And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The Birth of the West: Rome, Germany, France, and the Creation of Europe in the Tenth Century, by Paul Collins
Charlemagne’s attempt at consolidation and empire ended in failure and chaos, especially in his original domain – the land of the Franks, the western lands of continental Europe. Within a couple of generations, war, battles, highwaymen, theft: a drive for kingship and emperorship by some, a fight for survival by many.
The church tried to stem the extent of feudal warfare through “the peace of God.”
This wasn’t faith without works or words without action. The movement began with the bishops and was spread by the bishops. It might be considered one of the first popular movements in the medieval west, beginning in 989 at the monastery at Charroux, and then spreading in subsequent years to Le Puy (990), Narbonne (990), Limoges (994), and Poiters (1000). Orleans and Burgundy subsequently followed. The assemblies were held in open fields, with ever-larger crowds participating.
Excommunication was the threat used to reign in the recalcitrant:
Those who refused to keep the peace were excluded from Mass and Communion, refused forgiveness of sin, and denied church burial in consecrated ground, which effectively condemned them to hell.
Citing Ronald C. Musto:
In an age when salvation was the goal of life, such measures were of incalculable power.
The peace of God was followed by (and, apparently, merged into) the “truce of God,” which began about forty years later and in a different part of France. What is common in both movements? The Church, and God; a desire to reduce conflict and recognize life and property.
From George Duby, an influential French historian who specialized in the social and economic history of the Middle Ages:
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.
From James Westfall Thompson:
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.
For the Germans, such proclamations seemed redundant to what was already assumed a king’s duties.
Returning to Collins and the Franks:
Warlords gradually came to see the peace as a kind of treaty with God, the breaking of which would lead to divine chastisement. The movement soon took on a popular tinge, as the church used crowds of ordinary people to persuade warlords to stop fighting.
A “treaty with God.” We really can’t consider this merely a “contract.” I am unaware of contractual clauses that come with the risk – a risk taken seriously by the parties – of eternal damnation for breaking the terms.
In addition to the regions of what is today France, peace was eventually declared in and between the Frankish regions bordering the east and the south:
Glaber tells us that Robert II “lived in peace with the rulers around his borders, especially the [German] Emperor Henry II.” Henry and Robert met in 1023 on the Meuse River to strengthen the peace.
While protocol demanded a mid-river meeting, Henry chose to cross the river with only a small escort; the two then celebrated Mass. After this, they had breakfast together, exchanged gifts, and proclaimed a universal peace. Thereafter, the peace spread to Italy and Spain.
Was the peace ultimately effective? I guess all things are relative; effective, compared to what or when? It wasn’t a perfect peace, as man is not perfect. Yet, the next centuries would witness the flowering of everything that is considered the best and most productive of the Middle Ages – from industrial developments, castle building, intellectual advancement, a liberalizing of society, the flowering of free cities, the birth of the university.
Excommunication and damnation to hell – “in an age when salvation was the goal of life.”
Shunning is an effective and non-aggressive tool to govern behavior. The issue, as always, is the underlying culture: what actions result in being shunned, and are these actions supportive of or destructive to life.
An eye on legacy – even eternity; this is also effective at controlling behavior – and perhaps one of the more important factors that shape culture. A family, children, grandchildren – a belief in an afterlife; all cause man to consider the long-term impact of his choices and actions.
Compare this with our situation today. For many of the “nobles” of our age, “he who dies with the most toys wins” guides life choices. Given the short-term focus and an environment of political correctness that purposely destroys family and church, the weapon of shunning today’s nobles toward peace, prosperity and liberty may not be so effective.
We don’t move toward liberty without first addressing this culture. Which is why I grow further convinced that Christian leaders must once again play their proper role.