Thursday, January 30, 2014

Medieval Battle vs. Modern Warfare - A Case Study Part 2



Jus ad Bellum, Jus in Bello:


Perhaps one of the greatest differences between the Medieval warrior and his present day counterpart is to be found in the moral authority that governed their conduct on the battlefield.  Along with being an incredibly limited affair materially, Medieval warfare was even more limited morally.  Contrary to the inaccurate portrayals in modern media as a period of incessant violence, barbaric tactics, and unrestrained savagery, Medieval society had in place stringent restrictions on the causes and conduct of warfare that many Moderns would find bewildering.  These mostly sprang from the single unifying institution of moral authority - the Church.

Many Moderns (usually with an anti-religion agenda to peddle) like to find fault with the Medieval Church for the dominant role it played in its society.  However, this mostly springs from a complete ignorance of what function the Church actually served - in both warfare and the culture as a whole.  After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the Catholic Church found itself to be the only surviving institution that carried the torch of civilization amidst the chaos of the barbarian migrations.  Through the monastic orders, missionaries, and mass conversions of entire tribes, a new order of civilization arose - one that looked to Rome no longer for political might, but for moral guidance, intellectual cultivation, and spiritual judgement.  Church doctrine no longer took a subordinate seat to Roman emperors who, though professing Christianity after Constantine, still somewhat clung to the role of pontifex maximus from the days of the pagan Caesars.  Now, emperors, kings, nobles, and commoners all answered to one moral authority in society and rebelling against it not only wrought worldly consequences, but eternal ones as well - a grave prospect in a time when Faith was a far more intimate affair with believers.

However, Christian doctrines concerning warfare did not originate in the Middle Ages, rather, quite sometime before.  Contrary to horrendously misinformed contemporary dialogue concerning Just War doctrine (note: it is not "Just War theory" as so many modern intellectuals like to classify it - theory implies that there is still debate concerning the issue.  Catholic doctrines regarding warfare have been firmly established for quite sometime.), the Church has never, at anytime in Her history, disallowed the everlastingly human phenomenon of warfare.  While unequivocally seen as an evil, it is not per se a moral evil.  Remembering that our world is indeed a Fallen one, the Church recognized early on that there were times that called for the use of force in defense against violence.  Ss. Peter and Paul both uphold the right of the state to "the power of the sword" in their epistles and many of the Early Church Fathers maintained the legitimacy of the profession of arms - even as the very Empire they lived under actively persecuted them.  Scores of converts in those days were soldiers and early Christians were by no means barred from serving in the legions - one legion of Christians, nick-named Legio Fulminata ("the Thundering Legion"), earned the undying respect of Emperor Marcus Aurelius during his campaigns on the Dacian frontier in 174AD with their steadfast bravery and noted performance above their pagan counterparts.  After the Edict of Milan and the end of Christian persecutions, military service was seen as an honorable duty for Christians - one that vitally contributed to the maintenance of a civilization that was rapidly becoming Christianized.  It was one Christian writer, however, that would unequivocally establish Church doctrine on warfare and which the majority of the Medieval ideal would be based upon.

St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430AD), was perhaps the greatest intellectual influence on the development of Catholic doctrine until the advent of St. Thomas Aquinas and is honored in the present day as one of the two Great Western Fathers of the Church.  Amongst his voluminous writings, Augustine focused substantial effort in outlining certain key points of social doctrine which he recorded in his most famous work De Civitate Dei (The City of God) in 426AD.  Within the work, he covered a vast array of doctrinal topics in the context of contrasting the "City of God" (the Christian Church amidst the world) against the "City of Man" (the old pagan order of the dying Empire).  One of the topics addressed was the argument concerning warfare and it's role in the City of God.  Augustine begins his discussion with doctrinally defining "peace."  Peace, to Augustine, was not simply the absence of violence - rather, it possessed much deeper meaning:

"The peace of the body then consists in the duly proportioned arrangement of its parts. The peace of the irrational soul is the harmonious repose of the appetites, and that of the rational soul the harmony of knowledge and action. The peace of body and soul is the well-ordered and harmonious life and health of the living creature. Peace between man and God is the well-ordered obedience of faith to eternal law. Peace between man and man is well-ordered concord. Domestic peace is the well-ordered concord between those of the family who rule and those who obey. Civil peace is a similar concord among the citizens. The peace of the celestial city is the perfectly ordered and harmonious enjoyment of God, and of one another in God. The peace of all things is the tranquility of order."

This concept of peace as the tranquility of order (tranquilitas ordinis) would form the basis for all further discussion of warfare and its place in Christian societies.  This way, all evil was seen as a threat to order - the threat of unjust aggression by an outside realm was as much an aberration to the tranquility of a state's social order as sin was an aberration of the soul's order with virtue.  In all things, Augustine maintained, this order needed to be vigilantly upheld.  As an individual was required to wage war against sin within his own soul, so the state was required to wage war against those external threats to its own peace.  Of course, to claim that Augustine essentially wrote states a carte blanche to utilize violence whenever they pleased would be a gross misunderstanding - the goal of Christian warfare forever had to be justice and justice alone.  War waged for unjust purposes was as evil as sin itself.  However, Augustine never fully explored what exactly these criteria for just warfare were.  Those would be developed in the Middle Ages themselves by a Catholic thinker who, in many ways, would vastly supersede the works of the great Augustine.

Before the the time of Aquinas, Christendom drew most of it's moral teaching on warfare from Augustine - compensating for his lack of definable criteria with the addition of the right of Papal judgement on the justice of all conflicts.  In the early Medieval period, the Papacy (along with the rest of the clerical hierarchy) assumed an extremely active role in the conduct of wars within Europe.  Influenced by the Augustinian concept of celestial order, any conflict between fellow Christians was roundly frowned upon by the Church and only permitted with the greatest degree of reluctance.  This intense reluctance produced a military culture that was often so antithetical to the utilitarian notion of warfare in our own time that it still mystifies us to this day.  Realizing that the profession of arms would never surrender its integral role within Medieval society, the Church proceeded with a two-fold objective - attempting to limit its actions to the highest possible degree within Christendom on one hand and direct and encourage its destructive energies towards threats external to the "City of God" on the other.

The extent of the limitations placed on early Medieval warriors were as intense as they were far-reaching.  These restrictions were known at the time as the "Truce of God" and all Christian warriors had to abide by its strict set of rules concerning seasons, conduct, and Magisterial oversight - or risk excommunication.  Blessed Pope Urban II (1088-1099AD), the pope most famous for the proclamation of the First Crusade, expanded the Truce of God to an even greater extent - Church property (church grounds, abbeys, monasteries, even wayside crosses) was an inviolable place of sanctuary for any Christian combatant and no private warfare (meaning warfare between individual knights or nobles - a constant occurrence within the early Medieval warrior class) was forbidden to be carried on for the entirety of Lent, Advent and Christmastide, first-class Feast Days, and lastly the entire time from sunset Wednesday night to sunrise on Monday.  Now, it would be very safe to say that this was not always perfectly obeyed or enforced, but the fact that these regulations were so stringent testifies to the immense societal importance they carried and the power of the Papacy they represented.  Warfare conducted by sovereigns did not escape this intense scrutiny either.  William of Normandy spent nearly six critical months in 1066AD dispatching embassies to Rome to petition his cause for the conquest of England.  Only after his delegations returned in September with the official Papal banner was his invasion fleet permitted to sail for Pevensey.  Numerous popes allowed bishops to accompany armies onto the battlefield as unofficial representatives of Church authority, while under the strict understanding that they not participate in any overt act of combat other than what was necessary for self defense (Canon law forbade clerics from wielding any bladed weapon as the sword was seen as the weapon of the Knightly vocation - fighting bishops often circumvented this restriction by carrying maces).

As the popes did everything they could to restrict war within Christendom, they also sought to direct the Christian warrior towards those very real threats that existed beyond her boundaries.  Europe at the dawn of the First Millennium AD found itself in an extremely precarious situation - Spain was still in the midst of a death-struggle with Moorish invaders that, at one time, had marched as far north as Tours, North African raiders had overran Sicily and Southern Italy, vicious pagan tribes still haunted the dark frozen forests of Prussia and Lithuania, the battered Byzantine shadow of Old Rome in the East continued to suffer defeat after defeat at the hands of the Seljuk Turks, and lastly the very land of Christ's earthly Life had been seized by unbelievers who persecuted His people and desecrated His churches.  As the popes of the time saw it, the City of God was very much under threat.  Spanish efforts during the early Reconquista began to foster the idea of armed struggle in service to God and His people - wars fought not for pride, anger, or greed, but for the defense of the innocent from heathen aggression.  Pope St. Gregory VII (1073-1085AD) would desperately try to promote this ideal of the Christian Knight and his Godly vocation, but success eluded him due to his life-long struggle over Papal authority with the incorrigible German emperors.  It would be his successor, the aforementioned Urban, who would see this concept become a societal reality and ignite the cultural phenomenon still known today as the Knightly Code of Chivalry.  As he called for warriors to march East in defense of the Holy Land at Clermont in 1095AD, Blessed Urban appealed to the sentiment of Christian duty in all warriors present:

"May those men who have been occupied in the wicked struggle of private warfare against their fellow Christians now take up arms against the infidel and help bring this long-delayed campaign to a victorious end ... What more is there to say?  On the one hand, there are people in great distress - on the other, there are those who live in great plenty; over there, are the enemies of God - here are His friends.  Join us without delay!"


This notion of armed struggle in service to the Kingdom of God begun by the First Crusade would leave an indelible mark on the Medieval West and would inspire some of its most well-known societal institutions.  The Code of Chivalry - a topic I will cover in much greater detail in a later post - was a direct product of the Crusading zeal that called for Godly warriors.  This period saw the foundation of entire religious orders whose sole purpose was to serve as poor, landless knights dedicated to nothing other than the defense of God's children through the warrior's vocation.  The Knights Templar, the Knights of the Hospital, the Teutonic Order (in its early years at least) - all became the paragon, the ultimate example of what the Christian Knight was meant to be.  So wrote St. Bernard in 1128AD concerning the newly formed Templar Order:

"We hear that a new kind of chivalry has risen on earth, and that it has risen on the very region of it which the rising Son Himself, present in flesh, once visited from on high; as He then, by the strength of His mighty hand, threw down the princes of darkness, so now He exterminates their followers, those sons of misplaced faith, put to flight-by a band of His mighty ones, bringing about even now His people's redemption and raising again the cup of salvation for us in the house of His servant David. A new kind of chivalry, one ignorant of the ways of the ages, which fights a double fight equally and tirelessly, both against flesh and blood and against the spiritual forces of iniquity in the heavens ...
... When battle is at hand, they arm themselves with faith within and steel without, rather than with gold, so that when armed, rather than prettified, they instill fear in their adversaries rather than incite their greed. They choose to have horses that are strong and quick, rather than showy or well-dressed. They attend to battle rather than display, to victory rather than glory, and concern themselves to inspire fear rather than wonder ... Finally, then, they are both gentler than lambs and fiercer than lions, in such a wonderful and peculiar way that I am very nearly incapable of deciding what I think they should rather be called, monks or knights, unless I should perhaps more appropriately name them both, since they apparently lack neither, neither the monk's gentle disposition nor the knight's fierce strength. What can be said, but that this is the Lord's work and a miracle in our eyes. God has elected such men to Himself and gathered them together from the ends of the earth, from among the mightiest of Israel, His agents for keeping the tomb which is the resting place of the true Solomon, all bearing swords and well taught in the ways of war."

It is nearly impossible for secularized Modernity to grasp the concept of war waged for spiritual goods as their objective and I sadly cannot dwell too long on the Crusading phenomenon due to the immensity of the subject.  One key point to remember is that, in direct contrast to their typical Modern portrayal as campaigns of enrichment thinly disguised as religious warfare, both the risks and expenses incurred by Western crusaders nearly always vastly outweighed any material benefits reaped.  One of the main reasons so many of the noble leaders of the First Crusade remained behind in the Levant was for none other than that most of them had nothing back in Europe to return to.  Even Crusading kings suffered from these risks - Richard Cœur de Lion was forced to terminate his brilliant campaign just short of recapturing Jerusalem and rush back to save his own realm from the machinations of his scheming younger brother and St. Louis IX of France - ever the tragic Crusader king - nearly drove his country to bankruptcy with his devotion to the Holy Cause.  At no time was the acquisition of wealth or plunder ever a primary objective of any Crusade (with the sole exception of the disastrously shameful Fourth Crusade in 1204AD that was ferociously condemned in its own time).  Such evidence would lead the honest observer to admit that the Middle Ages truly did possess a view of war that encompassed higher objectives and purposes than the mere material.

When St. Thomas Aquinas finally began to put pen to paper in the mid 13th Century AD, the Crusading zeal had already begun to gradually wear out.  However, the after effects in Christian society were still very much alive - they simply needed further clarification in an age when literacy and intellectual discourse were becoming more widespread.  This he would masterfully provide in Part II, Question 40 of the Summa Theologica:

"I answer that, In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime. And as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them. And just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending that common weal against internal disturbances, when they punish evil-doers ... Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault ... Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil."

This set of moral prerequisites, presented in typical Thomistic categorization, would stress both the importance of both the just cause for which war is initiated (Jus ad Bellum) and the just conduct required of belligerents once war had commenced (Jus in Bello).  Throughout the remaining years of the Medieval period, nearly every conflict would generally conform to these criteria.  Very rarely would they deviate from them, and the few times that did happen, they were always responded to with grave ecclesiastical and social condemnation (the horrific massacre of the Burgundian city of Soissons in 1413AD by the French is one outstanding example).  However, near the end of the Medieval period, such religious sentiments were rapidly fading in favor of the rise of the nation-state and, after the Protestant Reformation, all real societal authority of the Church over the conduct of warfare vanished entirely.  However, the dogmatic definition of Just War laid out by Augustine and Aquinas was never lost and, although there have been some additions made due to the changing nature of warfare in the modern era, the Church continues to officially uphold the very same doctrine to the present day.

Perhaps there is no other subject in this discussion in which the contrast between Medieval and Modern is as wide.  Secularism - essentially, the total divorce of religious considerations from the social and cultural - is one of the defining pillars of the Modern Era in the West.  As was to be expected - when Christianity, ie. the sole unifying philosophy that gave Christendom its very lifeforce, became dogmatically fragmented, there was no longer any unifying principle to unite the West morally or culturally.  What once had been the single moral arbiter that would outweigh any desire or consideration of king, emperor, or noble was drowned out amidst a sea of voices all violently crying out at once that their creed was the true one.  In reaction, the new Western nation-states adopted policies of strict religious and moral neutrality - forcing them to seek out new universal moral codes with which to prevent eachother from casting aside all compunctions in battlefield conduct in favor of sheer utilitarian slaughter.  As the sad tale of modern history would reveal, such efforts would ultimately fail.

Throughout Modernity, nation-states have attempted numerous forms of universal moral compliance regarding warfare.  For the first few centuries, there was at least attempted cultural adherence to the last remnants of Knightly Chivalry, usually coupled with some sort of nationalistic corollary that maintained true superiority was demonstrated by he who conducted himself with greater nobility in battle.  Warfare in the era of Marlborough, Louis XV, and Frederick of Prussia was very much a "gentlemen's match" in which the violence of combat was nominally constrained by societal agreements of fair play.  However, after the French Revolution and the consequent military revolution it spawned in the person of Napoleon, with his extreme bias on the superiority of the eternal strategic offensive, such social niceties were rapidly swept aside by the power of whoever dared first.  It was after emerging from this era that Clausewitz famously wrote how war was simply the "continuation of political intercourse with the intermixing of other (ie. violent) means."  Wearied of the destruction Napoleon had initiated within their own Continent, the Great Powers spent the next century and a half projecting and implementing Clausewitz's ideals on far-flung lands populated by non-Westerners.  These "others" were generally seen to be excluded from the "gentlemen's agreement" upheld for the time being amongst the Great Powers.  However, the toxicity of modern industrial nationalism would eventually tear this constraint down as well, causing the West to erupt into two wars so terrible in scale as to force these powers to attempt some sort of established universal moral authority over the conduct of warfare.  These attempts, the League of Nations after the First World War and the United Nations after the Second, would still completely fail to present any binding authority over nation-states.  Even the document that currently serves as the undisputed source of battlefield ethics in an era marked by civilization-ending military technology, the Geneva Convention of 1949, has only this guarantee to offer for its effective enforcement:

"The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances."

As just the past few decades have shown, even the majority of the nations who drafted this resolution have, on multiple occasions, deferred adherence to its regulations in favor of immediate military need.  Such is the moral guarantee of a thoroughly secular civilization in time of war and, while there may still be individual combatants and commanders who personally follow the principles of a higher moral authority, their convictions have forever been placed beneath the immediate strategic concerns of the nation-state for which they fight.  It will be that voice that dictates policy, not theirs.  Perhaps the only way for this phenomenon of secularist Modernity to change would be what many have theorized on in a variety of fashions, but essentially a conflict or cataclysm so great and terrible that it wipes out the very civilization that fostered it - or, at least leaves it battered beyond recovery.  With the existence of apocalyptic weaponry in the hands of nations following no greater moral authority than a litigiously-worded "pinkie swear," such a future might be far more real than anyone wishes to admit.

To be continued ...

1 comment:

  1. ''Scores of converts in those days were soldiers and early Christians were by no means barred from serving in the legions - one legion of Christians, nick-named Legio Fulminata ("the Thundering Legion"), earned the undying respect of Emperor Marcus Aurelius during his campaigns on the Dacian frontier in 174AD with their steadfast bravery and noted performance above their pagan counterparts. ''

    Christian men were manlier back then. What happened that Christian men have become such milksops?

    ReplyDelete