Sunday, March 31, 2013

Quartodecimans & Easter

This blog has touched on the debate over the date of Easter in the past, but the truth is that the early Church went through different phases before settling on the date of Easter.

Because the Last Supper was a seder, commemorating Passover, early celebrations of Easter coincided with that date. Passover took place on the 14th of the month. The early Church historian Eusebius tells us that the dioceses of Asia at the time of Pope Victor (pope from 189-199) celebrated Easter on the 14th day of the moon, regardless of the day of the week on which it fell.

This bothered some ecclesiastics and Christian scholars. Synods were held (Eusebius says) that agreed and decreed that the Easter celebration should be held on the Lord's Day, a Sunday. Some, however, refused to give up the tradition of celebrating on the 14th. They were called Quartodecimans [fourteenth-ers]. St. Polycarp (69-155), for example, came to Rome to discuss his preference for the date that he believed had been established by St. John the Apostle; he refused the command of Pope Anicetus (pope c.153-168) to change to Sunday.

Quartodecimans were tolerated for awhile,  by popes like Anicetus at least. Pope Victor excommunicated the Asiatic dioceses, an action that got him criticism for unnecessary harshness from St. Irenæus.

Agreeing that Easter should be celebrated on a Sunday did not settle any debate; which Sunday was crucial. The Council of Nicaea (already mentioned several times in DM) tackled this issue. Syrian Christians always celebrated Easter on the Sunday following the 14th of the month, but other Christian dioceses calculated the date in their own ways. Antioch, for instance, based their date on the local Jewish observances, but had let slide a guideline that the 14th should be the month after the vernal equinox. Alexandria, however, demanded Easter Sunday be after the equinox—March 21st at the time.

Most native English speakers, if they know about the controversy of the Easter date debate, have heard of the Synod of Whitby in 664, at which Roman Christianity and Celtic/Irish Christianity fought it out over topics such as the date of Easter and the style of monastic tonsures. Whitby established for the English-speaking world that Easter would fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon (the 14th of the lunar month) after the vernal equinox. If the full moon is a Sunday, Easter takes place on the following Sunday. Easter can be as early as March 22 or as late as April 25.

The Eastern Orthodox Church calculates differently. They had been using March 21st as their starting point, but followed a guideline that prevented Easter from ever falling on or preceding the same day as Passover. Orthodox Easter can fall between April 5 and May 8. In the 21st century, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches tried to reconcile their different dates using more recent astronomical data for their calculations. They still calculate in different ways, but there is greater chance that the dates will coincide, such as in 2001 when April 15th was Easter for both Churches.

There. That was easy.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Anti-kings? Really?

Rudolph of Swabia was referred to as an anti-king after he was defeated by Henry IV in 1080. Anti-popes are a common concept in history, but were there enough anti-kings to justify a label? Can't we just call him a usurper?

There were actually quite a few anti-kings in the Middle Ages. One of the earliest was Duke Arnulf "The Bad" of Bavaria, who spent 919-921 claiming he was the alternative to King Henry "The Fowler" who was the first king of the Ottonian dynasty in Germany. After Henry defeated Arnulf in battle, he allowed Arnulf to keep the title of Duke of Bavaria so long as he renounced forever his claim to the German throne. Arnulf wised up, and did not create any more trouble, dying peacefully in 937.

Rudolf of Swabia was an anti-king who has already been referenced when discussing Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV and his conflict with Pope Gregory VII. When Henry was out of favor, German aristocrats decided to elect an alternate, Rudolf, who lasted from 1077-1080. After he died in battle, Hermann of Luxembourg (also called "of Salm") took a chance. He lasted longer than Rudolf, from 1081-1088, but had to flee to Denmark in 1085. He returned in an alliance with Duke Welf of Bavaria, Rudolph's successor, but soon tired of the constant struggle (and being a pawn of the pope and German lords) and retired to his home. He was not heard of after 1088; we assume that was the year of Hermann's death.

The Germans either had a difficult time accepting their anointed rulers, or they just liked creating conflict. Several Holy Roman Emperors had to deal with anti-king challenges, right up until the mid-14th century!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Canon Law and Muslims

Today picks up from the previous post.

Although canon law did not apply to non-Christian populations, that attitude changed when Europe came into greater contact with Muslims. The reason is explained by James Brundage:

European Jewry had furnished the model upon which early canonists had formed their views about the legal relationship between non-Christians and canon law. Jewish populations, however, tended to be relatively small, stable (save when one ruler or another decided to expel them from his territories), and peaceful. They certainly posed no military threat to Christian rulers and only an occasional fanatic could seriously maintain that they menaced the Christian religious establishment.
Muslims in  the Mediterranean basin and pagans along Latin Christendom's eastern frontiers, however, were an altogether different matter. Many Christians considered them a serious threat to Christianity's goal of converting the world... . [Medieval Canon Law, p.163]
This interaction with the Muslim world caused canonists to re-examine the self-imposed limits of canon law and its application to non-Christians, especially when it came to whether it was proper for Christians to conquer and take Muslim territory. This may seem an odd concern to the modern reader, but remember that this was a time when ownership of property was not open to everyone. If Muslims fell into a category that was not allowed property—such as slaves or minors—then taking their lands was not an issue.

In the 13th century, Pope Innocent IV (c.1195-1254; pope from 1243 until his death) declared that ownership of property was a human right, as part of the natural law established by God. He also declared, however, that although non-Christians may not be part of Christ's church, they were still part of Christ's flock, and therefore they should fall under the rule of Christ's vicar on Earth. (Innocent even sent a message to Güyük Khan, "Emperor of the Tartars" (c.1206-1248), to tell the Mongol ruler to convert to Christianity and stop fighting Europeans. The response from the Khan was that European rulers should submit to his rule.)

This view of the popes prevailed, reaching a peak in 1302 with Boniface VIII's papal bull, Unam Sanctam. For the next several centuries, Christian rulers had the license they needed to attack non-Christians and take their lands.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Limits of Canon Law

Since I've been looking into canon law lately (here and here), I thought I would share an interesting facet of Medieval era canon law: its self-imposed limits.

Although canon law borrowed a great deal from the jurists and civil law decisions of the Classical Era, it was grounded in church teachings. Therefore, from early jurists up until at least 1200, it was agreed that canon law did not apply to non-Christians. The rules of consanguinity adhered to by the church, for instance, forbidding the marriage of those who were related too closely by blood or legal ties (such as in-laws), did not apply to Jews or pagans. Nor was it legal for Jews or pagans to be made to tithe or be baptized against their will.

Of course, Christianity's goal was to spread the Gospel and convert the world, so it would be only a matter of time (it was thought) before canon law would apply to everyone. (The second post ever on DailyMedieval was about the Domus Conversorum, established in 1232 in England by Henry III to provide a home and daily stipend for Jews who wished to convert to Christianity, making their decision an easy one.)

Christianity ran into an unexpected obstacle to its ultimate goal, however, especially during the era of the Crusades. Whereas Jews were found in small and non-violent communities, Muslims were far more numerous and warlike; moreover, they were on their own mission to convert the world. This led—outside of the Crusades themselves—to border skirmishes where newly acquired Middle East Christian territories brushed up against Muslim lands.

The debate that followed will be looked at in the next post.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ignorance of the Law

Ignorantia juris neminem excusat.
Ignorance of the law excuses no one.

Many years ago, comedian Steve Martin offered up a monologue on avoiding a conviction for a crime by simply claiming you "forgot it was illegal." This was funny for decades ... right up until a week ago, when I read that the teenage perpetrators of the assault in Steubenville used as their defense that they "didn't know" what they were doing was wrong.

Can ignorance of the law ever be an excuse?

The Middle Ages deliberated over this topic, ultimately drawing a distinction between two classes of people: those who had no excuse not to know the law, and those who did have an excuse for their ignorance. Canon law wanted to be strict and definitive, but it recognized that there were segments of society that could not be held completely responsible for their actions.

For whom was ignorance of the law an excuse? Actually, several groups were considered exempt from presumption of knowledge of the law:
...minors, madmen, soldiers, and, in most circumstances, women were commonly believed to lack the capacity (in the case of minors and the insane) or the opportunity (in the case of soldiers and women) to know and understand the law. [Medieval Canon Law, James Brundage, p.161]
Much of medieval canon law came from Roman sources such as the Digestum Justiniani (the Digest of Justinian*) in 503. It assembled 50 books covering many topics by multiple jurists. In the Digestum, one classical jurist, Paul, draws a distinction between ignorance of the law and ignorance of fact. Although the legal system may not be able to presume that everyone knows the actual law, it must presume that everyone knows the fundamental factual difference between a good act and a bad act in their community. Otherwise, profession of one's ignorance becomes a universal excuse, and only those who are lawyers, judges, or politicians who actually make the laws would ever be able to be convicted.

Paul is also the jurist who created the basis for presumption of innocence when he wrote Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat. ("Proof is incumbent on him who asserts, not him who denies.") Although the accused could not avoid punishment by simply saying "I didn't know," at least he wasn't convicted based simply on another's say-so.**

*This was Emperor Justinian I (c.482-565), whose reign straddled the Classical and Medieval eras. The Digestum is not to be confused with the Corpus Juris Civilis (Body of Civil Law), the much larger compendium (sometime called the Code of Justinian) that was assembled later in his reign, of which the Digestum was only a part.

**The phrase "Innocent until proven guilty" was coined by the English lawyer Sir William Garrow in the early 19th century.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

It's My Day Off...Again

There is an ongoing debate in the modern age concerning how much vacation time an industrialized nation should allow its work force (5 weeks seems to be typical at the high end). In the Middle Ages, canon law had no trouble deciding that issue.

There were 52 days of the year that no one should have to labor: Sundays. For the same reason that Sundays were taken off—everyone should be free to attend Mass—there were about 40 days in the calendar that were likewise taken off because they were saints feast days or other Holy Days (Annunciation, Christmas, et cetera).

Furthermore, there were sometimes local saints in the area—not found in the official liturgical calendar established by the 12th century—whose celebrations workers were obliged to observe. These could add 20-30 additional days off to a worker. All in all, a potential 120 days—one-third of the year—could be spent in "enforced leisure." That leisure often included feasts and dances in the community. In a world without the forms of entertainment we are used to now, communal feasts and other social gatherings could be the highlights of the season.

This was not necessarily a good thing for the laborer or the employer. If he were paid by the day, he lost a lot of wages on the days when he was not supposed to work. If an employer paid by the month or the quarter, there were several days when he got no work out of his employees although they were being paid!

[For more, see Medieval Canon Law by James A. Brundage, ©1995 by Longman Group Limited]

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

When Poets Collide?

Did the greatest English poet of the 14th century and the greatest French poet of the 14th century meet, thanks to the Hundred Years War?

Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377) was a classical composer and poet—in fact, one of the last poets who also composed music—and a part of the ars nova ["new technique"] movement which embraced polyphony. His name suggests that he was born in Machault, east of Rheims in France, but it is clear that he spent most of his life in Rheims. Unlike many non-royal figures of his age, his popularity has ensured that we possess a remarkable amount of biographical information about him.

As a young man, he was a secretary to the ing of Bohemia, John I. He was named a canon of Verdun, then Arras, then Rheims; by 1340 he had given up the other positions and was a canon of Rheims only. As a canon, attached to the cathedral in Rheims and living without private wealth, he could devote himself to composing poetry and music. In all, we have about 400 pieces in various forms.

He lost his first patron, King John of Bohemia, when John died at the Battle of Crécy in 1346 during the Hundred Years War. Machaut found support from John's daughter. When she died during the Black  Death, he found support from her sons, Jean de Berry and CharlesV, Duke of Normandy.

In the next phase of the Hundred Years War, Geoffrey Chaucer (likely still a teenager at the time) was in the retinue of Prince Lionel as a valet. During the siege of Rheims in early 1360, Rheims rallied and captured the besiegers. Chaucer was taken prisoner. This would not have involved being thrown in dungeons and experiencing deprivation. The practice at the time was to capture as many high-ranking opponents as possible in order to gain money from ransoms. (Chaucer was ransomed for £16 in March.) The English would have likely experienced a mild form of "house arrest" which would have allowed them a certain amount of freedom. Chaucer would have had ample opportunity to visit Machaut.

Did he? We cannot be sure. Chaucer's poetry rarely offers attribution for his influences, but he was certainly intimately familiar with Machaut's work. Scholars have found numerous influences in Chaucer's writing. Chaucer scholar James I. Wimsatt has referred to "Guillaume de Machaut, who among fourteenth-century French poets exerted by far the most important influence on Chaucer."[link] Even long before he himself began writing, he was in a court that valued and supported the arts and poetry. Machaut was enormously popular in his own lifetime, and it seems inconceivable that Machaut would not have been sought out by several of the English who would have appreciated his reputation.

For a sample of his musical composition:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Plaque in Queenhithe.
One of modern London's 25 Wards, Queenhithe, has an ancient history. It is currently quite silted up, but originally was an inlet (probably made during Roman times) for ships to dock at. The name means "Queen's Dock" after Matilda, the wife of King Henry I, when it was presented to her as a source of income from the import duties gathered from ships landing there. The Agas Map of London (c.1560) also names it "Queenshithe"; the "s" has since been dropped.

The site is much older, however. As mentioned, it was no doubt established in Roman times—excavations have found remains of Roman baths in the area. When King Alfred the Great (849-899) "revived" the City of London around 886. Alfred made a gift of it to his brother-in-law Ethelred, and for a time it was called Ædereshyd, or "Ethelred's Dock."

It was an important landing place for ships bringing grain into the city. The nearby Bread Street has existed under that name at least as far back as the Agas Map. Also, Skinners Lane a block away attests to the import of furs, particularly rabbit skins.

It was designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument in 1973, particularly as it is the only surviving site of a once-Saxon harbor. It is therefore protected from random alterations by construction. Its use as a port, however, has fallen off because of its position upriver from London Bridge, preventing large modern ships from reaching it.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sir Richard Stury

King Edward and his knights counting their dead
after the Battle of Crécy, Hundred Years War
Sir Richard Stury (c.1330-1395) was a member of a family that served the kings of England for generations. Stury, during the 1359-60 campaign of the Hundred Years War, was captured along with Geoffrey Chaucer by the French and held at Reims. Where Chaucer, as a valet in Prince Lionel's contingent, had been ransomed for £16, Stury, as a knight in the employ of the king, was worth £50.

He was a chamber knight and a councilor to Edward III. He was also, like many of his fellow chamber knights, a lover of poetry. His will included an expensive copy of the Romance of the Rose.

He and Chaucer were well-acquainted. Their paths would have crossed frequently in London, and they were put together on an embassy in 1377 and a commission in 1390 to look into repairing the dikes and drains of the Thames.

Stury had a reputation for being a Lollard, a follower of the teachings of John Wycliffe. The popularity of this stance waxed and waned over the years, sometimes putting him in opposition to powerful forces in society.