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“Apply to Muslims What Was Said of the Jews:” Popes and Canonists Between a Taxonomy of Otherness and Infidelitas


This article analyzes the targets of papal policies on Christians' relations with non-(Roman)Christians contained in canon law's On Jews, Saracens, and Their Servants in a historical period that has attracted comparatively little attention: the mid-thirteenth to the late fifteenth century. It argues the inherent ambiguity of the normative discourse on “proper” relations with “infidels.” On the one hand, popes and canonists faithfully preserved a taxonomy of otherness inherited from the church's ancient past. On the other hand, they often reduced all difference to the pastoral distinction between flock and “infidels.” The conflation of non-Christians occurred in multiple ways: through the explicit extension of a specific policy's targets, overt canonistic discussion, the tacit application of the law to analogous situations, or its simplification for use in the confessional. As a result, a number of policies aimed originally at a specific target were applied to all non-Christians. In the course of the later Middle Ages, a whole group of policies meant to define Christians' proper relations with others became potentially applicable against all non-Christians. In the words of a widely, if regionally disseminated, penitential work, all that was said of the Jews applies to the Muslims and all that was said of heretics, applies to schismatics.

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Robert Chazan's overview, The Jews of Medieval Western Christendom, 1000–1500 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006)

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Stefan K. Stantchev Spiritual Rationality. Papal Embargo as Cultural Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014, forthcoming)

James Brundage , Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987)

Mark Pegg , The Corruption of Angels, The Great Inquisition of 1245–1246 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001)

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Norman Housley , Crusading and the Ottoman Threat, 1453–1505 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)

Felicitas Schmieder , “Cum hora undecima: The Incorporation of Asia into the orbis Christianus,” in Christianizing Peoples and Converting Individuals, ed. Guyda Armstrong and Ian N. Wood (Turnhout: Brepols, 2000), 259–65

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Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
  • URL: /core/journals/law-and-history-review
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