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Cultura, lenguaje y prácticas políticas en las sociedades medievales

Christian Values and Noble Ideas of Rank and their Consequences on Symbolic Acts*



In the Middle Ages a Christian system of values met the values of a noble warrior society. Although these two systems had completely different conceptions of norms, they adapted from each other certain values and symbolic forms to express these values.
The development of this adaptation is depicted by treating the Christian values misericordia, humilitas and clementia. In which way did the noble warrior society take up these values and how did these norms possibly change?
Misericordia, for example, became an essential part of noble behaviour, but the fundamental idea of Christian misericordia was changed. Helping the poor was often motivated by the nobles’ will to prove his mercy, not by personal compassion.
Although the value of humilitas implied a sharp contrast to the values of honor and rank, one can find forms of expression, which revealed a noble’s or ruler’s humility. With his humble behaviour one proved one’s qualification and legitimacy. Humility was expressed with symbolic forms of expression like walking barefoot and in penitential clothes or making footfalls. Similarly, these forms were used in inner-secular communication to acknowledge the existing order of rank.
The ritual of deditio combines the values humilitas and clementia. The author describes this ritual as a pre-arranged stage-play, in which the one’s humility granted the other’s clemency. These ‘stage-plays’ had only little in common with the original Christian virtues, but this way several elements of the Christian virtue system influenced the noble behaviour pattern.

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1Values, as you know, are basic for the production of norms and rules — not only in the Middle Ages. But in the Middle Ages people acknowledged norms and rules and established order mainly by acting in a demonstrative, ritualized and symbolic way. What they publicly did in this manner, was a promise of future behaviour1.

2The existing order of rank for example was ever and again acknowledged by symbolic actions, by doing public service like bearing the sword of the king as a sign of subordination, by taking a certain seat, by greeting the person of higher rank first and in certain manners, by making certain presents at certain opportunities etc., etc. Therefore, the symbolic acts had an important establishing and maintaining function. They brought the values to bear.

3Concerning the Middle Ages, it is especially characteristic that two value systems met: a Christian system of values and the values of a noble warrior society. These systems put clearly different accents, among which a balance was difficult, if not impossible. I will concentrate on these two systems and neglect the traditional line of ancient values2.

4Of course, I am not the first who has taken notice of this tension of Christian values with noble-warrior values. But the pointed question arises, whether in the course of this clash of values the nobility has actually become pious or the Church has become half-hearted3.

5Of course, mentioning only a few aspects of this clash, the Church became more martial in the course of the Middle Ages. See the altered sentence in the Sermon on the Mount: « Blessed are those who persecute because of righteousness [...] [...for theirs is the kingdom of heaven] »4. It was used as the motto of the Militia St. Petri, which was founded by the reform papacy in the eleventh century, that primarily wanted to revise the entanglement of the Church in secular affairs. In that time, the Popes owned vassals, whom they could commit for fights against internal as well as external enemies of the Church. By this they adapted the central bond of the warrior society, the feudal bond, for their own purposes; and they also adapted the symbolic forms of expression: they sent out banners and established symbolic actions of their vassals like the prostration or the strator service and many more5.

6But if you like, even the nobles became more civilized, more pious —thinking, for example, of phenomena like the knighthood or the peace of God movement, noble foundations of churches, monasteries and nunneries as well as of those innumerable donations, with which the nobles and the warriors praised God, the Saints, and the Church6.

7On the other hand, individuals and groups turned also again and again against tendencies within the official Church to copy noble thinking in categories like rank, honour or representation — because that was felt as turning away from the strict demands of the gospel. Not only the friar orders and religious movements forced the radical realization of demands of the gospel, but also groups which this official Church pursued as heretics represented the same ideals7. So one could probably fill many pages with general assessments, and again and again refer to the collision of two value systems and its consequences.

8But the variety and the complexity of the phenomena, which result from this rivalry, forces a narrower frame of the subject. Therefore, I will investigate the mere question what happened to three central virtues of the Christian value system, when the noble warrior society became familiar with them: I focus the concentration, therefore, on the Christian virtues misericordia (compassion), humilitas (humility), and clementia (clemency), which are surely no marginal phenomena. My first question is, whether the Church succeeded in transmitting these values into the noble warrior society. I prove this by discussing the symbolic acts, by which they were expressed in this society. Doing this I’ll ask too, whether these values survived the transfer undamaged — or, on the contrary, were substantially changed while.

9I like to begin with the Christian virtue which, in the Middle Ages, in certain respects was most successfully transmitted to noble thinking and noble acting: misericordia8. In the Middle Ages, persons of high rank had apparently accepted to appeal to the commitment to compassion and mercy and to convert them into different forms of expression. Several reasons seem to be responsible for this commitment: the virtue of compassion and mercy owned a strong affinity to the virtue of generosity, largitas, munificentia, liberalitas, which, in the ancient world as well as in the world of Germanic peoples, was converted as a Lord’s, as a noble virtue9. In the Middle Ages, generosity was also a commitment of the noble master, which referred to all those, who were related to him with voluntary inferiority — especially the followers and the vassals10.

10The extension of the masters’ generosity to the poor, as it happened under Christian influence, definitely resulted from the Lord’s word: « Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me » (Mt 25, 40). A society, who cultivated a thinking in gift and counter-gift, understood this sentence. Therefore, misericordia became a service that let expect a return given by Christ and so helped to secure one’s own salvation. Therefore, for example, the feedings of the poor were closely connected with other activities in memory of the dead11. Consequently, at certain days, and from everywhere the poor crowded together in the monasteries and nunneries, who celebrated the memory of the leading ranks. The poor knew that on those days the monks and nuns used to remember of a certain king or noble donor, and, thus, would dish especially opulent meals12.

11In the medieval noble society, however, two entirely different forms to express compassion and mercy met, which meant much more than a mere shifting of accents. It was probably more often the case that the poor became objects of compassion and mercy without any personal relationship being developed or merely intended between them and those who had mercy on them. That meant a plain alteration of Christian mercy. Noble thinking in rank and honour, of course, contradicted every intensive and personal contact to the poor. Let’s see how nobles expressed compassion and mercy to the poor.

12The narratives of how the Flemish Count Charles the Good was killed (1120) may be a good example for one type of compassion and mercy. Charles the Good — as the authors tell, and they intend describing the Count’s life to be exemplary — was killed by his enemies while he attended the service, reading psalms, praying, and — in the same time — giving alms to the poor13. Here the poor acted only as objects of misericordia demonstrated by a noble lord who, at the same time, also clearly expressed his devoutness. The question arises, whether this behaviour meant to dilute distinctly the Christian understanding of misericordia.

13The Vita of Albero Archbishop of Trier, written in the middle of the twelfth century, also — in totally and yet comparable words — describes the same role of the poor as objects of royal mercy. The Vita tells in praising words that the Archbishop in earlier years had disguised himself as a beggar stealed to the king’s banquet and overheard all the lords’ conversations, while lying under the table and eating the crumbs, which had fallen on to the floor14. There, the poor were obviously tolerated and they served, similar to the poor of Charles the Good, as proofs of the king’s mercy. But they themselves were totally ignored. The author of this story is convinced that the contemporaries knew that the poor were usually present at the king’s banquet.

14As many other sources also report in a formal manner, that nobles and kings had made the poor ex more (by custom) generous donations, one may argue that in the Middle Ages the Christian virtue of misericordia had become an essential part of noble actions and values, for which the means of public donations were demonstrated — namely the feeding of the poor and even the presence of the poor at the banquets of the mighty15. But little seems to be left from the essence of Christian mercy as, for example, Thomas Aquinas defined it: « Merciful is called whose heart — miserable by mourning for strange misery as for own misery — is inspired for overcoming strange misery as own misery»16.

15The judgement that the poor were merely objects and not subjects confirms at first glance also the Vita of Emperor Henry IV, that made the Emperor to be « a king of the poor ». The poor had accompanied him on his travels, had eaten with him and had even slept in his bedroom, tells the Vita. The poor had been the mourning people at his grave, because with his death they had lost a father. But the mourning of the poor for Henry IV is argued to express therewith a special quality of this king’s misericordia, which implied this qualitatively different understanding of misericordia, that Thomas Aquinas had meant, too: Henry — and the author of the Vita set highest value on this fact — had built a personal relationship with these poor.

He himself has fed you, he has washed you with his own ands, he has cloaked your nakedness. [...] Even at the banquet he was not horror-stricken by the foul abscess of a sick, while the servant wrinkled his nose or stopped up at the bad smell. Blind and lame and people with different deseases lied in his bedroom. He himself put off their shoes and put them to bed, he rose at night in order to cover them, and he did not frighten from touching those who soiled the bed because of their desease17.

16In the tenth century, Abbot Odo of Cluny had already emphasized in his Vita of Count Gerald of Aurillac a similarly personal care of this first nobleman, whom he certified an almost holy conduct of life: Gerald had not only instructed his servants to care for the poor, but had also personally cared for them, « believing that therewith he adopted Jesus Christ and praised Him ». In this context Odo complains, how much those diminish their own merits who only give alms and do not care for any communication with the poor18.

17Indeed, in the case of Henry IV one may doubt, how far this monarch actually practised the behaviour described. Yet, it should be beyond dispute, that Christian philosophers considered only this behaviour to be the proper form of misericordia.

18In individual cases this special care for the poor has certainly be practised. One may look at the example of Saint Elizabeth, the king’s daughter and a land gravine, who agreed to care for the poor in the same manner as it is described in the Vita of Henry IV19. But her behaviour had caused her exclusion from the noble society. Concerning Elizabeth’s life, it may be easy to show how much her handling of practising misericordia provoked the noble society. And many of these examples have exactly to do with the quoted acting out of misery and grief for others’ poverty.

19Thus, according to misericordia it is a fact that in the form of impersonal material care for the poor it became an essential part of noble actions. So far, one can only speak with some uneasiness of a successful adaption of Christian values in the noble society. The essence of the spirit of misericordia got lost, because it demanded compassion and personal care even for the least of one’s brothers. The Church, however, did not insist on the ideal, but was satisfied with variants which were more comfortable to the thinking of nobles, because they did not have any sympathy with basic Christian morals, namely that all men are equal and brothers. Nevertheless, the demand for personal care for any of one’s brothers was not forgotten, but as an ideal it was further found in the concepts of ecclesiastical authors as well as in the lives of individuals, who, however, greatly diverged from noble living habits.

20I want to add now some reflections upon humilitas, a genuinely Christian virtue, that did not have any direct equivalents in ancient thinking20. It is, as Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, the most innate virtue of Jesus Christ who gave himself up adopting the figure of a servant, became the Son of Men, and, moreover, gave the sign of extreme humility by remaining obedient until his death on the cross21. A greater contrast to noble thinking is hardly possible, because that made hereditary superiority to the basis of its self-assessment. The definition of superciliousness and pride, superbia, could easily be proved as the core of noble self-assessment – as Augustin has called it to be an antipole to humilitas: « amor excellentiae propriae ». The love of one’s own excellence!22

21So it was like the quadrature of the circle attempting to make the nobles familiar with the concept of humilitas. In the Middle Ages – as you know – humilitas was the core of monastic existence. Monks reflected upon its different grades until it was perfect. But it was only applied to this status, and the Church seemed to realize that in the case of nobility it would at most be possible to damp the scope of superbia that was likewise graded in different degrees. And Odo of Cluny did not incidentally quote: « The more horribly the mighty behave, the more cautiously you must address them »23.

22But the fields are all the more interesting, in which the Church, nevertheless, has made the nobles familiar with the humilitas, as a line of conduct. And like according to misericordia I want to ask, whether and how this virtue while being implanted into the noble warrior society was substantially altered — and how it was expressed.

23Concerning their behaviour towards God, nobles as well as kings had to prove humility, because considering their sinfulness, only this behaviour could be an appropriate attitude towards the power of heaven. Apparently, the Church has systematically and also successfully made this demand. In times of the sacred kingship in the 10th and 11th century, this meant that even kings publicly degraded themselves to barefootedness, to prostration or to tears of repentance at their sins, in order to express symbolically their worship of God and the Saints and their dependence on God’s and the Saints’ support24. By proving their humility, they also proved to be fit for office — and were forced to do so — because God consented to heigthen only the one who first had lowered himself. For the historians in the tenth and eleventh centuries this quotation of the Luke gospel was even the motto, by which they described the life of the kings as one of God’s temptations, as humiliatio before their exaltatio25. A quite informative example is given by the historiographer Liutprand of Cremona, who tells the story how Otto the Great, when some of his warriors had got into difficulties — and he couldn’t help them —, dismounted from his horse, knelt down, and in tears prayed for God’s help. And God rewarded him with the victory — what Liutprand, who dedicated his work to the king, plainly told by directly addressing him: « Even you have earlier not known how much God loves you »; so he made him clear that God had only granted him the victory because of his demonstrated humility26.

24Noble Bishops had also in individual cases used the same forms of expression when taking office: they refused the usual entry into their episcopal seat, sent their insignia of office in advance, and entered the town barefooted and clothed in a penitential robe and, so humbly demonstrated their awareness of their own unworthiness27. Barefootedness, penitential robe, prostration, and tears were the precedentially used symbolic forms of expression, in order to make such a humble attitude quite striking, and it honoured kings and nobles when assuming these attitudes towards God and the Saints. On the other hand, it might be symptomatic that the expressive forms of such royal behaviour disappeared, when they — by Henry’s IV barefootedness in Canossa — got a certain additional sense: namely, to subordinate himself to the Pope28.

25With the literary example of the Good Gerhart written by Rudolf of Ems, a poem of the 13th century, may be proved how difficult it was on this field to make the demand for humility compatible with the thinking of gift and counter-gift, which dominated the noble mentality and practice. In the framing story Emperor Otto reports in a prayer a proud balance of his efficient actions: considering his excellent good works — he has after all conquered the pagans and founded an archbishopric — he is sure of getting a prominent place in heaven as a return, and now he asks God for being informed about this place29. A voice of heaven, indeed, confirms his great merits, and in fact a place at the side of God Almighty has been made ready for him, but the voice, however, adds that Otto now has lost all these merits because of missing humility. Then he is referred to the example of the merchant Gerhart, living in Cologne, whose humility is so perfect, that he does not at all know anything about himself being humble30. And exactly this is confirmed at the following visit the emperor made in Cologne. Nevertheless, this example also proves that the demand for humility towards God is also strictly required from kings.

26So I ask in a next step, whether humble behaviour might also have had its place in inner-secular communication of the mighty. Did the obligation to humble self-denial also mould or influence forms of communication within the noble society itself? This perspective leads to a perhaps surprising statement: the same symbolic forms, having expressed humility towards God, were also used to acknowledge the existing order of rank in the world and even to accentuate it. Those of lower rank namely used in different situations the arsenal of expressive forms of humble self-abasement, in order to honour those of higher rank, to put them in a merciful mood or to reconcile them. And this was not left to them to do independently, but it was a concrete part of the customs.

27The humble requests made by the followers, together with their appropriate symbolic forms of expression, generally evoked reactions graciously granted by their master who kindly and mildly met their requests31. The humble self-abasement expressed by a request that was made submissively or on bended knees meant to presuppose the establishment of clementia or gratia. So the position of the master who generously granted a request was left to the one of higher rank, and even firm demands were made in form of humble requests. This behaviour was the predominant style throughout the centuries. The behaviour of both sides — the requesting as well as the granting one — orientated itself formally by expressive forms of Christian cardinal virtues, but was substantially as well as entirely determined by the intention to enforce concrete interests. We are observing a stage-play, which was often pre-negotiated and pre-arranged. The expressive forms of humility and clemency secured the binding force of the drama.

28This phenomenon is, in particular, plainly comprehensible within the proceeding of amicable ending of conflicts, with which the granting of clementia was dependent on humilitas demonstrated by effective actions. The noble society, who practised such procedures from the ninth century until early modern times, had borrowed loans from the ecclesiastical penitential practice32. Almost all forms of expression, with which the sinner showed his humility towards God, his penitence and his readiness to mend his way, also play a role in the procedure of dealing with conflicts: the barefootedness, the penitential robe, the prostration, and the verbal request for forgiveness. They became firm elements of the ritual of deditio and remained it for a long time. Individual cases show that then humiliation of the one of lower rank was at the end of the conflict the more severe the more successful he had acted there33. You see, the significance of Christian cardinal virtues was incisively altered, when using expressions of them in the rituals of conflict settlement.

29Concerning these proceedings, humilitas respectively its symbolic forms of expression did no longer originate from the consciousness of one’s own unworthiness, but they were rather established as satisfactions in order to give them to the vis-a-vis for suffered harm or insults. The humilitas was entirely temporary, exactly measured in doses, and after the ritual of deditio one had done quite enough. The order of rank affected by the conflict was reestablished, and one did not hope for, but had a claim to clementia and gratia of the one who had been honoured by exactly dosed and negotiated humilitas. And the extent of this clementia was not least orientated towards the rank of persons. So the queer situation could arise, that the leaders of high rank participated in their enemies' clementia and, thus, got away unmolested after a conflict, while their supporters paid for it with their lives34. In other cases clemency could mean, not to kill but to blind, to put in prison or to exile. Clemency could be as exactly dosed as humility.

30Meanwhile it might be well-known, with which effort one knew to evoke the impression of authenticity at such ceremonial representations: repentance and despair, tears and self-accusations on one side, kindly lifting-up from the floor and kiss of peace on the other side, not least tears of joy by the audience are suggesting a dramatic event with open end and veiling the ceremonial character of the representation, whose details had possibly been object of tough negotiations35.

31All this is merely far from having to do with the meanings of the Christian virtues humilitas and clementia. All these successive actions rather reveal a retaliative thinking, as Otto the Great had expressed it in his prayer in Rudolf of Ems, too: one could recall with certain deeds certain returns. And herewith the deed of public self-abasement established a claim on an adequate return which meant to give up a claim to punish. One had simply transmitted in form of an analogy a sinner's behaviour towards God to the conditions within the order of rulership: the one of higher rank got satisfactio, that the one of lower rank, who had risked to resist him, now humiliated himself before him, whereby the old order was reestablished. The one of lower rank got help in facilitating him his self-disgrace, because he was safe from being threatened with punishments because of the other one's clementia. As concerning misericordia all this did not depend on purpose and spirit; it was sufficient that external behaviour established adequate effects. So far my remarks to the clash of values in the Middle Ages, which of course need further treatment.

32Finally, I only want to ask briefly: do these observations mark the resistance of the medieval nobility against Christian ideas? Did the two value systems remain incompatible with one another like fire and water? My short answer is: neither the one, nor the other.

33Both sides had to cut their demands and to abandon the strict realization of their values. For this they had the necessary willingness without completely denying themselves.

34In many cases they have been content with all they could reach and have not tried to realize their ideals. The Churchmen knew from the gospel, that even the righteous man sinned seven times a day. So they didn’t expect or demand perfection.

35By this way and with this mentality the Church acted as a stabilizer within kingship and nobility — and not as a blasting explosive, what it should have been when consequently insisting on its ideals.

36But the Church would be wrongly described as a submissive instrument of the nobility, because the fact that the priests were responsible for the souls of men — and thus for the kings, too, — was always a well-known position and formed its self-image as a reminding and correcting institution. So the mighty of the Middle Ages, who ruled under influence and control of clerics, have not become saints, even when the Church made some of them saints. But the restriction of despotism, the binding of the mighty to rules and norms of course did exist — and for this the Church was not alone but not the least responsible. Even if the Church often acted on the principle that the end justifies the means, it influenced the mighty of the Middle Ages that they — in different fields — did not need to fear the comparison with the mighty of modern times.

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* Este artículo fue presentado en el coloquio ‘Cultura, lenguaje y prácticas políticas en las sociedades medievales’ [Proyecto de Investigación: BHA2002-03076, IP: Isabel Alfonso], que se celebró en Madrid los días 15 y 16 de febrero de 2007 en el Instituto de Historia del CSIC.
This article was presented at the Conference ‘Culture, language and political practices in medieval societies’ [Research Project: BHA2002-03076, IP: Isabel Alfonso], held in Madrid on feb. 15th-16th 2007 at the Instituto de Historia (CSIC).
1 See Gerd Althoff, Die Macht der Rituale. Symbolik und Herrschaft im Mittelalter, Darmstadt : Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2003, p. 22ff; 199ff.
2 The amalgamation of these three lines in the Middle Ages was recently depicted by Friedrich Prinz, Europäische Grundlagen deutscher Geschichte. 4.- 8. Jahrhundert, 10th, completely new revised ed., Stuttgart : Klett-Cotta (Gebhardt: Handbuch der deutschen Geschichte 1), 2004, p. 560ff.
3 See Friedrich Heer, Aufgang Europas. Eine Studie zu den Zusammenhängen zwischen politischer Religiosität, Frömmigkeitsstil und dem Werden Europas im 12. Jahrhundert, Zürich : Europa-Verlag, 1943, p. 384ff.; in general see Ernst Sackur, Die Cluniacenser in ihrer kirchlichen und allgemeingeschichtlichen Wirksamkeit bis zur Mitte des ersten Jahrhunderts, Halle a. d. Saale : Böhlau 1892/1894 (Reprint Darmstadt 1971); Arnold Angenendt, Geschichte der Religiosität im Mittelalter, 2nd, revised edition, Darmstadt : Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2000.
4 This alteration can be found in Ernst Dümmler (Ed.), Bonizonis episcopi Sutrini Liber ad amicum, Hannover : Hahn (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Libelli de lite imperatorum et pontificum 1), 1891, p. 568-620, lib. 9, p. 619: « Idem de sermone Dei habito in monte, cum de beatitudinibus loqueretur et venisset ad Beati persecutionem paciuntur propter iustitiam, equaliter dixit beatos eos, qui persecutionem inferunt propter iusticiam, acsi qui persecutionem paciuntur propter iusticiam. » Bonizo has misunderstood Augustinus, on whom he refers here. See Carl Erdmann, Die Entstehung des Kreuzzugsgedankens, Stuttgart : Kohlhammer (Forschungen zur Kirchen- und Geistesgeschichte 6), 1935, p. 229ff, esp. 233.
5 See ibid., p. 173ff.; Jószef Deér, Papsttum und Normannen. Untersuchungen zu ihren lehnsrechtlichen und kirchenpolitischen Beziehungen, Böhlau: Köln et al., 1972, esp. p. 51ff.; Gerd Althoff, « Inszenierung verpflichtet. Zum Verständnis ritueller Akte bei Papst-Kaiser-Begegnungen im 12. Jahrhundert », Frühmittelalterliche Studien, 35, 2001, p. 61-84, esp. p. 68ff.; Id., Die Macht der Rituale…, p. 138ff.
6 For the emergence of knighthood see recently Josef Fleckenstein, Vom Rittertum im Mittelalter. Perspektiven und Probleme, Goldbach : Keip (Bibliotheca eruditorum 19), 1997, including further information; for the Peace of God Movement basicly see Hartmut Hoffmann, Gottesfriede und Treuga Dei, Stuttgart : Hiersemann (Schriften der Monumenta Germaniae Historica 20), 1964; for the relationship Nobility-Church Werner Hechberger, Adel, Ministerialität und Rittertum im Mittelalter, München : Oldenbourg (Enzyklopädie deutscher Geschichte 72), 2004 and Id., Adel im fränkisch-deutschen Mittelalter. Zur Anatomie eines Forschungsproblems, Ostfildern : Thorbecke (Mittelalter-Forschungen 17), 2005.
7 See Herbert Grundmann, Religiöse Bewegungen im Mittelalter. Untersuchungen über die geschichtlichen Zusammenhänge zwischen der Ketzerei, den Bettelorden und der religiösen Frauenbewegung im 12. und 13. Jahrhundert und über die geschichtlichen Grundlagen der deutschen Mystik, 4th ed., Darmstadt : Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft (Historische Studien 267), 1977; Thomas Scharff, Häretikerverfolgung und Schriftlichkeit. Die Wirkung der Ketzergesetze im 13. Jahrhundert, Frankfurt a. M. et al. : Lang (Gesellschaft, Kultur und Schrift 4), 1996.
8 See for this virtue in general Friedrich Marx, Zur Geschichte der Barmherzigkeit im Abendlande, Bonn : Hanstein, 1917; A. Angenendt, Geschichte der Religiosität…, p. 595f.
9 For the ancient world see the art. « Largitio » and « Liberalitas », in: Konrat Ziegler and Walter SontheimeR (Ed.), Der Kleine Pauly. Lexikon der Antike, Stuttgart : Druckenmüller, 1969, 3, col. 497f. and 621f.; for the Middle Ages see Heinrich Fichtenau, Lebensordnungen des 10. Jahrhunderts. Studien über Denkart und Existenz im einstigen Karolingerreich, München : Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, 1992, p. 62f., 194f.
10 See for the Middle Ages Hatto Kallfelz, Das Standesethos des Adels im 10. und 11. Jahrhundert, Würzburg 1961, p. 23ff.; W. Hechberger, Adel im fränkisch-deutschen Mittelalter…, p. 355ff.
11 See Joachim Wollasch, « Gemeinschaftsbewußtein und soziale Leistung im Mittelalter », Frühmittelalterliche Studien, 9, 1975, p. 268-286; Arnold Angenendt et al., « Gezählte Frömmigkeit », Frühmittelalterliche Studien, 29, 1995, p. 1-71.
12 Concrete examples are known for Quedlinburg as well as for Selz, the foundation of Empress Adelheid; see Gerd Althoff, Adels- und Königsfamilien im Spiegel ihrer Memorialüberlieferung. Studien zum Totengedenken der Billunger und Ottonen, München : Fink (Münstersche Mittelalter-Schriften 47), 1984, p. 166ff.
13 See Rudolf Köpke (Ed.), Vita Karoli comitis Flandriae, Hannover : Hahn (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores 12), 1856 (Reprint Stuttgart et al. : Hiersemann, 1963), p. 531-623; Vita auctore Waltero archidiacono Tervannensi, ibid., p. 537-561, cap. 25, p. 549: « Quo elemosine sacrificio super sacre aram fidei humiliter oblato, se ipsum mox victimam placationis superimpensurus ad ecclesiam, paucis comitatus militibus quippe per ospicia et oratoria ubique dispersis procedit, et coram altari sancte Dei genitricis Marie, quod in superiori parte ecclesie sancti Donatiani constitutum erat, in orationem se prostravit. In quo loco cum genua frequenter flectendo diutius oraret, et semet ipsum Domino commendaret attentius, tandem pronum se et in pavimento proiecit, et septem penitentiales psalmos pro suorum ablutione peccatorum, libello suo in quo conscripti erant, in conspectu suo apposito, supplex decantare incepit. Interim autem clero, capellanis eius videlicet, horas diei primam et terciam more ecclesiastico canente, cum, oratione dominica iam dicta, illi preces tercie, et ille quinquagesimum psalmum et ipsum quartum penitentialem, tribus iam dictis, recitaret — nam ita orare consueverat, ut a circumstantibus audiri valeret — magister fraudis et ductor sceleris Burchardus, sex sibi spatariis ex clientela prepositi et sua adiunctis, lateri eius retro improvisus astitit et nudo eum gladio, ut caput feriendum erigeret, prius leniter tetigit. Qui cum faciem elevato capite ad eum converteret, frontem illam reverentissimam, superborum deiectricem, humilium erectricem, furibundus valido ictu percussit, et cerebrum eius in pavimentum excussit […]. »; Passio auctore Galberto, ibid., p. 561-619, cap. 12, p. 567f.: « Tunc ille furibundus Borsiardus et milites et servientes eius, simul acceptis gladiis nudis sub palliis persequebantur comitem in eodem solario, dividentes se in duas partes, ita ut ex utraque via solarii nullus eorum aufugeret quos tradere voluissent, et ecce! comitem prostratum suo more iuxta altare in humili scabello viderunt, ubi Deo psalmos decantabat, et orationes devotus simul et pauperibus denarios erogabat. »; Passio auctore anonymo, ibid., p. 619-623, cap. 6, p. 621: « Accidit itaque, ut sacrum ieiunium quadragesimale prae manibus haberetur, et adesset hebdomada secunda, feria quarta, orto iam sole, cum miles Dei Karolus in ecclesia beati Donatiani ante altare sancti Spiritus solo procumbens, libellum manu teneret et psalmos decantaret, concinentibus etiam clericis horas dierum, repente Borchardus, lorica vestitus et nudo gladio fretus, cum suis complicibus et domo prepositi exiens, ecclesiam subiit et comitem Deo intendentem nec tale quid suspicantem, forti annisu cervice tenus percussit in caput, et, eiecto cerebro, corpus palpitans denuo percussionibus quassavit. »
14 See Georg Heinrich Pertz (Ed.), Gesta Alberonis archiepiscopi auctore Balderico, Hannover : Hahn (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores 8), 1848 (Reprint Stuttgart : Hiersemann, 1963), p. 243-260, cap. 5, p. 246: « Dicitur quoque, quod ego tamen nescio, quod aliquando regi et exercitui eius, formam simulans contracti et sedens in asino, occurrit, et ab regina quinque solidos in elemosinam accepit. Additur quoque, sed ego nescio, quod in eodem itinere longius regis comitatus processum, sub specie mendici regis sub mensa locatus, audierit plurima ipsum regem cum regina et cum aliis suis fidelibus ocioso animo loquentem de his quae contra papam machinatus erat, atque inter cetera de insidiis contra ipsum dominum Alberonem dispositis recitantem, et quot et quae viae ipsi Romam tendenti essent interclusae. » For this Vita see Stephanie Haarländer, Vitae episcoporum. Eine Quellengattung zwischen Hagiographie und Historiographie, untersucht an Lebensbeschreibungen von Bischöfen des Regnum Teutonicum im Zeitalter der Ottonen und Salier, Stuttgart : Hiersemann (Monographien zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 47), 2000, p. 171f.
15 See Michel Mollat, Les Pauvres au Moyen Âge, étude sociale, Paris : Hachette (Le temps et les hommes), 1978; A. Angenendt, Geschichte der Religiosität…, p. 585ff.; the articles in Otto Gerhard Oexle (Ed.), Armut im Mittelalter, Ostfildern : Thorbecke (Vorträge und Forschungen 58), 2004.
16 Summa Theologica I q. 21 a. 3c: « […] quod misericors dicitur aliquis, quasi habens misero cor, quia scilicet afficitur ex miseria alterius per tristitiam, ac si esset ejus propria miseria […] ».
17 See Wilhelm Eberhard (Ed.), Vita Heinrici IV. Imperatoris, Hannover : Hahn (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatim editi 58), 1899, cap. 1, p. 10: « Ille vos pavit, ille manibus suis lavit, ille nuditatem vestram texit. […] In ipsa mensa saniem et foetorem ulcerosi non abhorruit, cum minister mensae contra foetentem nares in rugam contraheret aut obstupparet ». For this Vita see Manfred Schluck, Die Vita Heinrici IV. imperatoris, Sigmaringen : Thorbecke (Vorträge und Forschungen, Sonderband 26), 1979.
18 See Odo Abbas Cluniacensis, De Vita sancti Geraldi Auriliacensis comitis, Paris : Migne (Migne Patrologiae Latinae 133), 1861, lib. 1, cap. 14, p. 652: « Quam susceptionem mercedis male sibimet illi imminuunt, qui licet foras eleemosyna transmittant, pauperes tamen ad se non introducunt. »; Joachim Wollasch, Cluny « Licht der Welt ». Aufstieg und Niedergang der klösterlichen Gemeinschaft (1st ed. Zürich, 1996), 2nd ed. Düsseldorf : Patmos, 2002, p. 39ff.
19 See Otto Gerhard Oexle, « Armut und Armenfürsorge um 1200. Ein Beitrag zum Verständnis der freiwilligen Armut bei Elisabeth von Thüringen », in : Philipps-Universität Marburg (Ed.), Sankt Elisabeth, Fürstin, Dienerin, Heilige. Aufsätze, Dokumentation, Katalog, Sigmaringen : Thorbecke, 1981, p. 79-100.
20 See in general Otto Schaffner, Christliche Demut. Des heiligen Augustinus Lehre von der Humilitas, Tübingen : Augustinus (Cassiciacum 17), 1959, esp. p. 37ff.
21 See ibid., p. 93ff.; from this humiliatio of Christ, which was followed by the exaltatio, behaviour patterns for the authority were deduced, see already Lothar Bornscheuer, Miseriae regum. Untersuchungen zum Krisen- und Todesgedanken in den herrschaftstheologischen Vorstellungen der ottonisch-salischen Zeit, Berlin : de Gruyter (Arbeiten zur Frühmittelalterforschung 4), 1968, esp. p. 11ff, 234f, 241f; Ludger Körntgen, Königsherrschaft und Gottes Gnade. Zu Kontext und Funktion sakraler Vorstellungen in Historiographie und Bildzeugnissen der ottonisch-frühsalischen Zeit, Berlin : Akademie-Verlag (Orbis mediaevalis 2), 2001, p. 33
22 See O. Schaffner, op. cit., p. 68.
23 Odo Abbas Cluniacensis, Collationes, Paris : Migne (Migne Patrologiae Latinae 133), 1861, lib 3, cap. 24, p. 607: « Potentiores quidem tanto cautius alloquendi sunt, quanto et laxiorem vitam ducere permittuntur [...] ».
24 See Klaus Schreiner, « Nudis pedibus. Barfüßigkeit als religiöses und politisches Ritual », in : Gerd Althoff (Ed.), Formen und Funktionen öffentlicher Kommunikation im Mittelalter, Stuttgart : Thorbecke (Vorträge und Forschungen 51), 2001, p. 53-124; G. Althoff, Die Macht der Rituale…, p. 104ff.
25 See recently Gerd Althoff, « Humiliatioexaltatio. Zur Genealogie eines rituellen Verhaltens- und Erzählmusters », in : Jan-Dirk Müller (Ed.), Text und Kontext. Fallstudien und theoretische Begründungen einer kulturwissenschaftlich angeleiteten Mediävistik München : Oldenbourg (Schriften des historischen Kollegs. Kolloquien 64), 2007, p. 39-51; K. Schreiner, art. cit., p. 96.
26 See Joseph Becker (Ed.), Liudprandi Opera, (1st ed. 1877), 3rd ed. Hannover : Hahn (Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatim editi 41), 1915, lib. IV, cap. 26, p. 121: « Sic itaque, sic, rex piisisime, insperata ob militum paucitatem victoria divinae consilium providentiae fuit, volens mortalibus indicare, quam carus Deo esset, qui orando tam immensum cum paucissimis triumphum optinere promeruit. Forte enim, immo certe et tu prius ignorabas, quam carus Deo existeres, quod post te cognoscere fecit, cum tanta victoria honoravit. »
27 See the examples of Heribert von Köln, Adalbert von Prag or Pope Leo IX at his entry in Rome: Georg Heinrich Pertz (Ed.), Vita Heriberti archiepiscopi Coloniensis auctore Lantberto, Hannover : Hahn (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores 4), 1841 (Reprint Stuttgart et al. : Hiersemann, 1963), p. 739-753, cap. 6, p. 744: « […] ipse procul ab urbe nudis procedit pedibus in asperrima hieme, et illo igne accensus, quem Dominus misit in terris, prorsus carebat frigore. » See on this Schreiner, art. cit., p. 96; Georg Heinrich Pertz (Ed.), Vita S. Adalberti antiquior auctore Iohanne Canapaio, Hannover : Hahn (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores 4), 1841 (Reprint Stuttgart et al. : Hiersemann, 1963), p. 679-695, cap. 8, p. 584: « Ibi tum novus ille pontifex vincla pedum solvens, nudo pede intrat urbem »; Hans-Georg Krause (Ed.), Vita S. Leonis IX papae, Hannover : Hahn (Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatim editi 70), 2007, p.182ff. « Omnipotentis itaque roboratus solamine Romam appropiat. Cui tota urbs cum ymnidico concentu obviam ire parat, sed ipse pedes longinquo itinere nudis plantis incedit ac magis ad mentis devotionem et fletuum inundationem quam ad laudum delectationem animum inflectit. Quis autem eius contriti cordis in devota oratione affectus, quis suspiria et gemitus, quis denique referre queat continuos lacrimarum velut rivorum decursus, cum nullius cogitatui sit penetrabile, nedum verbis effabile? Postquam ergo diutissime se taliter Christo in cordis mactavit altari hostiam vivam, sanctam, deo placentem, adstanti clero et populo divinam, qua plurimum affluebat, ingreditur proferre exhortationem: Imperialem de se electionem in tam laborioso officio brevi sermunculo promulgat, eorum voluntatem, qualiscumque erga se sit, pandere expostulat. Dicit electionem cleri et populi canonicali auctoritate aliorum dispositionem preire, affirmat sese gratanti animo in patriam rediturum, nisi fiat electio communi omnium laude, ostendit se coactum ad tam grave onus suscipiendum venisse. Cumque videret unanimem omnium acclamationem, ad correctionem vite ceptam repetit exhortationem, supplex cunctorum expetit orationem atque absolutionem. »
28 See Stefan Weinfurter, Canossa. Die Entzauberung der Welt, München : Beck, 2006, p. 19ff.; G. Althoff, Die Macht der Rituale…, p. 129.
29 John A. Asher (Ed.), Rudolf von Ems, Der guote Gêrhart (1st ed. 1962), 3rd ed. Tübingen : Niemeyer (Altdeutsche Textbibliothek 56), 1989, v. 447-509. See Christiane Witthöft, « < …und swaz sich nidert, daz wirt wider gehœhet. > Ein Bibelwort als narratives Schema in der Literatur des Mittelalters », in : J.-D. Müller (Ed.), op. cit., p. 53-73.
30 See Rudolf VON EMS, op. cit., v. 510-626.
31 See Gerd Althoff, « Zur Bedeutung symbolischer Kommunikation für das Verständnis des Mittelalters », Frühmittelalterliche Studien, 31, 1997, p. 370-389, esp. p. 375ff. Claudia Garnier (Münster) will soon finish a larger study about the request as a ritual behaviour pattern in the Middle Ages.
32 See G. Althoff, Die Macht der Rituale…, p. 68ff.
33 See as an example the Feud of Tübingen; see Gerd Althoff, « Konfliktverhalten und Rechtsbewußtsein. Die Welfen im 12. Jahrhundert », Frühmittelalterliche Studien, 26, 1992, p. 331-352; again in: Id., Spielregeln… p. 57-84, p. 61ff.
34 This is witnessed several times especially for the reign of Otto I; see Paul Hirsch and Eduard Lohmann (Ed.), Widukind von Corvey, Res gestae Saxonicae, Hannover : Hahn (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores regnum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatim editi 60), 1935, lib. 2, cap. 11, p. 74-78: « De Thancmaro et Evurhardo et Heinrico bellis civilibus », including the message of the execution of his brother Thankmar’s supporters; lib. 2, cap. 31, p. 92f « Item de Heinrico, qualiter multi cum eo adversus regem coniurabant » and cap. 36, p. 95-197: « De concordia fratrum et moribus eorum et habitu », including the narration of the killing of Henry’s vasalls, while this king’s brother was forgiven. See on the tendency to bring on different measures in conflict Gerd Althoff, « Recht nach Ansehen der Person. Zum Verhältnis rechtlicher und außerrechtlicher Verfahren der Konfliktbeilegung im Mittelalter », in : Albrecht Cordes and Bernd Kannowski (Ed.), Rechtsbegriffe im Mittelalter, Frankfurt a. M. et al. : Lang (Rechtshistorische Reihe 262), 2002, p. 79-92.
35 See G. Althoff, Die Macht der Rituale…, p. 26ff.
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Gerd ALTHOFF , « Christian Values and Noble Ideas of Rank and their Consequences on Symbolic Acts »e-Spania [En ligne], 4 | décembre 2007, mis en ligne le 22 décembre 2007, consulté le 27 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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