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21.09.28 Resnick/Champagne, (eds.), Jews and Muslims under the Fourth Lateran Council

21.09.28 Resnick/Champagne, (eds.), Jews and Muslims under the Fourth Lateran Council

Arising from two conferences marking the 800th anniversary of the Fourth Lateran Council, this volume is one of several recent collections exploring the legacies of the council. These eleven essays are specifically focused on last the five canons (both the Latin and English texts of which are included as the volume's appendix) and their impact on Jews and Muslims living under Christian rule. Although it naturally does not cover every aspect of this topic, the volume does make a coherent argument: that Lateran IV did not represent a new direction in papal policies toward Jews and Muslims, but nonetheless played a key role in asserting the Church's place at the top of a hierarchy of Christian society, with religious minorities clearly identified and their freedoms constrained. The essays demonstrate that, in the case of Jews, the council reiterated earlier pronouncements rather than innovating and, in the case of Muslims, demonstrated little concern to differentiate them from Jews or to fully construct a papal policy about Muslims under Christian rule. Despite not breaking new ground, however, the Council's decrees about Muslims and Jews did have long-term effects and signaled a more strident concern on the part of the papacy to exclude them from full and free participation in social life within Christendom.

The brief introduction by John Tolan places the Council (and these five canons in particular) within its historical context, especially as relates to Innocent III and his earlier bulls and letters regarding Jews. Innocent's major concern was the supposed inversion of the "natural" hierarchy which Jews were being permitted across Christian Europe: by holding the debts of Christians, selling their cast-off meat and wine to Christians, keeping Christians as servants in their homes, refusing to wear distinctive clothing, and the like, Jews were purportedly reversing the status of subservience to which they were subjected by dint of their having killed the one who came to save them. Much less space is given to the context of papal attitudes toward Muslims, which both makes sense (because there was nothing approaching a formalized papal policy towards Muslims, even by the time of the council) and is unfortunate, since many readers will be less familiar with papal and Christian attitudes toward Muslims and differences from reactions to Jews. While the Council itself lumped together Jews and Muslims, their positions within Christendom were historically quite different and subject to different perceptions and prejudices. And, as the essays in section two clearly show, there was a widely differential impact on Muslim populations, although by the fourteenth century the Church took a much harsher stance against them, more in line with their approach to Jews.

Section I, on Jews, begins with a contextual essay by Valerie Ramseyer about the multiconfessional environment of early medieval southern Italy which, she argues, was marked by fluid mixing of customs and practices between Jews and (mostly Greek) Christians who lived and worshipped in close proximity, as they both did to Muslim raiders and political rulers in Bari, Sicily, and North Africa. It was precisely this kind of sharing--of literary practices, customs of dress, burial grounds, and, to some degree, even religious practices--that Lateran IV sought to suppress by erecting firm boundaries between religious groups. Ramseyer's argument is that "boundary-crossing" is a misnomer for such a context, relying as it does on the notion of the boundaries that were erected--not just hardened or enforced, but created--by the papacy's concern after the twelfth century to define and restrict Muslims and Jews. Instead, she presents early medieval southern Italy society in which divisions between religious groups were not restricted by the papacy as they would be in later centuries.

The second essay, by Alex Novikoff, brings the context closer to the time of the Council with the 1205 letter by Innocent to the French king in which he complains about Jews' public presence and the purported disruptions to civic life they posed. Novikoff places this complaint within the context of liturgical drama, in which Jews are presented not only as insidiously anti-Christian, but also as loudly mocking them in public, just like Innocent's letter accuses the Jews of doing. This "audio-visual" Jew, he argues is an appropriate context in which to place the Lateran requirement of distinctive visual markers for Jews and the ways in which such requirements might have been understood by Christians who were familiar with the theatrical "Jew" of such performances.

The essay by Irven Resnick focuses on the impact of the Council itself, in particular as regards the badges Jews were required to wear in canon 68. The essay documents the transformation from a custom of Jews (and Muslims) wearing distinctive clothing to a requirement for badges specifically--in large part because Jews were accustomed to dressing similarly to Christians and because physiognomically Jews and Christians were typically indistinguishable (despite traditions of pictorial representation of Jews). Resnick argues that the Council's requirement was in fact enforced in many places across Europe and that, by the time of Gregory IX, the tenor of the badge requirement had shifted from preventing "accidental" miscegenation to intentional deception on the part of Jews and Muslims who were trying to seduce Christians for a variety of reasons. Thus he demonstrates that the Council did, in this sense, lay at a crucial juncture between earlier customary and occasional practice of distinguishing between religious communities and the much sharper boundaries that were drawn in the later Middle Ages.

The issue of Jewish subservience is addressed by Anna Sapir Abulafia, whose essay places the canons within the context of other bulls by Innocent and later commentaries on the canons. She points out the fact that Muslims seem to have been added only as an afterthought, given that none of the commentators addressed them. Jews were the main concern of the Council and later commentators, and the primary targets of papal ire in general. Abulafia's conclusion is that the Lateran IV canons were in fact a departure from earlier dismissive views on Jews, and a sharpening of the idea that Jews were intentionally trying to undermine Christians, mock them, and hold power over them. This all contributed, she argues, to the growing sense of an only conditional acceptance of Jews within Christian Europe--they could stay, only so long as they accepted their servitude in the manners set out by these canons. Thus, she concludes, the Lateran canons provided Christian kings with the justifications and language for later expulsions.

The final essay in the section on Jews, by Rebecca Rist, also instructively shows the Council's direct impact Jews in Europe. Rist provides an analysis of a much later Jewish text, the Shebet Yehudah, which presents the Jewish response to papal decrees and councils including Lateran IV. The Hebrew text claims that Jews across Europe responded with fear every time a council was called, but that they did not feel immediate deleterious effects after any of them--that is, until the aftermath of Lateran IV, when the badge requirement was enforced and forced baptisms began. The longer legacies of the Council on Jews within Europe are omitted from the Hebrew account; the text seems more concerned with immediate results rather than long-term ones. This analysis of a Jewish response to Lateran IV shows that the Council did have a unique impact on Jewish populations, according to later Jewish memory.

Section II addresses Muslims as targets of the Council's decrees, starting with a valuable essay by Ryan Szpiech outlining papal considerations of Muslims both before the Council (primarily seeing them as a military or social threat rather than a religious threat) and after (in several thirteenth and fourteenth century councils). It is not until the 1313-1314 Council of Vienne that representations of Muslim belief and practice are found in conciliar canons, indicating the growth across the thirteenth century of papal awareness and interest in the question of what exactly Muslims believe and practice. In other words, Szpiech argues that Lateran IV was not quite the watershed that it is often presented as, at least not in terms of theological understanding of Islam and the treatment of Muslims as anything other than a military threat. But it did, he demonstrates, lay at a critical juncture between earlier concern for Muslims as a military threat from outside and later fear of their potential danger within Christian society.

The topic of Lateran IV's silence on matters relating to Islam is continued in the next essay, by Guilio Cipollone, whose focus is the apparent lack of concern expressed by the Council about Christians held in Muslim captivity in various contact zones. Cipollone demonstrates that this silence was not based on ignorance: Innocent had expended considerable effort and ink on the issue of Christians taken captive by Muslims, and approved the formation of the Trinitarian Order for freeing them. Cipollone surmises that the silence on the subject at the Council was due to Innocent's belief that calling for armed retaking of the Holy Land was of greater importance than humanitarian acts of charity. Again we see that Lateran IV was only one small part of Latin Christendom's responses and attitudes towards Muslims, and should not be taken either as a culmination nor a initiation of particular stances towards Islam and its practitioners.

Yvonne Friedman broadens the scope to consider the ways that Innocent III viewed himself as a peace-maker and used the concept of peace to both consolidate his power and promote his vision of a unified Christendom. Persecution of religious others, ransoming of Christian captives, efforts to make treaties with Muslim rulers, and support for mendicant orders were all part of these peace-making efforts. The link between concepts of peace-making and the canons of Lateran IV could be made more explicit than Friedman does here, but within the context of the volume the message is clear that Lateran IV was in no way the summation of Innocent's approach toward religious minorities.

Clara Almagro Vidal addresses the question of the council's impact on Muslims through the lens of the military orders, who controlled lands with Muslim subjects in both Iberia and the Levant. She finds that their enforcement of the canons was inconsistent and dependent on local context. The most notable dissimilarity between Iberia and the rest of Christendom concerned canon 71, the call to crusade. It is well known that Iberian kings and knights were exempted from crusading requirement to the Levant. However, by placing this point within the context of enforcement of the canons on Muslims, Almagro Vidal makes clear the breadth of regional variation and inconsistency in application of the canons on Muslims.

The essay by Ana Echevarria goes even further, concretely investigating both the uniqueness of Iberia and the slowness of either kings or councils to extend the restrictions placed on Jewish subjects to Muslims in Christian Iberia. She carefully lays out the much later edicts that reproduced the Lateran restrictions and applied them to Muslims, and concludes that the Lateran canons were influential in restricting Muslim freedom in Iberia. However, she finds that this process was not truly complete until nearly two centuries after the Council.

The final essay, by Josep Hernando Delgado, examines the post-Lateran IV increase in proselytism and baptism of Muslims, especially enslaved ones, in Iberia. He argues that Lateran IV was the cause of this increase in the interest of Christian slave-owners, even though the chronology shows that it was only in the fifteenth century that these conversion efforts ramped up.

Overall, this volume places Lateran IV in its broad context, showing that it was only one part of a growing sense of the need to restrict Jewish freedoms in Christendom and, eventually, those of Muslims. The council was itself not a stand-alone statement on religious minorities in Christendom: in the case of Jews, it more or less restated earlier decrees and in terms of Muslims, it nearly ignored them altogether. But as these essays show, the centuries after Lateran IV saw significant changes in the treatment of religious minorities.

The volume also demonstrates the differences of enforcement and impact on Jewish and Muslim subjects in Europe, and not simply because there were more, and more widespread, Jewish populations under Christian rule than Muslim ones. The majority of medievalist scholarship about religious minorities has focused on Jews and heretics, so the equal attention given in this volume to Muslims is quite welcome. These essays give the reader a sense of how Muslims were regarded differently than Jews, both in the Council's canons and in enforcement of them. The majority of the essays about Muslims focus on Iberia or the Levant, with both Sicily and Hungary mentioned in several essays; it would have been nice to see specific essays devoted to the impact of Lateran IV on both those populations, especially given that within a decade of the Council, Sicily's Muslims were deported to Lucera and restrictions on Hungary's Muslims became much harsher.

Problematically, many of the essays uncritically use the word "Saracen" as though it were an acceptable alternative to "Muslim." This is not the case throughout--several essays and the introduction omit the word altogether, and Szpiech notes that he uses it as a representation of the medieval texts. One essay (Hernando Delgado) tries, unsuccessfully, to argue in a footnote that they are synonymous terms. Several other authors use it without any note or acknowledgement of the harm done by reproducing a word laden with centuries of misunderstanding and abuse of both Islam and Muslims (and which corresponds to no self-appellation by Muslims past or present). All this despite the fact that the author of the introduction literally wrote the book on this word. [1] The editorial team should have made a unilateral decision and provided an editorial note about its use. It is well past time that derogatory terms such as this one be jettisoned, only to be used in direct quotation of medieval texts and not as a value-neutral term for those practicing the faith of Islam, either now or in the Middle Ages.



1. John Tolan, Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination (Columbia University Press, 2002).