restricted access 3 Pain and Truth in Medieval Christian Ritual
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3 $££$ PAIN AND TRUTH IN MEDIEVAL CHRISTIAN RITUAL Most social anthropologists analyzing religion have tended to look either for symbolic meanings or for social functions, or (occasionally) for both together. Here, however, I am concerned neither with symbolic meanings nor with social functions but with the ways in which particular rituals in the Christian Middle Ages depended on the inflicting of physicalpain, and with how their transformation enabled discipline to take effect in different ways. Today, most moderns, whether they are religious or not, regard such practiceswith suspicious disapproval. I begin with a sketch of the practice of judicial torture, which in the twelfth century began to replace very different forms of legal procedure in Western Europe. Judicial torture is especially interesting because its appearance in the central Middle Ages seems to have been connected with the formation of a particular kind of politics, a particular kind of religious ritual, a particular kind of knowledge production , and a particular kind of subjectivity. Above all, it was a practice authorized and employed by the Church. The latter part of this chapter is devoted to developments in the main form of Christian discipline in the Middle Ages (the ritual of sacramental penance) for which the twelfth century was also acrucial period. Their implications for knowledge production and subjectivity will be touched upon but not systematically dealt with here. In both judicial torture and religious pain, we can detect ways in which power—the most direct, physical effect of power—works to produce truthful discourses and makes subjects respond to authority. This investigation of pain in medieval Latin Christianity istherefore an attempt to explore the waysin which historical forms of power became 83 84 not merely the means of coercion and subjection but (more interestingly ) the conditions for creating particular potentialities—individual , social, and cultural. What interests me is not so much Christian ritual and power, but the power of Christian ritual. Judicial Torture and the Progress of Rationality In histories of Western criminal law, judicial torture (i.e., the application of pain to the body of the accused or of awitness, in order to extract a confession) is invariably treated as an aspect of early inquisitorialprocedure and is contrasted with the duel, ordeal, and sacred oath (compurgation), which are elements in primitive forms of accusatorial procedure. Legal historians distinguish several aspects of these two types of procedure—for example, the part played by "individual citizens" or by "society55 in initiating and conducting the trial, in determining culpability, in prescribing and carrying out the penalty. But perhaps the most striking difference lies in the respective modes of determining guilt. According to Esmein, in the early medieval accusatorial system, the chief effort of the prosecution is directed towards the establishment of the very act. In primitive procedures capture in the act appears , indeed, to be the normal hypothesis of repression; the sentiment of vengeance which inspires the penal system is, in this case, stronger; the culpability, which it isnecessaryto establish, isthen less doubtful. Except in the case of capture in the act, if the accused does not confess, it is for him, by an inversion of the proof, to show his innocence by taking the exculpatory oath and sustaining it by the number of oath-helpers which custom demands. This is the normal method of proof. It constitutes a right for the accused. But it may be set aside in certain cases and then ordeals are brought into play, by which appeal ismade to the judgement of the deity. These ordealsare of two kinds. In some, only one of the parties takes an active part, usually the accused. To instance the most widespread, there is the ordeal of branding, that of boiling water, and that of cold water. In the others, both parties play an active part, asin the judicialduel and the ordeal of the cross. This system is by no means peculiar to the Germanic customs; it ischaracteristic, not ofone definite race, but of a certain stage of civilization. In the mythological stage of the human ARCHAISMS Pain and Truth in Medieval ChristianRitual 85 mind the deity wasinvoked upon the question of guilt or innocence just asit wasinvoked asto the fate of a battle. In this respect therewas a connection between beliefs and legal institutions. The same attitude of mind which allows of divination by auguries and sorcerers leads to the practice and the diffusion of the criminal examination by ordeals and the judicialcombat. (1914, 6-7) In the inquisitorial system, on the...


Subject Headings

  • Religion.
  • Christian civilization.
  • Islamic civilization.
  • Rushdie, Salman.
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