Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX

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Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX

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by Andrew Willard Jones

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Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX by Andrew Willard Jones explores in great detail the “problem of Church and State” in thirteenth-century France. It argues that while the spiritual and temporal powers existed, they were not parallel structures attempting to govern the same social space in a contest over sovereignty. Rather, the spiritual and the temporal powers were wrapped up together in a differentiated and sacramental world, and both included the other as aspects of their very identity. The realm was governed not by proto-absolutist institutions, but rather by networks of friends that cut across lay/clerical lines. Ultimately, the king’s “fullness of power” and the papacy’s “fullness of power” came together to govern a single social order.

Before Church and State reconstructs this social order through a detailed examination of the documentary evidence, arguing that the order was fundamentally sacramental and that it was ultimately congruent with contemporary incarnational and trinitarian theologies and the notions of proper order that they supported. Because of this, modern categories of secular politics cannot be made to capture its essence but rather paint always a distorted portrait in modernity’s image.

In addition to a detailed reconstruction of the institutions of the kingdom, the work offers a reading of the political and ecclesiological thought of St. Thomas Aquinas that is consistent with that reconstruction. Thomas is here rescued from the liberal or Whig reading that has dominated in recent centuries and is returned to his thirteenth century context.

Previously, scholars interested in challenging modern conceptions of the secular and the religious when treating the Middle Ages have had to rely largely on historical scholarship written from within the conventional modern paradigm. In this text, Jones provides these scholars with a methodologically and technically rigorous alternative. If the book’s thesis is widely accepted, it will call for the reconsideration of the accepted narrative of medieval Church and State.


“Scholars over the last few decades have challenged the construction of the religious/secular duality from a theoretical point of view. That was the easy part. In this fascinating volume, Andrew Jones does the hard work of historical analysis to deconstruct the religious/secular divide. In a richly detailed study of Louis IX’s reign, Jones shows how anachronistic our categories of religious/secular, religion/politics, and Church/ State are when we talk about the medieval period. Even more importantly, Jones suggests how those same categories operate ideologically when we talk about our own period, because they help to reinforce the notion that the way we divide up the world is natural, inevitable, and the summit of a process of evolution begun with our benighted medieval forebears. Jones’ work is history at its best, helping us to understand not only the past, but ourselves, better.”

—William T. Cavanaugh, DePaul University

 

“Even many of the best scholars still construe the Middle Ages in terms of tensions between Church and State that prefigure those of modernity and modern tensions between the religious and the secular. But in this exciting and scholarly new book Andrew Jones amply shows that in the 13th C the ‘secular’ time of this world and its concerns was still governed by processes of sacramental mediation. The West was originally more integrated than we like to think, in a way that may allow us to see that, if our legacy is significantly different from that of Islam, it may not be different in quite the way that we think. For this reason, amongst others, the book could not be more timely.”

—John Milbank, University of Nottingham

 

“For the past half-century, social historians have been recovering a lost world of pre-modern, organic social relations. This scholarship has challenged modern readers to re-think basic modern assumptions about a range of social phenomena, most especially organization of work and family life. With Before Church and State, Andrew Willard Jones accomplishes a similar feat with respect to pre-modern politics. Here he challenges perhaps the most sacred cow of modernity: the privatization of religion. Building on the theoretical insights of historians and theologians who have identified ‘religion’ as itself a modern construct, Jones draws on extensive research to provide a masterful reconstruction of the political/religious imaginary of medieval Christendom at its peak in thirteenth-century France. He reveals a world in which there is no ‘problem of Church and State’ because there is no clear distinction between Church and State. Even more importantly, he shows that this organic integration of the Church into every aspect of political life was no ‘theocracy’—a rule of the State by the Church—but rather a reflection of incarnational and Trinitarian theology. Medievals understood the temporal and the spiritual as distinct- yet-united by analogy to the human and divine natures of Christ, while they understood society as a communion of persons by analogy to the Trinity. By these standards, modernity has separated not only ‘Church’ and ‘State,’ but every person from every other person, leaving us with a peace that is merely a cessation of hostilities rather than true concord.”

—Christopher Shannon, Christendom College

 

“It is often said, and rightly, that the past is a foreign country. Implicit in this statement is the conviction that when a genuine encounter takes place between the past and the present, the ‘time-traveler’ returns home enriched, with a capacity to see both the past and the present anew. While there are many books on medieval history that accomplish this task to a limited degree, I would place Andrew Jones’ study of the sacramental kingdom of King Louis IX among an elite category of books that open up genuinely new ways of seeing both past and present. To effect such an encounter is not easy; for all too often, the ‘traveler’s’ own habits of thought and action render the foreignness of the past invisible. With a keen and sympathetic eye for both medieval and modern ways of seeing, Jones carefully measures the distance between the two. Then, drawing on an impressive range of sources, he lets the past speak with its own voice, without being pre-empted or colonized by modern habits of perception. The reader wins a double prize—the political and religious world of thirteenth-century France, in all its exotic otherness; and a new standpoint from which to see, perhaps for the first time, the exotic otherness of today’s political and religious landscape.”

—David Foote, University of St. Thomas

 

“Dr. Jones has done the world of scholarship an immense service with the publication of Before Church and State. Thomas Kuhn famously spoke of paradigm shifts within science. Dr. Jones’ volume has the potential to do just that: shift an entire paradigm within the history of the medieval period, which would have a ripple effect in a host of other fields: history of law, politics, theology, and philosophy. What Jones has done is shown the complexity of medieval Christendom which problematizes the universally assumed dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. With his thorough treatment of the historical context to St. Louis IX and Pope Clement IV, including copious primary sources, Jones has demonstrated that far from a raging battle between throne and altar, the evidence indicates a unified Christian society. Modern scholars have anachronistically read back into the historical record post-Enlightenment divisions between secular and sacred, where no such divisions actually existed. Instead, conflicts were aimed at the shared twin goal of both laity and clergy, namely the common temporal good and the eternal good of souls. Jones’ immensely important volume represents a masterful treatment of the historical data which promises to have a profound impact on a number of disciplines, especially history, politics, and theology. Extremely well-written, erudite, and perspicacious, Before Church and State is a gripping historical narrative and should be read widely by any intellectual concerned with our common past, present, and future."

—Jeffrey L. Morrow, Seton Hall University