14.11.29, Malegam, The Sleep of the Behemoth

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John Eldevik

The Medieval Review 14.11.29

Malegam, Jehangir Yezdi. The Sleep of Behemoth: Disputing Peace and Violence in Medieval Europe, 1000–1200. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013. Pp. xi, 323. ISBN: 9780801451324 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
John Eldevik
Hamilton College

Judging by its cover--if not its somewhat cryptic title--Jehangir Malegam's new monograph might appear to be another contribution to the now substantial body of scholarship on the so-called Feudal Transformation and its attendant questions about changes in law, conflict, and social order in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Do not be fooled--this is a profoundly important and erudite exploration of something much larger and unexpectedly revelatory, namely, the intellectual underpinnings of the concepts of social and religious order that came to define the long twelfth century. Malegam argues that to understand concepts like order, reform, orthodoxy, and heresy, and their imbrication within the ecclesiology of the high Middle Ages, we have to realize the extent to which they were derived from a complex exegesis of the idea of sacramental "peace"--who could make it; who could keep it; and how to discern true peace from potentially devastating imitations.

The book implicitly pivots off of R.I. Moore's Formation of a Persecuting Society and its thesis about the creation of new technologies of coercion and surveillance that marked out and repressed ways of being and thinking that threatened the increasingly cohesive and hierarchically organized royal and clerical governments. Rather than tracing the formation of institutional forms of categorization and thinking about who was inside or outside the kingdom or the church, however, Malegam redirects our attention to Eucharistic theology, and the ways it served as a lens through which writers from Augustine onwards viewed notions of Christian community. To receive legitimate communion was to take a kind of oath that bound the believer to the true peace of Christ and the church, whereas to pervert the Eucharist, to receive it hypocritically--or keep peace with those who did--was to do irreparable violence to the body of Christ. Accordingly, as Malegam insists, if we are to understand the dramatic religious and political controversies of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, we must examine the ways that sacramental theology provided a conceptual framework that brought perceived threats to true peace--from castellan violence and evangelical heresies to papal schisms and communal uprisings--into sharper focus.

The book as a whole takes a panoramic view of its subject, synthesizing in each chapter early Christian writings on some aspect of the Eucharist before exploring the reception of these ideas in discrete social and political contexts in the high Middle Ages, with a focus on monastic writers who were particularly attuned to the profound implications of the oath and sacrament that constituted true communion. The effect is often a somewhat vertiginous one, but the story repays sustained attention. The first chapter situates the Peace Movements of the eleventh century in the context of growing unease with the notion that the church might tolerate both earthly and divine ideas about peace alongside each other in society. A mere absence of conflict was not sufficient if it did not grow out of a properly mediated sacramental context. Much more than just an attempt to restrain castellan violence by using the coercive power of saints' relics and the moral suasion of their patrons, eleventh-century peace movements were an attempt by a number of clerical and monastic communities to redefine ideas about peace in a way that affirmed the primacy of religiously mediated oversight of social and political relationships. This fashioned what Malegam terms a "clerical gaze" that separated the affairs of the world into those under the domain of true peace, facilitated by the enduring oaths of true communion, and others under a domain of violence, characterized by temporary--and thus corrupted--compromises and false oaths.

In chapter two, Malegam brings these insights to bear on the era of Gregory VII and the Investiture Controversy. The insistence of the Roman reformers and their allies upon clerical continence and the liberty of the church was about refashioning the church around the idea of sacramental integrity--an idea that brought it into conflict with ascendant notions of imperial peace and the lay-monarchical order. At the same time, sacramental peace could be forged in actual violence, as the uprisings of the Pataria in Milan demonstrated. In chapter three, Malegam steps back from the eleventh century to retrace the nexus of violence and order in Christian thought since antiquity, particularly the way in which the experience of martyrdom in the early church had so starkly delineated the boundaries between the peace of the Christian community facing the eschaton and the violence of the pagan world outside it. Moving forward again to the Patarine revolt, Malegam reads the movement's violent tendencies as an attempt to destroy what its backers saw as the illegitimate domination of false sacraments--and thus false peace--in the city. "The sacraments made invisible grace visible," Malegam observes, and "warfare must do the same of invisible violence" (112). Eternal vigilance against illusory peace, predicated on corrupted sacraments and oaths, was the price paid for securing true peace. Rufinus of Sorrento, in his De bono pacis, had likened the willful toleration of false peace to the "sleep of Behemoth" (sompnus Behemot), a monster lurking just under the surface of a seemingly placid society, but that threatened to burst forth at any moment to destroy those ensnared in the delusions of the devil's false sacraments.

The seemingly intractable problem of distinguishing between true and false peace is brought into sharper relief in the discussion of the Investiture Controversy in chapter four, and, in particular, debates over the communion of Judas and its parallels to the actions of Henry IV at Canossa. Here Malegam again returns to early Christian writings--in this case, Augustine--and draws his discussion of Judas's communion into conversation with the writings of Rupert of Deutz and Alger of Liège, who debated whether complete peace in the church was ever going to be possible. Alger, for his part, concluded, with Augustine, that even though communion could be received by both the faithful and the deceived, it effected its peace only in the faithful, drawing them into a spiritual community from which the unbelievers were excluded. Thus the Lord's body--the church--became "the site for collective peacemaking among God, man, and society" (147).

As ideas about peace and sacramental integrity were further refined, theologians became increasingly aware of the need to extirpate false sacraments and the false peace that they produced. Examining the reception of Augustinian ethics in the twelfth century schools in chapter five, Malegam fleshes out the way the glossators, masters, and canon lawyers understood the role of pastoral care in disciplining the church body in a way that conformed to the peace guaranteed by the oath of true communion. The flesh and the spirit of individual believers were in a state of war, much in the way the violence of the world threatened the peace of the church. In teaching the faithful to discipline the flesh, preachers and exegetes brought a theology of sacramental peace to bear upon the spiritual war within all humans. The evangelical impulse that writers like Rupert of Deutz and Bruno of Segni brought to this is the subject of chapter seven. In the twelfth century, monks and clerics were increasingly urged to serve as peace-makers, not merely in the sense of bringing disputing parties together, but also in expanding the scope of the covenantal peace of the Eucharist in the world. This took the shape of monastic reform--the Cistercians and their rule of charity being a primary example--as well as of eschatologically inflected projects like the Crusades or evangelization missions to the Slavic north. Just as the sometimes violent impulses of the Gregorian reform joined peacemaking to insurrection, twelfth-century monastic theology merged militant Christianity with an insistence on the way in which the violence of something like Crusading forged sacramental bonds of peace among those who participated in it.

The opposite of a movement centered on true sacramental oaths was an urban commune, a political project motivated by what many contemporary observers considered to be a false--and therefore illegitimately violent--oath of conspiracy. In the book's final two chapters, Malegam examines responses to communal movements in France and Italy in the twelfth century. Two cases provide evidence of a watershed in views on sacramental peace. On the one hand, an observer like Guibert of Nogent could fulminate against the false oaths and false peace that he believed characterized the Laon commune, while on the other, Frederick Barbarossa and his supporters could denounce as treasonous and conspiratorial the efforts of the Lombard League to build an anti-imperial resistance around the urban communes of northern Italy. In both cases, communes were seen as serious roadblocks to a particular vision of peace--one clerical, and one imperial. What emerged from this conflict between Alexander III, the Lombard League, and Frederick Barbarossa was a new synthesis that appropriated the language of sacramental peace to affirm the autonomy of the secular state. Malegam makes a trenchant point when he notes that the Third Lateran Council's focus on the need to further marginalize Jews and heretics was less a product of "self-directed, rationalizing processes of state-formation," as Moore had suggested, than "the creation of a new social sphere in which religious, social, and political disharmony were equally violations of the peace" (286). In this context, as Malegam observes, the association between the state and the repression of marginal groups is only possible once the secular sphere could be conceived as a legitimate guarantor of sacramental peace. The book ends with a reflection on the implications of this tradition for understanding Dante's De Monarchia (c. 1313) and Marsilius of Padua's Defensor Pacis (1324), both of which argue that secular government--namely a monarch--is the only guarantor of true peace and order, and that the papacy's attempts to claim temporal power was thereby a source of false peace.

There are aspects of this book that I would have written or organized differently. Certain sections seem to recapitulate earlier discussions in an inefficient way at times, which I suspect were remnants of the dissertation on which the book was based. Yet given the enormous scope of the project and its highly original and ambitious thesis, such minor infelicities are more than forgivable. Malegam's writing is elegant and he distills the complexities of his subject with impressive clarity. This book should lead anyone who studies the eleventh and twelfth centuries to a rigorous reexamination of the conceptual frameworks that we have previously assumed for a wide range of events and phenomena, even as it reminds us of the extent to which our contemporary discourses of politics and international relations still echo with the ancient concerns over true and false peace. Behemoth still slumbers, though today he is called by the names of agreements, accords, treaties, and negotiation processes that critics denounce as only producing an appearance of peace while perpetuating violence in the long run. It's why you can't negotiate with terrorists. Or simoniacal clergy, or heretics, or antipopes.

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John Eldevik

Hamilton College