Peace and Truce of God

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Not to be confused with pax deorum. ‹See Tfd›

The Peace and Truce of God (Latin: Pax Dei, Treuga Dei; German: Gottesfrieden, French: Paix de Dieu, Catalan: Pau i Treva de Déu.) was a medieval European movement of the Catholic Church that applied spiritual sanctions to limit the violence of private war in feudal society. It began with very limited provisions in 989 AD and survived in some form until the thirteenth century.

Georges Duby summarized the widening social repercussions of Pax Dei:

The Peace and Truce of God, by attaching sacred significance to privacy, helped create a space in which communal gatherings could take place and thus encouraged the reconstitution of public space at the village level ... In the eleventh and twelfth centuries many a village grew up in the shadow of the church, in the zone of immunity where violence was prohibited under peace regulations.[1]


The eighteenth-century historian Edward Gibbon, interpreting Tacitus, Germania §40, detected a parallel among the pagan German tribes who worshipped a goddess of the earth (identified by modern scholars with Nerthus) who in Gibbon's interpretation resided at the island of Rügen, who annually travelled to visit the tribes. "During her progress the sound of war was hushed, quarrels were suspended, arms laid aside, and the restless Germans had an opportunity of tasting the blessings of peace and harmony. The truce of God, so often and so ineffectually proclaimed by the clergy of the eleventh century, was an obvious imitation of this ancient custom."[2] Gibbon's assertion has since been largely discredited, given that the canon law of Pax Dei derives no foundation from pagan customs, but rather from rational principles of Roman Law regarding violence, as well as the theological claims of papal decretals[citation needed].

Overview[edit]

The Peace and Truce of God movement was one of the ways that the Church attempted to Christianize and pacify the feudal structures of society through non-violent means. After the collapse of the Carolingian empire in the ninth century, France had degenerated into many small counties and lordships, in which local lords and knights frequently fought each other for control. At the same time there were often attacks from the Vikings, who settled in northern France as the Normans but continued to raid territory further inland.

Philip Daileader colorfully summarizes the situation:

Local clergy – abbots, the heads of monasteries, bishops – would hold church councils, and summon the regional nobility to these councils, send out invitations demanding that the nobles show up at a certain point in time. If the nobles showed up at these councils, which were often open air events because you'd expect a fairly substantial number of people to come, the clergy would bring all the saints' relics they could find from the neighborhood – bits of bone from the corpses of saints, vials of blood, pieces of clothing from the garments of saints, bath tubs – any item that had had physical contact with someone who is venerated as a saint. And often they would heap them up in a field, get as many relics as you could, or carry them among the crowd of knights and nobles who had shown up. They would attempt to use the fear of the saints and the retribution of the saints to intimidate the nobility into swearing to abide by the peace and truce of God, waving these relics in the faces of knights and nobles, and hopefully getting [from] them the promise that henceforth they would obey the peace and truce of God. One should never underestimate the fear of saints in the Middle Ages and of saints' relics. People would travel from miles around to visit the shrines of which saints relics were venerated, seeking physical cures, seeking advice on what to do in the future. And the belief in the power of saints' relics to alter behavior is very, very real. Nonetheless, the peace and truce of God movement was highly limited in its effectiveness, in its ability to restrain the fighting of medieval nobles. It was limited because nobles were under no obligation to attend the Church council. You could get the invitation and simply tear it up, and not attend. Even if you attended, you might not swear to abide by the peace and truce of God. And even if you swore to abide by the peace and truce of God, well, it was one thing to be intimidated by the fear of the saints when all the local clergy were waving bones at you. It was another to be afraid when you got back to the castle with your pillaging buddies, and started to feel the old impulse return once again. The peace and truce of God had to be renewed decade after decade, after decade, in those areas in which it existed. And the mere fact of constant renewal suggests that it was not especially well-obeyed, or a particularly powerful weapon for restraining the medieval nobility.[3]

The movement was not very effective. "In trying to control warfare without the use of physical coercion it rapidly foundered on the rocks of a violent feudal reality." (Richard Landes). However it set a precedent that would be followed by other successful popular movements to control nobles' violence such as medieval communes, and the Crusades.

In addition to the Peace and Truce of God movement, other non-violent, although less direct, methods of controlling violence were used by the clergy. By adding the religious oaths of fealty to the feudal act of homage, and in organizing rights and duties within the system, churchmen did their utmost to Christianize feudal society in general and to set limits on feudal violence in particular. This can be seen as combining the spiritual (potestas) and secular authority (auctoritas) in a dual concerted action that had defined the idea of Christian government since the fifth century.

The oaths to keep the peace sworn by nobles spread in time to the villagers themselves; heads of households meeting communally would ritually swear to uphold the common peace.[4]

The two movements began at separate times and places, but by the eleventh century they became synonymous as the "Peace and Truce of God". "Germans looked with mingled horror and contempt at the French 'anarchy'. To Maintain the king's peace was the first duty of a German sovereign."[5] The movement, though seemingly redundant to the duties of the crown, had a religious momentum that would not be denied. Holy Roman Emperor Henry III issued the earliest form of this in his empire while at Constance in 1043. In the Holy Roman Empire it subsequently developed into the similar concept of Landfriede.[6]

Peace of God[edit]

The Peace of God or Pax Dei was a proclamation issued by local clergy that granted immunity from violence to noncombatants who could not defend themselves, beginning with the peasants (agricolae) and the clergy. A limited Pax Dei was decreed at the Synod of Charroux in 989 and spread to most of Western Europe over the next century,[7] surviving in some form until at least the thirteenth century.

At the Benedictine abbey of Charroux in La Marche on the borders of the Aquitaine "a great crowd of many people (populus) gathered there from the Poitou, the Limousin, and neighboring regions. Many bodies of saints were also brought there" bringing miracles in their wake.[8] Three canons promulgated at Charroux, under the leadership of Gombald, Archbishop of Bordeaux and Gascony, were signed by the bishops of Poitiers, Limoges, Périgueux, Saintes and Angoulême, all in the west of France, beyond the limited jurisdiction of Hugh Capet. Excommunication would be the punishment for attacking or robbing a church, for robbing peasants or the poor of farm animals – among which the donkey is mentioned but not the horse which would have been beyond the reach of a peasant – and for robbing, striking or seizing a priest or any man of the clergy who is not bearing arms. Making compensation or reparations could circumvent the anathema of the Church.

Children and women (virgins and widows) were added to the early protections. The Pax Dei prohibited nobles from invading churches, beating the defenseless, burning houses, and so on. Merchants and their goods were added to the protected groups in a synod of 1033. Significantly, the Peace of God movement began in Aquitaine, Burgundy and Languedoc, areas where central authority had most completely fragmented.

The tenth-century foundation of the Abbey of Cluny aided the development of the Peace of God. Cluny was independent of any secular authority, subject to the Papacy alone, and while all church territory was inviolate, Cluny's territory extended far beyond its own boundaries. A piece of land 30 km in diameter was considered to be part of Cluny itself, and any smaller monastery that allied itself with Cluny was granted the same protection from violence. This grant was given at a Peace of God council in Anse in 994. The monastery was also immune from excommunications, interdicts, and anathemas, which would normally affect an entire region. The abbey of Fleury was granted similar protection. Not coincidentally, many of the Cluniac monks were members of the same knightly class whose violence they were trying to stop.

"Peace of God" can also be used as a general term that means "under the protection of the Church" and was used in multiple contexts in medieval society. For example, pilgrims who traveled on Crusade did so under the "peace of God" i.e. under the protection of the Church. This general usage of the term is not always related to the Peace and Truce of God movement.

Truce of God[edit]

The Truce of God or Treuga Dei extended the Peace by setting aside certain days of the year when violence was not allowed. Where the Peace of God prohibited violence against the church and the poor, the Truce of God was more focused on preventing violence between Christians, specifically between knights. It became a convention among the seigneurs of Roussillon and Catalonia and was first proclaimed in 1027 at the Council of Toulouges – a town of Roussillon – which was presided over by Oliba, bishop of Vic, the first notable patron of the movement. An initial ban on fighting on Sundays and holy days was extended to include all of Lent, and even the Friday of every week.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Duby, "Introduction: Private power, public power", in Duby, ed. A History of Private Life: II. Revelations of the Medieval World (1988:27).
  2. ^ Gibbon, vol. I, Ch. IX, note 65,
  3. ^ Daileader, Philip. The High Middle Ages, lecture 3, beginning at ~26:30, Course No. 869, The Teaching Company, 2001. ISBN 1-56585-827-1
  4. ^ Duby 1988:27.
  5. ^ Thompson, James Westfall. "German Feudalism". The American Historical Review 28, No. 3 (Apr., 1923) p. 458-9.
  6. ^ Arnold, Benjamin. German Knighthood 1050-1300. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985) p. 16
  7. ^ Thomas Head, "The Development of the Peace of God in Aquitaine (970-1005)" Speculum 74.3 (July 1999), pp. 656-686.
  8. ^ Letaldus of Micy, The Journey of the Body of St. Junianus to the Council of Charroux.

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