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The Limits of Tolerance: arguments for and against religious violence in the High Middle Ages

A public lecture by Michael Barbezat, Postdoctoral Fellow, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, UWA

Michael BarbezatKilling your religious opponents in the Middle Ages was neither an easy choice nor unquestioned. Leading intellectuals condemned executions for heresy when they began in Western Europe during the eleventh century, reminding Christians of their duty to reserve such judgment to God. This response, however, did not remain dominant in following centuries, as persecution, sometimes deadly, continued to increase. Contemporaries described this escalation not as the growth of hatred, but rather as the realisation of the very virtues that constituted the basis of Western Christian civilization. In this presentation, Michael Barbezat argued that medieval calls for divinely sanctioned murder relied heavily upon a discourse of love. He followed the use of the parable of the wheat and the tares in discussions of the use of deadly force as a response to Christian heresy. At its point of origin, the parable seems like a call to religious tolerance, but this interpretation does not remain stable. As he moved through examples from the third to thirteenth centuries, the role and necessity of violence will expand, until the parable’s earlier interpretation has been turned on its head. Instead of a call to toleration, the parable by the thirteenth century was, in the eyes of some of the most learned commentators, a call to deadly violence. This presentation concluded with an example from the infamous Albigensian Crusade that illustrates these principles in action, portraying the massacre of hundreds as a necessary, divinely sanctioned act of love.

Michael Barbezat is a postdoctoral fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions at The University of Western Australia. He holds an MA in medieval history from the University of California at Davis and a Ph.D. from the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto. Michael’s research broadly interrogates the uses of theology, and particularly eschatology, in medieval notions of community and the logic of persecution.

This lecture was part of the 'What's new in the Medieval?' Lecture Series, presented by the Institute of Advanced Studies and the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

What’s New in the Medieval?

This 2016 Lecture Series featured an exciting exploration of cutting-edge research about the medieval period by leading researchers associated with the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. These special lectures explored the compelling histories of warfare, tolerance, freedom and gender – topics as charged and contentious then as they remain today.

Series chair: Professor Susan Broomhall, Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Honorary Chief Investigator, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, UWA

Other lectures in the series:

18 April: Medieval War in Modern Memory - Andrew Lynch, Director, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, UWA

23 August: The Use of the Term “freedom” in Diplomatic discourse of the Renaissance Dubrovnik - Valentina Zovko, Australian Government Endeavour Fellow, based at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, UWA

11 Oct: Histories of gender, families and children: what do we still want to know? - Stephanie Tarbin, School of Humanities and Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, UWA