(D5) “Blessed Are Those Who Practice Persecution for the Sake of Righteousness”: On the Uses of Tradition in the Era of Gregory VII

The project targets the context of the church’s focussing on its actual tasks and rights as initiated by the reform papacy in the 11th century, with the interesting result that the process of redefining its own position was linked with a very clear commitment to the permissibility of the use of violence. Pope Gregory VII is the symbolic figure in this episode of churchly disposition to violence and its theoretical formulation which could only be realised with a considerable “hyperextension” (Carl Erdmann) of the tradition. From this readiness to leave the dominant teachings of, for example, Augustine behind, a relatively direct path led to the crusades under papal leadership. It is thus one of the most important concerns of a critical history of the church to investigate this new papal readiness to use violence, the conditions in which it arose and the stages of its argument.

The transformation of the famous passage from the Sermon on the Mount quoted in the title, which completely reverses its meaning, stems from Bonizo of Sutris’ Liber ad amicum, where, in defending Gergory VII, he deals most importantly with the question of whether it is permissible for Christians to use violence for the sake of their faith. The process of providing a theoretical basis for this new position has previously been anything but clear. Apparently, considerable efforts were undertaken to sift through the tradition, as canon collections (Anselm of Lucca, Deusdedit), polemic treatises and papal letters (Gregory’s register) from the period in question make sufficiently clear. But the new position could not be derived from tradition alone. What also seems to be new is the radicalism, with regard to the consequences, one was prepared to elicit from the dicta and exempla of the past. This radicalism in the exhaustion of all possibilities and the readiness to go beyond what is possible can already be seen in the taut formulation of the guiding principles of the Dictatus papae, which, however, does not address the question of violence. But as it regards questions of papal supremacy such as the exercise of violence, it seems to be the same mental attitude that extracted new interpretations from the tradition or reinterpreted them for one’s own purposes. Here, the sometimes extravagant argumentation of theoreticians like Anselm or Bonizo must be understood critically and their relationship to the arguments used by Gregory has to be made clear. The project will need to clarify to what extent the techniques of argumentation and the presentation of evidence differed from what had previously been the case, in that they interpreted Biblical or patristic documents in new ways; the stringency that characterised the presentation of evidence; and how the new arguments were established and disseminated. Thus, the project promises to yield results not only concerning the church’s relationship to violence and the understanding of processes of change in this area, but, in accordancewith the topics examined in research area A, it will also make contributions to the validity claims of norms and how these were dealt with.