Jones, Andrew Willard. Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX. Steubenville: Emmaus Academic, 2017.
In his new book on the social structures of thirteenth-century France, historian Andrew Jones proposes a reevaluation of Louis IX’s kingdom on its own terms. Jones maintains that when historians have approached medieval French society with modern categories they have produced work that is genealogical rather than historical, and they have done much more to explain the nineteenth and twentieth centuries than to explain the thirteenth century. The two modern concepts that Jones shows are not present in medieval France are the secular-religious divide and sovereignty. Quite distinct from most modern political systems which separate Church and State, “thirteenth-century France was not a world of the secular and the religious vying for power, but a world in which the material and the spiritual were dependent on each other and penetrated one another at every level.” (20) Jones wants historians to abandon using terms such as “religious,” “secular,” “Church,” and “State” in their modern contexts when discussing the Middle Ages, for these categories did not exist then. This also means that the popular narrative of various kings vying with the papacy needs nuance, for the secular and religious, were often so entwined in medieval kingdoms that anything but a cooperative relationship between king and pope does not compute. Also, modern conceptions of sovereignty which posit that the state holds a monopoly on violence cannot be found in the Middle Ages. Louis IX’s kingdom was conceived as a kingdom of peace, but one that was consistently rent by sin and violence.
Jones arrived at this alternative historical approach to the thirteenth century France by incorporating the work of various disciplines. Though his dissertation was on the kingdom of Louis IX, he often felt that as a historian his work was isolated and that he was missing many things. In the years since completing his Ph.D., he has been dramatically influenced by the work of theologians, philosophers, and sociologists of the Middle Ages. Jones especially draws from theologian Henri de Lubac’s idea of the “complete act,” meaning that a world makes sense on its terms. Just as modern society is a complete act and has its explanations of its origins, thirteenth century France also had its ideas of itself and formed a complete act. It is this complete act that Jones seeks to reveal to the modern reader. Throughout the book, Jones wishes to counter the secularization thesis put forward by scholars like sociologist Philip Gorski who maintain that medieval kings and popes were entirely distinct. On the contrary, Jones reveals that thirteenth century France was a “most Christian kingdom,” not a state with a Christian ideology, but a fundamentally Christian entity. (33)
Essential to understanding the complete act of thirteenth-century France is the concept of negotium pacis et fidei, the business of the peace and the faith. This was the “name used for the activities of the Crown, the Roman Church, and their allies in the South of France.” (49) Jones offers a rereading of the infamous Albigensian Crusade through an explication of the business of the peace and the faith. Historians have typically interpreted the crusade as an endeavor to wipe out the heretical Cathars, but Jones complicates this reading. The south of France was full of rebels as well as heretics, and they were constantly fighting and seizing land and property. In 1226, French law codified that “heretics were rebels and rebels were heretics, and both were excommunicated.” (77) Rebels and heretics both upset the peace of the king and were both subject to the excommunication of the church. Both crown and church worked together to end these dual threats. The 1229 Council of Toulouse which stated that “Anyone who broke the peace or made war was to be excommunicated and everyone was to make war on them and their lands,” confounds reading the times through modern categories. (82) The business of the peace and the faith was a pursued jointly by King and Church.
Historians have traditionally illustrated the conflict between the secular and religious in Louis IX’s kingdom by contrasting the Church’s inquisitors with the royal enqueteurs. Louis appointed the enqueteurs to travel France and right wrongs perpetrated by him or his forefathers. They primarily investigated property confiscations and “conducted thorough investigations of whatever they found and compelled the royal officials to make restitution.” (99) Most historians draw a sharp distinction between the inquisitors and enqueteurs, but Jones argues that they often did the same kind of work. Not only were most of the enqueteurs monks, but one of the first enqueteurs, Gui Foucois, later became Pope Clement IV. Since most property confiscations involved the seizure of heretics’ property, “the enqueteurs needed to determine whether the person from whom a confiscation was made was a heretic or somehow associated with heresy.” (132) The work of the enqueteurs therefore closely resembled the work of the inquisitors, and often they were the same people. Jones concludes that the sharp contrast between the two institutions is unfounded: “There was not a legal, an institutional, a personal, or a conceptual hard break between the inquisitors and the enqueteurs.” (149)
The other glaring difference between the modern world and medieval France lies in sovereignty. In our world, the State is the “source of organized and legitimate force.” (181-182) Historians usually tell the story of medieval France as a conflict between the Church and the King about who will be the ultimate sovereign, the source of legitimate force. Jones argues that there was no conception of sovereignty in thirteenth-century France, and that “There was a great deal of space and thousands upon thousands of unique actors with masses of disconnected rights and liberties.” (225) Instead of the sovereignty of power, there was justice, which different actors tangibly held depending on context. The king had no exclusive claim of violence, and the right to force was sub-divisible. What governed society was consilium et auxilium (advice and aid), networks of friendship between various lords, nobles, churchmen, and the king.
Though his book does upend many historical narratives about medieval France, Jones does not want to delegitimize previous scholarship. He maintains that much of this work has been primarily beneficial for understanding our modern world. He does think, however, “that much work in this field has been handicapped by a matrix of categories and concepts that almost compels a certain narrative structure.” (32) By attempting to reveal the complete act of Louis IX’s sacramental kingdom, Jones hopes to free scholarship go in new directions.