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II: The Middle Ages - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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The Middle Ages
On the Middle Ages
(I) [1882.] The term “Middle Ages” actually came into being as an homage to antiquity. It means “the middle period.” The Italians of the fifteenth century were already aware of this. (Is “medium aevum” a translation of “Mittelalter,” “moyen âge”?)
In this designation there was expressed the concept of a very expendable thousand years which may have existed for the chastisement of mankind; this gave it the reputation of barbarism, and its beginnings in fact had been an overcrowding of the world with barbarians. Hence the special ill-will of the Italians, who had lost their world dominion through the barbarians, although this had actually already happened under Constantine. It seemed to them that, basically, the more modern period could have started directly with the end of Roman history. Something like impatience was felt toward the Middle Ages.
This view was expressed first in the designation and in the meaning of the Renaissance, then, too, especially in the name of the modern “great power” (the atomization of power in the medieval state was deplored), and, finally, in the term “world civilization.”
It was possible to misjudge the Middle Ages, to be sure, but in the long run one could not despise the period. The realization prevailed that our existence had its roots in it, even though modern culture was derived predominantly from antiquity. Gradually the specific qualities of the Middle Ages were appreciated in innumerable ways. Certain aspects even inspired veritable enthusiasm which, however, aroused hostility in completely modern-minded persons. On the whole, very strong and widespread prejudices against the Middle Ages have prevailed to this day, not to mention the more deeply entrenched ones. There is an optical illusion with regard to so-called golden ages in which great spiritual capacities come together in a society, as though “happiness” had a definite address or domicile at some time or in some place.
Above all, at our present moment in history, under the conditions of 1882, we have no business sitting in judgment on any past age—now when from every side there are complaints about, and threats against, our general situation as well as specific matters, and the nations are pitted one against the other, armed to the teeth.
Now that we are convinced that our knowledge of the Middle Ages belongs among our dearest possessions, that is, the great general knowledge about the continuation of the spirit which distinguishes us from the barbarians (including very modern ones), we had better omit any evaluation of the past according to our standards of happiness or unhappiness, since these are illusions.
Very peculiar is the interest of our time in all past things and its judgment of their relative intellectual value. Of course, our time is itself undergoing such great transformations that its judgments about the past vary greatly, too. This much, however, remains certain: today’s European humanity has had at least a long youth in the shape of the Middle Ages.
The life of mankind is a unit whose fluctuations in time or place constitute an up and down, a weal or woe, only to our weak senses, but in reality follow a higher necessity. To trace the latter in detail remains a dubious and difficult task. Not everything that may now and then appear to an investigator as a decree of world history really deserves this title.
It is a universal human experience that the fringes of existence have always been miserable, because individuals as well as nations always push their existence to the limits of possibility; this is an existence just barely worth living.
There is something to be said for the survival of a people as such if at least it neither consumes itself, as the ancient Greeks did, nor is destroyed by other peoples. How many peoples disappeared in the great migrations of the Germanic tribes; as soon as they had no kings of their own, they lost themselves among the others. Are we to feel sorry for them at random? If they had existed longer, would they (and so many other peoples who had already gone down in early antiquity) have done great and good things or perhaps predominantly bad ones?
At any rate, the amount of unhappiness felt increases greatly in highly civilized, security-minded periods when conditions become completely insecure and violent, as, e.g., in the migrations of the Germanic tribes.
But we may properly feel a certain amount of pity and need not excuse ourselves with the barren argument that what fell did so for good reasons, or that after a fall there comes a resurgence. For by no means every destruction has been followed by rejuvenation (those involved and their relatives will have none of rejuvenation through decay), and the great destroyers of life remain an enigma to us. In the face of the ambition of an Attila, who did not have enough time, or of the accomplishments of Genghis Khan and especially Tamerlane, we remain perplexed, and can, at best, stutter that these men destroyed forces which, under certain circumstances, might also have become very harmful to mankind. The capital losses of mankind are enormous. And in particular the destruction of noble and universally admired works of poetry and art fills us with lasting sadness because we are convinced that they are irreplaceable, i.e., we know that never before has there been, nor ever again will there be, a union of precisely this naive strength with this beauty. (But let us close our eyes; experience teaches us that the human race has over the ages achieved very little of supreme excellence, and will do no better in the future; therefore, for the time being, we may well mourn when things of excellence are destroyed.)
Our only consolation—and a very uncertain one—is this: the survival of the greatest works of antiquity, now lost, would have stood in the way of the newer literature and art and made their natural appearance or at least their independence impossible.
As a rule, however, calling past times happy or pitying them is only partisanship in favor of one untenable thing against another such; and as it is, we are subject to the prejudices of our egoism (at best, to the predilections of our time) which approves of what seems akin to it and disapproves of what it finds incomprehensible or repugnant.
Thus, for instance, we have a powerful antipathy to Islam, with its arid religion, its art tyrannically kept poor, its forcibly restricted poetry, and its invariably tyrannical form of government. But as soon as the believers are given voice, we and our pity are sent packing. To this day, Islam gives its adherents enormously firm support, and they are proud of it and almost inaccessible to missionary efforts. But if one imagines history without Islam, one must also eliminate the at least temporary rejuvenation which, as an opponent, it brought to the Byzantine Empire and later, through the Crusades, to the West. (This great adversary quite materially kept the Byzantine Empire alive. That it finally did succumb to Islam was due to weakening from the West; remember 1204.) But the Mongols would have come nevertheless, and it is beyond all speculation in what condition they would have found a non-Islamic Near East and Europe.
However, just as dubious as pitying is felicitation. When it is directed toward victorious peoples, their happiness, the so-called victor’s happiness, was tempered by the infinite misery of the vanquished, who were also human beings and possibly superior ones. Moreover, the joy of victory does not last long, if only because persisting in the same situation is not granted to peoples nor to individuals, and after some time there recommences, in one way or another, the struggle for existence which can grow to deadly proportions—and not by any means through arms only, but, as is the case today, through customs tariffs (because thereby one hits an activity based on free competition, namely, present-day industry, the current index of power and property).
Aside from that, one would have to be able to determine for all peoples and all periods how strong the active, the really free, segment was; for these people alone can have had an exalted feeling of their existence. But we do not even know the proportion of slaves in the Roman Empire, let alone the percentage of the half-free (the litae, etc.) and the unfree (servi) among the victorious Germani, nor do we know how these people felt about their lack of freedom.
Instead of any evaluation according to happiness and unhappiness, in place of any fruitless approval or disapproval, we shall confine ourselves to a consideration and understanding of the living forces, their succession, their interaction, their transmutation. To this end we need to be released from mere narration which may be given by handbooks. We have to group phenomena more according to their inner relations in which they form conditions, lasting states of affairs. The history of civilization comes into its own. Definitions of the concept vary; it will long have a subjective and dilettante appearance, as well as complicated and uncertain outlines, from the so-called antiquities to the so-called philosophy of history. Each individual will proceed according to his personal insight. However, one does not include in the history of civilization what one likes, but what one believes one should or must include.
The designation for what we have in mind is, at any rate, too narrow insofar as it leads us to assume that we are concerned only with the rise or decline of intellectual culture and the material exploitation of the earth; what we really aim at is an understanding of all the more significant and effective forces in general, and thus of the more or less constant conditions created by them.
The history of civilization overlaps with church history, the history of law, literary history, the history of communications, the history of morals, etc., according to its requirements, but it does not make any claim to being all these things itself. Its selection of data follows its inner principle. Its academic justification, recognized anyway, would, among other things, lie in the fact that it can compress the spiritually significant content of a period embracing many centuries into the brief scope of a lecture course more easily than can narrative presentation.
The relationship of the history of civilization to source studies is a very natural one. Sources are of interest to it as the monument and picture of a certain period and nation, not merely as the places where single events may be found; the historian of civilization reads with different eyes than does the historian. In fact, the history of civilization can be learned usefully only from sources instead of from handbooks.
(II) [1884.] As for the more recent enemies of the Middle Ages, they are the following:
First, those who consider Christianity in general as wrong and a misfortune; second, those who cannot bear the interweaving of great and strongly symbolizing folk imaginations with new religions (the imagination of Islam is half-tamed, that of the Christians is not); further, those who have no understanding for stabilizing elements, or those who are in a hurry to create a situation in which a man may do anything, but so may everybody else, and logically the most insolent fellow may do these things most of all—those who are in a hurry, then, for the unrestricted development of philosophy, the rapid victory of science, untrammeled communication with the remotest as well as the closest people, and the industrial exploitation of the world, from the surface of the earth on. Finally, count among these enemies all proponents of leveling sameness.
We may regard Renan as an adversary of the Middle Ages, with many qualifications; he repeatedly characterizes himself in his Marcus Aurelius. P. 588: Le but suprême de l’humanité est la liberté des individus [The highest goal of mankind is the liberty of the individual].—L’homme ne doit appartenir qu’à lui-même [A man must belong only to himself]; out of this, Voltaire, Rousseau, and the French Revolution made: la foi nouvelle de l’humanité [the new faith of mankind], p. 614.—“Christianity is robbery of the state,” this especially on p. 590.—Religious peoples, e.g., Indians, are open to all conquerors, according to Renan. Only by drastically modifying Christianity in the Middle Ages were cities and states able to exist with it, he says. In Renan’s view, there was no “fatherland” in the Middle Ages; people were Christians, Moslems, Buddhists.
Then, p. 603: “La vie humaine est suspendue pour 1000 ans. La grande industrie devient impossible; par suite des fausses idées répandues sur l’usure, toute opération de banque, d’assurance, est frappée d’interdiction. Le juif seul peut manier l’argent; on le force à être riche” [Human life is suspended for 1000 years. Large industry becomes impossible. Due to distorted ideas disseminated about usury, all banking and insurance operations are prohibited. Only Jews can handle money; they are forced to be rich], and then they are reproached with their wealth. Christianity “coupa le capital par la racine” [cut off capital at the root] by prohibiting the taking of interest; wealth became unproductive. “La funeste terreur répandue sur toute la société du moyen-âge par le prétendu crime d’usure fut l’obstacle qui s’opposa, durant plus de dix siècles, au progrès de la civilisation.” [The deadly terror spread through the entire society of the Middle Ages by the alleged crime of usury was the obstacle which, for more than ten centuries, impeded the progress of civilization.] And a little before that: “La vie humaine est suspendue pour 1000 ans.” (At least now we know what it is that Renan calls “human life”!)
A further complaint of his is that work declined so much. According to him, the poor man had in Christianity “le bonheur sans travail” [happiness without toil] and hoped “conquérir le ciel par la pauvreté” [to win heaven through poverty].
Further, on p. 605 he says that “le perfectionnement de la société humaine, ni l’augmentation de la somme de bonheur des individus ...” [the perfecting of human society or the increase of the amount of individual happiness...] had in no wise been the purpose of Christianity. (Here, “bien-être” [well-being] would have sufficed.)
Moreover, on p. 630: Concerning the Celtic, Italic, and other superstitions that infiltrated the Church: the world from the sixth to the tenth centuries was more pagan than ever; “jusqu’aux progrès de l’instruction primaire de nos jours, nos paysans n’avaient pas abandonné un seul de leurs petits dieux gaulois. Le culte des saints a été le couvert sous lequel s’est rétabli le polythéisme.” [until the progress of elementary education in our day, our peasants had not abandoned a single one of their little Gaulish gods. The cult of saints has been the cover under which polytheism has reestablished itself.]
Finally, on p. 632, about the third century: “Des essais de christianisme unitaire, sans métaphysique ni mythologie, d’un christianisme peu distinct du judaïsme rationnel, comme fut la tentative de Zénobie et de Paul de Samosate, sont coupés par la base. Ces tentatives eussent produit un christianisme simple, continuation du judaïsme, quelquechose d’analogue à ceque fut l’Islam. Si elles avaient réussi, elles eussent prévenu sans doute le succès de Mahomet chez les Arabes et les Syriens. Que de fanatisme on eût ainsi évité!” [Attempts at unitarian Christianity without metaphysics or mythology, a Christianity little different from rational Judaism,* as was the attempt of Zenobia and Paul of Samosata, were nipped in the bud. These attempts could have produced a simple Christianity, a continuation of Judaism, something analogous to what Islam was. If they had succeeded, they would undoubtedly have forestalled Mohammed’s success with the Arabs and the Syrians. How much fanaticism would thus have been avoided!] (But instead, fanaticism for Mammon would early have gained control, as it did with the Jews.)
Renan’s religious wishes may answer for themselves.
But we will at least concede to the people of the Middle Ages that they were able to live without continual or continually threatening national wars, without forced mass industry with deadly competition, without credit and capitalism, without hatred of (albeit inevitable) poverty. If these people had mined hard coal, as is done now, where would we be?
The Middle Ages had greatness and sorrows of a kind very different from what Renan is capable of conceiving.
Greatness can appear at moments when mere calculation ceases and a way of thinking, a feeling, overwhelms everything. And at such moments it gives us, their posterity, the impression that it carried the feeling of happiness along with it.
(III) In contrast to the supposition that one has to make excuses for the Middle Ages, it is our task simply to describe the realities of past life, whatever it may be. The Middle Ages were the youth of today’s world, and a long youth. Whatever to us is worth living for has its roots there. The Middle Ages are not responsible for our present decline! It was a time of natural authority. It is not its fault that we no longer have this nor can regain it, but are instead flooded by waves of majority from below.
The great impact of past times and forces lies not in their kinship with us, but in their naive quality, i.e., their being right as a matter of course. For example, the victory of orthodoxy over Germanic Arianism was not a matter of superior intellectuality, but of a temperament which ipso facto gained control over meager rival forms of the church.
The greatness of an epoch or a cause depends on the proportion of those capable of sacrifice, on whatever side it may be. In this respect the Middle Ages pass muster rather well. Devotion! And not a guarantee of regular pay!
Where does greatness begin? With devotion to a cause, whatever it may be, with complete extinction of personal vanity.
Greatness is not dependent on mental superiority, for this can be paired with a wretched character.
Greatness is the conjunction of a certain spirit with a certain will.
On Early Christianity
When, where, and by whom was the decision made to collect the three synoptic Gospels separately? It could only have happened at a time when their texts were already regarded as too sacred for anyone to dare to work them into one volume. In what communities did one previously have the gospels separately? Of the Apocrypha, the Gospel of the Hebrews had an especially wide dissemination; according to Eusebius, the Ebionites read it exclusively.
Islam immediately assumed a worldly position of power which at the same time took care not to permit any deviation from the faith. Christianity, on the other hand, set the imaginations of many in competitive motion at a time of great religious ferment, and for three centuries had to contend with heresies of all kinds, all sorts of secondary religions, magicians, Gnostics, and visionaries, who, in a body, were able to sweep many a community along, and it had to carry on this fight with no resources other than its own strength. People could be enraptured through the mere promise of the imminent Second Coming of Christ on Judgment Day, chiliasm, and the like, but notably through prophecy, as with the Montanists, and with sudden inspirations. Montanus regarded himself as the Paraclete.
With all this, however, one probably kept before him that the most outstanding men belonged to the right-thinking center, and especially the persecutions probably strengthened this center. If any authority ever came into being with enormous dedication, it is that of the church.
All Christendom at the time professes the faith; where there is any worldly-wise concealment, any participation in pagan rituals, etc., we are dealing with heretics, such as Basilides.
Bar Kochba’s rebellion was, first and foremost, a bloody persecution of the Christians. A constant danger for the Christians was the pagans’ belief, which became very strong in time, that calamities of all kinds stemmed from the diffusion, or toleration, of the Christians.
Miracles, including raising the dead, presented no problems to the Christians from the beginning, and in the community one actually thought that one saw charismata like prophecy and the healing of the sick continue, while all pagan miracles appeared as mere magic.
The mutual support of the Christians (until Constantine placed at their disposal the benefices of the state) may, practically speaking, have come quite close to the short-lived community of property of Apostolic times. Whoever became a Christian hardly remained rich. In Rome under Commodus there were a few conversions of wealthy people and aristocrats.
Upon martyrdom there follows immediately the worship of martyrs’ bodies. At the persecutions of Lyon (Pothinus, Blandina, etc.) the persecutors burned the corpses and threw the ashes into the Rhône—not so much in order to prevent their worship as to prevent a resurrection.
Of the demonic, pagans and Christians held much the same views, but the pagans were here governed by a wild and colorful imagination, whereas the Christians harbored a rather uniform conviction.
Church literature was evidently very abundant from the beginning. Undoubtedly the collections of letters to colleagues and communities constituted a prime genre; then the refutations of heresies and apologetics directed against the pagans must be considered. Hebrew must have sunk into deep obscurity once there were no longer any real converted Jews. That Origen studied Hebrew is especially emphasized. By the third century there were already many scholarly theological works and commentaries.
After the persecution of Decius, on the occasion of the Novatian dispute, a synod of sixty bishops and numerous presbyters and deacons could already be held in Rome. They came from Italy, Africa, “and other places.” Apropos of this, Eusebius also gives the statistics of the Roman community. The Antiochean synods concerning Paul of Samosata (after 270) were very large and well attended. Now the disputes over the treatment of the lapsi [backsliders] and the rebaptism of converted heretics increased, and in addition there was a continual dispute over the nature of Christ.
Christian influences made themselves felt at the imperial court under Commodus, Philip the Arab, Alexander Severus, and also under Valerian about whom Eusebius reports in his Historia Ecclesiastica, VII, 9: “In the beginning his entire court was full of pious people, indeed, had become a church of God, until Egyptian priests induced him to turn about completely and indulge in horrible secret sacrifices and persecutions.” Aurelian was an arbiter in Christian affairs and among other things decided against Paul of Samosata.
Christianity as a Martyr Religion
Among all religions Christianity may be the one that has most vividly retained its own advance in its memory through the cult of its believers and martyrs. Buddhism venerates only relics of Buddha himself and has no specific memories of his individual propagators, because none of their performances are worthy of him anyway. On the other hand, Christianity, just as it takes seriously the salvation of the individual, also greatly apotheosizes its individual evangels and virtually transfers to their relics and graves a large part of its rituals and concept of God. Where none are demonstrable, they are postulated and expected to reveal themselves; this, to be sure, means a change to the second stage in which every place must have its relics and there arises competition for, and jealousy of, such possessions. This is the strongest localization of the sacred, comparable in its way to that in Greek mythology.
In contrast to this is the paucity of Islam’s shrines. In addition, these are not special places of grace, but only of remembrance. (But what about the graves of individual saintly marabouts, etc.?) Islam does not spread the efficacy of Allah over places and persons.
It was highly important for the veneration of the various Christian saints that one should know something about their legends. In Troyes, St. Patroclus has a small shrine, with only one cleric (he is later called lector). Loci enim homines parvum exhibebant martyri famulatum, pro eo quod historia passionis eius non haberetur in promptu; mos namque erat hominum rusticorum, ut Sanctos Dei, quorum agones relegunt, attentius venerentur. Quidam igitur de longinquo itinere veniens, libellum huius certaminis detulit, lectori, quem in ipso loco servire diximus, prodidit ad legendum. [For the men of that place showed little interest in the martyr because there was no account of his martyrdom available; for it was the custom of the countrymen to worship more devoutly those of God’s saints whose martyrdom they could read about. So a certain man who brought back from a far journey an account of the saint’s passion gave it to the cleric who, as we have said, served at that place, to read.] The latter, highly pleased, immediately copied it and brought it to his bishop, but was severely punished as though he had thought it up himself. Yet soon afterwards a Frankish gentleman went to Italy and brought home from there the very same legend.
There is a superiority of martyrs over the other saints; the expressions for martyrdom are passio, agon, certamen. Christianity subsists here essentially on those who died professing it. It becomes entirely a religion of martyrs, in complete contrast to the religions of antiquity which made no fuss about their believers and had only a mythical view of their original propagators. (Dionysus and others; nevertheless, with Dionysus it comes closest to persecution, profession of faith, and martyrdom.) The persecutions of the emperors bring it about that Christianity immediately and everywhere has “classical soil” under its feet. A case in point is the enormous ineffectiveness of Diocletian’s persecution in the face of a long-standing cult of martyrdom.
In reference to the “classical soil”: In Arles, a falsely accused woman is sentenced to be drowned in the Rhône with a stone around her neck. In the water she invokes the greatest local saint, who once swam in the Rhône during a persecution: “Sancte Genesi, gloriose martyr, qui has aquas natandi pulsu sanctificasti.” [“Saint Genesius, glorious martyr, who hast sanctified these waters by swimming in them.”] She is saved, of course.
On Asceticism and Its Position
(I) Asceticism does not arise from justification by works (it does not become that until late), nor does it come into being as penance by proxy for others who in their lives on earth have no time to do penance (this, too, is a late concept), but it is the authentic expression of the genuine pessimism inherent in Christianity. Entirely consistent with this is celibacy—not by any means solely as a denial of sensuality, although this, too, plays a strong part in it (sensual enjoyment is a direct contradiction of Christianity which in this respect strongly sunders itself from the nature religions), but because the survival of mankind is not at all desirable. In the fourth and fifth centuries the will to extinction exists in the noblest minds quite independent of the external fate of the Empire. Side by side with this there lives a mob that in the midst of all the misery is fanatically devoted to circuses.
Only after the migrations of the Germanic tribes did the ascetically inclined eo ipso become priests or monks, and only then was the clergy as such obliged to constitute the ascetic caste, something that was often rather badly out of keeping with its real behavior. Christianity was to be put into consistent practice in at least one definite class. This explains the demand for celibacy which appeared repeatedly and finally prevailed. The clergy was to represent that perfection which a layman could not achieve; only in this way could the clergy be worthy of dispensing the means of salvation of the church. Only in return for such renunciation could the clergy demand that show of respect which was based on its being regarded by others as holy.
To be sure, penance by proxy and justification by works already appear here. In the meantime, the question of celibacy became involved with the entire gradually won position of power for the hierarchy, which had to possess the priests completely and safeguard church property from being squandered and used up by the priests’ families.
How early was the intercessory prayer of an ascetic, the precursor of penance by proxy, considered valuable? How early were monasteries endowed for the sake of such prayers?
(II) Asceticism and its complete realization in the monastic life is the New Testament taken literally; the average Christian was no longer rising to its strict observance in his life on earth. Even by the second century the great Christian community had included also those of moderate virtue, the no longer quite saintly. Side by side with the century that had turned Christian there had earlier arisen fearful ascetic heresies like Montanism; later, however, orthodox Christianity peacefully detached itself as the monastic life and in this found its wholly justified representation. The monks are the consistent Christians, and the laymen salve their consciences with the thought that in addition to themselves such Christians exist and that perfection simply is not the business of the age. In the monasteries, too, charismata which are no longer possible or admissible on the outside may continue.
The Spread of Nicene Christianity
It may be asked how it could come about that Christianity, with the Nicene Creed, was allowed to enter into the fifth century as an enormous social power bringing men closer together, in both languages, and furthermore, through the Greeks who were the people to understand other peoples. Alexander and the Diadochi had brought close the Near East and brought about understanding between its civilizations and their own Hellenism. Rome, which gradually subjugated this Orient, had at the same time achieved a fusion of its mind with the Greek mind. This hardest of peoples could not resist Greek culture, its only enthusiasm. Under the emperors, a homogeneous Greco-Roman world had come into being. This was the world that became the scene and the object of the spread of Christianity. The homogeneity of Christendom from Britain and the pillars of Hercules to the Euphrates and the Tigris became the new substructure under the collapsing Empire. And now the peoples could come; in time they were all overpowered by Nicene Christianity. Without this, the Middle Ages would have been a den of murderers.
That is the way it had to happen so that the nations would not treat one another like wild animals. And all times to come will remember this.
Christianity as such was superior to paganism, classical and otherwise, with its unholy gods, its orientation to a no longer existent middle class, its exhausted poetry and literature, and its self-accusations concerning general wickedness and so on.
But the greatest miracle is that from Christianity an external form of power, the church, was able to take shape and that subsequently world churches, considered as orthodox, maintained themselves; further, that a recognized canon of sacred writings was able to come into being.
The inner characteristic of the Christian doctrine was, from the beginning, the highly personal relationship of the individual to the Christian realities and doctrines. Thus there necessarily resulted differing views, even within the earliest circle around the apostles, as evidenced by the existence of converted Jews and pagans. Many schisms arose even within the apostolic communities; this is revealed by the Pauline epistles. After the apostles had died off there was danger of there no longer being any sufficient authority. Then, too, there was the requirement of discipline, which certainly served to repel rather than attract. The symbolum apostolicum did not originate until post-apostolic times, possibly as the creed of the candidate for baptism.
On the other hand, the charitable love in the communities and the equality before God served as uniting forces, and, above all, the persecutions were the greatest promoters of concord; without them there might have been a lot of sects which paganism could have absorbed again.
But there was also an onrush on the part of Greek philosophy (even in the case of Paul), of Oriental theosophy and magic, in addition to asceticism which could be intensified at will. Other religions tried to gain influence; Simon Magus is a case in point. Several messiahs appeared, Bar Kochba and others.
Under circumstances such as these there took place the transposition of primitive Christianity into the world-view and culture of the late classical world, into pagan Christianity, and later the transference to the Germanic and Slavic worlds.
The impetus of Christianity is peculiar. It vociferously lays claim to crowding out all other religions completely. Then it makes sweeping progress as early as the first century; hence Tacitus’ words “Odium generis humani” [an object of hatred to the human race] and the increasing hatred of the masses; until finally, under Constantine, the state has to yield by amalgamating this overwhelming power within its own, willy-nilly.
Christian doctrine had its perils, the heresies. We may leave out of consideration the entire dualistic Gnosticism with its eon theory as hardly able to form communities, despite its colorful variety and the manifold origin of its systems. We may likewise pass over the Judeo- Christian sects, the Ebionites and others (as late as the end of the second century there is the pseudo-Clementine study circle). Undoubtedly the Jews were too arrogant to bother much with this sort of thing; during persecutions of Christians they used to incite the pagans. Bar Kochba, too, murdered Christians.
The strongest pretensions to a church of its own were made by Manichaeism which treated Christianity as merely a varnish of pagan theosophy and ignored Judaism, betraying no Platonic influence, but offering Persian dualism with an admixture of Buddhistic ideas. The re-emergence of Manichaeism in the Middle Ages is evidence of its relative vitality. The Near East at that time was a veritable vagina religionum [womb of religions]; one should also bear in mind, for later, the situation under the Sassanids prior to Mohammed.
Finally there appeared around 150 Montanism with its ecstatic prophecies that proclaimed the beginning of the age of the Paraclete and produced a new outpouring of the spirit. Montanus regarded himself as the Paraclete (?). The sect was characterized by violent asceticism and fanaticism; it professed chiliasm. In somewhat toned-down form, Montanism had also an aftereffect on the East.
The schisms of Hippolytus, Felicissimus, Novatian, and Meletius are to be evaluated as mere deviations and disputes over practices of penitential discipline, coupled with personal quarrels.
More dangerous were the schisms over the Trinity, the Patripassians, a Paul of Samosata, etc.
In the face of all this, the church managed to remain united (the main document is Cyprian’s De unitate ecclesiae); even to organize itself hierarchically; to hold synods, at first as required, later regularly; and to cultivate its universality with increasing determination. It not only sloughed off false doctrines and immorality, but also fought, as it had to, every deviation in external forms, constitution, and ritual. It achieved the complete sovereignty of the episcopate and the beginning of the Roman primateship. Irenaeus, III, 3, says: “Ad hanc enim [scil. ecclesiam Romanam] a gloriosissimis duobus Apostolis Petro et Paulo fundatam propter potiorem principalitatem necesse est omnem convenire ecclesiam, h.e. eos qui sunt undique fideles, in qua semper ab his, qui sunt undique, conservata est ea quae est ab Apostolis traditio.” [Because of its pre-eminence, the whole church, that is, the faithful everywhere, has to agree with this [i.e., the church of Rome], founded by the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul. For within it there has always been preserved by Christians everywhere that tradition which stems from the Apostles.]
Without the last persecutions under Decius, Valerian, and others, the spirit of contradiction, of dialectics, and of ambition would most likely have split the church into sects, and paganism would then probably have overpowered them or at least stood its ground side by side with it. The life of the church was not attached to esoteric doctrinal interpretations and ambitious personalities, but on community feeling, the common feeling of being God’s children, the brotherly helpfulness and beneficence. All this would have been dealt a mortal blow by a split-up into sects, and the specific power to conquer the pagans would thereby have vanished, regardless of the religious zeal of the individual sects.
When, under Diocletian, Christianity got ready to gain control of the Imperium, it was caught up in those dangerous schisms over the Trinity. Diocletian’s persecutions did not, to be sure, remove these schisms, but they undoubtedly did marshal the spirit of unity which existed side by side with the schisms. And when Constantine had dealings with Christianity, he encountered a firm ecumenical organization as an established tradition. Without it he would probably not have shown Christianity any consideration.
If good sense had some say in matters of belief and opinion, most heresies would not have been promulgated, so that the church might remain powerful. However, the same force that made the church mighty also engendered the capacity for, and disposition toward, heresy—to be sure, with the help of much personal dogmatism. There is such a thing as a born sectarian.
Julian and the Prospect for a Restoration of Paganism
The fact that after Julian’s death Arbogast and Eugenius virtually made this restoration their program, in which they could count on the pagans at least, proves that things were not yet decided by any means.
If one imagines Julian without the Persian War and with a reign of about ten years, he could have achieved a great deal.
Of course, it was impossible to organize paganism into a rival church; but the farm population and the people in many cities would have been available for great demonstrations. Presumably paganism would at least have established itself on a permanent basis, secure from any further abolition, and would then have maintained itself alongside Christianity for who knows how long as a religion inaccessible to any conversionary argument, especially through the possession of the benefice.
On the other hand, it is conceivable that in the face of such a situation the Christian theologians would have ceased their wrangling about the Trinity; the true forces would have become paramount again; the situation would have been comparable to the later one of the orthodox under the Arian Germanic princes.
Nevertheless, there would have been another great danger not present before or since: forsaken by the Imperium, the church could have been split asunder by countries as well as by sects, and it would subsequently have found it difficult to regain its unity. In Rome there would probably have been a real battle in which paganism would have carried the day and the diocese could easily have lost completely its beginning pristine preeminence.
Western European Arianism and the Jews
Renan moans in his Marcus Aurelius and is very sorry that in the third century the “essais de christianisme unitaire,” which would hardly have differed from the “judaïsme rationnel,” were defeated.
In the future, the Jews on several occasions stick with the Arians and fear nothing more than orthodoxy, as is attested by the Jews of Ravenna and elsewhere, by those of Arles (508) and of Naples, who, in 536, in the face of Belisarius’ attack, promise to take care of the city’s needs. The Jews in Visigothic Spain were evidently very numerous; here they took revenge by agreements with the Arabs who were ready for invasion.
The entire orthodox Middle Ages then kept the Jews down and persecuted them periodically, i.e., attempted to annihilate them. If, however, Western European Arianism had held its own, the Jews would in a century or two have become the masters of the entire property and would have made the Germanic and the Romanic peoples work for them even at that time. There would have been no Middle Ages, or they would have been quite different. If one judges according to desirability, one has this choice: either general dominion of the Jews from the seventh or eighth century, or the Middle Ages as they were.
The Breakup of the Western Empire
It is a general pathological fact that when a great organism comes to its end, a whole number of maladies and terrible accidents occur simultaneously or in rapid succession.
Whether accidental or not, there was the special circumstance that the Empire was represented not by strong emperors by adoption, choice, or usurpation, but by two legitimate weaklings whose leadership in decisive moments could or had to become a matter of competition, so that instead of vigorous harmony there was disharmony, created by subordinates. Added to this was the problematic nature of the army.
The bodies of troops seem to acquire individual wills of their own; Roman legions in Britain show mistrust of the central government and then revolt against it; invasion and Roman usurpation cross paths and the barbarian troops occasionally obey their own impulses more than the Empire’s authority. The crises within the army assume the aspect of unpredictable elemental events.
To be added to all this is the pressure from the outside. The great barbarian world senses all at once that the day of its power has come (Radagaisus; the Germani in Gaul, 406). It need no longer be satisfied with mercenary pay, partial colonization, and so on; the dominant will of world history passes over to it. Völkerwanderung [the migration of the peoples] in a narrower sense means that parts of the Empire fall prey to Germanic peoples; the modes of this vary greatly.
As shortcomings of tradition these are to be emphasized: we lack a circumstantial Western historian, even an exact chronology that would be capable of determining months and weeks. However, the course of events is of necessity inwardly obscure, judged by the causalities, and unavoidably burdened with false motivations. Gigantic and inevitable destinies are, after all, conceived of as the faults of individuals. With the general suffering and misery there are fancies and fictions and, especially, recriminations, and the mania for accusation grips even those who could have known the truth. And so it is that the nexus causalis [causal connection], of which we are now and then informed, either was not present at all, or had an entirely different form.
In Claudian and Zosimus there is a garrulity which forcibly presses after the most secret intrigues and intentions. But in addition it is unfortunately true that at world-decisive moments base personal intrigues did play some part. Finally we must take into consideration the all-confusing sectarian hatred of the orthodox for Stilicho. In the Eastern as well as the Western Roman Empire, every defection of a province, every barbarian irruption is regarded as instigated by the competitor.
The Achievement of Clovis I
He passed from one stage of his power to another with complete assurance: 486–496–506. As lord over the largest part of Gaul he then did away with his Frankish fellow rulers, apparently with the full approval of the populations concerned. All his creations are shot through with crime. But one must not let every filthy wretch believe that when he is committing crimes, he is founding a state. At the time of his death Clovis is: (1) the leader of the entire Frankish nation in the narrower sense and of the Alamannic people, i.e., of contiguous Germanic populations; (2) lord over Romanic Gaul as a whole, with Paris as his cathedra regni [capital]. And all—the people, the ruler and the ruled—are or become Nicene-Orthodox. The addition of Burgundy had to be the next consequence.
As a state, the Frankish kingdom is still unwieldy and provisional. But it is a viable construction as compared to the artificial jerry-building of the conquering Arian peoples who think they can rule permanently over orthodox Romanic masses. In spite of everything the dynasty lasted for two centuries and a half, while among the Visigoths, the Lombards, the Anglo-Saxons, etc., dynasties could hardly be formed. There were usurpations of the supreme power, but until Pepin no usurpation of the kingship. This state survived the most terrible blows and later brilliantly regenerated itself under Pepin’s dynasty.
Mohammed as the Founder of a Religion, and Islam
A brilliant people, capable of self-denial, with boundless self-reliance of individuals and tribes, was to be summoned to a new faith and to world hegemony in the name of this faith.
There was a great variety of religions in Arabia; paganism glittered in every hue, and side by side with it there existed an old belief in Allah; Jewish tribes and Christians of diverse origin were living in the country; in front of them the Byzantines were engaged in a dispute among one another about the natures in Christ; the Sassanids had their dualistic religion; both empires were shaken to their foundations politically and militarily.
The specific thing that Mohammed encountered was the rite of the pilgrimage to the Kaaba toward which the entire existence of Mecca had been oriented from ancient times. He did not make it an object of loathing, did not try to create a rival sanctuary; the age-old Kaaba required only “purification”; the Black Stone was retained as a necessary mystery.
Since Mohammed could not evade the Kaaba and the pilgrimage (although they had per se no necessary connection with his faith), he had not only to incorporate them in his system, but to make them the center of his entire cult. For a while he has to flee from Mecca; then the enthusiasm of his entire following becomes all the more the desire for the Kaaba, and his decisive victory is then the capture of Mecca. That in the future all peoples would be infected with the longing for the Kaaba he can hardly have suspected. For the time being he enjoined all non-believers from the Kaaba and the pilgrimage.
With his scanty preaching alone he would have achieved only a modest and temporary success; but from the hegira on, he constantly procured new goals for his adherents: in addition to Mecca, which he promised them, the robbing of caravans and the conquests in Arabia together with the resulting booty. To this there immediately attaches as something natural the holy war against the outside as well. World empire is a simple corollary.
Mohammed is personally very fanatical; that is his basic strength. His fanaticism is that of a radical simplifier and to that extent is quite genuine. It is of the toughest variety, namely, doctrinaire passion, and his victory is one of the greatest victories of fanaticism and triviality. All idolatry, everything mythical, everything free in religion, all the multifarious ramifications of the hitherto existing faith, transport him into a real rage, and he hits upon a moment when large strata of his nation were evidently highly receptive to an extreme simplification of the religious; his genius lies in his divining this. And the peoples who were now attacked may also have been somewhat tired of their existing theology and mythology. From his youth on, Mohammed, with the aid of at least ten people, looks over the faiths of the Jews, Christians, and Parsis, and steals from them any scraps that he can use, shaping these elements according to his imagination. Thus everyone found in Mohammed’s sermons some echo of his accustomed faith.
The very extraordinary thing is that with all this Mohammed achieved not merely lifetime success, the homage of Arabia, but founded a world religion that is viable to this day and has a tremendously high opinion of itself.
In this new religion, everything had to be within the common range of the Arabs, i.e., it had to be possible. Therefore Islam has the simplest catechism, and the main elements of this simplicity are as follows:
Oneness of God and his predicates.
Allah is neither procreated nor procreating.
Revelations by the prophets Adam, Noah, Moses, Christ, and Mohammed as the last of the prophets, but with intimations of a Mahdi.
The absolute decree; fatalism (Mohammed himself calls it “submission”) which had a highly tonic effect on aspiring forces. In connection with untoward things one speaks of “Mektub.”
Belief in angels (because Mohammed found devas, jinn, and peris).
Immortality and Last Judgment, Heaven and Hell (“Paradise lies under the shadow of swords”).
Moral laws, all kinds of moral precepts, among them “No lying” (for Mohammed reserved lying for himself); part of this is the civil law of the Koran which is in force to this day.
Finally, prayer, fasting, pilgrimage.
Aside from any absolute value, it may be assumed that this religion and Weltanschauung corresponds in large measure to the universally human on a certain level of inner development. Genuine devotion, mysticism, and philosophy can and have been able to attach themselves to this religion. But the more profound elements in Islam come to it from forces outside it.
Islam trains its heads and hearts in such a manner that afterwards they produce only this form of state and culture and no other, whether or not Mohammed planned it that way.
This paltry religion (did it have a better moral effect than Arabian idolatry?) destroys over wide areas two far higher and deeper religions, Christianity and dualism, because they are undergoing crises. It holds sway from the Atlantic to deep into India and China, and makes advances among the Negroes to this day. Only few countries could be wrested away again from Islam, and this only with the utmost exertion. Where Christian governments rule over Islamitic populations today, they wisely leave them their faith; the Christian religion has no effect on it whatsoever.
Döllinger’s prediction is idle when he says that Islam contains “seeds of transitoriness.” This is his argument: “Of course, Islam contains seeds of transitoriness [and what about our Europe? Does it not also contain such seeds?* ] if only because of the fact that it is a religion of set, rigid dogmas which encompass all areas of life and impede any development [alias “progress”: does Islam live because it excludes progress?]* These dogmas, the product of a single people and a definite low level of culture, must prove inadequate and harmful upon their continuance and transfer to other nations, and finally must be shattered by the inner contradictions they arouse as well as by the requirements of life.”
But as of now, this religion has lasted for a desperately long time, and the Islamic world at present subsists on this narrowness! For the Islamitic peoples, no matter how they fare, regard it as a vast misfortune for anyone not to belong to this religion and culture. This world religion has a high opinion of itself and considers the unbelievers unfortunate.
It is the general tendency of our minds to deduce great causes from great effects, thus, in this case, from Mohammed’s achievement, greatness of the originator. At the very least, one wants to concede in Mohammed’s case that he was no fraud, was serious about things, etc. However, it is possible to be in error sometime with this deduction regarding greatness and to mistake mere might for greatness. In this instance it is rather the low qualities of human nature that have received a powerful presentation. Islam is a triumph of triviality, and the great majority of mankind is trivial. (Present-day admirers of Mohammed pay themselves the compliment of mediocrity.) But triviality likes to be tyrannical and is fond of imposing its yoke upon nobler spirits. Islam wanted to deprive distinguished old nations of their myths, the Persians of their Book of Kings, and for 1200 years it has actually prohibited sculpture and painting to tremendously large populations.
Was Mohammed a soothsayer? A poet? A sorcerer? He is none of these, but rather a prophet.
The crisis of his life and his religion begins with the alliance with Arabs living outside of Mecca. His adherents begin to emigrate. In July of 622 his own hegira takes place.
The Despotism of Islam
All religions are exclusive, but Islam is quite notably so, and immediately it developed into a state which seemed to be all of a piece with the religion. The Koran is its spiritual and secular book of law.
(1) Its statutes embrace all areas of life, as Döllinger states, and remain set and rigid; the very narrow Arab mind imposes this nature on many nationalities and thus remolds them for all time (a profound, extensive spiritual bondage!). This is the power of Islam in itself.
(2) At the same time, the form of the world empire as well as of the states gradually detaching themselves from it cannot be anything but a despotic monarchy. The very reason and excuse for existence, the holy war, and the possible world conquest do not brook any other form. But the tradition encountered is nothing but absolutism anyway (Byzantines, Sassanids, etc.). Then there quickly appears vulgar sultanism.
Only when genuine religious strife flares up does Islam again become honorable for a time. There once more appear rulers who live only for the cause, and the Moslem community again becomes the true master of the state (although it is never allowed to vote). Then the ruler is only the treasurer of the believers, as with Nureddin; and in the battles he seeks martyrdom.
But as soon as this stimulus is gone, ordinary despotism makes its appearance again. It tolerates and, under certain circumstances, desires material prosperity, but never and nowhere does it provide secure conditions for earning a living. Upon occasion it loves high intellectual culture, but on the other hand keeps it within definite bounds through religion. This despotism completely excludes modern Western “progress,” in both senses of this concept: first, as a constitutional state; second, as unlimited growth of profitable enterprise and commerce, and through this it keeps its strength today, in contrast to the West. This way it escapes: (1) the transformation of the Western constitutional state into a mass democracy, (2) the transformation of the people into careerists and workers bent on pleasure. To be sure, it has learned to raise a loan, but any time it casts off the credit system again and goes into bankruptcy, this happens without most of the population even noticing it.
Islam and Its Effects
Through the sensuous delineation of a future life, Mohammed gives his own measure.
It is a low religion of slight inwardness, although it can combine with whatever asceticism and religious absorption it now and again finds among the nations.
Something very peculiar and rather unparalleled in the history of religion is the enormous degree to which pride is taken in this religion, the feeling of absolute superiority over all others, the utter inaccessibility to any influences; these characteristics grow into innate arrogance and boundless presumption in general. This is in keeping, in praxi, with the lack of any deeper culture and of clear judgment in matters of everyday living.
Further characteristics are consequences of the thoroughly despotic state form which passes over from the caliphates to all splinters thereof. Despite an occasionally very lively feeling for one’s home region which attaches to localities and customs, there is an utter lack of patriotism, i.e., enthusiasm for the totality of a people or a state (there is not even a word for “patriotism”). This is an advantage; a Moslem simply is at home in the whole Islamitic world. That is why a call to arms is not issued in the name of a political home, but only in the name of the faith, ed-Din; the war preacher concerned knows that his listeners can be stirred up only through fanaticism, even though the real purpose of the war may have nothing to do with the faith.
Further consequences of despotism, at least in substance, are the following:
In all activities, tortuous paths are preferred to straight ones. Everything is spun fine and dragged out.
While openness and the citing of real reasons are considered presumption, one’s goal may be reached only through flattery and intrigue.
Universal mutual mistrust.
A basic theme: egoism is directed less at honors and distinctions than at money and property.
Utter lack of gratitude to former benefactors.
In Islam, slavery has an important source, among others, in the harem system, which is inconceivable without eunuchs and black servants. The blacks, however, are much better off here than on the former American plantations; the eunuch is the best and closest friend of his master, feared by the women who seek his favor; the black “house slaves” are treated like children of the house and are far above the rank of their Arab fellow house servants, the “chadams.”
The strongest proof of real, extremely despotic power in Islam is the fact that it has been able to invalidate, in such large measure, the entire history (customs, religion, previous way of looking at things, earlier imagination) of the peoples converted to it. It accomplished this only by instilling into them a new religious arrogance which was stronger than everything and induced them to be ashamed of their past.
The Two Main Realities for the Papacy of the Eighth Century
(I) The multiplicity of Italy.
The dismemberment of Italy had been taking place since the Lombard invasion, as yet without the participation of the papacy. Now, however, this becomes the policy of the papacy, since it must want no one to be politically very powerful in Italy, while it will never itself be able to constitute the government of all Italy, as may have been the intent of the Donation of Constantine. It has a dread of too powerful Lombard kings and Italic national emperors. But it must desire to possess at least a state of its own. To be sure, its local position for the time being is such that it must wish it would never be defined exactly. But above all it must evade close dependence upon any state and especially the fate of the Byzantine church, though it cannot always do without the aid of one secular power or force or another. Thereby it becomes, under certain circumstances, the cause of outside intervention and of the continuing multiplicity, and therefore weakness, of Italy.
(II) The ecclesiastical unity of the West.
Europe searches for forms and forces for the totality of life, a higher unity. One such form was found in the Roman church, another in the emperorship of Charlemagne.
The unity of the West with all its corollaries was substantially dependent on the papacy; only ecclesiastical unity brought peoples closer together and was able to become a social bond of prime strength. The question now arises as to whether such unity could have been achieved without the papacy, or whether it could have been maintained without it. Would the Benedictine order, for example, alone have been able to save Christianity as the religion of unity?
Our present view of the world empire and its desirability is determined by whether the viri eruditi [savants] of the individual peoples who once belonged to it regard the development of their nations since then as a good or a bad job; in this, the desirability of power is, as a rule, a principle taken for granted.
Any empire, i.e., any dominion over a whole circle of peoples, will, through inevitable leveling, curtail or destroy many individual national features that the individuals have hitherto cared much about (cf. especially Sybel, Die deutsche Nation und das Kaiserreich, p. 13).
Also, it will in general move as far away as possible from popular rule and incline toward a bureaucracy in which all energies of the masses are available for the aims of the government. In proportion to the size of such a state, its purposes appear the more tyrannical the more incomprehensible they become to the individual countries within the empire. In the case under discussion the Roman Empire was the best-known prototype. Even the ruling people which supplies the dynasty will hardly be in a better position.
But on this large scale, as on smaller ones, the real political purposes are traditionally replaced, in a greater or lesser degree, by dynastic, personal momentary interests.
Such empires cannot be imagined as really politically alive, with independent participation of the federated peoples in the general volition and action; a centralistic empire is more suitable for aged peoples that have passed their prime. As soon as political and individual-national life of any kind asserts itself again, no matter under what name, the empire goes to pieces. And whatever remnants of the empire do survive are then permanently inconvenienced by having to drag along the former obligations.
In recent times people have tried to tell Charlemagne that he had a legitimate and adequate task in the incorporation of the Saxons, the expansion of Germanic civilization plus classical culture, the spread of Christianity to the slave countries, and defense against the Normans, and that instead of these things he wrongfully strove for world dominion and waged world wars as a conqueror. This entire censure is actually directed only at his conquest of Italy and his relationship to the papacy.
However, by the thoroughgoing subjection of the Saxons he made a Germany possible for the first time. He annihilated the Avars; the Normans he knew only in their primary stage, but he was quite worried about them; no one will demand that he should have sought them out in their homeland in order to nip the danger in the bud. We simply must accept as a psychological phenomenon of the first order that one and the same individual force subdued the Saxons and at the same time renewed the Roman Empire. He who was able to do the one thing merely desired the other too.
But finally, the main complaint is Charlemagne’s use of the aid of the Roman church to realize God’s kingdom on earth and the consequent authorization to rule over all Christian countries and to conquer all non-Christian ones; a divine mission entitles the conqueror to employ any means. However, the papacy, which was invited by Charlemagne to co-rulership of the world, remained whole, whereas his empire went to pieces.
(And this might perhaps have been the dark supreme will of world history.)
For the time being, there remain certain the value of the memory of a great man, and, as the value of the Carolingian period, these facts: The peoples in question were powerful for about a hundred years; they were equipped for the future with a great common premise and memory, with their culture infinitely more homogeneous than it had previously been. After further intervals of barbarism, the peoples approached and understood one another again and again; a Western community feeling had come into being.
After one would have thought the Völkerwanderung long since completed and while Europe believed it had only one deadly enemy, Islam, a Germanic tribe which had remained primitive and was possessed of extreme strength arose to plunder the European world whose culture was then in the ascendant. They are pirates, but no ordinary ones; their leaders want to win glory and glamor at home by taking booty. Moreover, their habitat, the North Sea, requires the utmost in boldness, strength, and sacrificial spirit. Enormous sacrifices of human life had to be expected, and this presupposes a greater wealth of vigorous manpower than Scandinavia was able to support. One can scarcely picture these predatory fellowships under their jarls as powerful and astonishing enough; breeding and elemental strength must have presented an appearance full of wonder and awe. Everything that they encountered must have seemed withered next to them.
They were destined to do the following things: to form the mightiest, most independent dukedom in France; to construct England through one last invasion in such a way that this invasion really had to remain the last—they founded the definitive England; from Normandy, to wrest lower Italy and Sicily away from the Arabs, Byzantines, and Lombards, and to fortify this region in such a way that Arabs and Greeks had to give up all claim to it; to found the Norman state of Antioch; finally, to establish a dominion over Russia which continued even under the Mongol yoke and finally was able to shake off the latter.
Everywhere the Normans create viable states capable of keeping willfulness and sacrilege in check and of pursuing great goals.
The Byzantine Empire and Its Mission
Its main test of strength came in its leadership in the contest against Islam. After huge initial losses (the entire East, Africa, Sicily) the Byzantine Empire stood its ground and kept advancing in Asia Minor, even as far as Mesopotamia. How would the multi-divided Europe, the dismembered Carolingian empire have fared without this state? There is something to be said for Nicephorus’ mockery at the troops of Otto the Great.
It was impossible for the Byzantine Empire to come to sensible terms with the Western crusaders, to achieve a real collaboration. The Crusades did only harm in the East; they resuscitated the entire heroic fanaticism of Islam, which would not have awakened from the fight against the Eastern Empire alone; they took an ever worsening course and finally, in 1203–1204, the crusaders captured the Byzantine Empire itself, through an alliance with one of the local factions. The Latin Empire was wretched; only now did the opposition to Islam weaken fatally, and finally the Palaeologi actually succumbed to the Turks. And subsequently, at such a late stage of Islam, Europe had to tremble before the Turks for centuries, except where it had an alliance with them. However, as long as the Palaeologi had some strength left, they helped to protect Europe.
On the Iconoclastic Controversy
(I) The main instigators are generals, particularly generals who have become emperors, who come from heretic and Judaizing regions and proceed from a “fanaticism” which certainly had less raison d’être in the Byzantine Empire than the “fanaticism” of image-worship hitherto. It is a fanaticism of triviality similar to Mohammed’s. In addition, Islam acquainted them with a state structure which, through the identity of rulership and religion, seemed a degree stronger than the Byzantine state where these still were different things. They were military men and had very big ideas about the compulsory force by which all adversaries could be destroyed; any non-military resistance or opposition made them furious and ready to do anything. Thus they waged an internal war at a time when the Empire would have needed the utmost harmony.
The external form of this struggle is one part of the church against the other, i.e., the patriarchs, bishops, metropolitans, etc., appointed by each against the others. The methods are partly those of Orthodoxy, namely, synods, church decrees, and so on, but also a bottomless brutality, in and by which one got to know the Empire as it looked when it was no longer restrained by any religious considerations.
Now one had to let destruction rage until generals, like those of Empress Irene, appeared, men who had realized what influence could be gained by siding with a horribly ill-treated majority of the people. And now partisanship flared up openly among victorious regiments and the iconoclastic bodyguard was overcome.
The second phase of the iconoclastic controversy, in the ninth century, was determined by the facts that in sections of the army the tradition still lived on and that Michael the Stammerer, a heretic general and a Judaizer to boot, ascended the throne and founded a dynasty. Leo the Armenian started in again, at first with religious indifference (cf. Leo, Mittelalter, p. 246); then Michael the Stammerer, just as indifferent in the beginning. The overall result was that the church was somewhat degraded, among other things in a main organ, the patriarchate. But image-worship and monasticism won a complete victory.
Islamistic optimists could draw up a counter-reckoning something like this: It was the greatest good fortune that the Byzantines were so disunited, through a church persecution, under such militarily efficient emperors! Otherwise they might have overpowered us.
In his History of the Byzantines and the Ottoman Empire (pp. 99 ff.), Hertzberg reveals that many present-day Greeks have taken a great fancy to Leo the Isaurian and give him enormous credit. Then he admits that we do not know how comprehensive Leo’s church measures were meant to be, which among them were intended as permanent and which only “as fighting aids.” Then comes the usual professorial opinion of the danger of brutish superstition, against which, he says, only an inspired religious reformer or gradual, patient counteraction could prevail. But Leo, according to Hertzberg, had had the alluring model of predecessors like Theodosius the Great who had done away with Arians and pagans alike. Whether Leo had also hoped to win Jews and Arabs is a moot point, he continues. On Leo’s side were most generals, cultured laymen in Asia Minor (not in European Greece!), officials and higher classes, and part of the clergy (but what a part!). Against him were the masses and especially the women. Hertzberg admits the hopeless position of those opposing image-worship; one is more surprised at their great perseverance than at their final failure, he states. The controversy went much deeper than the disputes over the Trinity had once gone.
Or is it possible that under Leo the Isaurian the arrogant, appalling state began to regard itself as lovable? And perhaps to become jealous of anything that its subjects loved outside of it—the only thing they still had left?
(II) Among the few things which had hitherto made life bearable for the sorely afflicted Byzantines and in which the state so far did not interfere was image-worship. When the most image-loving pagan people had become Christian, a certain degree of the worship of the new religion was inevitably turned upon the images themselves; as it was, there were individual ἀϰϵιρΟπΟίητα [images not made by human hands]. But it is nowhere demonstrable that magic or any other wicked superstitious practice was carried on with the images. In addition to the individually venerated images there was the colossal icon-world of the churches in fresco and mosaic. And when Islam abhorred all idolatry, people probably only became all the more fond of it; at least the Christians under Mohammedan rule were most zealously devoted to it at the time of the iconoclastic controversy.
Closely allied with the icon-world was monasticism, if only because the images very substantially emanated from the monasteries. At the same time, imagery was the visible expression of asceticism—poor, hard-working, widely spread in cities, mountains, islands. Images and monks, it should be noted, enjoyed an old dignity not contested by any emperor since Valens. Too, monkhood, through its asceticism and its origin, was an island of freedom outside the compulsory state, and also a main source of the episcopate. This could be inconvenient, e.g., when groups of monks helped to render the decision at synods, riots, etc., but this seems to have happened but rarely in the seventh century.
This image-cult and monasticism, like everything ecclesiastical, was the last thing people had left in the compulsory state, and this state ought to have spared it, since it reimbursed itself from the people in every other way.
Also, the iconoclastic controversy was not started by an emperor who might have wanted to augment the state’s power once more by enslaving the church, its ceremonies, and the monkhood, but by a doctrinarian, Leo the Isaurian.
Presumably, there grew up inside him, indoctrinated and narrow as he was, a fanaticism of semi-education or enlightenment; the strength he derived from his military reputation. Possibly there had developed in him the lordly arrogance of the victorious state which begins to consider itself lovable and then, when some real cause for jealousy appears, as the only thing worth loving. This, basically, had been the position of the ancient polis which established worship for itself.
In this fashion one does not by any means become merely a dogmatic tyrant, but, above all, a dictatorial arbiter of taste. Such a man enrages the suffering people down to nerves and fibers which extend beyond religion.
In the course of the controversy, to be sure, there is formed an enlightened group (intellectuals, dissenters, profane people, politicians, etc.) which comes out in favor of icon-smashing. They are those who rejoice any and every time any religion suffers a deep affliction, and also military men and officials who regard as an impediment anything that does not want to be, nor can be, army or state.
On the Crusades
Ekkehard of Urach said the truest and most profound thing about them: “Novitatem hanc iam senescenti et prope intereunti mundo pernecessariam.” [This novelty was essential for a senescent and almost moribund world.] The opponents of the cause he recognizes as Epicureans.
The ideal was: “Regni sui caelestis ineuntes servitium” [To enter the service of His heavenly kingdom]. It ennobles all of Western humanity that it desires something at once human and divine. Hitherto there had been only force and individual devotion; this time the power of all is placed in the service of a common holy aim. Europe realizes that something great must be accomplished jointly in the consciousness of full strength. People had a presentiment that they were regenerating, strengthening, and exalting themselves thereby. That common cause necessarily bestows a higher consciousness of existence, different from all strength and power employed hitherto. The difference between the Crusades and the conquests of Mohammed and the caliphs consisted in the fact that this time it was not a matter of the world, but of a venerated spot. Hope is not essentially directed at worldly possessions (because the defectiveness of the land must have been known from previous crusaders), but at the safeguarding of the most sacred relic. Thus their aim exalts the crusaders, while, after a short, holy, sacrificing war, the Mohammedans are debased by greed for more gain.
With the crusaders, the object is small, the volition great; with the Mohammedans, the object is the whole world, the volition is soon very low. The great things that happened through the crusaders could not be confiscated for base tyranny.
Once it had set that great volition in general motion, the papacy had accomplished what was perhaps its greatest mission. Only the papacy could have done this, and afterwards it was never able to do anything as great again. Innocent III, who in his sermons proclaimed the Albigensian Crusade with the knowledge that his bands were setting out chiefly to maraud and murder, looks small compared to Urban II at Clermont.
The Crusades completed the consciousness of a common Western life. The peoples who participated in them or completed similar tasks in a similar fashion, such as the Spaniards, have since then constituted the higher power in Europe.
There was no question of any precalculation of what actually happened; instead of that, people fed on dream pictures. The papacy, first to be informed about the great current, at least took the helm, for reasons suited to it and its previous nature and history. The Empire took its second European fall by not providing leadership. The world had postulated a great absolving central institution and forcibly given it ideal stature. This later became a crown-bestowing institution; now it commanded the European world to go East. Since that time we have been in the West.
The Sorrows and Sacrifices of the Crusades
The sorrows and sacrifices of the Crusades on the part of the Christians and the Mohammedans alike were not lost and in vain. In the West, the entire higher level and culture are, in some way, directly or indirectly, determined by the Crusades, the mighty struggle and the consequent spiritual enrichment. In Islam the spirit of the old religious war and its devotion flares up again brightly, in Syria and Mesopotamia as in Spain. The Seljuks had already made Islam honorable; in the fight against the Christians there awakens in it a moral greatness.
On the Evaluation of the Later Middle Ages
With some moderns this period has a bad reputation as a time of dissolution, universal wickedness, and egoism. But any epoch in which new forces make way for themselves against earlier constraint must give this impression.
These forces can never appear otherwise than in the guise of individual interests, therefore as selfishness and wickedness, since the old elements never give way willingly.
In the series of developments which have been the task of the Occident, this, too, has a quite necessary place. It is idle to ask whether one thing or another could have been done with more moderation. Only because people were as they were did they accomplish what they did.
Our moral criticism of past ages can easily be mistaken. It has a hard time detaching itself from the conflicts of our own day and transfers present-day desiderata to the past. Furthermore, it emanates from people who live quietly under the protection of an order guaranteed from the outside, necessary to the prevailing industrialism, and who have no conception of a violently agitated and hazardous life.
Finally, it views personalities too deliberately and according to set principles, and makes too little allowance for the pressure of the moment and daily self-protection.
This period is judged as one in which the ideals of the Middle Ages, church and chivalry, had gone to pieces or, rather, had been broken through on all sides. But it is a characteristic of ideals that they do not live forever (for their perpetuation they have poetry at their disposal), especially if they have such a meager life as did church and chivalry.
From beneath their ruins there already emerge the genuine new forces, even though still in confused form. The movement of life does not always take place through diametrical, great antitheses, but also breaks through disintegration. Life itself always remains visible.
The degree of embarrassment over issues into which narrow fanatics of the past and the present and philosophical construers of history get themselves is their business and affects us little.
[* ]Burckhardt injects here: A good thing that Renan for once really lets it out! (Translator’s note.)
[* ]Burckhardt’s interjection. (Translator’s note.)
[* ]Burckhardt’s interjection. (Translator’s note.)