routinely demands of itself and others both cautiousness and the display of the most uncontroversial virtues (balance, moderation, warmth, etc.). God forbid that a novelist should be a little mean to her characters. Much more than in previous ward, we find such authorial harshness framed  as reason enough for a (cautiously) negative review. Of course, sometimes the calls for niceness are themselves nasty. But in the more  august places, that’s certainly not the norm. One can be generally for civility in reviewing and still be alarmed by the fact of a measured, polite, unfavorable appraisal of Joseph Anton, which appeared in The New York Review of Books (and exhibits a particular dislike for the ‘egregiously uncharitable treatment of exes in Rushdie’s memoir), could in notoriety as a full-on  ‘takedown’ job. Or consider that a few years ago, the critic and novelist Dale Peck got a lot of attention merely being rude to some well-known writers. Consider also that even as a brilliant a reviewer as the late John Leonard has been posthumously taken to task for the immoderation that was a function of his exuberance. So what if his riffing and ranting wasn’t always comprehensible? It was unfailingly fun, and the style was his alone. But it made Leonard’s Times reviewer ‘ yearn for a more straightforward or prioritized analysis.’ Because, of course, critics should all sound more or less alike.’

I might add that the tyranny of niceness, in contemporary fiction, is enforced by the terror of the Internet and is ninth-grade social dynamics. Writers afraid of running a foul of the bloggers and the tweeters, of becoming universally ‘known’ as not a nice person, can defend themselves with laudable sentiments: literacy and self-expression are good, bigotry is bad, working people are the salt of the earth, love is more important than money, technology is fun, animals have feelings, children are less corrupt than adults, and so on. To attempt a harsh critique of the electronic system that reduces writers to these bromides is to risk having it become common ‘knowledge’ that you’re a hater, a loner, not one of us.

*The term feuilleton was invented by the editors of the French Journal des débats; Julien Louis Geoffroy and Bertin the Elder, in 1800. The feuilleton has been described as a "talk of the town", and a contemporary English-language example of the form is the "Talk of the Town" section of The New Yorker.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

A Parting of Ways by Peter Brown











Eastern and Western Christendom in Late Antiquity


What we have to deal with is not merely what happened in the relations between East and West, but why what happened happened as it did. Once the ecclesiastical historian asks why, he will find himself sooner or later forced to grapple with the whole quality of men’s lives in the past – that is, with how they lived the full twenty-four hours of the day, not only in their books, but in their churches, not only in their churches, but in the most intimate and most monotonous rhythms of their life.

For one thing can be said with certainty. The parting of the ways between East and West Christianity cannot be reduced to a few formulae. It can not be explained in terms of a map of the division of the Roman Empire between its Greek and Latin-speaking halves. Still less can the later alienation of the churches be blamed on the delinquencies of interpreters and the surprising inability of so many great Latin minds to reach ‘A’ level in Greek. Tempting though this course may be, it cannot be compressed into brilliant juxtapositions between representative early Christian authors. Merely to contrast Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria, Augustine and Basil of Caesarea, as if by comparison alone it were possible to trace the divergent trajectories of to great Christian regions, may be a device of considerable didactic power, and revealing when skillfully exploited, but it has little explanatory power.

For a sense of perspective, however, I would like to begin with a dictum of  Edward Gibbon: ‘The distinction of North and South is real and intelligible .  .  . But the difference between East and West is arbitrary and shifts around the globe.’


In the present state of Late Antique studies, Gibbon’s point needs to be stressed. Some of the most interesting work in late Roman history in the past generations has been carried out in terms of the East-West division of Greco-Roman civilization. The alienation of the East and West has been accepted as one of the principal causes of the ruin of the Roman Empire in the West. On the short time-scale, in the crisis that followed the death of Theodosius in 395 and the first official division of the Empire between his sons, the inability of the two parts of the Empire to collaborate against barbarian invasion has been explained in terms of a deep-seated difference in aims and outlooks. On a longer time-scale, the alienation of the two partes, the emergence in each of a distinctive culture and social structure, has been fruitfully invoked to account for the sinister ease with which western Roman society settled down to a life without empire. Instances of misunderstanding and conflict in the history of the Church and Empire tend, nowadays, to be seen as no more than symptomatic of a deeper alienation: they are mere foam on a sea of ineluctable currents.

I would like to step out of this perspective, not necessarily to exclude it altogether, but to seek a different vantage-point from which to take a new look at our subject. I would like to suggest that the history of the Christian Church in Late Antiquity and in the early Middle Ages is far more a part of the history of the Mediterranean and its neighbors than it is a part of the history of the Mediterranean itself between East and West. I would like therefore to hark back to the perspective of Henri Pirenne, in his Mahomet et Charlemagne. Whatever the weaknesses of Pirenne’s thesis from the point of view of the commercial and maritime history of the Mediterranean, his intuition of the basic homogeneity of Mediterranean civilization deep into the Middle Ages still holds good. The history of the Christian Church is a history of Romania a la Pirenne. It is the history of a religion which identified itself almost from its origins with a Mediterranean-style of urban civilization; that penetrated the sprawling countryside of western Europe along trade routes that linked it to the boom towns of Asia Minor. It fed its imagination on Palestine and Syria; its intellectual powerhouse in the Latin world was North Africa, and in this Africa, Carthage, ‘Rome in Africa’, remained, like Rome, a great Mediterranean town, moving to rhythms strangely similar to those of Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople.

It is important to stress this, the horizontal unity of the Mediterranean. Any divergence along the East-West spectrum of the Mediterranean was always dwarfed by the immensity of the gulf which separated the Mediterranean itself from the alien societies which flanked it.

The most crucial parting of ways was not between East and West in the Mediterranean, but between the Mediterranean itself and the exuberant hinterland that stretched eastwards across the Fertile Crescent. If Christ had lived in the Hellenistic rather than in the Roman period, or in the third century A.D. rather than in the first, then we could imagine a very different Christianity – a Christianity whose missionaries who would not have been drawn into the unitary civilization of the Mediterranean at the time of its maximum gravitational pull, but who would have wandered in a more random manner into the great caravan cities and sprawling villages of eastern Syria and Mesopotamia. The beautiful new book of Robert Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom, A Study in Early Syrian Tradition, and the forth-coming study by Roberta Chesnut on the Monophysite Christologies of three Syriac authors are reminders of a whole third world of Christian experience, whose rich voice is too often drowned by the articulate and bustling Mediterranean. Yet, as Gregory Dix wrote of early Syrian liturgies –these allow us to penetrate ‘behind the divergence of Greek and Western Christianity generally to that oriental world to which the Galilean apostles had belonged.

It is the same when we look to the north of Europe. Once again, the divergence of East and West along the Mediterranean was dwarfed by the rise in north-western Europe of Christian societies which were seen to differ toto caelo from the ancient Christianity of the Mediterranean. In the early Middle Ages we have to deal with a ‘Mediterranean chauvinism’ whose force is too often underrated. As Maurice Chevalier said: ‘Old age is not so bad if you consider the alternative.’ Nothing was better calculated to shrink the distance between Rome and Constantinople than the contemplation of the alien alternative across the Alps. Generalizations to the effect that the papacy served as a rallying point of western consciousness against the East assumes that there was a West to be conscious. As long as the Mediterranean remained the heart of Romania, the division  that was ‘real and intelligible’ to every early Medieval man was that between north and south. Listen to the Roman on his northern co-religionists: ‘For the transalpine voices .  .  . roaring deep with their thunderous throats .  .  . .cannot bring forth the proper sweetness of the melody, because the savage barbarity of their drunken throats, while endeavoring to utter this gentle strain, through its natural noisiness, proffers only unmodulated sounds, like unto farm carts clumsily creeping up a rutted hill.’  Listen to the northerner on a representative of Romania: ‘There was a certain deacon who followed the habits of the Italians in that he was perpetually trying to resist nature. He used to take baths, he had his head closely shaved, he polished his skin, he cleaned his nails, he had his his hair cut short as if it had been turned on a lathe, and he wore linen underclothes.  .  .  .’

I would suggest that we abandon a model of the relations between East and West based on the assumption of deep alienation. It is not enough, however, that we should pile up detailed studies of those person, moments or milieus where the shores of the Mediterranean appear to have drawn closer together. Such studies have proved invaluable, ranging as they do from consideration of the Greek culture of the early Christian  communities of Carthage, from the figures of Augustine, Pelagius, and John Cassian, to the popes of the Middle Ages, from the missions of Constantine and Methodius to that extraordinary galaxy of holy men at the court of Otto III and the monastery of St. Alessio on the Aventine. But  these studies might be misinterpreted if they were seen as so many incidents of East-West relations, if by ‘relations’ we mean the interchange between two separate free-standing worlds.

For this is precisely what may not have happened. Nothing has done more to handicap our understanding of Mediterranean history in the medieval period than the tendency of scholars to treat Byzantium as a world apart, standing aside and above the destinies of an ‘underdeveloped’ western Europe. Once this view is accepted, the East tends to be treated as a distinct and enclosed reservoir of superior culture, from which an occasional stream is released, to pour downhill – by some obscure law of cultural hydraulics – to water the lower reaches of the West.. Relations between East and West, therefore, tend to be treated as so many ‘releases’ of Byzantine ‘influence’ and the ‘eastern’ features of early medieval art and piety are ascribed to ‘borrowings’  from a superior Byzantine model. Nothing has been more conducive to confusion in the study of art and religion in the Dark Ages than such an assumption.


When seen in this way, also, undue attention is given to those obvious ‘sluice-gates’ that would facilitate the downhill flow from East to West. To take one example: I suspect that we will soon no longer be as concerned as we have been with the question of whether or not Gregory the Great spoke Greek. For a theory of cultural interchange that treats the build-up of a culture – especially of a religious culture-in terms of so many discrete acts of ‘reception’ tends to overlook the inarticulate familiarities of a shared landscape. Throughout Late Antiquity vital areas of culture were transmitted by a Mediterranean-wide process of osmosis. The ideology of the Byzantine State is inconceivable without generations of Byzantines who could ‘think Latin’ even when they could not read it. Life in Late Antiquity was wider and more embracing than any knowledge of the right classical languages. The spread of the feast of kalends of January in the late Roman period is an astonishing example of this. A feast that had been limited to Rome in the high Empire suddenly became a Mediterranean-wide phenomena in Late Antiquity [ ]. Plainly, when the city-dwellers of Late Antiquity wanted to say something important about the way life was lived, and find ceremonial expression for it, they said the same thing all over the Mediterranean, in whatever language came to hand. Christianity, which grew out of precisely that milieu, was exceptionally sensitive to the same Mediterranean- wide rhythms. Furthermore, adoption by osmosis came easily to a group in which oral methods of transmission has always played a great part in its religious culture: the Christian faith was  passed on by oral catechesis. Christian spiritual direction was carried out in terms of a fund of monastic apophthegmata  [pithy maxims or sayings of the Desert Fathers].

In this situation I would like to introduce the concept of a Mediterranean  koiné ( a ‘linga franca’). Let us take a few examples from the end of our period. The history of monasticism in the fifth and sixth centuries is not a history of an ‘oriental’ monasticism penetrating into the West:  in the simple phrase of P. Riche, we are dealing with un monachisme  mediterraneen. The new edition of a Latin translation of the Apophthegmata by Paschasius of Dumio shows this Christian Mediterranean  koiné at work. Paschasius is unlocalizable; and the apophthegmatic literature that he handles has become thickly matted as a bed of reeds, bridging the Mediterranean with a single monastic folklore. To take another example: often in the history of early medieval piety, where the unwary might acclaim a direct ‘eastern’ influence, it is possible to sense ‘a breath of the warm south’. A Stylite hermit established outside Cologne – Wulfilach, a Lombard, from a north Italy heavy with the koiné of Romania. A miracle connected with an icon, the only one in the Libri Miraculorum of Gregory of Tours – a story by Venantius Fortunatus, straight from Ravenna.

There is therefore no shortcut to the problem of the parting of ways between East and West. It would be a serious mistake to import into the history of the Christian Church supposed contrasts whose outlines have been sketched grosso modo by previous generations of late Roman historians of society and culture. The ecclesiastical historian cannot ignore the intimate dependence of the Christian Church on its social and and cultural environment. But it is vital that he should offer a differentiated and up-to-date explanation of how such an environment was experienced in the Church and precisely what the environment was. It is not enough to compound his own generalizations by importing the generalizations of others.

Alas, such remarks are only a preface to the main task. For now we come to the most delicate part of our undertaking. We cannot subsume the explanation of the parting of the ways between East and West beneath any overwhelming antithesis of two societies: the unity of a Mediterranean civilization exerts a constant, discreet pressure to blur such stark and convenient contrasts If there is a divergence between the eastern and western Churches, we must look for it within the Churches themselves; and if we do  this we musty begin at the beginning – we must have a clear ide of the implications of the rise of Christianity in the Roman world.

W. H .C. Frend in his Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church and R.A. Markus in Christianity in the Roman World have made clear that the parting of ways between East and West springs from the way in which Christianity adapted itself to the Roman environment. The parting of ways between East and West was implied at the joining of ways of Christianity and classical culture. Christianity took up a difference stance in East and West to the state, to society, to classical culture. In the West, the Church maintained its  ‘twice-born’ attitudes. It stood to one side of the saeculum [ “the present age of the world,” in contrast with an eternal, heavenly realm ]. West Roman society and culture, first shunned as demonic, was firmly entzaubert  (disenchanted) by Augustine, no mystique but the most sinister was allowed to rest upon it. Later, when this society was in the hands of barbarians, it sank to the status of a passive and potentially refractory laity dominated by a clearly defined clerical elite. The contrast with eastern Christianity, whose apologists had early acclaimed a harmony between Christianity and Greek culture, and whose emperors from Constantine onwards, had negotiated endlessly for the unanimity of Church and State, stands out in pointed contrast to that situation. It is in this tradition, rather than in the more pragmatic side of late Roman economic and administrative history, that it is possible to catch the full significance of the Late Antique revolution and to seize most clearly its implications for the medievalist.

I would like to add to this perspective rather than challenge it. It is now time for the strictly religious historian to take up his cue. I would like to suggest that we trace some features of the divergence between the East and West in terms of diverging attitudes to the idea of the holy in the two churches.

In Late Antiquity attitudes to culture and society were inextricably intertwined with attitudes to the holy. The religious revolution in Late Antiquity did not only see the rise of the Christian Church as a society within a society and a culture within a culture. The rise itself was intimately connected with a drastic redistribution and re-definition of those points at which the holy was thought to impinge on human affairs.

Unlike paganism and much of Judaism, the Christian communities were prepared to invest individual human beings with supernatural powers or with the ability to exercise power on behalf of the supernatural. It was precisely as identifiable bearers of the holy, and the heirs of an imagined genealogy of similar bearers of the holy – apostles, martyrs, prophets – that the Christian leaders were able to form the Christian communities. The groups that took up a stance to the society and culture of their times were formed around known and revered loci of the holy- and these loci tended to be human beings. As the rabbis told Justin Martyr: ‘but as for you, who have forsaken God and put your trust in a man, what salvation can await you?’

The early Christians lived down to these strictures. Small details of their behavior, revealed in passing in the acts of the martyrs, speak volumes: ‘Polycarp took off all his clothing, loosed his belt and even tried to take off his sandals, although he had never had to do this before: for all the Christians were always eager to be the first to touch his flesh.’ In this respect, Christianity added a radical twist to a tide in Late Antique sensibility. Pagan biographies of divine men, and later rabbinic literature show a common search for heroes who would sum up in their persons the values of the group. Ideals that had been allowed to float free, available to any member of an educated or religious class but attached to no one in particular, come to be given  ‘an earthly habitation and a name’, and so a power that is best caught in some of the masterpieces of the third –and fourth-century portrait sculpture. Throughout the Mediterranean world, face and halo tend to come together in Late Antiquity.

Pagans who might have taken more kindly to divine men than did their Jewish contemporaries were appalled by what Christians did to their heroes when dead- they brought the stench of death into the preserve of the holy. This was new. For all his intimacy with the goddess Artemis, in dying Hippolytus was cut off by the unbridgeable chasm which the fact of death itself opened between himself and his goddess: It is not right for me to look upon the dead, And strain my eyesight with the mists of dying men.’

In Eunapius of Sardis’ account of the Christianization of the great temples of Egypt we can catch the carnal horror of the rise of Christianity: ‘For they collected the bones and skulls of criminals who had been put to death for numerous crimes .   .  . made them out to be gods, haunted their sepulchers, and thought that they became better by defiling themselves at their graves. ‘Martyrs’ the dead men were called, and ‘ministers’ of a sort and ‘ambassadors’ with the gods to carry men’s prayers.’ Yet much of medieval history is inconceivable without the preliminary decision to allow the dead into a central position in worship: ‘So you think, therefore, that the bishop of Rome does wrong when, over the dead men Peter and Paul, venerable bones to us but to you a heap of common dust, he offers up sacrifice to the Lord, and their graves are called alters of Christ’ ( Jerome, Contra Vigilantium).

Yet it is precisely around such idealized objects that Christianity succeeded in crystallizing lasting pyramids of dependence. In the Roman world of the third and fourth centuries the old forms of power and dependence were being transformed and re-articulated with abrasive vigor: we need only think on the one hand of the elaboration of the imperial ceremonial, and on the other on the tightening and the rendering more explicit of the links of patronage in town and countryside. In this situation, the pyramids of idealized dependence erected by the Christian Church around men and objects thought of as ‘holy’ stand with uncanny congruence in a society constantly experimenting with forms of power and social influence.

It is in this region that I would like to look for a parting of the ways between East and West. Even if we cannot reach an explanation of the phenomena, I would like to suggest that we are dealing with a phenomena to explain.

In the West the precise locus of the supernatural power associated with the holy was fixed with increasing precision. Cyprian of Carthage, in his astute handling of the confessores and in his statements on the position of the bishop, has a baffling ‘medieval’ ring about him: this may well be because no serious doubt as to the precise nature and location of spiritual power and the means by which it was exercised in ritual actions troubled his own mind or those of most of his successors. At the same time, the eastern Church had entered onto what came to strike early medieval western observers as a baffling ‘crisis of overproduction’ of the holy. More men were accepted as bearers or agents of the supernatural on earth, and in a far greater variety of situations, than came to be tolerated in a Western Europe. As a result, the precise locus of spiritual power in Byzantium remained, by western standards, tantalizingly ambiguous, and Byzantine attitudes to sanctity, and hence to the world in general against which the holy was placed, were shot through with paradox. By Late Antiquity, this contrast was clear, and it was all the clearer from being seen not as an inevitable contrast, but rather as the cumulative result of mutations within a single koiné – a koiné which, by the end of this period had already spilled far from the shores of the Mediterranean, to the Nestorian hagiography of Sasania Iran and the Celtic holy men of Northumbria.

I think it would be best to move from two clear examples, briefly sketched, to the implication of these examples.

The rise and function of the holy man in the sixth-century eastern Mediterranean as revealed in the work of John Ephesus stands in marked contrast to the world of religious experience – mainly crystallized around relics – revealed in the work of John’s contemporary, Gregory of Tours. The contrast is all the greater for having become crystallized from a Mediterranean-wide koiné.  For Gregory can embrace Romania. His gazes pierces to Edessa. Where a miraculous annual rainstorm washes clean the dunged-up souk after the great fair of St Thomas. It even reaches as far as Sergiopolis (Resafa), where St Sergius is known as a stern protector of ex-voto offerings to his shrine: so stern, indeed, is he that chickens dedicated to him, if stolen , emerge from the cooking pot even tougher than they went in! This was a fact known also to the Shahanshah of Iran himself, none other than Khuso II Aparwez, who, in a great silver ex-voto dish, had proclaimed to St Sergius his gratitude for success and had reported on the exceptional favors enjoyed by his Christian wife, the beautiful Shirin. ( the inscription is the last great address of a Near Eastern ruler to his gods, of which the first, by Khusro’s predecessor Darius, looks out from the cliffs of Bisutun, to be read only by gods and rock-climbers). Nevertheless, with Gregory we can trace the direction of a mutation  that would finally weaken the hold of the Mediterranean  koiné on Gaul, and consequently on the emergent societies of north-western Europe, in such away as to bring about a final confrontation of East and West.

In the eastern Mediterranean, the holy man had been forced to the fore by those exuberant and abrasive developments by which new classes came to compete for control of the countryside. The position of the holy men in Syria is a paradigm of the need of eastern Christians to consider as ‘holy’ ascetic figures on whom they could place their hopes for a ‘holy’, that is for an idealized, patronage, in a world overshadowed by an ‘unholy’, that is, by an only too real, patronage. This aspect of East Roman social and spiritual life is well summed up by Thomas Hobbes in chapter ten of his Levianthan” ‘Reputation of power is power: because it draweth with it the adherence of those that need protection.’ The saints described by John of Ephesus had no doubts on that score: ‘Neither yet think that this power of the saints before whom these people come and groan is a void thing, lest it be roused against you and your house perish.’

All this is striking and well-known, yet let us look for a moment at the precise basis of this power. Here we must enter deeply into the materials from which the East Romans framed their expectations of the holy, and how they combined these in such a way not only to facilitate the exercise of ‘reputation of power’ but, tacitly, to delimit this same exercise.

The Christian koiné was articulated in the eastern Mediterranean not to place the holy man above human society, but outside it. He gained his powers from retiring to the desert, that is, to the antithesis of human life, where Christ had been served by angels,. And where the angels had invested John the Baptist with the first monk’s cloak. The holy, therefore, was at its most holy when least connected with that conflict of human interests which it was constantly called upon to palliate.

The East Roman holy man, as we observe him in both the fourth and fifth centuries, and in the age of Gregory and John, preserved his reputation, therefore, by an exacting ritual of de-solidarization and even of social inversion. He wielded his ‘idealized’ power in society by adopting stances that were the exact inverse of those connected with the exercise of real power. Where the patron was inaccessible, the holy man was open to all comers: of Habib it was said: ‘he did not, as a man of high reputation, refuse to go, but, in order to satisfy him, would go with him a once without delay.’ Where the patron flaunted his status and his immunity, the holy man was ‘an afflicted one,’ and often carried chains, associated in the Near East not with physical discomfort so much as with the status of a political prisoner fallen from his high estate. Thus, in few societies outside the sanyasi culture of Hindu India, has  ‘reputation of power’ within a society been exercised on so strict a tacit understanding that those who exercised it should be seem to stand outside this society.

I feel that we touch here on something more revealing than merely the social strategies of a charismatic ombudsman. We are dealing with a society which accepts such strategies because they could be associated with other basic ideas about the nature of the holy and its impingement on human affairs. Here I would risk a suggestion. The holy escaped social definition – or, rather, its absence of social definition became intelligible – because it was thought of principally as a power that ‘manifested’ itself in a manner that was as vivid as it was discontinuous with normal human expectations. If this is so, then we are in a very ancient world indeed. It is the world of the epiphaneia, of the sudden appearances of the gods. It is not enough that the divine should exist, it must be seen to exist, in the occasional flash of clear vision. Such moments of epiphaneia were significantly widely-distributed throughout the whole range of East Roman religious experience. They could suddenly highlight any moment of East Roman religious life and can penetrate into any corner of East Roman Christian society. Epiphaneia might occur in a waking dream; liturgical expectations were articulated  in terms of potential epiphaneiatrembling, in many sources, on the edge of breaking forth – with the presence of an angel at the alter and the epidemia, the adventus, of the divine Eucharist. Hagiography was read as so many unpredictable manifestations in diverse times and places of men of every possible social status. At a slightly later time, icons rose to prominence as so many visions frozen in encaustic and mosaic.

Such an idea of the holy, so strictly defined as all that was non-human in any situation and all that could be suddenly ‘manifested’ from beyond human consciousness, tended to erode rather than to reinforced those institutional structures in which it might have found of as nesting place. Sanctity, for East Romans, always bordered on the paradoxical. For what we have are men with ‘reputation of power’; yet this power was thought to have been drawn from outside any apparent niche in the power-structure of society. It was gained in the desert, beyond human sight, and depended upon a freedom to speak to God, the exact extent of which lay beyond human power to gauge. A woman dreamed that her daughter would be cured at a certain monastery. The monks brought her the abbot. No, said she, this is not the man I dreamed of. Bring me the red-faced one, with warts on his knees. Byzantine monastic folk-lore toyed lovingly with the possibility of this situation. For any one time, the man who enjoyed most favor with God in Heaven might be, not St Antony, but a doctor in Alexander, not St Macarius, but a farmer in a Egyptian village, and even, who knows, an imperial inspector of brothels in Alexandria. There is nothing in the sixth and seventh-century West to equal the Life of St Symeon the Holy Fool. In this seventh-century masterpiece, the paradoxes of sanctity are explored with exemplary thoroughness. Here the dogged role-inversion of those hard-worked Syrian cursers has spilled over into a delightful study of a man who, because he fulfils no overt social function, can enjoy to the full the position of the ‘outsider’ allotted to the bearer of the holy – ut novellus pazzus. In Emesa you could go to the tavern of the mad monk and watch Symeon dancing the jig with the people of the town.

Paradox, after all, is a device of inclusion. The paradox of sanctity enabled the holy to scatter itself widely throughout Byzantine society. At the top, the touch of the hand of God gave an inexhaustible reservoir of initiative to the Byzantine Emperors. At the bottom, it fell heavily on prostitutes as it never fell on equally whore-laden towns in Italy. In between, it ratified the anomalous position of the soldier, and did so to such an extent that, when, in the eleventh century, the  chaplain Hugh of Avranches attempted to reassure the Norman knights with examples of warriors pleasing to God, he could only find a catalogue dominated by Byzantine saints.

Let us now see what Gregory of Tours does not share with this world. I have been struck by the following features:

First: there is the obvious feature of a marked shortage of living holy men. A society which knew all about Symeon Stylites somehow did not want one of their own: our Wulfilach was told in no uncertain terms to get down off his column. The appearance of itinerate holy men in Tours are recounted by Gregory in tones of ‘While the cat’s away, the mice do play.’. Now this is easier said than understood. I would like to posit a climate of opinion that actively withheld enthusiasm from all but the most well-tried bearers of the holy. “Call no man holy until he be dead’ is the motto of Gregory’s writings. While in Syria the hillsides on which the stylites perched their columns  would be ominously ringed by brand new, empty martyria, waiting to receive their guaranteed holy occupants, with the world of Gregory even death marks only the beginning of long and acrimonious hagiographical manoeuvers. Was Nicetius of Lyon, who died in 573, and whose tomb lay in the basilica of the apostle of Lyon, a saint? This was decidedly not the opinion of his successor, Priscus, nor of Pricus’s wife, Susanna, nor any of their friends and dependents. One of Priscus’ deacons used the late bishop’s chasuble, among other things, as a dressing gown – ‘A robe from whose very hems, if one was to believe aright, healing would have come to the sick’ – and, when challenged, threatened to make a pair of bedroom slippers out of it. Priscus and Nicetius rest together in the same church. Maybe the inscription of Priscus contains a tacit dig at his hated neighbor. But time heals even sixth-century feuds. In 1308 both tombs were examined and both occupants declared saints.  Only readers of Gregory can guess from this one clear example the febrile and insecure accumulation and dispersal of reputation that went to make up what too often strikes the unwary as the marmoreal façade of western episcopal sanctity.

A governing class carried the tensions of a governing class as well as exercising its power. Here we are dealing with oligarchies of bishops powerful enough to overshadow any other bearers of the holy, but who were themselves  locked in such bitter competition to remain equal as to deny holiness to any but the most well-tried, that is, the most safely-dead figure. The patriarchate of Constantinople in the late sixth-century is the only milieu that can offer an analogy to Gregory. Here we have the remarkable Life of St Eutychius a ‘saint’ on whom John of Ephesus had his own opinion. But this is nothing compared with the convergence of hagiography and propaganda that marked the Adelsheilige  [record of the noble saints]of the sub-Roman West.

Second: the contact with the holy itself, in the form of the relic, is fraught with an open-ended quality lacking in the piety of the Eastern Empire. The locus of the holy might be ambiguous in the East: but its epiphaneia was an un-ambivalently good event. In the work of Gregory, by contrast, we come across an element which strikes me as quite remarkable. Contact with the supernatural is fraught with all the open-ended quality of an ordeal. It is a searing light, that can throw the merita of the recipient into high relief. The theme runs through Gregory’s works. At Bazas, the relic in a cross – a crystallized drop of divine mercy that had once fallen on the alter from the vault (where, as at Ravenna, the Lamb of God may have stood among the stars of heaven) –‘ when it is adored, will appear crystal clear to a man who is free of sin; but if, as often happens, some evil is attached to the frail human nature of the beholder, appears totally obscure.’

Therefore, a holy relic does not merely enhance the status of a church or a locality, giving its favors indiscriminately to all connected to the site. There is nothing in Gregory of the universal franchise on the favors granted by St Thecla to all the citizens of Seleucia, nor the open-handfed, consular sparsio (scattering) of protection which the inhabitants of Thessalonica saw in their St Demetrius. Nor is there any of that informal access to the holy across the frontier that any man may pass when he goes to sleep. The right to dream in the presence of the holy is denied. There is no incubation in Gaul. Again when there is no incubation, the ‘holy’ is denied a chance to express itself at its most paradoxical. The shrine of St Martin of Tours never witnessed the psychodrames that were played out regularly in the iatrike skene, ‘the playhouse of healing,’ of the great incubatory shrine of Sts Cosmos and Damien in Constantinople. No paralytic was emboldened by the saint to make make love to a dumb lady. No hulking butcher was told to shave a touchy senator.

Rather, the contact with the holy is used to mark out unambiguously those individual members of the community who enjoyed a permanent  status different from the rest. We meet in Gregory’s works a whole gallery of individuals clearly designated as those who enjoyed greater intimacy with the supernatural because their merita were declared acceptable by the ‘ordeal of the holy.’ From a Christian koiné that linked sin and miracle, Gregory has drawn sharper conclusions. The blessing of the relic falls most heavily on those vested protectors and agents of the relics, and that, in Gregory’s case, is almost invariably the bishop.  The cult of the relic reaches its annual climax in a ceremony modelled on the old-fashioned imperial adventus ceremony of the western provinces; but it is a ceremony where the elements of heady enthusiasm and ideal concord are acted out in such ay as to re-create and so re-embellish the precarious concord of the Christian community around its bishop. Idealized consensus around Martin re-lives the far-from-ideal consensus on which every Gallic bishop depended for his own position. In that way the ceremony of the martyrs differs toto caelo (‘by the whole extent of heaven’) from the panygyreis of East Rome. It is a ceremony of the bishop and his shrine: it is not the ceremony of the town. At a time when the Byzantine town had sucked the churches on its periphery into its traditional urban center, and the mosaics of the church at Qasr el-Lebya contain reference to the Tyche (luck) of the city, the western towns were already being pulled out of shape around their peripheral shrines. Somehow, as in the case of Nicetius of Lyon, the holy shrine carried with it the associations of the aristocratic family grave; it was a ‘fine and private place.’

Third: much of this is intelligible in terms of a streak in Gregory which defines the holy very strictly in terms of individual salvation. The Christian koiné by which the miracle is meaningful as a deliverance from sin bears a very heavy weight in Gregory: ‘O if only the blessed confessor [Martin] would have deigned to make himself known in such an act of power to me, in loosing the fetters of my sins in the same way he smashed the vast weight of the chains that held that man.’

Holiness is possible only after death because only after death can salvation be secure. Gregory’s hagiography is an illustration of the deep roots of the Augustinian doctrine of predestination. A chill breath blows through Gregory’s works when he contemplates the vast anonymity of cemeteries. The silence of the Polyandrion – the place of the great majority – at Autun is broken only by a few mysterious echoes of chanted psalms, betraying the presence, among so many thousands, ‘of a few tombs of faithful souls worthy of God.’ Gregory was oppressed by how infinitely small the number of such tombs must be. For these were the tombs of the predestinate, they belonged to the ‘snow white number of the elect.’

I must repeat that all this is easier said than explained. It would be facile to reduce it to a contrast between the exuberant and basically optimistic world of East Rome and the grim and depleted Gaul of Gregory. To do this would be to ignore the koiné of basic attitudes which ran from one end of the Mediterranean to the other: John and Gregory, for instance, both write history under the shadow of the approaching end of the world. In some respects, admittedly, the parting of the ways is a parting in styles of urban life. The holy tended, in the West, to be increasingly confined to the rhythms of the great basilica-shrine and the monastery, while in the Byzantine Empire it could spill out unself-consciously to join the vast ceremoniousness of Byzantine urban life. Styles of liturgy and preaching show how easily the street flowed into the basilica; and the receding tide brought out much of the holy into the street. When the straitlaced Carolingian divines attacked the  Byzantine cult of icons, they thought they saw in it a disastrous ‘over-production’ of the holy, strictly connected with a blurring of the boundaries between basilica and street: ‘If then the vulgar mob, partly maddened by excitement and partly swayed by the novelties of secular pomp, partly eager to puff themselves up with an empty sense of self-importance, partly urged on a weakness for adulation and partly prompted by fear of punishment by authorities, should chose to honor the images of emperors with vain and unhealthy praise, this is no affair of ours.’

Yet much more needs to be said, especially by an ecclesiastical historian. I would like to return to the definition of the holy in East Rome as what is outside human society. This is not a definition which Gregory accepts in the way in which it was meant by a Byzantine. The holy, in the West, could be defined as it was in the East, in terms of a stark discontinuity between the human and the non-human: the drop of divine mercy at Bazas caused the jewels to fall out of the frame into which it was first inserted – there was no consortium caelestibus cum terrenis (‘joining between heavenly and earthly objects’). And yet this discontinuous holy is deeply inserted into human society. In the most poker-faced and un-paradoxical manner it makes clear who has received grace in its sight and who has not. This declaration is held to have immediate social consequences: slaves healed by by St Martin are automatically emancipated. Its blessing is clear and covers a narrower range: it rests heavily on bishops of predictable merita. And this blessing is thought of as the intrusion into human life of those dead man and women who had persevered in clear roles within the human community than in the desert.

I would risk the suggestion that these phenomena reveal a mentality where the holy plays a more permanent role in law and politics than it would ever play in East Rome. Gregory’s world is one in which men worry much about perjury: Claudius, riding to Tours to bring Eberulf, dead or alive, from the sanctuary of St Martin, is one example among many in the pages of Gregory – ‘Upon his way, after the custom of the barbarians, he began to take notice of the omens, and to find them unfavorable. At the same time he enquired of many whether the power of the holy martyr had of late made manifest against breakers of oaths . .  .’ We are touching on a world where many of the human relations basic to the working of society are made subject to sacred law. The use of the holy in day to day affairs in this manner is paralleled, in East Rome, only in villages in the forbidding hinterland of Asia Minor.

In Gregory’s works, the Mediterranean koiné – which had alays linked oaths with the holy and treated thhe drama of exorcism as an informal court of law, in which public judgment was passed on those sins that plainly disrupted society – is hardened to take the strain of permanent government. In the Mediterranean world of Late Antiquity this coalescence had never quite happened. A glance at the Dialogues of Gregory’s namesake, Gregory the Great, shows this. We are still in the world of le monarchisme mediterraneen which is a world of mild paradoxes. There are tame bears and salad-gardens – warm memories of a Mediterranean-wide monastic anecdotage.. Nor do we have the same phenomena even among the stern heroes of John Ephesus. These knew how to exercise the ‘power of the saints’ in society. Occasionally, among the loose-knit in habitants of the mountains, the mirage of a theocracy founded around a holy man, where excommunication from the company of believers replaced the blood feud, flickers a good century before Islam: but the Djebel  Izala was no Mecca, and Simon the Mountaindweller left no Koran. For the power of the saints in Syria was based upon a dizzy ritual of social inversion: it existed for  occasional, dramatic application to a society that was normally accustomed to looking after itself. The social use of the holy was delimited to those moments when normal legal and social structure has broken down. With Gregory, the holy is losing its function as an emergency surrogate for justice.  It is securely vested in men who knew what it was to rule, and who lived in a society where few men were prepared to rule as they were. The path towards the position of the early medieval bishop, whose social and sacred functions interlock around an invincible sense of das Tremendum   [awe inspiring mystery], may be slower than some exegetes of Gregory would have us believe: the relation of the bishop to his town, for instance, still has an untidiness that belongs to Late Antique Romania – even in Tours, acclamation by the people can be as deadly a political weapon as it was in Edessa or Constantinople, and Gregory could be threatened by it. Nevertheless, Gregory’s works take us to the crest of a watershed: the manner in which he assumes a linking of law and the holy makes him look north rather than south, to the Middle Ages rather than to Late Antiquity, and therefore away from the East. He is the first Auvergnat as Michelet describes them:
'It looks like a southern race shivering in the north wind, and as if tight, hardened under this foreign sky.'

A perceptive if unsympathetic western thinker put his finger on the contrast: in his Philosophy of History Hegel wrote- ‘The history of the highly civilized Eastern Empire – where we might suppose, the Spirit of Christianity could betaken up in its truth and purity – exhibits to us a millennial  series of uninterrupted crimes, weaknesses, baseness and want of principle .  .  .It is evident here how Christianity may be abstract, and how as such it is powerless, on account of its very  purity and intrinsic spirituality .  .  .Light shining in the darkness may perhaps give color, but not a picture animated by Spirit. The Byzantine Empire is a grand example  of how the Christian religion may maintain an abstract character among cultivated people, if the whole organization of the State and of the Laws is not reconstructed in harmony with its principle.’

This contrast of East and West does exist. But it need not be interpreted in so harsh a manner. I hope that a historical examination of the Late Antique phase of the parting of the ways of East and West may make plain part of the Byzantine answer. Byzantine society could take the strain of life on its own, frankly secular, terms. Ringed, in the early Middle Ages, on one side by Islam, were religion and law fused, and on the other by a Western Europe, where religion blew through gaping cracks in the structure of society, Byzantines could keep the holy where they needed it – and in so doing, they preserved a vital part of its meaning – it was an unexpected wellspring of delight in the scorching summer of Mediterranean life.