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Penser l’histoire religieuse au xxie siècle

 | 
Yves Krumenacker
, 
Raymond A. Mentzer

Religious History as a « New » History
in Post-Communist Historiography

Following the Example of the History of Religious Orders in the Middle Ages in Slovakia after 1989

Gabriel Hunčaga OP

Résumé

Les changements qui ont suivi la Révolution de Velours en novembre 1989 en ancienne Tchécoslovaquie ont créé une nouvelle atmosphère savante dans la science historique, auparavant absente en Slovaquie pendant quelques décennies. Dans l'historiographie, la transformation de l'examen des événements historiques individuels dans l'atmosphère de liberté intellectuelle se manifestait, avant tout, par la désidéologisation de la recherche propre, par l'élargissement de l'accès aux bases de données de ressources étrangères et aux collections de livres, mais surtout par la possibilité de se familiariser avec les tendances et les méthodes actuelles appliquées au travail des historiens. En particulier, ceux qui sont nés plus tard ont l'occasion de se détacher des erreurs motivées idéologiquement et des échecs professionnels de leurs prédécesseurs.
Dans ce contexte, il est nécessaire d'attirer l'attention sur la nécessité d'une nouvelle interprétation, ou d'une réinterprétation de certains phénomènes dans l'historiographie, qu’elle soit nationale ou générale. La nécessité de la réinterprétation est, tout simplement, liée à la confrontation des deux modèles le plus couramment utilisés dans l'interprétation de l'histoire : d'une part, du matérialisme historique abstrayant des paradigmes religieux et dominant dans le passé chez nous (et persistant encore et sans discernement chez d’anciens historiens), et, d'autre part, du modèle de déchiffrage du cadre historique par coefficients qui perçoivent le christianisme comme une religion au sens strict et comme des orientations de valeur des individus en fonction de leur vision du monde (par exemple, un auteur qui écrit). Dans l'environnement slovaque, le deuxième modèle n'apparaît qu'après 1989 pour des raisons évidentes.
La relation entre l'histoire et la religion crée un espace de réflexion sur le rôle de la théologie dans l'histoire et vice versa, ou sur l'impact de la pensée théologique sur certains processus historiques, ou sur les pièges de l'interprétation théologique de l'histoire sous la forme que nous rencontrons dans le domaine de l'historiographie ecclésiastique. Dans l'historiographie, le lien dialectique entre l'histoire médiévale et la théologie se traduit toujours, en quelque sorte, dans la définition fondamentale d'accès, dans le choix de point de départ, dans le caractère d'argumentation et dans l'utilisation de déclarations théologiques. En particulier, ces processus sont très bien visibles lors de la réflexion des phénomènes historiques, tels que les formes de la vie religieuse médiévale de l'Occident latin.
Pour les chercheurs en Slovaquie, dans ce contexte, la question se pose de savoir ce que les historiens sont arrivés à faire dans le domaine des modèles d'interprétation gérés au cours des trois dernières décennies de la réception libre de l'histoire de la vie religieuse, et de savoir s'ils étaient capables d'exploiter le potentiel des changements sociaux avec tout ce qu'ils ont apporté. Du point de vue méthodologique, l'histoire des ordres religieux en tant que sous-discipline des études médiévales peut à cet égard servir du point de départ fondamental pour trouver des réponses aux questions soulevées.

Texte intégral

1In 2019, Slovakia commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution of November 1989. The changes that followed this social milestone created a new scholarly atmosphere in the field of historical science, one that had been missing in our environment for decades. In historiography, the transformation related to the study of particular historical events and investigation into the background of intellectual freedom have been demonstrated mainly in our own research, as well as in better access to foreign resource databases and library collections, but especially in the opportunity to become better acquainted with current trends and methods used by historians in their work.

2This category also includes the history of medieval monasticism as a standard discipline of medieval studies. In countries with developed historiography, such studies have had an uninterrupted tradition since the emergence of modern historiography. In former socialist countries with Marxist-Leninist state doctrine, the subject matter of the undisputable contribution of Christianity and religious institutions to western civilization was artificially suppressed for ideological reasons. Therefore, the historiography of Christianity and Christian historiography were understood as being ideologically and politically sensitive at best, and as retrogressive and hostile at worst.

  • 1 Appointing of Hungarian Bishops from the 10th till the End of the 14th Century : With Special Regar (...)
  • 2 Debate on Culture (Rozprava o kultúrnosti) (1943), General Christianity (Všeobecné kresťantvo) (194 (...)
  • 3 Council of Trent (Snem v Tridente) (1947), Patrology (Patrológia) (1950), History of the Church in (...)
  • 4 Church in 49 Generations (Cirkev v 49 pokoleniach) (samizdat).

3Since the Communist regime came to power in the late 1940s and early 1950s, any historiography of religion that had not passed ideological censorship was on the list of forbidden literature in the former Czechoslovakia. At that time, the personalities who developed this type of historiography and worked in the academic environment belonged to the so-called old (pre-war) school. Among them, I would especially like to mention Ľudevít Knappek († 1983)1, a lawyer, Ladislav Hanus († 1994)2, a theologian, and Jozef Špirko († 1954)3 and Štefan Šmálik († 1991)4, both historians. The members of this generation managed to study at foreign universities (Vienna, Innsbruck, Rome, and Dijon for example) and, in turn, trained students in Slovakia. Beginning in the 1950s, most of them were identified as so-called class enemies and forced out of public life. The short period of the Prague Spring in 1968, replaced by repressive socialist normalization, failed to reverse the lag behind advanced historiographies of the Middle Ages in terms of both form and content.

4Given the fact that history is to a certain extent re-written by each generation, 1989 was a challenge to its re-interpretation. This was particularly the case for the phenomenon of medieval forms of religious life. In the new context of free research, even after three decades, we still need to learn how to offer alternative or, so to speak, parallel attempts for interpreting developments in relation to previous historical views. As the last three decades have not been marked by senseless class restrictions, it is possible in our historical community to freely build and develop a field of study capable of offering this service without unnecessary ideological, formal and content compromises.

5Religious history offers a possible alternative to the older Marxist-materialistic concept of the history. Latin Christianity represents the religious heritage of the Middle Ages in today´s Slovakia. A decades-long gap in the continuity of open historical research and the application of up-to-date methodological trends exposed the Slovak historical community to a challenge regarding the criteria for this alternative as well as the choice of narrative.

6The basic social model, and the associated cultural heritage of the Middle Ages, was marked by manifestations of civilization in Central Europe, the bearer of which was Christianity itself. By way of explanation, the history of Christianity is hidden beneath religious history. In the light of this slightly conservative understanding, it has not only antiquarian significance, but it points out that Christianity, as a religion in the true sense of the word, found its historical realization in an institutionalized form – the Church. Knowing the continuity, complexity and relativity of the ecclesiastical-historical evolution in its “relation to the world” brings us to a responsible historical research activity.

7It is at this point that I see the role of the religious history in double discourse in creating a historical self-reflection within interdisciplinary exchange, and at the same time in explaining the significance of the Christian religious dimension in the historical process.

Monasticism and monasteriology

8During the Middle Ages, religious institutions were relatively effective mediators of these processes. The study of their historical forms is the content of the history of Latin monasticism (or monasteriology as a science of material culture and the everyday life of religious communities), which are of a specific nature given by a concrete framework. For instance, the autarkic orders have left environmental footprints by their cultivation and agricultural activities, a fact that must be taken into consideration by any serious researcher nowadays. On the other hand, when examining the impact of the Dominicans in the academic environment, historians must be able to navigate their way around period focal points of academic formation of contemporary intellectual elites in order to be able to identify the contribution of the order in educational processes at that time.

  • 5 At this point, it is worth mentioning the individual exceptions, which, just before 1989, succeede (...)

9At the same time, we are dealing with a scientific discipline that has long established a sound reputation abroad, and the publication efforts from its sphere of interest have earned respect. Regarding those countries where the national historiography encountered similar difficulties as related to the reception of the history of spiritual life and religious movements, which was the case in Slovakia5, the situation in Poland was to some extent different in terms of quality and quantity, especially due to the existence of the Catholic University of Lublin. There, it was possible at least from time to time to publish an interesting translation or study.

10In this connection, the question arises whether in Slovakia we have been able to unleash the full potential of social change with all that it has brought for the past three decades of the free reception of the history of medieval religious life. What is interesting about the subdiscipline of medieval studies is the fact that the religious communities under scrutiny are to some extent ongoing entities, and their history is not merely an insight into the past in the strict sense of the word.

11Throughout the centuries, they intertwine the cultural heritage of our continent with the present, which in a rare way makes it possible to confront the development of individual orders with their present-day action. Besides, the fact that the basic principles of institutionalised monastic life have not changed since the Middle Ages, and, in principle, the regulae of medieval orders have lost nothing of their original content, the subject of the study of the history of monasticism and monasteriology is in some ways an insight into a « well-preserved » form of life of different religious communities.

12A serious grasp of the subject matter of the historical research creates a rich space for multidisciplinary cooperation. As such « classical » historiography and, in addition, the auxiliary sciences of history, archaeology, history of art and architecture, history of material culture, religious demography, cultural and religious anthropology, history of education, history of economy and, last but not least, theology and history of spirituality come into play. Since their inception, monastic orders have been inviting as an alternative way of life that could not take place « in the world », but out of it, in an idealized form of civitas Dei (the monastery with its atrium, garden, complete infrastructure of its own, and so forth). In the context of interpretation, individual forms of historical monasticism and the knowledge of the impact of theological thinking on the associated historical processes plays a vital role. This is why the reception of the Middle Ages cannot reduce theology to a marginal scientific discipline.

13Every religious movement of the Middle Ages deduced its existence, especially in the period of its formation, from the period’s understanding of Christian doctrine, which always played against the background of concrete ideological currents in a particular social, religious and cultural environment. The relationship of history and religion thus creates a space for reflection on the role of theology in history and vice versa, or on the influence of theological thinking on some historical processes, or on the difficulties of the theological interpretation of history in the form encountered in the field of Christian historiography. It is impossible to omit the subjective, internal piety and the changes in the social context under the weight of which the intensity of the impact of Christianity and its institutions on the period’s processes changed. This includes the analysis and reconstruction of all the structures involved in these factors within the cultural phenomena.

14Monastic orders are one of them. As institutionalized religious movements, as well as un-institutionalized in the form of various freely existing communities, they are visible and documentable historical organisms. Homo religiosus, homo christianus or, if you will, homo monasticus, homo regularis within the same scientific discipline do not necessarily represent the same thing. It is necessary to perceive delicate nuances in individual cases. Latin Christianity itself influenced and co-formed human communities as such. It participated in their past, which is naturally transferred to the evaluation processes of individual historical events. This is where we can see the role of the history of monasticism in the process of explaining the significance of this form of the Christian religious dimension in a particular historical event.

15Nor can we overlook the fact that in the history of monastic orders, there is a certain proximity between the spheres of religious and legal norms which, in terms of legislative processes, were able to determine to a great extent to what degree a new evolving religious movement – later an approbated order – would be officially legitimised or whether within the assessment of its orthodoxy, it would be placed in the unwanted category – a heterodox religious movement. The legal framework in the sense of papal approbation of the forms of religious life, and particular canonical-theological contours, played a fundamental role, especially after the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 (canon XIII De novis religionibus prohibitis).

16For a medieval man, an affiliation with an order meant, apart from his personal commitment to a given way of life, to find oneself in an area where his human existence as such was governed by the rules of canon law as well as by the particular practices of a given community (consuetudines). These things outlined the basic particularities of his way of living. In relation to the particular monastic regula, the everyday reality of an individual and a community was controlled in such details as a diet, environment, quality of housing, amount and kind of work, intellectual formation, share of responsibility and administration of the monastery, the form of their funeral, up to the concept of their personal memorial in the living community after death through prayers for the deceased and the notation in the necrologue (mortuarium).

17The history of monasticism lies in two levels of conflict. The first one is an internal conflict rooted in the system of established Church structures with new emerging forces that, if present in the struggle, gradually become part and parcel of the system. Such historical processes entail all dimensions of Christianity, along with purely spiritual dimensions such as mysticism and individual spiritualities. The second level of the conflict is an external one. It is represented by the historical dialogue of the Church with various social structures and power apparatuses. An axiom applies that the Church and Christianity are not homogeneous, and that for centuries, they have been shaped as heterogeneous, multicultural, multi-confessional entities, while various positions have taken turns in being dominant.

18Therefore, in various stages of the existence of religious life, we must take into account all the particularities of the forms of religious life. Any historical events that occurred in history took place within certain value structures, which, in this framework, does not exclude purely religious structures. Needless to say, this is especially conspicuous in the historiography of monasticism.

A change of paradigm

19By way of illustration, I shall cite, as a « textbook » example, a relatively significant change in the attitude of the Catholic Church historiography to the evaluation of real or presumed heretical religious movements of the Middle Ages. In short, it had long been assumed that within orthodox religious movements of the Middle Ages like the Mendicants and their heterodox counterparts represented by the Waldenses, the Albigenses, the Poor of Lyon, and so forth, pure antagonism prevailed without any overlap. In this connection, older Catholic research frameworks, under the influence of doctrinal and authoritarian ecclesiastical opinions, have long neglected the effects of heterodoxy on orthodoxy, at least not to the extent that later proved to be the case.

20The change in the study of heterodoxy was brought about by the emphasis placed on the religious motives of these movements and of their leaders in an attempt to look at the historical reality through their eyes. It led Catholic historians to study the writers who were religiously closer to these phenomena. They soon noticed the works by historians of religious beliefs other than theirs whose religious traditions were closer to the medieval predecessors of the Reformation and, to a certain extent, were able to keep their ideas and religious practices alive.

21The Catholic Church historiography has relatively recently discovered the Pietist Gottfried Arnold († 1714), who, in his ground-breaking work Unparteiische Kirchen-und Ketzer-Historie (1699), observed one of the first, heterodox religious movements in the Church in an original way. He pointed out its place in concrete social mechanisms. Heresy, real or presumed, in folk form was not only a matter of the idea of a man´s place in the divinely created universe, dogmas and dogmatic controversies, but also a question of religious enthusiasm in everyday life and its fruits in practice. A witness in medieval history is not just an institutionally proclaimed believer, but also an everyday practicing Christian. Thus, the value of religious orthodoxy often meant an advantage for the majority over the minority, the winners over the defeated.

22Arnold pointed out in a pioneering way that a continuous stream of spiritual (religious) inspiration passes through history, which extends beyond existing established ecclesiastical forms. He managed to seize the stimuli of various historical Christian groups to repentance, conversion and their religious practices, and this innovative methodological attitude was adopted to a greater extent by leading historians much later. In other words, he captured the historical dynamics of the transformation of institutional and non-institutional forms of Christianity, and, at the same time, he outlined how some individual spiritualities are enforced, while others remain at the periphery. After all, the objectively elaborated history of the Church is not only the history of the victors, but also the history of the vanquished.

Mendicants

23In this case, the change of emphasis while studying history is an example of the fact that access to the source base itself may not be a sufficient prerequisite for the impartial and objective processing of historical events. Due to new horizons found in the Christian historiography of other Christian traditions, Catholic historiography succeeded after decades of research to understand that a wide range of religious expressions, customs and attitudes in heterodox movements of the Middle Ages found its application among the later Mendicants too.

24The Christian European Middle Ages experienced two large and several smaller waves of the emergence of new religious orders. The Mendicants are representatives of the second wave during which they were for some time the dominant form of religious life in Latin Christianity. Their peculiarity is that they conquered primarily the urban environment. Compared with the Latin West, only a few medieval communities met the criteria of urbanism in today´s Slovakia. Therefore, in comparison with the more advanced West, the presence of the Mendicants in the territory of present-day Slovakia in the Middle Ages is less noticeable.

25The fewer centres a monastic order in medieval Hungary (Slovakia) had, the fewer opportunities for exploration it left behind. Except for the Paulinians, all mendicant orders were imported into our territory, which is reflected in the research by the fact that the epicenters of these institutions were situated quite far from local events. Consequently, starting from architecture to everyday spirituality, researchers must be able to grasp the transfer of savoir vivre of a given order from its place of origin to the very periphery as the first thing, which, in this context, is undoubtedly represented by Hungary in the Middle Ages.

26The changes in the study of the formation, spread and long-term activities of orders in our milieu resulted in a number of high-quality scientific studies over the last three decades. They examine a wide range of religious expressions, customs and attitudes of mendicant orders in the Middle Ages. Mendicant monasteries were cosmopolitan or, in current language, transnational organisms that formed numerous communities with different spiritualities across modern political boundaries. Their undeniable impact on the social atmosphere is now axiomatic. The question remains as to the extent of its intensity, varied forms and eventual consequences in all areas of life of a medieval person.

27As previously suggested, Slovak historiography has a voice, despite some initial difficulties, in a whole range of works of differing quality and significance. When looking at existing publications, a delightful fact is that they belong to the whole spectrum of scientific disciplines that have something to do with the subject matter. In addition to the classical historiography of mendicant orders, the most numerous representations are the publish works from the area of the arts and archaeology.

Conclusion

28Given the evidence presented here, we are pleased to state that interest in religious history, i.e. the history of Christianity, is increasing within the academic sphere. Since history is the place for realization of the creative abilities of humanity, the religious, but also every other historian, seeks to grasp the ongoing process of human history using an appropriate professional conceptual base, while the abundance of theological instrumentation in the historiography of religion has been and remains its exposed nerve. This is demonstrated evidenced by the decades-long controversy between historians and theologians. Some of them tend to spiritualise and sacramentalize history in the form of locus theologicus (Y. Congar OP, J. Daniélou SJ), while the inevitable presence of theological elements suffices for other historians of religion.

29These issues are the most discussed in the process of establishing religious history as an equal historiography in Slovakia. Methodological questioning on the part of secular historiography is to some extent based on objective criticism such as the occasional poor quality of studies published by historians of religion. On the other hand, this discrediting is often based simply on subjective, ideological criteria. Consequently, the question is to what extent religiosity and theology should be present in the work of church historians. It may seem a bit laconic, but in my opinion, the answer depends on the necessity not to outbalance the tools of theology to the prejudice of terminology together with the methodology of a historian´s work.

30Whilst it is true that the religious history or Christian oriented history finds itself at a certain spiritual level, one should not forget that the term « religious » refers not only to the history of the papacy, to the forms of the Church together with its institutions, to the biographies of saints, and the like, but also to the processing of the historical meaning that the author takes into account the categories of Christianity as a religion in the true sense of the word and does not reduce it to a mere social phenomenon that is, like all other phenomena, present in history in some way. I consider purposeful abstraction from religious coefficients as a tendentious methodological shortcoming, which is in particular the case of medieval studies. The historical framework as one of prerequisites for the development of an interpretative model cannot resign itself to a religious dimension just because an author wants to or wishes to be « neutral » and rejects all tenets of Christian belief as a determinant of human action.

31It would be naive to presume that there will be no conflicts of historiographies in this process. In some circumstances, they may even play a positive role given that the plurality of forms is known to be beneficial for any scientific discipline. This is greatly enhanced by the fact that religious phenomena and institutions may be of interest for any historian from his/her own perspective without automatically looking for a religious subtext as such. The pontificate of Pope Leo XIII (who made the Vatican Archives accessible) and the emergence of national historical institutes in Rome created favorable conditions for these circumstances. Church and secular historiography have the potential to enrich and complement each other. In addition to a healthy competitive environment, such cooperation results in meaningful compatibility. Reciprocal interconnections of specific historiographies afford opportunities for a more objective interpretation of historical events, as we have seen in the example of Gottfried Arnold.

32I presuppose that the Church historiography processed in a modern way does not have to be exclusively the history of the Church in stricto sensu. The study of monasticism and monasteriology may serve to help us to understand the processes in which the intersection of humanum and divinum took place in the history of the Middle Ages. Nowadays, there are eleven departments of History at Slovak universities. Some of them include subjects in their study programs, which in some ways reflect the themes of medieval monasticism. However, it is a pity that none of them offers a separate study program related to the changes of religiosity in medieval times, despite the possible cooperation with seven faculties of theology in Slovakia. Even though most of them do have departments of the history of the Church, none of them offer a program related to the study of the history of the Church and to the academic formation of historians of religion in a professional sense, a common practice abroad. The curricula of the history of the Church are left by the wayside, reduced to a secondary discipline focused on a rudimentary overview of the history of the Church.

33Yet another difficulty arises in the Slovak context : the access to resource commonly available in other countries. On 1 January 2014, the Slovak Historical Institute opened in Rome. It is regrettable that medieval monasticism does not appear among its research focal points. Compared to foreign projects, there is still something of a lag, but not to the extent as shortly after 1989. Needless to say, there are challenges ahead of us, like further elaboration of sub-issues directly linked with orders and monasteries in the Middle Ages.

34A critical remark to summarize : even though the publications of the far less numerous community of Slovak historians cannot compare with the post-communist historiographies of neighboring countries, enormous challenges in the history of monasticism and monasteriology cannot be overlooked. For example, we still have no national encyclopedias and lexicons of religious orders and monasteries, which could provide quick and reliable information of the lexicographic kind, especially within didactic and educational activities.

35Although there are national syntheses concerning the mendicant activities, they discuss only a few cases (Augustinians, Antonites, Paulines). The largest and most widespread mendicant orders (Franciscans and Dominicans) are still waiting for their national syntheses. It is to be hoped that if someone else, some years later, writes a similar reflection on the occasion of the next major anniversary, we will be able to say that the challenges labelled as unmet in this essay were finally addressed.

Notes

1 Appointing of Hungarian Bishops from the 10th till the End of the 14th Century : With Special Regard to Papal Principles and Status of Hungarian Kings (Obsadzovanie uhorských biskupstiev od x. do konca xiv. Storočia : so zvláštnym zreteľom na pápežské zásady a na postavenie uhorských kráľov) (1934).

2 Debate on Culture (Rozprava o kultúrnosti) (1943), General Christianity (Všeobecné kresťantvo) (1944) and translations of Rilke, Guardini and Maritain.

3 Council of Trent (Snem v Tridente) (1947), Patrology (Patrológia) (1950), History of the Church in four volumes (Cirkevné dejiny) (1943).

4 Church in 49 Generations (Cirkev v 49 pokoleniach) (samizdat).

5 At this point, it is worth mentioning the individual exceptions, which, just before 1989, succeeded in being published. At the same time, after 1989, they served as inspiration for research in the new social conditions. Michal Slivka, « Terraced Houses in the Structure of Slovak Settlement and in Its Political and Socio-economic Relations (Focusing on the Order of the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star) » (Rádové domy v štruktúre osídlenia Slovenska a v jeho politických a sociálno–ekonomických vzťahoch (so zameraním na krížovnícke rády)), Archaeologia historica, 1987, no 12, p. 383-402 ; Alexander Ruttkay, Michal Slivka, « Church Institutions and Their Role in the Residential and Economic Development of Slovakia in the Middle Ages » (Cirkevné inštitúcie a ich úloha v sídliskovom a hospodárskom vývoji Slovenska v stredoveku), Archaeologia historica, 1985, no 10, p. 333-356 ; Július Sopko, « On the Oldest Codes in Relation to the Territory of Slovakia » (O najstarších kódexoch so vzťahmi k územiu Slovenska) Slovak Archivistics (Slovenská archivistika), 1986, Vol. 21, no 1, p. 50-59 and Ferdinand Uličný, « Share of Church Institutions in the Development of Settlement and Economy of Eastern Slovakia in the 12th – 16th centuries » (Podiel cirkevných inštitúcii na vývoji osídlenia a hospodárstva východného Slovenska v 12. – 16. storočí), Archaeologia historica, 1985, no 10, p. 357-367 and Ján Hudák, Patrocinies in Slovakia. Inventory and historical development (Patrocíniá na Slovensku. Súpis a historický vývin), Bratislava, Umenovedný ústav Slovenskej akadémie vied, 1984.

Auteur

Comenius University, Bratislava (Slovaquie)

© LARHRA, 2020

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