Exploring the Origins of the Peace of God

Ugh. Y’know, I spent my PhD avoiding the Peace of God movement, and then I started working later and further south, and now I’ve blogged about it, and on Tuesday I went to a really good paper about it, and then there’s all the Aquitanian stuff; and now I’ve kinda got to.

“Why so?” I hear you ask. Well, reader, there is at least a case to be made that if you trace back the intellectual genealogy of these things, you end up with long-time friend of the blog Bishop Stephen II of Clermont. But before I get there, we need to make it clear that you’ve got to be careful when talking about the Peace of God, because it’s not a term from the time, it’s a modern technical term. This might be less important when we’re dealing with the ‘second wave’ of councils around the 1020s, where the influence of one council on another is often very explicit, but in the late tenth century it’s not clear where to draw the line.

Take the 989 Council of Charroux, for instance, often claimed as one of the earliest Peace councils. Absolutely nothing about it cannot be paralleled from earlier tradition. The council claims that there has been a long delay in holding a council and that terrible things have arisen in the land because of it. The 909 Council of Trosly is a fairly direct comparison for this. (That said, one might note that Charroux claims that the council has been delayed and therefore evils have arisen whilst Trosly says that the council has been delayed because evils have arisen, which may indicate an actual strengthening of the power of the conciliar idea by 989; but really I don’t think the difference is particularly important.) Otherwise much of its rhetoric can be compared closely and in some cases verbatim with Carolingian legislation. Notably, the word ‘peace’ does not show up once.

Where it does show up is in 958, at that meeting in Clermont we’ve talked about before. The charter here says… actually, y’know what, it’s short, let’s give you the whole thing:

In the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 958, in the first indiction, it happened in that year that the princes of the Auvergne rebelled against each other in turn. But, with God’s help and in the reign of Bishop Stephen of Auvergne, peace, which passeth everything, currently reigns within our borders.

Meanwhile, it happened that one of our princes, that is, Calixtus, had invaded some of the goods of another: he obtained, that is, the allod of one of the canons, named Amblard, not justly but unjustly.

For this reason, because of what he was holding unjustly, the aforesaid Calixtus and his wife Oda and their children, that is, Peter and Hugh and Stephen, came into the city of Clermont, where Stephen, bishop of that see, shines. Present there were Viscount Robert and Abbot Stephen and Abbot Robert and other lay and clerical lords and monks, and there the said Calixtus recognised that he had held that allod in Gergovie unjustly, and in the presence of that crowd he gave it up and commanded this notice of surrender be made, and he confirmed it with his own hand and had it confirmed by his children and his knights and by everyone.

Sign of Calixtus. Sign of Hugh. Sign of Stephen. Sign of Bishop Stephen. Sign of Viscount Robert. Sign of Abbot Robert. Sign of Abbot Stephen.

Done in the month of September, on Thursday, in the 4th year of the reign of King Lothar.

Theodoric subscribed.

Told you it was short. Anyway, this is the first use I can find of the combination of a meeting, the word ‘peace’, and the settlement of disputes in a context of violence to show up together in Aquitaine. These are all things that will be develop into the Peace of God, and I think it’s reasonable to see this as a fairly close ancestor, not least because the early ‘Peace of God’ is probably best seen as just one flavour of central Aquitanian discourse which happens to become unusually successful.

Question is, can we push it further back? What I’ve been looking at in the last couple of days is that reference to peace, pax omnia superat. This is a clear reference to Philippians 4:7, ‘the peace of God which passeth all understanding’ (pax Dei quae exsuperat omnem sensem, in the Vulgate – superat is a variant found in some versions of the Old Latin Bible).

Problem is, I’ve been coming up mostly empty. I tried looking in various places for liturgical parallels, and didn’t really find any, although one manuscript of conciliar ordines suggests using it in an assembly for dealing with quarrels, which would be absolutely ideal except that this is only found in a marginal annotation from Mainz. Otherwise, it is also quoted in a section of the 829 Council of Paris about how the council is going to settle civil discord, which given what we now know to be that council’s normative value would also be very useful, except that I can’t find that there’s a manuscript of the council itself in Clermont. I asked some real liturgical specialists, who actually know what they’re doing (thanks, Arthur!) and was told that Philippians is used for readings in Advent, but as this is a summer or early autumn document, I’m not sure there’s direct causation there…

So I wonder if this might not be, in some sense, where the ball starts rolling for this particular strand of political language. It’s not like ‘the New Testament’ is an implausible place for a medieval cleric to be looking for ideas, after all…

3 thoughts on “Exploring the Origins of the Peace of God

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s